Fully Aware

The Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost (A)
“Fully Aware”
November 19, 2017

Sermon Text: 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
Grace, mercy and peace be unto you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Dear Friends in Christ,

One can certainly learn a lot by considering what a person chooses to say… chooses to write… in addition to what they actually say and write. In other words, the subject matter is, many times, just as important as the matter or contents itself and what is written about it.

Case in point… the Apostle Paul, moved by the Holy Spirit, guided by God the Holy Spirit, chooses to end this epistle (the first of two we have) by talking about the “day of the Lord.” Hmm, interesting.

And he begins this last section by saying, “Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:1)

Ok… but then he proceeds to write about just that… what has already been written… pointed out… and proclaimed.

The phrase “day of the Lord” appears some twenty-four times in Holy Scripture. Nineteen of which are found in the Old Testament, five in the New Testament.

The Prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Zephaniah and Malachi… all likewise moved by God the Holy Spirit… write about this particular day… the last day. In fact, the Book of Zephaniah begins with this subject matter which is, in fact, our Old Testament reading.

Some pretty powerful words. Add to that what our Lord Jesus Christ Himself said about the end times… some pretty powerful words.

Add to that the faithful catechesis, teaching and training that the Christians of Thessalonica were fortunate to have had at the hand of Paul, Silas, Timothy and others… all delivering what? Some pretty powerful words… and it all makes sense what the Apostle declares,

“Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you.”

It had all been said before, written before, shared before. And yet, my friends, it also makes sense that Paul still goes on to write about it… that which is coming… that which will soon be upon us… can at any second or minute be upon us.

It will startle us, but not surprise us. We know for certain the end is coming. It is just that we did not know it was coming right there and then… at that very moment in time, signaling the end of time… the end of it all… the end of this world… the end of you, me and every person being in this world.

It will still startle us, even though how many times have we been told that Christ is coming… coming soon… coming quickly? How many times have we heard that “the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night?” (1 Thessalonians 5:2)

And yet, that “thief in the night” part evades us… or… at least… can evade us, elude us. You see, my friends, it is not a matter of how many times we are told that the end is coming, because the fact of the matter is, there never will be a sufficient number of times. Hence, Paul saying that nothing more needs to be written about it and then goes on to write more… about it! To reiterate and remind… again and again.

That is what pastors do… again and again. We preach about it, teach about again and again, because you and I need to hear it again and again… let it sink in again and again… that which can become so easily forgotten, hazy, contorted and distorted.

Here is the thing, dear brothers and sisters… You and I become fully aware of what was… what is… and what will be… through the reading and hearing of God’s Word. He who alone tells it like it was, is and will be… the truth of the same… the details of the same… as much as God ordains that we need to know… not anything less or anything more.

But what many people forget… lose sight of… is the fact that our remaining fully aware of what was… what is… and what will be… all that God would have us know and be mindful of… have full recall of… only happens… ONLY HAPPENS… as we are constantly in Holy Scripture.

Any amount of time away from the living, breathing Word of God… even a day… and we begin to lose it… forget it… we get lulled to sleep, into a stupor, as it appears that everything is just going to go on…

…. as it is, and will continue to do so, at least for a while…

…. as it appears that all is well… at least for a while.

… as we say, “Sure, things could be better, but what is… is doable… liveable”… at least for a while.

Where do people get this “while longer” notion and even bank on the same? That there will be a while longer and in fact much longer if not forever longer? They get it and other similar lies… other similar false assurances from none other than the great deceiver.

Paul writes, “While people are saying, ‘There is peace and security,’ then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.” (1 Thessalonians 5:2)

Sudden destruction… with no escape. That, my friends, is reality and it will be a harsh one for the vast majority of people in this world. Talk about pure Law… God’s immutable Law and the truth of the matter. And Paul shares this, talks about it, writes about it to the Lord’s own then… God’s children then… and now… to you and to me.

Why? So that we never lose sight of what is coming… what is just around the corner.

But look and see… read for yourselves what follows this, dear friends. Take in again and again what is divinely said… that which is pure Gospel… pure joy… pure comfort and peace.

This servant of the Lord says to all of the faithful regarding the day of the Lord, reminding us that we no longer live in the darkness of sin that this great day, last day, should surprise us like a thief or cause us grief. Indeed, for us, there will be no “weeping and gnashing of teach.” (Matthew 25:30)

Paul reminds us that we are “all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness.” (1 Thessalonians 5:5) Not anymore. Not in Jesus Christ as we live in Christ… He who is the Light of the world. The Light no darkness can overcome.

And then St. Paul shares more good news, Gospel news, saying, “For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build one another up.” (1 Thessalonians 5:9-11)

Just as they were doing in Thessalonica… so here… so now… all of us who make up the Body of Jesus Christ here at St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, Lockport… as we help one another to stay awake, stay ready and vigilant for that which will be for us a truly magnificent moment… Christ coming… our victorious Savior, Lord and King coming… returning in all His majesty, glory and splendor with legion upon legion of angels and archangels… to take us and all the faithful home… to our eternal home.

