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Christ’s Perfection Is Your Perfection!

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Epiphany 6                                            Trinity Lutheran Church

19 February 2017                                  Sheboygan, WI

 

+ Jesu Juva +

Matthew 5:38-48

 

Well. Well. Well. If you think you’re a Picture Perfect or an At Least I Try Harder 0r I Do My Best — and can use the law in some way, shape or form to get God in a salvational headlock or a full nelson, you’d better hang on to your hats! Buckle your seat belts. Hold on tight. Today, Jesus is coming after you. He’s going to put all you supposed Picture Perfects to death with these words: “You will be perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect.”

 

You will be “perfect.” That’s perfect in the way your heavenly Father is perfect. Can you meet such expectations? Can you live up to such a standard? Let’s see. If you believe you can, if you believe that you can use the law as an utensil for salvation, I give you fair warning that the Lord’s “but I say to you” remarks from His Sermon on the Mount will put such thinking to bed once and for all.
And Jesus is so foxy in how He does this to you. Listen carefully. “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for eye and a tooth for a tooth.’” Lex talionis! Law of retaliation. However, it was NOT an open ended lex talionis. An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth put a boundary on the retaliation. You were forbidden from taking a leg, an arm or a life for an eye or a tooth. It was an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. That’s the limit. The maximum. It was retaliation NOT unending and unbridled Mafioso revenge! Retaliation, not endless war. Got it? Good.

 

Well, Jesus takes the lex talionis and goes in a completely different direction. Some would say a whacko jacko track. In a way you nor anyone else never expected. Leave it to Jesus to say something like the following. He does it like this. “Even if it’s warranted, don’t take it. Even if the social justice warriors demand that you’re entitled, don’t demand it. Even if you face the one who is evil, don’t fight back. Even if you’re cuffed – smacked up side the head, (which was an incredible insult in Jesus’ day), present the other side of your face too. Even if somebody libelously litigates the very shirt off your back, offer him your coat too. Even if a person compels you to hike it a mile, offer to go another mile. And while you’re at it: if there’s a vagabond, vagrant beggar or borrower, pony up a donation.”

How’s the perfection meter going? Where are you on the perfection scale?  The excellence grid? I’ll bet it similar to way you all shoot free throws! 3 of 10. Maybe 5 of 10. Some of you even 8 of 10. Right?

Let’s be honest. Someone belittles you and you just let it slide right off your back and you bless him.   Right? The last time you were slapped in the face, you just took it quite passively and then said: “Thank you sir! May I have another … on this other cheek?” Right? The last time you were taken to court, you offered to settle for double what they asked for. Right? You’re always willing to go out of your way for someone. Right? And every beggar and borrower that you meet on the street you’re always donating to. Right? Well, no!

“You will be perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect.” I told you that you had better buckle up.

Oh, but Jesus isn’t done preaching. There’s a little more. Another: “you’ve heard that it was said” sermon. Off He goes. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’” Yep. That’s precisely how it works. Reasonable. Rational. You’re pretty darn good at that. Doable. You pretty much love your family, your community members, and the members of this congregation. You really do not like – in fact you hate those that hate you. Your enemy. Anyone that would do you or your family harm. Given the opportunity you would delight to do bodily harm to your enemy. Maybe even kill him. He’s the enemy after all. He deserves a big time hit or hurt. You always delightfully demonize your enemy when you’re at war. You give your enemy demonic names. Makes him less than human. That way you can justify harming, maiming or even killing him.

Well, Jesus ratchets it up! Raises the bar! Listen: “But I say to you. Love your enemies. Pray for those that persecute you.” In other words, do not be like the world that loves the friend and hates the enemy. Be like your Father in heaven who causes the sun to rise on good and evil, on His friends and His foes, who sends rain on the just and the unjust. On saint and sinner alike. Even more than that, who sent His Son to take away the sin of the world, to redeem and justify the world in His own death, who came to save sinners and to die for the ungodly.

