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Sermon for the Third Sunday after All Saints' Day: November 19, 2017

Rev’d Mark B. Stirdivant, Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Yucaipa, California
✝ sdg ✝

Barrel Cacti

Barrel Cacti

Remember when the workers in the vineyard were paid their wages at the end of the day? No matter how long they worked, or how much of the heat of the day they endured, they all received the same coin. That parable meant that no matter how great our differences of abilities and service in God’s kingdom, we’re all granted the same salvation by grace through faith in Christ.

Today’s parable of the talents has a notable difference from that, doesn’t it? Here Jesus teaches from the opposite angle. Here, the master of the household doesn’t give equal shares to his servants. One gets five talents—a huge amount—of money. One gets two and the last gets one. He gives according to their ability. They’re all equally his servants. They’re all equally in the household. But while the master is away, they have different abilities and responsibilities; so the master has different expectations for each one. Our Master, Jesus Christ has ascended into heaven and He’s coming back in glory at the end. As Christians, you are all equally His servants, and equally in the household of God. You are equally forgiven, because the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses you from all your sin. In the meantime, as you await His return, He has different callings and plans for each of you. And because He gives you certain callings and responsibilities, He entrusts you with talents, what you need to get the job done. It’s all part of the plan to keep the world in order and the body of Christ going until the Last Day.

Different people will have different callings for the good of all, by God’s design. This applies to all sorts of things. Some will have more money and others will have less. Some will have more talent and others will have less. God doesn’t make us identical, but He gives us various gifts. Together, we make up the body of Christ.

We sinners take this truth, however, and it discourages us. We sum it up this way: life isn’t fair. Yes, if you must push me to admit it, life isn’t fair, and people are different because God made them that way. This is hardly profound, but it’s part of the parable. Jesus adds this, too: to whom much is given, much will be expected. If God has given you much, then you are a steward of much and you’re called to exercise that stewardship faithfully. If you are blessed with abundant wealth, then it is given to you to use that wealth wisely. If it is abundant talent, then it is given to you to make use of that talent according to God’s will. It’s given to be used within your callings in service to others, and in service to God.

This should be good news. This should all be a great comfort from this parable. For one thing, you’re already in the house—you’re not trying to earn your way in. You’re part of the family of faith, not because of what you’ve done with what you’ve got, but because Jesus has already redeemed you. That’s Good News. God has given you what you need to accomplish what you need to do. This doesn’t always mean that things will go easily according to

your plan. Life might be very difficult, as the Lord teaches you to trust in Him, and not in the abilities He’s given you. There will be failures along the way, there will also be times when you learn what you’re not suited for, how God’s gifts to you don’t match up with what you were hoping to do. Frustrating as it can be, it’s part of discovering what God has shaped you to do, and not to do.

What matters is, you belong to the Lord. Until Christ’s return on the Last Day, He has plans for you. And because He has different plans for different people, He gives different talents and gifts to different people. All of this is designed for the good of all, as each uses what he has—and who he is—in service to those around him. Here’s the problem, though. As sinners, we don’t see God’s careful planning and entrusting as wise or good. Instead, we often resent it and we resent God. We, or the people we are trying to impress, are seldom happy with who God has made us to be.

Rather than give thanks for what you are by God’s design, you’ll be tempted to focus on what you aren’t. Dissatisfaction and discontent are two big temptations for the devil. And not only will you be dissatisfied with who you are, but in jealousy you may also resent who God has made others to be.

And when people find something about themselves that they do like, what is the temptation? Self-centered pride. Rather than give thanks to God for the gift and use it in service to others, the big temptation will be to use it in service to yourself, to gather recognition, power, wealth and a sense of superiority.

Or you may not want to use the talents that you have, reasoning that to do so would take too much time or be embarrassing or below your status. Or, another of the devil’s tricky temptations: you’ll be tempted to covet especially what the world glorifies, which may not be at all the greatest gifts for service in the household of faith. Physical beauty and strength are well-known idols. Riches are another attractive god, yet even some who have amassed a great amount of things are not content with them. You and I will also be tempted to covet those showy things every day. All of this is true, and it’s not good. But none of this pride or resentment or jealousy or discontent or coveting is the worst part.

