“If You Have to Ask”

The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost (A)
“If You Have to Ask”
September 17, 2017

Sermon Text:   Matthew 18:21-35

Peace be unto you from our Triune God – Father, X Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Dearly Beloved of the Lord,

In the church, all that a person need do is mention that they are in the process of using “Matthew 18” and little more needs to be said. They are referring to what Christ our Lord says should be the loving course of action in regard to a brother or sister who has sinned against you. This is all recorded in the verses just prior to today’s Gospel text.

And it is interesting to note that just ignoring the sin, overlooking the sin or “sweeping it under the rug” is not one of the options given by our Lord. It never is. And yet it is the way of most people today… the way of many Christians and the way of many Christian congregations.

Nobody wants to confront the sin or the sinner and do you know what?  Satan is loving it. He is having a field day with many congregations, many individuals, many marriages and families where sin is simply overlooked Make no mistake about it. Satan is the one pushing the whole “Don’t get involved” movement. Just let it alone – the sin, that is. Just leave him or her alone – the sinner, in regard to their transgressions.

And this my friends, although expedient… although the simplest way out with no muss or fuss, with no confrontation, no angst, no energy or time expended… is nevertheless the cowardly way out, the most unloving and uncaring way out.  Most importantly, it goes right up against God’s Word, God’s will.

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“Serious Business”

The Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost (A)
“Serious Business”
September 10, 2017

Sermon Text:  Ezekiel 33:7-9

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

Dear Fellow Redeemed,

There are many things in our lives which we would consider to be “serious business.” Wouldn’t you agree? Things that are important, critical and essential even. Things which we do not take lightly because this or that can certainly have a significant impact.

But for whom? Ourselves? That is usually what comes to mind… what is often front and center, first and foremost, in our thoughts. Ourselves.

For us, our health is serious business… our livelihood and financial future are serious business. Our welfare… our being comfortable… without want… being safe and secure… is serious business.

And for many people, enjoying every minute of life, having fun throughout life, going from one great moment to the next… is serious business.

We will get back to the “me, myself and I” in just a bit and consider now the fact that there is a lot of “serious business” out there which may or may not have a direct impact on our lives and too often is of secondary concern if of any concern at all.

Hurricane Irma is serious business. As was and still is Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath. The forest fires out West are serious business. The earthquake in Mexico… serious business. The situation with North Korea… serious business. Racism in our country is serious business (and yes, that is a plug for our first Sunday Adult Bible Class discussion which begins today).

It is all serious business. But how much of it is our business, our concern, personally and individually? We invest so much of ourselves in ourselves and our concern for ourselves and maybe our own family members and some close friends… that there is little or nothing left for us to invest in that which is beyond the self.

We have become, in many ways, an island to ourselves… in and of ourselves, with our own interests and possessions at heart. We have tried to make it our own tropical paradise, filled with wonderful things… “a little bit of heaven” if you will, for us here on earth.

And this, totally forgetting where and only where a little bit of heaven here on earth can be found… the only place it is found. And it is right here in divine worship. Heaven is where God is… the very same Lord our God who comes to us here, is present with us here in the divine service. It is not just a nice thought… it is reality!

Indeed, for a few precious minutes we are in the presence of the Alpha and Omega to Whom it is only good, right and proper that we bow and kneel before the same.

For a few precious minutes, we join with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven… all of the saints who are in glory… in together giving glory to God right here, right now, in this place.

THIS… is serious business! And yet, amazingly, tragically and sadly, you have those who do not come every week and at every opportunity. You have those who can’t wait until the service is over… “Pastor would you please just wrap up your sermon!” or “O my goodness, do you see how many verses this hymn has!”… so that they can get to that which is most important for themselves… for the me, myself and I.

Funny thing about being an island to yourself… being on an island… especially when the beautiful sun, the gentle breezes and calm seas give way in a blink of an eye to thick darkness and billowing clouds, to hurricane force winds and a storm surge so high and formidable that it wipes away everything in its path.

You have seen pictures of the aftermath… of all the devastation. But nothing like that which is to come. And I am not talking about Hurricane Irma hitting land. I am talking about the storm to come… the storm that is already upon us… the storm that will only grow in intensity and will leave in its wake, death and destruction the likes of which this world has never known.

It is serious business, but you wouldn’t know it by talking to the vast majority of people here and around the world. How is it with you?

We have an aunt who lives near St. Petersburg, Florida, and she was saying yesterday that she was out and about in the morning, picking up supplies (at age 92 no less) and remarked what a delightful day they were having weather wise. The sun was shining and there were only a few wispy clouds in the sky.  But she knows what is coming and is prepared. The ironic thing is, she has been evacuated from her apartment complex and is staying at her church which is more inland. She has fled to the church. Think about that!

