Sermons

September 17th 2017 - Unity in Christ's Church

Author: Pastor Schultz
Text: Romans 14:1-12
 

  Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. May the Holy Spirit enlighten our hearts and minds with the gifts offered here today, Amen.  

     Personal agendas and opinions create division. We’ve seen it in how the liberal media treats the current president. We’ve seen it in Hollywood as actors with conservative values are being blackballed. We’ve seen it with this movement called Black Lives Matter. We’ve seen it far too often in Ferguson. And we saw it again this weekend as protestors turned violent once again in the area. Unfortunately what’s true in the culture is often true in the Church.  In our text for today from Paul’s letter to the Roman Christians we hear of this very thing. Division was created because of eating habits. It is important here to note that fellowship meals were very frequent occurrences in the early Church. Now some were of the opinion that all foods could be eaten but others refused to eat meat. This was probably due to the fact that most of the meat that was available was connected to pagan sacrifice. Paul’s advice to these Christians was to not argue over opinions for both the one who eats and the one who abstains from eating do so in the honor of the Lord and both give thanks to God.  Division was also created because of holidays or observances or even the day to worship. Jews worshipped on Saturday therefore those Jews who converted to Christianity believed that worship should be on that day. Others were of the opinion that worship should be on Sunday, for that was the day that Christ rose from the grave. Jewish converts often clung to their Jewish holidays while the Gentiles didn’t follow those holidays. Again Paul gives them wonderful advice; observances, whether the day of worship or holidays, as long as they were observed in honor of the Lord, were good and profitable for the Christian life.  Division is created even today by personal opinions and agendas. Even in our beloved Lutheran Church there is often division. We argue over worship styles as some esteem traditional worship and seek to exclude any type of creative changes to our worship services. This very thing was discussed at the last district convention as some proposed that only the Lutheran Service Book be used for all worship services and hymns at district gatherings. Just recently many pastors tried to create division at the seminary because the seminary chorus sang a Methodist hymn during a chapel service. In our synod divisions are often caused because of clashes between those who are ultra-conservative with those who are ultra-liberal. We have divisions concerning the practice of closed communion. These divisions became such a “hot topic” in our district that we had to study and discuss closed communion at two consecutive district pastors’ conferences. We have divisions concerning youth ministry leading to the creation of two different youth gatherings; the National Youth Gathering and Higher Things. Personal opinions even changed the color of the LCMS cross from maroon to blue. Divisions are even found in individual congregations. Last year during the weeks leading up to the presidential election I heard of more than a few pastors dealing with the issue of whether flags had a proper place in the sanctuary. We too dealt with that issue a few years ago. I’ve heard of divisions caused by purchases in the church. Its seems that people can’t agree on things like banners, carpeting, paint, pew cushions, pots and pans for the kitchen, lighting, lawn mowers, and the list goes on as it is seemingly endless. Conflict over these things often comes about because some, usually the most vocal in a congregation, insist on their way or their opinion. Sometimes traditions gets in the way and we hear every pastor’s most disliked phrase; “We’ve always done it that way.” In the past 160 plus years this congregation has seen its share of conflict and division because of personal opinions and agendas. Some of this conflict finds its origin in the opinions of pastors; pastors who most