Category Archives: main

Sermon for the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost: August 13, 2017

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

Surf, Pt. Loma, CA

Surf, Pt. Loma, CA

Personal preference should never play a prominent role in eternal matters. It will always get you into trouble. Preference belongs to the sinful, fallen world. It is what drove Adam and Eve to rebel against God. It is also what drives advertisers to work around the clock and invest unbelievable sums to figure out what you want, and then sell it to you. When you rely on your own choice, you are in control. Your dreams and goals and desires appear front-and-center, and everything else fades to the background. Why is it understood that the customer is always right? Because personal preference and choice rules the day in this world. But if choice and decision enters the realm of the church, then disaster is poised to strike, and the venom is nearly impossible to remove.

For Choice is an idol, it is a false god that threatens to push you away from the one true God who offers you His gifts through Jesus Christ His only Son. Choice is powerful. It can cover up the death of a person who some doctor says is too young, too old or too sick to live, and so that human being is OK to kill or to assist in suicide, because Choice demanded it. I guess it seems better to people of the world to lose a few million lives, whether infant, elderly or in between, than to give up the right to choose according to your preference. The perversion of marrying someone of the same sex is defended these days based on someone asserting their right of personal Choice. The idol of choice is not just out there in the cruel world. It has already infected the church, too. You can see it when you come across a preacher or a Christian songwriter who emphasizes how important it is for you to make your decision for Jesus. Being a Christian, as it is often portrayed, should be your preference, and no one can make that decision for you. And many are led astray from what the Bible clearly teaches on salvation because when you are worshiping the idol of choice, you are really worshiping yourself.

As it is with every idol and false god, you become enticed by what looks good. You follow your preference because you know it will give good results for you. Some of the most ancient idols known to archaeology are gods that were thought to provide fertility for people and crops. Eve chose to eat the fruit from the forbidden tree because of what she saw. Genesis 3 says Eve saw that the fruit was pleasing to the eye and she desired to gain wisdom. Another way to put it is that she was afraid that God was keeping away from her a wisdom that she needed. Either way, she and her negligent husband Adam exercised their preference based on what they saw, and they did not obey the Word of God that they heard. If you’ve ever read the book of Judges, you would have seen a refrain that is said repetitively about the multiple rises and falls of the nation of Israel before the time of King David. Whenever the people disobeyed God and fell away, the historical record says: everyone did that which was right in his own eyes.

The false god of choice and preference takes what you see or experience and makes it drown out the Word of God that you hear. Because of that, it quickly attacks the very foundation that keeps the Church standing and causes Christians to sink into doubt and despair. Preference converts faithful hearers, and receivers of God’s gifts into demanding stockholders. It changes preachers of the Word into chief executives who must meet the bottom line or else they’re out on their ear. People don’t come, or they stay away, so the reasoning goes, because the church doesn’t meet their preferences. They can find something else that they would rather do. Sadly, churches change today not because they want to be true to the Gospel, but rather they want to compete for the choice of an untapped market of warm bodies. Try us out, world! We’ll make it worth your while!

In no place does the Bible ever encourage you to follow your personal preference. But there might be no better biblical story that destroys that idea completely than the story of Peter walking on the water to Jesus, then sinking, and then getting rescued by His outstretched hand. I cannot say for sure because the Bible doesn’t address it, but I’m pretty confident to assume that before this particular night, Peter never did have the inner desire to walk on water. I’d be surprised if the thought had ever before crossed his mind. Peter simply would not be waiting with bated breath for the opportunity to try doing it. The decision to walk on water did not appear to be the better choice by what Peter saw. It would seem silly for him to walk on water toward a ghost if all he wanted to do was prove how brave he was and earn the bragging rights and brownie points from his peers. The thing that makes the difference here in this biblical account is the Word that Jesus spoke.

Peter and the other disciples were being deceived by what their eyes saw. Because of the huge storm, a boat trip that usually only took a few hours was lasting long into the night, so long that the Roman guards changed shifts four times at their posts, which is what the “fourth watch” means. What those in the boat saw were the waves and wind pushing them back. They saw that they didn’t have Jesus to calm this storm for them. They saw that they were alone. But then as if it couldn’t get any worse, something was coming closer to them, something that brought them even more fear. Sure, you know now that it was Jesus, but the way those disciples saw Him, based only on what their eyes were telling them, it was a ghost, that is, an evil spirit perhaps impersonating someone else. It required hearing the Word of God to calm down the fear that was produced by what they saw. “Take courage. It is I. (Literally, He said, “I AM,” which is the Holy Name of God.) Don’t be afraid.” That was a powerful Word. That is what turned the tide for these frightened disciples. What they heard immediately changed for them what they saw. Those words from the lips of Jesus were what inspired courageous faith in the heart of Peter. Based on what Jesus said, and not on his natural, sinful, personal choice, Peter then requested to hear yet one more powerful Word from the Lord: he wanted to hear the word, “Come.” And that Word, not the determination of Peter, was all that was needed to enable his feet for a brief moment to stand on top of the water just like Jesus. What he heard with his ears was taking the proper precedence over what he saw with his eyes.