Love the haters. Pray for your persecutors. Live outside the box. Hang around not only those that like you, praise you and affirm you but also the ones that despise you, slap you in the face, and steal from you. When you go that extra mile with your enemy, you are venturing into Jesus-territory. You’re entering the wilderness where love is for the loveless. Mercy for the merciless. Redemption for the unredeemable. Salvation for the unsalvageable. Here brothers and sisters you find just how deep the corruption of sin goes and just how high the demands of the law are. Step by step, law by law, iota by dot, Jesus has raised the bar of the law to insurmountable heights. From murder and divorce and adultery of the heart to love for the enemy and a second cheek to one who would smack you in the face.

“You will be perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect.”

Do you see what Jesus is teaching you today? It’s really important. Salvationally significant. Nobody, including and especially you, is a PICTURE PERFECT! You’re a sinner! In addition, the law can’t save you! Seriously! It is not the instrument of salvation! Oh, the law can hold out the standard but it can’t help you meet it. It can raise the bar, but it can’t lift you over. It can hold out the hope of life with God, but it can only deliver you dead as a doornail at His doorstep. Now, if you were you a sinless saint, you could do the law automatically. You would do it without thought or struggle. You would do it as naturally as breathing. You would automatically turn the other cheek, walk the extra mile, give to beggar and borrower, love your enemy, pray for your persecutor. You would be Adam before he became a sinner. You would be the image of God who made you. You would be holy as the Lord your God is holy. You would be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect.

But you’re not! That’s the point. That’s what Jesus has been driving home relentlessly. So, brace yourself for even more. I have good news FOR YOU. It’s what the Lord sent me to preach to you. Are you ready? Good! Jesus is the One who is holy as the Lord our God. He is the One who is perfect as His Father in heaven is perfect. In His body He embodies all men. He does the law perfectly down to the least little iota and the smallest dot of a detail. Jesus loves His enemies.

I’m here to tell you that FOR YOU and in your place Jesus offered His holy and perfect cheeks to the haters.  FOR YOU and in your place HE presented His back to the flogging whip. FOR YOU He carried His cross down the lonely road of sorrows. He walked the extra mile with His enemies. He gave His coat to those who gambled for it. He took no revenge on those who falsely accused him, spit in His face and bludgeoned His face beyond recognition with the staff. Incredibly and salvifically He prays: “Father, forgive them; they don’t know what they’re doing.” He gave to those who begged of Him. He still does. He is holy as the Lord is holy. He is perfect as His Father in heaven is perfect. This is what He does TO SAVE YOU – unholy and imperfect sinners.

Jesus came to do the law FOR YOU in order to redeem you. He left His Father’s glory; He emptied Himself of all the perks and privileges of being the eternal Son of God. He took up your humanity, your flesh and blood. He humbled Himself and became obedient to His own law. He did it perfectly and it accused Him and killed Him. The law always accuses and kills. It is never neutral.

It killed Jesus as He carried all your sin in His body on the cross. I know we can talk about the agents and instruments of His death, the Sanhedrin and Pontus Pilate and the others who conspired against Him. But underneath it all is the law that always accuses, always demands and always kills. Sin’s paycheck is death. The power of sin to kill is the Law. So, Jesus became sin FOR YOU so that the law would kill Him. Sin was put to death in His flesh in your place.

Well, I better start wrapping this up. I’ve been preaching too long. So here goes. Just a few quick parting shots.

The law still kills and it kills you – your old Adamic sinful flesh. There’s only one thing that can be done with the old Adam and it’s sin. It has to be put to death: DROWNED DAILY!

However, the law doesn’t get the last word. Jesus does! The law brings you to Christ. Not as a living saint, but as a dead sinner. The law deposits you graveyard dead at the nail-scarred feet of Jesus. That’s exactly where you need to be. Where every sinner needs to be. Dead at the feet of Jesus! “You were dead in your trespasses and sin, but God made you alive in Christ Jesus.” “He became Sin for us who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”

The law drops you stone cold dead at the feet of Jesus, so that Jesus raises you from the dead. In raising you Jesus does two things FOR YOU.