Fully aware? Yes, we are. And also fully thankful and at peace! Amen.

May the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.

“Fully Aware”  11/19/17  The Rev. Mark H. Hein, St. Paul’s Ev. Lutheran Church, Lockport, IL

“From Foreigners to Family… God’s Own”

The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost (A)
“From Foreigners to Family… God’s Own”
August 23, 2017

Sermon Text: Isaiah 56:1, 6-8

Grace, mercy and peace be unto you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Dearly Beloved of the Lord,

“Foreigners.” Just mentioning the word and the subject of starts the mind heading down a number of neuropathways of memories and thoughts… not to mention feelings and opinions. But before we go any further, we need to clarify which foreigners, what foreigners, we are talking about here and in what sense are they considered to be “foreigners.” Foreigners in God’s sight or in the world’s sight? I know this will come as a surprise, but let’s go with God’s sight, shall we? And ponder what He shares with us in our Old Testament text.

For us as Christians, what the Lord says… what He commands, all that He commands… drives our daily lives… who we are, what we say, what we do, how we think… and this, not with the mind and mentality of the world, but with the mind of Christ… that which is ours by the Holy Spirit who works so wonderfully and graciously through the Word of God and the blessed Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

In Scripture, we have come to know again and again… because God reminds, reiterates and emphasizes it again and again… His love for all people… His love for the crown of His creation, namely mankind, ALL of mankind, every man, woman and child beginning with Adam and Eve and ending with whomever will be the very last person born here on earth.

And, too, we know of God’s great love for the people of Israel, whom He addresses here in our text. But what can be so easily misunderstood is that God choosing this nation to be His own did not mean, does not mean, that He turned His back on all other peoples and nations.

That could not be farther from the truth because God had all people in mind when He chose Israel in the fact that from Israel would come the Savior of the world… the WORLD!

In our text, the Prophet Isaiah addressed the people of Israel, sharing with them the Word of the Lord, saying “Thus says the Lord: ‘Keep justice, and do righteousness, for soon my salvation will come, and my deliverance be revealed.’” (Isaiah 56:1)

And lest they think such salvation and deliverance was exclusively theirs, look what the Lord goes on to say to the Israelites. “And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants, everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it, and holds fast my covenant— these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” (Isaiah 56:6-7)

Behold! God’s great love for all peoples. Those already in what He refers to as His “house” … His Holy House, namely the Church… and those who come into His House from the outside… the outsiders, the foreigners, the strangers here mentioned.

Outsiders who, by grace, become “insiders.” Those who, by the mighty working of the Spirit, come into God’s House and “join themselves to the Lord.” We are talking about those who once were joined to sin and Satan, but no longer… thankfully, no longer.

Like almost every other portion of Scripture, you may be aware that the one before us has been so misused and misinterpreted. Some would say that the passage “my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples” means God’s house is a house yes, for Christian prayers, but also for Muslim prayers, Mormon prayers, Buddhist prayers, and the like.

Such misguided people totally miss what it says here and throughout Scripture… that all who come into the House of the one true God leave behind all false gods, false beliefs, false ways and false worship and “join themselves to the Lord” as He has revealed Himself in Holy Scripture and is confessed and worshiped in the one true Church where Christ is Head of all, Lord of all. Indeed, we are talking about those who are joined to Jesus Christ in the waters of Holy Baptism.

My friends, the reality of all of this is… just like the fact that we were once all foreigners in regard to this land, this nation we call home… so we were once foreigners to another home, a greater home, a permanent and everlasting home… our church home… God’s Holy House. We were once very much foreigners before our Baptism… before we came to faith.

We were once among those standing on the outside… true strangers and among those estranged from God. We were once among those sitting in the darkness of sin… the darkness of this world. We were once among those who belonged to the prince of darkness… among those who will spend eternity in darkness.

But St. Peter wonderfully reminds us who we are now by God’s grace. And if it sounds like he is referring to Israel you are right. However, not the old Israel, but the new Israel… all of us… all believers in Jesus Christ… the One through whom the salvation and deliverance God mentioned in the Old Testament would come… did come. The Apostle declares to us,

“You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (1 Peter 2:9-10)

How amazing this is… so much so that we cannot stop pondering the same, giving thanks and praise for the same… that in Jesus Christ we have gone from foreigners to family… God’s own… now and forevermore. Amen!

May the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.

“From Foreigners to Family – God’s Own” 8/23/17 The Rev. Mark H. Hein, St. Paul’s Ev. Lutheran Church, Lockport, IL

“Humbling, Yet Comforting”

The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost (A)

“Humbling, Yet Comforting”

August 16, 2017

Sermon Text:  Job 38:4-18

 Grace, mercy and peace be unto you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Dearly Beloved of the Lord,

Have you ever been “put in your place?” Whether we are willing to admit it or not (given our pride and what amounts to various degrees of being humbled and embarrassed), many times such action is called for… needed… and beneficial. Especially when we know the person doing the “putting” … the person “getting us back in line” is someone whose opinion… whose words and actions are trusted and considered valuable… someone who we love and maybe even more importantly, loves us… so much so, that they are willing to say something or do something out of love and concern.

