Isaiah 43: 16-21

Psalm 28: 1-9

Philippians 3: 8-14

Luke 20: 9-19

 

“Cornerstone Rejected”

 

Grace and Peace to you my brothers and sisters in Christ, Amen.

 

Last week I reflected on the problem of knowledge unbridled by humility; on how what the world teaches as wise is actually foolish in the eyes of God, and on what God teaches is wise is unfortunately foolish in the eyes of the world. We become so conceited in our expertise and vast knowledge that when we slip up and get something wrong, which we will do, that much is most certainly true, then we allow our vain glory to take charge by replacing the truth with a lie which we are unwilling to rectify. The world has done this multiple times and instead of asking for forgiveness, the world gets all puffed up and angry at God. Multiple generations of vain glory passes and the mistake becomes a truth in the minds of the spiritually blind and spiritually dumb. And with each generation, our lack of integrity and humility causes us to continually stack up on top of each other falsities after falsities after falsities.

 

As we slip away from God, the foundation we create for ourselves, which is not found in truth but in vain glory, is but shifting sand. It is like standing on top of a shaky unstable Jenga tower; each and every piece of the tower being one human-made sophisticated philosophy or belief not supported by divinely-revealed reality. And like Jenga, those who play the game of human-made lies are attempting to reach higher and higher towards self-made Godhood all while maintaining a delicate balance that gets more difficult to maintain with each lie. Eventually, and this is inevitable, the tower of lies will fall, it always does, and when it falls the haughty are brought low and finally are humbled.

 

As we pretend to be God, making for ourselves our own “truths”, we end up rejecting the Truth, rejecting God Himself. For the reason why our house of lies is so shaky is because we have rejected the most important part of the house, which is the cornerstone. We build our house with human hands, intentionally ignoring every instruction from God. When a complication arrives due to our willful ignorance, instead of correcting the issue we conveniently ignore the solution by overcompensating with fancy human-made devices. But when those fail us simply because the core issue has not been rectified, we make even more fancy things and add that to our house. We try as hard as we can to build a sound house all while ignoring the only true solution to our problem. Thus, eventually our creation will fall apart. And when it does, from the rubble there are only two options: we continue to willfully ignore God and build a new tower, or we come to Christ and use him as our cornerstone to build a sturdy house that will never fall.

 

In our vain glory we want to be God, rulers of our own lives, determiners of our own laws. We want to strip God of his powers and clothe ourselves in His robes of glory. We want to take his two tablets, smash them on the ground, and make for ourselves our own Ten Commandments. We want to ignore the grace of God and claim divine right for whatever we choose. We who are servants of God, workers of his field which he planted but leaves in our care, no longer want to be mere gardeners but owners. We get all puffed up with vain glory thinking that since we are the workers of the field then we must be the ones who should own the field and gain the inheritance of the field. So when the true owner comes, what do we desire to do? We throw him out of our vineyard which we falsely claim, murder the true owner, or at least his son, and like thieves reap the spoils of the inheritance which we will surely squander for we are just mere workers of a field.

 

This is what Jesus was telling the chief priests and their scribes, the Pharisees and Sadducees, and all who ignore Christ. They are the greedy tenants of the field who out of vain glory believe that they are the true owners. God gave to his people so many things, to include the Law and his blessing. But generation after generation his people keep on either adding or subtracting from the Law and squandering his blessings. Eventually they came to the conclusion that they own the blessings that God graciously gave them. They become their own Gods and their own rulers, pretending to follow God, but are in reality following themselves. Thus, when God claims ownership, these tenants become enraged.

 

Eventually the true owner sends his one and only beloved son. He does not send his son to punish the tenants, but in hopes that the people would at least respect this person for he comes with authority. The opposite happens. The people become even more enraged and filled with greed and envy and pride and wrath. They want the inheritance. They want to be God. They hate the authority that the Son wields. So they kill the son, hoping that by killing God then they can become God and be the true owners of the vineyard.

 

Such tenants are so puffed up with pride they prove themselves to be fools, for no one will ever be able to wretch divine power away from God. You can claim to be God all you want, but you will never be God. Instead you will crash and you will burn. For Jesus told those listening that the owner destroyed the tenants and gave the vineyard to others. The tenants rejected the cornerstone; they have received their just reward, according to Psalm 28.

