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  • Advent 1

    In Nomine Iesu

     

    Pastor Thomas L. Rank

    Advent 1

    November 30, 2003

     

    Text: John 18:33-37

    Then Pilate entered the Praetorium again, called Jesus, and said to Him, "Are You the King of the Jews?" Jesus answered him, "Are you speaking for yourself about this, or did others tell you this concerning Me?" Pilate answered, "Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered You to me. What have You done?" Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not of this world. if My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; not now My kingdom is not from here." Pilate therefore said to Him, "Are you a king then?" Jesus answered, "You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice."

     

    THESE ARE YOUR WORDS, HEAVENLY FATHER, SANCTIFY US BY YOUR TRUTH, YOUR WORD IS TRUTH. AMEN.

     

    Dear friends in Christ,

    Jesus is a king. What does this mean? We normally think of a king as someone who has great political power in his country. A king is the one who has control; he is the one who has the money, the army; and he can use that power to achieve whatever he wants. There is no one higher than the king in his country. Everyone else is subordinate to the king. These subjects of the king must do his bidding or fear his wrath. Is this the kind of king Jesus is?

     

    On Palm Sunday it sort of looked like it. After all, you have Jesus being cheered by a huge crowd. They ask Him to save them: "Hosanna!" They say that He comes in the name of the Lord. But despite the cheering crowds Jesus does not look like a king. He comes into Jerusalem by Himself. No great army marches with Him. There is no show of great riches or power. All you see is Jesus, sitting on the back of a small donkey.

     

    Four days later Jesus is standing before Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea. There is no crowd cheering Jesus and praying for His help. Instead He has been arrested, slandered, beaten. As Pilate says, "Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered You to me." It doesn’t sound as if Jesus has a country to be king of. It doesn’t look like Jesus has followers that will defend Him and raise Him up as their king and leader. So what kind of king is Jesus?

     

    "My kingdom is not of this world." Here Jesus separates His kingdom from all earthly kingdoms. His kingdom is different. He doesn’t mean it is in outer space. But rather it is not a kingdom that can be defined by borders on a map. His kingdom does not have the agendas of worldly kingdoms: the point is not to amass riches, nor to become the strongest, nor to conquer all other countries so that Jesus is the great political leader of a vast kingdom here on earth. None of that. Jesus' kingdom is the kingdom of "truth."

     

    Earlier Jesus had told Thomas: "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except by Me." Jesus is the truth, and He is opposed to the 'lie.' The 'lie' was first spoken to Eve when Satan said: "You can be like God." This great lie continues to bring ruin and death to people of all races, of all countries. This great lie is at the heart of all human attempts to achieve spirituality of some kind or another.

     

    When Jesus tells Pilate: "For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice," He is telling Pilate what His kingdom is about. This kingdom first of all is dependent upon Jesus, upon His witness, upon His voice. Without the voice of Jesus there is no kingdom of Jesus. Without the voice of Jesus there is no truth. This makes the kingdom of Jesus exclusive; in other words, the only kingdom that lasts is that of Jesus, no other kingdom, no other religion, will stand. They will all fall. But not through the power of the sword. The kingdom of Jesus does not come when people decide to blow themselves up and kill others along with them. Jesus had told Peter to put away his sword. And Jesus tells Pilate: "if My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight." The kingdom of Jesus does not come when we are able to get the right laws passed in the United States congress, nor does the kingdom disappear if the wrong laws are passed. The kingdom of Jesus does not come when we keep the nation of Israel safe from her enemies. These are all kingdom of the world issues. They have importance, politically; and they impact us, our society. But not spiritually, not eternally.

     

    It is the voice of Jesus that brings truth, and where that truth is, there you will find the kingdom of Jesus. Remember the Second Petition of the Lord’s Prayer:

     

    Thy Kingdom come. What does this mean? The kingdom of God certainly comes of itself without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that it may come to us also. How does God's kingdom come? The kingdom of God comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and live godly lives here in time and hereafter in eternity.

     

    The voice of Jesus is the Word of God. He is the Word that became flesh. And the Holy Spirit works through the Word of God so that we believe the Word and live godly lives.

     

    It is easy to become seduced by the ways of this world and its kingdoms. It is easy to think of the kingdom of Jesus in terms that apply to this world. Think of the churches that are attractive to the world. They are the big churches. They are the churches where you can be influential in your community through the contacts you make there. They are the churches that have great outward displays of wealth and power. Think of the Crystal Cathedral in California, think of St. Peter’s basilica in Rome, or consider local churches. If you were to list the influential churches in Winnebago county, the ones that you join in order to have influence and to make good business and social connections, where do you go?

     

    It is easy to question the rightness of what we believe when it looks like all that happens is that we get smaller and smaller. This does not excuse us from doing all we can to spread the truth, to preach Christ, to pray for the kingdom of God to grow so that others will know and believe in the Savior. This also does not mean smaller churches are holier or better. But the point is: don’t look at size, listen to the voice. Do you hear the voice of Jesus? Is His word in its truth and purity the center? That voice alone is what defines the Christian Church, the kingdom of Jesus. We do not want that voice of Jesus muted or distorted. For that voice is truth. Nothing else is truth.

     

    Today we start a new church year. Today is the start of Advent, the time of preparation for the great festival of the birth of Jesus, the Son of God, born of the virgin Mary. We use these days before Christmas to prepare our hearts and minds by heeding the voice of Jesus. This voice keeps calling us to repentance, to put aside the seduction of the kingdoms of this world with their riches and power, to gather around the Word of God, preaching, sacraments.

     

    Jesus is a king. This king works among us now by His grace, by bringing us forgiveness for our sins of envy for the power and riches of the world, forgiveness for our lack of love for His kingdom, forgiveness for all sin. This is what the kingdom of Jesus is all about. And that is why at the start of this new church year we always see Christ on the cross looming in the distance. That is where Jesus would end up after talking to Pilate. And that is why He came: forgiveness comes with that cost of Jesus – death on the cross . He paid. We're saved. "The kingdom of God comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and live godly lives here in time and hereafter in eternity." That is our prayer at the start of Advent. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

     

     

     

  • Advent 2

    In Nomine Iesu

     

    Pastor Thomas L. Rank

    Advent 2

    December 7, 2003

     

    Text: Luke 12:35-40

    Let your waist be girded and your lamps burning: and you yourselves be like men who wait for their master, when he will return from the wedding, that when he comes and knocks they may open to him immediately. Blessed are those servants whom the master, when he comes, will find watching. Assuredly, I say to you that he will gird himself and have them sit down to eat, and will come and serve them. And if he should come in the second watch, or come in the third watch, and finds them so, blessed are those servants. But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.

     

    THESE ARE YOUR WORDS, HEAVENLY FATHER; SANCTIFY US BY YOUR TRUTH, YOUR WORD IS TRUTH. AMEN.

     

    Dear fellow redeemed in Christ,

    There is much that weighs us down and entangles us these days. The cares and anxieties of life burden us. The possessions of this life entangle us. The result is that the watchfulness to which the Lord calls us is diminished.

     

    Our Lord begins by telling us to have our waists girded. What we should have in mind with these words is the Exodus of the children of Israel from Egypt under the leadership of Moses. As the children of Israel prepared to eat the Passover meal of the lamb whose blood marked their door to keep the angel of death away, they were told: "And thus you shall eat it: with a belt on your waist, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. So you shall eat it in haste." They were to be ready to leave the land of slavery at a moment’s notice, and to be ready for the journey to the Promised Land. This was not a time for relaxing and being nonchalant. Rather, these were days of readiness, of watching for the Lord to keep His promise of coming to set them free from their centuries of bondage.

     

    To have your waist girded is to be ready to move without tripping over your robes. It means you are prepared. But what does this mean for us spiritually? It means first that we mark and avoid those things which we know hinder us or which entangle us. In the Gospel for today we heard: "But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life." These are things that prevent us from being ready and waiting for the return of the Lord. They do so by numbing our hearts and minds. Like a shot of Novocaine from the dentist, these activities serve to dull our senses so that we do not pay attention to the times, so that we lose awareness of the condition of our souls, leaving us open to the temptations and lusts of the world.

     

    Remember, repentance and faith are not one time happenings in our lives. But they are the on-going life of the Christian. Each and every day we return to our Baptism by drowning the old man with all his sin and evil lusts, and a new man daily comes forth and arises. This cycle of drowning and rising is the way sin is kept in check and we ourselves grow in readiness and watchfulness. This watchful condition is one that understands sin to be the great obstacle to salvation that it truly is. It is not a matter of making excuses our for sin, but it is a matter of confessing it. Martin Luther emphasized this in the Large Catechism:

     

    Forgiveness is constantly needed, for although God’s grace has been acquired by Christ, and holiness has been wrought by the Holy Spirit through God's Word in the unity of the Christian Church, yet we are never without sin because we carry our flesh around our necks (LC II, 54).

     

    When we make excuses for our sins we are really saying we don’t need forgiveness for them because they're not our fault. Then carousing, drunkenness, and the cares of this life have their way with us. Then such things lead us to spiritual apathy – the uncaring life that finally results in not being ready for the Lord's coming on the Last Day, Judgment Day.

     

    And it is that Day, the Last Day, that the Lord wants us ready for. The first time Jesus came to this world, that first Christmas 2,000 years ago, He came in humility, born of the Virgin Mary, in the little town of Bethlehem. His Second Coming will not be in humility, but in all the glory and power rightfully His as the One who has all authority in heaven and earth. Then He will judge the living and the dead. This is what we watch for. And this is what our Lord is telling us about right now, so that we can be ready and waiting when our Lord comes and knocks at the door. We will be ready to open the door immediately.

     

    There is a great difference between being ready for something about which we know the exact time, and being ready for something that has no specific time frame. Right now most of you have a pretty exact time for your Christmas celebrations. You know that you will meet at a certain time and place. Or you know that your guests will arrive at your house at 1 o'clock on Christmas Day. This allows you to have a definite goal in sight. And you will be sure to have everything ready and waiting for the guests. I doubt that those of us expecting guests at Christmas time wait until they show up and then start cleaning and defrosting some food from the freezer for them. No, we've been getting ready for days in advance.

     

    Compare that to being ready for something that doesn't have a definite time. Perhaps our own death is the ultimate example of that. We know that we all have a 100% chance of dying. That's just the way it is. But we don't know the time. The Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ is just as certain. Yet, without that definite time we are told and encouraged to be ready always.

     

    It is just at that point that trouble arises for us. It is hard to be ready always. Our Lord knows that about you and me. That is why He made sure to warn us, not just once, but many times throughout Holy Scripture. He made sure that there would be pastors to preach that Word, to baptize, to administer Holy Communion, to absolve, all so that people would be ready for His Second Coming, His Second Advent. The forgiveness of sins makes you ready for the coming of Christ, for Judgment Day. That great work of God for you, the granting of forgiveness for Jesus' sake, is what prepares your hearts and minds so that you may stand with confidence on the Last Day, knowing that in Christ you are holy and pure, by God's grace alone.

     

    So we continue to gather, to hear the preaching of God's Word. God works among us even today, readying us for the Second Advent so that we will not be overtaken, so that day will not take us by surprise. "Blessed are those servants whom the Lord, when He comes, will find watching." Amen.

     

  • Advent 3

    In Nomine Iesu

     

    Pastor Thomas L. Rank

    Advent 3

    December 14, 2003

     

    Text: Matthew 11:11-15

    Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force. For all the prophets prophesied until John. And if you are willing to receive it, he is Elijah who is to come. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!

     

    THESE ARE YOUR WORDS, HEAVENLY FATHER; SANCTIFY US BY YOUR TRUTH, YOUR WORD IS TRUTH. AMEN.

     

    Dear friends in Christ,

    The Jews in Jesus' lifetime understood that before they looked for the Messiah, the one who would save them, they needed to look for a second Elijah. They knew this because of the words of the last prophet of the Old Testament, Malachi. There we find this word of the Lord: "Behold, I will send Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers."

     

    The first Elijah had lived during the days of the wicked King Ahab and his wife Jezebel. These two had introduced a renunciation of the true worship of God unequaled in the history of Israel. Hundreds of false prophets of Baal had been given government approval to spread their false teaching throughout the land. Altars and high places were built; even the sacrifice of children in fire was allowed. Into this cesspool of idolatry God placed His prophet Elijah. Elijah's first task was to proclaim a drought, a time of famine for the people because of their rejection of the true God. Elijah’s message was one of repentance. He was to turn the people away from their sin by a strong preaching of the Law, pointing out to king and queen, to all people, the way of the true God in clear distinction from the false way of the idols. For this Elijah was attacked, rejected, forced to flee for his life as especially the queen sought to destroy him. The violent used violence against Elijah to try and silence this unwelcome prophet.

     

    John the Baptist is the second Elijah, as Jesus says: "he is Elijah who is to come." John does not come into the blatantly idolatrous times as did Elijah. Yet there was a clear need for his ministry. God placed John at the right time and the right place in order to point to the Messiah, to the Christ, Jesus.

     

    The understanding of the real work the Messiah was to do had become confused. For many of the Jews their Messiah was to be a political leader, someone who would come to free them from the oppression of the despised and hated Roman government. They did not realize that the ministry of the Messiah and His kingdom were not about the power and glory of this world. Therefore John needed to teach the people repentance. In other words, the work was the preaching of the Law, it was about pointing out sin, about condemning the rebellion against God and His laws. It was not about the programs and agendas of this world. John came to prepare the hearts and minds of the people for the true work of the Messiah, the coming of the kingdom of God in the person of the Savior, Jesus Christ.

     

    For this work John would suffer. Like Elijah, the leaders of his day would be pricked by the prickly law he preached. Like Elijah, John would not hesitate to preach against the high and mighty of his day. Like Elijah, John would feel the violence of the violent opponents of the kingdom of God and His Messiah. John's preaching would stir up hearts, some to repentance, but also many to hardness and rejection. John would be arrested, imprisoned, and killed, dying a violent death.

     

    John did the work assigned to him by God. He preached the word boldly, without being afraid of the cost. His message was not an easy one. He could not massage the egos of the crowd by telling them that their chosen lifestyles were of no matter. He could not say "yes" to behavior about which God said "no." To do that would have been a betrayal of his office as prophet. To do that would be to work against the Messiah, the coming Savior of the world, and John would not go that way. Instead, he would preach: "Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance....even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire." Those were John's words to the spiritual leaders of his day, the Pharisees and Sadducees. You can understand why they would not be to eager to protect him or support him.

     

    John's death was a warning to Jesus from the powers of this world. This world and its satanic agenda let Jesus know that the same fate awaited Him if He continued to preach and teach as He did. John prepared the way for Jesus not only by his preaching repentance. He prepared the way by dying first and pointing the people to the truth that the kingdom of God suffers violence, even the death of the King’s messenger. And as it went for the messenger, so it would go for the King Himself. John's death is the prologue to the death of Jesus. As John was killed for preaching the Law and pointing to the need for the Messiah, so Jesus would die by doing the work of the Messiah, and thereby showing Himself to be the Savior, the Son of God come into this world.

     

    As we prepare for Christmas during this Advent time, we are reminded that Christmas, the birth of Jesus, is not a time of cuteness or shallow and trivial displays of sentiment. There is a reason we sing strong hymns and hear strong words at this time of year. The birth of Jesus is about warfare, it is about battles lost and won, it is about suffering, death. It is about what Jesus says: "the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force."

     

    Therefore a right preparation for Christmas includes a sober understanding of what this means. It does not mean a lessening of our Christmas joy, but a heightening of our appreciation for such a gift. This gift of the Christ-child does not come to us without suffering, a suffering that we cannot imagine – suffering for all sins, for all betrayals, all deceit, all traitorous acts, all cowardice, all weakness. These sins in all their fullness, your sins and mine, are on Jesus as He comes to us through the Virgin Mary and begins His way to the violence of the cross of Golgotha.

     

    The ministry of Elijah had to deal with this violence, it was part of the burden of prophet. The ministry of John had to deal with this violence, it was part of the burden of being the Forerunner of the Messiah. The ministry of Jesus had to deal with this violence to such a degree that it is beyond our comprehension; He came to die because of our sins. How can we forget that when we sing and rejoice at His birth? Doesn't it cheapen our praise of God if our hymns and worship gloss over this truth? The ministry of the apostles and of pastors to this day has to deal with this violence, it is part of the burden of being placed in the Office of the Holy Ministry.

     

    The second Elijah has come. He did his work by pointing to the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. He pointed to Jesus. And even with the word "lamb" we are given a clue about Jesus: lambs are killed for the Passover. Today you are again pointed to Jesus. Despite the violence directed against God's kingdom it does not fall or fail. You who are brought into this kingdom by God's work of salvation need not fear any violence. Not that it may not happen, but that no violence is able to overcome the Christ. No matter how strong the enemies of God are, our Christ is always the stronger man. He showed that by His resurrection from the dead. Even the violence of death could not keep Him down.

     

    Nails, spear shall pierce Him through

    The cross be borne for me, for you;

    Hail, hail the Word made flesh,

    The Babe, the Son of Mary! (ELH 145:2)

     

    Neither will death in its violence keep you down. Jesus has done the work needed to save you from it all. Trust this strong Savior, and rejoice as we prepare to celebrate His wonderful birth once more. God grant this to you all in the name of Jesus. Amen.

     

  • Advent 4

    Sermon not yet added

  • Christmas Eve

    In Nomine Iesu

     

    Pastor Thomas L. Rank

    Scarville Sunday School Christmas Program

    December 16, 2007

     

    Text: Matthew 1:20-23

    But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. 21 And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.” 22 So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.”

     

    Dear fellow redeemed in Christ,

     

    The other day I started thinking about why we have so many singers of all types who put out Christmas albums, year after year. Yet these same people do not put out Good Friday or Easter albums. Mannheim Steamroller has many CDs for Christmas; any number of singers and choirs put out dozens and dozens of Christmas related music. There’s even an ogre with a Christmas CD. But nothing for Good Friday or Easter. So, why is this?

     

    The conclusion I reached is that since the main event of Christmas is the birth of a baby boy it is something that people can easily relate to. The birth of a baby is a great event in the life of a family, something cherished, something remembered, something about which to rejoice. The birth of Jesus can be celebrated and sung about without really paying too much attention to the reason why. That is not the case with Good Friday and Easter.

     

    Good Friday is centered on the death of Jesus on the cross. Easter is centered on the resurrection of the dead by that same Jesus. Those events are not easily disguised or changed into celebrations that everyone can sing about. To sing about Good Friday is to sing about a very gory public execution. To sing about Easter means that you have to talk about something that is not compatible with human experience or human wisdom. Whereas Christmas has been given a makeover that allows people of many backgrounds to sing carols and hymns about Jesus, despite the fact of what those songs are all about.

     

    Yet, when we look at Christmas with the words of Scripture ringing in our ears we learn that the event of Christmas is also something that is outside human experience and human reason. Christmas is the birth of the baby who Holy Scripture declares was conceived by the Holy Spirit. Joseph was told: “that which is conceived in [Mary] is of the Holy Spirit.” And even more, we are told that this child shall be named: Immanuel. St. Matthew does us the favor of translating that Hebrew word for us: Immanuel means, God with us.

     

    To top it all off we’re told why this baby was born: to save people from sin. And there’s something none of us like to hear about. Talk about sin during Christmas is pretty depressing. Why bring up that topic when there are enough hassles and headaches this time of year? We have to talk about it because that’s what Jesus came to solve for us. Sin is what we have, what we’ve been born into, what chases us and ruins lives again and again. But this sin is what Jesus, the Savior, born of the virgin Mary, came to undo. That is why Christians write Christmas hymns. That is why those who gather in Christian churches sing Christmas hymns. The purpose is to proclaim who this Jesus is, what He came to do, and why we so desperately need it.

     

    Much of the music you’ll hear on the radio over the next few weeks will probably not focus too much on that side of Christmas. And we shouldn’t expect our society to get Christmas right. But let us make sure we do. Let’s make sure we learn about Jesus born in Bethlehem, because we sinners need this Savior. We need Him and He has come to us out of great love, taking on our humanity, to defeat sin, to bring us forgiveness. This great work of Jesus made a beginning in a little stable, far across the sea. But the finished work would be done on a hill outside of Jerusalem, where He would be pierced through by nail and spear as He hung on a cross, for me, for you. In His death He would defeat death; with our sin on Him He would go to the grave, yet rise on Easter Sunday with no sin – all gone, wiped clean by His sacrifice for us.

     

    Christmas is much more than the birth of a son. It is the birth of a unique baby in all human history, a boy called Jesus, the Savior, Immanuel, God-with-us. God grant that as we gather in the coming weeks to celebrate here in church, and with our families wherever they may be, that we center on the fact that Christmas is about the Christ who forgives us our sins – born for us, to die for us, and to rise again for our justification, so we receive the righteousness, the holiness and purity of being God’s sons and daughters, through faith in Jesus Christ. God grant this for you all, in the name of Immanuel. Amen.

     

  • Christmas Day

    In Nomine Iesu

     

    Pastor Thomas L. Rank

    Christmas Day

    December 25, 2006

    Exordium

    We who are described by Isaiah as the grass that grows and then withers and is cut down and dies are allowed this day, and for all eternity, to rejoice that the One who created all things, the Most High God, has taken on our frailty, our humanity. He has done so in order to save us from the withering and dying that is our lot as humans. He became the baby boy born in the manger in order to save you and me from all that death and hell and devil want to accomplish against us. He will go in our place to the place of evil and death. He will go for you and me, so that we might become His adopted brothers and sisters, the sons and daughters of the Most High. That is what we receive through faith in the Savior, Jesus Christ.

     

    It is due to this great act of love on the part of God that we rejoice today. This is no small thing that God has done. It is greater than even we can comprehend. It is more far-reaching in its importance than the most longed for peace treaty between nations. It is more life-giving than the most important breakthrough in medical history can ever be.  Here we have the way to a life that never ends; here we have an end to sin and sickness; here we have an end to death. And it all became focused on that small and insignificant manger in Bethlehem so long ago. Let us then rejoice today over the wonders and blessings God showers upon us in His mercy and grace, in Jesus, our Savior. Let us rise and sing:

    Exordium Hymn - ELH 142 "Rejoice, Rejoice, This Happy Morn"

     

    Text: St. John 1:1-14

    In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. 4 In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.... 9 That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. 11 He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. 12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: 13 who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. 14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.

     

    Dear fellow redeemed in Christ our new-born King,

    If you want to know God the Father, you must know the Son. It is the Son, Jesus Christ, through whom only we have access to true knowledge about God the Father. We cannot come to the Father except through the Son. This fact of Holy Scripture puts the whole Christmas story in its proper place. It puts it in the place of being one of the key events by which God wills us to know who He is and what He does on our behalf and on behalf of the whole world. To lose this aspect of Christmas is to lose it in its entirety. This is no story about snowmen or Santa Claus or reindeer. The Son takes on our humanity to accommodate our weakness. He becomes one of us so that we might truly know and believe the love of God for us.

     

    The darkness of sin obscures this light of Jesus Christ which came into the world. Sin makes us blind to God. Sin covers our eyes with false gods and goddesses. Sin puts ourselves and all other manner of deities in the place of the one true God.

     

    Many are content with such false gods. Many find comfort in them because they are familiar gods, gods that do not make us squirm too much. Last week in Bible class we heard a quotation from Mark Twain, and it fits here as well: “In the beginning God made man in His own image, and man has been returning the favor ever since.” We like to have gods that are like us. The gods of the ancient world, despite various super powers, remained gods and goddesses with the same vanities and selfish desires that we have. Those are the deities we create for ourselves when act like Adam and Eve did: we seek to be like God.

    But these words of John point us away from ourselves and our self-created gods; and they seek to shine into the darkness of our lives with the Light of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh. We need this light. We need the work of God to break into our sin-darkened lives. And that is what Jesus came to do. He came as the Word made flesh, as the power of God for salvation. And He came as the One who would shine in our hearts with the forgiveness of sins through His death on the cross.

     

    Our need for this work of God for us is total. We have nothing by which to come to God on our own. We need Him. Martin Luther makes this clear in very pointed language from a Christmas sermon he preached in 1534:

     

    Here was the reason why [we need God’s help]: The devil had subjected all mankind under sin and caused terrible, incalculable grief beyond human comprehension. In the first place he precipitated us into original sin, including death with it, and not only death but also all manner of evil. Daily in this world we live with murder, lying, betrayal, stealing, robbing, and all manner of shameful evil, depravity, and vexation, so that literally no one's life or property are safe for a moment, but everything is in terrible turmoil! But beyond such evil there is even a greater one, as God's Word tells [us], in that the devil takes hold of people so totally that they become mad and foolish. As a result of this wickedness and sin, the human race has become little more than a stinking, shameful, disguised tool of the devil. So despicable has he made mankind through sin that we could not possibly become more base. Eternal death and God’s wrath take us by the throat; we are never at peace but constantly plagued in body and soul here on earth, making it an enormous, woeful, fear-ridden kingdom of the devil.

     

    That is the darkness under which we operate in our human condition of sin.

     

    It was against this very darkness that Jesus came to fight for us. He did so out of His great love for us. And so:

     

    Still all the law fulfilled must be,

    Else we were lost forever,

    Then God His Son sent down that He

    Might us from doom deliver;

    He all the law for us fulfilled

    And thus His Father’s anger stilled

    Which over us impended.

    [ELH 227, v. 5]

     

    The righteous anger of God against our sin has been laid to rest through Jesus Christ taking it willingly upon Himself, so that it does not fall upon us, as much as it deserves to.

     

    This is the reason for the Incarnation of the Son of God. He became flesh to take this on. He put on our weakness of human flesh, to be tempted like us, to be subject to hunger and thirst, to grow tired, to be tempted by the devil even, and finally to bring this body brought forth into this world on Christmas Eve to the death on Golgotha. All this is why the Word that is God, the Word through whom all things were created, becomes flesh, so that you and I can be saved.

    At stake at Christmas time is more than most people realize. We get too caught up in the many “cute” aspects of a 21st century Christmas. But the stakes were high on that first Christmas. The enemies arrayed against that Christ-child were mighty, too strong for us humans, even if we would have combined all our strength against them. We cannot fight and win against sin, yet the Word made flesh would do so. We cannot fight and win against death, yet Jesus would do so. We cannot fight and win against the devil, yet the baby born in Bethlehem would do so, crushing the head of the serpent even as He was nailed to the cross. That is the wonder of Christmas; that is what was at stake.

     

    The fight against sin, death, and devil remains with us still today. True, they are held at bay by the power of the Son of God. He has won the victory. But we continue to struggle with them as we are tempted to draw near them, as one devotional writer recently wrote:

     

    Satan is ever angling to steal...a kiss from the bride of Christ, that he might divorce her from the heart of her gracious Lord. She fends off the advances of every false Christ and every angel of light beckoning to a better life than the one her Bridegroom has given at the cost of His own life.

     

    Because of the tenacity of our seeming-pleasant enemy, we will always find ourselves in the midst of a hidden, but very real war. If there is to be a superficial peace the capitulation must come from our side. Our enemy will never give up. His rage and spite against the Christ and His Church will never diminish, only the tactics will evolve. Often people will blame the Church for the war that is waged against her. This is akin to blaming Poland for the outbreak of World War II. The Church would desire to live in external peace, but Satan will have none of it. So while she has a peace that surpasses human understanding, she will always live at war.

    This is the true nature of the life of the Church in this world, and of the life of we who are called to be the children of God here and now.

     

    But despite such darkness, we are given the Light of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Never forget that the baby of Bethlehem is stronger than the devil. Never forget that that small child is true God, the God who would not let death keep Him in the grave, but rose triumphant Easter morning. Never forget that this Christ-child is the One who says to you: Your sins are forgiven. Those are the words that are the power of God for salvation. Trust them, and learn that the Light of the grace of God shines brighter than any powers of hell.

     

    Christmas shows us that start of the work of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, for us all. It shows us the seriousness of God’s promises to provide us with salvation and eternal life. He sends His best for us, and it never fails. Believe in the name of this Jesus Christ. Know that you are born by the will of God, and are His beloved children. For you He desires life and salvation, through the forgiveness of sins. For you this Jesus was born, so that you receive from the Word made flesh such great gifts, and in whom we have the glory of the Father, full of grace and truth. Amen.

     

  • Christmas 1

    Sermon not yet added

  • New Years Eve

    In Nomine Iesu

     

    Pastor Thomas L. Rank

    New Year's Eve

    December 31, 2003

     

    Text: Hebrews 13:8-15

    Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. 9 Do not be carried about with various and strange doctrines. For it is good that the heart be established by grace, not with foods which have not profited those who have been occupied with them. 10 We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat. 11 For the bodies of those animals, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned outside the camp. 12 Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate. 13 Therefore let us go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach. 14 For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come. 15 Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name.

     

    Dear fellow redeemed in Christ,

    What's one of the best things you can say to an old friend you haven't seen in years? "My, you haven't changed a bit." It's nice to hear, and when we say it we're not deliberately lying to someone. But in reality it isn't true. We do change over time, even if just a little to begin with.

     

    As we see another year passing us by this evening, it is not hard to spot the changes that happened this past year. For those of us with young children, we saw many changes in them: for example in size and the ability to communicate. If you hadn't seem some of your younger relatives for awhile, you may have been amazed at how much they had grown this past year. Each of us also can see in ourselves many changes: some good, some not so good. But the fact remains that as each year goes by change occurs. In people, in the land, in the size of cities and towns, in the world around us: politically and physically.

     

    Because of the process of change which is so familiar to us, it is good to take careful notice of the fact that the author of Hebrews teaches us: "Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today, and forever." This unchangeableness of Jesus is about both His divine nature, that is, the fact that He is true God, and also about His teaching. He does not change, and we are warned: "do not be carried about with various and strange doctrines."

     

    In a world that is filled with change and the subsequent instability it brings, the Christian Church is blessed to announce to the world the truth that our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, is the Rock, the stable foundation on which we truly can build our hope for this life and for eternal life. As we heard: "here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come." Our efforts finally will not keep us from leaving this world. Therefore we seek that which is to come, the New Jerusalem, the heavenly mansions, the promised eternity with the living God, through our Savior Jesus Christ.

     

    Why should stability and unchangeableness be desired by us? Well, let us look at why we are changing each day. Isn't it because of the fact that each day we age, and each day we come closer the grave? We change physically in ways that start off good, but soon become detrimental. The bodies we have here and now will not last. The process of death is at work within us – it is change from life to death. This is something we cannot escape. We see this type of change in people of all times and all places. When we find ancient civilizations what do they all have in common? The people are all dead, all that’s left is bones. In the hymn, "Abide with Me," one of the verses states it this way: "change and decay in all around I see, oh Thou who changest not, abide with me." (ELH 561:2)

     

    As we comprehend the deadly reason for change in us, the desire not to change increases in us. We do not want to change. Why is it that this time of year is a bonanza for weight loss clinics and programs? It is because we see our bodies change, and we don't like it, so we want to put off, as long as we can, the change and decay that come to all. Now, on the one hand, it is a good use of our time to do that which is healthy for our bodies: eat healthy, exercise, and so on; on the other hand, we must know that such efforts only work for a brief time. Despite the advances of medicine, our bodies keep showing our age. The most beautiful actress of today will look different in 50 years: no matter how much money she spends, no matter how well her doctors do plastic surgery.

     

    The predicament of all attempts to keep from looking old is that only the symptoms are treated. The underlying reason for our aging and the approach of death cannot be treated with silicon, botox, or the most careful surgery. This is true because our problem finally is not physical, but spiritual.

     

    This is where the truth of Jesus Christ impacts us. He is the one who does not change, and He comes to us with the very help we need for our spiritual lives. Our spiritual death because of sin is reversed by the life and death of Jesus. By faith in our Savior we are re-born spiritually, with the promise of a new and glorious body in the life to come. Jesus took on the changes of this life. He went through our changes as He took on our human flesh and blood. By His perfect life and by His death as our Substitute Jesus has done what no surgery or medicine or diet or exercise can do: He changed us so that we will not change again. Our death has become the way by which this mortal puts on immortality, and this body that decays is changed for a body that will never decay. This is what is ours because of Jesus, as we believe the forgiveness He bought for us, by His own blood, suffering "outside the gate," like the sacrificial animals of the Old Testament.

     

    As we prepare for a new year, may God help us to prepare for the changes that come our way, as we cling to the One who does not change: Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and forever. Amen.

  • Christmas 2

    In Nomine Iesu

     

    Pastor Thomas L. Rank

    Christmas 2

    January 4, 2004

     

    Text: Matthew 2:13-23

    Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, "Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him." 14 When he arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt, 15 and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, "Out of Egypt I called My Son." 16 Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying: 18 "A voice was heard in Ramah, Lamentation, weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, Refusing to be comforted, Because they are no more." 19 But when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, 20 saying, "Arise, take the young Child and His mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the young Child's life are dead." 21 Then he arose, took the young Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea instead of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And being warned by God in a dream, he turned aside into the region of Galilee. 23 And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, "He shall be called a Nazarene."

     

    THESE ARE YOUR WORDS, HEAVENLY FATHER, SANCTIFY US BY YOUR TRUTH, YOUR WORD IS TRUTH. AMEN.

     

    Dear fellow redeemed in Christ,

     

    The celebration of Christmas seems to be a very benign, inoffensive, harmless activity. After all, millions of people around the world go to church, they listen to the words of St. Luke chapter 2, "and it came to pass in those days...", they sing hymns of rejoicing, songs of praise and thankfulness. Sunday school Christmas programs are much the same. Children learn by heart some special words and phrases of God's Word, they practice and learn how to sing a number of Christmas carols. In all these activities around Christmas we see nothing but gentleness, kindness, joy, goodwill, patience, caring, and love: love for God, and a desire to love our neighbor with greater charity in the year to come.

     

    When we celebrate Christmas, we are simply following the example of that first Christmas when shepherds were shown the wonders of heaven through the sights and sounds of the angelic host, and they were directed to the little town of Bethlehem where they could see the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger, just as it had been told them by the angel. The shepherds saw the miracle of the birth of the baby Jesus, and returned glorifying and praising God. A silent night became a night of joy and gladness because of the birth of the Savior, Christ the Lord.

     

    Two years later we have another gathering of people around Jesus. Now, instead of shepherds it is the Magi from the East, bringing with them wondrous offerings of precious gold, frankincense, and myrrh. They had come to worship the newborn King of the Jews and they found Him at Bethlehem, attended by His mother Mary, and Joseph. Once more we nothing sinister or hostile here. Simply an act of worship, a confession of faith, gestures of love and gratitude to God. What could be so wrong with all this?