First, He forgives. I’m here to tell you that He has taken all your sin from you and placed it as far from you as the east is from the west. In the black hole of His tomb, He has buried every violation of the law, all your murders, adulteries, divorces, anger, resentment, bitterness, failure to love the enemy and give to the beggar. Listen to me. You are forgiven in Jesus. He has washed and cleansed you in His blood, buried you in His death. You are baptized. You are a new creation in Christ.

Second, Jesus gives you something you DO NOT have: His holiness, His righteousness, His perfection under the law. It’s all yours in Him. In Him, you are holy. In Him, you are righteous. In Him you are innocent, blameless, perfect. Not in yourself. In Christ you are these things. He takes the law into his own hands and gives it to you as a fulfilled gift. He is your holiness, your righteousness, your innocence and perfection under the law so that when the devil, the world, or your conscience accuse you with the law and say, “Look at you! How can you call yourself a child of God?” you hide behind Jesus in your baptism and say with the Large Catechism, “Nevertheless, I am baptized! And if I am baptized, I have the promise that I shall be saved and have eternal life, both in soul and body.”

Jesus who knew no sin was made to be sin so that in Him you might become the righteousness of God. In Jesus, and that’s the kicker – in Jesus you are holy as the Lord your God is holy. In Jesus, you are perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect. Picture Perfects you are in Jesus!

In the Name of Jesus.

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Romans Part 11

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Romans Part 10

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Christ Has a Church! He Grows It!

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Epiphany 6                                             Trinity Lutheran Church

12 February 2017                                  Murdock, NE

 

+ Jesu Juva +

1 Corinthians 3:1-9

 

Well, brothers and sisters, I continue to preach from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. It’s all been for your being repented and faithed by such preaching. Even today I preach for your repentance – your turning from your sin – your dying to it – so that you will believe all the more that Jesus is your Savior and promises you salvation.

 

So, over the last couple of weeks we’ve heard the apostle Paul make it categorically clear that the power and wisdom of God is the preaching of the gospel – the preaching of Christ Jesus – CRUCIFIED ON THE CROSS FOR YOU! That is what is salvifically important. Most important. That Jesus died on the Good Friday tree for sinners like you!

 

In addition, Paul has been emphasizing the place and function of pastors. They are proclaimers. Preachers. Not of themselves. Not of their personalities. Not of their special gifts. But proclaimers and preachers of Jesus! Pastors preach the gospel. They do not preach their story. They preach the story of Jesus – Christ crucified. They give Jesus as Savior to ears and hearts. They declare emphatically that your sins are completely forgiven because Jesus died FOR YOU! That’s what a pastor is for! That’s what he’s good for! You need Jesus. Dead on the cross Jesus FOR YOU. And you need Jesus preached to you. Faith is only certain and sure when Christ crucified FOR YOU is the main content of the sermon and pastoral care.

 

Pastors, no matter who they are, Paul, Apollos or Kuhlman for that matter, are not given to be leaders of rival cliques, competing circles, or fighting factions in the congregation. Oh, the Corinthians wanted Paul and Apollos to be heads of schismatic divisions as if it was all about the man Paul or all about the man Apollos. Cult of personality! When the Corinthians pushed the person of the pastor, you can just guess who got diminished or denied. Yes, that’s right, JESUS! Christ crucified. That should not happen. And when it does there must be repentance. Pastors should never push themselves. They must always push Jesus. Pastors must decrease so that Jesus increases!  Remember, no pastor, Paul, Apollos or a Kuhlman ever got crucified for you. Only Jesus pulled that off! No pastor saves you. Only Jesus does!

 

However, notice the terms Paul uses for pastors. They are “servants”“God’s fellow workers.”  Pastors are planters and waterers for God. “What then is Apollos? What then is Paul? [What then is Kuhlman?] Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted. Apollos watered, BUT GOD GAVE THE GROWTH.”

 

Faith in Christ crucified for salvation comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ (Romans 10:17)! So God sends pastors as His servants to preach the word of Christ to you and for you. God uses pastors as His instruments to get His hangers on, His believers, and have a church gathered around His gifts of salvation that flow from the cross. God sends a pastor here. He sends a pastor there. He sends a Kuhlman to Murdock (and boy weren’t you horrified?). Some do the whole enchilada of ministry like I do here. Country pastors usually do. Others are given only specific tasks like maybe teaching at a seminary, doing administrative duties or visiting the sick and shut-ins. Remember what Paul said about his specific task in chapter one – “For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel.” Oh, he did do some baptisms. He does recall after all: “I did baptize Crispus and Gaius … also the household of Stephanas,” (1:14, 16).