often believed that they were doing what was right and proper and yet at times it wasn’t what was best for the people who gather in this place. Wherever sinful pastors, leaders and lay people gather together personal opinions and agendas will create division and conflict. Using only our own power and might we will never be united. Unity in this church or any other congregation is not possible using only human will, insights, or ideas. There is only one thing that brings unity to the Church and that is Christ. For the vast majority of those gathered here this morning that unity started at a baptismal font. With the water and the Word we were redeemed from sin and the power of the devil. We were adopted into God’s family and made fellow heirs with Christ. Baptism unites us as brothers and sisters, as children of our Heavenly Father. Our unity is also proclaimed as we gather at this communion rail before the Lord’s altar. One of the reasons why our synod insists on closed communion is our belief that those who gather for the Lord’s Supper are gathering in unity of faith. Our communing together is a silent confession which states that I believe the very same about my Lord as the person on my right and the one on my left. Through the blessed Sacraments we obtain unity in Christ and that unity guides our life together. St. Paul writes in our text; For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. (Romans 14:7-8, ESV) He writes in his second letter to the Corinthian believers; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. (2 Corinthians 5:15, ESV) St. Paul’s words remind us of the new life that we have in Christ. Our unity in Christ leads us to deny our own opinions and agendas and to live for Christ. In our decision making process we are called to deny our personal ideas or opinions and focus on what gives honor and glory to the Lord. This focus on the honor and glory of the Lord leads to two important changes in our life together. First it leads us to love one another. Our Father’s love is immeasurable as He sent His only Son to this earth. He was born of the Virgin Mary, lived a perfect life in our place, died the death that we deserved, rose triumphantly on the third day, ascended into heaven where He reigns at the Father’s right hand. It is this love that leads us to love those He calls to be His children. It is this love that motivates us to love each other as dear brothers and sisters. The Father’s love for us unites us as we dearly love each other. The second change in our life together is that we are led to speak with one another in non-judgmental and affirming ways. Unity is often broken because we, according to our sinful human nature, are quick to judge others. Recall that in our text unity was broken because some where being judged based on the food they ate or didn’t eat. Recall that unity is often broken in our synod because some are being judged based on their style of worship. Recall how personal opinions destroy the unity in local congregations. All of this disunity happens because people tend to talk to others and not with others. We often judge people before we take the time to listen to them. If you and I would simply take the time to talk with those of differing opinions, to listen to their point of view, to affirm their ideas without judgment then there would be far less division in our congregation and a lot more unity. St. Paul in our text for today shows us the importance of keeping the main thing the main thing. We are gathered here because of Christ. In the Sacraments we are called to unity in His name. In our life together the focus is on our unity in Christ, on giving Him honor and glory, and not on our personal opinions or agendas. If all God’s children can remember that focus than our life together as a congregation will be blessed, our life together as a synod will be blessed. As for the world in which we live, there can never be unity because personal opinions and agendas prevent it and so many deny the Good news of Jesus Christ and its power to unify. This leads us to pray, Lord have mercy on us and the world in which we live. Amen.       