     

    Well, nothing is wrong with any of it. Nothing is wrong with gathering at Christmastime to hear the wonderful news of the birth of the Savior Jesus; nothing is wrong with Sunday school Christmas programs, nor of the shepherds and wise men from the East coming to worship the Christ-child. So why do we read this about King Herod: "Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men." Why such a shocking action by the king? Why does Herod respond with murder to the news of the birth of Jesus? Why are children killed when Jesus is born? Why is there weeping, lamentation, and mourning at a time that should bring joy, gladness, and cheerfulness?

     

    Psalm 2 teaches us: "The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against His Anointed...." The powers of this world have much to lose if the Christ-child Jesus accomplishes His mission. Jesus came to defeat the power and riches of this world. He came to show that the very things people think are the ways to dominate, control, and live the best way possible are actually unable to do what they promise. No worldly kingdom lasts. No treasures of gold, platinum, stocks and bonds, are able to give what lasts forever. But those who rely on such things, those who have sold their souls for this world, those who do not see the true chains and shackles of sin, Satan, and death, prefer to see the Christ-child as the enemy. They see Jesus as the One who will ruin their lives, upset their kingdoms, and take away their power. Therefore Jesus must die, according to the thinking of this world. And if others must die too, like the baby boys of Bethlehem, so be it. The hatred against Jesus is potent.

     

    While soldiers, the power of the world, seek the life of Jesus, what is Jesus doing? He is resting in the arms of His mother, Mary, traveling to Egypt with no more escort than Joseph. God hereby shows His contempt for the powers that attempt to overwhelm His only-begotten Son. God knows their plans, and He laughs. Kings like Herod and so many others, those who think they know what power and might are, are shown to be ignorant of real power. For the real power, the real might and strength, are there in the baby Jesus who looks so meek and mild. "But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty...."

     

    So Jesus will go on His way to Egypt for a time. Like His human ancestors hundreds of years before, He will leave the promised land when death is near, in order to be safe in Egypt for a time. But like Israel led by Moses, Jesus will leave Egypt and return to the promised land. But this Jesus is the One who Moses promised would be greater than himself. And Jesus, despite His meekness, His humility, His lowliness, would take on the powers of the world, the spite of Satan, the cold reality of death, and defeat them. This Christ-child would grow and mature so that He could live and die for you and me, so that we need never fear even death. For our Savior, this Jesus, is the Son of God, who redeemed us by His holy, precious blood, and His innocent suffering and death so that we can be His own, and live with Him forever.

     

    "Arise, take the young Child and His mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the young Child's life are dead." That's the news that Joseph heard that allowed him to bring Jesus back to Nazareth. For you and me God brings the good news that those who seek our life: sin, the devil, even death, are themselves dead to us. They have no power to rule us or dominate us. Instead, they all had to acknowledge the power of Jesus, who is now our gentle and loving King, our Savior. Thanks be to God. Amen.

  • Epiphany 1

    In Nomine Iesu

     

    Pastor Thomas L. Rank

    Epiphany 1

    January 7, 2007

     

    Text: Matthew 10:32-39

    Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. 33 But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven. 34 Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. 35 For I have come to "set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;" 36 and "a man's enemies will be those of his own household." 37 He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. 38 And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. 39 He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it.

     

    Dear fellow redeemed in Christ,

     

    These words today from our Lord, recorded in St. Matthew’s gospel, teach us the distinction between faith and love. Faith here means the confession of Jesus Christ as Savior, as Son of God, as all that He is shown to be in the Holy Scripture. Love means first of all love of God, and how that love of God may impact our love for others.

    These words of our Lord are words that are hard for us to hear and to apply in our lives. They are hard because they seem to go against other words that tell us to love others. So what does this mean for you, and for your families?

     

    We begin with the confession of Christ versus the denial of Christ. As we heard on New Year’s Eve last week, it matters whether or not we confess Christ. It is not an option. To confess Christ means we believe in Him alone, and we speak our faith. To deny Christ means that we do not speak Him, and that we are too ashamed or afraid or weak or unbelieving to say about Jesus: “My Lord and my God.”

     

    If you do not confess Christ, then, Jesus says, “I will deny you before My Father in heaven.” For Jesus to deny you means that He will say to you what the bridegroom told the five foolish virgins in the parable: “Depart from Me, for I do not know you” [Matt. 25:12]. And the door to heaven is closed and locked. That’s what it means if Jesus Christ denies you before His Father. It is a terrible result, one which should alarm us, and cause us to wake up from a slumbering faith, with intentions to learn more about how to confess Christ and what that means for our daily lives.

     

    Mary, the mother of Jesus, found out early what it would mean for her to be the mother of the Jesus Christ. When she brought Jesus to the Temple, a man named Simeon told her: “Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” [Luke 2:34-35]. Simeon foretold that Jesus would be denied, “spoken against.” And that Mary would feel the sword that Jesus speaks of here in Matthew 10. “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.”

     

    To confess Christ is something that has eternal blessings. It means that you and I are bound to Him who died and rose again for the forgiveness of our sins. It means that you and I are promised eternal life, an eternity of peace and joy, with all the wonders and joys and contentment of the mansions in heaven Jesus, the Son of God, has prepared for us.

     

    But right now you and I are living in the “not yet” time of faith in Christ. What I mean by that is the full blessings of confessing Christ are not yet seen by us. We are forgiven, yet we still find sin within us. We have eternal life, but we know that physical death will come our way. We live by faith. We live in the “not yet” time when we trust God’s promises. We are like father Abraham who was promised a great nation with descendants more than the sand on the seashore, yet saw only his son Isaac. It was still “not yet” for Abraham. So it is with you and me.

     

    In fact, we are in the time when confessing Jesus Christ as Savior will seem to cause more trouble than blessings. It will seem that it has brought war instead of peace. It will seem that Christ has forsaken us or forgotten us instead of confessing us as His brothers and sisters before His Father in heaven. All this will happen because the confession of Christ reveals hearts; it brings the sword instead of peace; and it may set us against the very ones closest to us, our families. This is what makes these words of Jesus hard.

     

    Christ comes first in our lives. Faith in Christ is the most important thing for us, because we are saved by grace alone through faith in Jesus Christ. If we fail at this point, if we fail in faith, denying Christ, then it doesn’t matter if we are outwardly the most caring, considerate, compassionate, husband or wife, son or daughter. It won’t matter because without Christ, when our thoughts are revealed on the last day, we will see that it was all about us, it was an idolizing of ourselves. We had a god all along; it wasn’t Jesus, it was me, you. So it is essential for us to keep hearing God’s Word, receiving His holy Sacrament, being absolved, so that the power of the Holy Spirit working within us keeps us in the faith, keeps us confessing Christ first.

     

    But this may have consequences for our lives within our families. There may come times when we have to choose between the truth of God’s Word and the actions of a family member. Some will tell us that love will mean tolerating, respecting, accepting, actions in our loved ones that go against the Word of God and that end up denying Christ. They will expect us, maybe even demand of us, the acceptance of their right to do as they choose, even when their choices are contrary to the clear Word of God. But what does the confession of Jesus Christ mean for us in such times? What does love really mean at that point?

     

    What we need to learn to do is to keep first things first. First is Jesus Christ, faith in Him, confession of Him as our Savior from sin, death, and the devil. We accept the fact that the confession of the truth will bring consequences for us that may be more than uncomfortable; they may hurt, and leave us sorrowful. Our Lord Himself wept over the fate of Jerusalem because they would not believe in Him. “How often I would have gathered you like a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you would not.” Jesus could not deny Himself. The people of Jerusalem would one day discover, to their horror, what it meant to deny Jesus, as their city was destroyed.

     

    But even with that, we also learn to deal with others, especially others in our families, with the compassion and charity which our Lord has given us. We need the forgiveness which only God can give. And He gives it to us, generously. We then speak of the need for continued repentance, of the need for the admission of sin, not of tolerating it or accepting it. We speak in such ways not out of hatred, but out of a true love for the souls of the people involved. A doctor who must amputate the grossly infected foot of a patient, does not do so out of hatred, but out of a desire to do what is best to save that person’s life, even though there will be pain and suffering involved in that amputation. It means putting first things first.

     

    This morning, let us look to our families with the prayer that our Lord would have mercy on us; that He would help us to confess our Savior with integrity, with courage, with a clear and steady mind, allowing nothing to move us from saving faith, faith which is a precious gift to us from God, our heavenly Father. May we also keep growing in our love for those around us, seeing what they, like us, truly need: lives of repentance and faith, trusting in the work of salvation done by Jesus, the Son of God. God grant us the strength to be faithful witnesses, the boldness to speak the truth, and the humility to do so knowing our own need for the grace of God. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

     

     

     

  • Epiphany 2

    In Nomine Iesu

     

    Pastor Thomas L. Rank

    Epiphany 2

    January 15, 2006

     

    Text: John 2:1-11

    On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2 Now both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding. 3 And when they ran out of wine, the mother of Jesus said to Him, “They have no wine.” 4 Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does your concern have to do with Me? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Whatever He says to you, do it.” 6 Now there were set there six waterpots of stone, according to the manner of purification of the Jews, containing twenty or thirty gallons apiece. 7 Jesus said to them, “Fill the waterpots with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 8 And He said to them, “Draw some out now, and take it to the master of the feast.” And they took it. 9 When the master of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and did not know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom. 10 And he said to him, “Every man at the beginning sets out the good wine, and when the guests have well drunk, then the inferior. You have kept the good wine until now!” 11 This beginning of signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory; and His disciples believed in Him.

     

    DEAR FATHER, YOU ARE OUR HIDING PLACE AND OUR SHIELD; WE HOPE IN YOUR WORD (Ps 119:114). AMEN.

     

    Dear fellow redeemed in Christ,

     

    In Revelation 19 the marriage supper of the Lamb, of Jesus Christ, is the great feast of salvation, the wonderful gathering of God’s people with their Savior. In Ephesians 5 we read about the beautiful relationship between Christ and His bride, the holy Christian church, and how the marriage of man and woman ties in with that spiritual union. In Matthew 22 our Lord tells a parable during Holy Week that has at its center the invitation to a wedding. “Come, for all things are now ready,” is the gracious invitation to the kingdom of God.

     

    To all of these we can add the text before us from John 2. It is not coincidence that the first miracle of Jesus occurs in the context of a wedding. Christ and His bride, the Church, are united through the love of Christ, a love that is all about sacrifice, even to death. And the Church receives this love, and willingly follows the Savior, trusting Him with her very life.

     

    To break the union of Church and Christ is the goal of the enemies of God. This union is broken through teachings that point the church away from the sacrifice and love of Christ. This union is compromised when the church, the bride, falls away and seeks someone other than the bridegroom.

     

    It is no accident that when the Old Testament prophets speak of the idolatry of Israel they use the term “adultery.” God’s chosen people had abandoned Him and had gone seeking others, other gods, other pleasures, other sources of life and contentment. In the Old Testament we find that Israel committed a grievous error through its abandonment of the true God. Israel’s search for someone or something to replace the true God resulted only in failure, in death and discontentment. Israel was not happy after its abandonment of God. The church also has no joy, no life, no hope without Christ.

     

    But here in John 2 the couple to be married invited Jesus to the wedding. Nothing could be better than for Jesus to be there. For Jesus, God, is the one who first instituted, established, the estate of holy matrimony. In Genesis 2 we find that God creates Eve for Adam, and puts this man and this woman together. The man and woman are together to be one, and, as Jesus would teach later, let no man break apart that union.

     

    But just as the enemies of God desired Israel to break away from God, and just as they desire also the splitting of the union of Christ and His bride the Church, so also these enemies of God do all they can do destroy marriage. They attempt to destroy in the individual marriages that exist. They also try to destroy it by attacking the institution itself.

     

    In many places marriage is despised today. The feminists of 30 years ago actively attempted to destroy it. The advocates for the unions of gays and lesbians today try to do the same. God’s blessed institution of the union of one man and one woman is thought to be old-fashioned, too strict. Many want it to evolve into a more open arrangement in which almost any combination of two or more humans can be considered a marriage.

     

    Yet, it doesn’t matter if Canada, if Sweden, if any other country, not even if Massachusetts or the whole of the United States, say that marriage is any union of any two people. It doesn’t matter because marriage is not defined by any state. No Christian church body has the right, either, to redefine what marriage is. Marriage was created by God. We have His word, Holy Scripture. That defines it clearly, completely. And for the faithful Christian Church, that settles the issue.

     

    Still, many are intimidated by the number of those who agitate for reinventing marriage. What we can do is insure that where the institution of marriage is attacked that Christians will confess the truth, and work to protect it.

     

    The attacks against marriage in the public realm, in politics and government is bad. But the battleground is more frightening the closer we get to home. For suddenly we are not dealing laws and legislatures, but we are dealing with everyday life in homes in our own communities. So even as we work to protect marriage at the state and national levels, we must also take care to protect marriage in our own homes, in our own families.

     

    This starts with learning how God desires to protect husband and wife. Marriage is protected by the Sixth commandment: “You shall not commit adultery. What does this mean? We should fear and love God, so that we lead a chaste and decent life in word and deed, and that husband and wife each love and honor the other.”

     

    It doesn’t take long for husband and wife to discover how easily they can irritate each other. Where there should be love, there is dislike, maybe even hatred. Where there should be honor there is mutual detesting of each other. Why is this? Because husband and wife are both sinful people, living together, in close quarters, with shared frustrations. We would hope that Christian husband and Christian wife would learn, or even enter marriage, knowing of the great and on-going need to forgive each other again and again. After all, they were both sinners in need of forgiveness before they were married. The words of the Lord’s Prayer are not new: “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  But forgiveness seems far away in marriage as husband and wife maneuver to have the upper hand, instead of living in sacrificial and submissive love, husband to wife, and wife to husband.

     

    So we find in marriage little love and little honor. We find a husband yelling at his wife as if the wife was a child. Is that honor? We find a wife despising her husband as she sees his weakness and gloats over it. Is that honor? Husbands do not like putting wives first, sacrificing for them, because husbands are selfish. Wives do not like submitting in love to their husbands because they are proud. Christ humbled Himself to the point of death for His church. That’s more than a clue for husbands. The Christian Church submits to the authority of the One who sacrifices Himself for her, and that is more than a clue for wives. Yet our sinful nature rebels at such calls for love.

     

    The Christian home is the foundation of society. The Christian family, parents and children, is fundamental to the church. And it all starts with husband and wife. And that is why the enemies of God will always seek ways to bring strife, misery, hatred, into marriage. Satan hates harmony between husband and wife. The world works to subvert anything God says is good. And our own sinful flesh wants no part of sacrificing for someone else, or submitting to someone else. No wonder marriages get broken.

     

    But in all this we must never forget the power of God for salvation, the Gospel, the forgiveness of sins through faith in Jesus Christ. We start by understanding ourselves. We learn to see how we deserve no good thing from God, no forgiveness, nothing. But what do we find? We find love, we find forgiveness so deep, so all-encompassing, that our sins are gone, never to be found. All through the sacrifice of Jesus at the cross. His blood cleanses us, washes us of sin. Starting with that, we then move on to our spouse. This is not about ignoring sin, but of forgiving it – forgiving even when we don’t think our husband or wife deserves it; forgiving even when its not fair. And we can only do that, live that, as we keep growing ourselves in the forgiveness we receive from God each and every day: through our Baptism, through the absolving Word, through the Body and Blood of Christ in the Supper. The Holy Spirit comes to us through all these blessed means of grace and bandages our wounds, calming us with the patience and comfort of God. That is how we live with ourselves, and with our spouse. It starts and ends with Christ.

     

    Christ was at that wedding at Cana so many years ago. He continues to be with husbands and wives even today. He knows what’s going on. He knows how marriage is attacked from both within and without. But He also made sure to take care of it, by dying, by rising, by being with us always, to the very end of the world. Let this be our strength, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

     

  • Epiphany 3

    In Nomine Iesu

     

    Pastor Thomas L. Rank

    Epiphany 3 - The Conversion of St. Paul

    January 25, 2004

     

    Text: Acts 9:1-22

    Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3 As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. 4 Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?" 5 And he said, "Who are You, Lord?" Then the Lord said, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads." 6 So he, trembling and astonished, said, "Lord, what do You want me to do?" Then the Lord said to him, "Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do." 7 And the men who journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice but seeing no one. 8 Then Saul arose from the ground, and when his eyes were opened he saw no one. But they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. 9 And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank. 10 Now there was a certain disciple at Damascus named Ananias; and to him the Lord said in a vision, "Ananias." And he said, "Here I am, Lord." 11 So the Lord said to him, "Arise and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for one called Saul of Tarsus, for behold, he is praying. 12 "And in a vision he has seen a man named Ananias coming in and putting his hand on him, so that he might receive his sight." 13 Then Ananias answered, "Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem. 14 "And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name." 15 But the Lord said to him, "Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. 16 "For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake." 17 And Ananias went his way and entered the house; and laying his hands on him he said, "Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you came, has sent me that you may receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit." 18 Immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he received his sight at once; and he arose and was baptized. 19 So when he had received food, he was strengthened. Then Saul spent some days with the disciples at Damascus. 20 Immediately he preached the Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God. 21 Then all who heard were amazed, and said, "Is this not he who destroyed those who called on this name in Jerusalem, and has come here for that purpose, so that he might bring them bound to the chief priests?" 22 But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who dwelt in Damascus, proving that this Jesus is the Christ.

     

    THESE ARE YOUR WORDS, HEAVENLY FATHER, SANCTIFY US BY YOUR TRUTH, YOUR WORD IS TRUTH. AMEN.

     

    Dear fellow redeemed in Christ,

     

    Saul was there when Stephen, the first Christian martyr, was killed by a mob after he had boldly confessed his faith in his Savior Jesus Christ. We are told that Saul consented to the death of Stephen. And then we read in our text how Saul wanted to go all the way to Damascus and arrest any people who were of "the Way." "The Way" was an early name for the Christians. They believed in Jesus who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Saul wanted permission to round up as many of these Christians as he could and put them in prison.

     

    Why was Saul so opposed to the Christians, why did he approve of the death of Saint Stephen and seek to capture others? Saul was a Pharisee. He was a very learned man. He knew the Old Testament scriptures. He had studied them under one of the great Rabbis, Gamaliel. He would himself explain later on: "I am indeed a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, taught according to the strictness of our fathers' law, and was zealous toward God as you all are today. I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women...."

     

    The strictness of the fathers' law was not only the Old Testament scriptures, however. No, it included all sorts of interpretations of the rabbis through the decades. Saul had been brought up learning and believing the very things Jesus had condemned when He quoted the prophet Isaiah and said, "These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men." Saul trusted in the works righteousness of the Pharisees. He believed that his strength and will were enough to please God. He would proudly point to all the things he had done and claim that certainly he had earned the right to eternal life because of his strict adherence to all the laws.

     

    Since Saul was convinced of the rightness of his cause and of his precise understanding of the law of God he saw the rise of the Christians as a threat to how he understood and worshiped God. Saul believed that certainly God had not come in the flesh in the person of Jesus Christ, and that to believe such a thing was blasphemy, making a mockery of God. Therefore, for Saul, it was entirely warranted for these Christians to be imprisoned, and maybe even killed, like Stephen.

     

    It was during Saul’s journey to Damascus that the Lord Jesus Christ appeared to him. A bright light shone on him and a voice spoke from heaven. The others with Saul heard a voice, but could see nothing. Saul receives the word from Jesus instructing him to go to Damascus, and to wait for a further word that will instruct him about what to do next. Saul understands that the voice he hears is that of Jesus Christ. Saul acknowledges this Jesus as his Lord, "Lord, what do you want me to do?" For three days Saul is blinded, and he neither eats nor drinks, while he awaits the Lord’s word.

     

    Meanwhile, the Lord speaks to Ananias, a Christian man living in Damascus. The Lord directs Ananias to go and find Saul of Tarsus. Ananias has heard about Saul, and is not eager to go to him since he knows that Saul has persecuted Christians and is seeking to do the same in Damascus. However, the Lord has great plans for Saul. "Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name's sake."

     

    Ananias does as he is directed. He finds Saul, and gives him back his sight. After three days of darkness, without food or drink, Saul is brought to light. And the first thing he does is to be baptized, receiving the Holy Spirit. Saul then begins preaching and teaching about Jesus, proving that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah promised in the Old Testament scriptures.

     

    Saul had gone through a complete reversal. He had been dedicated to all the laws of the rabbis regarding how to eat and drink, how to be ceremonially clean, who to associate with, who to avoid, and on and on and on. Saul had been precise in his following of these laws. He had been an expert in it all. But now not only will he preach and exhort concerning the gospel of Jesus Christ, the forgiveness of sins through faith alone in the true Savior, Saul will specifically be sent to the Gentiles, those who neither knew nor followed the ceremonial laws previously so beloved by Saul. The one who zealously guarded and protected the law, will now zealously preach the gospel as the only way to salvation.

     

    Saul would be renamed Paul. He would go on missionary journeys throughout the Mediterranean world. He would start new churches, strengthen others through his many letters, the divinely inspired books we know with the names: Romans, Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, and so on. Yet this great teacher and preacher of the Christian Church started by hating the Church, hating Christ, and wanting to destroy it. It was not false humility, but a true understanding of Saul's (Paul's) own sin that led him to admit: "This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief."

     

    The point of Paul’s writing of those words is not so that we can compare our sins to his and consider him a worse sinner than we are. "Chief of sinners" is a title we can each give to ourselves, as we humbly and honestly examine our own lives, our own betrayals of God, our failure to live as the redeemed children of God, but instead to wallow in the mud and scum of sin, rebelling in blatant ways, or in less obvious ways, against God's will for us.

     

    Martin Luther, like Saul/Paul, understood the seriousness of sin, and the struggle that it brings to each and every Christian. Luther wrote: "For the flesh in which we daily live is of such a nature that it does not trust and believe God and is constantly aroused by evil desires and devices, so that we sin daily in word and deed, in acts of commission and omission. Thus our conscience becomes restless; it fears God’s wrath and displeasure, and so it loses the comfort and confidence of the Gospel. Therefore it is necessary constantly to turn to this petition ["forgive us our trespasses"] for the comfort that will restore our conscience."

     

    "This should serve God's purpose to break our pride and keep us humble. He has reserved to himself this prerogative, that if anybody boasts of his goodness and despises others he should examine himself in the light of this petition. He will find that he is no better than others, that in the presence of God all men must humble themselves and be glad that they can attain forgiveness. Let no one think that he will ever in this life reach the point where he does not need this forgiveness. In short, unless God constantly forgives, we are lost."

     

    Luther had been instructed by St. Paul through his reading of Romans and Galatians especially. And Luther could only agree and confess along with Paul the depth of sin, and the great love of God that showed in the sacrifice of the Son of God, dying for us, so that we receive the forgiveness of sins, even though we are "the chief of sinners."

     

    Saul was converted though God's Word, through the working of the Holy Spirit, through Holy Baptism. And by God’s grace alone Saul the persecutor of the church became St. Paul, the one who first began to bring the Gospel to the gentiles, a work that has continued all the way to us who live now in the communities around Scarville, Iowa.

     

    By God's love and mercy you and I hear the precious and saving word of life, the forgiveness of our sins. God help us not to turn away from Him, but to learn again and again of how much He forgives, how much He loves, how much He cares, not just for people in general, but for you, for each one of you. God grant you such confident faith, through Jesus Christ, Lord and Savior. Amen.

     

  • Epiphany 4

    In Nomine Iesu

     

    Pastor Thomas L. Rank

    Epiphany 4

    January 29, 2006

     

    Text: Matthew 8:23-27

    Now when He got into a boat, His disciples followed Him. 24 And suddenly a great tempest arose on the sea, so that the boat was covered with the waves. But He was asleep. 25 Then His disciples came to Him and awoke Him, saying, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!” 26 But He said to them, “Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?” Then He arose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. 27 So the men marveled, saying, “Who can this be, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?”

     

    DEAR FATHER, YOU ARE OUR HIDING PLACE AND OUR SHIELD; WE HOPE IN YOUR WORD. AMEN. (Ps 119:114)

     

    Dear fellow redeemed in Christ,

     

    When Jesus is sleeping it is hard to trust Him. That’s what the disciples discovered when they were in a boat with Him on the Sea of Galilee. Walking with Jesus on the shore, on a nice sunny day, then trust in Jesus is easy. In fact, one could be quite bold at that time and say all sorts of great things about how much one trusts in Jesus. But trust, or faith, is made visible in times of trouble.

     

    St. Matthew relates to us the trouble that caused the disciples to doubt Jesus. They were in a boat on the Sea of Galilee when the storm came up. There was a great wind and waves big enough to cover the boat.

     

    Now, the disciples are not unaware of the storms on the Sea of Galilee. Some have made their living on that water. For them to reach the conclusion that they are “perishing” means that things were very serious in that boat. They truly have good reason to think they’re about to die. People who live by the sea for many years know many families who have lost loved ones through storms. No doubt the disciples could tell stories about disasters that occurred in past years on the Sea of Galilee. So they know what they are talking about when they conclude that they are in very deep trouble.

     

    At least, we can say that humanly speaking they know what’s going on. But what do they forget to add to the equation that gave the answer as death? They forget about Jesus. And that is just what happens so often. When trouble strikes us we forget about Jesus.

     

    Actually, the disciples don’t really forget about Jesus being with them. What they forget is who He is, and what He can do. And that is just as bad as forgetting about Him. Jesus is nothing more than a good luck charm if we forget that He is true God, begotten of the Father from eternity.

     

    To their credit the disciples do go to Jesus. However, they do not do so with confidence, but with panic and fear. They cry out for help to the sleeping Jesus in the boat. This is worth noting. The disciples are in great difficulty. But they still do go to Jesus.

     

    What does Jesus do? How does He respond to the disciples when they cry out to Him, when they pray for His mercy and help? There is some chastising on the part of Jesus. “Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?” But He still listens to them and answers their prayer.

     

    Jesus does not yell at the disciples or wait for them to get stronger in faith and trust before helping them. He does not put more demands on them in their time of distress. And that is a great comfort. Jesus provides the needed help despite the little faith of the disciples.

     

    And what is that help? Jesus rebukes the winds and the sea. The result is that the wind and the sea become calm. They calm down because that is what their Maker desires.

     

    We went over this story in catechism class last week. I asked the students if they had ever tried to “rebuke” the wind. This past Tuesday we had wind up to 50 mph. If you were driving in it, did you tell the wind to calm down, or go away for awhile. My guess is that even if you did try it, you failed. You failed because the wind does not acknowledge you as its Maker. We have no power over the wind or water. But Jesus does.

     

    “Who can this be, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?” Consider these words from the first chapter of Genesis:

     

    Then God said, "Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters." 7 Thus God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament; and it was so. 8 And God called the firmament Heaven. So the evening and the morning were the second day. 9 Then God said, "Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear"; and it was so.

     

    God is the One who created the waters, the very water over which Jesus has power. Consider also these words from Colossians in which St. Paul describes Jesus:

     

    For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him.

     

    So who is it that the wind and sea obey? It is God Himself.

     

    Imagine the disciples, or you and I if we were there, trying to figure this out. Here is this man, Jesus, sleeping in the boat. Sleeping just like you and I sleep. Our bodies get tired, we’re worn out physically from the day’s work. We rest. But this Jesus awakes, stands up, and tells the wind to be quiet. And the wind obeys.

     

    God was there in the boat with the disciples. He was not there in just some spiritual, invisible way. He was there in flesh and blood. He listened to the disciples cry for salvation, and He provided it. He saved their lives by His Word, His powerful Word.

     

    Think of the One to whom you are speaking when you pray these words: “And lead us not into temptation.” You are speaking to God, to the One who took on human flesh and blood, who became incarnate, the Son of God, Jesus Christ. You are speaking to the One who created all things. You are speaking to the One of whom St. John proclaims: the Word became flesh and dwelt among and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.

     

    And you are speaking to the One who listens always to our prayers, and who always desires to help, no matter how little our trust, our faith, may be. We don’t ask because we deserve help, we ask because we need help, and Jesus is the One who has promised to help in all trials and temptations and troubles.

     

    In the catechism we confess:

    “God certainly tempts no one to sin, but we pray in this petition that God would guard and keep us so that the devil, the world and our own flesh may not deceive us nor lead us into misbelief, despair and other shameful sin and vice; and though we be thus tempted, that we may still in the end overcome and retain the victory.”

     

    The world wanted the disciples to fail that day on the Sea of Galilee. Certainly Satan did, too. Their own sinful flesh flinched at approach of certain death as wind and sea roared about them. But Jesus, even a sleeping Jesus, heard them. He had never left them. He had never forgotten them. He was there to help even when they didn’t think He would help or could help.

     

    No matter what your trouble, no matter what your doubts may be, never be afraid to call out for help to Jesus. You might think He’s sleeping. You might think that you don’t deserve His help. But forget all that. Pray, trust in the One who hears you, the One whom even wind and sea obey, the One whom even death and hell could not overcome. That One is on your side against whatever may come your way in this life.

     

    For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, 39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord ((Romans 8:38-39).

     

    Jesus will never leave you alone in the boat. He is here, and He is your salvation. Thanks be to God! Amen.

     

    Soli Deo Gloria

    (To God alone be the glory!)

  • Epiphany 5

    Sermon not yet added

  • Transfiguration

    In Nomine Iesu

     

    Pastor Thomas L. Rank

    Transfiguration Sunday

    February 5, 2006

     

    Text: Matthew 17:1-9

    Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, led them up on a high mountain by themselves; 2 and He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light. 3 And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him. 4 Then Peter answered and said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, let us make here three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 5 While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!” 6 And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their faces and were greatly afraid. 7 But Jesus came and touched them and said, “Arise, and do not be afraid.” 8 When they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only. 9 Now as they came down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying, “Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man is risen from the dead.”

     

    DEAR FATHER, YOU ARE OUR HIDING PLACE AND OUR SHIELD; WE HOPE IN YOUR WORD. AMEN. (Ps 119:114)

     

    Dear fellow redeemed in Christ,

     

    In chapter 16 of St. Matthew and in the later part of chapter 17 our Lord Jesus Christ tells His disciples that He will suffer many things, be crucified, and rise again the third day. The first time Peter hears Jesus describe what must happen he actually tries to talk Jesus out of it. To which Jesus says, “get behind Me, Satan.” When Jesus says the same thing after our text today, the disciples do not try to dissuade Jesus, but they are sorrowful. In between these two descriptions of Jesus’ upcoming suffering, death, and resurrection we have the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus.

     

    The Transfiguration is a great moment for Peter, James, and John, the disciples who were with Jesus on that mountain that day. They are allowed to see the face of Jesus shining like the sun. The clothes of Jesus shine white as pure light. The disciples catch a glimpse of the hidden divine nature of Jesus Christ. They see Him, for a moment, as He truly is when He allows His glory to shine forth. They see Him as the very One of whom the Father says: “This is My beloved Son.” And with words which no doubt troubled Peter, the God the Father said: “Hear Him.” In other words, “Listen to Jesus. “Do not try to turn Him away from the work of salvation to which He willingly goes. “Do not become obstacles to My plan for the redemption of all people.” The work of Jesus, the One who is full of glory and power, is to suffer and die.

     

    The fact that Jesus is both true God and true man is taught in our text. To the eyes of the disciples Jesus, before and after His transfiguration, appears as a normal looking man. But the transfiguration, the change of the appearance of Jesus to the glorious shining figure, plus the voice of the Father identifying Jesus as His beloved Son, show that Jesus is more than a normal man. He is also God.

     

    What is the reason for Jesus being both God and man? Our catechism summarizes the biblical teaching on the need for Jesus to be both God and man in this way:

     

    It was necessary for our Savior to be true man in order to fulfill the law for us and suffer and die in our place....It was necessary for our Savior to be true God in order that His fulfilling the law for us and His suffering and dying in our place might be sufficient.

     

    In other words, the very reason for the two natures in Christ, the Incarnation, the fact that Jesus is both true God from eternity and also true man born of the Virgin Mary, is in order to accomplish salvation, to pay for our sins, to justify us, forgive us.

     

    However, there is the idea today that the main reason for Jesus to become true man was in order to show how welcoming and hospitable God is towards us. It is a shift away from the atonement, a shift away from the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, and a shift to a more therapeutic, feel-good Jesus. It is as if our real need was not for the forgiveness of our sins, but to become aware of how God wants to welcome us into His family. And while there is bit of truth to this, it comes at the price of moving the real work of Jesus off to the side, and putting in the center only one of the results of Jesus’ work. It also puts off to the side the need you and I have for the death of Jesus, His sacrifice for the death we deserved because of our sins. And this fits in with much of the thinking today which wants little to do with “Christ crucified,” and wants more only Christ the Enabler, the One who will help us be all we can be.

     

    The Christ of the transfiguration is not that person. He knows what His work is. He laid it all out for His disciples: suffering, death, resurrection. We dare not get this wrong about Jesus. To do so is to risk losing that which we truly need: forgiveness.

     

    Now, besides the transfiguration of Jesus, the disciples also see with Jesus two of great men of God from the Old Testament. First we have Moses. Moses is the greatest of all the heroes of faith in the Old Testament. But listen to what God said to Moses in Deuteronomy:

     

    “I will raise up for them a Prophet like you from among their brethren, and will put My words in His mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I command Him. 19 And it shall be that whoever will not hear My words, which He speaks in My name, I will require it of him.”

     

    So, what do you think Peter, James, and John are thinking when God the Father tells them to listen to Jesus? It is not only the glory that surrounds them that causes them to fall on their faces and be afraid, it is also the fact that they now know this Jesus is exactly the “Prophet” foretold by Moses in Deuteronomy. The words of Jesus are the what the Father commands, Jesus speaks in the name of the Father.

     

    And then we have Elijah. The prophet Malachi, whose writings certainly were known to the disciples, had foretold that Elijah would come before the great and awesome day of the Lord. And right after the transfiguration, just a few verses after our text, when the disciples are wondering about the meaning of Elijah, Jesus tells them that John the Baptist was the very “Elijah” foretold, the one who came right before the Messiah, the Christ, the promised One. So with Moses and Elijah both present at the transfiguration of Jesus there is the clear proclamation that Jesus is the One to whom all the Old Testament pointed. This is the One the disciples are to hear.

     

    For us, too, the words of the Father are to be heard. God the Father sent His Son in order for us to hear Him, to trust Him, to rely on His words. The words of Jesus are life, for He is Himself Resurrection and Life. To ignore the word of Jesus is to ignore the message we need. We need forgiveness for we are a people of sin, of rebellion, of selfishness. We need the suffering and death and resurrection of Jesus because without Jesus taking our place we have only eternal death awaiting us, the “just desserts” of our sin against God and neighbor.