But not for long. Because his eyes were going to take over again. He would be deceived by what he saw. He would be quickly distracted from the Word of Jesus. His preference was to doubt the Lord, and that choice got him into trouble. As Jesus said, Peter had little faith, but that little faith cried out to the only one who could save his life. As this disciple found himself in the depths of death, he had nowhere to hold, except the outstretched hand of the Son of God. When He who formed the heavens and the earth in six days has you in His firm grasp, I’d imagine you would feel safe and secure, too. Wouldn’t it be nice to have that now, with what you might be going through?

Well, that’s what you’re receiving here right now. You have heard the powerful Word of God. You have His real, true Body and Blood standing here before you on this altar. For Jesus is not just simply a powerful weather man or water-walker. He has wiped out your sin as well. Though you have sunk into the depths of rebellion against God, your Savior is right there to pull you up. He has taken away your idolatry to choice, and He made that sin nail Him to the cross to die for you. As He is risen from the dead, just as surely are you forgiven from following your preference. As you are moved by the gift of the Holy Spirit, you now make the new choice to give up on your sinful self. You are empowered by what you hear, and not by what you see. By the way, reading sign language and the written Word of Scripture is also considered “hearing.” And what do you hear? “Take courage! He who is the I AM is here for you! Don’t be afraid anymore. Your sins and poor choices will not drown you.”

Be glad that you worship the Lord simply by hearing this powerful Word, and not by your doing something different that might momentarily please your personal preference. Come to this place as a refuge for your soul, as a fountain of rich and lavish gifts that you could never choose for yourself, and not as you would go to a concert or video arcade or theme park. Hear with your ears what your eyes cannot yet see, that is, the true heavenly picture of worship as you are joining angels, archangels and all the company of heaven including the blessed saints who have passed away before you.

By the time you leave this place, you will probably have been distracted from the Word of Christ by something else that seems better right now to your eye. But let your little faith rest assured that Jesus is right there walking upon Baptismal water combined with the Word to rescue you just as He did sinking Peter. Though you may fear from time to time for your family to stay together, or for the boat of the Church that seems to be on the verge of sinking, take courage; don’t be afraid. He who is the I AM still speaks through His powerful Word. Miracles still happen, and if you aren’t walking on water, then you’ll be assured to know that, even better, your merciful Lord Jesus is already with you in the boat.

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

Sermon for the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost: August 6, 2017

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

the grass

He told the crowds to recline on the grass.

The multitudes were “going without” – specifically “going without” food. The people were hungry. They were needful – even as you often see yourself in the same desperate way. The money always dries up toward the end of the month. Your health or physical condition is not at the level you would like. Your emotions or those of your family irritate you to the point of insanity. You are going without, and so you face a problem where it looks more and more likely that there isn’t a solution. You find yourself in a condition that seems beyond help. And isn’t it that very condition which then prompts you to ask the question, “Why?” “Why do I have to endure suffering and lack such as this?” “Why must I simply ‘make do’ with it?” “Why can’t the Lord send down a miracle like multiplying the bread and fish?” “All I’m asking for is for just enough to live peaceably and comfortably – just enough so that I don’t have to be in constant pain, persistent anxiety, or scrimp from week to week.” Is that asking too much?

And there it is, right there. Wondering if you’ve asked too much. There’s where you are in danger of losing or damaging your precious faith. Because it’s not a case of asking too much, but actually of not asking for enough. What do I mean? Why stop with asking just for material gain, or for the greater ease of your mental and physical anguish? Why not just go all the way and ask for an absolutely perfect life? After all, wasn’t it Jesus Himself who once said: “Ask for anything in My name … and you shall receive it?” You and I, you see, we seem to have this tendency to view everything backwards – or at the very least, with a severely limited and often self-centered point of view. While God constantly provides for you in His Holy Word a glimpse of transcendent, everlasting life, you tend to be too busy fretting about this miserable and temporary life. While God wants us all to look at suffering and lack of things with a heavenly perspective, we insist on starting with the bad and letting that influence the way we look at the good.