September 24th 2017 - To Live or To Die?

Author: Pastor Schultz
Text: Matthew 18:1-20

  Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. May the Holy Spirit enlighten our hearts and minds with the gifts offered here today, Amen.  

    If you were given the option of living to see tomorrow or dying today which would you choose? I would imagine that most of you would choose life. We live in a culture that values life. Millions and millions of dollars are spent each year searching for cures to diseases such as cancer, Alzheimer’s, ALS, Parkinson’s, diabetes, and list goes on. Research is being conducted to determine which activities enhance health and which ones are detrimental to health. All of this and more is being done so that we can live longer and healthier lives here on this earth. In a little more than a half-century the life expectancy rate has increased considerably. A white male born in 1950 has a life expectancy of 66.5 years yet one born in 2015 has a life expectancy of 76.6 years. A white female born in 1950 has a life expectancy of 72.2 years yet one born in 2015 has a life expectancy of 81.3 years.  The Apostle Paul had a rather different view on life. Paul was in prison in Rome when he wrote this letter to the Philippian church. There are some indications that his trial had begun but Paul certainly couldn’t predict the outcome. In verses nineteen and following we read of his wrestling with not only the outcome of his trial but also life or death. In fact the two are related for he assumed that a guilty verdict would lead to a sentence of death. He writes in verses 22 and 23: Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. (Philippians 1, ESV) He simply can’t decide which is most advantageous, to live or to die. Paul knows that Christ will be honored in his body whether he lives or dies. This makes the decision that much more difficult.  He gives ample reasons to live. Christ will certainly be honored in his life because life would mean more fruitful labor. Paul’s extensive travels to share the Gospel are recorded for us in the New Testament. His prolific letter writing encourages so many of the early churches including those in Rome, Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus, Philippi, Colossae, and Thessalonica. He writes letters to Timothy and Titus to encourage these fellow pastors of the faith. If Paul is to continue living then it would mean more fruitful labor for the expansion of the Lord’s Kingdom.  Paul writes in our text; But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. (Philippians 1:24, ESV)  Paul felt the weight that pastors feel in their called duty to serve the church. He had a great care and concern for the believers in Philippi which led him to desire to continue to serve them. At one point in his wrestling with this issue of life or death he was convinced that he would live and continue to serve the believers at Philippi so that they might continue to grow in the faith and have great joy in their faith. Paul believed that he had a lot to live for!  It has already been stated that we too prefer to live but what exactly are we living for? What is our purpose in extending our life? Is Christ being honored in our lives? In the first stanza of the sermon hymn we sang these words; “To love and serve Thee is my share.” In stanza two we sang; “If life be long, I will be glad. That I may long obey.” (LSB 757) The hymn implies that our lives should include loving, serving, and obeying the Lord. We know that our sinful flesh, the enticement of the world, and the temptations of the Devil prevent us from doing these things perfectly but yet we should strive towards that goal.  Our life in this world isn’t about longevity, as some would have us believe; rather it is about how we live in the blessed days that we have been given. Jesus said in Matthew chapter 22; “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37 &39, ESV)  Psalm 100 instructs us; Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing! (V2, ESV) Moses instructed the people before they entered the Promise Land; “You shall therefore obey the voice of the Lord your God, keeping his commandments and his statutes, which I command you today.” (Deuteronomy 27:10, ESV) Whether our life is long or short, these are the things that bring meaning and joy to each day. The Apostle Paul in our text also sheds some positive light on death. He writes in our text that to die is gain. (Philippians 1:21, ESV) He writes in verse 23; My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. (Philippians 1, ESV) We must be careful when we try to discern Paul’s meaning here. One commentary suggested this meaning; He longed to be free from the suffering, trouble, and pain that characterizes life in this sinful world and to enter into the perfect joy of heaven. (People’s Bible Commentary, Philippians P.30) I fully agree that when we die we will be free from suffering but I have issues with the idea of a “perfect joy in heaven”. Perfect joy will only occur when Christ returns. When our bodies lay in the ground and our souls rise to heaven this is not perfection since God created man to be both body and soul. These words from John Calvin give us perhaps a more accurate meaning; …believers, on the other hand, willingly hasten forward to it, because it is a deliverance from the bondage of sin, and an introduction into the kingdom of heaven… (Reformation heritage Bible Commentary, Philippians P.197) For Christians death is the end to the pain and trouble in this life and the door to eternal life; death no longer has power over us.  About eight years after writing this letter, Paul would taste death in Rome. A few months before his death he wrote a second letter to Timothy. In that letter he wrote these words; I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. (2 Timothy 4:7, ESV)  Indeed Paul fought the good fight. He left a lasting legacy as the Lord used this Pharisee and one time persecutor of the Christians to extend His kingdom to numerous places far beyond Jerusalem. The vastness of his missionary work is like non-other. The greatness of his understanding of the ways of the Lord led the early church, was rediscovered by Luther, and still leads our church today.  What will be your legacy in the Lord’s kingdom? None of us could ever have a legacy similar to the Apostle Paul but each of us has the opportunity to leave our mark on this congregation and on the Lord’s Church here on earth. How will you use the days and years that the Lord gives you to advance His kingdom? Will the love of God and neighbor shine brightly in your life? Will you be known for your acts of service to the Lord and neighbor? Will you be respected for your earnest desire to obey the Lord? The Lord bestows on us many and varied gifts to be used for His Church. His Church needs all of those gifts to function effectively. This congregation needs your fruitful labor so that we might continue to live, share, and celebrate the love of Jesus in our communities and the world. May we all be blessed to say with the Apostle Paul, Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. (Philippians 1:20, ESV)  Amen.    

October 8th 2017 - A Matter of Trust

Author: Pastor Schultz
Text: Matthew 15:21-28
 

    Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. May the Holy Spirit enlighten our hearts and minds with the gifts offered here today, Amen.      