     

    But thanks be to God that He has given His only-begotten Son to suffer and die and rise again for us. And like the disciples, our hope and joy is found by looking to Jesus only. For after all the events of the transfiguration, the glory, the fear, we are told: “When they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.” That’s what the Father wants. He wants us to see Jesus only. Jesus only is our salvation. He only is our Life. He only is our Resurrection, our joy and hope for all eternity.

     

    God keep you safe in Jesus only as you trust in Him and the precious work of salvation which He has accomplished for your sake. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

     

     

  • Septuagesima

    In Nomine Iesu

     

    Pastor Thomas L. Rank

    Septuagesima

    February 8, 2004

     

    Text: St. Matthew 20:1-16

    "For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2 "Now when he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. 3 "And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, 4 "and said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. 5 "Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did likewise. 6 "And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing idle, and said to them, ‘Why have you been standing here idle all day?’ 7 "They said to him, ‘Because no one hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right you will receive.’ 8 "So when evening had come, the owner of the vineyard said to his steward, ‘Call the laborers and give them their wages, beginning with the last to the first.’ 9 "And when those came who were hired about the eleventh hour, they each received a denarius. 10 "But when the first came, they supposed that they would receive more; and they likewise received each a denarius. 11 "And when they had received it, they complained against the landowner, 12 "saying, ‘These last men have worked only one hour, and you made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the heat of the day.’ 13 "But he answered one of them and said, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? 14 ‘Take what is yours and go your way. I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. 15 ‘Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things? Or is your eye evil because I am good?’ 16 "So the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen."

     

    THESE ARE YOUR WORDS, HEAVENLY FATHER, SANCTIFY US BY YOUR TRUTH, YOUR WORD IS TRUTH. AMEN.

     

    Dear fellow redeemed in Christ,

     

    The whole idea of fairness is getting out of hand in our country. There are all sorts of claims for getting what is fair. And we are all very good at spotting what is unfair. It is unfair for corporate executives to receive millions of dollars in bonuses. It is unfair for ball players to receive millions of dollars in salary just to play a dumb game. It is unfair to receive a speeding ticket when the patrolman didn’t give a ticket to the guy who passed you a minute earlier going twice as fast as you were.

     

    Besides these, there are all sort of more serious types of unfairness. Was it fair for that young eleven year old girl in Florida to be murdered on her way home from school? Is it fair that women and children are killed by suicide bombers in Israel? Is it fair that some get incurable cancer while others don’t? There are many, many types of unfairness all around us. Some even think that it is unfair for homosexual couples not to be able to marry. They are wrong, but that will not stop them from trying to force the acceptance of this perversion on the rest of the country.

     

    So what is fairness all about? It is usually about you or me getting the good stuff we think we deserve, but it is not about us getting the bad stuff we deserve. Isn’t it true that talk about fairness is just a one way street? The children of Israel followed Moses into the desert after being saved from slavery in Egypt. But then they complained and complained about how unfair it was that they were not living in the luxury they deserved. God had performed great miracles of deliverance for them, yet that was not enough. No thought was given to what they owed God, but it was all about what God owed them.

     

    Jesus spoke the parable of the landowner and the workers to teach us about relying on the grace of God and not looking for rewards or compensation that we deserve. This parable is about the Gospel and its great treasure freely given despite the fact that we haven’t earned it. It is not about the law, because the law is all about earning something, about fairness, about justice, about everything being equal.

     

    The first workers of the day worked the longest. But before they even worked they had agreed to a specific amount of money. It seemed fair at the time to them, or else they would not have agreed to work for that wage, one denarius. So they go out and put in the hours expected of them, and they get exactly what they agreed to, no more, no less. So what makes them complain at the end of the day? They don’t look at what they agreed to, they look at what others are getting. Their complaints grow from coveting, from greediness, from a sense of unfairness, of being cheated. They would never have worked twelve hours for one denarius if they knew they could have gotten the same amount for working just one hour. But they received what they deserved.

     

    The other workers did not make an agreement for a wage before they started working. Instead, the landowner said, "whatever is right, I will give you." These workers decided simply to rely on the landowner. And they received as much as the first ones.

     

    This is not fair, is it. But this parable is not about salaries, and equal pay for equal work, it is not a tool for discussions between labor and management. This parable is about the kingdom of heaven and how it is different from the world and its insistence on fairness.

     

    The kingdom of heaven deals with us in two ways: law and gospel. The law is all about fairness. If you do this, then this will be your reward. If you do not do this, then this will be your punishment. It is very straight forward. Everything balances out. It is very, very fair. And it should scare you to death to think that God must judge you in this way.

     

    God’s law is good and perfect. We are not. And that is what makes the law a problem for us, the way of death instead of life. The law demands that you never have any other god than the true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It goes on to teach us that anytime we trust or love or rely on someone or something, then that thing is our god. So, we find that our lives are filled with many gods, things that give us pleasure, things that make us feel secure, things that give us power. Whatever or whoever these things are, they are all false gods, which means that we have not loved God as we should. The law demands perfection. It demands 100% obedience. So as soon as the law is broken by us, what is the punishment? "The wages of sin is death."

     

    Do you want God to be fair with you? Do you want Him to give you exactly what you have earned? You have not been as kind to your husband or wife as you should have been. You have not raised your children as you should have. You have not been as generous as you should have been. So what have you earned with all this? What does it mean for God to be fair with you in this matter? It means that He should allow you to suffer for your sins right now and for all eternity. That would be the fairest way.

     

    But God is love. And love is not fair. Parents are to love our children even when we are sorely disappointed by them. Because of love we are to be kind to others even when they don’t deserve it. That is love.

     

    God’s love is far above any love we can achieve. He loved us so much that He did not want us to die in our sins. So He made a plan for our salvation that was unfair. He gave His best and dearest, His only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ. God did not even bother to weigh all our sin to determine the exact amount needed to pay for it all. He simply paid so much that no sin or pile of sins could ever come close to using it all up. That payment is the life and death, the shedding of the blood, of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. How unfair! But that is what it means that we are saved by grace alone. Grace is unfair. It is love we do not in any way deserve or earn. It is simply given.

     

    Jesus teaches us that we should not be like the workers who complained at the unfairness of the landowner. Instead, let us rejoice in the grand unfairness of the grace of God, a love so immense that we need not think of paying for our sin, it is all taken care of. Such love allows us to approach God without fear, for by His grace we are able to approach Him as children speak to their dear father. Such love allows us to rest in peace when we approach our own time of death, for we know that by God’s grace our sins will not be a weight that sinks us into hell, but we are given forgiveness for all, and we will be carried to heaven. We are saved by grace alone. That is the grand and wonderful unfairness of God’s love for each of you. Thanks be to God! Amen.

     

  • Saxagesima

    In Nomine Iesu

     

    Pastor Thomas L. Rank

    Sexagesima

    February 15, 2004

     

    Text: John 12:35-43

    Then Jesus said to them, "A little while longer the light is with you. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you; he who walks in darkness does not know where he is going. 36 "While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light." These things Jesus spoke, and departed, and was hidden from them. 37 But although He had done so many signs before them, they did not believe in Him, 38 that the word of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spoke: "Lord, who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?" 39 Therefore they could not believe, because Isaiah said again: 40 "He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, Lest they should see with their eyes, Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, So that I should heal them." 41 These things Isaiah said when he saw His glory and spoke of Him. 42 Nevertheless even among the rulers many believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; 43 for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.

     

    THESE ARE YOUR WORDS, HEAVENLY FATHER, SANCTIFY US BY YOUR TRUTH, YOUR WORD IS TRUTH. AMEN.

     

    Dear fellow redeemed in Christ,

     

    Our text this morning took place after Palm Sunday, that is, just a few days before Jesus’ crucifixion and death. He knows that the hour of His great suffering is near. The Light of the world, Jesus Christ, is soon to be extinguished by the death on the cross – or at least that is what will appear to happen. So Jesus tells the crowd about the "little while" that He will be with them. He desires that they believe Him now, "now is the time of their salvation." They should not presume to think that it doesn’t matter if they put off following Jesus. No, rather they must understand: "while you have the light, believe in the light."

     

    However, John records for us that many did not believe Jesus. This reminds us of the result in John 6, after Jesus fed the 5,000 and taught that He is the Bread of Life. He taught the crowd: "Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day." What happened to so many who followed Jesus? They left Him and followed Him no more. They did not believe Him.

     

    Now we see much the same thing happening. Yet, there is the interesting comment from St. John that many of the rulers believed in Jesus. But what did they do? They did not confess Him because they were unwilling to go against the Pharisees. The Pharisees would excommunicate anyone who confessed Jesus, just as they had done to the blind man Jesus healed, recorded in John’s ninth chapter. At that time Jesus had told the Pharisees: "For judgment I have come into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may be made blind." Then some of the Pharisees who were with Him heard these words, and said to Him, "Are we blind also?" Jesus said to them, "If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you say, ‘We see.’ Therefore your sin remains." The light had come into the world, but the darkness refused to acknowledge it. And the rulers in our text decide it is better to remain in the darkness than to confess the light. Of them John states: "they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God." These are sad words, sadder still because they apply to us all so often.

     

    There is a penalty to pay when we stand up for the truth of God's Word. The penalty varies according to the society. In China, the penalty may be prison. In various Muslim countries the penalty may be death. In our own community the penalty may be that you will be shunned, avoided, called names, perhaps it will mean that people you thought were friends will no longer treat you the same way. What are we willing to endure? It is so tempting to "love the praise of men more than the praise of God."

     

    In the Gospel for today we heard Jesus’ parable of the Sower and the Seed. The seed was thrown around all over the place. There was no attempt to stay just on the good soil. It was thrown on the path, on the rocks, among the weeds. Why? Because God is not stingy with His Word. He spreads His Word so that all will hear. But not all believe. Satan, world, and sinful flesh all work to kill the seed. The seed is eaten by the birds, scorched by the sun, and choked by the weeds. That is why Jesus says to us: "Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you...."

     

    It is easy to take God’s Word for granted. After all, there are Bibles all over the place. Every Sunday we have services here. Why should we worry about losing God’s Word? Such thoughts ignore what Jesus says here. Our Lord teaches us: Therefore they could not believe, because Isaiah said again: "He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, Lest they should see with their eyes, Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, So that I should heal them." Isaiah was writing about the people of his day, 700 years before Christ. These were the children of Israel, a nation for whom God had done wonderful things, a nation with such leaders as Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David, and others who confessed and taught and prophesied about the true God and the coming Messiah. Yet the people had given up the true faith. Many had turned to the false gods that surrounded them. And so Isaiah brought God’s Word: their eyes were blinded and their hearts hardened. What does this mean? We must remember how our Lutheran confession explains this: "For through the word and sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Spirit is given, who works faith where and when it pleases God in those who hear the Gospel" (AC V).

     

    There is a great mystery here that is ignored by those who seek the praise of men by seeking numbers and the glory of this world for the church. Large crowds are not the goal of preaching and teaching God’s Word. Rather, the goal is to proclaim that word faithfully. The results of the preaching and teaching are not ours to control or manipulate. The results are given by God the Holy Spirit. Some will hear and believe. But others will not. They will be blind and their hearts hardened to the truth of God’s Word. We cannot understand this. It is a mystery of God that we dare not try to unravel. What we are called to do is bring the Word to people, to scatter it as liberally and generously as the Sower in Jesus’ parable. How that Word is received is not our work. "The Holy Spirit works faith where and when it pleases God in those who hear the Gospel."

     

    What we learn is that it is only by God’s grace that His Word continues in any place. Should we abuse that grace and charity of God? Should we ignore Him and be blind and hard-hearted? Should we love the praise of men more than the praise of God? No, this is not what we desire. Yet we know that we are surrounded by sin, infected with it. We are unable to stand on our own. We are sinful. We find that we do not love God’s Word as we should, that our trust is too often mis-directed, that our confidence is placed not in the Gospel, the forgiveness of our sins through faith in Christ. But that is why we keep praying:

     

    Hallowed be Thy name. What does this mean? God's name is certainly holy in itself, but we pray in this petition that it may be holy among us also. How is God's name hallowed? God's name is hallowed when His Word is taught in its truth and purity, and we as the children of God live holy lives according to it. This grant us, dear Father in heaven! But he who teaches and lives otherwise than the Word of God teaches dishonors God's name among us. From this preserve us, heavenly Father!

     

    Our text does not lead us to despair or apathy. Rather, it points us to Christ. He is the Light. He has not left us. He was not extinguished by the darkness of death. He rose again the third day, proclaiming His victory over our enemies of sin, death, and devil. He continues to shine with the brilliance of the Son of God, who shines in our hearts, giving us forgiveness for all our wandering away from Him, patiently waiting for us like the father of the prodigal son. When the father saw his ungrateful son returning from his sin the father did not stomp away in a huff, but ran to the son, hugged him, and rejoiced, giving him a great and wonderful banquet. That is God’s love for you, a love that forgives, a love that prepares a table for us, a table with the great banquet of the Lord’s Supper, the body and blood of Jesus, given and shed for you for the remission of sins.

     

    God help us all to remain with the Light, to seek and love the praise of God, faithfully following our Lord, trusting in His Word alone, the Word of free forgiveness, for our salvation. Amen.

     

  • Quinquagesima

    In Nomine Iesu

     

    Pastor Thomas L. Rank

    Quinquagesima

    February 6, 2005

     

    Text: Luke 18:31-43

    Then He took the twelve aside and said to them, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man will be accomplished. 32 “For He will be delivered to the Gentiles and will be mocked and insulted and spit upon. 33 “They will scourge Him and kill Him. And the third day He will rise again.” 34 But they understood none of these things; this saying was hidden from them, and they did not know the things which were spoken. 35 Then it happened, as He was coming near Jericho, that a certain blind man sat by the road begging. 36 And hearing a multitude passing by, he asked what it meant. 37 So they told him that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by. 38 And he cried out, saying, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 39 Then those who went before warned him that he should be quiet; but he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 40 So Jesus stood still and commanded him to be brought to Him. And when he had come near, He asked him, 41 saying, “What do you want Me to do for you?” He said, “Lord, that I may receive my sight.” 42 Then Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has made you well.” 43 And immediately he received his sight, and followed Him, glorifying God. And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God.

     

    THESE ARE YOUR WORDS, HEAVENLY FATHER, SANCTIFY US BY YOUR TRUTH, YOUR WORD IS TRUTH. AMEN.

     

    Dear fellow redeemed in Christ,

     

    Who is really blind in the text before us today? On the one hand we have the blind man, the man who cannot see. He is blind because his eyes do not work right. He cannot physically see. But what about the disciples? Are they blind? Jesus tells them plainly what is going to happen to Him, His suffering, death, and resurrection. Yet how are the disciples described? “They understood none of these things.” There is a blindness at work here, too.

     

    In the Old Testament there are many examples of God’s works of power and love. But so often the promises of God were not trusted until after the fact. God had just delivered Israel from slavery in Egypt – all sorts of miraculous signs were done: all the plagues. The people rejoiced, they were freed! A few days later they had come to the Red Sea and had the army of Pharoah in hot pursuit. Do these people remember God’s great works for them? No, they see the Egyptian army, and it looks strong and deadly. So they fear and doubt. The works of God are forgotten, His promises to keep them safe are blocked out of their minds by the terrible army bearing down on them. Yet God makes a way of safety for them through the waters of the Red Sea, and takes care of their enemies with a powerful display of His strength.

     

    A few weeks later Israel is ready to enter the promised land, but their spies tell them of all the powerful cities and armies in Canaan. Do the people remember God’s promises and works of power and love? No. They fear to enter the land.

     

    Centuries later we find young David, not yet king, coming to the Israelite camp. He hears this booming voice from across the valley shouting obscenities and curses against Israel and God. David wonder where the champions of Israel are who will take on this giant named Goliath. No one goes. So David goes out to meet this giant armed only with a stick and a slingshot. His countrymen are afraid to look at the disaster that will soon come on David. He is small and basically unarmed. Goliath is huge and equipped with all the armaments of war. But David goes out trusting in the promises of God. Minutes later Goliath is dead, with David holding up the giant’s head in victory.

     

    Time and time again we find in Scripture examples of the many who are blind to the promises of God, and the few who will trust no matter what they see. Here in St. Luke we have the disciples failing to see who Jesus is, and the blind man calling out for help, even though he’s never seen Jesus. Guess which ones you and I are like.

     

    It is good, though, to remember what the disciples are thinking here. Have they ever seen Jesus lose? No. When His enemies try to trick Him with questions Jesus always knows the best answer, answers that really shut them up. When people possessed with demons have been brought to Jesus not one of those demons has been able to withstand the power of Jesus. Time after time those demons must run away when Jesus speaks. All the different diseases Jesus is confronted with meet the same fate. Even here in our text we are told of blindness being defeated by Jesus. Whether it be lameness, deafness, blindness, even death, none of these have been able to remain after Jesus says go away. Jesus never loses. That is the disciples experience for the three years they’ve been following Him.

     

    Therefore, when Jesus speaks about His suffering, when He says: “He will be delivered to the Gentiles and will be mocked and insulted and spit upon. They will scourge Him and kill Him. And the third day He will rise again” what can the disciples do? This is so different from what they have seen time and time again. Isn’t Jesus talking about losing? Isn’t He talking about not being able to defeat His enemies and their evil? Jesus doesn’t lose, so how can He die? Isn’t God with Him? Isn’t He the very Christ? How then can He talk about dying?

     

    What is it that the disciples don’t see? They don’t see that the death of Jesus is not a loss. They are like us, which means they see death as losing. And this is the natural thought of people. Death is not about winning, about getting our way. Death is seen as the last word in someone’s life, and that word is not one of victory but of defeat. So if Jesus never loses how can He die?

     

    A shift in thinking has to be made. The shift is this: when Jesus does something, no matter what it is, it is a victory even though it looks like a defeat to us and the rest of the world. Such a shift in thinking comes only through faith in the Word of God, trusting in the promises despite what is seen and experienced. Luther preached this text in this way:

     

    This is the lesson: that we should not trip over God’s Word, even though it sounds extraordinarily incredible, even impossible, but firmly take our stand: God has spoken it; it must happen. One should not ask whether it’s possible but only be concerned about God having said it. For if God has spoken it, he is mighty and truly able to bring it to pass. For that reason believe it!

     

    This is going to be a test for us throughout life. In our experiences we see and feel things that do not seem to agree with God’s Word. We see death but no resurrection. We see illness, and so often no healing. And we see in our own lives sins that keep going, even though we try hard not to, and even though we are forgiven. Why is there still sin? Why do I not feel victorious and show it in my life more and more and more?

     

    Such doubt and wondering come from our inability to trust fully in God’s Word. God says: You are forgiven. Yet, we still don’t feel very different. Jesus Christ gives us His Body and Blood, yet how often do we really feel like we’re in heaven with the angels and saints after communion? We are always struggling against our doubts, our flesh and blood. Therefore we keep needing to hear God’s Word, to learn to trust it more and more, and to see that even though we don’t always see what look like the victories of God, still it remains true: Jesus never loses.

     

    His own suffering and death were designed to bring about victory, and they did. He took our sin, He took our death, that was why He suffered and died. It was not about Him losing, but about how He chose to win in our place.

     

    This week we being the season of Lent, a time when we even more on the suffering and death of Jesus in our place. God help us during these days to keep hearing His Word, trusting it above everything else, and knowing by faith that our own victory is certain because we are connected to Jesus, and He never loses, not for Himself, and not for us. God grant us such confidence and an ever-growing faith in our Savior. In His name. Amen.

     

     

     

  • Lent 1

    In Nomine Iesu

     

    Pastor Thomas L. Rank

    Invocavit, Lent 1

    March 5, 2006

     

     

     

     

    Text: Matthew 4:1-11

    Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry. 3 Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” 4 But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’”  5 Then the devil took Him up into the holy city, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written: ‘He shall give His angels charge over you,’ and, ‘In their hands they shall bear you up, Lest you dash your foot against a stone.’”  7 Jesus said to him, “It is written again, ‘You shall not tempt the LORD your God.’”  8 Again, the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9 And he said to Him, “All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.” 10 Then Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve.’”  11 Then the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and ministered to Him.

     

    DEAR FATHER, YOU ARE OUR HIDING PLACE AND OUR SHIELD; WE HOPE IN YOUR WORD. AMEN. (Ps 119:114)

     

    Dear fellow redeemed in Christ,

     

    Temptation is from the devil, and the goal of all temptation is to lead you away from God, to bring into the camp of Satan, to take away life and leave only death, final and eternal. That is what temptation is about. That is why temptation can never be considered minor, only a nuisance, or something into which we can safely fall since we’ll always be able to undo the temptation later. No, temptation is a great evil for us.

     

    We may think of temptation as a reconnaissance mission by Satan. He wants to find out information about how strong you are, where you defend yourself the best, and where you are the weakest. You may discover within yourself some areas of temptation that Satan never uses on you even though those temptations work well on others. But even if and when we are strong in one area, there are always other areas that Satan will find as he probes and explores our spiritual condition. Remember, he always wants to bring you away from God, away from trusting God’s promises, away from forgiveness, away from Jesus.

     

    The temptations which Satan brings to Jesus are designed with the same goal. Satan wants Jesus to be separated from the Father. Satan wants the Triune God to war against Himself, to pit one Person of the Trinity against the other. He wants the Son to tempt or distrust the Father. He wants the Second Adam to follow the path to destruction that the First Adam had taken so many years earlier in the Garden of Eden.

     

    In the lesson from Genesis 3 today we heard of that terrible day when Satan tempted Adam and Eve, and they capitulated. Satan’s basic technique was to let Adam and Eve think they could be like God. It was the temptation to deny their status as created beings, and seek to be creators in their own right. Such an appeal worked there in the Garden. Now Satan tries to do the same with Jesus.

     

    With daily bread, with divine protection, and with worldly wealth Satan brings his weapons to bear against Jesus. Satan wants Jesus Christ to doubt, to question, to take matters into His own hands instead of relying on His Father. Satan hopes Jesus will take the easy way to power. Satan knows that the easy way for Jesus means that Jesus will lose. There are no short cuts for Jesus. He must and He will follow the path of salvation all the way to the cross. But the devil tries to deflect Jesus from that path.

     

    To each temptation Jesus responds with Holy Scripture. The Word made flesh uses the written Word to push away the lying words of the devil. Not even the devil’s own ability to quote the Bible works against Jesus. He defeats each and every trick of Satan. Jesus is the stronger, and He will not allow the devil to win.

     

    But the devil, defeated as he is by Jesus, still tries to come after the sons and daughters of God hee among us. Martin Luther in the Large Catechism explanation of “lead us not into temptation,” points out what the devils uses to accomplish his purpose of pushing us away from God.

     

    Temptation...is of three kinds: of the flesh, the world, and the devil. We live in the flesh and we have the old Adam hanging around our necks; he goes to work and lures us daily into unchastity, laziness, gluttony and drunkenness, greed and deceit, into acts of fraud and deception against our neighbor — in short, into all kinds of evil lusts which by nature cling to us and to which we are incited by the association and example of other people and by things we hear and see. All this often wounds and inflames even an innocent heart.

     

    Next comes the world, which assails us by word and deed and drives us to anger and impatience. In short, there is in it nothing but hatred and envy, enmity, violence and injustice, perfidy, vengeance, cursing, reviling, slander, arrogance, and pride, along with fondness for luxury, honor, fame, and power. No one is willing to be the least, but everyone wants to sit in the chief seat and be seen by all.

     

    Then comes the devil, who baits and badgers us on all sides, but especially exerts himself where the conscience and spiritual matters are at stake. His purpose is to make us scorn and despise both the Word and the works of God, to tear us away from faith, hope, and love, to draw us into unbelief, false security, and stubbornness, or, on the contrary, to drive us into despair, atheism, blasphemy, and countless other abominable sins. These are snares and nets; indeed, they are the real “flaming darts” which are venomously shot into our hearts, not by flesh and blood but by the devil.

     

    With the devil making such attacks against us, constantly seeking our areas of weakness, what defense do we have?

     

    First, we have Holy Baptism. Baptism puts us into the life of repentance, the life of sorrow over sin and trust in the promises of God. Baptism put God’s name on us, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Even though the devil will fight against us, still he fears that holy name of God, and knows that he cannot defeat God except by getting us to believe his lies. But our strength is in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth. So we learn to call upon God in temptation, to pray, as we do in the Lord’s Prayer: lead us not into temptation. That is no weak work, but the very asking, seeking, and knocking that Jesus says we are to do. And when He says for us to do it it is because He is there to answer, to be found, to open the door and help us in all troubles.

     

    Besides Holy Baptism, we have the Word of God. None of us, even if we have the Bible from Genesis to Revelation memorized, can ever know God’s word like Jesus. But that should not stop us from learning it more and more, and using it as the sword God says it is to fight against the attacks of Satan. Satan will try to twist and turn God’s Word to his own advantage, but finally it is not comfortable for him to fight on that ground. God’s Word, in truth and purity, will show his lies and perversions as the wickedness they are; they will reveal Satan to be the one who, despite his sweet words, is nothing more than the stench of decay and death. As we grow in learning, hearing, meditating on and trusting God’s Word, Satan is pushed away, not by us, but by the power of God’s Word, the Gospel of God’s mercy and free forgiveness which Satan hates.

     

    Relying on Baptism and relying on God’s Word against the temptations of Satan is trusting Jesus, relying on His power and not our own, believing that Jesus has defeated Satan, and has given us the victory. Jesus’ words, “away with you, Satan,” are the very words which still send Satan running: “he can harm us none, he’s judged, the deed is done, one little word can fell him.” Trust in that word of Jesus, it is your strength and security, now and forever. Amen.

     

  • Lent 2

    In Nomine Iesu

     

    Pastor Thomas L. Rank

    Reminiscere, Lent 2

    March 7, 2004

     

     

     

    Text: Luke 7:36-50

    Then one of the Pharisees asked Him to eat with him. And He went to the Pharisee’s house, and sat down to eat. 37 And behold, a woman in the city who was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at the table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of fragrant oil, 38 and stood at His feet behind Him weeping; and she began to wash His feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head; and she kissed His feet and anointed them with the fragrant oil. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he spoke to himself, saying, "This man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner." 40 And Jesus answered and said to him, "Simon, I have something to say to you." So he said, "Teacher, say it." 41 "There was a certain creditor who had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 "And when they had nothing with which to repay, he freely forgave them both. Tell Me, therefore, which of them will love him more?" 43 Simon answered and said, "I suppose the one whom he forgave more." And He said to him, "You have rightly judged." 44 Then He turned to the woman and said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has washed My feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head. 45 "You gave Me no kiss, but this woman has not ceased to kiss My feet since the time I came in. 46 "You did not anoint My head with oil, but this woman has anointed My feet with fragrant oil. 47 "Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little." 48 Then He said to her, "Your sins are forgiven." 49 And those who sat at the table with Him began to say to themselves, "Who is this who even forgives sins?" 50 Then He said to the woman, "Your faith has saved you. Go in peace."

     

    THESE ARE YOUR WORDS, HEAVENLY FATHER, SANCTIFY US BY YOUR TRUTH, YOUR WORD IS TRUTH. AMEN.

     

    Dear fellow redeemed in Christ,

    Here is a text that allows us to do whatever we want, to sin in whatever ways excite us, to live in whatever lifestyle we choose. After all, we know that even if we do this, even if we just keep acting and thinking and speaking without any regard to God’s Law, the nice Jesus is just going to say: "your sins are forgiven." Sadly, what I have just said is how shallowly some interpret this text and the love of Jesus. But such an interpretation fails to understand the nature of sin and the gift of forgiveness that Jesus gives.

     

    Jesus is dealing with two sinners in this text. One is the Pharisee who invites Jesus to dinner. The other is the woman identified specifically as a sinner.

     

    The Pharisee does not treat Jesus as a guest in his home. He has ignored some of the basic customs of his society when you invite someone to dinner. The Pharisee did not greet Jesus with the traditional kiss. He did not supply water for the washing of feet, nor did he anoint Jesus’ head with oil. Yet this Pharisee stands in judgment over both Jesus and the sinful woman. The sinful woman is judged because she truly is a sinner, someone with whom a good Pharisee would have nothing to do. Jesus is judged by the Pharisee because the Pharisee doesn’t understand who Jesus is or what He came to accomplish. He imagines that Jesus should not be in contact with sinners. He does not know that Jesus came not only to be in contact with sinners, but to become saturated with sin, taking it all on Himself. Jesus is being the Savior as He allows this woman to touch His feet as she washes them and dries them with her hair. He is showing His compassion for sinners. But the Pharisee does not understand. He does not understand because he does not know the profoundness of sin’s impact on himself.

     

    Jesus treats the two sinners in this text differently. He does so because at this point, one of them needs the Law, and one of them needs the Gospel. The Pharisee needs to hear the Law because he is still secure in his own righteousness. He compares himself to the woman and uses her sinfulness to congratulate himself on his own virtue. So our Lord speaks to this man, Simon, in order to show him that he must not be so secure. He must see that his own lack of hospitality to Jesus is itself a sin, and that this sinful woman whom he despises is actually the better host. Jesus does not offer forgiveness to Simon at this time because Simon does not indicate that he knows his sin, nor is he ashamed of it, nor does he confess it.

     

    Compare this to how Jesus treats the woman. She comes to him and is clearly overcome by her sin. She weeps at the feet of Jesus, acting as a lowly servant, as someone who does not deserve to eat with Jesus. It is not that she deserves forgiveness any more than Simon does. But she knows that she needs help. She has been made to realize that she herself is not pure or righteous or good. Jesus absolves her saying: "your sins are forgiven."

     

    Jesus does not tell her it doesn’t matter how she lived. The very fact that He forgave her tells us that how she lived was wrong in the eyes of Jesus. He knew she was a sinner. He knew that her life was lived against the commands of God. Such a life was not condoned by Jesus, but forgiven. We must understand that such forgiveness is not cheap, but rather Jesus Himself knows the true cost; He knows what it takes for Him to say: "your sins are forgiven." He knows that the cross lies ahead of Him, the time of the great agony of His suffering and death. We dare not use the love of Jesus to presume that He thereby doesn’t care how we live. The sinful woman does not claim that her lifestyle is none of Jesus’ business. Instead she is ashamed of it, and comes to Jesus not in order to get His approval, but to receive the blessed forgiveness of her sin, her thoughts, words, and deeds that need changing.

     

    Jesus uses a parable to teach Simon about forgiveness and gratitude. He said, "There was a certain creditor who had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing with which to repay, he freely forgave them both. Tell Me, therefore, which of them will love him more?" The sinful woman owes the 500, Simon owes the 50. Therefore the sinful woman shows greater love to Jesus, for He forgave her more. But Jesus is not saying that we can count up our sins to see how much forgiveness we need, and then determine how much to love Jesus. No. What Jesus wants Simon and you and me to understand is that all of us need forgiveness, that even if we think our sins small, we should still run to our Savior for forgiveness. But even more, we should realize that when we think our sins are small, we are really not understanding sin. We do not know God’s Law as we should if we think our sins are small. And we do not know the true nature of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross if we think that He went there for sins that don’t really matter.

     

    God help us to know our sins. The point is not for us to be in a state of perpetual sadness because of them, but to know them so that we repent, confess them, and receive the forgiveness of our sins. That is what God wants you to receive. And He is not ashamed to eat with you, He is not ashamed to have you as His guest. He treats you as royalty, giving you the very best, His only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ.

     

    God grant that we all continue to learn our sin, not in comparison to others, but simply in comparison to what God says. And let us not be afraid to come to Jesus with whatever sins we have. He will not turn us away. He invites us to be with Him, now, through Word and Sacrament, and in eternity, with the everlasting life He gives. Amen.

     

  • Vespers

    In Nomine Iesu

     

    Pastor Thomas L. Rank

    Mid-week Lent 2

    March 3, 2004

     

    Text: Hebrews 9:6-14

    Now when these things had been thus prepared, the priests always went into the first part of the tabernacle, performing the services. 7 But into the second part the high priest went alone once a year, not without blood, which he offered for himself and for the people's sins committed in ignorance; 8 the Holy Spirit indicating this, that the way into the Holiest of All was not yet made manifest while the first tabernacle was still standing. 9 It was symbolic for the present time in which both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make him who performed the service perfect in regard to the conscience – 10 concerned only with foods and drinks, various washings, and fleshly ordinances imposed until the time of reformation. 11 But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. 12 Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, 14 how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?

     

    Dear friends in Christ,

     

    Our text from Hebrews draws our attention to the Old Testament Day of Atonement and the clear connection with the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ on the cross.

     

    The Day of Atonement was a once per year special day for Israel. On this day the high priest would offer special sacrifices that would make it possible to continue the daily sacrifices for another year. He would make a sacrifice of cleansing for the sins of himself, for the people, and also cleanse the very altar itself. How did all this cleansing take place? Through very specific sacrifices and ritual.

     

    First, the high priest, the only one allowed to enter the Most Holy Place of the Temple in which was the mercy seat, the top of the ark of the covenant, had to bathe himself and put on plain linen clothes instead of the usual ornate vestments of the high priest that were made of gold and precious stones. Thereby the high priest signified his own humility, and how he himself needed the forgiveness of sins. Then he would burn incense at the curtain dividing the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place of the Temple. This incense created a cloud of smoke that would hide the high priest from the glory and majesty of God. Then a bull calf was sacrificed specifically for the high priest. The blood was kept, and the high priest would go to the curtain of the Most Holy Place. Then he would sprinkle the blood on the curtain, and on the mercy seat. This blood was for himself. He would do the same with the blood of one goat, which was for the people. After this, he would mix the blood of the bull and the goat and use it to sprinkle the altar of burnt offering, the place where all the daily offerings were made to the Lord. Unlike the blood sprinkled in the Most Holy Place, this sprinkling of blood at the altar occured in the sight of all the assembly. The impurity of the people due to their sins would thus be cleansed from the altar, allowing it to be used for the next year. In one final action, the high priest would turn to one other live goat, and then we read from Leviticus:

     

    Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, confess over it all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions, concerning all their sins, putting them on the head of the goat, and shall send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a suitable man. 22 The goat shall bear on itself all their iniquities to an uninhabited land; and he shall release the goat in the wilderness.

