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Sermon for the Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost: September 24, 2017

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

Processional and Stained-Glass Crosses

Processional and Stained-Glass Crosses


Peter had wanted to know what he was going to get out of all this following Jesus. The next two disciples, James and John, also former fishermen, were pushed by their mother to snatch the top two positions in Christ’s kingdom. These disciples were already thinking about their payday—when all this self-sacrifice of theirs would cash in. Have you thought of this, wondering whether you have given up everything; given it all away to those in need; and taken up the Cross that you have set before you to follow Jesus? Whoever loves his life will lose it—And whoever loses his life for my sake will keep it for eternal life. So, it seemed natural that, on behalf of the Apostles, St. Peter would point out that they, all twelve of them, had in fact given up everything to follow Jesus. Peter was wondering what would become of them, and what would they get.

In answer, Jesus promised His disciples that, in the Resurrection, when He would sit on His throne of glory, they would also be enthroned alongside of Him, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. But He would have more to teach them, and you. On the surface, Jesus’ parable teaches that the inheritance of everlasting life is not earned (nor can it be), but it is given and received by the grace of God, and, as such, it is given equally to all of the disciples of Jesus, no matter what their sacrifices and service. When it comes right down to it, the lowliest and least worthy servant of Christ will be made equal to the Holy Apostles and saints, those Christians who labored long and hard, who bore the heat of the day, and who were martyred for their faith. Their glory as Apostles is surely unique, but their inheritance in the Kingdom of God is no more nor less than yours; for it is the wage of His grace.

That is what the Parable teaches. But now, then, what does this mean for you? Well, first of all, some clarifications are in order. The Householder is the Lord, of course. And the vineyard signifies His people: Old Testament Israel to begin with, but also His Church of the New Testament. The workers who are sent into the vineyard, therefore, (as in similar parables,) are first of all the Prophets and Apostles, and the servants of the Word of Christ even to this day; and, further, those workers in the vineyard represent all of the disciples of Jesus Christ, who are called and sent to serve their neighbor within their God-given vocations (not only in the church, but at home, at work, in the community, and so forth).

It should especially be noted that the coin that the workers received—the denarius—was roughly equivalent to a normal day’s wages; it would be like the owner handing out 50- or 100-dollar bills. This so-called “wage” signifies the forgiveness of sins and the inheritance of everlasting life. Clearly, it is not a wage that can ever be earned by any amount of work. Be careful to notice, especially, that even for those first workers in the Parable, they are promised to receive the denarius before they have been hired and before they did any work.

You see, the thing of it is, this Parable is not about coming to faith, but about the good works that come forth in your daily life from your faith. According to the Bible, good works are principally the service rendered by you Christian disciples within many different vocations, and it is in this way that you serve the Lord (in faith) and you serve your neighbors (in love). Thus, the Parable portrays the way in which good works and Christian service follow after God’s grace and gift of faith have already come into your life.

The parable talks about differences in the amount of time that the employees worked, and those differences pertain to the differences that there are between the many and various earthly vocations, labors and obligations of all Christian disciples. As God Himself designed it, these things differ from one person to the next, according to his or her respective talents and abilities, opportunities, and stations in life. The vineyard is thus served in a wide variety of ways, just like the Body of Christ has different parts to it and all of them work together in their respective functions.

It is important to note, that, in spite of the differences that there are in types of service, each and every vocation is still arising from and according to the Word of the Lord. This you can see from the Parable, because each and every worker is called and sent by the Householder. In each case, He says to them, “Go, and work in My vineyard!” That’s what creates the job, you might say.

In that light, the Lord in His holy Law of the Ten Commandments presents you with a probing question straight out of the Parable: Why are you just standing there idle?

