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Sermon for the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost: July 23, 2017

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

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, Jesus does not tell you the parable about the wheat and the weeds in order for you to worry about the weeds. And yet, according to human nature, we tend to focus on the weeds. We are right along with those twelve disciples, disturbed about false believers whom the devil has planted all around us in this world and what is going to happen to them. We cry out to our Master in desperation along with the workers in the story, saying, “If You, Lord, sowed good seed in the field, then why are there weeds?” We even plead with Him to take them away, just so we don’t have to deal with such people, whom we see every day. Even if there’s a risk of so-called “collateral damage,” at least those nasty hypocrites are gone.

Now, if you walk around in a beautiful garden, you could feast your eyes on many colorful and well-arranged flowers, shrubs and trees. But it’s that big, prickly, ugly old milkweed stuck right in the middle that’s going to command your total attention. Or do you notice how the neighborhood seems to change about-face when you drive by that perfectly manicured lawn, then see next door to that an overgrown forest of tumbleweeds?

In Jesus’ story, those weeds sure were a nuisance to the workers in the field. The kind of weed he mentioned in this parable sprouts and comes to a head looking just like the wheat for most of its life cycle. And then when harvest time comes, those “hypocrite” weeds prove themselves to be worthless, even poisonous, and their only purpose is to be in the way. That is why the workers ask the Master if they should uproot those weeds now. It would only make good sense and save the trouble of sifting through them during the busy harvest time. However, the Master wouldn’t hear of it. He goes against what appears to be good sense in order that He might save the wheat from being uprooted. He is so concerned for his precious wheat that He is unwilling to sacrifice even a few of them so that the field would finally be weed-free.

There is hardly any person more despised and hated than a hypocrite. You can probably all think of someone who had at one time acted as though he were your friend, played the part beautifully, only to double-cross you when all was said and done. The same could be true of an unbeliever in the midst of Christians. This false Christian may do all the things true believers do, including praying, reading the Bible, leading a morally upstanding life, going to church and so on. In fact, they may do these things even better and more regularly than genuine Christians do! That’s why some people who have not been coming to church try to justify their decision by saying, “I’ve run into too many hypocrites going there, I don’t want anything to do with them.”

Wouldn’t you just love for God to find out such people, root them out and give them the punishment they deserve? Wouldn’t the Church and our Synod be more effective and holy if people who say one thing and do the opposite were kicked out permanently? Getting back to the parable, wouldn’t the work of harvesting wheat in the kingdom of God be much easier if all the weeds were bundled up and thrown into the fiery furnace? Doesn’t God our Father know what the consequences will be for us His children when He says, “Let both wheat and weeds grow together until the harvest?” Isn’t he aware that may be a big reason why from time to time we run into problems in our church in the first place?

Dear Christian friends, do not focus all your attention on the weeds. It is actually for your benefit that God has allowed both wheat and weeds to grow together in the field of this world. For you, too, have said one thing and done the very opposite. You, too, have acted as though Christ were not your Lord and Savior. Instead, you have trusted in how good you looked before others, what good things you’ve done and how you’ve put those people around you to shame. I have fallen to temptations like these as well. What you and I deserve is to be rolled up right now and bound together with all the other law-breakers like ourselves and cast out of His kingdom forever. The mere breath from His mouth is all that is needed to make us sinners wither away. But the Lord Almighty has waited in his divine judgment so that you could be spared. God has let the wheat and the weeds grow together until the harvest so that you would not be thrown into the fiery furnace, but would instead escape untouched by those flames, just like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who walked miraculously out of the furnace of persecution in Babylon.

For the one who endured the flames of God’s furnace of wrath was Jesus Christ, God’s own Son. For your sake God the Father addressed Him as though He were the cause of all sin and put all the blame on that holy, innocent Man who was nailed to the cross. It was at great cost to the Son of Man that He planted His good seed in the field. In fact, it was watered with the very blood that He shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins and for the remission of your own hypocrisy.