     

    As one reads the careful instructions for the high priest, one is struck at the solemnity of this Day of Atonement, and how precisely the priest needed to follow the Lord’s directions. The use of blood is also striking. Blood prepares the way for the high priest, blood prepares the way for the people, and blood prepares the altar; all is done so that the priest and people may receive the forgiveness of their sins.

     

    The author of Hebrews is well aware of the Old Testament instructions and ritual. We read: "But into the second part [of the Temple] the high priest went alone once a year, not without blood, which he offered for himself and for the people's sins committed in ignorance." Clearly, the emphasis is on the blood, without which the high priest may not enter before the presence of God. The blood is the life, and the giving up of the life of the bull and the goat cleanses the people of their sin, not because of any special quality of that blood, but because this is what the Lord commanded and promised.

     

    Our text proceeds from the lesser to the greater, from that which had to be done over and over again, to that which only happened once. So we are told of our Savior: "Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He [Jesus] entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption." Yes, the blood is the life. And the blood of Jesus, spilled at the cross of Golgotha, far surpasses any blood of the goats and calves. This blood of the Son of God is the blood that allows Him entrance into the Most Holy Place, for He needs no other blood than His own. There is no blood holier; there is no blood with more life. Jesus blood is so pure and powerful that it cleanses our sin completely; His blood is so filled with life that it is eternal, without end, forever and ever.

     

    We need this blood on us and on our children. Our impurity is so thick that we are corrupted for all our life and for eternity. It is a stain set so deep that none of our attempts to scrub or purge it from ourselves will work. The sacrifice of the Son of God shows us the immensity of our sin; but even more it shows us the greater love of God for us who are unclean, stained, and polluted with sin.

     

    "For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, 14 how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?" By God's wondrous love the blood of Christ Jesus is sprinkled upon us. In Baptism, we see the water red with the blood of Christ, not in some gory display, but as a washing of regeneration by the Holy Spirit, known by faith to those who believe the promise of God in Baptism. In the Holy Supper we receive this blood, the blood of Jesus Christ, the blood filled with the life of Jesus, eternal life, given and shed, poured out, for you.

     

    The sacrifices of the Old Testament are at an end. The sacrifice of Jesus was once-for-all on the day we call Good Friday. It need not ever be repeated again. But by God’s grace we are able to know of this death that means life, this suffering that means peace, this Jesus who is our Savior. "...with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption." This is God’s precious gift for you. Believe it in Jesus' Name. Amen.

  • Lent 3

    In Nomine Iesu

     

    Pastor Thomas L. Rank

    Oculi, Lent 3

    February 27, 2005

     

     

     

    Text: Luke 11:14-28

    14 And He was casting out a demon, and it was mute. So it was, when the demon had gone out, that the mute spoke; and the multitudes marveled. 15 But some of them said, “He casts out demons by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons.” 16 Others, testing Him, sought from Him a sign from heaven. 17 But He, knowing their thoughts, said to them: “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and a house divided against a house falls. 18 If Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? Because you say I cast out demons by Beelzebub. 19 And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. 20 But if I cast out demons with the finger of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you. 21 When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are in peace. 22 But when a stronger than he comes upon him and overcomes him, he takes from him all his armor in which he trusted, and divides his spoils. 23 He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters. 24 “When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, he goes through dry places, seeking rest; and finding none, he says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ 25 And when he comes, he finds it swept and put in order. 26 Then he goes and takes with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first.” 27 And it happened, as He spoke these things, that a certain woman from the crowd raised her voice and said to Him, “Blessed is the womb that bore You, and the breasts which nursed You!” 28 But He said, “More than that, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”

     

    THESE ARE YOUR WORDS, HEAVENLY FATHER, SANCTIFY US BY YOUR TRUTH, YOUR WORD IS TRUTH. AMEN.

     

    Dear fellow redeemed in Christ,

     

    The kingdom of Satan is real. In fact, it is the kingdom into which we all were born. Every person is born sinful and unclean. And to be sinful and unclean, without the grace of God, is to be in the kingdom of Satan.

     

    Some imagine that there are three kingdoms someone could be in. You can be in God’s kingdom, the Christian Church, and be a believer. You can be an open and unrepentant sinner, and be in the kingdom of the devil. Or you can be neutral, looking at both sides, and by an act of your own will choosing the side you will support.

     

    However, there is no neutrality, spiritually speaking. There is no third option. It is either the kingdom of God or the kingdom of Satan. There is no free will in this matter. You are either bound to God or bound to Satan. You cannot choose. You are born into Satan’s kingdom by virtue of your sinful inheritance. You are re-born into God’s kingdom through the work of God the Holy Spirit, using water and the powerful Word of God, the Gospel, the power of salvation. Either way, your will is tied to a kingdom.

     

    Two weeks ago we heard about the temptation of Jesus by Satan in the wilderness. There Jesus showed His power over the prince of darkness by speaking the Word of God to Satan and telling him to be gone, and Satan had to leave. That same power is at work here in the words of St. Luke. We have described for us another scene where Jesus is casting out a demon. The demon must leave, for the Son of God is speaking, and the demon must reluctantly obey.

     

    What is the reaction of those who see this miracle of Jesus’ power over the forces of darkness and evil? Jesus is denounced as an ally of the devil. There is so much hatred directed at Jesus that even when He does good things his enemies refuse to see it, and instead try to think of ways to make whatever Jesus does proof that He is illegitimate, a pretender, a false prophet.

     

    So Jesus meets their criticism with a question: "If Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand?" How can any kingdom remain when it is torn by civil war, by disunity, by in-fighting? Jesus, in effect, tells His enemies that their reasoning is completely false. Satan does not fight against himself but always works to strengthen his kingdom. Besides, Jesus says, your own sons cast out demons, too. Are you going to say the same thing about their work? Of course not. And that shows their bias against Jesus. No matter what He does, they will oppose Him.

     

    There is no more sure sign of the kingdom of Satan than opposition to Jesus and His Word. Wherever God’s pure Word is preached and rejected there we find Satan’s kingdom. Wherever God’s pure Word is twisted out of shape and taught falsely there we find Satan’s kingdom. Wherever God’s pure Word is mocked and ridiculed, persecuted, there we find Satan’s kingdom. Satan has a good hold on people throughout the world, and he will not let any of it go without a fight, even though he knows his time is short.

     

    Satan knows his time is short because he knows he has already lost at the cross of Golgotha. He knows that is where his kingdom was finished, done in, as death itself was killed. However, what Satan knows and what people know are two different things. And Satan hopes that he will be able to keep people in the dark, spiritually, so that they will not ever come to know that he is defeated and they are freed, freed from sin, death, the devil’s power, and eternal damnation.

     

    So what must the devil do to keep people in the dark? He must attack God’s Word, the Word that brings light and truth and salvation. That is why we should not be too surprised at the perversions of God’s word going on all around us. We should not be surprised at King David’s struggle recorded in 2 Samuel, as he deals with the terrors of death: When the waves of death surrounded me, The floods of ungodliness made me afraid. The sorrows of Sheol surrounded me; The snares of death confronted me." David is stating the life of the Christian who is dealing with the lies of Satan who hopes we will stay away from the victory of Jesus over death. Satan wants us afraid. Jesus wants us confident, by trusting Him and His word. We also should not be surprised by Paul’s words in Ephesians, where he warns us about the tricks of Satan: "Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not be partakers with them."

     

    None of this should surprise us because we are in the middle of the war between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan. That war is most evident to Christians, as you’ve heard before, since Satan specifically wants you for his kingdom, which means he must lure, tempt, coerce, scare you out of the kingdom of God.

     

    Luther, preaching on this text in 1532, had these words of wisdom about how to fight Satan, words which remain true today:

     

    When a person whom the devil has greatly overwhelmed and seared with many accusations comes to me with heavy heart and troubled conscience seeking comfort and instruction, I have the mandate, as does every Christian, to comfort my brother and pronounce God’s grace, for Christ’s sake, upon him. The devil must yield, not to me, a poor and wretched sinner, but to the Word which the Lord Christ has left us upon earth. When your conscience is weak and terrified, therefore, and you are unable to grasp tightly enough the comfort that God graciously wants you to have, the forgiveness of sins, then know that Christ has given the Lord’s Supper, his true body and blood to eat and to drink, so that you have no reason further to doubt that his body was given for your sins and his blood poured out for your transgressions. Where such faith and trust are present, there it is impossible for the devil to dwell and hold sway (Hauspostille, I, 331).

     

    Luther directs to God’s word and sacrament. That is where the kingdom of God is found, that is where the power to defeat Satan is given. For the power is the power of God, His Word, His Body and Blood. This is reliance upon the promises of God is why David could write: "The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer; The God of my strength, in whom I will trust; My shield and the horn of my salvation, My stronghold and my refuge; My Savior, You save me from violence." And why Paul can encourage us: Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma." We learn this from God’s truth, His Word. "Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it."

     

    You are not neutral in the battle between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan. Victory is found only in God’s kingdom. There is where final peace is brought, and where deliverance from the misery of Satan’s kingdom is promised, given, and received, by faith in the forgiveness of sins bought by Jesus Christ.

     

    I close with the final words of Luther’s sermon:

     

    Let us, therefore, thank God for his grace, because he has sent his Son for help against the devil, to drive him out, and has left us his Word through which today yet he performs this work, destroying Satan’s kingdom, building and extending the kingdom of God. God keep us in such grace through his Son and the Holy Spirit (Hauspostille, I, 343).

     

    Amen.

     

  • Lent 4

    Sermon not yet added

  • Lent 5

    In Nomine Iesu

     

    Pastor Thomas L. Rank

    Judica, Lent 5

    March 28, 2004

     

    Text: Matthew 10:32-42

    "Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. 33 "But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven. 34 " Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. 35 "For I have come to ‘set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law’; 36 "and ‘a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.’ 37 "He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. 38 "And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. 39 "He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it. 40 " He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me. 41 "He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward. And he who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward. 42 "And whoever gives one of these little ones only a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, assuredly, I say to you, he shall by no means lose his reward."

     

    THESE ARE YOUR WORDS, HEAVENLY FATHER, SANCTIFY US BY YOUR TRUTH, YOUR WORD IS TRUTH. AMEN.

     

    Dear friends in Christ,

     

    Sometimes the only way to peace is through war. In 1914 it didn’t matter that the Belgians did not want war against Germany and Kaiser Wilhelm II. The German army invaded Belgium. The Belgians, in order to protect and defend their country, responded with their own army. It was not that Belgium wanted war with Germany; far from it. But Germany’s aggression forced war on Belgium.

     

    When cancer attacks your body, it has declared war against your health and it seeks to kill you. The cancer itself must be attacked in order to save your body. Therefore weapons are arrayed against the cancer: chemicals, radiation, and perhaps surgery. Cancer will not surrender without a fight. It does not respond to kind words asking it to go away.

     

    Jesus was born into this world under the angelic headline: Peace on earth! Jesus came to bring peace between God and man. Yet within months of being born, this baby was marked by King Herod for death. We find that God’s plan for salvation, the sending of His only-begotten Son in human flesh and blood to take on our sin, is a plan that is attacked by the world, and by the prince of this world, Satan. The attacks against Jesus would grow especially prominent as He started in to His public ministry. Some tried to stone Him to death for blasphemy, for claiming to be God. Others called Him the devil because of His power over devils. Others made fun of Him for eating with "sinners." Finally, we know that Judas Iscariot would betray Jesus to His enemies, thereby bringing Jesus to the cross. The life of Jesus is as the psalmist wrote: "My soul has dwelt too long with one who hates peace. I am for peace; But when I speak, they are for war" (Ps 120:6,7).

     

    Jesus tells us, "Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword." Why must it be a sword? Because the enemies of Jesus cannot stand to allow His kingdom to come to us. The enemies of Jesus attacked Him while He walked this earth. And Jesus teaches: "If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. 19 "If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you."

     

    This is not paranoia on the part of Jesus. He understood the nature of His work here on earth. It was not some pleasant task of just being nice to people. But His work was a dirty work; a work filled with struggle, with temptation, with sickness and death, with all the poisons of Satan and the demons directed at Jesus. Jesus’ life on earth was not all sunshine and daisies. Even though He is the Light of the world, His time on earth was a time of darkness, and most especially the last week that led to the cross, Holy Week. Jesus would tell those who arrested Him in the Garden of Gethsemane: "This is your hour, and the power of darkness."

     

    So Jesus must warn us: "For I have come to 'set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law'; and 'a man's enemies will be those of his own household'." What will cause such civil war? It is the Gospel. It is the truth of God’s Word. With Jesus there is no middle ground, no neutrality. He says, "He who is not with me is against Me." If we fail to understand this, if we think that we can have Jesus without consequences, then we do not yet feel the weight of the cross in our lives.

     

    If we seek to accommodate the agendas of this world with the truth of Jesus, then we will not offend, we will not be salt in the wounds of the world, we will simply be weak, watery tea. If we fail to confess Christ with the boldness and vigor His Gospel deserves in the face of those who will deny Christ and the salvation He offers, we will deserve the judgment found in Revelation against the church of the Laodiceans: "I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth" (Rev 3:15,16). "But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven."

     

    God knows our abilities. He knows that we have our fears in this world. He knows that the life of His people in this world is not easy. The Holy Spirit Himself prays for us just like Jesus prayed for Simon Peter, even though He knew he would soon deny Him. Yet Peter was restored to faith. Peter knew he failed and he wept bitterly over it. But he did not stay away from Jesus. And Jesus did not stay away from Peter. Our Savior forgave Peter and was able to use him and give him great boldness.

     

    We can all find times in our lives when we did not confess our Savior as we should have. We feared the laughter of friends. We feared the ridicule. We feared to be different. All these fears we bring to Jesus. His suffering and death on the cross was for these sins, too. The absolution includes our sins of denial. You are forgiven.

     

    Our Savior does not leave us forsaken here. He gives us the Gospel by which our fears and weaknesses, our sins of whatever kind, are washed away by the blood of Christ. The Word is brought to us to encourage us in our faith, to strengthen us, to give us the knowledge that our Savior loves us even in our frailties. He does not ask us to be as strong as He is. He asks us to trust Him to carry us through whatever comes our way. He teaches us to pray for the doing of the will of God: "God's will is done when He breaks and hinders every evil counsel and will, which would not let us hallow His name nor let His kingdom come, such as the will of the devil, the world and our own flesh."

     

    Devil, world, and flesh conspired against Jesus. The powers of darkness sought to extinguish His light forever, and in that way to keep us all enslaved to shame and eternal death. Jesus came to bring war, not peace but a sword, on these enemies, so that you and I can have peace. Jesus came for us even though we are born in sin, born as soldiers on the other side.

     

    Listen to our Lord’s exhortation today. He speaks so that we rely on Him, on His power and strength. He does not intend for us to try to do this on our own. He knows us too well to demand that of us. No, He simply says, "follow Me." Trust Him. Rely on His lovingkindness for you. He will remember you, and confess you before our Father who art in heaven.

     

    My manifold transgression

    Henceforth can harm me none

    Since Jesus’ bloody Passion

    For me God’s grace hath won.

    His precious blood my debts hath paid;

    Of hell and all its torments

    I am no more afraid. (ELH 276:3) Amen.

     

     

     

  • Vespers

    In Nomine Iesu

     

    Pastor Thomas L. Rank

    Mid-week Lent 5

    March 24, 2004

     

    Text: Hebrews 12:22-24

    But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, 23 to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, 24 to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel.

     

    Dear fellow redeemed in Christ,

     

    In this chapter twelve of Hebrews the author is drawing our attention to a distinction between two mountains in the Old Testament. One is Mt. Sinai. The other is Mt. Zion. We are told that it is Mt. Zion that we have come to, not Mt. Sinai. The difference between Sinai and Zion is the difference between night and day. It is the difference between the Law, Sinai, and the Gospel, Zion.

     

    Mt. Sinai is known for being the place where God gave Moses and the children of Israel the law, especially the Ten Commandments. There were special rules for Mt. Sinai given to Israel by the Lord. These rules are recorded in Exodus 19:

     

    ...For on the third day the LORD will come down upon Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. 12 You shall set bounds for the people all around, saying, 'Take heed to yourselves that you do not go up to the mountain or touch its base. Whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death. 13 Not a hand shall touch him, but he shall surely be stoned or shot with an arrow; whether man or beast, he shall not live.'...

     

    Clearly this was not a mountain that encouraged people to come near it. In fact, it was a mountain to be careful about. This became even clearer after the Lord began speaking the Law to Moses. Listen to what happened:

     

    Now all the people witnessed the thunderings, the lightning flashes, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood afar off (Ex 20:18).

     

    The giving of the Law, the commands of God that demanded obedience, perfection, love with no hint of selfishness, all of this combined with the thunder and lightning made Mt. Sinai a terrible place. The reason was because here God showed Himself in the way of the Law. The Law cannot deliver us from judgment because all it does it show us our sin. The Law is so perfectly fair that our sin leaves us with no hope. God is rightly angry against all sin, for sin is a denial of God, a turning away from Him. So Mt. Sinai becomes the place of terror, of threats, and of fear.

     

    That is why here in Hebrews we read: "but you have come to Mt. Zion." Mt. Zion is the hill of Jerusalem, the place where God's Temple stood, the place where sacrifices for sin, and offerings to God were made day after day. Even more than that, Mt. Zion is where our Savior Jesus came to be the perfect, one-time sacrifice for sin. Jesus is the Mediator of the new covenant, the promise of God’s mercy and forgiveness to all who believe on the name of Jesus Christ, Son of God, our Savior.

     

    Mt. Zion is about promises, grace, undeserved love, charity, and salvation. For these treasures of salvation were bought by the blood of Jesus Christ, who spilled His blood on Mt. Zion in order to buy us back from our deserved destiny of eternal death. These are the wonderful benefits which our Savior desires all to receive from His generous hand.

     

    Besides the mountains of Sinai and Zion, there is mention made of the blood of Abel in this text. Abel, you recall, was the second-born son of Adam and Eve. The first-born son was Cain. These two brothers were also as different as Sinai and Zion. Cain chose the false worship of God, bringing his offerings with no faith, simply going through the motions. His offering was rejected by the Lord. Abel, on the other hand, is described this way in Hebrews:

     

    By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and through it he being dead still speaks (Hb 11:4).

     

    Abel approached God by faith. We may think here of the difference Psalm 51 makes between mere outward offerings, brought without faith, and repentance: "For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering. 17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, A broken and a contrite heart – These, O God, You will not despise."

     

    Abel, the second-born son is murdered by Cain. When the Lord speaks to Cain He tells him, "The voice of your brother’s blood calls out to me from the ground." This blood of Abel called out for justice, and the Lord rebuked Cain, making him a fugitive on the earth.

     

    Now hear again from Hebrews 12, "[you have come] to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel." The comparison between the blood of Abel and the blood of Jesus is of blood that calls for justice, and blood that washes away sin, leaving only forgiveness and salvation. The blood of Abel did not help Cain. In fact, Abel's blood was judgment against Cain, just like blood found on a murder weapon often leads to the murderer. The blood of Jesus does not call out for vengeance, but it calls out peace between God and man, it calls out the love of God for you and me. "Even though our sins are as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow." Jesus' blood on us does not cause God to send us away in anger, but it brings God to us as our loving Father, as the Father who has sought and found all who are lost.

     

    By God's grace Mt. Sinai and the Law are not our destination, but we have come to Mt. Zion, "the holy Christian Church, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting." This is what God intends for you, that you may rest secure in the knowledge that you are God’s child, and will dwell in the city of the living God forever. Amen.

     

  • Palm Sunday

    In Nomine Iesu

     

    Pastor Thomas L. Rank

    Palmarum

    April 4, 2004

     

    Text: John 12:20-33

    Now there were certain Greeks among those who came up to worship at the feast. 21 Then they came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida of Galilee, and asked him, saying, "Sir, we wish to see Jesus." 22 Philip came and told Andrew, and in turn Andrew and Philip told Jesus. 23 But Jesus answered them, saying, "The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified. 24 "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain. 25 "He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 "If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor. 27 " Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour. 28 "Father, glorify Your name." Then a voice came from heaven, saying, "I have both glorified it and will glorify it again." 29 Therefore the people who stood by and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, "An angel has spoken to Him." 30 Jesus answered and said, "This voice did not come because of Me, but for your sake. 31 "Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out. 32 "And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself." 33 This He said, signifying by what death He would die.

     

    THESE ARE YOUR WORDS, HEAVENLY FATHER, SANCTIFY US BY YOUR TRUTH, YOUR WORD IS TRUTH. AMEN.

    Dear fellow redeemed in Christ,

     

    Shortly after Palm Sunday, some of the disciples of Jesus are approached by some Greeks who, we are told, "want to see Jesus." Perhaps these Greeks had witnessed Jesus coming into Jerusalem, lowly and riding on a donkey. Perhaps they had been impressed by the loud shouts and praises of the crowds that greeted Jesus as the one "who comes in the Name of the Lord." It appears, by the way Jesus answers, that these men were intrigued by the enthusiasm of the crowd on Palm Sunday. For Jesus goes on to speak about "glory" in ways that show His glory as being quite different from the glory of the world.

     

    Glory is usually associated with great achievements. We may think of glory in regards to sports: a pitcher who pitches a perfect game, a quarterback who leads his team to victory in the last minute, the basketball player who sinks a three point shot at the buzzer to win the game by one. Glory is also associated with politics: winning an election brings glory to the winner. Glory may also be won on the battlefield by those who are victorious. Glory and winning go hand in hand.

     

    When Jesus receives the glory and honor from the crowd on Palm Sunday, He does so as someone who looks like the winner. Even though He rides in on a lowly donkey, still the great numbers of people who greet Him are impressive. But is this what is attractive about Jesus? Is it the glory and praise and honor of Palm Sunday that stand as one of the great highlights of Jesus' work here on earth? Humanly speaking, this day does appear as the high point. After all, at no other time after this would Jesus receive the great public show of glory and honor. So why is this not the high point? Because Jesus did not come to receive the praise and honor of men, but He came to be glorified by His Father, and that would happen only through being "lifted up from the earth." As John tells us, "This He said, signifying by what death He would die." Jesus repeats here what He told Nicodemus early in His public ministry. "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up."

     

    Jesus will be lifted up when He is nailed to the cross and the cross is raised. It is at the cross that the glory of Christ will be revealed. The glory of Jesus at the very highpoint of His ministry for us is going to be hidden. Oh, lots of people saw Jesus lifted up on the cross, so it was not hidden in that way. But the glory was not apparent to them. The glory was hidden by the way God chose to show it. The cross, with the blood, the pain and suffering, the death, does not bring to mind the victory that we associate with glory. Jesus Himself knows what lies ahead of Him. He shows us His thoughts when He said, "Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say? 'Father, save Me from this hour'? But for this purpose I came to this hour." His road has only one direction to go. Jesus is on a one way street to the cross.

     

    To all the eyes that watched Him the day He died Jesus looked like the loser. The winners seem to be the enemies of Jesus. They are the ones who can go and celebrate. The followers of Jesus are in mourning, grieving over the death of their beloved friend and leader. This is not glory.

     

    But remember what Jesus said, "unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain." With this picture of planting, decay, and new life, Jesus teaches us about the way He achieves glory. Just like a seed seems to be dry, dead, and without life, so the body of Jesus on Good Friday shows nothing hopeful. But seeds put in the ground are invigorated by the warmth and moisture; new life grows from what was dry and dead. So with Jesus. He is planted in the tomb, and He will rise again, showing His victory over sin, death, and devil.

     

    In the same way Jesus tells us about ourselves as those who follow and believe in Him: "He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life." The glory of this world will tempt us to love our lives here and now, to put this world and its glory ahead of the way of the cross, ahead of the way of following Jesus no matter what. But Jesus does not direct us to seek the glory of this world. In fact, that is the way ultimately to lose our lives.

     

    This world seeks glory in what gives the appearance of immediate victory. For example, Muslim extremists who kill our brothers and sister in Christ in Rwanda and the Sudan believe they have achieved victory. The glory is theirs, they believe, when they can see the bodies of dead Christians. The same is true in communist China and other totalitarian states. The persecution of our fellow believers looks like the defeat of the Christian Church and glory and victory for the forces that hate the Church. The same was true in the early days of the Church. Think of the death of St. Stephen. He was stoned to death by a mob that wanted nothing to do with Jesus Christ, even though Stephen showed them from Holy Scripture how Jesus was the Messiah. Other countless believers have followed Stephen in the twenty centuries since he died. Time and time again the followers of Christ have been put to the test: will you follow Christ, or will you follow the world. "He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life."

     

    The Greeks who wanted to see Jesus probably heard more than they bargained for. They liked the Jesus of Palm Sunday, the One who received all the glory, the praises and honor of the large crowd. Were they still following Jesus on Good Friday when the glory was gone? We do not know.

     

    We do know about ourselves. What do we find attractive about Jesus? Do we prefer for Jesus to receive the accolades and honor of this world? Do we feel better when the news media or other sources of glory in this world praise our Savior? Do we need that? Or are we content to remain with the Jesus hidden in shame, suffering, and death of the cross?

     

    As we travel the way of Holy Week this year, God help us to trust in the Jesus of the cross, the Jesus who died for us, the Jesus who did not shy away from the path to His glory, the way of crucifixion. This Jesus does not promise us riches and glory now, but He does promise us eternal life with His Father in heaven. "If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor." Let us see Jesus in the glory of the cross, as "the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world." In the hands of this Jesus we may safely place our lives for now and for eternity. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

     

     

     

  • Muandy Thursday

    In Nomine Iesu

     

    Pastor Thomas L. Rank

    Maundy Thursday

    March 24, 2005

     

    Text: Psalm 111:1

    Praise the LORD! I will praise the LORD with my whole heart, In the assembly of the upright and in the congregation. 2 The works of the LORD are great, Studied by all who have pleasure in them. 3 His work is honorable and glorious, And His righteousness endures forever. 4 He has made His wonderful works to be remembered; The LORD is gracious and full of compassion. 5 He has given food to those who fear Him; He will ever be mindful of His covenant. 6 He has declared to His people the power of His works, In giving them the heritage of the nations. 7 The works of His hands are verity and justice; All His precepts are sure. 8 They stand fast forever and ever, And are done in truth and uprightness. 9 He has sent redemption to His people; He has commanded His covenant forever: Holy and awesome is His name. 10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; A good understanding have all those who do His commandments. His praise endures forever.

     

    THESE ARE YOUR WORDS, HEAVENLY FATHER, SANCTIFY US BY YOUR TRUTH, YOUR WORD IS TRUTH. AMEN.

     

    Dear fellow redeemed in our crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ,

     

    This evening we commemorate the events of the night Jesus was betrayed. Especially we focus on that great institution, the Supper of our Lord, the Sacrament of the Altar.

     

    It was the time of the Passover, when the Old Testament people of God remembered the great deliverance from slavery God provided. God brought about the deliverance through His power that brought death to His enemies, and yet provided safety to those who believed in Him. The safety was found in blood, the blood of a pure, male lamb. Wherever that blood was painted on the door, there death would not go. Wherever that Passover meal was eaten, there was life and salvation.

     

    Psalm 111 recalls the great meal of the Lord at the Passover, calling it “the food given to those who fear Him.” This food was a wonderful memorial meal done each year. But on the night He was betrayed Jesus began a new meal. This meal surpasses the old meal as much as the sun outshines a 15 watt light bulb. For in this meal we do not have the blood of a male lamb, but we have the Son of God, who gives us His body and blood for the forgiveness of sins. And if the Lord’s name was holy and awesome because of that deliverance from slavery in Egypt for the people of Israel, how much more awesome is His name because of the greater work of Jesus, who goes not against a Pharoah and Egyptian army, but against the hosts of hell, against sin, against death itself. The Old Testament Passover, as wonderful as it was, could only be a mere shadow of the great work of Jesus, and the wonderful Supper that commemorates that death of Jesus.

     

    The psalm teaches us that God “has made His wonderful works to be remembered.” And what does Jesus tell us about His Supper? “Do this in remembrance of me.” Through St. Paul we are taught “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death till He comes.” The death of Jesus is the wonderful work of God that is to be remembered, proclaimed, treasured, as long the earth remains. For there will be no greater event in the history of the world than that precious death of Jesus until He returns again on the Last Day.

     

    Why? Why all the fuss about this Supper of the Lord, or about His crucifixion and death? What makes this so special? Why should it be something that 2000 years later we are still talking about? The reason is that this is the work of God, and it is a work we desperately need.

     

    Israel in the Old Testament was in slavery for centuries. They had left the promised land of Canaan about 1800 BC. Four hundred years later, almost twice as long as the history of the United States, Israel remains slaves to Pharoah. Pharoah had been killing the baby boys of Egypt, a sure way to attack God himself and the promises given to Abraham. How so? Because through Abraham there would be a special baby boy born one day that would bring blessing to all the nations of the earth. If all the male descendants of Abraham are slaughtered in Egypt, the attack of Satan against God’s promises would have succeeded. Therefore God does not allow such satanic work to go unchecked. He promises and provides deliverance for these people through His servant Moses. The slaves are freed, and the line of descendants that will one day lead to Mary giving birth to Jesus in Bethlehem goes on.

     

    This history of Israel, and the life of Jesus which goes to the cross, and which includes the blessed Supper of the Lord, communion, none of this will be of much value to us unless we have come to realize more and more the situation we are in without it. Earlier we answered the last question from the catechism. “But what shall a person do if he is not aware of such trouble and feels no hunger and thirst for the Sacrament?” In other words, what if you don’t think you are sinful, or do not need the death of Jesus and His body and blood for the remission of sins? What then? We then said:

     

    To such a person no better advice can be given than that, in the first place, he put his hand into his bosom, and feel whether he still have flesh and blood, and that he by all means believe what the Scriptures say of it....

    Secondly, that he look around to see whether he is still in the world, and keep in mind that there will be no lack of sin and trouble....

    Thirdly, he will certainly have the devil also about him, who with his lying and murdering, day and night, will let him have no peace within or without....

     

    Our bodies are troubled by the sin that clings to us as long as we remain in this world. The world itself is a burden to us in that many temptations and trials arise from it that leave us exhausted and worn out, frustrated and discouraged, as we battle them day in and day out. And finally the devil who so desired the death of Jesus, now desires your death in such a way that you do not receive the gift of eternal life in heaven.

     

    These are why the death of Jesus on the cross is proclaimed. This is why this wonderful meal from Jesus to you continues to be offered regularly at this congregation. The Psalm says, “The LORD is gracious and full of compassion.” No where is this more apparent than in this Sacrament of the Altar. Martin Luther noted:

     

    if you are afraid to go to the Sacrament, and your conscience frightens you, as if you were unworthy, put this verse into your heart and on your lips. Then you must hear and feel how sincerely He calls and invites you. He is here and is waiting for you with hands and heart wide open, for you to take and receive grace and mercy. He does not want you to flee and shy away from Him but to flee to Him and with full confidence go to Him. Here is called nothing but this: the gracious and merciful Lord....What is the suffering of Christ but pure grace and mercy, offered, given, and imparted to us through the Sacrament? It is grace that He shows us all the benefits and by his blood brings us from sin to righteousness, from death to life, and from the devil to God. It is mercy that He unceasingly forgives our sin and spares and endures our ingratitude and all wickedness in which we are still bound as long as we live in the flesh. All this He earned for us, once and for all, by His suffering, and daily offers and gives us by His remembrance and Sacrament, actually driving us to it with sweet and gentle words (LW 13, 374-5).

     

    “The Lord is gracious and full of compassion.” As we hear and mediate on the great events of Holy Week, let this phrase from Psalm 111 be our constant guide to the meaning of it all. It is about the grace of God and His compassion for you, that you be saved, that you receive life eternal, that you be forgiven all sin, and be confident of that through faith in the gracious word of your Savior, Jesus Christ. “The Lord is gracious and full of compassion” – for you. Amen.

     

     

     

  • Good Friday

    In Nomine Iesu

     

    Pastor Thomas L. Rank

    Good Friday

    March 25, 2005

     

    Dear fellow redeemed by the crucifixion of our Lord Jesus Christ,

     

    This evening of Good Friday we mediate on the words of Psalm 22, an astounding prophecy of the work of Jesus, written 900 years before He was even born. The psalm begins with the words we would hear from the very lips of Jesus as He hung on the cross:

     

    My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me? Why are You so far from helping Me, And from the words of My groaning? 2 O My God, I cry in the daytime, but You do not hear; And in the night season, and am not silent.

     

    Jesus is forsaken, abandoned, left, by His Father. God, in His holy and perfect justice, does not allow evil to remain in His presence. Jesus carries all sin and evil upon Him. Therefore with these words our Lord is proclaiming the judgment of God upon sin, and we see Jesus suffering the punishment of hell. That is what our sins deserve, and that is what Jesus takes upon Himself. For you and me.

     

    3 But You are holy, Enthroned in the praises of Israel. 4 Our fathers trusted in You; They trusted, and You delivered them. 5 They cried to You, and were delivered; They trusted in You, and were not ashamed.

     

    God acted to save Israel time and time again. He brought them out of the slavery in Egypt by defeating their enemies. He protected them and gave them victory on the way to the promised land. Their trust was in God was not disappointed. But the Savior of mankind will not be delivered in that way. Rather, He came to make the deliverance by staying on the cross to the very end, to death.

     

    6 But I am a worm, and no man; A reproach of men, and despised by the people. 7 All those who see Me ridicule Me; They shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying, 8 "He trusted in the LORD, let Him rescue Him; Let Him deliver Him, since He delights in Him!"

     

    As Jesus hangs on the cross His enemies mock Him and laugh at Him for what they thought was misplaced trust. There He is, the one who spoke so strongly about being from the Father, yet where is the Father now? They fail to see the reason for the crucifixion of Jesus. They think it is a judgment on Jesus, rather than their own judgment put on Him in their place. So they despise Jesus and consider Him no better than a worm.

     

    9 But You are He who took Me out of the womb; You made Me trust while on My mother's breasts. 10 I was cast upon You from birth. From My mother's womb You have been My God. 11 Be not far from Me, For trouble is near; For there is none to help. 12 Many bulls have surrounded Me; Strong bulls of Bashan have encircled Me. 13 They gape at Me with their mouths, Like a raging and roaring lion.

     

    It is no wonder that Jesus sweat drops of blood as He anticipated His time in the hands of the enemies of God. It is no wonder that He said, “Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done.” The wonder is that He went ahead to Golgotha, knowing exactly what lay before Him. The gaping mouths of those who curse Him and ridicule Him are before His eyes as He dies. He does not see gratitude for His sacrifice of love. He sees only hate. But even that ingratitude does not deter Him.