For when you resent who you are, or resent what God has entrusted to you to take care of, you actually accuse God. It’s more serious than a self-esteem problem. You are saying God is messing up in what He has given. By thoughts, words and actions, you say that He isn’t wise, that He doesn’t know what He’s doing, that He’s untrustworthy. That is where discontent leads—to the accusation that God is not to be trusted, that He’s not compassionate like He tells us He is. What next? When a sinner thinks that God is not compassionate, then he concludes that God is a hard master. A sinner isn’t going to want to serve a God who reaps where He didn’t sow. Resenting all that God has done for him, he’ll harden his heart and deny that God has given him anything. That’s what happens to the servant with the one talent in the parable. He’s the only one who thinks the master is a hard man, and so he does nothing with what the master has given him. By failing to use what the master has entrusted to him, he’s effectively saying, “I don’t want to be your servant anymore.”

That is where the devil’s temptations ultimately lead. That’s his goal, to get you to resent God’s gifts for you and others until you say, “This is a hard God. I don’t want to belong to Him.” It would not be God who has become hard, but your heart instead. You would be opting for the outer darkness, for weeping and gnashing of teeth.

So, what’s the solution? It’s not just telling yourself to try to be more thankful and helpful. It’s repentance. Repentance begins with confessing the resentment that your heart feels toward God for what He hasn’t given to you and for what He has given to others. It includes confessing envy, jealousy, coveting, thanklessness and discontent, along with all other sins that would lead you to doubt God’s mercy, to portray Him as a hard master just because He opposes your sinful will.

But then there’s more. When you realize that staying out of His household is not a good idea, then your repentance is met with the Lord’s absolution—you are assured as you are today that you are forgiven for all of these sins all because of what Jesus has done. And here is what Jesus has done for you. For you and for your salvation, He came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made man. According to His human nature, He became a specific person with a specific appearance—and, says Isaiah, a plain and unremarkable appearance. According to His human nature, He took on weaknesses and frailties of man. He could be weary, hungry, sad … bruised and wounded. But rather than resent those limitations or envy others, He remained without sin, using His humanity fully in service to those around Him—and fully in service to all the world.

That service led Him to the cross. There, He was the object of anger, wrath and resentment. They sought His death by the cruelest of means. He submitted to that—not because He was powerless against them, but because He was there to suffer God’s judgment for sin. For theirs and yours.

Risen from the dead, your Savior comes to you. By His Word and Supper, He continues to forgive you all of your sins, keeping you clothed in His righteousness and strengthened in the one true faith. Because of His cross and His grace, you can be sure of this: it is God who made you to be who you are. It is God who has entrusted you with gifts and abilities for service, and it is God who still preserves you and your stewardship. He uses your strengths and your weaknesses for your good, as well as the good of others. Because of the cross, you can be certain that God works this for your good, and not for evil. Because of the cross, you’re set free from resentment and envy and discontent and the rest of those temptations that would harden your heart toward Him.

And when you’re tempted again, you repent again; and His grace is sufficient for you.

Dear friends, rejoice. The Lord has made you who you are for service where He has placed you. Until He comes again, that means there will be inequality in the eyes of man. But what the world calls inequality, unfairness, the Lord calls suitability—indeed, He has suited and equipped you for the things He would have you do in service to your neighbor and in service to Him. And while those gifts may be various and unequal in our eyes for service in this world, His grace is the same for all. In other words, no matter what the Lord has entrusted to you for this life—great or small, you can be sure of this: you are a saint in the household, sealed with baptism’s forgiveness.

In the Name of the Father and of the ✝ Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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Sermon for the Second Sunday after All Saints' Day: November 12, 2017

Rev’d Mark B. Stirdivant, Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Yucaipa, California
✝ sdg ✝

Font, Shell, Candle

Font, Shell, Candle

[Concerning the Baptism of Turner Austin Stirdivant…] What a miracle that was that just happened here among us! Think of it, a member of the human race has been rescued from the curse of sin and welcomed into the arms of our heavenly Father for eternity. Turner has now joined the Church, the Bride of Christ who is waiting patiently and expectantly for our Bridegroom’s grand return at the end of the world. We have a lot to celebrate and ponder with wonder today, and whenever a child, a child of God regardless of age, is granted this magnificent gift of Holy Baptism. We have every reason to bow our hearts in prayer that we never squander such a blessing that has also come into our lives.