In our Old Testament text, it is Job who is put in his place. Seriously? With all that he was going through, all that he lost including his family, friends, his worldly possessions and his health?

Talk about kicking a guy when he is down! Well, my friends, there was no “kicking” being done here. Yes, Job was down and it actually seemed that he was “down for the count.” Finished. He had had it. He had had all that he could bear (or so he thought).

He does not understand why. “Why Lord are you doing this, allowing this? Why is this happening to me? Do I really deserve it?” Sound familiar? Well, it should, because on so many levels and plains this is us. These are our questions which oftentimes morph into complaints and outright anger.

One common answer people will give as to why they do not believe in God (certainly not the God of Holy Scripture) or why they leave the Christian faith… is because they feel that if there is this God, He would not allow this or that to happen… certainly not to them or their loved ones… not to those who are basically “good people”, innocent people, in terms of how they live… what they do and say… how they act.

Job considered himself among this group… among the good, the innocent and the righteous. So, why God? Why would you allow this? And in chapter thirty-one, we hear Job articulate his confusion over what has happened to him… all that has happened to him. He asks,

“Is not calamity for the unrighteous, and disaster for the workers of iniquity? Does not he see my ways and number all my steps? If I have walked with falsehood and my foot has hastened to deceit; (Let me be weighed in a just balance, and let God know my integrity!) if my step has turned aside from the way and my heart has gone after my eyes, and if any spot has stuck to my hands, then let me sow, and another eat, and let what grows for me be rooted out.” (Job 31:3-8)

And this is only a portion of what Job cries out… of what he wants to know because, when you come right down to it, it just “didn’t seem fair” … didn’t seem right.”

I need not ask you if you can relate to having and harboring such thoughts and feelings. We all can. We all do. Because the way we see things at times… how we “weigh” ourselves in what we consider to be a “just balance”… God should know our virtuous character and integrity as He should have known Job’s and this or that should not have happened to us… shouldn’t be happening to us.

Dearly beloved of the Lord, our Old Testament text is God’s answer to all of this and it is a powerful one… a strong one… as He lovingly, but firmly, puts Job in his place as well as us… as well as all people.

The crux of this divine response is God asking Job… God asking you and me if we think we know better… if we think we have a grasp on, and a hand in, the divine scheme of things… if we know a better way… have a better plan… a better solution.

Better than the Lord God Almighty? He whose wisdom and understanding is unsurpassed? He who is all-knowing… all powerful?

Really?  The “created” second-guessing the Creator? The created questioning, complaining about the Creator and what He does and does not do?

That would be Job. That would be all of us at one point or another. To which the Lord God asks us as He asked Job…

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?”

 “Or who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb, when I made clouds its garment and thick darkness its swaddling band, and prescribed limits for it and set bars and doors, and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed’? “Have you commanded the morning since your days began, and caused the dawn to know its place, that it might take hold of the skirts of the earth, and the wicked be shaken out of it?

 “Have you entered into the springs of the sea, or walked in the recesses of the deep? Have the gates of death been revealed to you, or have you seen the gates of deep darkness? Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth? Declare, if you know all this.”  (Job 38:3-13, 16-18)

Well! Speak up Job! Speak up people! The truth is…Job couldn’t and neither can we.

The truth is, we are speechless… humbled… having been divinely put in our place and this thankfully occurring again and again.

Our place is not second-guessing God!  It never benefits us.

Our place is not trying to take His place… to try and usurp His authority… to “play god!” That never ends well for us.

Rather, our place is… in everything… in every situation…whatever happens or does not happen… to say, “Amen Lord.”

Our place is to simply trust in the Lord our God… that HE IS GOD… that He is providing for all of our needs… that He and He alone is in control of all things… that yes, He knows what is happening in your life, my life, the life of this country, this world and the entire universe down to the smallest detail, because He is either making it or allowing it to happen all for our good… the good of all who love Him… the good of all who have faith in Him, worship and confess Him to be the only true God.

When will we understand and fully accept that in our life… yours and mine… it is all good. God makes it good and right… even when it does not seem so… appear so. Remember what the Apostle Paul said, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12)

How comforting all of this is my friends… along with being so humbling. Yes, like Job, we are put in our place again and again. We are put back in place again and again because we are so apt to stray from the one divine place where the Lord has graciously put us, placed us, which just happens to be in His own hands, mighty hands, loving hands where we are safe and secure, content and at peace. How comforting is that?

How comforting is this… all this… who we are in Christ Jesus… what we have in Christ Jesus and what He did for us and all mankind on the cross. Let us never forget that the victory He won for us there was complete, all-encompassing and final… the victory over sin, death and the devil… the victory over what we face, all that we face in this world… in this, our sojourn here below.