     

    14 I am poured out like water, And all My bones are out of joint; My heart is like wax; It has melted within Me. 15 My strength is dried up like a potsherd, And My tongue clings to My jaws; You have brought Me to the dust of death.

     

    In the death of Jesus we see the true nature of death. Death is not a time of bliss, or release, as some would have us think. Death is the opposite of everything that is truly good and right for us. And so those who speak or write of death as some friendly act that you can do to help someone are really spreading only a demonic lie. Death is not good. And yet, as we hear what Jesus went through we learn that despite the evil death is, even it must bow to Jesus. So when Jesus is brought to the dust of death, for to dust we all return, He is changing death. In Christ we view death differently – because of His victory. But without Christ death remains the enemy.

     

    16 For dogs have surrounded Me; The congregation of the wicked has enclosed Me. They pierced My hands and My feet; 17 I can count all My bones. They look and stare at Me. 18 They divide My garments among them, And for My clothing they cast lots.

     

    The nails go through the hands and feet of Jesus, in order that He and the cross are connected. The soldiers at the foot of the cross roll dice to find out who gets His clothes. The psalmist, with insight given by the Holy Spirit, pictures for us the events of the cross with an uncanny accuracy. The bulls gape at Jesus. The dogs surround Him like a pack of hyenas that surround the wounded gazelle, waiting for the moment to move in for the kill. There is our Jesus in the middle of it all.

     

    19 But You, O LORD, do not be far from Me; O My Strength, hasten to help Me! 20 Deliver Me from the sword, My precious life from the power of the dog. 21 Save Me from the lion's mouth And from the horns of the wild oxen!

     

    What will be the end of Jesus? Will He remain in death? Will the cross be the sign of the victory of Satan, Sin, and Death over the beloved Son of God? Will the power of the dog be greater than the power of God? Will the jaws of the lion crush the Messiah? Will the horns of the wild oxen pierce the Son of Mary and nail Him forever to the grave? The words of Jesus at the end of His time on the cross are: “Father, into Your hands I commend My spirit.” Even now there is no doubt in Jesus. He does not pray in despair and uncertainty, but with confidence. He is in His Father’s hands. All is well.

     

    You have answered Me. 22 I will declare Your name to My brethren; In the midst of the assembly I will praise You. 23 You who fear the LORD, praise Him! All you descendants of Jacob, glorify Him, And fear Him, all you offspring of Israel! 24 For He has not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; Nor has He hidden His face from Him; But when He cried to Him, He heard.

     

    This day of Good Friday does not end with doubt, nor with hopelessness, nor with desperation. God is not lying in defeat at the foot of His enemies. Lion, ox, bull, and dog; Satan, sin, death, and demons; none of these can finish their victory dance. For the Father answers His Son. He heard. That means the price of sin is paid, the agony is over, the blessed work of atonement is at an end. Finished. The name of Jesus, the praise for the God of all love and compassion, will go forth, and at the name of Jesus every knee will bow. The victory is His, which means the victory is yours, as you believe, as you trust this great action accomplished for you, o Sinner!

     

    25 My praise shall be of You in the great assembly; I will pay My vows before those who fear Him. 26 The poor shall eat and be satisfied; Those who seek Him will praise the LORD. Let your heart live forever! 27 All the ends of the world Shall remember and turn to the LORD, And all the families of the nations Shall worship before You. 28 For the kingdom is the LORD's, And He rules over the nations.

     

    This psalm that began with forsakenness, with darkness, with death, ends with a glorious reunion, with light, and with life. Let your heart live forever! For with Jesus, the One who died, there is true life for you, for all who believe. There is a feast that fully satisfies, the feast of this one whose death we proclaim. For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup you proclaim the Lord’s death. This the Son of God, the Lamb, around whom we gather to worship and praise, along with all of God’s people around the world.

     

    29 All the prosperous of the earth Shall eat and worship; All those who go down to the dust Shall bow before Him, Even he who cannot keep himself alive. 30 A posterity shall serve Him. It will be recounted of the Lord to the next generation, 31 They will come and declare His righteousness to a people who will be born, That He has done this.

     

    He has done this, and it is finished. On Good Friday you see the way of God, the work of God, that achieves your salvation. You see the awful condemnation your sin and my sin deserves, the Son of God who is poured out for us at the cross. But you also hear the results: going down to dust, the return to what we were taken from, is not our end. For Jesus did not come to end up in a cold grave. He came to defeat death, and show this great victory on the first Easter Sunday. He has done this. And to you and to all the generations since that great day the righteousness of Jesus Christ has been preached and declared. His righteousness is yours by faith, His death is yours, and this means forgiveness of all your sin, salvation, and eternal life. Thanks be to God for this day, for the Good Friday that brought victory for us all, through the death of God’s Son. That is His love for you. Believe it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

     

  • Holy Saturday

    Sermon not yet added

  • Easter

    In Nomine Iesu

     

    Pastor Thomas L. Rank

    Resurrection of Our Lord

    April 16, 2006

    Exordium

    The joy of Easter does not depend on the weather – if it is snowing and cold or if it is stormy or if it is bright and sunny – such things do not change the meaning of Easter. The joy of Easter does not depend on us, on whether or not we have an “Easter feeling.” The joy of Easter does not depend on its recognition in the world – what do headlines on magazines or newspapers, or lead stories on daily news shows, which today are here and tomorrow are gone – what can these do to Easter? Nothing.

     

    The joy of Easter is about a fact, and about what that fact means for people, for you. Easter is the fact that Jesus, the Jesus who was dead on Friday, is alive on Sunday morning. Easter is the fact that the Son of God was not defeated by worldly enemies, nor by Satan, nor by death itself. Easter is a time of joy because it proclaims to the world what God has done in Christ, the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.

     

    Therefore we rejoice this Easter morning, not depending on anything other than the truth of God’s Word which brings to us the news, the message and power of salvation, the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Away then with all worries and cares and concerns and troubles. For Jesus is alive, and that means you have life, too. Let us then all rise and join in singing to each other and praising God with the hymn:

     

    Hymn 348 – “He Is Arisen! Glorious Word!”

     

    Text: Mark 16:1-8

    Now when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, that they might come and anoint Him. 2 Very early in the morning, on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen. 3 And they said among themselves, "Who will roll away the stone from the door of the tomb for us?" 4 But when they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away – for it was very large. 5 And entering the tomb, they saw a young man clothed in a long white robe sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. 6 But he said to them, "Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid Him. 7 "But go, tell His disciples – and Peter – that He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him, as He said to you." 8 So they went out quickly and fled from the tomb, for they trembled and were amazed. And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

     

    Dear people gathered on this day of resurrection,

    We know that every year for the past several decades, at least, various efforts are made through printed materials and through special broadcasts to raise doubts about the facts of Christianity: especially the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Mary’s Son. So this year we have the fantasy of the Gospel of Judas examined by so-called “scholars” and declared to be another hurdle for the Christian Church. “What will this do to those who believe in the resurrection of Jesus?” the scholars wonder.

     

    After you’ve been around a few decades, most Christians get used to these contrived events. But, for those of you who see this as something that does make you wonder, think of it this way: instead of it being looked on as a challenge to the faithful, I suggest that we look at these efforts, in whatever media they appear, as just more evidence of the fact of the resurrection. One can hardly imagine there needing to be such efforts year in and year out to discredit something, if that something were not considered too dangerous, and, true. If the resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter morning was not a bone stuck in the craw of many people, do you think they would expend the money and time to try to disgrace this great event in the history of humanity? By the very scale of the protests we get a good picture of just how much the resurrection truly discomforts people. It reminds me of the Passion history of Jesus when Pilate hears from the Jews that Jesus is called “the Son of God.” That’s when Pilate determines he wants nothing to do with judging Jesus. He washes his hands and says to the crowd: “you do it.” He was nervous about Jesus, and rightly so. There are many people nervous about the resurrection of Jesus, and they calm their nerves, or try to, by finding reasons not to believe it.

     

    Why? Why not just believe it? Well, belief in the resurrection of Jesus entails believing in Jesus Himself, His birth, His life – the miracles and teachings – His suffering, death, and then resurrection. It also means believing in the reasons for Jesus coming here: our sin, our need for a Savior, and the love of God which sends the Savior. Believing in the resurrection of Jesus, for you, means believing that you need it, and that, more than anything else, is what makes people not want to accept it.

     

    Do you see what it comes down to? It comes down to confessing: “I am a sinner in thought, word, and deed, a sinner against God and against people.” And that is hard to admit; it is hard for us, it is hard for the unbeliever. Pride and stubbornness get in the way. And so Jesus is rejected. But that is just where we need Jesus the most.

     

    Think of the efforts so many religions require of their followers. Think of the life of denial that Buddhists try to live, or Hinduism’s ways of works, knowledge, or devotion; or Islam’s requirements of prayer, almsgiving, fasting, and pilgrimages. Other religions all have their own sets of rules and regulations that are to be followed so that you can become more at peace with the world, with yourself, and with your ultimate destiny.

     

    Now, sadly, some even make of Christianity a religion of rules, legal requirements, godly principles, and so on. And every time that happens, Christianity sinks away from its unique message, and becomes one more works-oriented religion of the world.

     

    Christianity, biblical, Christ-centered Christianity, has no equal. It points away from our efforts. And it points to Christ. Sure, there are many things of good that we can do and even should do as the people of God: works of charity of all kinds, support and encouragement for the many people who need help. But these works are never part of the main fabric of the Church, for that place of honor is given only to the work of Christ and never to us or what we do. It is that unique understanding and teaching of God’s Word that puts Christ at center stage that the world hates. For as Christ is put there, we see how little our works can do. The world cannot stand when our efforts are minimized and Christ’s are maximized. Never forget that. It is never Christian charity that is despised here in this world, but it is the teaching of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ alone that will be attacked. That is why the resurrection is attacked, as well as the virgin birth of Jesus, the fact that Jesus is both truly God and truly man, and that He suffered and died, and rose again the third day. These are attacked, undermined, mocked, declared a hoax, because they are at odds with the religion of the sinful flesh and devil and world which wants us and what we do at center stage.

     

    The resurrection of Jesus puts all that in the proper perspective. Our celebration of Easter says to the world: Jesus is at the heart of it all. He has won the victory and declares to all people on this day of His resurrection from the dead. He died for us all, for our sins, for our pride at thinking we could ever, in any way, measure up to what is needed for eternal life. He sweeps that all away like the remains of last year’s leaves from our yards and patios. He replaces our failed efforts with His own victory, His own death for us, His own resurrection so that we, too, may one day rise from the dead to life eternal, through faith in Jesus Christ.

     

    On this Easter morning let us rejoice in the fact of the resurrection, and even more, rejoice in what it means for us, for all who have died in faith in this Jesus Christ, and for all who cling in faith to the One whom even death cannot destroy. This is Jesus, our Savior, our Redeemer. God keep us in such faith, from now until we see Him face to face in life eternal. In the name of Jesus who was dead and is now alive. Amen. Alleluia! Christ is risen, He is risen indeed!

     

  • Easter 2

    In Nomine Iesu

     

    Pastor Thomas L. Rank

    Quasimodogeniti, Easter 2

    April 23, 2006

     

    Text: John 20:19-31

    22Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20 When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21 So Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” 24 Now Thomas, called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 The other disciples therefore said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” So he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” 26 And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, “Peace to you!” 27 Then He said to Thomas, “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.” 28 And Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” 30 And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.

     

    Dear fellow redeemed in Christ our risen Lord,

     

    Joseph had been stripped of his coat of many colors, a special and unique gift from his beloved father; he had been thrown into a pit, and then sold into slavery. His own brothers had done this to him. But Joseph did not stay a slave. Over the course of years he rose to become one of the most powerful men in the world. His brothers probably figured he was long dead. They were wrong.

     

    They found out how wrong they were when they needed food during a severe and long-lasting famine. Joseph was in charge of the food in all the land of Egypt, and that’s where the brothers had to go to get food. Without the food they and their families would starve to death. Joseph recognizes his brothers when they come to Egypt, but they do not recognize him. Finally though, Joseph lets them know who he is. And Moses, the writer of Genesis, tells us: “they were dismayed in his presence.” Yes indeed, the brothers who had wickedly sold Joseph years before out of their jealousy and hatred of him, the brothers who despised him, the brothers who had to “settle” for just selling him into slavery when most of them wanted him dead – these are the ones who are now “dismayed” in front of Joseph.

     

    The fate of these brothers, these sons of Israel, is in the hands of Joseph. Joseph has reason to hate them. He has reason to want them punished for their evil; for their betrayal, for their cruelty. Yet what does Joseph do? Listen to what Moses tells us: “And Joseph said to his brothers, “Please come near to me.” So they came near. Then he said: “I am Joseph your brother, whom you sold into Egypt. But now, do not therefore be grieved or angry with yourselves because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life” (Gen. 45:4-5). Joseph knows that God had a purpose for his slavery – the purpose was that Joseph might save lives through God putting him in the right place at the right time. Joseph does not use his power nor his advantage over his brothers to give them what they deserve. Instead, he forgives them, he accepts them back as his brothers, as his family, and rejoices to be with them again.

     

    You can probably figure out the connection between Joseph and Jesus. On that first Easter evening Jesus meets His disciples. What are His first words to these men? These are the ones who all promised that they would never leave Him. These are the ones who said they would die before they would abandon Him. But what did they actually do? They fell asleep instead of praying. They ran away when Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane. Peter had actually denied even knowing Jesus three times. They did not rally around Jesus to protect, support, or help Him in any way. They left Him alone during the time of His greatest need.

     

    So, now it is the evening of the third day. Stories of resurrection have been circulating, but the disciples have hardly dared to believe. How does Jesus greet these men? He could have refused even to meet with them. He could have met them with fire and brimstone, punishing them for their cowardice, their lack of faith. He could have scolded them.

     

    What are His words? “Peace be with you.” I want you to remember that. I want you to have this picture of Christ in mind when you wonder if God will forgive you, if He wants to forgive you, if He’ll hold your sins against you. Jesus did not scold. He did not punish. He gave peace to them.

     

    Now, some abuse this peace with God and interpret it to mean that now God allows every and any thing to be done, as if there is now no morality, no right and wrong, and that God will simply love no matter what. There is enough truth in that statement to make it sound right, but it also has enough error to make it deadly to souls.

     

    Why doesn’t Jesus need to scold or punish the disciples on that Easter evening? There’s no need for more law because they know their sin. They know they failed. They know they cannot excuse their actions or lack of action for Jesus. They are not trying to say that what they did was right or something that God should allow. The disciples, like the brothers of Joseph, understand their sin. And by the grace of God alone they are forgiven.

     

    One disciple is not there on that first Easter evening. When he hears the story of the resurrection for the other ten Thomas doubts it. He demands to see, to touch.

     

    When Jesus shows Himself to Thomas the next week, He doesn’t need to scold Thomas much either. Jesus says: “Do not be unbelieving, but believing.” Thomas sees Jesus and recognizes Him. He does believe. He confesses his faith in the risen Jesus: “My Lord and My God.” Thomas knows why the nail prints are in the hands of Jesus, and why the side of Jesus has a wound. These are the marks of the crucifixion. These are the marks of the winning of salvation: forgiveness from sin, life.

     

    The wounds of Jesus are a reminder that forgiveness came with a price – the death of the Son of God. Those who imagine that God’s love for us allows us to continue in sin or to think that God doesn’t care about sin, are not only mistaken, but they also blaspheme the death of Jesus Christ. Jesus died to pay for sin. He didn’t die so we can consider sin as of no consequence.

     

    But as we realize our sin, as we come to understand more and more that our sins are known to God even more than Joseph knew the sins of his brothers against him, then let us remember that Jesus wants us to believe in Him. Jesus wants us to know peace with God. Jesus wants us to hear forgiveness for all sin. He doesn’t want us to be afraid of Him, or to run away from Him, or to hide from Him. Jesus calls us to Him with words of peace, forgiveness, and love.

     

    “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.

     

    Blessed are you, by faith in Jesus Christ. Life is yours, by believing in the name of Jesus. You have a God who forgives, who paid for sin with His own death, who rose again in triumph, all for you. Trust the words written for you, that you may believe and live. God grant this to you all in the name of Jesus – Christ is risen, He is risen indeed. Alleluia!

     

     

  • Easter 3

    In Nomine Iesu

     

    Pastor Thomas L. Rank

    Misericordias Domini, Easter 3

    April 30, 2006

     

    Text: John 10:11-16

    “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep. 12 “But a hireling, he who is not the shepherd, one who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf catches the sheep and scatters them. 13 “The hireling flees because he is a hireling and does not care about the sheep. 14 “I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. 15 “As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. 16 “And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd.

    Dear fellow redeemed in our Risen Lord Jesus Christ,

     

    Have you ever noticed that the word and idea of “sheep” is not much used as a name for things like cars or military vehicles? In World War II the German army named their tanks after animals like: Tigers, Panthers, Rhinoceros, Elephant: power, size, killing ability. British airplanes were called Spitfighters and Hurricanes; the Americans had Thunderbolts, Lightning, Mustang, Flying Fortress. Some modern American planes are Hornets, or Super-hornets. Trucks and cars are given names with numbers and letters, or names like Titan, Mustang. These things are given names that we associate with power, or speed, or sophistication. About the only sheep-related name I can think of that’s used for a vehicle is “Ram.” Not many people would talk about how they drove their “Ewe” into work today, or took their “Lamb” our for a spin on the back forty.

     

    The word “sheep” does not bring up images of power and might, nor great speed or intelligence. In fact, we use the word “sheep” to describe people who follow a leader without thinking. It is not considered a compliment for a group of people to be called “sheep.”

     

    But this is where the distinction between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of the world can be seen. The world has its power games. The world thrills to the powerful. And the power of the world is mostly very blatant: bigger engines, more powerful weapons, faster vehicles, and so on. There is a time and a place for such power. It has its rightful sphere in the way this world must operate. But the church is different.

     

    Power in the church is very different from the power of this world. The most powerful in the Christian Church, and in the history of the world, is the One who went like a lamb to the slaughter, who deliberately did not use the power of the sword, but relied on His word. This one was even called “the lamb of God.” What a contrast between the power that people are impressed with, and the power of God.

     

    God shows His power by allowing death to come to Him and kill Him: “The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep.” The world shows its power by its ability to deal out death. Again, such power has its place, but it is not in the church, for the church is not about such punishment, it is about how God takes our place in the deserved punishment for our sin. And that is what the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, wants us to know.

     

    Sinners, without Jesus Christ, are the prey, the targets, and not the predators. Sinners without Jesus Christ are gobbled up by sinful flesh; they are dominated by the world for their end is death; and they are run over by Satan. Yet we sinners like to imagine that we have power, that our human strength, or the power of our machines, can overcome obstacles. So we invest so much in the power of this world. And we are left at the end with nothing. Death destroys us, just like rust and wind and water erode, dissolve, destroy the things of this world.

     

    We are sheep. And we need help. Our help is the Good Shepherd, Jesus.

     

    How does this Shepherd help? He calls to us. He speaks to us. He lays down His life for us and then tells us that His death is our life. He takes the poison of our sin into His own body, and gives us instead the green pastures and pure springs of water that restore us and keep us.

     

    All of this is brought to us as we hear His voice, as we listen to the Word of God. Jesus says, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and I give them eternal life.” Martin Luther preached: “[Christ and His kingdom] all depends on hearing it with faith....Its whole makeup and nature is to hear....We Christians should be and remain attentive, for all depends on the hearing of the Word and believing it....We Christians know Christ through the voice of the his gospel, and Christ knows us by our hearing, that we hearken to his gospel which proclaims to us that he died for our sins” (Hauspostille, II, 84).

     

    The voice of Jesus, His Word, the Gospel, is the power of God for salvation. This is a power which turns upside our ideas of what power should be. And this is really the nature of the Gospel – it turns everything around. How does Jesus get rid of death? By dying. How does He get rid of evil? By taking it upon Himself. How does He show power? By being weak. How does He take on the dogs, the strong bulls of Bashan, the lion? By being a lamb.

     

    Because this is so against what we want power to be we may very well find ourselves rebelling at such a 180 degree shift in our thoughts. That is part of the struggle in the life of a Christian. But it is a necessary struggle for us – for our Savior says to us and shows us in many ways that whoever would lead, let him become like a slave; whoever is strong, let him become weak; whoever is proud, let him become humble; whoever wants to be first, let him be the last. God didn’t pick the powerful nations of Egypt or Assyria to be His chosen people; God chose a small family, a family that became slaves, and then God rescued them and He alone, by His power, makes them strong. David, small and unarmored, defeats the giant and well-armed Goliath.  Jesus, alone, bloody and tortured, takes on death. David cuts off and lifts up the head of Goliath in triumph. Jesus rises glorious on Easter Sunday, alive, victorious, undefeated.

     

    This is the way of God. This is the way of Shepherd and sheep.

     

    This victory is yours by hearing and believing the voice of the Shepherd. That means hearing the Word of God, reading Holy Scripture wherein we find the bread of heaven, the life-giving work of Jesus Christ, the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls.

     

    Wolves, the lies of Satan, the power of the world, the false teachings of those who want to lead you away from the truth of God, the voice of Jesus, all these are around us in this world. That is why we continually hear the voice of the Shepherd. We keep learning to distinguish His voice from all that falsely mimic Him or try to sing a different song to us.

     

    God keep us safe in the hearing of our Good Shepherd, the one who knows us, who calls us by name, who makes us His own. In that way we are safe, safe from all predators that would prey on the people of God. May the Lord keep us steadfast in His Word, and may we by faith trust the blessed voice of Jesus: “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.” In the name of Jesus, our risen Lord, Amen.

     

  • Easter 4

     

    Sermon not yet added

  • Easter 5

    Sermon not yet added

  • Easter 6

    Sermon not yet added

  • Ascention Day

    Sermon not yet added

  • Easter 7

    Sermon not yet added

  • Pentecost

    Sermon not yet added

  • Trinity Sunday

    Sermon not yet added

  • Trinity 1

    Sermon not yet added

  • Trinity 2

     

    In Nomine Iesu

     

    Pastor Thomas L. Rank

    Trinity 2

    June 5, 2005

     

    Text: Romans 1:18-25

    For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, 21 because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man – and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things. 24 Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, 25 who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.

     

    THESE ARE YOUR WORDS, HEAVENLY FATHER, SANCTIFY US BY YOUR TRUTH, YOUR WORD IS TRUTH. AMEN.

     

    Dear fellow redeemed in Christ,

    Over the course of the next weeks, we will be hearing from the words of St. Paul's letter to the church at Rome. This letter, in its sixteen chapters, covers major and necessary teachings of God's Word: sin, law, grace, faith, righteousness, flesh, spirit, and so on. These teachings are foundational to the true knowledge of God and of the great work of salvation accomplished by Jesus Christ. Martin Luther thought so highly of this book that he wrote:

     

    This epistle is really the chief part of the New Testament, and is truly the purest gospel. It is worthy not only that every Christian should know it word for word, by heart, but also that he should occupy himself with it every day, as the daily bread of the soul. We can never read it or ponder over it too much; for the more we deal with it, the more precious it becomes and the better it tastes (LW 35, 365).

     

    However, when we begin with the first few chapters, we find that the taste of this epistle may be rather bitter. That bitterness is due to the fact that Paul begins this epistle by writing directly about sin and the law of God. And the law, because it consistently shows us our sin, is painful to us, bitter; and yet so necessary. Why necessary? Because it shows us the twistedness of our human thoughts, and how we must receive from God, instead of trying to impress Him with our works.

     

    God's anger is deserved by all. Ungodliness and unrighteousness call down the wrath of God. And especially here in this beginning of Romans, the ungodliness is the rejection of the true God. In other words, this is a First Commandment issue: "You shall have no other gods." "We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things."

     

    The breaking of this first and greatest commandment is at the very heart of all sin. It doesn't matter how sincere you are, it doesn't matter how upright you are, it doesn't matter how tolerant and kind you are. What matters is this: who is your God?

     

    The history of mankind demonstrates time and time again the arrogance of man. The arrogance is found whenever we see worldly powers presume to take the place of God, to deny God, to reject God. The last century was filled with such examples. In 1917 the world first began to see what communism meant. Over the course of the next 80 years, tens of millions of people would be killed, in gulags, in mass murders, all in the name of communism. No other political movement has killed so many. Yet it was done supposedly for the masses of people. Shortly after the rise of communism, Fascism tried to catch up and surpass the death toll brought by communism. It failed to catch up, but nonetheless millions were left dead, with millions more living in shattered families and communities and towns across half the globe. Both communism and fascism despised Christianity. Both singled out Christian pastors and leaders, either to corrupt them, suppress them, or murder them. "Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man ...."

     

    The twentieth century was not content with only the massive scale of destruction brought about by those political movements. Others were just as deadly, but without the global scale. There was genocide in China and Sudan and the Balkans. Genocide is killing people because of their race, and nothing else. The Nazis did it to the Jews. It happened in all sorts of ways in the Balkans, and in Africa. The Japanese did it to the Chinese in the 1930's.

     

    The foolishness of mankind, the rejection of God, does not bring enlightenment nor peace nor happiness, but finally and ultimately only death.

     

    But we must not get so caught up in these national and global problems that we neglect the personal, the individual. These words of Paul are for each person to hear and learn from. There is temptation all around to depart from the true God, to be blind to Him and His ways, to turn away and follow our own paths.

     

    Many religions will help you do just that. The most popular are those that in one way or another replace God with yourself. In addition, St. Paul refers to God being replaced by the images of "birds and four-footed animals and creeping things." There are people today who think more highly of the life of animals than of humans. There are many more who consider the abilities of humans the ultimate source and power for good – as if we could all just try harder, think more deeply, meditate more sincerely, act more charitably, and then the world will be a better place.

     

    No doubt it would. But what does this ignore? It ignores the truth that we are sinful. Our sin is not due to lack of trying, but to a fundamental problem: original sin. As long as we consider ourselves capable of being our own saviors we will always be falling deeper into sin. And in fact, Paul warns us of the consequences for that on-going denial of the true God: "Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever."

     

    We will find in this book of Romans more lessons on the law of God and its judgment upon us. But even more than the law, Paul lays out for us the Gospel, the forgiveness of sins, the reason for the life and death of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Earlier in this first chapter of Romans Paul wrote, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes...."

     

    The gospel is the very power by which God works among us, forgiving us, cleansing us of our sin, doing for us what we cannot and can never do for ourselves. It is so tragic that the turning away from God keeps us from the very help God desires to give us freely and generously. His gospel is brought to us in His word of Absolution. It is poured on our heads in Holy Baptism. It is placed in our mouths in the blessed Supper of our Lord. This is what gives salvation, the way out of sin, the promise life even in the midst of the tragedies and deaths of this world.

     

    God grant us to worship and serve the Creator only, and no creature. For He alone is blessed forever. Amen.

     

  • Trinity 3

    In Nomine Iesu

     

    Pastor Thomas L. Rank

    Trinity 3

    June 12, 2005

     

    Text: Romans 2:1-16

    Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. 2 But we know that the judgment of God is according to truth against those who practice such things. 3 And do you think this, O man, you who judge those practicing such things, and doing the same, that you will escape the judgment of God? 4 Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance? 5 But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, 6 who "will render to each one according to his deeds": 7 eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality; 8 but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness -- indignation and wrath, 9 tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek; 10 but glory, honor, and peace to everyone who works what is good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 11 For there is no partiality with God. 12 For as many as have sinned without law will also perish without law, and as many as have sinned in the law will be judged by the law 13 (for not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified; 14 for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, 15 who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them) 16 in the day when God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel.

     

    THESE ARE YOUR WORDS, HEAVENLY FATHER, SANCTIFY US BY YOUR TRUTH, YOUR WORD IS TRUTH. AMEN.

     

    Dear friends in Christ,

    In chapter one of Romans, St. Paul details for us the many sins that we find throughout the many cultures of the world. It is not our own age alone that is troubled with the perversions of twisted sexuality or by the multitude of religions clamoring for our attention or by rejection of the true God. St. Paul makes it very clear that the results of our sinfulness are evident throughout the world, and throughout the history of the world.

     

    Now in chapter two he continues with the preaching of the law. He turns his attention to those who may consider themselves to be ethically and morally superior to those listed in chapter one. This includes the Jews of that first century, the ones who were like the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the Tax-collector. That Pharisee was content in his self-righteousness as he looked down on others who were less righteous than himself. He used the sins of others to comfort himself – he was not as bad as they were. He was self-justified. And that is one of the sins St. Paul desires to root out in the readers of this second chapter of Romans. "Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things."

     

    But Paul's target is more than the Jews. It is both Jews and Gentiles. "There is no partiality with God." Paul does not need to show that everything that we see as wrong in others is something that we ourselves are doing. Instead, he simply states the case. It is God’s divine judgment, an indictment. We will either believe this judgment of God or not. But if we do not, it will be because we are rejecting the truth of God's law. God's judgment comes upon all. It is deserved by all.

     

    In fact, God's judgment is correct and righteous whether or not you have read or learned the Ten Commandments. God's law is known whether or not you have heard the commandments. In culture after culture we find evidence of this. We have God's law written on our hearts. This doesn't mean it is clear or full as knowing God's law from Holy Scripture. But still this means Jew or Gentile are responsible for their sins. Everyone carries with him a conscience, an understanding of right and wrong. We are to honor parents, protect the neighbor's life, marriage, property. We are not to lie or slander others. These are common values among people. They are explained more fully in the Bible, for there we find that each of these commandments is really a rejection of the true God. But even without the witness of scripture, people know right is right and wrong is wrong. That is why finally there is no excuse for anyone. When Cain killed his brother Abel there were no Ten Commandments written yet. But Cain knew it was wrong, and ran away to try to hide his crime.

     

    So St. Paul works at closing every escape we may try to find from the accusing voice of the law. That is why he does not want to allow us to judge others in our own pride, righteousness, and strength. When we do such judging we are actually showing that we do not understand the law's meaning for ourselves. We do not yet realize the great insight the Martin Luther found in Holy Scripture: "we are all beggars."

     

    As long as you and I believe that there lies within us some ability to help with the payment of our debt of sin then we fail to realize the radical nature of the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins, the righteousness of faith. What Paul must do in this part of the book of Romans is leave no stone unturned in the search for hypocrisy or self-righteousness. We usually can spot the more obvious sins – although we must admit that in more and more of society today there is a deliberate re-defining of sin in order to justify immorality of all kinds. Yet the very need for some people to try to do something like make gay marriage legal is itself an admission of the wrongness of the very thing they are trying to make right.

     

    Our ability to see the more obvious sins does not leave us safe from other more concealed sins. These sins are concealed because we hide them under our pretending to be good and righteous and moral people. This is the self-righteousness and hypocrisy that troubles us all so much. Paul's judgment on this behavior is powerful: "But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God...."

     

    To see and to admit yourself to be a beggar before God is to confess that you have nothing, absolutely nothing, by which to persuade God that you should not receive the full measure of His wrath at your sin. But with your confession that you are a beggar before God you begin to understand just what it was that Jesus Christ accomplished for you and for the world. In another letter St. Paul teaches us the good news of Christ in this way: "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich" (2 Cor 8:9). Our poverty, our status as beggars, is replaced with the riches of the Son of God. He became poor, took on our sin, our hypocrisy, our self-righteousness, and also the more crass and open sins of Romans chapter one, all so that we would receive forgiveness through His death in our place.

     

    There is no way by which we deserve to become the heirs of God, inheriting the grandest, richest, and most noble and beautiful kingdom of all. Yet, in Christ that is what we receive, we poor beggars. That is the great act of Jesus for you all.

     

    St. Paul knew the great wonders of the forgiveness of Jesus Christ. He had been a persecutor of Christians, planning and plotting their capture and death. But he was changed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the power of God for salvation. Paul's own faith and love for the grace of God can be heard behind his earnest appeal to you and me in this chapter two of Romans: "Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance...." St. Paul writes in order that you not despise the riches of God, not despise God's patience with you, that loving long-suffering which some interpret as God not knowing or caring about the world. How mistaken such a notion is. God's longsuffering and forbearance are not due to His unconcern for this world, but they are due to His desire to allow people all over the world to learn the truth, to hear the message of repentance, to turn away from evil, and to hear and believe the Gospel, that Jesus died for all, for you and me.

     

    The law, as harsh as it sounds to our ears and as shaming as it is to our lives, serves the needed purpose of making us ready for the righteousness of Jesus Christ to be ours through faith alone. This is the radical nature of the Christian faith. In ourselves we are only beggars. But in Christ we are rich, rich beyond measure, with life eternal, the blessedness of heaven, as God’s gifts for us. God keep us hearing the law, in order that we may grow in loving the wonderful work of redemption, the forgiveness of our sins, through faith in Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. Amen.

     

  • Trinity 4

    In Nomine Iesu

    Pastor Thomas L. Rank

    Trinity 4

    July 9, 2006

     

    Text: Luke 6:36-42

    “Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful. 37 “Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. 38 “Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.” 39 And He spoke a parable to them: “Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into the ditch? 40 “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is perfectly trained will be like his teacher. 41 “And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the plank in your own eye? 42 “Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me remove the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the plank that is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck that is in your brother’s eye.”

     

    Dear fellow redeemed in Christ,

    “If someone else is a thorn bush, capable of nothing but scratching, let him be a thorn bush. I won't let that turn me into one.” That was Martin Luther’s counsel in a sermon he preached about 500 years ago. Luther was preaching on the words of Jesus before us today. And he was emphasizing the fact that as Christians we are to be merciful, even when others are not merciful to us. In fact, that will be when our faith is really tested: when we are called upon to be merciful to those who are irritating, hurtful, obnoxious. Do not become irritating yourself, just because someone irritates you. Do not become a hurtful person just because someone else is hurting you. Do not become obnoxious, mean-spirited, vengeful, hateful, just because others do those things to you. Rather, “be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.”

     

    Now obviously it is much easier to say this than to practice it. But we must learn how it is that we can even begin to work at such a life of mercy. Jesus points to how it all begins in our lives: “just as your Father also is merciful.” That phrase is what makes all the difference in these words of Jesus. Jesus is not telling us to do good works that spring from ourselves. He is not telling us how a good life will get us to heaven. What He does is ground everything in the mercy of God. Without the mercy of God there is nothing for us. There is no good, there is no mercy, there is no life. God’s mercy changes everything.