Among the most important lessons to be learned from a familiar miracle story like this is that you must recognize that, on your own – at least apart from Christ – you have nothing of value to offer God. Look again at the first part of the Gospel. I want you to note something about this multitude which followed Jesus. They had nothing – and that’s not simply in terms of food. What I mean is that these people had nothing about them which would cause God to love them. Do you see that they were just like you?

Now Jesus had just received news that John the Baptist had been beheaded by King Herod. It was just described in the verses immediately before the feeding of the 5000 was recorded in Matthew. That event was terrible news for Jesus to hear. A boastful, power-drunk king would rather save face than kill an innocent man. But before you get too offended, you must remember that according to God’s Law you too are also murderers. For Jesus Himself has said that even hating someone in your heart is the same as murder in God’s sight – as is failing to help and befriend our neighbor in every bodily need, as the Catechism explains. So, no less than King Herod, each of us sinners are murderers too. And as such, there’s nothing that you can find within you—whether it is years as a church member, or family pedigree, or amount of “sweat equity” you’ve built up—none of that would invoke God’s love – nor would it dissuade Him from punishing you.

And yet there’s still good news for you, for even though the crowd that pursued Jesus out in the countryside had no redeeming qualities – we’re told that Christ’s heart went out to them. He was moved with compassion for them and healed their sick ones. And so, without reason, without logic, and without any just cause, our Lord Jesus fed them. Think about the congregations in Texas and other border states that were sending food and necessities to the illegal immigrant youths because they were moved with compassion for them. Is that wise? They see them as their neighbor, as the Bible describes one. Do they risk catching the diseases that the children may be bringing with them across the border? Are they putting their very lives on the line, or potentially encouraging more lawbreaking and violence to happen? Could they be publicized as mere political pawns and fodder for sound bites on the news? Quite possibly. Perhaps they found a way both to support the proper enforcement of the law and show mercy to those in need. Jesus feeding the multitudes didn’t make human sense, either. Then He went beyond that loving gesture to sacrifice His own life on the cross for miserable, sinful creatures – even for you.

Isn’t it amazing, that here we are, a people who are so caught up with amassing the table-scraps of temporal things for ourselves, while God’s desire is to bless us with so much more, with the ultimate banquet. Here we are so busy trying to get our hands on the mere five loaves of bread and two fish. Yet at the very same time Christ has already secured for us that heavenly food which will satisfy our greatest need – that food which will bestow upon us everlasting life. Most specifically, that meal is His very own body and blood given and shed for us sinners to eat and drink for the forgiveness of our sins and to strengthen our faith and declare to one another our unity in confessing the one, true Christian faith.

The clues are in today’s Gospel. Did you notice them? If you didn’t, look again at the miracle of feeding the five thousand. It’s really quite significant. First, the people reclined. Then, Jesus took the bread, gave thanks, broke it, and gave it to His disciples. Does it sound familiar? It ought to. It can’t be an accident that this was the very same action Jesus used when He instituted the Lord’s Supper on the night He was betrayed. And notice also what happened when the meal was concluded. There were twelve full baskets left over. It can’t be a coincidence that there are also twelve Disciples – twelve who would carry on the office of Christ and distribute His gifts to the Church. In just the same way, the Pastors of Christ’s Church have continued to do right up to the present day in the stead and by the command of their Lord, and not to fulfill the whims of whoever controls their livelihood.

In Christ, dear friends, you’ve already been given everything you need. You have as your possession the forgiveness of sins, the sanctified life, salvation, and the promise of an eternal home in heaven. Nothing you might think is lacking in your life can ever supersede or replace what God’s already given you in Christ Jesus through His Word, through His Spirit, and through His Church. You may have recalled a reading last week that said throughout your tribulation, distress and persecution, you remain more than conquerors through Him Who loved you! It’s all yours. Just ask for it. But now if that’s so, why do you still have to go through tribulations? Why do you have to put up with heartache? Why doesn’t God simply give you deliverance like you request; or freedom from the pain of this world? Well, that is precisely because you are God’s elect, the ones chosen for eternal life, and so therefore He allows these things to happen.

That’s what explains that whole part about how all things work together for good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose. Well, the fact is that you have been baptized and called to faith so that you might partake of eternal salvation. And the “things which work together for good,” are described plain as day: “tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, and sword.” God allows those who are His elect to experience such things. Why? Because in the midst of it all you have no other choice but to place your faith in God alone for all things. In your own limited wisdom and understanding you could never fathom how any of this could possibly be for your benefit. And so you simply have to take God at His Word.