Though you may have acted at times as though you had forgotten Him, He did not forget you, thanks be to God! By His unbelievable grace, you are not weeds, but rather His precious wheat, and He assures you that He will never let you be uprooted or cast away. Your destination is the barn of heaven, the storehouse of our merciful Lord, far from the scorching flames of the fiery furnace. For He Himself on that great harvest day will send His angels to gather you, not with the weeds, but with the wheat, meaning the believers whom God has planted with His Word, watered and brought to maturity in Jesus Christ.

Listen to the Almighty Master’s promise to you, His wheat, given through the Apostle Paul: “We ourselves, [even though we have] the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” And next week you will hear the very comforting words:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?… No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, that is why our Lord Jesus does not want you to focus your attention on the weeds. False Christians and believers falling from the faith will always be in our midst, because God in His infinite wisdom will not pluck them out of the field before the proper time. Martin Luther said in one of his sermons on this parable that wherever God builds for Himself a church, the devil sets up his own base of operations also, in order to taunt and hassle those who are not his. But that should not be a cause for you to despair, for Christ has promised to be with you in any time of trial or persecution. In fact, He says you will conquer through it all especially during those trying times. And even as you groan with a curse- burdened creation and fight against the weed-like nature of your own sinful flesh, the Old Adam that still fights against God, you will still be given the victory most decidedly.

Aloe and Jerusalem Sage

Aloe and Jerusalem Sage


Because of the amazing love of our Lord, among all those weeds there still is wheat! Believe it: The Son of Man has sown good seed. He’s guaranteed that. Children of God are still born into His kingdom, despite the discouraging things we often see. The Father’s will continues to be done among us, even in spite of us. We have Christ’s own pledge right here in His Word that this is so. He says, “All things work together for good for those who love God.” His very Body and Blood, given for the sake of His precious wheat, is here for us and for our salvation as well. With such assurance as this, we look forward to the coming of the end of the age, without fear, because that will be the day when we break forth like the sunrise along with our Risen Lord and Savior, and we will rejoice forever in the kingdom of our Father in heaven. He who has ears, let him hear, and you shall believe, and be saved, for Jesus’ sake.

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

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Sermon for the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost: July 16, 2017

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

Aloes

Aloes


What can you do about your dirt? Let me explain what I mean by that question… Here we have one of the few parables where Jesus Himself explains exactly what the story means, both for His disciples and for you, who are His people of this day and age. As Matthew informs us, our Lord begins His teaching session by getting into a boat, a very common thing to do in a fishing village on the Sea of Galilee, then He pulls out away from shore a little bit, and lets the natural reflective properties of the lake’s water surface magnify His Words to the crowds who had gathered to hear Him. Just imagine a congregation assembled on the shore of a mountain or hillside lake, and you’ve got one of nature’s ready-made amphitheaters, complete with amplification, and this parable in all of its details is the feature of the program. There’s the Sower, who is Jesus, of course. The seed is the Word of God, the hot sun and rocky soil is persecution and shallow growth of the Word in a person’s heart, the hungry birds are the devil’s efforts to mislead our understanding, the thorns are the choking deceitfulness of riches and the anxieties we face in this world. If you have heard or studied this parable before, you probably have made yourself quite familiar with as much of its meaning as I’ve mentioned so far.

But then we get to the soil—notice how Jesus’ careful explanation of His own parable makes no distinction about what happens in the good soil! Why is it that one patch of otherwise fertile dirt yields thirty fold, and another area brings forth as much as a hundred times the harvest? His disciples questioned Him about all the other details in the parable; why would they not press Him also about what this part means? It makes you wonder as you apply this parable to your life as a Christian—what can you do about your dirt? That is, not only are you careful to watch for the big stuff—the persecution, the devil, the worldly cares—so that you take root in fertile soil, but it seems like you should also take note of the fruits that your life bears: be it thirty, sixty or a hundred fold. Wouldn’t you want to be as productive as possible? Isn’t that what God would want for you?