And that may make you think, especially on a day like today, Why would someone despise this great gift and think or act as if it was worthless? Why would there be those careless, foolish believers as they are depicted in the story that Jesus told? To be sure, at the time He told it, He was mere days and hours away from His crucifixion and death. He wants you, His disciples, to know this important fact about the kingdom of heaven, which you enter when you are baptized with water in God’s holy and Triune name. But the story can be confusing to follow. It’s not easy to spot the point Jesus makes. The ten virgins are all ready for the wedding in the early evening. They all have lamps, they all are dressed in the proper wedding clothes, they are all pure, chaste virgins, eligible to enter the wedding hall and feast with the bridal party. It should also be noted that all ten girls fell asleep in light of the fact that the one whom they expected was delayed. Jesus didn’t mention a traffic jam as a possible cause! And again, when he is about to make his entrance to the public welcome, they all wake up together! So far the difference that we are supposed to catch, it hasn’t been made clear.

What finally makes the difference clear, as we read in the parable, is whether the virgins have oil. That’s the only signal Jesus uses to separate the wise from the foolish. All the other markers are exactly the same. But what a difference that little detail creates! As the story unfolds, the wise only have enough for themselves. If they were to give up what they already had to share, none of the virgins would be adequately prepared. The Bridegroom would have left all ten of them behind. This story’s outcome looks unfair to us, so unreasonable, so picky about a slight detail, and that’s partly because we are far removed from this ancient culture. But you will have to set that prejudgment aside for a moment, so you can understand how this warning applies to you and the Church of every time and place.

Jesus was often teaching about two separate ways in His kingdom, a way of life and a way leading to death. Wise and foolish, house on the rock versus house on the sand. Can’t serve God and Money at the same time. Those blessed by the Father safe inside the door as opposed to those outside in the place of weeping and gnashing of teeth. In other places, the difference is profound, like a huge gap between those who do the will of God the Father and believe in Jesus for their salvation, and those who trust in themselves or the temporary riches that the world prefers. Here, as we apply the ten virgins parable to ourselves and our lives today, it’s not so obvious; it’s even very subtle-looking, and that can be quite unsettling.

Think of it this way: if the five foolish girls are pure virgins, they are prepared for the Groom’s arrival (if he were on time, that is), if they had their lamps and when they fell asleep along with the wise ones they also awoke; if all of that is true, then why is it that the lack of oil and that alone disqualifies them from entering the banquet, which Jesus is clear to identify as the blessings of belonging to His everlasting kingdom? It sounds a lot like: how can it be fair that a member of a church, who looks so faithful and dedicated, was baptized, taught the faith and appeared to flourish in good works, that when all is said and done, that when the resurrection of the dead takes place, this apparently good Christian person still hears those chilling words of Judgment: I never knew you! That’s unsettling. It shakes us with feelings of despair and uncertainty. When a believer can have it all, and perfectly look the part, yet leave out one little detail that means death and not life, what use is there to stay connected to Christ and His Church? Would the greater effort be worth it in the end?

The answer is all about how you handle the oil. It has to be something that is so important, that it makes the all-important difference between death and life. It cannot correspond to a trivial detail about your Christian life, even though in the story it seems to be such a small difference. Some will try to tell you that having oil means you need to do good works, so that you prove to God and to the Church that you are a committed disciple and you have attained a moral character that makes you deserving of your heavenly Father’s rewards. But if you follow that interpretation, you will soon find that you are not at all prepared with enough oil in your lamp.

You as well as I have sinned against our Lord. We have not made ourselves ready for His glorious return. He seems to be delayed from our standpoint of the world, even though His final arrival is truly according to His perfect, eternal plan. But the more we struggle with our own sin, with violence in our world, violence even breaking into the formerly safe refuge of our church buildings, struggle with the seemingly insurmountable difficulties of our life, the more we figure that God has rejected us. We don’t have the same vigor for God’s work that we used to have. We neglect one another in the ordinary works of love that we used to do gladly and without reminder or nagging. If we were to see the lack of oil as these and similar faults that we see in ourselves, then we figure we should just brace ourselves for the door of Heaven to get slammed right in our faces.

