Pre-Lent Sermons by Pastor Rank

Quinquagesima Sunday – February 6, 2004

In Nomine Iesu

Pastor Thomas L. Rank


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.


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.

Pre-Lent Sermons by Pastor Rank

Sexagesima Sunday – February 15, 2004

In Nomine Iesu

Pastor Thomas L. Rank


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.


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.

Pre-Lent Sermons by Pastor Rank

Septuagesima Sunday – February 8, 2004

In Nomine Iesu

Pastor Thomas L. Rank


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.”


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.