And that is where frustration can enter in. You measure up the difference with other Christians and you start wondering about your soil. You may not have seen anxiety make total shipwreck of your faith, you may not be embroiled in the fires of persecution, and you may not even be tempted to fall into sin on a regular basis. But even so, even if you don’t find yourself planted in rocky soil, you’re not plucked up by the bird’s beak, and the sun hasn’t scorched you, still you find something that’s not quite right. You may not get this feeling all of the time, but it’s more often than you would like. You ask, why can’t I be a bit more diligent in Bible reading and prayer? Why am I complacent about making just a minimum effort at the Christian life? I have my chances to tell a neighbor about the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ, but I too often avoid them and walk the other way. I already know that it is very important to hold to God’s true and pure Word, but there are days when that true and pure Word doesn’t seem to have a hold on me. What’s going wrong?

Many Christian denominations claim to have the answer to that frustration. Commit to the Lord! Make Him your number one priority! Be a disciple, and not merely a member! And it sounds like they have a point. The Law that they are using is in fact the Law that tells you your Christian life has fallen short, has lost its luster, and you are squarely to blame. You have potential, so they say, to yield a hundred fold, that is, be totally on fire for the Lord, be constant in prayer, and outdo one another in showing honor, as Paul says in Romans, but instead you bring forth a fraction of your fruits of faith. Churches should be doing more. Pastors should be more energetic about getting the Word out. Children should be paying more attention to the worship service and the sermon. And as far as the Law of God says these accusatory things, it is most certainly justified in doing so. It’s all true.

There’s one thing missing, though. There is a reason why Jesus does not explain the differences between the yield of thirty, sixty and a hundred fold in the parable of the Sower. The answer lies in the Gospel of forgiveness. With the Gospel, there is no how-to, no formula or recipe for you to follow to get the results you’re after. When it comes to forgiveness, there’s nothing to do, because it has all been done. The Sower Himself grants the yield. The differences between you and other Christians are His matter, not yours. He has spread His costly seed indiscriminately, casting it all over the place. He is superabundant in His grace, freely and willingly paying the high cost of your salvation. He endured the pain of the cross, because it was the eternal punishment that was meant for you because of your sins.

But your sins are remembered no more. Your frustrations are removed, because you fix your eyes of faith not on yourself and your performance, as it were, but you fix your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of your faith. Through the waters of your Baptism, you have already been brought out from death to life. Your Savior has shut the roaring mouths of the Law’s accusations. You are not going to be saved through trying harder. Your dirt is not going to improve its yield because of anything you do. Instead, it will be Christ and His Word of forgiveness to you, His Body and Blood in the Lord’s Supper that will strengthen you, the buried treasure of Scripture that will fertilize your soil for the yield of the fruits of faith that your heavenly Father has had in mind for you from the beginning of time.

When you think of it, there’s nothing for you to do, really, except take yourself out of it all. You are planted as a seedling in your particular area of dirt, remember, so the true work belongs to Jesus working in you. When the Law’s accusations come your way, instead of assuming you can meet them and put a bigger effort into your Christian life, I’d suggest that you admit instead that the Law is right, say that you are a sinner, and bring that confession of repentance to the cross, talk to your pastor for personal absolution and counsel from God’s Word. Leave the results, that is, the yield, whether it’s thirty, sixty, or a hundred fold, as a matter of Christ’s concern and not yours. He has your dirt under His control. Now that you are forgiven and purified by His cleansing blood, He will join Himself to you so that it becomes Jesus who tells others about Himself through you. Jesus and His Words will lead you to pray and work for God’s kingdom in your particular vocation. As Saint Paul wrote, it is not I but Christ who lives in me. All I need to do is get my sinful self out of the way through repentance. This is not an excuse for me to sin more and work against the Lord—that’s what weeds do, and since Christ is the Sower, He did not plant you as a weed. His Word has taken hold of you, and your Lord will not lose His grip, no matter what happens in your life. With His good seed doing the work, He will produce your crop, and at harvest time, He has promised to gather you to Himself in heaven forever more.