You have to accept things in your life the way they are because He says so? Does that make God indifferent or uncompassionate toward you? Not at all – but rather it reveals He has such great love and mercy that He was willing to give up His own Son for the guilt of our sin – and all so that He might then grant you the full assurance, that already in this life – through the Gospel-word-and-sacrament ministry of His Church, which you sing and speak in the liturgy, that nothing – “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate you from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Can you see yourself among those spiritually hungry crowds following Jesus? Are you faced with the struggles that come with being a faithful Christian in our world today? If so, then you can see your life in the life of Jesus Christ. By faith, His life belongs to you just as much as you belong to Him. In Him you live, and move, and have your being. And if your life is in Jesus, what are you lacking? Nothing. What do you have to be anxious or worry about? Absolutely nothing. And what do you have to look forward to? Absolutely everything – everything in Jesus – both now and forevermore – for His sake – and in His name.

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

Sermon for the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost: July 30, 2017

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

What makes something a treasure? Usually we think of something that’s treasured because perhaps it is old or scarce. Who says that those dollar bills, they’re just pieces of linen/cotton paper that are or are not in your wallet or purse, depending on the day, who said those had the value that’s printed on them—and maybe we shouldn’t venture to answer that touchy question today! How about this: It’s well known that one person’s trash can be another person’s treasure, so where is there a standard that you can find that will tell you for certain, this is valuable? What lunatic would just decide one day to hold up some random thing in his hand and start saying to everyone, this is the most precious thing in the whole world! What other lunatics would actually believe him?

When Jesus told His parables, sometimes they were stories that seemed pretty self-explanatory. A few of them He explained Himself. Other parables take some time to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest. The three in our Gospel today go fairly quickly compared to the other stories He’s told, then our Lord concludes with a final comparison that emphasizes what Jesus’ words do for us today.

Luther Rose and opals

Luther Rose and opals

In fact, that’s where I want to start: Jesus said, “Every scribe who has been made a disciple for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who tosses out of his treasure new things and old.” This should tell us that we can never be here in this space, listening from this pulpit, just so we will have more information in our heads. There’s more going on here than my telling you something to do, or passing on mere Bible knowledge, as good as that certainly is. Instead we are here for a true interaction with our Lord and Savior.

You are here to meet the source of your forgiveness and everlasting life Himself. From Jesus, the true Master of this house, you are to obtain not mere knowledge, but true wisdom with a goal, a point- you are witnessing God’s kingdom coming here among you. Treasures both new and old are being dished out to you, since the old promises have come eternally true in Jesus Christ and you are His beneficiaries. You belong to Him, and He belongs to you, forever.

That is the best answer to what can be a very confusing question: the kingdom of God, or the kingdom of heaven as we read the title in this Gospel reading—is it something we seek out, like a man who found a treasure, sold everything and bought the field just to have the treasure? Or is it something Jesus did to seek us out, give up His life, His everything, sold out His utter perfection into the shame and suffering of the cross just to redeem us, to buy you back from your sin and make you His treasured possession? And the predictable answer to many potentially confusing either-or questions that we come up with is, it’s both!

First, it is true that Jesus did everything in order to secure you as His precious treasure. It was for your sake that He came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. He willingly put Himself under the law that He made in the beginning, and brought it to ultimate fulfillment. He not only kept every rule perfectly, like you or I could never do, He also allowed the law’s punishment to land only on Him, even though it had been meant for you and all the human race.

Jesus your Lord sold all He had, as His own parable describes, He emptied Himself to gain you as His treasure, even though it was hidden in the dirt of your sins and failures, He went through all the effort that was necessary to claim you. It was this great effort that made you a treasure when nothing else about you would have said you deserved to be called that at all. It wasn’t because you had the traits or qualities of a treasured possession, nothing of value existed in your heart. But Jesus made sure that nothing, neither height nor depth, death nor life, would separate you from Him.

He cast the net that caught you like a fish, you didn’t have to make the effort to swim and jump into His boat! Coming into His kingdom by your own power was impossible. He hauled you in, that’s what He gave the Holy Spirit to do in your heart, that is, to give you the faith that trusted in all that Jesus did for your sake. Aware of it or not, believe it! You are God’s precious, chosen treasure, cleansed and forgiven in the Blood of Jesus Christ.