 

However, the big point is this: whether a pastor plants or another waters GOD GIVES THE GROWTH. Did you hear that? This is huge! I know it’s like a chicken bone in our throats but we need to hear it again. GOD GIVES THE GROWTH! God grows His church. He does it through the word of the gospel preached by His “servant” pastors and the word of His gospel promise hooked with the water of baptism and the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper.

 

We need to repent of all our scheming and planning to grow the church apart from the way the Lord promises to do it. I’ve seen this my entire life as a Christian and more so as a pastor. When some supposed church growth expert comes to sell you the moon, BUYER BEWARE! I can almost guarantee you that the church growth guru won’t beg you to trust the Lord to grow His church through His Word and sacraments! I fear it’s just a racket – a great gig — to line the whiz’s bank accounts with filthy lucre and CALL ATTENTION TO HIMSELF that only causes division, factions and dissension in the church. Enough of the supposed church growth mavens! The text says GOD GIVES THE GROWTH! That’s His promise!

 

Today, we’ve had the great joy of witnessing the Lord giving growth to His church here at Trinity. The Lord’s had some good use of a hayseed, throwback, relic of a pastor to do some heavy watering. Splashing water over the heads of Blake, Jocelyn, Julia, and Joanna – baptizing them in the saving Triune Name. And receiving Janelle and Blake as communicant members as well through their profession of faith from God’s Word. Kuhlman is just the Lord’s servant. His instrument. After all, to be baptized in God’s name is not to be baptized by Pastor Kuhlman, but to be baptized by God Himself!

 

Well, the sermon has gotten too long so I’ve got to wind it up PDQ. Let me finish with this last point. The church that a pastor founds or fosters, plants or waters IS NOT HIS! The church is the Lord’s! “God’s field. God’s building.”  Pastors must learn this. So must congregations.

 

We get it wrong and cause havoc, chaos and mayhem in the church when we make Paul, Apollos, Kuhlman or any pastor the focus of our loyalties, the ground of our boasting and the cause of our conceited and bitter rivalries. “For when one says, ‘I follow Paul,’ and another, ‘I follow Apollos,’ are you not being merely human?” That is to say, aren’t you thinking and doing things like the world?   Like the foolish ways of this age or your sinful flesh? Of course!

 

Listen. You do not belong to Paul. You do not belong to Apollos. And, by God, you certainly do not belong to Pastor Kuhlman! Stop it. I beg you. forever of talking like this: “I belong to Kuhlman’s church!” That makes my ears bleed and my blood boil. I’m nothing! It’s not my church! Good grief! Oh, yes, pastors that the Lord sends are His planters and waterers, but they are only His servants – doing their assigned tasks. To preach repentance and forgiveness of sins for Christ’s sake. To baptize, absolve and Lord’s Supper. That’s the proper perspective. Don’t ever forget it what Paul says: “So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.”

 

As surely as Christ was crucified FOR YOU and as surely as you are baptized in His divine saving Name, you are Christ’s! You belong to Him! You belong to God! Or as Jesus promised in the baptismal liturgy today, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.”   (Mark 16:16). He’s got you! He churches you in His church around His Word. His Sacraments! By doing that He’s gathered you around Himself. He sees to the growth. It’s all good. Very good!

 

In the Name of Jesus.

Romans Part 9

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Romans Part 8

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He Preaches Christ Crucified FOR YOU! Now That’s A Preacher!