It is simply not true that “no one has hired you.” Each and every one of you has been called and sent to some duty of service, which differs from one person to the next, but, nevertheless, God the Householder has said to you, “Go!” What is more, you don’t have to go searching for what you are sent to do, you don’t even have to wait for a special sign from God for Him to speak directly to your heart because His will is clearly set before you in your vocations, whatever they might be, and in the needs of your neighbors, whoever and wherever you might find them. So also do you have set before you the needs of your congregation, which is, of course, very much a part of the vineyard, and there’s simply no excuse for standing idle while there is work to be done. The fact of the matter is, there is an urgent need for workers in this part of God’s vineyard.

Now, at the end of the day, the bottom line is that your sins have been forgiven, and that you are called through faith to receive the inheritance of everlasting life, regardless of how much or how little you have worked, and regardless of how well you have done. You’re going to receive the same paycheck that the Prophets and Apostles of the Lord get, whether you have done much or little. When that payday comes, by the grace of God, all are equal. But in the meantime, here on earth, there are these differences. They are differences in vocation, differences according to the Word and Will of God. Then again, some differences stem from the fact of our sinfulness. There are some who simply do more than others, and some who do little or nothing at all; some may well be lazy and irresponsible (as are we all at times), while others may well become full of sinful pride over their own contributions and resentful of everyone else (and again, we all fall prey to these temptations, too).

This sinful attitude of pride and resentment—such as we see portrayed in those first workers in the Parable—is actually an expression of works righteousness, I must get what I deserve, and I demand recognition before God in heaven. This sinful opinion and false belief sets the individual over and against the Lord God. It is arrogant, demanding, ungrateful, selfish, rude, and quarrelsome. And, sad to say, it is the attitude that all of us possess in our sinful hearts, and which we exercise more often than not in our dealings with God and each other.

Another temptation makes use of reasoning something like this: just as every worker in the Parable gets the same wage, if it doesn’t affect your eternal reward how much you work and serve in God’s vineyard of His kingdom, then Why should any of us work or serve at all? The answer is, emphatically, Not for the sake of earning something more from God. For one thing, what more could you hope to gain than the forgiveness of your sins, eternal life and salvation, all of which are given to you freely, by the grace of God, already? Besides, you cannot earn these things in any case, much less anything beyond these most important gifts and benefits!

But no, you work and serve for two simple reasons: First and foremost, because the Lord has called you—in your vocations—and He has sent you to serve in His vineyard; so you do it for the sake of the Lord. And second, because your neighbors, including your fellow church members and visitors, need your help and service; so you work and serve for the sake of your neighbor, as well. There are no other reasons.

Now, it is not for you, nor anyone else, to pick and choose where and how you ought to be working and serving in the vineyard. That is determined by the call and sending of the Lord, that is to say, by your station in life and your unique vocation. And, as Jesus says elsewhere, even if you were to serve perfectly and faithfully your entire life, you would still have done no more than what it is your duty and responsibility to do as a servant of the Lord. He simply worked in you.

In reality, though, you have not served perfectly and faithfully (no matter how long or how hard you may have worked). No, you have too often served yourself instead of the Lord, instead of serving others for the sake of the Lord. And too often, when you have done your duty outwardly, going through the motions, you have done so with a bitter and resentful heart, or with a prideful and presumptuous heart. Or, then again, how many days have you preferred to stand idle in the world’s marketplace, instead of working at all? Maybe you’ve gotten tired of serving after so many long years; or maybe you’ve made excuses for why you really shouldn’t be expected to do anything more—you should be served instead; or maybe you figure it’s someone else’s turn to love their neighbor— (doesn’t that sound ludicrous?)

It should be clear enough from the Parable that the first workers in the vineyard are not relieved of their duties when the later workers are sent out; rather, everyone is called and sent to work together until the day is done, until the night comes when no man can work. And, to the point, everyone the Householder finds is called and sent to work in the vineyard (even if only for the final hour of the day). So, frankly, there are no excuses, and you are convicted by the question: Why do you stand idle?