Remember the answer I suggested to you, whether the treasure of the kingdom of heaven was something we seek out, or it is Jesus who sought us? Well, now here’s the other side of that both-and answer. Once it is clear in your mind and heart that you belong to Jesus, no matter what, that He has washed and redeemed you, given you the pure faith in your heart to believe in Him, claimed you as His own, then it is important to let you know that He has also changed you. The ugly sinner in you has died, was crucified with Christ, and now what the Catechism calls a new man shall daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever. That means that with the Holy Spirit dwelling in you, you are different, your love for the Lord has been kindled, your desire to serve Him and your neighbor totally selflessly is renewed like it has never been before. Your sins still try to tempt you and plague you, but you have been given mastery over them, thanks to Christ, who has promised to forgive you.

This is what happens to you when you find out what a massive spiritual treasure lies hidden together with the free forgiveness that you know you have already received. There is so much more than forgiveness, which is a wonderful gift in itself, you have been set free. But then God wants to increase your awareness of His love, He wants to bring you closer and closer to Him so that you are one with Him, joined inseparably. He makes no demands in the sense that He threatens taking away your gift if you don’t act right, He simply calls you to follow Him because of the love that He has placed in your heart.

Since Jesus went willingly to do all that He did to purchase you as His treasure, you respond in a similar way. You now willingly go and put your life on the line, making it your total goal and aim to serve others just as selflessly as Jesus served you. Along with Saint Paul, you also see nothing in this world that is better than this treasure. “Whatsoever gain I had I counted as loss for the sake of knowing Christ.” You know what is the highest priority in your life- it’s Jesus. You then go out of your way looking for opportunities to share His love that resides in you.

Yes, you do commit to your Lord your whole life and all you have as your offering to Him, not only because He commanded you to do this, but because now it is your heartfelt desire to sacrifice yourself for the sake of others. Long ago the wise words of God were recorded in Proverbs: “My Son, … if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.” It would bring you no greater joy in your life than to keep on seeking out this treasure, this Savior Jesus, whom you already have as your own.

Bad things and twists and turns will still be there in your life, you’re not going to get rid of that until Christ comes again in glory, but you now know for yourself what Paul wrote about: “All things work together for good for those who love God, that is the same as, those who are called according to His purpose.” Without Jesus going first and purchasing you, making you His treasure, you would have no reason to believe that whatever you’re going through was ever going to work out for good. It seemed to be some random thing that made a believer and a treasure out of plain, old, you. Now that you know and believe that God had in mind to make you His own right from the very beginning of time, well, every moment you have when you listen to God’s Word, when you attend this Divine Service, when you remember you have been baptized and declared a child of the Heavenly Father, that’s when you know you are receiving precious treasures being tossed to you from Jesus’ storehouse, His treasure chest. I your local scribe and steward of the gifts of God, am happy to dispense these precious things, new and old, to you, for Christ has declared by His permanent command, they are yours.

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

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.

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

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



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.

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.

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.

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

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


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.

Sermon for the Second Sunday after Pentecost: June 18, 2017

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

Green Altar Parament

Green Altar Parament

Jesus could have taught the message of His kingdom in so many other ways. What if He sent out legions of angels to declare it to multitudes? He could’ve used a loudspeaker from heaven for all to hear at the same time. He could just sit in the temple and summon all nations to come to Himself. He could do whatever He wants: He’s the Son of God. But instead, we see Him picking twelve men to go and tell.

They go, and they know two things at this early time in their education: they’ve been given a Word, and they’ve been sent. There’s no making up the message as they go along, but they proclaim the message that has been generously given to them. They don’t perform wonders and healings out of their own magic hat of powers. Instead, they’re going to work wonders because Jesus has given them the power to do so. They’re not even going out on their own, but they’re going because they’ve been sent. Freely all this has been given to them. Now they may go and give the Gospel for free.

Imagine the crowds that gather around them. They gather in order to see the Savior, but here they get the understudies instead. Perhaps some leave disappointed or disgusted before the disciples open their mouths. Perhaps they feel like Jesus has let them down by not coming personally, or because the student is never better than the master. Those are typical human reactions, but humans are typically wrong with God’s things. The Lord is not unfaithful. This is His way. This is His order. Jews first, Gentiles soon to come. When the disciples heal the sick, the sick are healed. When they cleanse the lepers, the lepers are cleansed. They raise the dead; the dead are raised. They cast out demons; demons flee.

