“The Blessed Ones”

The Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany (C)
“The Blessed Ones”
February 17, 2019

Sermon Text: Jeremiah 17:7, Luke 6:20-26

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,

You have said it. I have said it. Many have said it. Not only once, but continuously… constantly… and for good reason. Because it is true… wonderfully true. We are truly blessed. We are among the blessed ones.

But what does that mean? That which rolls off our tongues so easily… do we really know… understand… what being blessed is all about?

What it is not about is having what we want… what we crave and desire… what we determine is needed. It is, rather, all about what the Lord our God… in His infinite wisdom… in His abounding love, mercy and grace… gives to us or holds back from us.

Oh yes, we are just as much blessed by what we do not have… what we are not given… as by what is given to us. Not that we, still in this sinful flesh, like that, appreciate that many times.

Here’s an idea. If you want to know what being truly blessed is all about, look to the One who is the fount and source of every blessing. And He, the Lord Himself, provides the answer speaking through His servant, Jeremiah in today’s Old Testament text.

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord.” (Jeremiah 17:7)

My friends, when it comes to the subject of being blessed, look beyond, far beyond, the worldly to the divine. Set you sights, your focus, not on the things of this earth, but on the heavenly… not on the temporal, but on the eternal.

Look to the Lord, and by the mighty working of His Spirit in you, trust solely in the Lord. And this not partially or conditionally, but completely and solely… without reservation. Indeed, it is only by God the Holy Spirit that we can do this… only in the regeneration and renewal of our hearts and minds that took place at the time of our baptism and that which continues on in us ever since.

To trust in the Lord. To make Him our trust. The question can be legitimately asked, why wouldn’t we do this? Why wouldn’t we trust solely in the One who is the Maker… Creator… of the universe and all things in it? He who is our creator? He who is our provider seeing to ALL of our needs of body, soul and mind? He who alone has all of the power and might? He who alone loves us perfectly?

The answer is simple. It is due to sin. Sin causes us to doubt the Lord… doubt His Word and His abilities. Sin causes us to have “back-up plans” and to even put those plans and our trust above that of the Lord.

The answer is simple. Satan and this world… all those of this world get us thinking… wondering if we can really trust and rely on the Lord.

Sin, Satan and our own weak flesh so easily take our eyes off of the one true living God and His Word where He tells us unequivocally that “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord” and then goes on to explain what this means… what such blessings entail.

“He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.”     (Jeremiah 17:8)

In the Lord our God, through Christ Jesus and what He accomplished on the tree of the cross, we are strong and sturdy trees planted by the water of our Baptism and constantly nourished through the same. Trees… mighty trees, thriving trees, fruitful trees even in times of excessive heat and drought… even when things are tough in this world and in our own lives. Through it all, we do not fear… neither do we grow anxious.

We look what happened in Aurora and we realize how close that is to home… our homes. And it hits home… the fact that any and all people are vulnerable… that we are vulnerable… that we have no control over evil. We do not, but the Lord our God does… full control… allowing things to happen… to take place… for our ultimate good whether or not we see that good, understand it… now in time. We will most certainly in eternity and give ceaseless thanks and praise to God… that which we already do.

Our trust is in the Lord. As the Psalmist declares, “Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” (Psalm 124.8)

Come what may. We will be more than ok for we are Lord’s. We are His precious children redeemed and restored by the very blood of Jesus Christ.

It is by no accident that we have this Sunday the accompanying Gospel lesson where we are told that our Savior is with “a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon(Luke 6:17)

You have believers along with many onlookers there with Him… with Jesus. And St. Luke points out that our Lord “lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven.” (Luke 6:20-23)

Blessed are we and all fellow disciples of the Lord… all who trust in the Lord. Blessed are we without measure… this even in the face of evil and adversity… in the face of heartaches and headaches… the pressure and persecution that will come because of our faith… because of our resolute confession that Jesus is Lord. As Christ Himself declares, “behold, your reward is great in heaven.” It is sure. It is certain.

Make no mistake about it. Never doubt it, my friends. We are the blessed ones! Amen.

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

“The Blessed Ones”  2/17/19  The Rev. Mark H Hein, St. Paul’s Ev. Lutheran Church, Lockport,

“Forgiven and Sent by the Holy and Inscrutable God”

The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany (C)
“Forgiven and Sent by the Holy and Inscrutable God”
February 10, 2019

Sermon Text: Isaiah 6:1-8

Martin Luther’s theology of the cross largely centers around the belief that much of Who God is and what He does and why He does what He does is as far beyond our understanding as a Beethoven symphony is over the head of your average houseplant.  Faith comes as we rest in those things that Almighty God has chosen to reveal to us.  This is where you have come from.  These are the rules and standards I have given you to live by.  This is where you have failed.  And this is what I have done about your failure – I have sent my only Son to be both the priest and the sacrifice in making atonement for yours sins.  My Son is now risen from the dead, and He comes to you in mercy through very specific and exclusive means of grace, through Word and Sacrament and Sacrament, to forgive you here and now and to give you eternal life and to sustain in the one true faith.  And that’s all we really know about God.  And faith says, that is enough.