The next few weeks in this portion of the Pentecost season, our Divine Service’s Gospel reading will proceed through the rest of the parables that are collected in Matthew, chapter 13. Our Lord Jesus Christ has more of His Word of the kingdom and of the salvation that was meant for you. He is not going to give you mere words of instruction, or demands to serve Him, or a complex of guilt because you have failed Him. He is going to plant the seed of His Word into you, and to make of you the disciple that He has already called you to be. He urges you to get into the boat of the Christian church. In fact, you are right now sitting in what is called the nave of the church building—so you are in the boat with Jesus! And just as the water’s surface magnified His voice at one time on the Sea of Galilee, so today let the remembrance of the water of your Baptism magnify the Word you hear, reminding you that Christ came to be your Lord too, the one who has redeemed you by His Blood. With Him working in you through the Holy Spirit, your frustrations are removed, your sins forgiven, your reconciliation complete. The Lord has sowed the seed. He will also bring you and your works to full completion when you behold God’s face, shining in all glory and blessing upon you.

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

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Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost: July 9, 2017

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

15th Anniversary

15th Anniversary of Pr. Stirdivant’s ordination


Infant Baptism is pretty difficult to grasp for some Christians. You’ve maybe heard something like, “Young children don’t know what’s going on. There’s no way they can understand the Christian faith. They can’t be expected to make a ‘personal commitment’ to Jesus.” They may go on to say, “No one should be Baptized until they’ve ‘grown up’ enough to ‘decide for themselves’ whether or not they want to believe in Christ and belong to a church.” When you first hear it, all this sounds logical. I need to know what and why I believe, right?

What does Jesus say? Does He say, “Let the grownups come to Me, for the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these?” Does He say, “Unless you mature and become like an adult, you’ll never enter into the Kingdom of God?” Of course not! Rather, at every opportunity your Lord shows that little children are the model and example, not of action, certainly they’re not the example of pure innocence, but an example of faith – and that anyone who doesn’t receive His Kingdom like a little child will by no means enter into it. In our Gospel today, Jesus praises the Father for revealing His blessed Gospel to little children – even to infants – and not to wise and learned people. What this means is that in regard to your faith you must become like a helpless little child if you’re to have any hope of entering into God’s Kingdom!

In no time, babies grow up into strong, energetic kids, but at the very first they are utterly helpless on their own. Twenty-four hours a day someone has to do absolutely everything for them – feeding, clothing, cleaning, holding, rocking, or soothing them. And if these things aren’t done correctly, soon the baby would die! Even the infants themselves seem to sense their own helplessness. Consider how a newborn baby automatically searches for his or her mother’s nourishment and soon after birth clings for dear life to the parents whom God has provided for him or her.

You see, that’s where you and I stand in relation to our heavenly Father every day of our life. And that’s true for everyone – whether they will acknowledge God as Creator or not. God makes the rain to fall and the sun to shine on all people – even as He gives them each day their daily bread. As Christians, of course, we recognize God’s gracious hand in all of this. We realize that He has done absolutely everything for us – or else we would die. We look to Him for all we need to support this body and life.

Unfortunately, our sinful human pride often rejects this work of God. That’s why we frequently insist on trying to make it on our own – as we stubbornly make our personal declaration of independence from God and everyone else. All of us are well-aware of how notorious the macho men are for not wanting to ask directions – or for not wanting to go to a doctor when they should. And I’m sure you can find examples of how women can be just as fiercely independent and stubborn in their own way, though I won’t mention any now. All of us take a certain pride in going it alone – in standing our ground against all odds – in being our “own person.” Eventually, however, we reach a point where we realize we aren’t going to make it on our own, no matter how hard we try. Actually, the more you try, the worse it gets! We’re again reduced at that moment to “infancy” in the face of something we simply can’t handle or control. Have you reached that point recently?

It’s the point when God – as He uses the trials of this life – drives you back to Himself and reduces you once again to a child-like, helpless state, it’s then that He reveals Himself to you in Christ and brings you into His Kingdom. Then, “like newborn babies” you hunger and thirst for the precious Word, Body and Blood of Christ your Lord as if they were your mother’s milk. That’s what faith is – a simple trust in Christ – like the trust an infant has in his or her parents. Seek all things from your heavenly Father, in and through Christ your Lord, and rely solely on Him for all you need – for this life, and for the life to come.