Why? Because it’s not them doing it. Thaddaeus isn’t saying to the sick, “In the name of Thaddaeus, be healed.” Bartholomew isn’t saying, “In the name of Bart, come out of them.” Demons aren’t afraid of Bartholomew. But they are afraid of Jesus, and the disciples speak in Jesus’ name. He’s sent them; and by His Word, He is there with them. When they preach, “The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand,” it’s true because the King is there by His authority and Word. And, when the disciples tell the people that their sins are forgiven, their sins are forgiven. Not because the disciples are forgiving them, but because really, Jesus is. That’s what He sent them to do. That’s what He gave them to do. Freely they have received. Now they freely give.

One of the favorite Sunday School and Vacation Bible School stories to tell is the one about the prophet Balaam in Numbers 22. As you may recall, the unbelieving King Balak sent the prophet Balaam to curse the people of Israel. However, as Balaam rides his donkey toward the people, God opens the mouth of his donkey and the donkey talks. The donkey rebukes the prophet Balaam, and Balaam blesses God’s people instead of cursing them. Pastors like to say this:

“If God can speak through Balaam’s donkey, then He can speak through me, too.”

Beyond the laugh, there’s an important point. In His wisdom, with a world full of lost and wandering sheep, God has chosen to spread His kingdom in a most curious way: He wants sinful human beings to speak His Word. He calls pastors in the Holy Ministry to preach that Word publicly, on behalf of His Church; and pastors can be quite a strange bunch. Despite the quirks and personality failings, however, the Lord still uses them as His instruments. Not just them, though: every Christian, tempted though they may be by sin and weakness, every believer has the privilege of telling that Word about Jesus to others. That is how the kingdom of God spreads.

Why is that? It is not the people. It’s the Word. The Lord Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, is present by His Word: the kingdom of heaven is at hand because our King is at hand. The same Savior who went to the cross to die for the sins of the world, now comes in His Word to give that forgiveness to individual people—to you and me and all who will hear. Jesus is present where His Word is. Add that Word to water, and He’s there in Baptism. Add that Word to bread and wine, and He’s present in His Supper.

It’s the Word that’s powerful—not the person speaking it. It’s the same Word with the same power that heals the sick, cleanses the leper and casts out demons in the Lord’s time. By that Word, Jesus comes to give forgiveness and faith and life, to turn wandering sinners into the people of His pasture, the sheep of His hand. It’s that simple.

Can the people who are sent get into trouble and stand in the way of God’s Word? Of course, they can; even though the Lord is faithful, sinners are sometimes not. Sometimes though, people place their hope in the preacher’s great charisma. If his style is engaging and holds interest, then that must make the Word powerful. If he is less interesting or has a bad day, then the Word maybe isn’t so powerful. If this is true, that means that God is only as faithful and powerful as the sinful man who is preaching the sermon. It means that God’s power varies based upon how much sleep the pastor got the night before. This is an extremely seductive temptation in our culture and society, because image is emphasized so much. People judge books by covers, and companies spend millions of dollars to make sure that their products have the right packaging and an exciting ad campaign.

We are easily tempted to judge the quality of anything by how well it holds our attention. Old Adam inside you and me makes sure that we judge the power of God’s Word on the same criteria. Pastors suffer this temptation, too; they can believe that their personality or style make the Word more effective. It’s simply not true. However, repent and rejoice! The Word’s power is not bound by the personality of the speaker. Where the Word is, Jesus is. Where Jesus is, there is forgiveness and life.

Crown with Chi-Rho

Crown with Chi-Rho

Some may fall for the opinion that only pastors have the ability to share God’s Word. Sure, only a pastor is given God’s holy orders to preach in a setting like this, for the benefit of God’s congregation in the Divine Service, but the misconception is that if a layman shares the Word with someone in their daily life, it’s just information but nothing more, like a recipe or a news broadcast. It tells about salvation, but it doesn’t save the person hearing the good news. If this is true, then God would have made a mistake when He told us to forgive those who trespass against us! No, you give forgiveness with the same power that the pastor has been given.

In fact, Christians meet and spend time daily with all sorts of people whom the pastor will never meet, and each believer has the joy of telling of the hope they have in Christ. Sadly, many believers balk at the thought of doing so. “I don’t know what to say,” is one excuse, well, why not? With Bibles to read and sermons to hear and classes to attend, what prevents you from not knowing? Simply tell other people about Jesus—about His ministry and miracles, His death on the cross and resurrection; about forgiveness and the hope of eternal life. “Oh, but I’m not a very good speaker.” Neither were Moses or Paul, and I suspect that Balaam’s donkey wasn’t usually eloquent either; yet God used each of them. “People won’t listen to me.” Careful, now; because that’s like saying that the power of the Word depends on you, not on Christ. I can assure you that people don’t always listen to pastors more than anyone else. Once again, it’s the Word—not the person who speaks it. “I don’t like talking to strangers.” That’s okay. Talk about Jesus to each other. To your kids. Your grandkids and other family members. A good friend who’s curious about your faith. The Lord will provide opportunities.