Jesus gives you a gracious word, so that you do not need to feel rejected. He has promised to welcome you in to His banquet feast. He made that promise to you at your Baptism, just like He promised that and more to Turner this morning. You are clothed with Christ, made virgin-pure as a believer faithful to Him alone and not turned aside to yourself, the world or any other false gods that try to tempt us. Not only have you been provided with a lamp, you also have been given oil- you personally, have been given the godly wisdom that hears the Word of forgiveness of your sins, believes it with all your heart, and forgives others as you have been forgiven. You have Jesus, but remember that you have all of Him, not just the parts you like and as if you can discard the parts you don’t. Your baptism was not only a memorable day, a miracle that happened a single time in your life, but it’s also an ongoing identity that you carry with you. It has made a difference in your life so that you constantly remind yourself not to squander it.

You’re probably well aware that Baptists and a few other Christian confessions officially teach the doctrine of what they call a believer’s baptism, and characterize it as a promise or commitment that a Christian must consciously make for himself as a decision to follow Jesus Christ as His disciple. I can readily assure you, they don’t intend to hold to a belief that is contrary to the Bible, and I could even propose that they, as we, are trying to be good Christian people, no doubt about it. But if they were to witness what had just happened to Turner this morning, these otherwise well-meaning Christians would be shaking their heads. What can that little baby do for God right now? He needs constant help, and the parents have to guess what specifically he needs help with- and boy does one parent need a lot more practice than he would like to admit! But that helplessness is precisely why Jesus commands the Church to baptize babies, as well as anyone of any age who hasn’t yet received that gift- it’s all about what God gives rather than what the believer promises.

I’ll tell you that they do have one concern that we should listen to as Lutherans, staunch baby-baptizers as we are. That is the concern that once a baby has been baptized, how often is it that that new believer has little or no further connection with the church, or doesn’t grow in the faith? Maybe it’s a young person who goes all the way through Confirmation instruction, but when he or she is exposed to false spiritual teaching that contradicts God’s Word, then they fall away. Do the parents imagine that the baptism by itself is a ritual that guarantees salvation, even if you have not been taught the faith or you continue in the life of the sinner that we all remain to be, baptized or not? Listen to that concern, and respond to your Baptist friend that Jesus wants us to remember our Baptism, to continue in the Christian life we have been given, totally as a gift and not as our work toward God. There is no such thing as spiritual fire insurance. Baptism needs to be cherished, and not despised as an ordinary, useless thing. Keep thinking of it as a miracle, because it is! God says in the Bible it will save you, so trust in His Word to do what He says.

Yes, forgiveness is free, and you will continue to need it because you and I are still sinners. That constant repentance and trust in Christ’s forgiveness, that total reliance on Him, that constant rejection of self and the temporary world that you have been called to do, that’s your oil that God the Holy Spirit has kept in abundant supply for you. That’s your wisdom that begins with a reverent fear of the Lord. Your Father, to whom you pray, loves you and will not shut you out, even when you face your darkest days.

Embrace the miracle that welcomed you in to the wedding feast of the Kingdom of Heaven, especially on occasions when you see it happen for another child of God. That way, with God’s ever-present help, you will not despise this gift you have been given and when you wake up from death’s sleep on the Last Day, you will rejoice to greet Jesus Christ the Church’s Bridegroom with all the other wise virgins, indeed, the whole company of heaven that is singing along with you in the Divine Service today.

In the Name of the Father and of the ✝ Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Beveled-glass cross

Beveled-glass cross

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Sermon for the First Sunday after All Saints' Day: November 5, 2017

Rev’d Mark B. Stirdivant, Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Yucaipa, California
✝ sdg ✝

White Parament

White Parament

Allow me to introduce to you a friend of mine. No, you cannot see him. But in the next few minutes, you’ll get to know him a little. My friend happens to be a church administrator, but don’t hold that against him. He’s just as much a hypocrite as you and I are, but there’s something to say about the unique “occupational hazards” that this leader in the church faces. When you have a great many people looking up to you as a spiritual head, then it can only be a matter of time before your hat feels a little too small and you’re overcome with self-pride. It’s an easy mistake.

My friend has most likely studied the Word of God very thoroughly before, but at this point the stresses of day-to-day administration have tempted him to stray from that crystal-clear fountain of Gospel truth in favor of the mirages of convenience and legalism. Keeping order among people who are so bitterly opposed to each other seems to be his only work, and what suffers is his God-given task of leading men to Jesus Christ. Thus, unfortunately, my friend relies heavily on the force of his own personality and his unique claims to spiritual authority in order to get done what he believes needs to get done. Personally, I think he has placed on himself an impossible standard and expectation, and yet at the same time, he ignores the only Divine means to fulfill that goal, and so relies completely on himself instead. Based on the sinful human nature that we all have, I would venture to say that my friend’s scenario would be similar to how you and I would act if we were placed in the same situation.