Yet, in spite of your unfaithfulness and less than perfect service, you also (even you!) are considered equal to the Prophets and Apostles, and you receive the inheritance of everlasting life. Not because you (nor anyone else) has earned such a wage, but solely by the free grace of God, for Jesus’ sake, who has made Himself last, in order to serve you and all the rest with His own hard labor unto death. Here’s how Jesus’ work day went:

In the early morning, He was hauled before Pontius Pilate and the crowd; and from the third hour until the sixth hour, He was interrogated and mocked; and from the sixth hour until the ninth hour, He suffered in your place upon the Cross; and at the eleventh hour He was buried in the tomb—and after fulfilling the Sabbath rest He rose again unto life everlasting.

Indeed, He has done it all. He has worked the entire day. He has borne the entire heat and burden. And He has truly earned the wage of forgiveness and eternal life for you (and me) and for all people. For He Who is the First, has made Himself to be the Last—and the Servant of all—in order that you, who would otherwise be the least and the last and the lost, might inherit the Kingdom of Heaven.

What is more, and most wondrous (and wonderful) of all, He has done all of this—for you (and for me and for all)—for the sake of His own holy love, out of the goodness of His own divine heart, by His grace alone. There was no outside motivation that prompted or compelled Him to do it. There was no merit or worthiness in any of us. There was nothing to be gained for Himself, as though to make Himself better, or as though to improve His lot, which He didn’t need. No, He does it all for you by grace, because He wants not to be served, but to serve you: to save you, and to give you His eternal life. He does it all for you by grace, because He is good, and His mercy endures forever. He is free to do with His own things as He so desires, according to His good and gracious will.

So take note, fellow believers, that He has desired to make you equal—not only to the Prophets and Apostles who have labored long and hard ahead of you—but equal to Himself, as though you too were the Son of the Living God, because He has taken your place under the Cross, that you might share His Resurrection and His Life everlasting. So, here receive with thanksgiving the denarius from His hand, which He has earned for you by His own hard work and bloody sweat. Take, and eat, the very Body that has borne the entire burden of your sin and the heat of judgment; and drink from the Fruit of the Vine, which is His holy and precious blood, poured out for you, and for the many, for the forgiveness of every sin.

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

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Funeral - Bill Saulnier

The Funeral Service for Bill Saulnier
will be held
Saturday, October 7, 2017
11:00 a.m.
at
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Yucaipa, CA

Steeple and Cross

Steeple and Cross


map

map

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Bill Saulnier

December 24, 1980 – September 14, 2017

Bill Saulnier

Bill Saulnier


At Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Yucaipa, we remember Bill as our organist. He was there for years on each Sunday, accompanying the hymns and liturgy. At Christmas-time, the trombone ensemble, of which he was a member, would play a concert at the church. Bill would guide the young people who performed on their instruments on special occasions.

With thankgiving, we remember Bill!

Lord God, our shepherd, You gather the lambs of Your flock into the arms of Your mercy and bring them home…

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Sermon for the Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost: September 17, 2017

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

Rainbow at Sunset

Rainbow at Sunset


Joseph had quite a life. His brothers hated him when he was younger because their aged father loved him more noticeably than he loved them. Joseph was the first-born son of Jacob’s wife Rachel. And it was Rachel whom he loved more than his other wives, including Rachel’s sister Leah. Grudges, revenge and spite were common threads in this family—it’s clear that this story is not included in Scripture to make it a moral example for us to follow, in the slightest!

Now that we’re at Genesis chapter 50, these older brothers are well into their grandparent years, but they could not put out of their minds what they did to Joseph at least 35 years before, out of their hatred. The decades-old guilt could not be quenched. They had sold him into slavery and he was taken down into Egypt. Joseph was ripped away from his loving father Jacob at the age of 17. He was later thrown into prison for a crime that was fabricated by his master’s wife.