That’s how the Lord spreads His kingdom on earth: He sends out His Word. He gives His people, you and me, the privilege of telling it to others. He gives us the honor, despite our sins and weaknesses, of being His instruments to tell others of Jesus; and He promises that His Word will not return to Him void, but will accomplish what He sends it forth to do, whether or not there’s a huge crowd coming to hear it. Where people do listen to us and rejoice with us, that’s when we give thanks and glory to God. Where people reject the Gospel we proclaim, we remember that people rejected Jesus, too, and we give thanks that He counts us worthy to suffer for His name’s sake.

But as you speak His Word, rejoice most of all in this: Jesus first speaks that Word to you. Freely you have received; only then do you freely give. Your salvation this day is not based upon how well you evangelize, how many people you tell about Jesus, or how well you tell the great story. God’s gifts are already yours because Jesus has already died on the cross to save you. By the mouths of people in your life—parents, pastors, friends, and others—the Lord has told you of forgiveness; and whenever you’ve heard that Word, He has given it to you. He could have done it any way He wanted; this is what He wants.

So it is this day, as we gather here. It has all been about God’s saving Word. As the Gospel is spoken, it speaks and delivers forgiveness. So on this day you rejoice: you have not just heard about forgiveness today. You have not just been told you have to go and spread the kingdom by telling others. But most importantly, by that Word that you have heard today, you have been made a part of that kingdom, you have been healed by Jesus the merciful Savior, you have been forgiven of all of your sins.

Cross and Crown

Cross and Crown

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

Sermon for the First Sunday after Pentecost; Holy Trinity: June 11, 2017

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

White Parament

White Parament

The celebration of Trinity Sunday is unique. Unlike Christmas, Easter and Ascension Day, there appears to be no historical event that has taken place upon which this church festival can build. The Trinity didn’t happen; the Trinity…just is. If a church happens to have been named Trinity Lutheran, like many are in the Missouri Synod, then this day can be a special namesake celebration for them, just like Good Shepherd Sunday last month was special for us. But we have all heard the true statement that is often pointed out- the word “Trinity” is not in the Bible. No that term is not there, but the God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, yet at the same time one true God, most certainly is professed all over in Scripture. The name, which was constructed out of the words three and one, describes succinctly what our Triune God revealed to us His Church through centuries of prophets, apostles, and most importantly, the Son of God Himself who came to our world clothed in perfect, untainted human flesh.

Since the Trinity is a confession of doctrine more so than an event that occurred, and since our congregation does not go by the name of Trinity Lutheran, it may be difficult for us to find a clear reason why we should celebrate Trinity Sunday, other than, it shows up on our Church Year calendar. The Athanasian Creed goes on and on about three persons, one God, not three Lords, nor three Uncreateds nor three Infinites, but One Uncreated and one Infinite. Then, this third creed that we don’t see as often shocks us with the statement that we will have to believe this unwieldy, confusing, complex statement called the “catholic faith,” believe it perfectly or else we cannot be saved. Based on everything else you’ve heard preached in a Lutheran Church, it would be very likely that you might hesitate a second: just what is the purpose of celebrating Trinity Sunday, anyway?

Thankfully, the Bible, which is God’s Word from God’s mouth, produced by the work of God’s Holy Spirit, does not speak to us using lots of difficult terms like we read in the Athanasian Creed. The Bible, rather, unfolds for us a story, our true history, and little by little our Lord reveals more and more of Himself as He speaks His Word to us. We read about the Creation this morning—here’s the Trinity: God the Father, spoke forth His eternal Word with His Spirit fluttering over lifeless waters and then there was light, there was Earth, there was Sky, there were seas, birds, fish, land animals, creepy crawlers and, finally, Man in God’s image, created to be male and female, and it was all good! In that momentous event, the very beginning of our universe, God showed us a little of who He is, but the entire picture of Father, Son and Holy Spirit was not yet fully disclosed.