Indeed, let us never forget that the mighty hands, loving hands that hold us so firmly… still bear the marks of nails. Amen.

May the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.

“Humbling Yet Comforting” 8/16/17  The Rev. Mark H. Hein, St. Paul’s Ev. Lutheran Church, Lockport, IL

“At His Invitation”

The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost (A)

“At His Invitation”

August 9, 2017

Sermon Text:  Isaiah 55:1-5

Grace, mercy and peace be unto you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Dearly Beloved of the Lord,

Holy Scripture is replete with invitations… one right after another… divine ones at that… issued and sent by the Divine One Himself, the Lord God Almighty… He who is King of the universe, the only true God.

And what is truly amazing is that we are the recipients of the same. He sends them to all of mankind… and yet they could not be more personal with God having each of us, individually… specifically… in mind… He who knows us perfectly… who loves us perfectly.

And one of His truly gracious invitations is found here in our Old Testament text recorded by the Prophet Isaiah. In looking at it and reading it over, one can hardly miss the great sincerity, heartfelt desire and eagerness on the part of our Lord God that we accept this invitation.

Why? Because as was said, He loves us so. But also because the Lord knows that refusing this invitation means misery and certain death for us and all mankind. It is that important. It is that serious.

And thirdly, God issues this wonderful invitation because He knows exactly what we need… yes, physically… what we need to sustain these bodies of ours… but more importantly, what we need spiritually to feed our souls. And what we need… exactly what we need… God offers and provides… perfectly and abundantly to our soul’s health, for the refreshing and renewing of our spirit.

“Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” (Isaiah 55:1)

“Come! It is all here for you in Me,” God is saying. “You… all you who hunger and thirst spiritually. Come. Eat and drink and be satisfied, content and at peace.”

Come! It is here for you, free of charge. Yours to have… to partake of… to enjoy… at absolutely no cost or expense to you.

To which many want to know “What’s the catch?” There isn’t one.

Well then, why the wording… “he who has no money, come, BUY and eat?” How does that work? Or that we should “come, BUY wine and milk without money?

How can the one without money still buy? How can something be “bought” and at the same time be “free?”

My friends, the divine invitation that the Lord God offers through the Prophet Isaiah becomes crystal clear and reaches fulfillment in the coming of Jesus Christ and what He did for us on the cross at Calvary.

For it is there that He did away with that which was causing our spiritual starvation and intense spiritual thirst that could not be quenched… namely sin.

It is there, on the cross, that our Savior paid the full price for our sins, canceling them out, blotting them out with His holy precious blood.

Oh, our freedom from sin, death and the devil… our no longer dying from spiritual thirst and hunger came at a cost alright, the highest of costs or prices… but it wasn’t paid by us. It was paid by our Brother… He who is true Man, flesh of our flesh. He took our place. He was our Substitute… and a willingly one at that.

And most certainly, these spiritual things, eternal things, priceless and precious were truly bought without money… without “gold or silver but with Christ’s precious body and blood and His innocent suffering and death” as we say in Luther’s Small Catechism.

After delivering this most loving and gracious invitation in the beginning part of our text, our Lord goes on to ask the poignant question, “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?” (Isaiah 55:2)

In other words, why would you… why do you spend money, time, energy and effort on that which is not going to spiritually meet your needs, your true needs… that which will not, cannot satisfy you… truly satisfy and fill you up… fill you with good things, eternal things… but, rather, will only leave you still hungry and thirsty?

It is truly amazing and sad my friends, the billions of dollars and the incredible amount of time, energy and effort that people will put into the pursuit of spiritual happiness and the quest for peace, true inner peace and contentment as well as for enlightenment and strength.

And they never find it. They never have in their possession the genuine things, heavenly things that are nevertheless right there for them and for us… in Christ Jesus. All the blessed things God so wants us to have and to enjoy now and forevermore. And to that end, He lovingly issues this divine plea in our text where He says,

“Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David.” (Isaiah 55:2-4)

Eat what is good… delight yourselves in rich food… that which you and I have the blessed opportunity to do again and again right here in His Holy House… for what the Lord is speaking about… referring to… is His all-sufficient Word and the Sacraments.

The very same divine Word that the Lord God told Ezekiel to take and eat. We read, “And he said to me, ‘Son of man, feed your belly with this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it.’ Then I ate it, and it was in my mouth as sweet as honey.” (Ezekiel 3:3)

And it is the very same divine Sacrament that our Lord Jesus speaks about when He told the Twelve and all those who were gathered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.” (John. 6:53-56)

Permit me to share one other passage with you which wonderfully connects the text we are considering in Isaiah to Christ, that which our victorious Lord and Savior shares with us at the very end of the Book of Revelation. He says, “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost.”  (Revelation 21:6) Same offer. Same invitation some 700 years later.

Amazing. The continuity of God’s Word, His message to us… and the same gracious invitation to us that covers the entire expanse of time and into all eternity.