Now look at Joseph! He’s the one in charge of the whole Egyptian kingdom. All the riches and fame that Joseph had now as the most powerful man in the land, second only to Pharaoh, still couldn’t reverse what his brothers had done to him (so they reasoned). Ironically, the brothers were by this time also living well in Egypt. Joseph was providing for them and their families, and that despite the widespread famine. Joseph had forgiven them, but the brothers were still leery. They assumed that Joseph harbored the same hatred that they once had against him, even after all those years. Now that their father Jacob died, they feared that Joseph would seize the opportunity to take revenge.

They knew well the language of our sinful flesh, which does not allow for love and forgiveness. It just doesn’t make sense to the world. The guilt these brothers had inside made them afraid of Governor Joseph, much like Adam all of a sudden became afraid of God walking in Eden’s garden, once in his sinful act he became aware of good and evil. Joseph’s brothers thought they were protected by the life of their father, and now that shield was gone. What they had done against their little brother was quite an injustice, and they knew that he had every right to pay them back—that was what they feared.

We often fail to realize that God Himself had undergone the grossest injustice, and that’s from us! He created us in His image and gave us the ability to love Him and each other. Along with that great privilege comes the responsibility to obey Him, to live in harmony together as His creatures. He requires us to have no other gods, to obey and give honor to our parents, he requires us to love our neighbors as ourselves. Have you lived up to those requirements? The words in our liturgy that we pray, “…I have ever offended You and justly deserved Your temporal and eternal punishment,” put it about as nicely and truthfully as it can be said. You are guilty, as am I, guilty of committing great injustice, not against any particular person, but against God Himself! This guilt we may want to forget and we might succeed at burying it for a while, but sometimes it may linger around a long time in our hearts, much like it did for Joseph’s brothers.

Then what’s this we keep hearing about a loving God? We would like to think that since God has promised to love us and forgive us, then our sins would no longer be a problem. But what do you see around you every day? It sounds good in theory, you may say, but in reality, my household can sound a lot like Joseph’s brothers, with threads of grudges, revenge and spite. If God is so forgiving and so loving, then why does this still happen to me? Why do I feel I have to keep looking over my shoulder to see if God is punishing me for my sins against Him? We also ask with Peter, How many times do I have to keep on forgiving my brother who sins against me?

Sin is real, utter treachery against God, not some petty mishap that you can forget about later. The guilt that comes from sin is also real—the Bible has a name for it—it’s iniquity. We’re not talking about just an uncomfortable feeling in the gut. It rules over our very being. The truth is that each one of us is completely enslaved by sin from birth. Standing before God on our own merits, we are like the servant who owed the king 10,000 talents, approximately 350 tons of silver, due immediately. Yet we still think we can get by. “Be patient,” the servant in Jesus’ parable said, “and I will pay back EVERYTHING.” Does that sound like you? Do you think that you can “strike a deal” with God?

Sin must be paid for. Its guilt must be quenched. It cannot be set aside and forgotten. As Joseph’s brothers could tell you, this kind of guilt is persistent. Your conscience may remind you about something you did, even if that sin was already forgiven. Something as real as sin needs a real solution to address it. Our huge debt that we owe to God can be forgiven only by an act of His marvelous grace.

And that is exactly what He has done! When Jesus told the parable of the merciful king, He was speaking of Himself. Our debt was taken off our shoulders and put on His. He took care of our sin once and for all by shedding His blood on the cross. His resurrection proved to all creation that the bill has been PAID IN FULL by our merciful King of Kings. God did something very surprising. He did not take revenge on us, like we deserved, but He punished Jesus instead. It wasn’t fair to our Lord at all, but out of that gross injustice came the saving of many lives.

Peter preached a sermon in Jerusalem that sounded a lot like Joseph’s reassuring words to his brothers. This is what he said in Acts chapter 3: You killed [Jesus] the author of life, but God raised Him from the dead. We are witnesses of this. And here the similarity was implied: What you intended for evil, God intended for good, for the saving of many, many lives- your life and mine included this time! Our loving Father has this way of turning evil on its head, of reversing the grim reality of death we have to face, and instead bringing forth life—life that is offered to you today. As Jesus breathed His last on the cross, He pronounced total victory over sin and death. You, as one crucified and buried together with Christ, also died to sin, and you are raised each day with Him, through your baptism, to new life.