 

The scribes and the chief priests correctly interpreted Jesus’ parable, but their illogical reaction only proved Jesus’ point. Jesus said that the tenants killed the son sent by the owner of the vineyard because they rejected the son and desired that which was the son’s divine right. Doing so led to their own destruction. Upon hearing this, what did the chief priests desire to do? Kill Jesus. They had already rejected the cornerstone sent by God, but their rejection is due to the fact that they wanted to declare divine right over Scripture. They whose foolish pride led them into believing a lie couldn’t handle the Truth which is Jesus Christ. They wanted the right to interpret Scripture, but when Jesus came and taught things that countered their false interpretations, they sought Jesus’ destruction. Their desire to kill Jesus only grew when they heard Jesus allude to the fact that God will destroy his people if they reject his Son, Jesus Christ, the cornerstone, and pass his blessings on to others.

 

The only way to Salvation is faith in Christ. There is no other way. Now through faith and only through faith in Jesus Christ, who is the cornerstone, and will be your strength and your righteousness, know this you are indeed saved and will reap the benefits of all his graciously given blessings to include heaven. With regards to our own righteousness, no amounts of works or following the Law will ever merit us salvation and the resurrection. For we are not righteous, and nothing we do by ourselves is righteous. If we think we are righteous or that we have the divine right of salvation or that we could work ourselves into being saved then we live a lie. It is only through faith in the cornerstone that we are truly saved, for true righteousness comes only from God and is given to us only through faith and not in our own misguided sense of self-righteousness.

 

We are not God. We cannot save ourselves. We are the shifting sands; that unstable houses. Too often we want to run away from Creation and the power of God, lifting humanity to Godhood. The transgender movement, the Pride movement (aptly named), the abortion movement, socialism, fascism, communism, totalitarianism, separation of Church and State, controlled speech, global warming, critical race theory, utopia, forced secularism, legalism, Works alone, Faith and Works alone, etc.; all these and many others are just mere human-made symptoms of a larger issue, the societal desire to reject the cornerstone and the creating power of God; to artificially lift humanity to Godhood by claiming they can save themselves, achieve perfection by themselves, and take powers away from God that he did not bless us with.

 

By stating the obvious, I wonder how many people will want to lay hands on me. Those who do are just like the Pharisees and Sadducees and scribes and chief priests who defended their own ungodly beliefs to the point that they had to reject Christ who exposed their foolishness.

 

Know this, Christ did not come to condemn you, for you were already condemned. He came to save you; you who are sinners. His grace is unconditional and cares not if you were the tenant in the vineyard or not, for all will enjoy the chance of receiving salvation, but not all will accept it. So I ask you, will you accept his salvation by having faith in him, faith that supersedes all other beliefs, or will you be like the tenants and the elders of the synagogues who rejected the cornerstone because of their own foolish pride?

 

When your faith and the world come at odds, which will you pick? I hope and pray that God continues to provide each and every one of us, myself included, with the strength to always choose faith today, tomorrow, and every day thereafter. God help us.

 

Let us pray.

 

Dear Heavenly Father, you unconditionally bless us with salvation so long that we have faith in your Son who died on the cross to save us. Protect us from all the schemes of the world which desires to steal us from your flock and provide us with the strength to proclaim your name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Isaiah 12: 1-6

Psalm 32

1 Corinthians 1: 18-31

Luke 15: 1-3, 11-32

 

“Foolish Pride”

 

Grace and Peace to you my brothers and sisters in Christ, Amen.

 

Several years ago I had a shirt that a quote from Oscar Wilde on it, a famous author, and the quote read as such, “I am so clever that sometimes I don't understand a single word of what I am saying.”

 

In our second reading, from 1st Corinthians, Paul is writing particularly to the church located in Corinth about their problem with knowledge. They had many issues, but the primary, the core, issue that Paul found fault in was their haughty sense of intelligence. For in the end the root cause of all the issues that the Church of Corinth had was their need for more knowledge which they foolishly paraded over others who were less knowledgeable.

 

This is why Paul shuts down the whole speaking in tongues argument as nonsensical gargle utterances for the Corinthians simply spoke in tongues to lift themselves as higher and more spiritually gifted then their brothers and sisters who may not speak in tongues.

 

This is why Paul speaks out against those who try to decipher things of the divine through the study of earthly things. This would be like using science to understand God, or how the world began, or how it will end, or the afterlife.

This is why Paul destroys the concept that men can replace divine instructions with more palpable worldly instructions with regards to say marriage, or relationships, the law, etc.