Jesus spoke of my nameless, ancient friend, let’s call him the Pharisee, in the Holy Gospel while He was speaking to His disciples and the crowds who followed Him. And when Jesus tells you to do something, it’s usually safe to assume we have the tendency to do the very opposite. He told them to pay attention to the words that people like my friend spoke because those words were written by Moses, meaning that the scribes and Pharisees read the Bible out loud in the synagogue. This group of church administrators, including my friend, had a holy job to perform, even though they often fell to the temptations of administration and themselves ignored the very words they were preaching. They sat on Moses’ seat, which meant they were officially the mouthpiece of God, teaching from a seated position, like they often did in those days; it doesn’t matter whether they were rightfully placed in that office or they took it by sinful means. My friend sits in the seat, whether he truly belongs there or not, but he still has that seat’s responsibility to perform.

Now, I have asked parents, I suppose teachers too, (since I’m going to be needing this advice now!) when was the last time you said to your children, “Do as I say, not as I do?” Usually, you say it when you’re trying to restore a little order to the ensuing chaos, and as you choke back their accusation of being a hypocrite, you hang on to the last shred of authority you can muster to get some form of obedience. But Jesus says it clearly: the Word of God is the ultimate and the only authority, even when a hypocrite speaks it. However, all of us, young or old, tend to watch the actions rather than heed the words.

And the crowds who heard Jesus were the same way. They saw guys like my friend the Pharisee and boy, were they impressed. The Pharisees read the words of Moses in the Bible that say, “Tie these words around your forehead,” and they took it literally. They made phylacteries, which were little “lock boxes” with Scripture verses inside, and with long straps to fasten them to your head and down your arm. Not too tight, though. The tassels on their synagogue shawls were so long that they flung it over their shoulder while the common people oohed and aahed. Think of it as really showy “prayer wear.” The contradiction between what they did and what they said was plain as day, and Jesus pointed it out.

Like my friend, you also face these same temptations, although Satan likes to tailor them to your specific vocation. You crave less talk and more action. People who may not know any better incessantly chant that the church’s emphasis should be on deeds rather than creeds when those two should actually work together. Either you have done something in public for show or you’ve given undivided attention to another who did. You may have accused someone in front of others, pointing out a sin you’ve often committed yourself with no one watching. Perhaps you prayed in public a prayer that should have been private, in order to make a scene or gain a little credibility. Your ears perk up more when there’s something in God’s Word about something for you to do, or when there’s a commitment for you to make. That’s the Law, by the way. It’s the reason why works-righteousness is so popular in churches: it’s what people like you and I want to hear! It’s a great club to use to remind others that they aren’t as “holy” as you are. But when the Gospel is said, when you hear of forgiveness, of what God does all for you, it’s not important. It’s all talk, and you’ve heard it all before, and you’ll put up with a little bit of it so long as you can get on as soon as possible with the doing. And then you’re back to the Law.

There’s only one way out of this web of temptation in which you are caught. You must repent. That doesn’t mean say one little prayer or repeat a confession of sins and then you’re done. It means stop your practice of relying on yourself and give up on your way. Repent of your tendency to fall into the trap like my friend did. Stop making a show to others and start hearing the Word of God rather than the opinions of men. Even when an imperfect man preaches it, it is still the perfect doctrine that gives you true life. What makes it imperfect is when something false is added or when anything essential is taken away from it. And watch out for the devil’s back door, which is someone who is really nice and a good moral example but then they use those credentials to teach something false. God does not give them that privilege, and no one, not even a majority vote, can cast our Lord’s command aside.

Instead, flee for refuge to your only hope, and the source of your hope is the Gospel words that you hear. Crave forgiveness, because it’s all you’ve got. Jesus has done it all. His actions, not yours are the only ones that count, because they perfectly matched His Words. His blood has already been shed to back up the promises. It is His greatest desire to rescue you. He wants not necessarily to improve your life and relationships here on earth, but rather to usher you into eternal life and strengthen the relationship that He began with you at your baptism. And the promise of this costly forgiveness, the forgiveness that was achieved for you at the holy Cross of Calvary, this promise is for you, even if you are like my friend. All it takes is to believe it, and even that, God the Holy Spirit does for you.