  We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things. That is Martin Luther’s explanation of the first commandment written in the Small Catechism almost five hundred years ago. Those words have been guiding the church and Christians ever since. These words imply that when one trusts in someone or something over and above God then he breaks the first commandment. It’s always been a matter of trust for God’s people. In our Wednesday morning Bible study last week we heard how the people of Israel, who, on the very same day that they were released from the bonds of slavery in Egypt by God’s mighty hand, failed to trust that God would deliver them as they faced the Egyptian army on one side and the Red Sea on the other. For the Christians in Philippi, for Christians today, and even for some of you it’s a matter of trust.  St. Paul in his letter to these Philippian Christians confronts their matter of trust. We must read between the lines of the text to determine what things these people were trusting in instead of God. The most obvious thing was circumcision. This comes across fairly clear in verse 3 of this chapter which is not part of our text. In it he says that those who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ and don’t trust in the flesh are the real circumcision. Circumcision was a big problem in the early Church because many Christians were converts from Judaism. These ex-Jews insisted that circumcision was necessary to be a child of God. They trusted this marking of the flesh more than the salvation earned by Christ Jesus.  They may have also trusted in their heritage. Jews, who claimed that they were descendants of Abraham, often trusted that their heritage alone made them children of God. Some may have continued to trust in their adherence to the law. Jews often believed that they could be righteous by upholding the law. Even others may have trusted in their social status; believing that their status showed favor from God.  Notice Paul’s response to their trust in the flesh in the beginning verses of our text. Paul says to those who trust in the flesh that he has more. He was circumcised on the eighth day indicating that he was a Jew from birth. He was a member of the tribe of Benjamin, a tribe that was highly esteemed at that time. He was a Pharisee, a member of one of the highest social classes at the time. In regards to righteousness based on the law Paul claimed to be blameless. Paul takes their claims of trust in circumcision, heritage, righteousness by the law and social status and shows that he has a higher claim in all of these areas.  What value did Paul place on these things of the flesh? He writes in verse 7 that whatever he had gained from these things he counted as loss for the sake of Christ. He takes this to a higher level in verse 8 where he writes that even more I count everything as loss because of the incredible value of knowing Jesus as my Lord. Paul had suffered the loss of all things and counts them as rubbish. Rubbish does not give the full meaning of the Greek. Imagine taking a package of spoiled chicken and placing it in a garbage can outside in the middle of August heat. Imagine leaving it in that heat for a week and then opening the lid. That stench from that decaying chicken along with the chicken itself is a vivid picture of what Paul means here. He counted all that he had lost as a pile of trash with a horrendous stench.  Paul does all of this in order to gain Christ, to be found in him having a righteousness that comes through faith, to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and that he might attain the resurrection from the dead. One commentary explained these verses in this way; The person and work of Christ are inseparably joined. To gain him is to have him as one’s all-prevailing merit; and, in the classic words of Melanchthon, to know him in the intimacy of personal trust and surrender is to know his saving benefits.[1] Paul gave up his former ways as a Pharisee and persecutor of the Church and he gave up so much more as he was shipwrecked numerous times, was beaten, went hungry and suffered in many other ways and all this so that he by faith would know Christ and share the immense value of knowing Christ with so many others.  Let’s take a giant step forward from Paul’s time to our current Christian situation in America. What types of things do Christians today trust in over God? Circumcision is still prevalent in our day but for many it has lost its connection to anything theological. But in many ways Baptism has replaced it in terms of trust. I’ve seen it in my ministry and maybe you’ve seen it among family and friends. Parents will often want their child baptized with the understanding that baptism conveys a faith that can never diminish. Baptism certainly bestows faith but that faith is like planting a seed. One who plants a seed doesn’t just plant it and then do nothing else and hopes that it grows. No that person will water that seed on a regular basis. After that seed grows he may also fertilize the soil as he continues to water it. Even later still the plant may need to be trimmed or pruned in order for it to grow stronger and may need even more fertilizer. In a similar way faith after it is received in baptism needs to be nourished through God’s Word on a regular basis and later on is strengthened through the other sacrament, the Lord’s Supper. Faith is an ongoing, lifelong process of growing in and with the Word of God.  Some today in American Christianity trust in their own works of the law. We as Lutherans see this battle against works righteousness as raging for nearly five hundred years. Many Christians today place their trust in their works. Some trust in the large amounts that they donate to the church and other worthy charities. Some trust in the number of hours in which they volunteer, especially those who volunteer for the Church. Still others believe that they can gain righteousness by following the law. And still others, including a certain ministry located in our state, believe that they are no longer sinful and have attained to a perfect righteous state of existence.  Our American Christian culture even leads some to trust in their social status. Some are led to believe that their wealth is a sign of God’s blessing, a sign that they are children of God. This prosperity message that is proclaimed leads the rich to believe that they are righteous in God’s sight and the poor to believe that they might not ever be welcomed into the Kingdom of God. The culture also includes those who trust in their family heritage. For some it is numerous generations who have attended the same congregation and for some the existence of a pastor or church leader in their family tree. This trust in heritage leads these people to believe that they have a higher social status in the Church; it leads them to trust in their lineage and not only in the merits of Jesus Christ.  We, like Paul, should see these things as rubbish with a pungent stench. Just as Paul in our text wanted the Philippian Christians to focus solely on faith in Christ he also wants us to do the same. It is faith alone in Christ alone that makes us righteous before our heavenly Father. Paul gives us the one goal that is most important for all of our lives: the prize of the heavenward call of God in Christ Jesus. As Paul states in our text, we will never be perfect in this life but we press on, we strain forward living for Christ and in Christ so that when we die we will receive the crown of eternal life.  My brothers and sisters in Christ trust not in your works, your social status, your heritage or anything else but rather trust solely in Christ whose life, death, and resurrection makes you righteous before His Father and our Father in heaven. Amen.     
   [1]Martin, R. P. (1987). Vol. 11: Philippians: An Introduction and Commentary. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (155). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.