Jesus had called His disciples and said simply, Follow Me. At first, that’s all they had to go on. As He taught them, these students understood more about who Jesus really is and what He came to do for the redemption of the world. There was no complex doctrinal statement with legal jargon that they had to grasp perfectly and

then sign on the dotted line. They simply trusted that Jesus was teaching them the truth, beginning from the basics. These students of the faith needed to witness our Lord’s brutal crucifixion and death. They needed to meet face-to-resurrected face with Christ who conquered death. Jesus lovingly reminded them that all these things that they experienced came true because their Lord perfectly fulfilled His Word. And then something wonderful happened.

Finally, with all of those lessons learned, all of those precious gifts received from the great Teacher, then it was time to reveal the greatest mystery behind it all. Then, after all was completed, Jesus spoke of the Trinity. He said, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things I have handed on to you.” As we read today in the last chapter of Matthew. Only then did Jesus speak this full, majestic and excellent Name to the disciples. It was like the entire story from Creation up to that very minute had come to fulfillment, and then it was time for these apostles to spread out into the created world and make more students, more disciples just like they were.

Yet we read that they doubted, even while they were worshiping Jesus! Actually, it was more of a hesitation than it was a hardened, I won’t believe at all, kind of doubt. Sure, I believe, they must have thought, but something is just in the way at the moment. I need help. That’s what was troubling these disciples as they were coming closer to the moment when they will not see Jesus any longer.

Where has been your moment of hesitation? For some I would guess it might have come from a significant change in your life. For others, it has been a gradual gnawing at your spirit—sure I believe, but there seems to be some little thing in the way. I don’t feel it’s important to give a portion of my time or my treasure to the Lord. I’m confused about why the church teaches against living together before marriage or against homosexuality or transgenderism. I have questions that seem too tricky to resolve in my mind. I have friends or loved ones who challenge me and what I should think is right as I deal with them—I don’t want to lose them just because something they’re doing is going against God’s Word.

You are not alone with those hesitations and questions. You are not in danger of condemnation to hell if they pop into your mind. Jesus’ own disciples worshiped Him in those last days that they saw Him, but also they hesitated. It was a problem that they could not fix or resolve for themselves by their own reason or strength. Jesus Himself knew that about His disciples, and He knows that about you, His own dear children. That’s why even while His students were hesitating, Jesus came to them! He had said earlier that No one comes to Me…unless… unless God the Father draws him to me. He also said I am sending you the Comforter, the Holy Spirit who will guide you into all the truth. See, there’s the Trinity again! We confess that God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit precisely to save you, and to help you in your doubts, questions and even slight hesitations. You didn’t have to grasp it perfectly and completely in your head, but your Lord made it possible for you to believe it with all your heart.

There was even an event that happened for you, an event in which the Holy Trinity actually came into your life and changed you forever! That was the moment of your Baptism; the moment when water was combined with God’s Word and administered with God’s Command- the Command to make disciples by baptizing in My Name, as Jesus said. So, when you celebrate the Church Festival of the Holy Trinity, you are celebrating again your own baptism. Every day you remember your baptism when you admit your sins to God in confession and believe that you have received forgiveness from the pastor as from God Himself in the Absolution.

White Parament on the Pulpit

White Parament on the Pulpit

Take a look at that Baptismal font as you leave today. There in Baptism the Father begets you anew. There the Son cleanses you from all sin and delivers you from every death. And there, in the waters of Holy Baptism, the Holy Spirit gives and delivers you into your Lord’s very own Body so that you also become true sons of God and are born of God. He is your only peace in all time of adversity and prosperity, during life and in death, when things go well and when things get scary. Remember your Holy Trinity event in your baptism when you leave this sanctuary after the Divine Service and pass by the baptismal font. Dip your finger in the water if you like—it’s not special holy water, but the water you touch can help you clearly recall to your mind and heart the powerful words that were once spoken with a similar splash: I baptize you in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Your own personal Trinity historical event happened and you have never been the same since. On this Holy Trinity Sunday and every day of your life, confess with conviction along with the rest of us that God is indeed Father, Son and Holy Spirit as the Bible teaches; insist as a forgiven sinner that Jesus is true God at the same time as He is true Man, because that’s how your baptism truly does save you. Strap on the great Triune Name of God as your breastplate and armor, just like St. Patrick of Ireland did even as he faced the deadly evils of persecution. He sang this song about the Trinity which you can find in our hymnal:

I bind unto myself today
The strong Name of the Trinity
By invocation of the same
The Three in One and One in Three.

The strong Name of the Trinity has saved you also this day, it fills your heart with joy over your forgiveness and everlasting salvation in heaven, and it will energize you to live for God and sacrifice yourself for the sake of your neighbor’s needs. To this Holy Trinity alone belongs all glory, honor, worship and praise, now and forever.

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