At His invitation, we come and thirst no more. We come and hunger no more. We come and are filled, full and satisfied. We come and are at peace.

All… at His gracious invitation. Amen.

May the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.

“At His Invitation”  8/9/17  The Rev. Mark H. Hein, St. Paul’s Ev. Lutheran Church, Lockport, IL

“Because the Lord Loves You”

The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost (A)

“Because the Lord Loves You”

August 2, 2017

Sermon Text:  Deuteronomy 7:6-9

Grace, mercy and peace be unto you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Dearly Beloved of the Lord,

In the verses just before our Old Testament text recorded in Deuteronomy, chapter 7, the Lord our God, through His servant Moses, prepares the Israelites for their entry into the promised land.

And He could not be more explicit about how they are to live… and especially in regard to mixing and mingling with pagan people and pagan nations… with those devoted to worshiping false gods… with those who do that which is an abomination to the one true God.

We read, You shall not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons, for they would turn away your sons from following me, to serve other gods. Then the anger of the Lord would be kindled against you, and he would destroy you quickly. But thus shall you deal with them: you shall break down their altars and dash in pieces their pillars and chop down their Asherim and burn their carved images with fire. (Deuteronomy 7:3-5)

Well then. That’s pretty clear… pretty serious… VERY serious in fact… which we, dear brothers and sisters, would do well to carefully consider and make proper application to our own lives. Why? Because the danger is still there… here… incredibly prevalent and all too real in our day and age.

What is more, many in our midst are courting danger by what they do, what they allow and are willingly exposed to… they and their children and their children’s children.

Satan is loving it as he tightens his grip and grasp on more and more people. Some have no idea of it… are ignorant of it because they are ignorant of God’s Word. Others know it. They know it is wrong, but continue down this perilous path anyway.

The danger, my friends… for us… for our sons and daughters and other loved ones… is to be led astray… to be led away… to be, as the Lord God here states, “turned away” from following Him “to serve other gods.”  Be it the god of self and selfishness… the god of worldly spirituality that sometimes mimics Christianity but couldn’t be farther from it…  the god of money… the god of possessions… the god of work… the god of sports and other activities, other human endeavors that seem so important now, but will mean nothing in the end… when all is said and done.

How many people will, looking back on their lives, lament over so much wasted time, wasted focus, wasted energy and effort. All for naught. All for nothing… certainly nothing lasting… nothing of value and importance in the sight of God, which is all that matters.

One of the greatest lies and deceptions that Satan puts out there is that you and I can balance a worldly life, being fully engaged, part and parcel with it… and one’s life in Christ. Satan promotes a “both/and” approach which sounds great… having the “best of both worlds” if you will. But it isn’t possible and he knows it. He knows the reality of it all. He knows God’s Word. He knows the truth that it is for us and all people an “either/or.” You can either go the way of the world or the way of Christ, but not both. The question is, do we know it?

Sadly, many do not and the list of casualties continues to mount… to grow… those who, little by little, have distanced themselves. They have grown closer to the world and farther away from the Lord to where unbeknownst to them (or in some cases, they know fully well) that they now stand outside of God’s Word… outside of God’s will… outside of and apart from God’s faithful people… His Church, which is Christ’s holy Body.

His holy Body of which we are part and parcel along with all of the saints here on earth and those residing in heaven… all who have been baptized and made holy through the washing of regeneration… all who remain steadfast in the one true Christian faith.

Don’t you just love the very first verse in our text? “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God.” (Deuteronomy 7:6)  If you think that in some way this refers to you and me and the fact that we are special… that we are in a great situation… the greatest situation having the greatest gift and treasure… you would be correct… right on the mark.

As this referred to the people of Israel then, so it refers to all of us now, we who are the “new Israel” beloved of the Lord, chosen by the Lord to be His own special people.

You are a people holy to the Lord your God.” The Hebrew word for “holy” that is used here is “qadowsh” קָדוֹשׁ  .  It refers to that which is of God, sacred and holy… that which is “set apart” … separated and separate from that which is unholy and unclean.

And such wonderfully became the case, as I said, when we came under the baptismal water where the Lord God Almighty, King of the Universe, claimed and named us as His own… where He declared that we are no longer of Satan, but of Him, sacred and holy… set apart… separated and separate from that which is unholy and unclean… separated and separate from the world and its ways.

Wow. The next time you find yourself feeling down… feeling that you are nothing, mean nothing, worth nothing… remind yourself of all of this. Remind yourself how special you are, precious and holy in the sight of the Lord.

St. Peter said it best as He reminds us and all God’s children saying, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”  (1 Peter 2:9-10)

And truth be told, there is in all of us the Old Adam at work where to either a small or large degree, we feel that this is as it should be… that yes, of course, God has chosen me, saved me, gives me all that I possess now in time and infinitely more in heaven.

This fits right into the amazing sense of “entitlement” that is running rampant in our world and society today. The constant mantra of the world being, “I deserve” or “I have a right to” or “this or that is owed to me and I expect the same.”