My friend the Pharisee did not escape the harsh lashing of Jesus’ judgment, but you can. Your Lord enables you today to give up on your hypocritical ways, and allow Him, who is the greatest of all, to be your humble servant. That’s what submitting to Him as Lord is all about. As you humble yourself in honest confession of all your sins, He will exalt you with His forgiveness and renewal. Instead of superficial things like phylacteries or church politics, you’ll tie on the Word of God to your heart, and partake of the Lord’s gifts—and that is really the true reason why the Lord brought you here.

In the Name of the Father and of the ✝ Son and of the Holy Spirit.

White Parament

White Parament

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Pastor's Postil Nov 2017

Five years ago, a friend and colleague, Pastor Erik Rottman, planned a very interesting and memorable pastors’ conference. The topic he chose for it was Church Security. How safe is your sanctuary? so we were asked. Do you have a plan in place in case of an emergency, a health issue, an unwanted intruder, or an innocent-looking panhandler? Many pastors know these problems arise, even in rural settings, but not all had given enough thought to what one should do in these various scenarios. That is why I personally thought that this conference theme was an excellent idea.

The keynote speaker was a layman—a member of a Baptist church, actually—who was a former law enforcement officer and now he directs a company that helps churches with security solutions. He cited the rapid increase in violent incidents that have been reported from church settings in the United States. From only 18 of these in 2008, the numbers have risen to 135 violent incidents, just in 2011. Typically, intruders are simply wanting to disrupt services and say whatever they wanted to say. The vast majority of these incidents are usually over with and resolved before law enforcement or emergency personnel arrives, however it is still important that churches also have plans in place that ensures that help is contacted quickly whenever it is needed.

For churches that also operate a day care and preschool, some of these security issues are automatically required to be addressed. Safety needs to be a number one priority when parents are entrusting the care of their little ones to others during the week. But it is also true that we have to be safe when we meet for church and for church meetings. Not only children, but all age groups can be targets for a “bad guy” looking for an easy strike.

What should we do to defend ourselves? Is that even a Christian thing to do? What about the idea of offering up one’s life for the Lord? These issues were all brought up in our presentations and discussions. We at Good Shepherd have recently addressed some of these when we upgraded our alarm system. While it is true that our body and life belong to our heavenly Father who created us, and our full trust for protection should remain in Him, we also must realize that He has given us vocations and offices in daily life that put us in responsibility toward others. Parents need to protect, feed and train their children. The strong are needed to uphold the weak. Church members need a place where they can feel safe, so that the most important activity of hearing the Word and receiving the Sacraments can go on in Church. People who volunteer for service in the name of Good Shepherd should not be made into “sitting ducks” for a predator.

Far from being scared of the unknown, farther still from advocating violence over against our neighbor, I learned from this conference that we should give some thought to the safety of our sanctuary, take notice of everybody who walks in—whether they are visitors unsure about where to go, or potential threats—and be prepared for anything. Hopefully, none of the serious incidents that are affecting churches these days will ever happen to us. But, with a little effort and good communication, an episode like that need not become an insurmountable obstacle to the church’s ministry.

Yours, in Christ’s service,

Pastor Stirdivant


The U.S. Justice Department released new guidelines regarding the treatment of religious freedom by federal agencies. Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a guidance containing 20 “key principles” that spell out the religious liberties of individuals and organizations as they relate to regulations and policies of the federal government.

“Religious freedom is not merely a right to worship in a sacred place,” Sessions wrote in his memo. “Except in the narrowest of circumstances, no one should be forced to choose between living out his or her faith and complying with the law. Therefore…religious observance should be reasonably accommodated in all government activity, including employment, contracting, and programming.”

Tony Perkins, President of the Family Research Council, applauded the new stance announced by the Justice Department. “Federal government agencies have now been put on notice: you will not only respect the freedom of every American to believe according to their faith, but also to live according to those beliefs.”

“President Trump is demonstrating his commitment to undoing the anti-faith policies of the previous administration and restoring American’s First Freedom–religious liberty. These concrete steps will once again erect a bulwark of protection around our First Amendment rights.”

President Trump had promised earlier this year to address the continuing threats by government to the free exercise of religion. In a press conference in the Rose Garden that included members of the Little Sisters of the Poor, Trump declared that “we will not allow people

of faith to be targeted, bullied, or silenced anymore. We are ending the attacks on religious liberty.”