 

Corinth had turned knowledge into an Idol as they gluttonously devoured as much information they could get their grubby hands on, most of which was fake information with questionable origins. Their lack of faith became obvious as they became so dissatisfied with not knowing the answers, for there are somethings God does not intentionally tell us sinful creatures, that they looked in obscure places to fill in the intellectual voids of their theology. They would rather have incorrect information than no information. The statement, “I don’t know,” was a horrifying utterance that they stripped away the mystery of God by replacing him with a more tangible and understandable God. In the end, their search for knowledge lead them down a dangerous road where more nonsense stacked upon nonsense, and lies upon lies, that they reversed their standing with God as his creation for a lie that is God becoming a creation of their own.

 

Foolishness was not acceptable. Not having the answers was not acceptable. Having faith in the unknown was not acceptable. Thus the Corinthians traded their faith in God for foolish wisdom.

 

Some people are just too smart for their own good. Their intelligence is not tempered with humility so they become prideful and in their pride they adopt illogical and idiotic stances. They mess up and instead of correcting themselves their pride forces them to adjust their views to support their own knew stance. Their faith in their own wisdom, in their own prowess, becomes their own downfall as they start to become that which they represent and an attack on their misguided thesis is an attack upon them. Sadly, by trying to act high and mighty, they prove themselves to be childish.

 

This reminds me of a story when I was in first grade. Valentine’s Day has come and every one in my class brings their cards and snacks to be gifted to each other. It was almost like Halloween but with a lot more pink and hearts. There was only one problem, I hated chocolate. I know, weird… a person who actually hated chocolate? But yes, I didn’t like it, and everyone in my family already knew that, which is why growing up one of my aunts always made sure there was a slice of white cake for me since both her kids only wanted chocolate cake. But I digress; the point is here is all this chocolate that all the kids were eating and here is me not eating a single piece of chocolate. I kind of felt left out and that saddened me. My teacher, bless her heart, knew something wasn’t right and asked me why I wasn’t eating the chocolate. And that is when I messed up.

 

In my emotional state I proceeded to lie by stating that I was allergic to chocolate. And whereas I don’t quite remember the rest, what I can say is that I went into a tear induce tantrum that lead to me sitting in the office waiting for my mom to come address the issue of my fake allergy.

 

The point is that I messed up, and after I messed up, I ran with it, and I didn’t let off on the lie, becoming more childish by the minute. With those who suffer with too much intelligence that’s not tempered by humility, all it takes is one mistake, one false statement, one mathematical error, and it is downhill from there as their hubris would not allow them to correct course.

 

We have seen this played out throughout all of church history, where in an effort to address an unanswerable question they make something up that doesn’t quite align with scripture, and instead of adjusting their own questionable stance they instead adjust scripture to themselves. They became God over Scripture, unable to deny themselves, unable to humble themselves, unable to say there are no answers, etc. They become their own worst enemy as they just keep on digging their hole deeper and deeper.

 

The problem is that they want to be wise and intelligent, but according to their own earthly standards. So when Christ came into the world and flipped that standard on its head, thwarting the wise and destroying the wisdom of the world by making the foolish wise and the wise foolish. What God proclaimed was foolishness to the world and a stumbling block. And what the world claimed was wise was actually foolish to God. In fact God intentionally choose the foolish to shame the wise. I sat down with sinners to shames the haughty Pharisees. He lifted the poor to shame the nobility. He even chose those that the world despised. He did this to shame those who boast in themselves.

 

Consider this, which of these two are wiser, the wisest man who has ever touched the earth according to human standards but knows not God, or the most foolish person who has ever touched the earth according to human standards but does indeed know God. The wiser is the fool.

 

When faced with the amazing Grace of God which surpasses all understanding as it unconditionally saves all who places their faith not in human reason but in the cross alone, boasting not in human abilities but in God alone, when we see the truth of the cross and the eternal salvation that comes through it, then and only then will we be truly wise. For as it states in Job 28:28, “The fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to turn away from evil is understanding.” But we also acknowledge that without the grace of God the Father through the Holy Ghost which provides for us faith in God the Son, then we would not fear the Lord nor turn away from evil. Thus wisdom and knowledge, true wisdom and knowledge, comes only from God the author of life and not from sinful humans. So as sinful humans get all puffed up using their knowledge as a bludgeoning tool to bully those not as smart, it is Christ Crucified who exposes their foolishness.

 

He who died on the cross to forgive us of our sins becomes our wisdom for though we are foolish, true wisdom is found in Christ. He who died on the cross to forgive us of our sins becomes our righteousness because we who are foolish do not nor could ever without the grace of God fathom what righteousness looks like. He who died on the cross to forgive us of our sins becomes our salvation because we who are foolish search in all the wrong places trying to find for ourselves our own version of heaven.