My friends, Moses wonderfully declares, “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God” going on to tell them that they were chosen “to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth” and then immediately shares with them and us some sobering words, necessary words and facts that puts all of this into context.

It is sobering because we are reminded that our being chosen, selected, set apart has nothing to do with us and everything to do with Him… with God!

We read, It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples.” (Deuteronomy 7:7) 

You were the “least” of all peoples in regard to whom God could have chosen. And this still fully applies now… today… to us… all of us. But He has likewise nevertheless wonderfully, mercifully and graciously chosen us… picked us… claimed us as His own!

Why? Why us? We poor miserable sinners. The answer is right here in our text. Seven words that make up one amazing fact… one amazing and immutable truth. We read, “It is because the Lord loves you.” (Deuteronomy 7:8) 

It is because the Lord loves YOU. As He loved our forefathers, so He loves us… bringing us, redeeming us out of the house of slavery… out of the clutches of sin, death and the devil.

So undeserved, but so ours… redemption, forgiveness, freedom, life and salvation.

So undeserved, but so ours… the title of God’s people, His chosen sons and daughters and heirs of His heavenly kingdom which knows no end.

All because… only because… God loves us… and this in Christ Jesus who in perfect love took our place on the cross…

… who in perfect love felt the punished and full fury of God’s righteous wrath due us…

… who in perfect love payed the full penalty for our sins and that of all mankind.

So rejoice, dear brothers and sisters, you who are most certainly “qadowsh” קָדוֹשׁ   – holy and precious in the sight of the Lord. Remind yourselves again and again of this marvelous fact. And say to yourselves again and again, proclaim again and again the reason why, “Because the Lord loves me!” Amen.

May the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.

“Because the Lord Love You” 8/3/17  The Rev. Mark H. Hein, St. Paul’s Ev. Lutheran Church, Lockport, IL

“What Do You Think?”

The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost (A)

“What Do You Think?”

July 2, 2017

Sermon Text:  Matthew 10:34-42

Grace, mercy and peace be unto you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable His ways!    (Romans 11:33)

Friends in Christ, you will recognize this as the appointed gradual that we chanted just a few minutes ago in which we… again and again… acknowledge with St. Paul the majesty and mystery of the Lord our God and especially His divine omniscience… His “all-knowingness” if you will.

We have all heard from time to time in our lives bits of worldly wisdom that are quite profound. And may have even said regarding the same, “That’s deep!” But none of it comes close to the depth of God’s wisdom and knowledge. What He knows and what He does.

Indeed, His judgments are what? Unsearchable. And His ways “inscrutable” as translated in the English Standard Version of the Holy Bible. However, looking at the Greek word used here, it may be better put that God’s ways “are beyond tracing out” … they are “unfathomable.”

Here we are referring to God’s ways, but not God’s Word. His Word is, by and large, fathomable… understandable. One is able to “trace it out” because God has made it so to the degree He wants it so. This… Holy Scripture… all of Scripture… is His message to us and all mankind. And make no mistake about it, He will make sure it is faithfully delivered to us and understood by us through the work of the Holy Spirit who enlightens us to the same.

And this, through the eyes of faith with the Spirit ever moving us and helping us to dig deeper into the Word and in the process, find more, know more of what God would have us know about His message… THIS message.

It is a message of love… His love for us. It is a message of life… eternal life and how God, in Christ Jesus, has spared us from eternal death.

And so, the message couldn’t be more important including where our Lord declares, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Matthew 10:34)

Whoa! Wait a minute. That doesn’t sound too loving! And there are many people… Christian and unbeliever alike… who do not think it is loving. Some go so far as to question if Jesus really said this. Some feel compelled to soften these words by either changing them or interpreting them differently to fit their own beliefs and their own picture and portrait of Jesus.

What arrogance! What gall and impertinence. The created tell the Creator what is and what is not. The created changing, twisting or downright dismissing the Word and the will of the Creator. Such is mankind.

Key to understanding the Gospel text that is before us this morning, my friends, is understanding and obeying what our Lord says right up front here – Μὴ νομίσητε – “Do not think.”

Not that we are not to think. Rather, we are not to think wrongly… with an unlightened mind, a worldly mind, fleshly mind, sinful mind… that sadly is found in many Christians and Christian churches today where it is believed that Jesus came to bring worldly peace and that in Him everything in this world will be just fine for the believer… that there will be no heartaches and headaches… no trying times… no difficulties, no pain or persecution. It is all good in Jesus… peace in Jesus … prosperity in Jesus… if we only have enough faith in Jesus… and do OUR best.

And many would say the same for the unbeliever as well… because after all, God is love and He really will not take to task or punish anyone… certainly not in hell… forever!  It is all good in Jesus… peace in Jesus regardless of anything and everything. Regardless of the complete lack of faith and engaging in that which is sinful and an abomination to the Lord our God. Regardless of what it may be, whether we are talking about abortion, homosexuality, lesbianism, transgenderism and an ever-growing list of “isms.” Be it adultery, divorce, cohabitation or sex outside of marriage… be it assisted suicide or other so-called types of “mercy killing.” Be it cheating, stealing, lying, bearing false witness… and, well, you get the point.