Remember the story of Jesus and Nicodemus in the Gospel of John? Nicodemus was actually much closer to the truth than he could ever have known. He was being either sarcastic or was utterly dumbfounded when he asked Jesus: “Can a full-grown man enter again into his mother’s womb, in order to be born again?” Well, yes, in a sense. Jesus told him, “You must be born again and become like a newborn child.” But the womb Jesus spoke of isn’t the physical womb of an earthly mother. Rather, you know it as the womb of the Church and the font of Holy Baptism. For just as the Church is described in the Bible as the Holy Bride of Christ, so also is She described as the Mother of all Christians, like in Galatians 4:26. And in the baptismal font, is where She gives new birth to the children of God. The font you pass as you leave today, that’s where you have received this Kingdom like little children – for that’s precisely what you become here, over and over again in absolution.

Regrettably, though, there’s a negative side to childishness, one that’s not so good to model – that innate mischievous disobedience which causes you to try and crawl out from under the care and supervision of your heavenly Father. Much like restless toddlers or teenagers you rebel from time to time, looking again for “freedom” and “independence” from God. And so you push the boundaries of His authority over you. You find yourself testing the limits to see what and how much you can get away with. You keep striving for that feeling of independence – always wanting to “grow up” and make it on your own – to feel as if you’re actually able to stand by yourself on your own two feet.

And when that happens – that is, when you fail to recognize and seek God’s gracious preservation – when you stop looking to Him for all things necessary to body and soul – when you think you’ve made it – that you’re finally “wise” and “learned” – that’s precisely when the Gospel becomes hidden to you. That’s when Jesus has to invite you once again to come to Him for rest and safety. And He does it gladly, because He knows that if you continue in the false belief that everything, including matters of
the heart, depends on the sweat and labor of your own two hands, you will one day wear yourself down and burn out – both physically and spiritually!

You may feel that you run carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders, but Christ isn’t going to let you go unnoticed. He isn’t going to just write you off. He’s always going to come after you to rescue you from fatal disaster. He’s always going to seek you out and bring you back to the Father. And of course, your loving heavenly Father will always welcome you back home with love and forgiveness. He’ll remind you that you’re His child, and urge you to receive His Fatherly, divine care and mercy. When you recognize the Fatherly hand of God in this way, then you can live your life and go about your work with joy and confidence, knowing that He’s taking care of you, and that come what may, He’s always going to be with you.

That’s why living the Christian life isn’t a heavy burden for those who understand that Christ’s already given us Himself and all good things – including forgiveness, life, and salvation – freely, and with no strings attached. His yoke isn’t just some other burden you have to bear, but it’s a joyful privilege and you share in His life. For the Lord is no cruel Taskmaster, but a gentle Savior. He didn’t make you His child so He could then enslave you and put you to work, but so you might live freely as a member of His household and family. It’s true that the yoke of Christ might at times seem heavy and burdensome, that is, until one of those moments when you find yourself thinking about the possibility of facing life without your faith – without the presence and power of our Lord and Savior. It’s true that there are some who manage to drag themselves through life without Jesus – and at times it seems they’re doing OK without Him – but most of you realize you couldn’t even drag yourself out of bed in the morning, if it weren’t for the hope and confidence that Christ was going with you every step of the way.

That’s why the Gospel we heard today is such great joy and comfort – for it not only reminds you of God’s desire to govern all things according to His gracious will, but it also speaks to you of God’s great gentleness and tenderness toward you in Christ. And on this day you see Christ, the obedient Son of the Father, who humbled Himself unto death, like a sheep being led to the slaughter, as He tenderly invites you to lay all your cares upon Him. He is a gentle Savior caring for His children – inviting you who are weary and burdened to come to Him for rest – so that He can once again make you like little infants, helpless, but fully cared for, as He cradles you gently in His arms, safe and sound forever.

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

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Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost: July 2, 2017

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

Listen to Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, as He says: “Do not suppose I have come to bring peace to the earth.” Someone forgot to tell that to the multitude of the heavenly host of angels when Jesus was born. It looks like they might have been mistaken when they announced to the shepherds in the field, “Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth, goodwill to men.” Instead of that, you heard it right out of Jesus’ mouth in today’s reading, He said as clear as day that peace on earth just isn’t His thing.