Because Jesus died for you and was raised from the dead, God now speaks words of forgiveness to Your hearts and cancels your massive spiritual debt. The righteous demand of full payment for sin has been met; as real as sin is, it has been overcome by the greater and fuller reality of God’s forgiveness. We become the creatures He had made in the beginning, taking on Christ, the image of God. We stand confidently before His presence without blame or spot.

Jesus says to us: Do not be afraid. All has been forgiven. I have taken your sins to the grave with Me and they have no power over you any longer. Rejoice in the new life you now share with Me because I have won the victory over sin and death forever.

It’s true that an assurance like that cannot come from inside you. No amount of self-encouragement can improve your eternal standing. Peace within your heart can only come from God. To know that peace, the peace that comes from God’s forgiveness, acknowledge your utter debt and poverty, that you don’t come before God on your own terms but at His invitation. Confess your sins before God. Plea your case for the sake of His mercy, and you will be assured.

You see, Joseph’s older brothers first tried to approach him on their terms. They turned their guilty conscience’s confession into an indirect order to Joseph. They invoked their sainted father, Jacob, putting into his mouth a last dying wish, as it were, that Joseph would forgive them. You may have given an apology like this: “I’m sorry, BUT this is why you OUGHT to forgive me, it’s only the Christian thing to do…” Human pride can have no part in any confession of sin.

You can tell the brothers completely lost hope when they finally reached Joseph’s presence. There they were in his courtyard, with nothing between them but the unresolved guilt. No longer did they sense having the upper hand to work out a deal for their forgiveness. They were ready to give up and become Joseph’s slaves, because they were so crushed with guilt. Quite a different attitude from the time when they sent the message, isn’t it?

Joseph forgave them. He told them repeatedly: Do not be afraid. He wasn’t going to take revenge; he wasn’t even going to take them up on their offer to make them his slaves. He assured them by saying God turned this evil that they had done into something good. He didn’t say it as though they were right to sell him into slavery 35 years before. He did say that God is in control, as He always is. He spoke tenderly to their hearts; what was broken has now been made right.

God speaks to your heart today, and to your brothers and sisters in Christ. He is here today forgiving you, feeding you with His Body and Blood, that you may have full assurance despite any doubts that might return to you later. You don’t even have to come up with your own apology—He gives you the perfect words to say! Meditate on the words from Psalm 51 that are in the liturgy: Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with your free spirit.

You acknowledge the forgiveness that comes from Christ and what He did for you. It’s not that you repeat certain words like a magic formula, but rather you’re trusting the promise that backs these words up. Believe that God is actually saying to you: I forgive you all your sins, and you will be confident in Him.

As you are confident that your heavenly Father will not take revenge against you, now you are free to abandon revenge against those closest to you who have done you wrong. Instead you may say: “Do not be afraid. What you did hurt me, yes, and I forgive you. God can now make something good come out of the situation.” There is great healing and a great future for our church today- it all starts with forgiveness.

God has come today to give you His forgiveness, and He follows it up with the love that binds us to each other in Christ as His Holy Church. Do not be afraid; confess your sin to God and to each other. Trust in Jesus and He will provide for you and your family, even making good come sometimes out of bad. Do not be afraid.

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

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Sermon for the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost: September 10, 2017

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

Moonset

Moonset

How do you build a kingdom? In this world, kingdoms are built by power. Kingdoms in this world are built by coercion, force, and leverage; by strength, battle and bloodshed. Exploit weaknesses as you climb to the top of the heap. You will often have to tear down one kingdom to make room for another. If people don’t agree and don’t want to do things your way, crush them. This is how you build a kingdom: By power, force, assertion, by an act of will. Look at the Roman Empire that was in control at the time of Jesus: It wasn’t built by kindness, moderation, and sensitivity. It was built by violence, control, and this was their message of cooperation: “Do things our way or be destroyed.”