(Source: Missouri Family Policy Council email 10/17/17)


The Reformation was not about anything new, but about returning to the unchanged and unchanging truth. So it still is today. The celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation is not a time for novelty. It is time to return. Return to the truth. Return to the basics. Return to the foundation.

Luther wrote the Small Catechism for the instruction of lay people. Luther intended the Small Catechism to be used at church and in the home to instruct children in the faith and to reinforce the faith in the hearts and minds of the adults.

There is no better time than in this year of celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation to review the catechism.

Read it for yourself. Refresh the theology in your mind. Pray the catechism daily. Memorize it. But even more, teach it. If you are a parent, teach it to your children. As you have opportunity, share it with your friends and peers.

The catechism teaches the fundamentals of the Christian faith: the Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, Confession and the Office of the Keys, and the Sacrament of the Altar. This small book is well worth your time and study.

May this celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation be a time when we return to Word and Sacrament, and when we turn to Christ and His love. It’s Still All About Jesus.

Banner - Dove

Banner – Dove

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Sermon for the Festival of the Reformation (observed): October 29, 2017

Rev’d Mark B. Stirdivant, Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Yucaipa, California
✝ sdg ✝

Red Parament

Red Parament

Dearly beloved fellow heirs of the Reformation:

You and I are reminded nearly every day that we should cherish our freedom. We are often told that it is our greatest achievement, freedom is something we or someone else has worked hard to get. Our liberties as American citizens came to us at a great price. Our independence, which was won for us by the men and women in the armed forces of yesterday and today who made real sacrifices, it is all something we should treasure.

We think of similar sacrifices as we, the Church of our Lord Jesus Christ, celebrate the Reformation. On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther put up a notice of academic debate, and from that point onward, the Christian Church has celebrated freedom and independence from Roman Catholic superstitions and the iron-fisted control of the pope. Once again, such freedoms were very difficult to attain. Many suffered death by burning at the stake—something that Martin Luther, however, escaped. Others were innocent bystander casualties of violent mob-uprisings and bloody wars. And yet the freedom of the Gospel they fought for is now our most prized possession as Lutherans.

And so we are reluctant to believe it, or we are downright offended, when we hear that this freedom is actually something you receive as a gift. It would then turn out that you didn’t work for it, or possibly that you didn’t need to struggle for it. Saying that our freedom is something that God has already given us would also say that it was for nothing that those colonists fought the Revolutionary War, or that brother fought against brother in the Civil War. If you were to admit that Christ has achieved our freedom for us, then what need did we have of Martin Luther, or all the other players in the Reformation drama?

A gift is really demeaning to your proud sinful nature, if you want to be perfectly honest. It’s almost a game some people play at birthdays and Christmas to try quickly to match each other equally in their gift-giving. And nothing can be more satisfying but also at the same time offensive than when you have given better than what you got in return. Offensive because you know you deserve better and the other person is able to give better than they have. Satisfying because you’ve proven yourself to be the more generous, benevolent soul, and you have won the game of giving.

So God’s gift of freedom that He gives willy-nilly through His Son Jesus Christ is a gift that puts you on the wrong end of the game. It means you are not in control of yourself; you have no way of making your sinful nature proud. If you were free by what you yourself have done, then your freedom is on your terms. Freedom would be what you deserved as a birthright, just like the Jews imagined when they were talking to Jesus. “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone.” They understood that if Jesus were to give the gift of freedom, then they, the recipients, would have to acknowledge that they were in a truly miserable position from birth. Not only were they in political bondage because Palestine was under strict control of the Roman Empire, but they were also in spiritual bondage to sin, death and the devil. The Jews’ claim of lineage from Abraham gave them the bragging rights to freedom in both political and spiritual realms, so they believed. They really earned it and no other ethnicity had those same bragging rights—and the Jewish religion has basically the same pride surviving to this very day.

Remember, though, that this gift of freedom is for you, too, no matter how much you also want to regard it as an achievement. You in your heart know that if your freedom in the Gospel can be thought of in your own terms, then you are independent. You would owe nothing to anybody. It would just be you and Jesus. You would then have every right to come in here, sit in the pew that you have claimed and reserved for years, you then fill ‘er up with the forgiveness that God has to give you as an individual, give just enough to cover your own part, and turn around and walk right out and drive home without having to do anything else. You get all the credit for going to church, and you still have time in the day to do something useful.