Jeremiah 28:9

Jeremiah 28:9 German – If, however, a prophet of peace prophesies, him will one know, whether him the LORD truly sent, if his word comes to pass.

Are you upset? Are you disappointed that you were led to understand that believing in Jesus was going to change your life for the better? Maybe at one time you were convinced that since God loves you, He wants you to be happy. That your family would be free of conflict. That your job would be secure and more than adequate. That your plans for education or retirement would be well-financed. That people would give you the respect you deserve. You tend to follow the desire of most American Christians who long for a God who believes in you, who takes you for who you are and blesses your life. You want your church-going experience to improve your attitude and outlook; you know, make you look on the bright side of things. Develop a deep relationship with God and grow closer with other people who feel the same way you do. You are led to believe that these things are the best of what Jesus can offer to our hurt and broken world.

So Jesus simply is not helping His cause at all when He claims that He’s the cause of division and strife. When your Lord claims not to bring peace but a sword, it appears to set back the success of the Christian Church and puts it farther from its goal of reaching out. If you are worldly-wise, you know already that it’s best to “choose your battles.” Don’t go out and ruin your prospects by nit-picking over details. Someone should tell Jesus what a grave mistake He’s making. Someone should rush the latest survey results straight to the Son of God so that He stops all this talk about tearing up homes and families. People want peace! It’s a very appealing and popular message. They’ll pay handsomely for it, and they’ll even come to Church to get it. Leave well enough alone. You’ve got plenty of the Bible that you can use to say what you want, and then just ignore the rest of the Bible that seems to contradict it.

But suppose for a moment that Jesus is not making a mistake. Let’s just say for the sake of argument that He isn’t the bad guy, and that all this division and strife is really for your good. If that is true, then the peace of God is different from the kind of peace that you have in mind. If a family is at peace, without any contention or division, and yet at the same time does not have Jesus, then whatever peace that family does have is false and misleading. God is not blessing them, rather, the devil is deceiving them. And he may be deceiving you. It’s easy to fall for. It’s easy to have false peace. It’s tempting to make false peace as if it were the kind of peace that Jesus was sent from heaven to win for the world. But Jesus simply won’t let you do that. There’s too much at stake. Your eternal salvation is more important to Him than your temporary comfort in a pleasant state of false peace. Your heavenly destination takes greater precedent than your worldly success. “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.”

And boy, can that sword hurt. It stings with the rejection and dirty looks that you may get at school or work because of your faith. Ask anyone from the Sudan or any soldier who’s come home from the Middle East how bloody the sword of persecution can be. And yet the Christians suffering in these areas are perhaps the ones with the strongest faith in the world today. In your own family, the issue may come up that a couple is living together without the protection and blessing of marriage. You thought they were raised better than that, but you hold your tongue because you don’t want to start a fight. It’s not my place, so you reason with yourself, while the whole time God’s command as well as His promise of blessing remains ignored and despised. Your kids resist coming with you to church. It gets harder and harder to make it happen like it did when they were small. So you relent and give in to them for the sake of peace at home and rationalize that the Church isn’t giving them what they like anyway.

If that’s the peace you want, then you aren’t going to get it from Jesus. For the peace of God, that passes all understanding, is a peace that hurts like the sword. It hurts you because it also hurt your Lord. It cut into His hands and feet, bleeding with every blow of the hammer to those spikes. The peace of God ripped open His side with the centurion’s spear, so that the cleansing flood would wash away your sins and offenses. This peace divides the church because after all it was a group of church leaders and teachers that pushed for the passion of the Christ in the first place. This peace even divides you within yourself, as St. Paul describes of his own Christian life in the Epistle: “What I want to do, I do not do, but what I hate, that’s what I do.” The victorious life on this side of heaven doesn’t always look so victorious!