Every time this year, we remember that we saw an evil sort of worldly kingdom-building on September 11 of 2001. A group of men examined American society and found that it did not agree with their ideals for a religious kingdom. To further their version of a kingdom, they worked to destroy the one they hated. They divided into teams, exploited our nation’s freedoms, hijacked four airplanes, and murdered thousands of civilians-invoking the name of their god in the process. While these attacks could not destroy so great a nation, they were meant as a warning, a strategy to silence and shame…and open the door for more.

It is simply a law of this world. Even defense against threatening evil requires power and force. Our rulers-our elected officials- had the solemn duty to investigate the attacks and identify the guilty for punishment and to defend ourselves from here on out. Throughout the centuries, some have proposed that Christians have no part in such a kingdom where power and violence are necessary to keep the people secure. However, our epistle for this day (Romans 13:1-10) makes clear that using earthly power is necessary while we are still in this world. It is God who appoints rulers, and He gives them the responsibility to bear the sword in defense of what is good. A ruler is “God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil” (Rom. 13:4). Rulers of all kinds are obligated by the Lord to rule justly, to punish the evildoer, and to wage war to protect their citizens from unjust attack.

Christians must support their rulers, provided their rulers are using their power righteously. It is among the duties of the Christian as a citizen to pray for his leaders and nation, pray for the enemy as well, serve his neighbor, and even lay down his life in service to his country. You are a citizen of a nation which relies on power to endure. This is not a bad thing: As long as there is evil in the world, evil must be curbed by law and force. This is how the Lord has established things to be.

Yet for you, as a Christian, this is only half of the story. You are also a citizen of another kingdom, because the Lord Jesus Christ has brought you into His kingdom, made you His citizen. You are part of His kingdom, but it is built on a different foundation. It is not built upon money or power. In fact, when Jesus first sends out His disciples to proclaim the kingdom, He does not instruct them to amass a war chest and armory first; instead, He instructs them to take no money, no extra supplies, not even a staff.

It’s a kingdom of grace. In other words, Jesus does not add you to His kingdom by saying, “As long as you prove your worth and your loyalty by your efforts, I will make you Mine.” He does not declare, “When you stop aiding and abetting the enemy by your sinning, then you are worthy to be My citizen.” And He most certainly does not say, “As soon as you go out and kill My enemies with the sword, then you belong in My paradise.” The god that says these things is a false god. Instead, your Lord Jesus, the true God, says things like, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made in perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9).

The Lord makes you His by taking away your sins. He declares forgiveness because of what He has done; and rather than a show of strength, He calls upon you humbly to confess your sins. He gathers a kingdom made up of the weak, the humble, the lowly, the penitent. These are not usually the qualities that one desires in the citizens of a nation. And this is how His citizens are to act:

If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector. (Matt. 18:15-17)

Remember, building a kingdom of power involves exploiting weakness and using it as a weapon. But when a Christian sins against you, those options are not open to you. In the case of a private sin between him and you, go and show him his sin privately; do it again if you have to. If he doesn’t repent, take a witness or two along, only to urge him to confess his sin; do this several times if need be. If the matter continues, it may be necessary to tell it to the church, so that believers might pray for him and call him to repent. What is the purpose of all of this-to shame the offender and exploit his sin? Not at all-the goal is to bring him to repentance, so that he will be forgiven. Only as a last resort is a stubbornly unrepentant sinner asked to leave the church. It is far easier to confront an offender in a red-faced rage, or alternatively, to act like a victim, and gossip about how someone hurt you, maybe to get some kind of power over them. You figure, if they feel worse, then I have to feel better. That’s the deceptive guarantee that power offers.