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Epiphany 5                                                  Trinity Lutheran Church

5 February 2017                                         Murdock, NE

 

+ Jesu Juva +

1 Corinthians 2:1-12

 

My, my, my! Get a load of Pastor Preacher Paul. Unsophisticated. Simple. A hick I suppose. No personal charm. He preaches with no, “lofty speech or wisdom.” He refuses to boast of any speaking skills. Perhaps he was a Mel Tillis, a James Earl Jones or a Tiger Woods, a stutterer. He bullishly maintains that he serves in “weakness.” “Fear.” “Trembling.” Good grief! All the officials in the church would say that Paul’s not a “good fit” for any congregation and that he really should offer his resignation PDQ. After all, everyone knows that a fumbling, bumbling, stumbling Holy Spirit-less pastor like Paul simply can’t grow a congregation, have an exciting youth group, and make the church great again.  So, no seminary today would certify him for the ministry. And no congregation in the LCMS would have him.

 

But you had better! You had better listen to Pastor Paul. You’d better give him your undivided. He’s a great pastor! One of the best! I’m as serious as a heart attack when I say that! Because hidden beneath the hayseed, hick, country bumpkin diction – hidden beneath all the weakness, fear and trembling — is “the demonstration of the Spirit and of power … the power of God.” Really? Yes, really!

 

Pastor Paul’s preaching of Christ crucified is the Holy Spirit’s cup of tea. The message of Christ crucified is the Spirit’s sine qua non! The power of the Holy Spirit is demonstrated in the simple sermon that proclaims the crucified Jesus. Pastor Paul doesn’t want you to pay attention to him. He wants you to focus on Jesus. Paul the person decreases. So that Jesus increases. Paul will not boast of himself, his skills or personality. He insists that Good-Friday-on-the-cross-Jesus gets preached. Paul is nothing. Jesus is everything! “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”

 

That’s the ticket. That’s a preacher. Maybe not what you wanted and what you resist, but it sure is what you need! You need Jesus preached. And not just any Jesus. You need the crucified-with-all-your-sin-in-His-crucified-body-on-the-cross-Jesus! When that kind of preaching is going on, then the Holy Spirit is going on full blast!

 

NOTHING! NOTHING in the church is to be allowed to overshadow, overtake, distract or diminish from the preaching of the gospel. So Pastor Paul preaches Jesus Christ and him crucified. “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”

 

Now let’s push this further. For all it’s salvific worth. What is most salvationly important! Here it is. Listen carefully. Your salvation is at stake. Brothers and sisters, it is one thing for you to say that Jesus was crucified. That’s true. It is an historical fact. No one can deny that. So much so that even the very liberal Christian Bill O’Reilly wrote the book Killing Jesus to document this fact. However, it is quite another thing to say and believe that Jesus was crucified FOR YOU! FOR ME! FOR YOUR SALVATION!

 

Pastor Paul preaches Jesus that way! All faithful pastors do. Jesus is pure gift of salvation FOR YOU the sinner! All your sin is forgiven. He answered for it all in His bloody suffering and death on the cross. He endured all of God’s wrath against you and your sin as He hung on the cross. He alone is the Savior! The Good Friday One! This is precisely the point of the Bible. Jesus Himself put it this way in the gospel reading today: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets [that’s the OT]; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” In other words, the main content of Scripture is Jesus Christ and him crucified FOR YOU AND FOR YOUR SALVATION.

 

So together with Pastor Paul I too have sent by Jesus to give you the greatest news you could ever hear. It is Holy Spirit filled and Holy Spirit power. It is this. Are you listening? Good.

 

Here goes. Jesus died FOR YOU. His crucifixion is His gift of salvation FOR YOU! What He did there He did FOR YOU. He won and achieved salvation FOR YOU on the cross. And now today in the Lord’s Supper, His last will and testament, He bestows the benefits of dying. With the bread and wine He gives His Good Friday body and blood into your mouths.

 

Brothers and sisters, all this is “secret and hidden wisdom of God” now revealed and given to you. Yes, it’s incredible! God in Christ Jesus gets crucified in immense weakness and suffering FOR YOU. Winning salvation. What He wins He gives. Freely. Completely. Today. Crucified but Risen Christ Jesus physically present in the Lord’s Supper. He too speaks. His words are not lofty rhetoric or super philosophical. But they are the “power of God” spoken to you. It’s His unthwartable promise! “Given and shed FOR YOU for the forgiveness of your sins.”

 

In the Name of Jesus.