 

If I had to choose between being too wise for God and being a fool for Christ, then go ahead and call me a fool. I don’t care what you call me, for in the end having God on my side is more important than my own ego. I rather be an idiot whose place in heaven is guaranteed, than be an intellectual who claims to be too smart to believe in some spaghetti monster in the sky. I rather live a carefree life knowing that because I am baptized and I have faith that Christ keeps his promise then everything will be alright for eventually I will be in heaven, than to run around like a chicken with its head cut off always worrying about life after death.

 

I can go on, but in the end, if my intelligence or search for intelligence ever becomes a hindrance towards faith in God whose foolishness is still wiser than the wisest, then count me with the fools who have placed their blind faith in God. For this I know, Christ died to set me and all of you free, and that’s all I need to know.

 

Let us pray,

 

Dear Heavenly Father, in our intellect we may cast our sinful eyes away from you, proving our wisdom to be folly. Direct our eyes back to you and become for us our own wisdom, our own righteousness, and our own salvation. In your name we pray: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Jeremiah 26: 8-15

Psalm 52: 1-8

Philippians 3:17-4:1

Luke 13: 31-35

 

“Church of Hypocrites”

 

Grace and Peace to you my brothers and sisters in Christ, Amen.

 

One of the most dangerous things that destroys any body of people is when the collective are unable to recognize, or at least are unwilling to recognize, their own sinful actions. Sure the collective are unified in their sinfulness, but from the outside they are disenfranchised and become an anathema, eventually dying out as the numbers dwindle. Such masses become so insignificant that it is almost as if they are already dead. In the end it is their pride that did them in, pride that dug for them their early grave.

 

Such pride has even led to such groups to fragment as one group unabashedly believe in once horrendous belief and instead of realizing how wrong they are they ignore all that trouble their conscience, separating from those who cause them mental pain or kicking out those who points out such faults, creating fractures in a once unified group.

 

Now I’m not talking about differences in opinions or perspectives, but differences caused by pride that leads people to get so swelled up that they are incapable of not only repenting but also seeing the sin; for if you did not sin then what need is there to repent?

 

This has been a troublesome reality that I’ve seen in many churches, to include Lutheran Churches, for though we claim to be sinners many are still incapable of truly acknowledging when they mess up. Some go so far as to claim that the action they committed was void of sin or even claim that that which the Bible clearly classifies as a sin is actually not a sin, thus allowing them to hold firmly on to their fragile over inflated egos. Some may claim that they are wretched rags who do not deserve grace and are ever thankful that the Lord God died on the cross to forgive them of their sins. I am grateful that such people exist, and would deeply encourage them to remember this with every fiber of their being. But then I am horrified when such people immediately get defensive and downright abusive when you point out their sinful actions. Who me? How dare you claim I did such! I’m a good Christian, I do not do that! 

 

The thing is we all can get a little defensive for no one likes it when their sins are exposed. We are sinners, so we do sin, but it is because we are sinners that we also do not want to see our sins for sin is darkness and darkness loves to remain in the dark, never getting exposed by the light. Sin loves hiding its ugliness, masking itself in the open so that it can parade around as acceptable. As Sinners we love our sins, so much so that we can’t help our selves when we sin, and then we do everything in our power to make it so that we don’t feel guilty. We either sweep the sins under a rug, or we put a pretty mask on it so that the world accepts and appreciate our sinful actions. One of the most painful things a Christian can do is rip that mask off.

 

Once the mask comes off the benefits are boundless for even though we may feel pain by exposing our ugliness, as Christians we know that we have a savior who washes us of our sins so long as we are repentant. If we leave the mask on then the guilt and shame and filthiness mixes with the pleasure and hatred of the Law and... It just becomes a huge mess as emotions and denial of emotions swirl together in an ugly mishmash that makes hypocrites of all that participate in the mask up culture. But if the mask that hides sin comes off then you can’t help but see it for what it is and knowledge of Christ’s amazing grace and eternal promise would compel you to bow down at the feet of the cross asking for forgiveness. And Christ will forgive you.

 

To look sin in its face, the actual sins that we ourselves commit, is an incredibly painful process. No wonder why we prefer as fallen humans to claim we did not sin. But ignoring sin does not get rid of it. We may not feel the pain, but that does not mean the pain is not there. The thing is, though we hate pain, because it hurts and we naturally do not want to suffer nor cause suffering, pain is a good thing for the purpose of pain is to point us to something bad. Sin is bad and it is sin that causes us true turmoil. The shame and guilt we have when we sin, though painful, is good for it points us to the sin.