     

    The mercy of God is Jesus Christ, His life of compassion and His death for the sins of all. God shows His mercy toward us in the life and death of Jesus. Jesus healed many people of terrible diseases while He walked this earth. Why did He do this? Was He thinking that people would like Him and want to pay Him back somehow? No. He did it because it is who He is. He is the God who is merciful, kind, compassionate. His love for people showed itself in how He treated those in need. Jesus also went to death on the cross. Again, why did He do this? He did it to pay what we cannot pay. He did it to erase what we cannot erase. Our sins are a debt that must be taken care of before we can receive life, salvation. Jesus, in mercy, took care of that debt. Jesus on the cross is the great sign of God’s mercy, His love for each of us, the forgiveness of sins.

     

    It is only with this knowledge of the work of Jesus for you, and your trust that this merciful work of Jesus is your certainty of salvation, that you can then begin to show mercy to those people whom God has put in your life. And that is what you are to strive to do: “be merciful, as your Father is merciful.”

     

    Judge not. Condemn not. Forgive. These are the actions that are given to you to live in your life with the others around you. But as I’ve said before, we need to do so while still living in our vocation, our station in life, whatever that may be. What I mean by this is: as a parent there are times when mercy must be overruled by judgment. For example, if your child is caught shop-lifting or is bullying other children, it is not your job to be merciful at that point, but to make sure your child learns about justice, about the need to be responsible for actions that harm others. It doesn’t mean you do not forgive, but there are consequences for sinful action which we must learn. A police officer is not in the role of being a mercy-giver to someone who robs and assaults another person. Rather, the police officer is in the role of bringing the law to bear on that person in order for justice to be served. The commands to judge not, condemn not, and forgive apply to our everyday lives, but not necessarily when our occupations demand judgment and condemnation. There is a tension here that as Christians we must learn to recognize and deal with.

     

    With that being said, the words of Jesus do find application throughout our days in this world. Judge not and condemn not, forgive, these are words which direct how we might think of others who are rude to us on highways, or who annoy us in shopping centers, or who are cheering for their team at a ball game and being offensive in their remarks about your team’s players. You do not allow their rude behavior to affect you. Remember: “If someone else is a thorn bush, capable of nothing but scratching, let him be a thorn bush. I won't let that turn me into one.”

     

    Certainly there is great application for this in the relationship between husband and wife, between brothers and sisters, and all sorts of other home situations. Mercy is to be the hallmark of the Christian home, what sets it apart from other homes. Its not that non-Christian homes will have no mercy or care for others. They certainly will at many times. But the difference is in the foundation for the Christian’s mercy: the Christian knows the mercy of God the Father, a mercy that is completely undeserved.

     

    Consider for a moment what you deserve from God by how you treat your wife or your husband, or how you think, speak, and act towards other members of your family. God has every right to come to you and say: “well, you are certainly not showing mercy and forgiveness to these people, so here’s what I’m going to do: I’m going to take back your Baptism by which I washed away all your sins, I’m going to take back the Body and Blood of My beloved Son which was given to you to eat and drink for the remission of your sins, I’m going to make sure the pastor never says again: ‘by the authority of God and my holy office I forgive you all your sins;’ and I’m even going to go back in time and undo the life of My Son and His death for you. Nothing, no mercy, no forgiveness for you because you show no mercy, no kindness, no charity toward those people I have placed in your life.” “Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck that is in your brother’s eye.”

     

    That’s what we deserve from God isn’t it. No mercy, only judgment and condemnation. But thanks be to God that He remains a God of mercy, of love and forgiveness. His Word of Baptism is true and remains for you. He continues to bring forgiveness in Word and sacraments to us here. You are forgiven, for God has mercy on you, and on me. What a wonderful gift for which all we can do for God is say, “thank you heavenly Father.”

     

    But others still need our mercy. And it is to them that God directs our attention. Jesus makes it very plain that He desires us to be merciful toward other people. We’re not always going to get it right. But that is never an excuse not to try, not to keep on forgiving and being merciful. Where we fail at mercy, let us learn to confess that failure, to rely on God’s greater mercy to cover our lesser mercy.

     

    God help us in this merciful work by continuing to bless us with the very ways by which we are strengthened and kept in faith: the Gospel in the preached Word, the absolving Word, the Baptismal Word, and the Word that became flesh that we might partake of His body and blood for the forgiveness of sins. God grant us to grow in faith that we might grow in mercy. In the name and by the power of our Savior Jesus Christ.

    Henceforth Thou alone, my Savior,

    Shalt be all in all to me.

    Search my heart and my behavior,

    Cast out all hypocrisy.

    Restrain me from wand’ring on pathways unholy,

    And throughout life’s pilgrimage keep my heart lowly;

    I’ll value but lightly earth’s treasure and store:

    Thou art the One needful, and mine evermore!

    (ELH 182, v. 10)

    Amen.

     

  • Trinity 5

    Sermon not yet added

  • Trinity 6

    In Nomine Iesu

     

    Pastor Thomas L. Rank

    Trinity 6

    July 3, 2005

     

    Text: Romans 3:21-31

    But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, 26 to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. 27 Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28 Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law. 29 Or is He the God of the Jews only? Is He not also the God of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also, 30 since there is one God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. 31 Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law.

     

    THESE ARE YOUR WORDS, HEAVENLY FATHER, SANCTIFY US BY YOUR TRUTH, YOUR WORD IS TRUTH. AMEN.

     

    Dear fellow redeemed in Christ,

    "Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin." With those words St. Paul summarizes the first two and one half chapters of this letter to the church at Rome. What exactly can the law do for you? All it can do is teach you about your sin. Your knowledge of sin comes from the law. The law teaches us sin because the law is so comprehensive in its demands that no one is able to make the claim that he has fulfilled it all. That is why St. Paul quoted Psalm 14: "there is none who does good, no not one."

     

    Despite this clear testimony from St. Paul regarding the law and our abilities to keep it, we find time after time that, individually and throughout the religions of the world, we strive to use the law to provide the righteousness we need. We use the law to try to be holy, just, godly, blameless. But the law cannot work within us the total cleansing that we need. That is why Paul says, "by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in [God’s] sight."

     

    Why, then, do we so want to be saved by the law? Why do all religions other than the Christian religion, focus on law, works? The law is compelling because it appeals to our pride, our desire to do things on our own, and not to depend or trust on what others do. Small children teach us about ourselves very well as they insist on trying to do things themselves, even when failure is guaranteed by their lack of coordination, strength, etc. They still must try, and they can be quite insistent on that.

     

    Man-made religions play on this desire for our own works. The focus is on our accomplishments, our doing something. And even the Christian who has heard for years and years about the grace of God, salvation and righteousness by faith alone, still is tempted to replace the grace of God with his own works, his own holiness.

     

    Against all of this St. Paul teaches: "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus." As long as we do not believe the first part of that sentence (all have sinned and fall short) we will remain in doubt regarding the last part (being justified freely). That is why we must hear again and again the complete inability of any human works in the realm of justification. We cannot be self-justified. We need God’s work.

     

    Here in chapter 3 of Romans we have one of the classic descriptions of the difference between works of the law and the free grace of God in all of Holy Scripture. Yet despite the brilliant clarity of God’s Word many still are bound and determined to include, at least in some small way, their own works. But it cannot be. All sin. All fall short of what is demanded. You are supposed to be as glorious as God, as perfect as God, as holy as God, as loving and kind and generous as God. You are not. Not one of us is. So we must quit going back to the law for any security in regards to our salvation. The law gives no security. In fact, it leads to boasting, to prideful pointing to one's self as your own savior. So Paul says, all boasting is excluded. You are not saved, you are not given the promise of heaven, you are not forgiven, you are not holy and righteous on your own.

     

    "Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law...." The deeds of the law are completely outside justification. Justification, the fact that God declares you righteous, holy, blameless, is all about Christ, about the shedding of His blood, about His righteousness. You enter into this picture only by the grace of God, that undeserved, unearned, unmerited love of God for each and everyone of you, for the whole world. And the righteousness of God is yours by faith in Jesus Christ.

     

    What this means is that you can speak of yourself truly and accurately as holy, blameless, forgiven, an heir of heaven itself and the glory of God. But you can do this only by faith in Jesus Christ. It is His righteousness that you have. It is now yours, not because you helped in any way to keep the law and all its demands, but because Christ fulfilled the law for you, in your place. And He gives to you His righteousness as you trust in Him.

     

    Last week we heard the Augsburg Confession, the great confession of the Lutheran Church. I want to read to you again that fourth article, the one I described as the article by which the church stands or falls.

     

    Furthermore, it is taught that we cannot obtain forgiveness of sin and righteousness before God through our merit, work, or satisfactions, but that we receive forgiveness of sin and become righteous before God out of grace for Christ's sake through faith when we believe that Christ has suffered for us and that for his sake our sin is forgiven and righteousness and eternal life are given to us. For God will regard and reckon this faith as righteousness in his sight, as St. Paul says in Romans 3[:21–26] and 4[:5].

     

    Notice that this article depends precisely on the words of Romans we have heard today. This article is the one by which the church stands or falls because here is what distinguishes Christianity from all other religions. Martin Luther further explained the importance of this chief article in another of our Lutheran Confessions, the Smalcald Articles. There he wrote:

     

    On this article stands all that we teach and practice against the pope, the devil, and the world. Therefore we must be quite certain and have no doubt about it. Otherwise everything is lost, and the pope and the devil and whatever opposes us will gain victory and be proved right.

     

    The law cannot give you a conscience free from doubt about your salvation. The law shows sin, that's all it can do with sinners like you and me. Therefore if you want to be certain of salvation, of the free forgiveness of all sin, look to Christ Jesus, the Savior, the Son of God. He has spilled His righteous blood for us. He has paid for our sins, completely and fully. By faith in Him you are justified, you are given His righteousness. Trust that gift of God. Do not doubt, but believe this good news for you and for all; in Jesus' name. Amen.

     

  • Trinity 7

    In Nomine Iesu

     

    Pastor Thomas L. Rank

    Trinity 7

    July 10, 2005

     

    Text: Romans 4:1-8

    What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” 4 Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. 5 But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness, 6 just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works: 7 “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, And whose sins are covered; 8 Blessed is the man to whom the LORD shall not impute sin.”

     

    THESE ARE YOUR WORDS, HEAVENLY FATHER, SANCTIFY US BY YOUR TRUTH, YOUR WORD IS TRUTH. AMEN.

     

    Dear fellow redeemed in Christ,

    Abraham had received promises from God, three promises in particular. Abraham was promised that he would possess a great land, that a great nation would come from him, and that through him all nations would be blessed through a special descendant of Abraham's. Each of these promises Abraham received by faith. He left the land of his father and his family and journeyed to a strange place, all because he trusted the promise of God and even though he’d never seen this land.

     

    Abraham also believed the Lord when God told him that he would have descendants as many as the stars in the heavens. Abraham believed, even though he was an old man, and even though his beloved wife Sarah has been unable to have any children for decades.

     

    And finally, Abraham believed that there would be a special descendant, one that would come his own flesh and blood. This special descendant would be none other than Jesus Christ, born over 1800 years after Abraham.

     

    For all these promises of God Abraham had only God’s Word to rely on. When we read about all of this in Genesis chapter 15, do you know how much land Abraham had, or how many descendants? He basically had nothing. But he still trusted God’s promises, and that trust in the Word of God, in God Himself, was "accounted to him for righteousness."

     

    St. Paul uses the example of Abraham because of his primary role in the history of Israel. Abraham is the father of the nation of Israel. He is the great patriarch. If Abraham can be shown to have been saved by the law, by works, by his own righteousness, then Paul’s contending for faith alone will have no firm foundation. Therefore St. Paul goes right to the heart of the matter and points to Abraham as the great example of salvation by faith alone. We also see here a great example of how Scripture interprets Scripture, where St. Paul quotes from Genesis, and also from one of David's penitential psalms, and shows how they fit perfectly with the work of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The Old and New Testaments are not separated, but united in their teaching on justification by God’s grace alone through faith alone.

     

    What we see in these words of Romans 4 and the reference to Abraham from Genesis 15 is the teaching of the nature of saving faith, what it is. Luther defined this faith in this way: "Faith is a living, daring confidence in God's grace, so sure and certain that the believer would stake his life on it a thousand times" (LW 35, 370). And in the same way our Lutheran confessions discuss faith. We hear from the Formula of Concord, Article III (Tappert, 541).

     

    Faith is a gift of God whereby we rightly learn to know Christ as our redeemer in the Word of the Gospel and to trust in him, that solely for the sake of his obedience we have forgiveness of sins by grace, are accounted righteous and holy by God the Father, and are saved forever. Thus the following statements of St. Paul are to be considered and taken as synonymous: "We are justified by faith" (Rom. 3:28), or "faith is reckoned to us as righteousness" (Rom. 4:5), or when he says that we are justified by the obedience of Christ, our only mediator, or that "one man’s act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men" (Rom. 5:18). For faith does not justify because it is so good a work and so God-pleasing a virtue, but because it lays hold on and accepts the merit of Christ in the promise of the holy Gospel. This merit has to be applied to us and to be made our own through faith if we are to be justified thereby. Therefore the righteousness which by grace is reckoned to faith or to the believers is the obedience, the passion, and the resurrection of Christ when he satisfied the law for us and paid for our sin.

     

    First let us note one thing that faith is not. It is not a good work. We are not saved because our faith is so strong and pure. Rather, faith saves because of its object, because of in whom it puts its whole trust and certainty. We are not saved because we believe, or because we can say, "I'm a believer." Salvation is brought because of who it is that is believed. We are saved because we confess our faith in Jesus Christ and no other. When the Christian church teaches about faith it is not about some generic faith, but about faith specifically in Jesus, the great descendant of Abraham through Jesus' mother, Mary, but also the Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds.

     

    Also, faith is not even of our own creation. Faith itself is a gift of God, something He gives for us to use to apprehend, cling to, hold on to Jesus our Savior. This faith is worked in us as we hear God’s Word, as the Holy Spirit "creates faith where and when He pleases in those who hear the Gospel."

     

    By faith in Jesus Christ, by trusting Him and all He has done, His life, death, and resurrection, you are blessed. You are blessed because in Christ your sins are forgiven, they are covered, they are not imputed to you. Instead of sin and all the judgment it rightly deserves you are now given the righteousness of Jesus Christ.

     

    This saving faith, because of the great blessing it brings to you through Jesus Christ, is going to be targeted by the enemies of Christ and faith: devil, world, and flesh. Always there will be the temptation to add to faith with our own works. And this is so tempting because we know that faith without works is dead. But the conclusion is not to mix up works and faith, but to keep them in their rightful places. One of our Lutheran hymns puts it like this:

     

    Faith to the cross of Christ doth cling

    And rests in Him securely

    And forth from it good works must spring

    As fruits and tokens surely;

    Still faith alone doth justify

    Works serve our neighbor and make known

    The faith that lives within thee. (ELH 227:10)

     

    As much as there is a needed emphasis on the doing of works that serve the people God puts in our lives, still we must never brush aside the fundamental truth that "faith alone doth justify." For without faith it is impossible to please God, and without faith works are empty of any good whatsoever.

     

    Besides this temptation to works, there will be the attack against the very Word of God on which faith rests. Consider the many ways that are used to cause doubt about God's Word: evolution instead of creation, the denial of the miracles of both Old and New Testaments, the false charges that Jesus is not true God, not equal with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. Each of these, and all the others, finally have as their goal the destruction of saving faith in Jesus. Therefore we must learn to cling tightly to these words of St. Paul, given to him by God the Holy Spirit, so that we be certain of the scriptural fact that salvation is only through faith in the work of our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ. We close with the words of Romans 4:

     

    For what does the Scripture say? 'Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.' ...Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, And whose sins are covered; Blessed is the man to whom the LORD shall not impute sin....

     

    Thanks be to God! Amen.

     

  • Trinity 8

    In Nomine Iesu

     

    Pastor Thomas L. Rank

    Trinity 8

    July 17, 2005

     

    Text: Romans 4:9-25

    Does this blessedness then come upon the circumcised only, or upon the uncircumcised also? For we say that faith was accounted to Abraham for righteousness. 10 How then was it accounted? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised. 11 And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while still uncircumcised, that he might be the father of all those who believe, though they are uncircumcised, that righteousness might be imputed to them also, 12 and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also walk in the steps of the faith which our father Abraham had while still uncircumcised. 13 For the promise that he would be the heir of the world was not to Abraham or to his seed through the law, but through the righteousness of faith. 14 For if those who are of the law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise made of no effect, 15 because the law brings about wrath; for where there is no law there is no transgression. 16 Therefore it is of faith that it might be according to grace, so that the promise might be sure to all the seed, not only to those who are of the law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all 17 (as it is written, “I have made you a father of many nations”) in the presence of Him whom he believed -- God, who gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did; 18 who, contrary to hope, in hope believed, so that he became the father of many nations, according to what was spoken, “So shall your descendants be.” 19 And not being weak in faith, he did not consider his own body, already dead (since he was about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah’s womb. 20 He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, 21 and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform. 22 And therefore “it was accounted to him for righteousness.” 23 Now it was not written for his sake alone that it was imputed to him, 24 but also for us. It shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, 25 who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification.

     

    THESE ARE YOUR WORDS, HEAVENLY FATHER, SANCTIFY US BY YOUR TRUTH, YOUR WORD IS TRUTH. AMEN.

     

    Dear fellow redeemed in Christ,

    How is faith made strong? This is an important question because it deals with what we will consider to be important for the nourishing of saving faith in Jesus Christ. Will your faith be stronger when you see the promises of God come true in your life? Will your faith be stronger if you be wealthy as a Christian? Will your faith be stronger when your loved ones do not become sick and are pictures of health and happiness? Will your faith be stronger when you yourself are able to achieve greater and greater victories over sin and Satan?

     

    The book of Hebrews defines faith this way: "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." Faith is not about seeing results. It is about being certain of the results without seeing them. Do you understand that difference? It will make all the difference in how you will think your faith in Christ will be nurtured and sustained in this world. Either you will seek evidence for your faith to hold on to, or you will rely simply on the promises of God.

     

    Think of it this way: who needs more faith, my son to whom I promise to give $20 in the future, or my daughter to whom I've already given the promised $20? The daughter does not need faith. She already has the money. The son must still trust that my word is good, and that sometime he will receive the promised $20.

     

    Faith is not nurtured by evidence, for evidence does not require faith. Consider Jesus' words to His disciple Thomas a week after Easter. Thomas' faith was not strong enough to rely on the mere promise of the resurrection of Jesus. He needed to see, to touch. Jesus allowed that on the Sunday after Easter. But He also told Thomas, "...because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed" (John 20:29).

     

    In the novel, The Lord of the Rings, two of the main characters, Frodo and Sam, must rely on special food given to them by the Elves, called lembas. Their own food had given out during the darkest and most dangerous part of their journey. They had to trust their lives to that simple looking bread of the Elves. What they discovered to their amazement was that the more they relied only on that bread the more they did not need the usual food. That bread alone satisfied and nourished them beyond their expectations.

     

    What we discover as the people of God is that the more we rely on the simple promises of God, the greater our faith grows. And that is what St. Paul desires us to learn and cherish from this fourth chapter of Romans.

     

    Many of Paul’s day thought that circumcision and other laws of the Old Testament people of Israel were required even for the non-Jews in order to be considered faithful Christians. Even St. Peter, that great man of God, was initially deceived by this false teaching. But through careful examination of God's Word, and particularly the life of Abraham, St. Paul sets forth the truth that faith preceded the sign of circumcision and the laws of Moses so carefully followed by the Jews.

     

    Faith does not depend on those outward expressions of the keeping of the law. To do so would be to make faith null and void. Faith is all about the promises of God being able to carry us, without our own works or our own efforts.

     

    St. Paul points us to Abraham and the promise he had from God that he would be the father of many nations. We heard about this a little last week already. What do you need to be a father? You need to have a wife, and you need to have babies. Abraham did have a wife, but St. Paul tells us that Sarah’s womb was dead – unable to bear children for Abraham. And what about father Abraham himself? He was as good as dead. Paul writes – "[Abraham] did not consider his own body, already dead (since he was about a hundred years old)...."

     

    Yet, despite this outward appearance of death, with no hope of children, how did Abraham react?

     

    And not being weak in faith, he did not consider his own body, already dead (since he was about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah’s womb. 20 He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, 21 and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform.

     

    Do you see what faith is? What did Abraham focus on? What did Abraham rely on? Was it his own body or the fertility of Sarah? No, there was no hope in either himself or his beloved wife. Instead, Abraham, strong in faith and without anything other than God’s promise to sustain him concludes: God can do what He promised.

     

    No doubt it would have been easier for Abraham if he had dozens of children running around. Then he could have seen the beginning of a great nation, of hundreds of thousands, of millions, of descendants. It was harder to see without any children. It took faith.

     

    Without the promise of God Abraham would have despaired of being the father of a great nation. He would have had no hope and no basis for hope. Yet because of God's promise, because of that true Word of God given to him, Abraham did not need the props of this world. He could be content in the fact that God would not lie to him, and that in God's own time, and in God’s own way, the promise would be fulfilled. Abraham did not need to see it himself. He had all he needed in the promises of God.

     

    So, if we return to the question we started with, how is faith made strong? It is made strong by growing away from the need for evidence, and learning to rely on what God says, despite no evidence or even evidence to the contrary. This means hearing God’s Word. It means trusting that when God says, Your sins are forgiven, it is true. It means that when God says that His Son Jesus died and rose for you, it is true. It means that when God says the body and blood of Jesus are here in the simple signs of bread and wine, it is true. What do you have to rely on? Only the promise of God. And that is all faith needs, and in fact, that is how faith grows stronger.

     

    This is not easy. There are many trials in life when we will consider that the promises of God are not strong enough to bridge our need for proof. But even then, God is sustaining and nourishing our faith.

     

    God help us to learn more and more to trust the promises of God, the promises that give us life, forgiveness of sin, salvation.

     

    Then hope, my feeble spirit, And be thou undismayed;

    God helps in ev’ry trial, And makes thee unafraid.

    Await God’s time with pleasure, Then shall thine eyes behold

    The sun of joy and gladness His brightest beams unfold. (ELH 208:6)

     

    Amen.

     

  • Trinity 9

    In Nomine Iesu

     

    Pastor Thomas L. Rank

    Trinity 9

    July 24, 2005

     

    Text: Romans 5:1-11

    Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; 4 and perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us. 6 For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. 10 For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. 11 And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.

     

    THESE ARE YOUR WORDS, HEAVENLY FATHER, SANCTIFY US BY YOUR TRUTH, YOUR WORD IS TRUTH. AMEN.

     

    Dear fellow redeemed in Christ,

    How does faith in Jesus Christ affect your life, your way of looking at this world? That is what St. Paul sets forth in this chapter 5 of Romans. He has already gone to great lengths to show the depravity of us, our sin, and God’s just judgment. St. Paul has also taught us about faith, about the righteousness of Christ which is ours by faith, about the difference between salvation by works – which is impossible for us – and salvation by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

     

    Chapter 5 builds on the foundation established in the first part of the book. St. Paul begins, "having been justified by faith," then what? Well, we have peace with God. This is a wonderful blessing of faith, for this peace is brought about by Jesus Christ, who gives us access to God's grace; we are admitted into the presence of God, not as sinners who will be judged with the severity of the law, but as God's children, who are looked on through the righteousness of Christ.

     

    By our sinful nature and actions we were at war with God, as are all people. God had not declared war on us, but we had taken a unilateral action against God, seeing Him as our enemy. Because of sin we do not love God as we should. Instead we work against God and His kingdom of love. That is the perversity of sin: it destroys the very blessings which would bring help and salvation. However, in Christ, there is peace with God, a peace that is lasting, that brings us into a right relationship with God. We no longer see Him as our enemy, but as the One who works for us, who is on our side.

     

    St. Paul now makes a startling conclusion based on the fact that we are justified by faith. His conclusion is this: we glory in tribulations.

     

    Being justified by faith is so life-changing; it so transforms our thinking, that even tribulations, sorrows, troubles, trials, are seen in a completely different way. Notice that St. Paul does not say: being justified by faith means that we have no tribulations. Paul does not hide from us the fact that tribulations remain part of our lives as Christians. But what he does do is tell us how differently they are viewed when we know that we are at peace with God and that the well-deserved judgment on our sin is taken away.

     

    If all that Paul writes in chapters one through four of Romans is true, if God so loved us that His only-begotten Son has died in our place, taking our punishment upon Himself, and giving us freely and completely the forgiveness of our sins, justifying us by His own life, death, and resurrection – if all this is true, then how can it not completely turn upside down the trials of this life?

     

    What do tribulations do? They teach us perseverance, that steadfast endurance. We learn that we can make it through the trials because we are not alone, and that in fact our Savior Jesus Christ has already gone through the very worst, bringing us with Him. A theologian has noted:

     

    To him who lives his life only in the present age and in this world, the sufferings which come can only be something negative. But for the Christian, suffering is precisely the point where the power of hope most clearly proves itself....Suffering is thus not something of which we must be ashamed. Hope makes it something positive, in which we can actually rejoice. (Nygren, Commentary on Romans, 195-196)

     

    Paul brings us from tribulation, to perseverance, to character, to hope. As Christians, when trials come we will be tempted to "cut and run," to leave God, to abandon faith. But through trials we actually are made stronger, we learn to persevere, to endure. The result is a strengthening of our character. We gain wisdom, we learn to view others differently as we go through trials in our own lives. We may very well find that our selfish, self-centered life is changed as we endure our own trials.

     

    This finally lead to hope. This hope is not wishful thinking, but it is confidence in God who will do what He has promised. But hope allows God to do what He will in His own time, and not according to our own timetables. Hope knows the outcome, and it waits patiently for the Lord to bring it in all its fullness.

     

    However, this can only happen as we begin with the right foundation: that we are justified by faith. St. Paul is not content to let us merely remember the teaching of chapters 3 & 4. He presents it to us again. In this way he emphasizes again and again that we have no salvation, no forgiveness, no life, except in Christ, in His life, death, and resurrection.

     

    Notice how we are described in verses 6,8, and 9. We are called "ungodly," "sinners," and even "enemies." This is what we were like when God planned our salvation. Salvation was not planned for the good and the deserving, it was planned for those who were sinners, with no pleasing aspect to them that might compel God to save them. No, God saves only because of His love, not because we are lovable.

     

    Paul compares human love to God’s love. We might be willing to lay down our lives for someone who is our friend, whom we consider to be good. But we would consider it a waste if someone gives his life for another, and that one who is saved turns out to be a thief and a murderer. I remember in the movie Saving Private Ryan, how the men who are trying to save Ryan hope that he's worth saving, since they have watched some of their own friends die trying to save this unknown private. That is human love. It is very understandable to us.

     

    But that is not God's love. God's love does not look at who is being forgiven. God simply does the loving work. Jesus willingly goes to the cross, and dies for all, no matter what we are like. "But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."

     

    It is this great love of God for us that causes to rejoice, to sing praises to God. We do it even in times of tribulation, for we know that such trials are only here and now, they do not last. What God gives lasts for eternity. And He gives salvation; He forgives sin; He provides life. "Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God."

     

    Thanks be to God! Amen.

     

  • Trinity 10

    Sermon not yet added

  • Trinity 11

    In Nomine Iesu

     

    Pastor Thomas L. Rank

    Trinity 11

    August 31, 2003

     

    Text: Matthew 21:28-31

    "But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go, work today in my vineyard.’ 29 "He answered and said, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he regretted it and went. 30 "Then he came to the second and said likewise. And he answered and said, ‘I go, sir,’ but he did not go. 31 "Which of the two did the will of his father?" They said to Him, "The first." Jesus said to them, "Assuredly, I say to you that tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you."

     

    THESE ARE YOUR WORDS, HEAVENLY FATHER, SANCTIFY US BY YOUR TRUTH, YOUR WORD IS TRUTH. AMEN.

     

    Dear friends in Christ,

    It is the will of God that we follow His commands, repent of our sins, and believe in Jesus Christ alone for our salvation. A few days before His crucifixion, our Lord spoke with the leaders of the Jews in Jerusalem. They questioned His authority to teach as He did. They did not want to confess or admit that He was who He claimed to be: the Son of God. As Jesus speaks with them, He desires that they come to the light, that they believe in Him. But He must break through their stubbornness, their pride, their self-reliance. These men were like the Pharisee we heard about in the Gospel for today – praying to God in thankfulness for not being like other men: sinners; and bragging to God about the good they have done.

     

    Pride is a terrible vice. As Solomon wrote in Proverbs, "Everyone proud in heart is an abomination to the Lord" (16:5). It is one of the things that the Lord hates. The Lord spoke through David in Psalm 101: "the one who has a haughty look and a proud heart, him I will not endure." And as Mary sang in her song of thankfulness to God: "He has scattered the proud n the imagination of their hearts" (Lk 1:51). The passages in Holy Scripture that speak against pride are too numerous to mention here. Clearly, pride is a great evil.

     

    Why is pride so bad? Well, first, let us be clear that not all pride is bad. It is good to be proud about a job well done. If a student does a good job on a report or a test, it is fine to take pride in that achievement. The same is true with a craftsman, or with other work. However, pride becomes evil and perverse when you refuse to acknowledge that the strength, the intelligence, the creativity, all the gifts you have and use for your work, come from God alone. Pride is a denial of the First Article: "I believe God has given me my body and soul and all things...". This is where we fail, because pride, at its core, is a denial of God. Pride replaces the true God with another god, a god called, "me." Pride is bragging about ourselves without realizing or caring that what we have is all a gift, a freely given and undeserved gift.

     

    Jesus spoke a parable to those who were proud. He told about two sons. The father asks the sons to work in his vineyard. One son says "no," another son says "yes." The first son is a sinner. He says "no" to the will of God. He says he won't do what he’s asked to do. The second son says he'll do what he's asked. But what do we find out about them? We find out that the first son, the son who said, "no," actually does the will of God by regretting his earlier refusal, and then doing what was asked. The second son, the one who said "yes," is a hypocrite. He does not do the father's will, even though he said he would.

     

    The leaders of the Jews, the Pharisees, were the second son, the hypocrites. They were so proud that they didn't think they needed to follow the will of God. They could do what they wanted because they were so sure they were part of the kingdom of God already. They didn't have to believe what God taught. They didn’t have to hear and trust the words of this Jesus. And so Jesus concludes by saying to them: "Assuredly, I say to you that tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you."

     

    Jesus deliberately chose two groups of people that were clearly sinful, and certainly not following the will of God: tax collectors and harlots. These are the ones Jesus says will enter the kingdom of God before the scribes and Pharisees. Why? Are the lives of tax collectors and harlots so much better than the Pharisees? Could these people who cheat for a living and sell their bodies for sex be so much better at following the will of God?

     

    Jesus is not in any way condoning the sinful lives of the tax collectors and prostitutes. What He is doing is telling the scribes and Pharisees that these others repent, they regret their sinful lives, they sorrow over their sin, and they believe in Jesus. This is the will of God. And by faith in Jesus they, the sinners, are saved.

     

    The Pharisees and other leaders of the Jews do not see this at all. In their sinful pride they cannot see themselves as equally sinful in the eyes of God with those other sinners who are so much worse than they are. They do not regret their lives. In fact, they boast about their lives, their charity, their compassion, their generosity. But they forget about God. They have no humility, no recognition that they live purely by grace, by the free gift of God.

     

    For us to hear these words of Jesus rightly we must hear them in humility, with understanding that what we are, what we have, are all free gifts of God. We, like the Pharisees, get into trouble when we start relying on our abilities, as if we are the ones in control, as if we made ourselves, and are not creatures of God. We must see that we are those who say, "yes," to the will of God, and then do not do it. We agree with God in theory, but not in practice. We think God's ways are a good idea, but finally not very practical for where we are in our lives right now. Sinful pride sneaks up on us, making us Pharisees, luring us into denying God – not in big, open, blatant ways. But we do so in more quiet, covert, secret ways. Rarely will we say outloud: "thank you God that I'm not like him or her." But we must admit that such thoughts do come our way.

     

    Like the son who first said "no" to his father, we need to learn regret over our refusal to hear God and do His will. God's law, heard with humble minds and hearts, does not give us a chance to brag. It shows us a whole list of God's demands for our mouths, for our eyes, for our minds, for our hands; a list of demands that we either ignore or abuse. We find much sin in our lives, we find much pride.

     

    God help us to learn regret – to regret our sin, to regret our lack of faith. Jesus Christ gives us great hope today when He points to the salvation that comes to tax collectors and harlots. Not that we're better than they are. But rather to learn that no matter what our sins are, no matter how open or public, no matter how secret and private, in Christ those sins are forgiven. In Christ, pride is replaced with regret, repentance, humility, faith.

     

    Do not look to yourself. Looking in that direction leads to only two things: pride or despair. Rather, hear the Gospel. You are forgiven because of the Christ Jesus who humbled Himself to the point of death, even death on the cross. In the humility of Christ your sinful pride is wiped away, forgiven, freely and completely. And because of that blessed work of the Son of God for each of you, you may enter the kingdom of God, the grace, the undeserved love of God here and now, and the glory of the world to come. Amen.

     

  • Trinity 12

    In Nomine Iesu

     

    Pastor Thomas L. Rank

    Trinity 12

    August 29, 2004

     

    Text: Mark 7:31-37

    Again, departing from the region of Tyre and Sidon, He came through the midst of the region of Decapolis to the Sea of Galilee. 32 Then they brought to Him one who was deaf and had an impediment in his speech, and they begged Him to put His hand on him. 33 And He took him aside from the multitude, and put His fingers in his ears, and He spat and touched his tongue. 34 Then, looking up to heaven, He sighed, and said to him, "Ephphatha," that is, "Be opened." 35 Immediately his ears were opened, and the impediment of his tongue was loosed, and he spoke plainly. 36 Then He commanded them that they should tell no one; but the more He commanded them, the more widely they proclaimed it. 37 And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, "He has done all things well. He makes both the deaf to hear and the mute to speak."

     

    THESE ARE YOUR WORDS, HEAVENLY FATHER, SANCTIFY US BY YOUR TRUTH, YOUR WORD IS TRUTH. AMEN.

     

    Dear friends in Christ,

    The closing of ears and mouths occurs because of sin. Closed ears are those which refuse the Word of God. Closed mouths are those which are unable to speak truly about God because they do not hear. But for both closed ears and closed mouths, the Savior, Jesus Christ, is able to provide healing.