Again, it is all supposedly good in Jesus… peace in Jesus in spite of what Jesus actually says. Including here… in our Gospel text:

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. (Matthew 10:34-36)

Christ our Lord, the very Son of God, explicitly states that HE has come to do this! And, most certainly, does it. He did it then as He walked this earth and look what it cost Him… His holy, precious and innocent life. Look at where it took Him… to the cross!  For us!

And He does it now… today… and will to end of time… the dividing… the setting apart… the setting against. As then, so now, by His Word… He who is the very Word Incarnate.

That Word… His Word… IS the great divider. That Word… His Word… IS the very “sword” that He refers to here in this text.

That Word… His Word… “them’s fight’n words” for all who do not believe and they choke on it. They decry it… despise it and anyone who holds to it… God’s Word, that is, and the truth contained therein. They are opposed to it and anyone who embraces and confesses it… anyone who lives according to it. It doesn’t matter even if you are their father, mother, son, daughter or some other blood relative.

At the very least, God’s Word will cause disruption and a degree of distancing in any relationship… and especially in any marriage or family situation where one finds the true believer mixed with the unbeliever.

But that rarely is the end of it. It naturally, normally gets worse as the natural man or woman is influenced more and more by sin and Satan. And the believer will get hurt… sin will take its toll on them… on us… as it did with our dear Lord and all who have come before us and are now in glory.

To make things worse, too often, Christian men and woman, Christian fathers and mothers, sons and daughters will give into the sinful ways of loved ones and others…. and this, for the sake of peace (which is no true peace, godly peace at all). In so doing, they abandon God’s Word or turn a blind eye to it for the sake of a erring loved one.

And so to us and all believers who are tempted to condone or ignore sinful behavior, sinful actions and lifestyles of others and especially among our loved ones, we hear our Lord go on to emphatically say,

“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” (Matthew 10:37-38)

These are sobering words… all of it… words, His Word that the Lord would have us take to heart… take into account… and put into action… to act accordingly by the power of God the Holy Spirit in us.

These are important words… all of it… all that we find here in our Gospel text. But where is the Gospel in all of this? Where is the Good News? It is certainly here as we connect this text with all that is lovingly shared with us in Holy Scripture.

The Good News of our Lord Jesus lovingly sharing with us what is and what will be so that we are not surprised, caught off guard or blindsided by it.

The Good News that just as Jesus promised, so He has sent us the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, to help us through the difficult times, especially when they involve our own loved ones.

The Good News that in Christ Jesus we have forgiveness for all of the times that we have forsaken the Lord, forsaken His Word and will… and sided with the world and those of the world.

The Good News that we are given a new start, washed clean again and again through Baptism and given the opportunity and spiritual strength to do what is good, right and salutary… do what is pleasing to the Lord and in keeping with His Holy Word and will.

How blessed we are… and this in Jesus, our Savior, Lord and King. Amen.

May the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.

“What Do You Think”  7/2/17  The Rev. Mark H. Hein, St. Paul’s Ev. Lutheran Church, Lockport, IL

“Have No Fear”

The Third Sunday after Pentecost (A)

“Have No Fear”

June 25, 2017

Sermon Text:  Matthew 10:5a, 21-33,

Grace, mercy and peace be unto you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Dearly Beloved of the Lord,

For three years now, Chapman University in Orange, California, has come out with a report on what Americans fear the most. Their most recent findings were reported in USA Today awhile back. Care to guess what was the number one fear that was expressed?

It surprised me. Not that it was a fear among Americans, but that it was at the top of the list and this, for the second straight year no less.

The number one fear among those surveyed was the corruption of government officials. Hmm. Go figure. It is no wonder that we as devout Christians and loyal citizens of this land daily remember our government leaders in our prayers to the one true God.

Second biggest fear? No surprise here. It is the fear of terrorist attacks, be they on a grand scale like 9/11 or a small one as seen this week with the stabbing of a police officer at the airport in Flint, Michigan.

Quickly going through the rest of the list in order of percentage, you have the fear of not having enough money for the future, the fear of being a victim of terror, the fear of government restrictions on firearms and ammunition, the fear of loved ones dying, the fear of economic or financial collapse, the fear of identity theft, the fear of love ones becoming seriously ill, and the fear of the Affordable Health Care Act and what used to be “Obamacare.”

So, how does all this compare with your own personal fears? What keeps you awake at night? What are the things that really concern you? Bother you? Things that either occupy your heart and mind or things that you repress, not wanting to go there… to think about this or that?

Some would try (and actually have tried) to put all of this on some sort of continuum or scale with outright deadly fear at one end and simple concern at the other with all other related emotions and feelings fitting somewhere in between. Ok…

The fact is, we are talking about emotions and feelings… human emotions and feelings that a person can have… will have to certain stimuli. Not all people will react the same way and to the same degree, but they will all… in some form or fashion… react.