 

A carpenter was once working with wood and he felt a sharp pain in his hand. He looked down and saw a splinter in his finger. He removed the splinter and his finger healed without any pain the rest of the day. His coworker the next day felt a similar pain, but out of fear of removing splinters he decided to put on gloves and take some pain medication, only to develop a nasty infection.

A hard worker once felt a pain in his knees, got it checked up and was told by the doctor that with a simple procedure the pain issue will be resolved. A different worker was also feeling pain in his knees but saw that the prior was out of commission for several days and out of hubris decided to ignore the pain. With each day the pain got worst and still the worker ignored the pain, until finally he had to give up his job indefinitely.

 

Acknowledging sin is painful, because no one wants to acknowledge that they have sinned and suffer the guilt and shame associated with such knowledge. Yet Jesus came into the world for us sinners, us hypocrites, to cleanse us of our sins. Through him, so long we are repentant of our sins, we are purified and sanctified. He wipes away our guilt and shame and tells us we don’t need to feel guilty because he has eradicated the cause of such, the sin of which we are repentant of. Thus the pain is no more because the sin which caused the pain is no more. But the first step to repentance is to acknowledge the sin we are to be repentant of.

 

This is the trouble that Jeremiah faced in Judah, and all prophets, as noted by Jesus, who go to Jerusalem. God sends his prophets for many reasons, and one such reason is to redirect sinners back towards God while promising punishment if they do not. This is what happened to Jonah, who preached fire and brimstone to Nineveh only for God to relent because all of Nineveh repented. Unfortunately, that was not the case with Jeremiah. He preached fire and brimstone on Judah, and Judah balked at him, and wished him death.

 

Jeremiah was a messenger, completely innocent, sent by God to warn Jerusalem of her evil ways and lead her straight. Jeremiah was to warn her that if she kept on with her wickedness then she will fall. Jerusalem did not like hearing that, and such accusation was too much for them as their rage blazed hot. How dare you accuse our actions as evil! Their pride was too much. Their delicate sensibilities couldn’t handle the stress of seeing fault in their actions. How dare God disagree with us! Jerusalem had become a den of thieves, a lair of evil, a church of hypocrites. They claim one thing, but get so easily offended when the Word of God troubles their conscience, exposing the filth they truly had become. And it’s not like God didn’t give them a way out. He always leaves room for repentance, for Jeremiah said in our first reading on verse 13, “therefore mend your ways and your deeds, and obey the voice of the Lord your God, and the Lord will relent of the disaster that he has pronounced against you.”

 

Regardless, Jerusalem could not repent. Their hypocrisy got the better of them as they increased their evil actions and hide behind vain glory. Eventually Jerusalem and all of Judah fell. All they had to do was repent, but because they couldn’t face their sins, they received their just reward.

 

This is something that has played out throughout history, especially in churches. Many of our early church fathers were exiled for pointing out sins such as St Athanasius and St John Chrysostom. Martin Luther was kicked out of the church for pointing out that some practices do not align with the Bible. And to this day there are pastors and parishioners out there whose lives get ruined by a congregation or denomination because they dare point out the wicked practices conducted by such.

 

All such are hypocrites, who believe in the saving grace of Christ, but get angry when their sins get exposed. But then again, all of us are hypocrites, because all of us have sinned and out of shame have decided to sweep some of our sins under a rug.  Know this, Christ died for even hypocrites, always extending a helping hand full of grace and mercy to those who need a gentle nudge, and sometimes a not so gentle nudge, to face our sins. As for those who are able to boldly proclaim that they are a sinner, blessed are they, for Christ came to save them.

 

Let us pray,

 

Dear Heavenly Father, when we stumble help us to not get angry when others try to help us up but to act in humility as we repent of our sins, knowing that through repentance we are indeed forgiven. In your name we pray: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Exodus 3:1-14a

Psalm 126

1 Corinthians 10: 1-13

Luke 13: 1-9

 

“Galilee & Siloam”

 

Grace and Peace to you my brothers and sisters in Christ, Amen.

 

Last week I provided a sermon focusing on the book of Jeremiah and the problem of pride which prevents us from turning from our evil ways by ultimately averting our eyes from realizing that our actions are evil and then getting angry at those who points out our faults. In the Old Testament, and Jeremiah is no exception, we come to realize that God does indeed punish evildoers, even going so far as blessing the Babylonians who sacked and enslaved Judah. Judah would not turn from her sinfulness, desiring to murder the prophet Jeremiah for daring to tell them that God was going to destroy them if they don’t turn, and so God severely punished them.