Romans 7:7

Romans 7:7 German – What shall we say, then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! But rather, I would not have known sin, except for the law…

For though you have often rejected God and His peace in favor of your own, though you have done wrong against your neighbor and your family, you have the promise of God’s true peace because the blood of Jesus paid the price for you to get it. He doesn’t promise you the success and creature comforts that false peace offers to you, but He does guarantee suffering now, and glory later in heaven. This isn’t to say that if you aren’t going through strife and struggle right at the moment, that you should go out of your way to pick a fight. No, like any good soldier, always be prepared to fight, but stay true to your orders laid out in God’s Word, remain faithful to Him in whatever your vocation is, and let your Almighty General Jesus choose the battles.

Give thanks that your Lord and Savior came to bring you not the worldly peace you want, but the heavenly peace that you need. Realize that it is for your good that the worship of the church is not merely entertaining and attention-grabbing, but instead it is a solid deliverer of the precious, divine gift of forgiveness. Be grateful that you have not empty success at home, school, work or church, but rather the painful sword and cross to bear in your life. For although Jesus has destroyed the false peace that you had at one time come to love and cherish, He replaces it with the real peace that the world cannot give, a peace that is sealed with this promise from the Prince of Peace: “Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Dearly baptized children of God, you have already lost your life for the sake of Christ. Welcome to true peace.

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

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Sermon for the Third Sunday after Pentecost: June 25, 2017

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

VDMA

Verbum Domini Manet in Aeternum – The Word of the Lord Endures Forever. Grace Lutheran Church, San Diego

There they were, one Saturday afternoon in Germany: seven laymen, leaders of their communities, a university professor, representatives from the councils of two major cities. All of them were gathered at 3 o’clock on June 25, 1530, together with a massive, standing-room-only crowd that filled the Great Room of the Bishop’s palace. Even more stood outside in the courtyard, their ears bent intently toward every word that emanated out from the open windows.

Augsburg Confession

Augsburg Confession – Title Page


The Holy Roman Emperor had commanded them to travel to Augsburg in Bavaria to submit their statement of faith and offer their support for defending their land from an imminent Muslim invasion. Emperor Charles wanted to hear what they had to say in Latin, but they boldly and fearlessly replied, “If it please Your Highness to consider that since He is hearing us on German soil, we would be grateful to Your Highness if he would allow for our Confession to be read aloud in the German language.”

Then every Lutheran prince stood up and their speaker stepped forward to the middle of the room. In clear and loud voice Chancellor Beyer read the German document he was holding, and the reading, the proclamation, you could say, took about two hours from start to finish.

Martin Luther wasn’t there because he would have been killed on the spot, but that still didn’t make a difference; everyone knew who had made these ideas from the Bible popular once again. One Catholic bishop who attended the meeting said privately that he could find nothing wrong with the statements of faith that he heard, but he could never say so in public because it was one, lonely monk who had the audacity to say that the rest of the Church had it wrong.

But Martin Luther, safe inside the Coburg castle, waiting for the next messenger to arrive from Augsburg, as well as the brave laymen who stood up in that Hall in front of the Emperor, they knew in their very heart the words we heard from Jesus today in our Gospel: “Everyone who acknowledges Me before men, I also will acknowledge before My Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies Me before men, I also will deny before My Father who is in heaven.”

They were fully aware that now was the time for them to acknowledge Jesus Christ and His true message of forgiveness in front of the most powerful man in the land. If they were to shrink back now, then they would be turning their back on their Lord, and that was not going to happen; their eternal salvation meant too much to them to put it at risk.

They also heard the very comforting word of Jesus: Have no fear of them. That means, those things the world throws at you to scare you—don’t allow them to steer you off course even one degree. Be bold! Be courageous! It will not be popular at times to believe in Jesus—so what? You have Him at your side; there’s nothing else that could be better. The hairs of your head are all numbered, which means that God’s careful watch and loving concern cover every last detail of your life, how much more will He be concerned over the greater, more significant problems you will have to face!