But in the kingdom of grace, the Lord Jesus gathers the lowly, weak ones who confess their sin. He forgives them, and then calls for them to forgive and serve each other. It’s a Church built on forgiveness, not force; it’s a kingdom of grace, not power. And it will never work. At least, that’s what the world claims. In fact, it’s a mystery to the world that the Church has survived this long, and no surprise that the world expects the demise of the Church to come soon. This is for two reasons: The world is blinded by sin and thus cannot comprehend forgiveness, and the world is so accustomed to kingdoms of power that a kingdom of grace sounds like sheer nonsense.

Of course, the fellow-Christian who has sinned is also guilty of going for power instead of grace. When one Christian or a whole Church calls upon him to repent so that he might be forgiven, he may obstinately refuse. Instead of confession, he may seek to hurt those who confront him. He might go on the offensive and bring up past-forgiven-sins of others, or he might twist facts and slander those who seek his repentance. This too is not the way of grace. This is trying to use power to get one’s way, to create one’s own little kingdom of authority. If the sinner so persists, the Church is eventually to dismiss him from among the faithful. This is not an act of vengeance: It is a recognition that the sinner has chosen his sin and his private kingdom over against forgiveness and the kingdom of grace. He has made himself an ex-member of the communion of saints; that is why the sad recognition of this fact is called ex-communication.

In the Church, it is far too common to see people in a quest for personal power instead of humble service to God and neighbor. We must agree with the world: It’s a wonder that the Church has survived this long. In fact, it’s nothing short of a miracle. Remember, kingdoms remain only because battles are fought and blood is shed. And yet, the Church in fact has been guaranteed its survival precisely because blood has been shed! The Battle has already been fought and won! But this was not a battle of earthly power, but of the suffering and death of Jesus Christ our Lord. It didn’t look like much of a battle-it looked like one side had all the power. A group of soldiers beat a defenseless man and forced Him through an angry mob to a hilltop outside Jerusalem. They crucified Him and watched Him die. Some battle that was. But this was no ordinary man: This was the Son of God become flesh, and His battle was not against the soldiers and the hecklers. He was fighting against sin, death and the devil. By His death, He destroyed sin’s power, because He has died for all the sins of the world. By His resurrection, He has destroyed the power of death, ripping open the tomb; death can no longer hold His people in the grave. By defeating sin and death, He robbed the devil of his weapons of terror; and thus Christ became victorious forever.

So this kingdom of grace was also built by battle and bloodshed. The Savior shed His blood, and that’s how He has defeated His enemies and built His kingdom. His kingdom stands forever, even though there will still be attacks upon Christians before their entry into paradise. And the Lord Jesus Christ visits His people, gathers them in to His Church and continues to strengthen His kingdom. He promises, “Where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them” (Matt. 18:20). Christians are gathered in the name of Jesus when they gather according to His Word, are baptized in His Name. They are gathered to His holy Supper, where the Lord Jesus gives them His body and blood “for the forgiveness of sins.” Do you see? Your King of grace is not far away: He is present with you, in His Word and in His Sacraments. And by these means of grace, He forgives you your sin. He shares His victory with you and makes you part of His kingdom. He gives you eternal life.

He is there when only a few, even two or three, are gathered. That doesn’t look like much of a power cell to the world; but the number of believers isn’t what matters. What matters is that the Lord is present, forgiving sins and giving salvation. You find yourself in two kingdoms-a kingdom of power and a kingdom of grace. As citizens of this nation, we pray for our rulers and serve our nation, that peace may be established for the good of all. As citizens of Christ’s kingdom of grace, we give thanks for His enduring victory, His forgiveness, and the freedom He gives us to serve and forgive one another. When we fail, we confess those sins and trust in His grace once again. Long ago, the Lord declared, “Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit” (Zech. 4:6). You are not His people by your strength or power, but by the work of His Holy Spirit. By His doing, you are gathered here. By the faith He gives, you believe and rejoice in Christ’s death on the cross, as well as His presence with you now. By this work of the Spirit who brings you into the kingdom of grace, you are forgiven of all of your sins.

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

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