 

By reading the Old Testament no one can claim that God is not a wrathful god. He has led his people in battle. He has led battle against his people. He has done many things that cause fragile minds to question the goodness of God. How can a good God allow such suffering? But just as much as we can tell in the Bible that God does indeed have a righteous temper, we need to remind ourselves that he is also all good. He is wrathful at times and punishes at times because he is good. He is the definition of good, thus it is inappropriate to question if he is good using a human understanding of good, but to rather use God as the perfect example to evaluate the goodness of everything else.

 

Now when I talked about Judah and all others who can’t see their sins, the focus of my sermon was only on those who have indeed sinned, today I will flip to the other side of the coin and focus on those who have not sinned yet still suffer.

 

When Jesus went to Jerusalem there was a nasty belief that was rampant in all of Israel. It was the belief that if you were suffering then that is proof that God was punishing you and if you were prospering then that was proof that God was blessing you. Such a belief was so widespread that many started believing that the most blessed in Jerusalem were obviously the rich and powerful. The more things you had the more God loved you. If you were lacking and in severe need then that’s proof you aren’t praying hard enough. A full belly and health is proof that God has indeed blessed you as oppose the dirty plebeians with sunken cheeks.

 

Such a nasty belief; a belief that almost mirrors the lessons of Joel Osteen, Copeland, and other such false prophet conmen who preach the Prosperity Gospel, telling good Christians that if they pray hard enough then God will provide and if their life isn’t well put together then you aren’t praying hard enough. Such satanic teachings have led good God-fearing Christians into despair as they wonder why God has not relinquished them from their earthly miseries. Some even suggest that the suffering of others may be proof that such people are conducting atrocious evils and are unwilling to repent of their sins. This reminds me of the story of Job.

 

Many by now may have realized that one of my favorite books in the Bible is Job. The Lord God described him in Job 1:8 as, “my servant Job… there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil.” A man who, even though blameless, would according to verse 5, would rise in the morning to burn sacrifices for his entire household just in case anyone unknowingly sinned as little as cursing God in their hearts. This was a man right with God, the most upright of men, and still Job suffered tremendously. His friends, though good, were of the belief that if you suffer then that must mean that God is punishing you and if you are living the life then that is proof that God is blessing you. So when Job lost practically everything short of life itself, His friends wrongly assumed that Job had committed a grave sin and was too prideful to acknowledge his fault.

 

Job has done nothing wrong and yet he suffered, and that is the whole point of the story of Job. To point out that bad things do just happen; to expose the fact that there is a Devil; to humble our misguided and rash judgments when we assume that someone one is suffering because they committed a grave sin; and to follow the example of Job who never ran away from God and humbled himself before God once God presented himself.

 

Another example is Christ himself. Did he not suffer the worst kind of torment anyone could suffer from? That is to knowingly carry the sins of the world into Hell. Did Christ deserve such agony? No. He was and still is sinless. There was no punishment from God the Father that he could ever deserve. He experienced the highest form of suffering, yet he was the least qualified human in all of history to receive any form of suffering, let alone punishment.

 

Last week I preached that God does punish, this week I provide a counter in that we shouldn’t be too quick to believe that God is punishing. Sometimes bad things just happen and there are no explanations. Sometimes it is Satan who is causing the suffering. And sometimes it is just fallen humans causing tragedies.

 

When Jesus came to his people, one of the things he preached against was this very notion that suffering is proof that God was punishing. He said in our Gospel, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower of Siloam fell and killed them; do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

 

Both incidents are events not noted elsewhere in the Bible anywhere, yet recent enough that those who heard knew what Jesus was talking about. The Galileans in question was a group killed under Pilate’s watch for offering sacrifices to God. These Galileans are martyrs for they were killed because of their faith. The suffering they faced was because they conducted that which God instructed in Scripture, but went against Roman law. If one was to believe that suffer equates divine punishment then one must assume that it is a sin for these Jews to offer sacrifices in accordance with Scripture; such a bizarre notion that no Jew would ever support. As for the tower of Siloam, a structure in Jerusalem, it just fell for no foreseeable reason found in scripture and led to the death of eighteen victims. Based on the context of Jesus’ speech, one can assume that the eighteen victims did nothing to deserve their death and were just caught up in the tragedy. It would be silly to victim blame those who died because of the falling tower, claiming that the reason why they died was because their sins were worse than the survivors.