The irony is… the church… the Holy Christian Church… is the only viable shelter, true shelter from the spiritual storm that is, in many ways, already here, but is yet to come in full force and will soon be upon all of the inhabitants of the world with a divine vengeance and righteous fury that one can hardly imagine because there is nothing to compare it to.

The destruction of those outside of the Church… outside of the true Body of Christ… will be full and complete… to those who live in sin, remain in sin… who continue with their sinful lifestyle… to those who refuse to bend the knee and confess that Jesus is Lord… to those who do not see Him as their Savior and their only salvation.

“So you, son of man, I have made a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. If I say to the wicked, O wicked one, you shall surely die, and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from his way, that wicked person shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand.

But if you warn the wicked to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way, that person shall die in his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul.” (Ezekiel 33:7-9)

My friends, consider yourself duly warned by God… and this, from the lips of a fellow brother, a poor miserable sinner just like you. Consider yourself duly warned by one whom God has called and ordained to be His “watchman.” One who watches over your souls. A “seelsorger” in the German.

Hear the call to repentance as this could not be for you or me more important. It is serious business and at the top of the list.

Hear also the wonderful Gospel message that in Christ Jesus you and I truly have complete forgiveness for all of our sinful, selfish, wicked ways. Let that sink in… settle into your hearts and minds… truly bringing you the peace that surpasses all worldly understanding.

Your sins… my sins… they have all been washed away in the crimson flood of Jesus blood. They are no more and we have now… today… this minute… a fresh start… a new beginning… here in the Lord… here in His Holy Church where together we will ride out each and every worldly storm…

… here, together, where we reach out to so many who are right now spiritually adrift, in great peril and danger…

… here together, where we have the great joy and privilege of attending to the needs of those who have been affected by worldly storms, earthquakes, fires or whatever.

Serious business?  Yes… indeed. Help us O Lord to truly, faithfully, be about the same… now and every day of our lives… all to Your glory! Amen.

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

“Serious Business” 9/10/17  The Rev. Mark H. Hein, St. Paul’s Ev. Lutheran Church, Lockport, IL

“The Would-ah, Could-ah, Should-ah vs the Done and Done”

The Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost (A)
“The Would-ah, Could-ah, Should-ah vs the Done and Done”
September 3, 2017

Sermon Text:  Matthew 16:21-28

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,

So, what is up with the title of this sermon?  I wasn’t going for my longest to date (although it may very well be).

It incorporates two phrases that one may hear now and then. The first is “wouldah, couldah, shouldah” referring to any time that we would have done something, could have done something, should have done something, but what? We didn’t do it. I am sure any one of us can look back on our lives and recall certain times when we “wouldah, couldah, shouldah” … but didn’t. And there may be more than just a few regrets attached to them.

The other phrase is just a simple way of proclaiming, making it known, that we have accomplished something, finished something, as we emphatically say, “Done and done!”

In many ways, all of the “wouldah, couldah, shouldah’s” in our life stand juxtaposed to the “done and done’s.” It is like taking a piece a paper, making two columns and on one side adding up in our life all of the “Didn’t’s” and  on the other, all of the “Did’s.”

Continue reading ““The Would-ah, Could-ah, Should-ah vs the Done and Done””

“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

“On This Rock”

The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost (A)
“On This Rock”
August 27, 2017

Sermon Text:  Matthew 16:13-20

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,

Although impossible to say for sure, the way it is written and presented, Simon Peter’s response seems to be immediate and decisive to the question asked.

To our Lord’s inquiry, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter relies, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:15)

There appears to have been no delay… no equivocation… no hemming and hawing on Peter’s part. He didn’t ask the Lord for a hint. He didn’t ask the Lord if, to this one-question quiz, it could be multiple choice… “Am I…A… B… or C?”

No. To the direct question comes the direct answer, filled with all conviction and certainty, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

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“The One Who Hears”

The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost (A)
“The One Who Hears”
August 20, 2017

Sermon Text:  Matthew 15:21-28

 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,

If only. If only the persistence of this Canaanite highlighted in our Gospel text was also the persistence of the Israelites… all the “lost sheep of the house of Israel” which our Savior mentions here. (Matthew 15:24)

If only the persistence of this Canaanite was also that of every Christian man, woman and child. If only her persistence was our persistence – yours and mine. As well as her humbleness, her humility, as she likens herself to of all things, a dog, and considered Jesus the Master, her Master.

I have shared with you before that unlike today, dogs back then were just that, just there, roaming around, not having the “pet” status… the “man’s best friend” status… of today. There were no Petsmarts, no pet doctors, no pet food. They ate whatever garbage was on the street and if one did make it into the house, as this woman attests to, they ate at best the scraps, the meager crumbs, which fell from the master’s table.

And she was perfectly willing to do likewise… to accept the same… crumbs of kindness, mercy, help and comfort from her Master and ours… Jesus.

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“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