As easy as this is to say and to believe, especially since you are sitting here and listening to it as a very familiar statement you might’ve heard many times, it is immensely challenging to keep reminding yourself about this truth. What happens to you when you get rocked with difficulty? What happens when the temptations of this world lure you away from what our Lord has clearly said? Do you fear that you will not have enough of what you are told that you need? Life will certainly be much easier for you if you were to say: you live the way you want, I will live the way I want. Later on, God will sort all this stuff out. Keep me out of it. I’ll just worry about myself.

Augsburg Confession

Augsburg Confession – Latin

Think about this: No matter what political party you like, I’m certain there has been a time or two when you have thought, or perhaps even shouted to the TV at one of our elected representatives in government, saying something like this: Just do the right thing! Stop worrying about where this is going to get you in the polls or the next election! Forget about pleasing the people who had nothing to do with electing you! I’m tired of these men and women of principles throwing those values out the window once they get elected to office!

You may think yourself the last person to get affected by politics, but I must point out to you—those things that drive you crazy about politicians—that’s inside your own human nature too. You have acted as if you and your needs and desires were more important than what God has given you. Your moments of worry and anxiety, however momentarily that they were, still they shook up your total reliance on Jesus your Savior and you let fear of men cancel out your love for Him. A mere moment where you might feel uncomfortable in this life seemed worse to you than an eternity without the Lord your Life giver. You know that whenever you did, thought, or spoke that way, you sinned against God in thought, word, or deed. Just like that frustrating politician, you deserve a shakeup of your senses in which God’s Law shouts at you: Do the right thing!

But fear not, nor fret! When you could not do the right thing out of fear of this world, Jesus did, and He did it all for you. He gave you the calm and patient assurance that spoke deep to your soul: you are of more value to Him than many sparrows. He has rescued you from the utter Divine wrath that had every right to destroy your soul and body in hell. Jesus suffered that destruction for you when He was on the cross dying for you. As we read today in Romans, you are not slaves to sin and fear anymore. You are slaves of righteousness, meaning you now have the freedom to love God perfectly because Jesus, who is in you, He already loves God perfectly. By the free gift that your Savior earned for you, you have eternal life and it will be your highest joy to give yourself in love for the good of your neighbor.

You will have no love for the world and its empty promises. There is no longer a tug at your heart to try to please the people and things that try to be your God, but are nothing like Him. Yes, it will still be tough in these last days before Jesus returns at the End of the world. Brother will hand over brother into death, and father his child, children will rise up against parents and put them to death. Even the closest earthly relationships will try to get in the way of you and Jesus, but evil will not win this victory over you.

Instead, you have delivered one another, including children and parents, into a different kind of death. You are all killed in your sinful nature through Baptism! Sin doesn’t reign in your mortal bodies, because it was crucified with Christ. Parents, you have brought your children to the font to drown the sinner in them and they have been brought back to life as fellow believers. Brothers and sisters in Christ, here in the sight of God and one another, we have through confession of our sins handed our sinful selves into destruction, so that Christ our Lord will then make us a mighty Church, bold with the same faith that they had at the beginning of the Reformation 500 years ago. It means too much to you to think otherwise.

Here we are, one Sunday morning in California in the year 2017. Muslim invaders are still making the news, but as for us, we’re pastor and people, a group of hearers of the Word with various callings all gathered together, with our ears bent intently toward every Word of life that comes from our gracious God. Whether it’s a standing-room-only crowd or a few faithful, whether it’s a fifteen-minute sermon in English or a two-hour Confession in German, it’s the same faith, the same liberating freedom in Christ that they had, and that you have.

One lowly monk may have started it all, but it was the Bible’s Word that he preached that made the difference. As is true with our Lutheran forefathers of long ago, Christ will also acknowledge you before the Father who is in heaven. Why? Because you believe the Gospel Word that has forgiven you all your sins. When you say Amen to that forgiveness, when you trust that all Divine gifts are yours as an inheritance, you are also confessing that Jesus is your Lord, and nothing else evil that happens to you in this world measures up in any way or form to what good lies in store for you. Now is the time to be brave and bold! In Christ you will do the right thing without regard for the hatred of the world, because Christ did the saving thing for you that would secure your everlasting life.

Augsburg Confession - German

Augsburg Confession – German

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

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