 

Yes, it is true that God punishes and it is true that God cause death on some who sins unrepentantly, but it would be a logical fallacy to then state that all suffering and perishing is a result of some punishment from God. In the end, whether we are civil or evil, rich or poor, die calmly or tragically, unless we have faith we will all meet the same fate and likewise perish. On account of our merits and only merit, the reward that all will receive is equal, which is to be cast out into the outer darkness and perish. Whether we meet our end on the battlefield, quietly on our bed without pain, in an accident, through capital punishment, or anything else that would cause us to cease living, it does not matter, for we will all equally perish.

 

If we think we can win ourselves into heaven by doing good things then we live a lie. If we believe that by amassing great wealth we could buy our way into heaven then we live a lie. If we believe that fame could allow us to influence our way into heaven then we live a lie. In the end, all will perish and be cast out into the outer darkness where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth.

 

That is unless they have faith. The way you die does not determine what happens after death. The number of sins you committed also does not determine what happens after death, well that is unless the number is zero, but let’s get real only God can accomplish that. What determines what happens after death is whether or not you have placed your trust in the one who died on the cross to take on your sins, went to hell so you won’t have to, and then rose from the grave to lift you up with him for all eternity in true life.

 

All will likewise perish because all have sinned. Jesus who died for your sake asks that you have faith in him, to repent of your sins, and allow him to take on your sins on the cross. If you allow him to take your sins, then you will not likewise perish but live eternal life in heaven above.

 

So in the end, bad things do happen, but that is not proof that God is punishing you. In fact, because all have sinned all will receive equal punishment in Hell, but through Christ, so long that we have faith in him, he who suffered your punishment on behalf of you for your sake, you will not perish.

 

Let us pray,

 

Dear Heavenly Father, no matter what comes our way help us to keep our heads held up high knowing that through faith in you we are indeed saved. In your holy name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Deuteronomy 26: 5-10

Psalm 91

Roman 10: 8b-13

Luke 4: 1-13

 

“Creedal Confession”

 

Grace and Peace to you my brothers and sisters in Christ, Amen.

 

Last week, on Ash Wednesday, the first hymn we sang was “Out of the Depths I Cry to You.” This morning, the hymn we sang was “Lord, Keep Us Steadfast in Your Word.” And after the sermon, we will sing “A Mighty Fortress.” All three of these songs were written by Martin Luther, in fact there are many songs written by Martin Luther, many of which can be found in our Green Hymnals, a total of twenty. Now were as Luther wrote songs for a myriad of themes and various holidays, there was one theme or season that was dear to his heart. The season in question is Lent.

 

Even in his other songs that do not focus on this season you may find elements of Lent within them, and thereafter, those who followed after Luther and followed in his musical footsteps also did likewise, connecting Lent to various Christian music. It has gotten to the point that in, I would dare say most, legitimate Christian music there is an undertone of the Lenten season. Though some composers are a little more brazen with their Lenten emphasis, for example, again, Martin Luther.

 

So why the brazen zeal for Lent? Why Did Martin Luther put so many blatant Lenten themes in his songs and even wrote many intentionally Lenten pieces of music? Is it because Lent was Luther’s favorite church season? No because Luther’s favorite season of the church was most likely Christmas, just look at all the traditions that Luther started which includes the Christmas/Advent Wreath, garland, the Christmas Tree, presents on Christmas morning, St Nicholas as Santa Claus, etc. So why the zeal?

 

It is because the Lutheran faith is Cross centric confessional faith. Our theology is known as the Theology of the Cross. In other words, the absolute core of our faith as Lutherans is the cross.

 

All things come from the cross and are connected to the cross; all things that are biblical and theological points towards the cross; all things are subject to the cross. Every element of our faith rests at the feet of the cross, for it is through the cross alone that we are saved. Our Salvation comes not from the ascending Lord, nor the Christmas birth, nor the resurrection, but from the cross that our Lord and Savior suffered, bleed, and died on so that way he may put to death sin. On the cross he became the sacrifice for all sin and took on the sins of all who repent. It is through the cross that Jesus fulfilled his ultimate mission, to come to the world not to condemn the world, for it was already condemned, but to save it.

 

The Cross is the absolute centerpiece of our faith, and as such of all the seasons the most Lutheran is Lent. For it is during the season of Lent that our eyes are turned primarily towards the cross. Lent is like a parade march with Golgotha as the destination. It is a season when we reflect on our own wickedness, acknowledge our own sins, confess that we are sinners in desperate need of the saving grace that comes from the cross alone and pray with contrite hearts filled with despair in our own decrepit state but with also hope for God saves us despite such. We are taking the long painful depressing march to Golgotha throughout this entire season, and when we reach the climax on that hill what do we see, but three crosses.