It is part of being human. God wonderfully created us with emotions… with feelings. Adam and Eve had the same and this, perfectly… before the Fall into Sin, that is. Then, like everything else due to sin… our emotions… our feelings… became imperfect, faulty and corrupt.

As a pastor, I have the joy and privilege of helping people with a wide variety of issues and aspects. And yes, this includes dealing with fears and concerns that they have. In these instances, I never have said or will say to someone that they should not have such feelings, fears and concerns.

Why? Because these things will come, do come, as long as we live in this mortal body, in our corruptible flesh with an imperfect heart and mind. I am talking about the “Old Adam” in us, that which is part of us to the day we die when we shall shed the same and receive perfect and holy bodies at the resurrection of all flesh.

No. The issue is not having fears, worries and concerns. It is what we do with these things, WHEN these things (notice it is not a question of IF these things) come about. They will… and we will… respond, that is, in some form or fashion. We will act and react. The question is how?

And the answer should not be “on our own” … or “alone” … if we truly want to confront them and properly deal with… if we really, truly want to put any and all fears, worries and concerns to rest.

If you think that this is where I will share with you that our help… our only help… the only real solution that we and all people have is in the name of the Lord… that it is in Christ, through Christ and by means of His grace showered upon us in Word and Sacrament… then, you would be right.

The thing is, the vast majority of you know that… you know the answer. You know the solution. You know where your help truly comes from. But you do not apply it. You do not put it into action.

And the “it” is your faith… faith in Christ… faith in His Word… faith in His promises… faith in the Sacraments… and what they deliver and provide.

Make no mistake about it my friends, there is faith and then there is faith. There is a living faith and then there is a dead faith. Which one do you have and how do you know? How would you know?

Well, here is an idea… poke it! Does it move? Has it moved? Has it shown any signs of life in you? Is there any actions associated with it? If it is just there, lying still and breathless… I think you have your answer.

Where there is faith, true faith… a living and alive faith… there will always be the fruits of faith.

Put another way, true faith… a living and alive faith will always bear fruit … including having the ability to trust. To say that we have faith in God… faith in the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit… is to unequivocally trust our Heavenly Father… trust Christ our Savior, Lord and King… trust the mighty work of the Holy Spirit.

Where there is faith there is trust and where there is trust there is faith. The two go hand in hand with faith bearing the fruit of trust.

We are talking about having faith and fully trusting our Lord in the face of what will come, has come and continues to come upon us and all who believe… upon all who confess the Christian faith and live it daily… live in it daily.

What Christ shared with the Twelve in our Gospel lesson was more than just a little disconcerting. The part about brother delivering brother over to death, the father his child, children rising up against their parents and putting them to death. The part about being hated by all for His name’s sake… for the name of Jesus Christ. (Matthew 10:21-22)

Notice that our Lord then says, “When they persecute you.” (Matthew 10:23) It is not a matter of IF they persecute you. It will happen. It will be. And Jesus goes on to share with us that as “A disciple is not above his teacher” or “a servant above his master” so we are by no means exempt from persecution, suffering, pain and loss… all for the sake of Christ… all for the sake of the Kingdom.

Yikes! But in the passages that follow, our Lord says again and again… three times… not to fear… to have no fear. That as such may come upon us, send it out, shake it off, summarily dismiss it through the power of the Holy Spirit and don’t give it a second thought.

Why. Because whatever is invoking that fear… causing us to fear… cannot harm us. The Lord, our Lord, has us in His divine hands, under His protective wings. He will guard and defend us… help us… heal us of any wounds that the Old Evil Foe and his followers may inflict upon us in this life time. They are all short lived.

No. As Christ says in our Gospel text, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28)

Indeed, even if we die at the hands of evil, we need not fear that evil for all that can die is our mortal flesh which will rise up perfect and holy on the last day.  The question is, do we believe this… have faith in this… trust this?

If we do, there is no true fear to be had regarding anything and everything that can happen or will happen. There is no fear to be had about anything and everything in this world or beyond… anything visible or invisible… mortal or spiritual… EXCEPT… true fear, proper fear, rightful fear of the Lord our God… He who alone can destroy both body and soul in hell. (Matthew 10:28)

We are talking about true fear, proper fear, rightful fear, reverence and respect of the Lord our God who loves us perfectly, who knows us perfectly… knows our situations and circumstances perfectly… who knows even the number of hairs on our heads… who know what is best for us and is seeing to it that it happens… is seeing to it that all things… ALL THINGS are working together for our good… for our good and that of all who love the Lord… who have faith in the Lord… who trust in Him regarding all things and far above all things.

And so I leave you with three words which make up one simple message. They are not mine. They are the Lord’s… “Have no fear.” Amen.

May the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.

“Have No Fear” 6/25/17  The Rev. Mark H. Hein, St. Paul’s Ev. Lutheran Church, Lockport, IL