     

    In this event from the life of Jesus we have both a physical and spiritual healing. And we should not be surprised at this. The God who made our bodies desires that our bodies be perfect, that they work the way He made them. He is the One who gave us "eyes, ears, our reason, and all our senses." God did not give us bodies that do not work, except that sin has corrupted the body. Sin has brought death, and all the previews of death that we experience in our bodies. For what does it mean when our eyes go bad? Is it not a reminder of death? What does it mean when we become short of breath more easily, when we ache more? Again, we are reminded that our bodies cannot last. The effects of our sin wear our bodies down. Even if we can avoid the self-abusive habits of too much drink, too much smoke, too much food, and so on, even then our bodies remain unable to last for eternity.

     

    When the deaf and mute man is brought to Jesus, Jesus is once more confronted with the problems of our sinful condition. And the One who came to win the forgiveness of our sins on the cross, through His own giving of His body to death, this same One works among the people, healing diseases, giving sight to the blind, opening ears, and loosing tongues. Jesus Christ, the Word through which the world was made, will affect the souls and bodies of those who are brought to Him.

     

    How does He do this? First, Jesus listens to the prayers of those who bring this deaf mute to Him. Jesus Himself is not deaf to our cries for help. In fact, He wants us to pray, to ask, to seek from Him all that we need. So when He is begged for help, He responds. Jesus also is not mute. He is the Word made flesh. He is speech, we might say. And Jesus, the Word, uses speech, a single word, to undo the sickness of this man. But the Word is not alone. Jesus also uses His fingers to touch the man's ears, and He spits and touches the man's tongue. These outward actions are connected with the word, Ephatha, and the miracle occurs.

     

    What happens when the Word of God is brought to this man? The ears that previously refused to hear are now opened. The tongue that previously refused to speak now speaks plainly. Jesus has brought healing to this man, a healing for the parts of his body that did not work right. Now they do.

     

    It is too bad when those of us who have ears that work well, and mouths that work well, do not use them as they were intended. The Second and Third Commandments teach us what it means to use ears and mouths rightly, and wrongly. We use our ears wrongly when we do not hear God's Word, when we do not gladly hear and learn it. Why have ears if we will not listen to the voice of our Lord? We use our mouths wrongly when we curse and swear, instead of praying and praising God. Why have a mouth that makes sound if we do not speak about God, confess Him, pray to Him?

     

    What we find out about ourselves is that even when our ears and tongues work as they should, they are still burdened with our sin, with our lack of desire for God's will, and our desire for hearing what we want and using our tongues to hurt others as we speak ill of them. St. James describes the work of the tongue as:

     

    ...a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell. ...8 But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. 10 Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so.

     

    Clearly, the bodies we so want to take care of, the bodies we hate to see grow old, these bodies are corrupted. And it is for that reason that even as we tame our speech and open our ears to God's Word, we do so knowing that these bodies must be replaced, "this mortal must put on immortality." The ears and tongue that we use to hear God's Word and confess the Christian faith still are not what they should be. They, like all of creation, are stained and broken by sin. Therefore our Savior did not come only for short term miracles, but for the miracle of resurrection, the miracle of a new creation. And that is finally what it means that Jesus died for us and rose again.

     

    We rejoice at the great miracle Jesus did for the man recorded for us by St. Mark. Jesus gave him a mini-resurrection for part of his body. But we know that eventually this man died. Yet, by faith in Jesus Christ, the death that awaits us is one that is changed. For we shall be changed when we die. We shall become like our Savior, with bodies that never more will get sick or weak or broken. This is what our dear Lord has done for us.

     

    Our Lord Jesus comes to us with the word, Ephatha, "be opened." This is the Word of the Gospel: You are forgiven in Jesus' name. And with forgiveness of sins comes salvation: safety from what we deserve because of our sin; and with forgiveness comes eternal life: new ears, new tongue, a new time to gather around the throne of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

     

    May our Savior keep our ears open always to His gracious voice, "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and no one will pluck them out of My hand." And may we continue to praise God: "O Lord open my lips, and my mouth shall show forth Thy praise." Thanks be to God. Amen.

     

  • Trinity 13

    In Nomine Iesu

     

    Pastor Thomas L. Rank

    Trinity 13

    August 21, 2005

     

    Text: Romans 6:15-23

    What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not! 16 Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? 17 But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. 18 And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. 19 I speak in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves of uncleanness, and of lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves of righteousness for holiness. 20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21 What fruit did you have then in the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. 22 But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

     

    THESE ARE YOUR WORDS, HEAVENLY FATHER, SANCTIFY US BY YOUR TRUTH, YOUR WORD IS TRUTH. AMEN.

     

    Dear fellow redeemed in Christ,

    Free from sin in order to battle sin. This is the conclusion of this chapter 6 of Romans, and it is the teaching which is further explained in chapter 7. The Christian is indeed free from sin. Baptism, that powerful washing of water and the Word of God, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, has connected the Christian with the very center of the work of Jesus Christ: His death and resurrection. Good Friday and Easter Sunday are made yours in an intimate way through that work of God known as the sacrament of Holy Baptism. A child of Satan, one born in sin, born to die eternally, is resurrected and claimed as a child of God; saving faith has been created where there was only unbelief; life has been given where there was only death; forgiveness has been given where there was only sin.

     

    The work of Jesus Christ at Mount Calvary, His suffering and bloody death on that cursed tree, the cross, has been given to you, poured out on you, made yours by the grace of God. And all of this means that you are free from sin. Sin has no power, no dominion, no claim on you anymore.

     

    However, that great freedom from sin becomes a stumbling block in this way. We think: "since I am saved, it really doesn't matter how I live anymore. God is going to be nice to me when I die no matter what I do, so I have the freedom to live as I choose, knowing there are no evil consequences for me." This is the very thinking which St. Paul addresses twice in very strong terms in this chapter six. He starts the chapter with: "What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?" He picks up the same thought at the start of our text today, repeating the very argument: "What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not! Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?"

     

    St. Paul makes it clear that no Christian has the option of considering sin to be something that he may safely do, ever. The fact of the grace of God which covers all your sins does not entitle you to act, to think, to speak, in any way which breaks the Ten Commandments.

     

    Yes, you are free from sin. Yes, you are free from the law. But what does this mean for your life? In one of the movies on the life of Martin Luther there is a scene in which Professor Luther is teaching students about this very truth of the freedom of the Gospel. One student asks: "So, does this mean I am free to do what I want?" Luther replies: "Yes, but what is it that you want to do?"

     

    What do you want to do with time God gives you each day? Do you want to let your eyes be used to lusting and coveting? Do you want your hands to hurt and steal? Do you want your mouth to curse and gossip? Do you want your ears to be flooded with blasphemy and foul language? Is that what God has given you the freedom to do? If so, then you are not free from sin, but you are its slave. Whatever you obey, that is your master. And St. Paul tells us what that means: "For the end of those things is death." Being forgiven gives no freedom to keep on sinning.

     

    Being freed from sin means that now you have another master, the Lord Jesus Christ. You are never without a master. You are never out of slavery. Either you are a slave to sin, or you are a slave to Jesus Christ, His servant, desiring to do His will. There is no neutrality, no middle ground in this. "...So now present your members as slaves of righteousness for holiness....But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life."

     

    To be this slave of righteousness is not at all a means by which you achieve salvation or forgiveness. This is no work of yours to earn a place in the glories of heaven. Salvation is the gift which takes you away from sin and brings you to Christ. That work is done. Completed. Finished. Yet while you remain in this world you are given time, years, months, days. And it is in this time that you have been freed to battle sin, not to give in to it; to love your neighbor, not to harm him; to serve God, not to serve Satan.

     

    "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." You are freed from receiving the wage of sin. Your sin deserved to paid in full with your own death, your own eternal suffering in hell. What have you been given instead? The gift of God, eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. In this one sentence you have a beautiful summary of the difference between being a slave of sin, and a slave of God. The one receives what is due: death. The other receives not what is due, but a free gift, a gift bought by the death of someone else – Jesus, the Son of God. It is this free gift into which you are baptized.

     

    Free from sin in order to battle sin. This battle is not easy. We will see in Chapter 7 of Romans how St. Paul describes for us the struggle of life as God’s child in this world, and it is no broad and easy path. But we have our Lord and Savior, Jesus, who has gone before us, pulled the teeth of death, chained Satan, and freed us from the demands of the law by covering us with His mercy, His free forgiveness of our sin. God keep us strong in the faith which alone justifies, faith in Jesus Christ. In His name. Amen.

     

  • Trinity 14

    In Nomine Iesu

     

    Pastor Thomas L. Rank

    Trinity 14

    August 28, 2005

     

    Text: Romans 7:7-25

    What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, "You shall not covet." 8 But sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in me all manner of evil desire. For apart from the law sin was dead. 9 I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died. 10 And the commandment, which was to bring life, I found to bring death. 11 For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it killed me. 12 Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good. 13 Has then what is good become death to me? Certainly not! But sin, that it might appear sin, was producing death in me through what is good, so that sin through the commandment might become exceedingly sinful. 14 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin. 15 For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. 16 If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. 17 But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. 18 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. 19 For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. 20 Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. 21 I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. 22 For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. 23 But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. 24 O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 I thank God – through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.

     

    THESE ARE YOUR WORDS, HEAVENLY FATHER, SANCTIFY US BY YOUR TRUTH, YOUR WORD IS TRUTH. AMEN.

     

    Dear fellow redeemed in Christ,

    In Romans 6 we are given the good news of how through holy baptism we are connected with the very death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. By this wonderful and amazing link with the Son of God we are freed from sin. That is the goodness and love of God for each and every one of you. And in Romans 8 St. Paul concludes the chapter with a wonderful confession of how nothing is able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus. It would seem, then, that the Christian life, the life which is given to us by the grace and mercy of God, should be one of victory, one in which we see and experience triumph after triumph over those evil forces which would tear us from our dear Savior Jesus Christ.

     

    Yet, here in chapter 7 St. Paul details for us the great struggle of faith for the Christian in this world. Can he really be describing a saint of God, a believer, when he writes, "I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells..." "what I hate, that I do..." "the evil I will not to do, that I practice...." "sin that dwells in me...." "But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members...."? This sounds like someone who is so troubled by sin that he never will win against it. Where is the victory? Where is the confidence? Where is the faith in the troubled description of this poor soul? Can this truly be a picture of a Christian, a child of God?

     

    Some do look at these verses of chapter 7 of Romans and conclude that St. Paul is not writing about a Christian, but about someone who is still under the sway of sin, someone who is overwhelmed by the law and does not know the Gospel, the forgiveness of sins, the mercy of God through faith in Jesus Christ. Why do they reach this conclusion? Because Paul’s words do not seem to fit their idea of a Christian. A Christian should not be troubled in this way. A Christian should not be so full of doubts. A Christian should not struggle so much with sin.

     

    But Paul's words fit perfectly well with the Christian in this world. The Christian is at the same time both a saint and a sinner. Our Lutheran Confessions speak about this life of the Christian in this way:

     

    But since in this life we have received only the first fruits of the Spirit, and regeneration is not as yet perfect but has only been begun in us, the conflict and warfare of the flesh against the Spirit continues also in the elect and truly reborn. Again, there is not only a great difference between Christians, one being weak and the other strong in the Spirit, but even the individual Christian in his own life discovers that at one moment he is joyful in the Spirit and at another moment fearful and terrified, at one time ardent in love, strong in faith and in hope, and at another time cold and weak. (K/W, SD, II, 68, emphasis added)

     

    Notice the terminology here: conflict and warfare. This is in keeping with the vocabulary of St. Paul who writes of the warring that is going on in life. St. Paul wrote in much the same in the Epistle to the Galatians we heard earlier: "For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish."

     

    To deny the struggle of faith vs. doubt, of grace vs. sin, in the life of a Christian is to leave the Christian in sad shape. For then the Christian, whenever he sees the warfare of his life, the struggle to live as a child of God, the stumbling as he seeks to follow the way of life, may easily conclude: I am no child of God. St. Paul desires to comfort the troubled soul which feels such distress. The conclusion is not: I am no child of God, but rather: what is it finally which gives me the hope and confidence of being forgiven, saved, a child of God? Is it our own efforts? Is it our own ability to conquer sin? No. It is the power of God, His promises, His forgiveness, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

     

    St. Paul, at the end of this chapter 7, is a soul in great distress. "O wretched man that I am, who will deliver me from ths body of death?" These are not the words of the unbeliever, but those of the saint who feels fully the war of sin, death, and the devil against himself. He sees no hope in himself, and this is good! To whom does St. Paul turn? To whom does he direct us 2,000 years later? "I thank God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!"

     

    In Christ the doubts are removed. In Christ the fears are cast away with the confidence of faith in all that He has done for us. Here is the return to the justification which underpins this whole letter to the Romans. Justification, salvation by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ alone is never a mere beginning for the life of the Christian which can then be set aside for the more active life of sanctification. No, justification remains the core, the foundation of the life of the Christian. In fact, you can get an idea of how much Satan hates this doctrine from the numerous ways in which he strives to hide it, to change it, to replace it. Satan knows that the work of Christ alone brings hope to us and defeat to himself. Therefore he will never want you to hear about it, but he loves when you struggle with sin on your own, when you see no way out, when you doubt, when you reach the conclusion that you are wretched but then do not have Christ as the answer. Beware of such satanic lies.

     

    St. Paul directs us to the very answer we need: Christ. In the midst of our struggle with sin are we still the baptized sons and daughters of God? Yes, we are. And in that powerful name of the Triune God poured out on us we are given strength, confidence, victory in the midst of our weakness, our doubt, and our seeming defeat. But all this is based on promise, on the Word of God. Our own experiences may try to teach us differently. But we are not saved by our experiences, but by the Gospel, the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.

     

    God helps and is with his stumbling, struggling saints. In our Savior we find secure refuge, a fortress. God grant that we continue to hear His saving Word, to rely on the sure promises of God. As the prophet Jeremiah teaches us to pray: "Heal me, O LORD, and I shall be healed; Save me, and I shall be saved, For You are my praise." In Jesus' name. Amen.

     

  • Trinity 15

    In Nomine Iesu

     

    Pastor Thomas L. Rank

    Trinity 15

    September 4, 2005

     

    Text: Romans 8:18-29

    For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. 19 For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; 21 because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. 23 Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body. 24 For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance. 26 Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. 27 Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God. 28 And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. 29 For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. 30 Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified. 31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? 33 Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written: “For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.” 37 Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. 38 For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, 39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

     

    THESE ARE YOUR WORDS, HEAVENLY FATHER, SANCTIFY US BY YOUR TRUTH, YOUR WORD IS TRUTH. AMEN.

     

    Dear fellow redeemed in Christ,

    The tragic effects of Hurricane Katrina have not stopped unfolding before our eyes on the daily news shows. We still have little idea how many of our fellow citizens of the United States lost their lives. We do know that many hundreds of thousands are without homes, shipped to parts of the country where most probably have never been before. They are in strange places, with little money, little of the things we need in this world for our bodies and minds to survive.

     

    In the face of such overwhelming human suffering, many are trying to fix blame or to find out who is responsible. Some Muslims in other countries have applauded Hurricane Katrina as being part of the "jihad" against the United States. Such people are glad that our country has suffered a terrible disaster. Some Christians in this country pointed to an event scheduled for this weekend in New Orleans – it was to be the annual gathering of gays, a gathering of debauchery and perversion – these Christians have claimed that the hurricane was God's punishment on New Orleans for hosting such an event. Others, hoping to find political gain, have said that it is the fault of the president of the United States. Still others, in Germany among other places, have said it is due to global warming, which is caused mostly by our country according to them, since we did not sign the Kyoto Protocol a few years ago.

     

    All of them are wrong. They are wrong because they are blind to what God actually teaches us in His Word. They are wrong because they think God will work to do things the way they want to; or they deny God altogether and imagine that mankind itself has ultimate power in this world.

     

    If you want to trace the cause for Hurricane Katrina, you must draw a line to every single human being born in this world, born as the descendants of Adam and Eve, conceived in sin, born in iniquity. In Genesis 3, which tells us of the very beginning of our woeful condition, we find that wind and water, earth and animals, birds and fish, plants and rocks – not one of them sinned. It was Adam and Eve. And the ground was cursed because of the sin of mankind, that original sin of which we are all part. Creation itself was twisted by our sin, by our perversion of the will of God. That is why St. Paul writes about the groaning of creation, about it suffering birth pangs, about creation being subjected to futility.

     

    God's good creation, the "very good" things He brought about simply by power of His Word, was marred by sin. In the six days of creation everything was perfect. But when Eve took the fruit and ate, and when Adam joined her in eating the forbidden fruit, everything changed. Thorns and thistles would now rise up in the good earth. All things which God had put for the blessing of man and woman now became things that could harm, even kill. The sun which warms the world could now produce the energy to be used for terrible storms. The water which brings life now also drowns and crushes. The wind which cools now blows with the strength to twist and demolish buildings of wood, concrete, and steel.

     

    We do not need to assign this to some false god. We do not need to see this as punishment for some specific sin. We do not need to think that one leader of a country, or even all of us who drive cars and burn wood and use electricity are responsible. No. The responsibility is not so easily put on a few. It is on us all. And these tragic events will never end until the Last Day. For until then the creation is subjected to futility; it waits, anticipating its freedom from our sin. God’s good creation wants to be good, and not to be mutilated by the consequences of our sin. And one day there will be a new creation. God has promised. But not yet. Now we wait here. Now we live in the midst of death, with the suffering. We learn to live in repentance, to confess our sins, to acknowledge that God has the right to be angry with us all, to send eternal tribulations on everyone of us, to persecute us, to curse us with famine.

     

    But despite all this, despite the sin, despite what we deserve, what does St. Paul concludes? "If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?" God knows His creation. He knows what we go through, what all people endure here. And that is why He sent His only-begotten Son. He did not spare Him, but sent Him on a mission of freedom, freedom bought by the death of this only-begotten Son of God.

     

    Because of this great love of God we can look at tragedies, we can live through our own times of trial and persecution and suffering, and finally confess: "all things work together for good to those who love God."

     

    These words are a strong confession in the face of terrible things. For what we experience, what we witness, what we hear and see on television along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, all of this may tell us that there is no God who loves and cares. But as bad as all of this is, it is nothing compared to what Jesus went through for all the billions of people of the world. And He did it willingly, not because a hurricane that happened upon Him, but by deliberately going to meet His enemies, with all the powers of hell behind them. Jesus did it in order to undo our sin, not only for us, but for the creation. Listen again to St. Paul’s concluding confession of faith here in Romans chapter 8, a confession that points us away from ourselves, to the love of God in our Savior, Jesus:

     

    It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: 'For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.' Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

     

    Thanks be to God! Amen.

     

  • Trinity 16

    In Nomine Iesu

     

    Pastor Thomas L. Rank

    Trinity 16

    September 26, 2004

     

    Text: Luke 7:11-17

    Now it happened, the day after, that He went into a city called Nain; and many of His disciples went with Him, and a large crowd. 12 And when He came near the gate of the city, behold a dead man was being carried out, the only son of his mother; and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the city was with her. 13 When the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her and said to her, "Do not weep." 14 Then He came and touched the open coffin, and those who carried him stood still. And He said, "Young man, I say to you, arise." 15 So he who was dead sat up and began to speak. And He presented him to his mother. 16 Then fear came upon all, and they glorified God, saying, "A great prophet has risen up among us"; and, "God has visited His people." 17 And this report about Him went throughout all Judea and all the surrounding region. These are Your words, heavenly Father, sanctify us by Your truth, Your word is truth. Amen.

     

    THESE ARE YOUR WORDS, HEAVENLY FATHER, SANCTIFY US BY YOUR TRUTH, YOUR WORD IS TRUTH. AMEN.

     

    Dear fellow redeemed in Christ,

    In the eight decades of this congregations' existence there have been many funeral processions that started from these doors. Dozens and dozens of people, people you knew, people you loved, have been carried from here in coffins, and laid to rest. Some of these people died in old age. Others died as a result of war, or accidents. Some died quite young. Each death brought sorrow and pain to those left behind here in this world.

     

    How we deal with death says much about what we really believe. Some people try to ignore death, avoiding it when a friend or relative dies. Others never get over a death, being affected by it for the rest of their lives as they grieve with no hope. Others try to make light of it, or treat it as something natural, and therefore something that one shouldn't get too worked up over – after all, it will happen to us all sooner or later.

     

    However, death must be dealt with. How do we do that?

     

    It begins with knowing the "why" of death. Death is a consequence of sin – not of "a" sin, necessarily, but of "sin." In other words, death usually cannot be traced to a specific thing you did wrong in your life with death as your punishment. We cannot say things like: "that old farmer had a heart attack and died because he coveted those 80 acres and cheated to get them." Nevertheless, we die because of sin, the sin inherited from Adam. We die from the fact that we are conceived and born with original sin, a sin we cannot undo on our own.

     

    If we fail to see sin as the reason for death, then our seeking for help against death will never work. It will never work because we will not be seeking in the right place for the right help.

     

    In Luke 7, the funeral procession of the young man met the crowd with Jesus. Death and Life collided at the town of Nain. It was as Luther wrote in his wonderful Easter hymn:

     

    It was a strange and dreadful strife

    When life and death contended

    The victory remained with life,

    The reign of death was ended;

    Holy Scripture plainly saith

    That death is swallowed up by death,

    In vain it rages o'er us. Alleluia! (ELH 343:4)

     

    As we read this story in Luke, we do not detect much of a struggle. It is simply Jesus speaking the word, "arise," and death goes away from the young man. Yet we must not forget why it is that Jesus causes death to leave. It is due to the fact of His own suffering and death with our sin upon Him.

     

    Jesus has power over death because He is the Lord of Life. But to keep death away forever, to keep our sins from bringing their dreadful consequence upon us, Jesus had to deal with sin once for all. This miracle at the town of Nain is a preview of the work of Jesus that culminated in His death on Good Friday, and the announcement of His victory on that first glorious Easter morning when He rose from the dead. The suffering and death of Jesus included the full weight of God's wrath against sin, even to the point of Jesus suffering hell and being forsaken by His Father. The victory over death was not easy or cheap. To think so is to diminish and scorn the life of Jesus, who was burdened with your sin and shame, who went through humiliation and torture, and died – all for you and me.

     

    Jesus, true God and true Man, has power over death. And He desired to achieve and win this victory over death because of His great love for this created world. We must not pass over lightly the truth that Jesus "had compassion" for the mother of this young man. His compassion, His deep, sacrificial love for this woman, her son, and for us all is what moved the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, to bring salvation to the world. Salvation coming by means of the forgiveness of sins, and life coming to us as we believe that great news.

     

    This truth impacts how we view death and deal with it, whether in our own life, or in the lives of our neighbors, friends, and family. First, we see that death is not natural for us. It is not what we were created to do. It is natural for us to fight death, to struggle against it as best we can. We choose life because that is what comes naturally for us. We do not willingly choose death unless we have succumbed to the lies of those who deny the resurrection of Jesus and all that it means for us. We do not choose death for children in the womb. We do not choose death for the sick and call it "euthanasia." We do not choose to kill helpless human life, not even at the embryo stage, in order to bring benefits to others. We do not force sacrifices on those who have no voice, but we protect them. This is what it means to know Jesus as the Life of the world.

     

    Second, we see that death is not the end. It does end life in this sin-filled world. It does end our struggle with our own sinful flesh. But death does not end true life for the Christian. In fact, death has been changed by the death and resurrection of Jesus into a way to bring us out of these bodies of decay into bodies that never die, into the glories of eternal life in heaven. This affects our view of death when one of our loved one dies, or when we ourselves face death in a closer way than we ever imagined.

     

    If death is only "the end," and there is nothing after it, then of course one can understand the helpless grief and hopelessness of those who think that. However, since death is not such a final end, but only a time of change for the Christian, we learn to accept that, even though it does mean a separation from the ones we care for and love. But that separation is not permanent, nor will it be so long. It is such confidence and Christian hope that allowed another hymn writer to sing of death in this way:

     

    Farewell, I now must leave you;

    The grief this day doth give you

    Soon others, too, shall bear.

    Be ye to God commended;

    In heav'n all woe is ended,

    And we shall meet in glory there. (ELH 475:8)

     

    This is not a mindless or ignorant or blind hope. But it is a hope built on the work of Jesus Christ.

     

    Jesus is the One who meets death with the word of resurrection. He is the one who told this young man: Arise. Death could not do anything except go away when Jesus said that. Death could not argue, it could not cling on, it could not pretend to leave – it had to leave and it did, leaving the young man alive, reunited with his mother.

     

    This same power and compassion will bring the trumpet call of resurrection to all believers in Christ at the Last Day. God has promised that Jesus and His resurrection are the firstfruits of all those who believe in Him. This means that as Jesus rose, so shall we, shall all our loved ones who die in the Lord. We need not fear for them; we need not fear for ourselves. We cannot and need not depend on ourselves in the fight against death, but we rely on Jesus. He is our Life, our Salvation. He is the One against whom neither death nor sin nor Satan can prevail.

     

    Times come in our lives when this hope in Christ is all that we have. Our strength is gone, the skill of the best doctors fail, the courage of the emergency crews cannot bring us back, but still hope lives. For we are connected to Life, even in the midst of times of death. Jesus is our Life. God keep you confident in the work of Your Savior, the work at the cross, and the resurrection on Easter morning. In Jesus' name. Amen.

     

  • Trinity 17

    Sermon not yet added

  • Trinity 18

    Sermon not yet added

  • Trinity 19

    In Nomine Iesu

     

    Pastor Thomas L. Rank

    Trinity 19

    October 3, 2004

     

    Text: Matthew 9:1-8

    So He got into a boat, crossed over, and came to His own city. 2 Then behold, they brought to Him a paralytic lying on a bed. When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, "Son, be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven you." 3 And at once some of the scribes said within themselves, "This Man blasphemes!" 4 But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, "Why do you think evil in your hearts? 5 "For which is easier, to say, 'Your sins are forgiven you,' or to say, 'Arise and walk'? 6 "But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins" – then He said to the paralytic, "Arise, take up your bed, and go to your house." 7 And he arose and departed to his house. 8 Now when the multitudes saw it, they marveled and glorified God, who had given such power to men.

     

    THESE ARE YOUR WORDS, HEAVENLY FATHER, SANCTIFY US BY YOUR TRUTH, YOUR WORD IS TRUTH. AMEN.

     

    Dear fellowed redeemed in Christ,

    Some men bring a sick man to Jesus. They had to carry this man because his disease prevented him from walking with his own strength. No doubt they bring their friend to Jesus because He is known for healing the sick. In fact, in the previous chapter, St. Matthew went to great lengths to show us the power of Jesus over a variety of illnesses. Jesus had cleansed a leper; He had healed the centurion’s servant, Peter’s mother-in-law, and many others who came to Him. Not only that, He had calmed a storm on the Sea of Galilee and cast out the demons from two demon-possessed men. It is easy to imagine what the paralyzed man’s friends expect Jesus to do when they bring their sick friend to Jesus.

     

    But what does Jesus do? He sees the faith of these men, their trust in Him, and instead of performing the work of a healing miracle, Jesus says to the sick man: "Son, be of good cheer, your sins are forgiven you." What Jesus has done is give a greater gift to the sick man. Jesus addresses the root problem, and that is not the paralysis, it is sin.

     

    Here Jesus teaches us the great truth that our condition is first and foremost a condition that is troubled and poisoned by sin. It is not that other troubles do not threaten us and burden us, but it is sin that lies at the very heart of all these troubles. So when Jesus speaks to this man and forgives his sins He is going far deeper than the physical illness. Jesus is addressing the very soul of this man, and by the forgiveness of sins He is granting him far more than any physical healing can offer. The forgiveness of sins is the gift of eternal life – life beyond the confines of this world and all its troubles, illnesses, and death. That is what Jesus gives.

     

    Notice how Jesus gives this great gift. He speaks. He simply tells this man the truth and gives him the very gift of forgiveness. Jesus does this because He is God, with all the authority of God, the same authority which Isaiah the prophet had proclaimed in the lesson for this morning: "I have blotted out, like a thick cloud, your transgressions, And like a cloud, your sins."

     

    Yet what is the reaction of the enemies of Jesus? They accuse Jesus of blasphemy. They think that since only God can forgive sins, it is wrong of Jesus to speak that forgiving word. "Who does He think He is?"

     

    But not only can and does Jesus speak this word, He does so as both God and man, "true God begotten of the Father before all worlds, true man born of the virgin Mary." And as Matthew points out for us, the crowd understood that this forgiving word spoken by Jesus was given to mankind to speak. Martin Luther preached about it this way:

     

    Such power began...with Christ himself, and it continues for mankind, especially with those who occupy the pastor office and are duty bound to preach repentance and the forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ name. Nevertheless, every Christian has the command, not only that he can, but should, say to you when you are troubled by your sin: Why are you so troubled? As your fellow Christian, I say to you, you are not fair to yourself, for God is not ungracious toward you; you ought to trust these words just as surely as though God were speaking to you personally from heaven, never questioning them because of the person from whom you hear them. (Hauspostille, III, 79,80)

     

    The word of absolution, the word of forgiveness, spoken to you is not just any word. It is the word of God that gives you exactly what it says. Doubting this word and deciding that it doesn’t apply to you or that you can safely ignore it is to throw away the very forgiveness of sins that you need.

     

    Perhaps the paralyzed man had been thinking that God hated him and was angry, therefore he was punished with this illness. And that would be an understandable thought from our human perspective. How often don’t we wonder: What does God care about me, how do I know if He will be gracious to me, what am I to God? Am I not just a sinner who deserves nothing good? But Jesus says: Do not look at your illness, your life, your doubts and worries, but listen. Listen to what? Listen to the word: Your sins are forgiven. And then trust that word and let no illness, no troubles, no doubts or concerns drive you away from this faith.

     

    Again Luther says:

     

    We Christians do not lack for the Word. God’s grace has given it to us purely and unadulterated. But we are lacking in faith. We who have the Word at times do not believe and trust as firmly as those who don’t have the Word. This is the devil’s doing, the result of original sin which causes us to be drawn away from the Word and the truth, toward believing the lie rather. In short, it is the devil’s fraud and our flesh’s deception because our natures are so corrupted by original sin.

     

    ...Therefore, let us learn that both things need to be there: You must have the Word, and faith must cling to the Word, never questioning it in any way. You then have everything the Word promises and which you require for support of body and soul (Hauspostille, III, 81,82).

     

    For the unbelieving who watched Him that day, Jesus went on to heal the paralysis of the man. "Which is easier, to say, ‘your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘arise and walk?’" ‘But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins’ – then He said to the paralytic, ‘Arise, take up your bed, and go to your house.’"

     

    Jesus did not give more when He healed the illness. What He did was give a preview of the resurrection of the body that will occur on the last day when all those who have believed in the forgiveness of sins through faith in their Savior Jesus Christ will rise from their grave and be granted eternal life in heaven. The difference to us seems great: being healed here and now, as opposed to "only" being healed for eternity. That is because we are so bound to this time and this place that we cannot see beyond. But Jesus here opens our eyes to the salvation that He brings, a salvation that goes far beyond the confines of our human limitations, a forgiveness that is real, lasting beyond our short lifetimes here. For what are 100 years, or 80, or 60, or 20, or 1 year, compared with eternity? In comparison to each other there is a great difference, but in comparison to eternity they are all the same: a small time, a little while.

     

    We can only know this by faith, and that is why our Lord is so gracious as to make sure that this forgiving word is given to us again and again. Our Lutheran confessions make this same claim when they teach us this, something I have also used on the bulletin cover for the past month or so:

     

    We shall now return to the Gospel, which offers counsel and help against sin in more than one way, for God is surpassingly rich in his grace: First, through the spoken word, by which the forgiveness of sin (the peculiar function of the Gospel) is preached to the whole world; second, through Baptism; third, through the holy Sacrament of the Altar; fourth, through the power of the keys; and finally, through the mutual conversation and consolation of the brethren. Matthew 18:20, 'Where two or three are gathered,' etc. (The Smalcald Articles, Part III, Article IV.)

     

    Spoken word, baptism, communion, absolution, and our mutual words of consolation of the Gospel. All of these bring to us the Word of Jesus, the Word spoken by our Lord to the paralytic: "Son, be of good cheer, your sins are forgiven you."

     

    God help us to cling to this word, to trust it through whatever comes our way. God help us to use this Word as the light that drives away the darkness of our fears and doubts, knowing that this Word brings exactly what it says, for here we are connected with the power of God which overthrew death itself, as Jesus died and rose again.

     

    In faith, Lord, let me serve Thee;

    Though persecution, grief, and pain

    Should seek to overwhelm me,

    Let me a steadfast trust retain.

    And then at my departure

    Take Thou me home to Thee,

    And let me there inherit

    All Thou hast promised me.

    In life and death, Lord, keep me

    Until Thy heav’n I gain,

    Where I by Thy great mercy

    The end of faith attain. (ELH 494:3) Amen.

     

  • Trinity 20

    In Nomine Iesu

     

    Pastor Thomas L. Rank

    Trinity 20

    October 12, 2003

     

    Text: Matthew 13:44-50 (ELH Second Series Gospel)

    "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. 45 "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, 46 "who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it. 47 "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a dragnet that was cast into the sea and gathered some of every kind, 48 "which, when it was full, they drew to shore; and they sat down and gathered the good into vessels, but threw the bad away. 49 "So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come forth, separate the wicked from among the just, 50 "and cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth."

     

    THESE ARE YOUR WORDS, HEAVENLY FATHER, SANCTIFY US BY YOUR TRUTH, YOUR WORD IS TRUTH. AMEN.

     

    Dear fellowed redeemed in Christ,

    This morning we celebrate the mission work of the Christian Church. We understand mission work to be the spread of the Gospel, the proclamation of the forgiveness of sins through faith in Jesus Christ alone, the Son of God and Son of Mary. We confess this truth in the words of the Apostles’ Creed when we say: He "suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried, the third day He arose again from the dead." And we explain these words by saying: "[He] has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won me from all sins, from death and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood, and with His innocent suffering and death." This message is one of comfort to us, it provides us the consolation we need as we deal with our sin, our shame; it gives us the very life and death of Jesus as a guarantee for the taking away of our sins. Because we know of the great comfort given by the Gospel of Jesus Christ we want others to hear and believe this good news, too. We also know what Jesus means when He says: "The angels will come forth, separate the wicked from the just, and cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth." There is an eternal death, a judgment of condemnation for those who deny and reject Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world. This is another reason we support mission work, we do not want others to be condemned, but to live eternally in heaven.