 

The height of Lent is Good Friday, the event when Jesus did die to save all of mankind. Good Friday is the core of the church calendar, at least from a Lutheran perspective. It is the most important holiday. For our theology is not The Theology of Glory, that’s the Roman Catholic Church’s theology which has Easter as its centerpiece. Nor is our theology The Theology of Jesus’ Coming; that is a theology that has Revelation as its centerpiece. Our theology is not The Theology of Pentecost, that’s the Pentecostal and such theology that has the touching of the Holy Spirit as its centerpiece. Our theology is, I repeat is, The Theology of the Cross, which has Jesus suffering on the cross, Good Friday, as our centerpiece.

 

So even if it isn’t Lent, because the core of the Lutheran faith is Lenten in nature, elements of Lent may be present, not just in music but also in sermons and service. Elements of Lent include confession and forgiveness, when we confess that we are wholly incapable of saving ourselves. It also includes any mention of the cross, the Lord Supper, and the Lord’s Prayer. When communion is given we say, “The Body of Christ, given for you,” and, “The Blood of Christ, shed for you.” Given… shed… both are references to the cross where the Sacrificial Lamb bleed and died for the sins of all.

 

There are many Lenten themes that us Lutherans interject into all aspects of our faith, to include above all else Faith alone. For if we are saved through the cross alone then that means by no part are we included in our own salvation, thus there is no merit but simply faith alone. Salvation is in the hands of Christ 100%, and all we can do is believe in his promise of salvation through the cross. But it’s one thing to just merely have faith in one’s heart. Because our theology and thus everything worship related places the cross firmly in the center, we don’t just merely believe in our hearts that Jesus saves us, but we boldly confess with our lips that Jesus Christ did come into the world, did die on that terrible cross, and was raised from the dead to save us.

 

It feels almost as if people these days are terrified of the cross. To some the cross has become the Law thinking that it punishes rather than saves. Such people only want to feel bliss and pleasure, not understanding were true happiness is found. Such people want to hide their sins, believing that if they don’t see darkness then there must not be any darkness, not understanding that the whole point of darkness is to prevent you from seeing. Salvation becomes a curse because salvation is only for sinners and some are too weak and terrified to acknowledge their own sins. So when their eyes look upon the cross, they run away. People don’t want to feel bad; they only want to feel good. And people’s fear of the bad and gluttonous overindulgence of things that feel good, have led the majority of Christians down a dangerous path of self-gratification and the protection of sinful actions.

 

A personification of this becomes present when people avoid Good Friday because it’s too depressing and dreary and dark, all while rushing to go to Easter because it is happy and grandioso and fun and amazing and feels filled with uplifting joy. To avoid Good Friday but go to Easter is a cultural phenomenon that encourages vain glory, envy, greed, and above all else gluttony, not for food but gluttony for pleasure.

 

As we look towards the cross this year, let us not fall victim to the snares of the Devil which is pumping gluttonous pleasure-seeking into the clogged veins of America, but instead confess our faith found in the words of the Nicene Creed. Confess aloud, as the second lesson suggests, that Jesus is Lord and that the Father did raise him from the dead. Confess that Christ did indeed, “For our sake… was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried.” Confess our sins in accordance with scripture. Confess that we are indeed sinners who do not deserve heaven. Confess that we are in desperate need of a savior. Confess that we cannot do any of this by ourselves. Confess that Jesus died on the Cross to save us repenters.

 

We are Confessional Christians, that is what it means to be a Lutheran. We know what we are. We are Sinners. We are wretched rags. We are worms. We are servants who merely do what we ought to do but failing at each task. We confess that we are weak, but that He is Strong. We may be sinners, but our savior is sinless. We may be wretched rags, but our savior is pure. We may be worms, but our Savior is the King of Kings. We are sinners, but our Savior Jesus Christ died for us anyways and through him who knew no sin we are indeed saved.

 

There is no salvation without sinners. There is no Easter without Good Friday. There is no resurrection without death. There is no grace without sin and Hell. So if we wish to reap the rewards of the resurrection we must first look towards the cross. If we wish to seek heaven, we must first acknowledge our sinfulness. So we have Lent.

 

Let us pray,

 

Dear Heavenly Father, let the lips of our mouths confess your name and all your works which you have done for us lowly servants, believing in all of your promises fulfilled through the cross. In your name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Bible Verse of the Day

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