That is one kind of freedom, namely, freedom from everyone else. You are an individual, free from sin. This is how you normally think of it when you read the Bible—how does this apply to my personal relationship with God? What are the certain things I must do every day? I must repent of my sins, seek God’s forgiveness, and believe that He has given it to me. And you would be right. Christ has freed each and every individual you out there. You are His child, washed in the blood He shed on the cross and baptized into His name. No one else can believe for you. No one else has control over the salvation that you have. God the Father has specifically forgiven you and given eternal life to you.

But that’s when the devil wants to take over. He wants to capitalize on that individual, one-on-one concept that you have in your mind, and push out everything else. Satan keeps you focused on the time and commitment that you have given, and then he turns your attention to compare yourself against the others sitting in church with you. Something about them may distract you and the devil attempts to use it to pull you away from your Lord and your neighbor and they make you an isolated individual. And so the good of God’s freedom in the forgiveness of Jesus is twisted and contorted to be your declaration of independence from your brothers and sisters in the faith. In the end, that turns freedom into a bondage that says, “I can now do whatever I want,” but really you are fooling yourself, for you would then do what sin wants and what your Old Adam wants and your freedom would be lost.

Red Parament - cross

Red Parament – cross

The true freedom, the freedom for which Christ died and shed His blood, and the freedom that He lavishes upon you, is not only freedom from sin but also a freedom for living as His new creation. It’s freedom for being a disciple, so that your very existence is for the good of someone else. Because the waters of your baptism not only are your individual promise from God that your sins are forgiven, but they also kill the individual in you and remake you in the image of Jesus, joining you to His Body, the Church. The Body and Blood of Christ in Holy Communion are not just an extra assurance of forgiveness above and beyond all the forgiveness you already get in the rest of the church service. Even more than that assurance of forgiveness is the fact that Jesus joins Himself to you, giving you the perfect holy life and freedom that He is, right into your mouth! And along with Jesus giving Himself to you, He gives you to each and every other person kneeling at the rail with you, who believe and confess the very same faith you do and are joined to the very same Jesus that you are joined to. This is true freedom: freedom for serving each other.

Rather than a declaration of independence, this freedom for which Christ died and that He alone gives to you is a declaration of dependence on your fellow believers. In this new relationship, you bear one other’s burdens, trials, griefs and difficulties, but also their joys, love, and eternal hope, because those are the things that will last into eternity. The bad stuff will all be gone soon. This is why Jesus denied the Jews of their claim to true freedom by being the descendants of Abraham, because it was only freedom for themselves as individuals. But it also applies to you. If the freedom you have from the promises of the Lord is only your individual freedom from sin, then it really isn’t the true freedom Jesus is talking about, the freedom for serving those around you without expecting anything in return. If you don’t have this freedom for, you never really had the freedom from to begin with.

Martin Luther wrote that as a Christian you are completely free, subject to none—that is the first kind of freedom that I talked about, freedom from sin and death. But he also balanced it with the freedom for, saying that the Christian is also in a new type of bondage, a servant to all in the love given through Jesus Christ. In this understanding of freedom, there is still forgiveness, especially for you. Your sins of selfish pride and individualistic attitude are wiped away, and God remembers them no more. And as you live in true freedom, freedom for each other, remember that you do such nice things not because you have to put in your time like it was community service, but because there is nothing more free and natural than to help someone else. Jesus has won the eternal life that you could not earn. His freedom is yours, and when you sacrifice yourself for the good of someone else, something that your heavenly Father wants you to do in the first place, you still get rewarded, even when you had nothing to do with it! Test Him in this, He says, give up a little of yourself for others in whatever way you can, and you still get hundreds of times back what you gave. That is the true freedom of the Gospel: countless blessings above and beyond the forgiveness that is already yours.

So, fellow redeemed, the Church of the Reformation on this the 500th anniversary, stand fast, therefore, in the freedom by which Christ has made you free. Cherish it, not because you worked for it, but because it is God’s gift to you. For you are no longer under the yoke of bondage, but you are free for the benefit of one another, and you wait for the promised freedom of heaven, when you will be set free from the grip of sin, death and the devil for good. Thanks be to the Truth, our Lord Jesus Christ!

In the Name of the Father and of the ✝ Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Red Parament - ihs

Red Parament – ihs

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