     

    We are united with a small group of Christians in this world known as the Evangelical Lutheran Synod. We are about 22,000 people scattered over the United States. Alone we can not do too much. We are not a big group who gather here. We do not have hundreds of thousands of dollars to give each and every year to spread the word of God. But together our small congregations are able to put together larger amounts of money to support missionaries who go to far off lands, to people we do not know, and preach the forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ name to people who have not heard of Him. This is mission work. This is something that is good for us to do, something that is important, something that shows we take seriously and understand the gravity of sin and the need for salvation not only for ourselves but for all people.

     

    Right now God is using our Evangelical Lutheran Synod to bring His saving word to dying souls in Peru and Chile, in the Czech Republic, Ukraine, and Latvia. God uses money from farms and businesses here in Iowa and Minnesota to bring a great and eternal blessing to parts of the world most of us have never seen and will never see.

     

    Just recently we had our Fall Circuit meeting at Center, a small church in the middle of corn and bean country in north central Iowa. We were not a big gathering, but we gathered around the teaching of God’s Word, we sang hymns to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. And we collected money. That money was sent to a small country on the Baltic Sea, and adjacent to Russia; we sent it to the Lutheran church in Latvia. It is easy to take such a thing for granted. But consider what happened in order for us to do that. We had people from all over Iowa gather here. From Williamsburg, Indianola, Saude and Jerico, Thornton, Forest City and Thompson, Northwood and Lake Mills, Albert Lea and Emmons, Leland and Scarville. These are not towns that show up on many maps of the world. These are not towns that are significant in the history of the world. Yet God uses these areas near and dear to us to cause His word to be preached half way around the world, where people speak a language we’ve never even heard. The curse of Babel’s confusion of languages is overcome by the Pentecost blessings of Word and Sacrament through power of the Holy Spirit.

     

    But do you know how this all starts? It starts with you and your hearing and believing the Word of God in this place, at this time. If you do not hear the Word of God, if you do not learn of your sin, confess, and believe the Gospel, what interest will you have in spreading that word to others? If the Gospel is not a great treasure, if it is not the pearl of great price, if the forgiveness of sins is of little value for you personally, that will affect greatly your desire not only to hear that word yourself, but to help others to hear it, too.

     

    Jesus says that the kingdom of heaven is "like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field." This is someone who understands the value of the treasure and is willing to sacrifice in order to obtain it. This is not about trying to earn heaven by buying it, but it is about commitment, about growing in our knowledge of the vital significance of the need to learn our sin and to hear of the forgiveness achieved by Jesus through His death on the cross and spread out by Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and the preaching of the Gospel. If the kingdom of heaven, and the promises of salvation and eternal life, are not a treasure for you, if they are no pearl of great price for you, if you are not willing to commit to this, to support it with your very lives, then of course the fact that others do not know of this treasure will certainly not greatly concern you. When the Gospel is not crucial for you and your struggle with life and death, with sin, then the salvation of others will hardly matter to you either. If your eternal life is not a big deal to you, the eternal destiny of others will not disturb you either.

     

    That is why this work begins and continues only as we hear and treasure the message of the kingdom of God: the forgiveness of sins through faith in Jesus Christ.

     

    There are many today who do not consider mission work important because they believe that any and every religion is OK, as long as you are sincere. For them, the Christian Church does not have an exclusive treasure or the pearl of great price. Instead, they think that there are many different and equally valuable treasures and pearls. Find one you like and stick with it, and you’ll be just fine when angels come with the dragnet. Our Lord Jesus teaches us differently. He teaches that only by faith in Him are we given salvation and eternal life. "The kingdom of heaven is like a dragnet that was cast into the sea and gathered some of every kind, which, when it was full, they drew to shore; and they sat down and gathered the good into vessels, but threw the bad away."

     

    There are not many different paths to heaven. There are not many different ways of salvation. God has provided His Son, and Jesus said: "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me."

     

    Mission work brings the Gospel to people in other countries, in far away places, with names of towns that sound strange to us: Santiago, Ano Nuevo, Riga, Ternopil, Pilsen. But it is also about that Gospel going to our country, to places near to us, with names that are familar: Florida and Illinois, Cedar Rapids, and even Lake Mills, Leland, Emmons, Kiester, Scarville. These are places where we don’t need hundreds of thousands of dollars. But we do still need you. Do you realize that every Sunday morning you are making a confession of your faith to all your neighbors. You are telling them what your treasure is, what the pearl of great price is. Don’t think your neighbors don’t notice. Of course they do. And you don’t have to say a word for them to learn what you believe is most important, most near and dear to your heart. We should not be surprised if others are not interested in joining our church when we ourselves can hardly speak about without being embarrassed (maybe we don’t like some of our teachings here, not much chance of us inviting others then, is there?), or when we can’t say nice things about the people or pastor of our own congregation, or when we do not consider hearing God’s regularly as something we are committed to do. I don’t say this because of anything I’ve heard about you, but I say it because I know these things can and do happen, and we should all learn from that.

     

    In many ways, mission work here is harder for us than far away mission work. The people in Latvia can’t watch us and hear us. They can’t see our lives, how we deal with others, where we are on Sundays; all they see is our gifts, and they are grateful for them. But mission work here means more than financial commitment. It means growing in lives that reflect the love of Christ, and this is hard, for now our sins are seen to be the obstacles to faith and love that they truly are; obstacles not only for us, but for those around us.

     

    On the other hand, this is exactly how God wants us to learn and grow. We are never going to be the sin-free people in our communities. We are never going to be the ones whose lives are perfect and without trial or struggle or weakness. It is not if such things happen to us, but when. And then what do we do? We demonstrate our Christian faith by confessing and admitting our sins, and receiving our Lord’s forgiveness through regular attendance at God’s house, and through the great banquet of Lord’s Supper. We give honor and glory to God when others can see how much we, too, depend on the very Gospel that we want them to hear and believe.

     

    God has brought a great treasure to us. By His grace we hear and receive the forgiveness of our sins through faith in Jesus Christ. This is the good news for you, given to you. May God help us all to grow to see how this pearl of great price impacts and blesses our lives, and the lives God has put around us in the form of families, friends, community, and even those far away. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

     

    Soli Deo Gloria

     

  • Trinity 21

    In Nomine Iesu

     

    Pastor Thomas L. Rank

    Trinity 21

    October 19, 2003

     

    Text: Matthew 16:1-4 (ELH Second Series Gospel)

    Then the Pharisees and the Sadducees came, and testing Him asked that He would show them a sign from heaven. He answered and said to them, "When it is evening you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red;’ and in the morning, ‘It will be foul weather today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ Hypocrites! You know how to discern the face of the sky, but you cannot discern the signs of the times. A wicked and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign shall be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah." And He left them and departed.

     

    THESE ARE YOUR WORDS, HEAVENLY FATHER, SANCTIFY US BY YOUR TRUTH, YOUR WORD IS TRUTH. AMEN.

     

    Dear fellowed redeemed in Christ,

    Signs are helpful things. Stores use them all the time so that people will know which store is which, and what is being sold there. Imagine going to the Mall of America and none of the stores having signs. Signs make it easier for us to find what we want. Signs are especially useful when we are traveling in a strange city. We don’t know our way around. We don’t know the streets. Without signs to guide us and help us find out where we are, it would be easy to be confused and lost.

    God often gives signs. To Noah He gave the sign of the rainbow as a reminder of His promise never again to destroy life on the earth with water. To Abraham He gave the sign of circumcision as a reminder of His promise that in Abraham all the earth would be blessed. To Gideon God gave the sign of a fleece wet with dew while the ground was dry, and the next morning a dry fleece while the ground was wet with dew. And of course we have the great sign promised by God through the prophet Isaiah: "Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.’"

     

    Jesus is that Son born of the Virgin May and called Immanuel: God with us. And as the Son of God, Jesus gave signs and did miracles. So why did Jesus respond to Pharisees and Sadducees as He did?

     

    These men had come to Jesus seeking a sign from heaven. But they do so not because they have a weak faith which they desire to get stronger. Rather, they ask for a sign out of doubt and rejection. They do not believe in Jesus. They just want to test Him, to make Him prove to them who He is and where He came from.

     

    Jesus, of course, knows their plan. He knows that their desire is not for Him to prove who He is, but they want Him to fail. So Jesus begins by telling them they know how to read signs already. Don’t they know what red sky at night means? Or red sky at morning? To this day we have that saying, "Red sky at night, sailor’s delight; red sky in morning, sailors take warning." Jesus’ point is that just like they know how to read the signs in the sky, they can read the signs He has already given them. It is not as if the signs were not there. Jesus has given many signs. But He knows that signs are not going to convince His enemies. So He says there’s just one sign for them, the sign of Jonah.

     

    The sign of Jonah was spoken of by Jesus earlier in St. Matthew’s Gospel. Matthew assumes that here in Chapter 16, we are already aware of what Jesus said in Chapter 12: "For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." The crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus are the sign that these men must deal with. They will not get another. They will either believe Jesus or not. They will always find some reason to doubt His words and signs in their unbelief. So Jesus will not pander to their suspicion; He will not accommodate their skepticism. No, they must become aware of the truth: they stand in the presence of the God they pretend to worship, but in whom they do not put their trust. So the title Jesus gives them, "Hypocrites," is well-deserved. They pretend to believe, they pretend to worship, they go through the motions, they give a good show, but their hearts are far from God. Jesus knows this.

     

    "A wicked and adulterous generation seeks after a sign...." These words of Jesus would have struck deep against His enemies. They knew that Jesus was speaking the language of a prophet of the Old Testament. They would recognize here the charge against their ancestors from Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, Micah, and others. Ezekiel explains for us what this adultery is about: "For they have committed adultery, and blood is on their hands. They have committed adultery with their idols, and even sacrificed their sons whom they bore to Me, passing them through the fire, to devour them" (Ez 23:37). The prophets often used the vocabulary of adultery for idolatry. The people of God were the bride, God was the groom. The bride has gone to those who are not her husband; the bride has committed spiritual adultery by following false gods. Jesus’ enemies know this. So they know exactly what Jesus means when He calls them an "adulterous generation." This is not about breaking the Sixth Commandment: "You shall not commit adultery." It is about breaking the First Commandment: "You shall have no other gods."

     

    To deny Jesus, to doubt His Word and His miracles, is committing spiritual adultery. It is about fearing, loving, and trusting someone or something more than Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Son of Mary. To reject Jesus is to reject God, for He is the true God in the flesh and blood of us mortals.

     

    To this day people continue to expect signs from God over and above the great signs He has given to His Church on earth. God has given us His Gospel, His Word as brought to us through the Holy Scriptures. For too many this word is not enough, and must be supplemented by our own experience or our own wants and desires. God’s clear Word is perverted and twisted, so that souls are not given the clear sign of the Virgin-born Son of God who is God with us, but a lie that directs them to look within themselves for true meaning. For too many the signs of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, outward things connected with the powerful and life-giving word of God, are mere actions performed by Christians to show their faith, instead of being the ways by which God works in us the forgiveness of our sins, as we are connected with Jesus’ sign of Jonah: His crucifixion and resurrection. "We are buried with Christ by Baptism into death, that just as He was raised from the dead, so also we should walk in newness of life." As we are given the body and blood of Jesus in communion "You proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes."

     

    Our own generation is not exempt from Jesus’ charge of spiritual adultery. So our Lord must continue to have His Church on earth point to the cross, to the empty tomb, to water, to bread and wine, to pastors who are called to proclaim the Gospel. For in these simple ways, in these simple signs, God continues to give us what He knows we need, instead of what we determine is best for us.

     

    May God help us so that we do not follow the adulterous generation as they deny and reject Jesus Christ and His saving Word. Rather, let us pay attention to His signs, to His Word. There only do we have the forgiveness of our sins, forgiveness even for this adultery, as we turn away from the gods of this generation, and abide with Jesus, our faithful and patient bridegroom. Amen.

     

  • Trinity 22

    In Nomine Iesu

     

    Pastor Thomas L. Rank

    Trinity 22

    October 24, 2004

     

    Text: Matthew 18:23-35

    "Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 "And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. 25 "But as he was not able to pay, his master commanded that he be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and that payment be made. 26 "The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, ‘Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ 27 "Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt. 28 "But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, ‘Pay me what you owe!’ 29 "So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ 30 "And he would not, but went and threw him into prison till he should pay the debt. 31 "So when his fellow servants saw what had been done, they were very grieved, and came and told their master all that had been done. 32 "Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. 33 ‘Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?’ 34 "And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him. 35 "So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses."

     

    THESE ARE YOUR WORDS, HEAVENLY FATHER, SANCTIFY US BY YOUR TRUTH, YOUR WORD IS TRUTH. AMEN.

     

    Dear fellowed redeemed in Christ,

    If you don't forgive others, if you continue to harbor a grudge against someone, do you think God forgives you? Every day we pray, "forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us." Is that truly what you desire? Do you want God to forgive you exactly the same way you forgive your husband or wife, your mom or dad, your brother or sister, your co-worker, or others in your life? Jesus told the servant in the Gospel today: "Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?"

     

    It is very hard to forgive others. Even when we say "I forgive you," it is hard to put another's sin out of our minds. Too often we will find that we are like the servant here who was forgiven much, and yet could forgive little.

     

    Why does this happen? Why can we be so in despair over our own sins, desiring help and begging for the mercy of God which we do not deserve, and then when we receive God’s pity we turn around and treat our neighbor with contempt, failing to forgive?

     

    What we see in ourselves is the perverse nature of our sinfulness. Our lack of forgiving others is a sign to us that we really don't think we need God’s forgiveness, or that we simply take it for granted, as though we deserved it.

     

    Think of the times that we are most generous in life. It is usually when we consider ourselves to have more than enough for what we need. It doesn't matter how much we have, what matters is how we think of our situation. A person who makes the minimum wage can be more generous than a billionaire. Not measured by how much is given, but by the spirit in which people are helped. We might have little left over in the checking account at the end of the month, yet we should examine ourselves to see how that affects our generosity, not in terms of numbers of dollars, but in terms of our attitude. If we are worried about debt, then that may affect our desire to help others: "helping them won’t get us out of debt" we'll think.

     

    Forgiving others is like that. We will find it hard to forgive when we don’t know what it means that we are forgiven. So we need to ask: what is the forgiveness of sins?

     

    It starts with knowing sin. Sin is what we are born with, original, inherited, sin; we are by nature sinful and unclean. The newborn baby is a sinner. The aged person in the nursing home is a sinner. We are all sinners. That is how we come into the world. Besides the inherited sin, we add our sins of commission and omission. We do things we should not do, against God, against our families and friends; we don't do things we should do, again, against God and neighbor. God's law shows us our failure to do as God commands. This failure is sin. And the wages of sin is death.

     

    In the story Jesus told, the debt of the first servant is like our sin against God. It is so huge that we can never repay it. But do we really believe our debt of sin is so large? Or are we so accustomed to hearing about how we are forgiven that we ignore the fact that there is a good reason we need that forgiveness? Do we truly comprehend what we deserve from God for our sin? Where would we be without God's pity and mercy? Where would we be if He did not desire us to be forgiven? We would have no hope whatsoever.

     

    Luther preached:

     

    So, whoever wants to truly confess that he is a sinner must see to it that he is not confessing any dreamed up or imaginary sins. He must confess that his sins are just as real as adultery, theft, murder, and the like, that is, that these sins are so great that they will take you to hell unless they are forgiven (Hauspostille, 3, 137).

     

    He goes on to say: "if the forgiveness of sins is to be genuine, then the sins themselves must also be genuine" (138). Forgiveness is not needed for fake sins, or imaginary problems. No, the forgiveness is offered because of the true need.

     

    And so we confess each Sunday, "I believe in the Holy Spirit...the forgiveness of sins." This is an article of faith. We cannot see the forgiveness from God. But it comes to us through God's Word. We trust what He says, that He does not lie, but through the life and death of our Savior Jesus He has taken away the sins of the world, our sins: "Who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won me from all sins, from death and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood, and with His innocent suffering and death...." This forgiveness is showered on us, the one baptism for the remission of sins. It is given to us through Word and Sacrament, available as the on-going help against our sins in whatever form they make take.

     

    This is the great gift of God for you: the forgiveness of sins, the taking away of the debt you owed. Now, what does this mean for you and your life with others? Will you be like the first servant in Jesus' story? Will you be forgiven your billions, and not forgive the $10 your wife owes you? Or your husband, or children, parents, or whomever else the Lord has put in your life? Can we be so stingy towards others when God is so overwhelmingly generous toward us? We can – but only if we failed in the first place to confess our sins and understand their true implication for our eternal destination.

     

    If we find ourselves failing to forgive others, then let us take to heart as a sign of our own pride, our own inability to confess our sins as real sins that deserve damnation. God help us to be humbled by our lack of forgiveness, and use that sign to grow in the knowledge of our sin so that we may confess honestly and rightly, receiving the gracious forgiveness of all our sins. Then, too, may God help us to see in our family, our friends, and all others whom we meet, people who like us need to hear a forgiving word, a word of help. We can do that, as we learn more and more about what a truly merciful Savior our Lord Jesus Christ is. God grant us faith toward Him, and fervent love toward one another, in Jesus' name, Amen.

     

  • Trinity 23

    Sermon not yet added

  • Trinity 24

    Sermon not yet added

  • 3rd to last Sunday of the Church year

    In Nomine Iesu

     

    Pastor Thomas L. Rank

    3rd to Last Sunday of the Church Year

    November 9, 2003

     

    Text: Matthew 24:23-27

    "Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There!’ do not believe it. 24 "For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. 25 "See, I have told you beforehand. 26 "Therefore if they say to you, ‘Look, He is in the desert!’ do not go out; or ‘Look, He is in the inner rooms!’ do not believe it. 27 "For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.

     

    THESE ARE YOUR WORDS, HEAVENLY FATHER, SANCTIFY US BY YOUR TRUTH, YOUR WORD IS TRUTH. AMEN.

     

    Dear fellow redeemed in Christ,

    No Christian should be surprised by the Second Coming of Christ,even if our Lord should come today or tomorrow. We have been given ample evidence that we are living in the Last Days. All that’s left to happen is for us to see the lightning flashing from east to west.

     

    Ever since our Lord ascended to His rightful office at the right hand of God the Father, God’s people have looked to the sky expecting to see the return of Christ just as He left: attended by the angels and announcing His return to all. God’s people have looked for Christ’s return because they always live in times that remind them of the Second Coming of Jesus. Early Christians lived through tumultuous times of persecution and the rise of many false teachers trying to twist and turn the teaching of Jesus. They had to live with many divisive debates about just what the Bible is, what it teaches, how much of it is true.

     

    Through the centuries that followed those early years Christians had to contend with many troubles. There were the many doctrinal controversies about who Jesus Christ is. Some focused too much on the divinity of Christ. Some focused too much on the humanity of Christ. Both errors eroded the saving work of Christ and left souls with little to hold on to for the assurance of their salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.

     

    Along with this doctrinal strife, those Christians had to watch as most of the centers of early Christianity were overrun by a new religion who zealously followed a new creed: "there is no god but Allah and Mohammed is his prophet." The Muslims conquered many countries where Christianity had flourished: Antioch in Syria, Jerusalem in Palestine, Alexandria in Egypt. Wouldn’t that be a sign that would encourage Christians to look to the skies in hopes of seeing the lightning flashes of Christ’s return? Certainly the signs were there.

     

    And so it goes even to our own day. Today we see not only the tragic wars of the past sixty years, we see the persecution of Christians. This happens not only in places like Nazi Germany or the communist Soviet Union with its gulags. It happens in China, in India, in Pakistan, in any number of countries in Africa, where the people of God are subjected to humiliation and physical danger of a kind about which we American Christians know little.

     

    The signs are here for us to see and to be ready for the Second Coming of Christ. But instead of American Christianity focusing on these real dangers to the Christian faith, instead of us drawing closer to the truths of Holy Scripture, instead of a re-commitment to a life of repentance, faith, and holy living, what do we find? We find across our land a great falling away from the faith. We see church after church trading in the truth of the Gospel for the falsehoods of modern feminism, of a homosexual agenda that has put even God’s institution of marriage in danger, of a perverted sense of Christian unity that is willing to sacrifice everything for the sake of saying: "we are united." But united in what? Only in the willingness to compromise so much of God’s Word that there’s nothing left. While our persecuted brothers and sisters in other parts of the world look longingly and hopefully for the glorious coming of Christ we Americans think that such things as clown ministries or a fast food approach to the Divine Service are worthy of our time, talents, and treasure. One can only look in dismay at the state of churches across our country. We are not focusing on the eternal, on the depths of the riches of God, on the wonders of the majesty of the God who died for us on the cross of shame and humiliation; no, we instead are lured by the lusts and the pleasures of our depraved society.

     

    "Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect." False christs and false prophets are a dime a dozen today. They’re all over. And well-meaning people are finding them, following them, giving up truth for lies.

     

    Yet, in spite of all the bad news around us, we remain hopeful, confident. Yes, these are times that cause us to be challenged in our faith. But that is the life of Christians of all times. Our hope is in the One who has already overcome the threats to us. On the night He was betrayed our Lord Jesus Christ told His disciples: "I have said these things to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart, I have overcome the world." Jesus has not called us into His church in order to lead us into despair or to be defeated by our enemies. It is true that we are in the church militant, the church at war. That is the status here on earth. But it is a church that finally understands where ultimate victory is found: in Jesus alone. Our Savior has carried our sorrows, our trespasses and iniquities wounded and bruised Him, but He arose victorious on the third day from the grave of death.

     

    Our Lord remains to this day as our Savior, as the One who is able and willing to carry us through all sorrows, all troubles, even death. He does not abandon us to the enemies we face in this world. Rather, He continues to spread His grace, His charity, His great love for all. His Word of forgiveness continues despite the vicious attacks of those who cannot bear to consider and believe in Christ as the Son of God and Son of Mary. Holy Baptism remains a washing of regeneration, an enduring comfort for us as we recall with relief that powerful promise of God, we are indeed the adopted children of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. And even though it seems as if a famine of the Word of God is upon us, yet our Lord feeds us with His Body and Blood, giving us that food of immortality, a precious food that strengthens us as we journey through this wilderness on our way to the promised land.

     

    Jesus has told you beforehand what to expect. Do not be downhearted as you view the world. Rather, see that despite the best efforts of the enemies of the Christian Church, not even the gates of hell can prevail against it.

     

    Laugh to scorn the gloomy grave

    And at death no longer tremble;

    He, the Lord, who came to save,

    Will at last His own assemble.

    They will go their Lord to meet,

    Treading death beneath their feet.

     

    O that ye would set your hearts

    High above all earthly pleasures.

    Take instead what He imparts

    Who hath giv’n you lasting treasures.

    There your heart’s affections give

    Where ye shall forever live. (ELH 532:9,10) Amen.

     

  • 2nd to last Sunday of the Church year

    In Nomine Iesu

     

    Pastor Thomas L. Rank

    2nd to Last Sunday of the Church Year

    November 14, 2004

     

    Text: 2 Thessalonians 1:3-10

    We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is fitting, because your faith grows exceedingly, and the love of every one of you all abounds toward each other, 4 so that we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that you endure, 5 which is manifest evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you also suffer; 6 since it is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation those who trouble you, 7 and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, 8 in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, 10 when He comes, in that Day, to be glorified in His saints and to be admired among all those who believe, because our testimony among you was believed.

     

    THESE ARE YOUR WORDS, HEAVENLY FATHER, SANCTIFY US BY YOUR TRUTH, YOUR WORD IS TRUTH. AMEN.

     

    Dear friends in Christ,

    St. Paul sure is mean and judgmental. Look at how he writes in this letter. He writes about how "God will repay with tribulation those who trouble you," and "in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God," and "these shall be punished with everlasting destruction." Surely Paul must be exaggerating the judgment of God against sin and sinners. Surely he must not mean these terrible words. He must just be trying to scare people with stories in order to get their attention.

     

    That is what some would have you believe. Many want to water down the message of judgment in the Bible. They will do so in many ingenious ways. Some will try to say these words of Paul are really not God’s Word, but only Paul’s opinion. Some will redefine sin so that their particular sin is not included in those things that God hates and condemns. But all of these attempts are merely ways for a guilty conscience to avoid the true demands of the Law.

     

    The Law is not nice to us. The Law does not take into account our feelings or our desires. The Law just says: you shall not.... The Law also says, if you continue to do what is against God’s will, you will receive the punishment you deserve, instead of the forgiveness God has provided for you.

     

    God’s grace is not automatic. While God loved the world and Jesus died for all, this love can still be rejected, unused, supposedly unneeded. Therefore we must listen to God’s Law again and again. We must use it so that our most cherished sins are cut out and exposed to the truth of what God says about them.

     

    We prefer when the Law is used like a butter knife, just sort of scraping at the surface, never getting to the sickness that lies deep within us. But the Law is powerful, cutting to the very joints of our bones, deep into our flesh, in order to show us that our lives are not worthy of heaven.

     

    Paul’s letters, and notably here in 2 Thessalonians, proclaim a powerful law, a true and frightening judgment. He means it when he writes about the judgment, the vengeance, the flaming fire and the everlasting punishment. These are the wages of sin, the well-deserved consequences for all who reject Jesus Christ, who refuse to turn from their sin, who do not believe.

     

    There is a reason our Lord Jesus teaches us to pray the Seventh Petition. I have printed it in the bulletin this morning, and I would like you to read with me the answer to the "what does this mean."

     

    But deliver us from evil. What does this mean? We pray in this petition, as the sum of all, that our Father in heaven would deliver us from every evil of body and soul, property and honor; and at last, when the hour of death shall come, grant us a blessed end, and graciously take us from this valley of sorrow to Himself in heaven.

     

    We pray earnestly for a "blessed end" because we know that such an end to life is not guaranteed. Here we are not praying for only a quiet death, but for a death that comes as we believe in our Savior Jesus Christ. He is the One who delivers us from all the evils of body and soul, property and honor. Satan, on the other hand, is the one who desires us to join him in the flaming fires. He knows his end and that he cannot escape it. He hates the fact that you can escape it through faith in Jesus Christ. Therefore he will attack your trust in God’s Word; he will seek to blind you to its truth, to make you deaf to God’s Law so that you will not turn away from sin and be forgiven. Satan prefers that you never hear the Law, so that you will think you never need the Gospel. But if he can’t turn off the Law, he’ll try to keep you from hearing of your Savior. If that doesn’t work, then he’ll keep trying to cover over the work of Christ by pointing you to your own holiness, or other ways to diminish the work of Jesus.

     

    One Lutheran recently wrote:

     

    [man’s] rescue from the demonic powers who, apart from Christ, hold him in thrall to the Law’s condemnation may never be taken for granted. Any brushing aside of the reality of eternal punishment is tantamount to a sacrilegious trivialization of the Seventh Petition of the Our Father. The worst fate that can befall a man is everlasting separation from the Love that made and redeemed him. By the same token, the highest form of love of neighbor takes the specific shape of his being targeted by the mission of the church. (Stephenson, Eschatology, 118)

     

    WWe are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is fitting, because your faith grows exceedingly, and the love of every one of you all abounds toward each other, 4 so that we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that you endure, 5 which is manifest evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you also suffer; 6 since it is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation those who trouble you, 7 and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, 8 in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, 10 when He comes, in that Day, to be glorified in His saints and to be admired among all those who believe, because our testimony among you was believed.e need to hear about God’s clear judgment of eternal damnation for all sin, even those things which we wish weren’t sins, but are. Those around us need to hear this clear word also. But the purpose is so that we and they may live lives of repentance, confessing our sins, drowning our old Adam daily, and recalling the promise of Baptism, the washing away of sins, receiving the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ.

     

    Paul understood well the constant struggle of the Christian against all the forces which were arrayed against the Son of God, and which now are pointed at the Christian. The reality of that battle, that on-going spiritual struggle, is why Paul’s words sound harsh at times. But battle is not a place for half measures, or compromise. It is the time and place for a clear description of the enemy, the weapons he will use against you, and the way by which victory is won. To fail in any of these ways is to open the door for defeat. The Church needs the clear trumpet of truth again and again. Those outside the Church, who continue in sin, who are unrepentant, need to hear the sound of coming judgment so they may turn from their sins and live in the mercy of God. The unbeliever and backsliding Christian will not like that clear sound of repentance. But that is never a reason to back away from making that call. It must be done, for the sake of souls, for the eternal welfare of the world bought by the blood of Jesus Christ.

     

    God help us to keep our own ears and hearts open to the law we need, so that the sweet sound and power of the Gospel may comfort us in all our temptations and trials. And God help us all to live and speak in such ways that those around us may learn of sin, and hear the blessed Gospel of Jesus Christ, the redeemer of the world.

     

    We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is fitting, because your faith grows exceedingly, and the love of every one of you all abounds toward each other, so that we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that you endure.

     

    God grant this to you all, in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

     

  • Last Sunday of the Church year

    In Nomine Iesu

     

    Pastor Thomas L. Rank

    Last Sunday of the Church Year

    November 23, 2003

     

    Text: Matthew 25:1-13

    "Then the kingdom of heaven shall be likened to ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. 2 "Now five of them were wise, and five were foolish. 3 "Those who were foolish took their lamps and took no oil with them, 4 "but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. 5 "But while the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept. 6 "And at midnight a cry was heard: ‘Behold, the bridegroom is coming; go out to meet him!’ 7 "Then all those virgins arose and trimmed their lamps. 8 "And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 9 "But the wise answered, saying, ‘No, lest there should not be enough for us and you; but go rather to those who sell, and buy for yourselves.’ 10 "And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding; and the door was shut. 11 "Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open to us!’ 12 "But he answered and said, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ 13 "Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming."

     

    THESE ARE YOUR WORDS, HEAVENLY FATHER, SANCTIFY US BY YOUR TRUTH, YOUR WORD IS TRUTH. AMEN.

     

    Dear fellow "watchers for the Son of Man,"

    On December 6th, 1941, there were enough warnings and signs for the United States to realize that an attack would soon be launched against Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. However, due to a series of mistakes and a refusal to believe that such a thing could happen, the Japanese were able to achieve complete surprise on December 7th, sinking most of one of the greatest fleets of battleships in the world, and killing thousands.

     

    Just two years ago, our own country was attacked in New York and Washington DC; attacks that left thousands dead and caused billions of dollars of damage. Right now there are questions about whether we could have been better prepared, more watchful, more ready to accept that such deadly attacks could happen on American soil. We have learned to take seriously the warnings.

     

    Each year, if you live along the coast of Virginia, North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, you will hear warnings about hurricanes. When the actual area of impact is discovered, people are warned to flee from the storm, to seek high ground, to get out of the path of destruction and death caused by the tremendous forces of the hurricanes. Those who ignore the warnings are jeopardizing their lives.

     

    In our own part of the country we have weather warnings, too. In the summer we are warned about severe thunderstorms and tornadoes. In the winter we are warned about blizzards. Even though some of these storms do not materialize as predicted, still we dare not ignore such warnings. Each year lives are lost due to these storms. The warnings are given for a good reason.

     

    God has put your pastor in the place of a watchman for this congregation. Each and every year at this time, and often in other seasons of the church year, it is the job of the pastor to warn you. Pastors are taught that they are to be like Ezekiel, to whom God said,

     

    I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; therefore you shall hear a word from My mouth and warn them for Me. When I say to the wicked, ‘O wicked man, you shall surely die!’ and you do not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand. Nevertheless if you warn the wicked to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you have delivered your soul.

     

    This sermon is your warning.

     

    Jesus teaches us: "Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming." The five foolish virgins in Jesus’ parable were not ready for the wedding. They failed to prepare for the coming of the bridegroom. They ignored the need for enough oil to last until he came. So when the bridegroom did come, the foolish virgins were not ready, they failed miserably and eternally. When they came late to the wedding feast and cried out in front of the closed door: "Lord, Lord, open to us!" He answered and said, "Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you."

     

    Who is this that says, "I do not know you"? It is Jesus Christ, the One who comes to judge the living and the dead. He is described as, "He who has the key of David, He who opens and no one shuts, and who shuts and no one opens." With Jesus as Your Savior, the one in whom you trust for the forgiveness of yours sins, the door to eternal life is open and not even the power of Satan himself can shut that door. Jesus holds it open for you. But if you live in unrepented sin, if you have rejected the Savior, if you foolishly allowed the oil in your lamp to run out, if you have neglected your faith by not hearing God’s Word, by not returning to the promise of your holy Baptism, by not eating and drinking the Body and Blood of Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins, then you must know that the door will be shut for you. And once that door is shut no can open it. When Jesus shuts the door it will not open ever again.

     

    This is a teaching that is in great disfavor today. We live in a time when no one can imagine that Jesus would be so mean as to shut the door. We are truly a foolish people. God calls to us again and again and again. We have His Word in more abundance today than any other generation in all the history of the world. We can turn on our radios and televisions at any time and we can hear the word of God. We have access to so many Bibles that the number is astounding. Think of how many Bibles you have in your home. I know that I literally have dozens. You all probably have at least one for every person in your home. But what does it matter when we fail to hear that Word?

     

    Think of how easy it is for us to get to church today. Unless the weather is bad we are able to travel dozens of miles in the time it used to take to go a few miles. Yet the excuses pile up for why we cannot go to hear the preaching and teaching of God’s Word. How does this differ from the foolish virgins who neglected their oil? Why do we think that when we come to the shut door and say, "Lord, Lord, open to me," that Jesus will say, "oh, of course, I was expecting you, come on in"?

     

    If you think that your pastor is being overly harsh with you today, then please consider why I warn you. Wouldn’t it have been good if someone had told the people going on those planes on 9-11, "Don’t get on! There are murderers and terrorists who will kill you and your children if you get on that plane!" Why does the National Weather Service put out storm warnings for hurricanes, tornados, and blizzards? Is it just a big joke to them? No, they do it to save lives.

     

    Likewise, God has told pastors all over the world: "warn My people. Tell them to repent; to turn from sin, to hear My Word, to believe My Son, Jesus Christ, who has taken away all their sins." Why does God warn? Why does He send pastors with this message? Because Judgment Day is real, it is coming. And our sins are so terrible that unless God had opened the door to eternal life for us by the death of His only-begotten Son, that door would remain forever shut.

     

    Thanks be to God for that open door. And God help us to take His warning seriously, to pay attention to our faith in Jesus Christ, to the word of God showered upon us so generously. As we cling to Jesus we may rest assured that the door to eternal life will never be shut for us. The Savior shed His blood and died so that the door would be open for you. Trust that word of promise God gives you. And continue to watch and pray, for truly we do not know the day or the hour when the Son of God will return.

     

    O grant that in Thy holy Word

    We here may live and die, dear Lord;

    And when our journey endeth here,

    Receive us into glory there. (ELH 511:8) Amen.

     

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