In our day and age, we are usually pretty good about citing those things that we know about God, that He is love and mercy in His Son Jesus Christ and we are forgiven and okay.  What we are not so good about is accepting the other part of the theology of the cross – that most of the transcendent God is beyond our understanding and we have to accept that.

A simple illustration of this is as follows: one of my professors in seminary liked to say that we need to be careful about calling the Middle Ages the Dark Ages.  In many ways, the people back then were more enlightened than we are now.  In Luther’s day, if a tree fell on your house, God did it, and that’s all there was to it.  If your friend died from the plague, then God did it, and that’s all there was to it.  God was someone to be feared, and that was not all bad.  Nowadays, if a tree falls on your house, the Weather Channel tells you that this low pressure system over here did this and that and those things combined with the cold front over there made the tree fall on your house and God gets left out of the discussion.  If your friend dies, it’s because we didn’t have this medicine or that medicine or the doctor failed to do this or that and God gets left out of the discussion.  We don’t fear God anymore because we never see ourselves as interacting with the holy, transcendent, and inscrutable God – we only get our little wafer and sip of wine at communion that tells us that we’re okay and that’s as far as we let God get.  We live in a very scientific age where we are used to being able to investigate and explain and control everything and there is no room left for a God Who we don’t understand.  When multitudes of people, including most of the people who get praised as being the best and brightest, can run around saying that they reject God because this or that thing about God just doesn’t make sense to them – I wonder, who really is living in the dark ages?

I may have told you before about the exercise I like to do with the confirmation class.  Who here can remember what you had for dinner last night?  Fine.  Now, who here can remember what you had for dinner on January 7th, or for that matter, what you had for dinner any day that week that was only one month ago?  Anyone?  OK, so now we’ve established that your memory, as fine it might be, has very definite limitations.  Now, who here has changed your mind about something important in the last year?  Something you thought was true or false that you found out you were wrong about?  A person you felt you could trust who you found out otherwise about?  Something you thought was important or unimportant that you found out you were wrong about?  Some investment or purchase that you found out you were wrong about?  You’ve changed your mind about something that you had previously reasoned through to the best of your ability.  But you were wrong.  So, your reasoning ability is as flawed as your memory.  And now we, with our limited, extremely flawed minds and our faulty reasoning ability, we are going to sit in judgment on God?  I looked up the word arrogant in the dictionary and I saw a picture of us.  All too often in the 21st century, there is no fear of God in us, no reverence for His Holiness and His wisdom, no ability for us to say, “Lord God Almighty, You alone are righteous and just and wise and all of Your ways and all of Your commands are good.”  The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.  It is all fine to trust in Jesus and call Him merciful and depend upon His love.  But to come to Him in the 21st century manner, to put your arm around Him like He is just another friend, to approach Him without some measure of fear and trepidation, is the very definition of foolishness.

Isaiah was enlightened.  He knew how to act around Almighty God.  If he didn’t know that already, Yahweh gave Him a vision that shattered his foolishness and taught him reverent fear for the Almighty’s holiness and power.  Isaiah sees the throne of God and angels worshiping Him as they cry out, “Holy, holy, holy, Yahweh God Almighty, the whole earth is being filled with your glory.”  The place rattles and rolls like a bridge in a major earthquake and Isaiah is struck to his core with fear.  Isaiah knows his Scriptures and his temple theology.  He knew that the only glory of God that even Moses was allowed to see was when he was hidden behind a great rock and was only allowed to see God’s backside as He passed by.  And even then, Moses’ face still glowed when he came back down the mountain side.  And Isaiah knew that the current dwelling place of the Lord among His people was in the temple, hidden in the Holy of Holies, which only the high priest could approach with fear and reverence on one day out of the whole year.  Isaiah knew that a sinner approaching the holy God was like an ice cube thrown into a huge fire.  All that would be left would be fine water vapor hopelessly dissipated into the atmosphere.  Isaiah knew that the only thing that he could bring to the table was his sin.  And so, he cries out, “Woe is me, I am undone, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people with unclean lips; for I have seen the King, Yahweh of hosts.”  It was his own particular way of crying out, “Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner,” because there was absolutely nothing else for him to do or say.

Fortunately for Isaiah, there was something else there besides the throne.  There was also an altar.  From this altar one of the angels flies to Isaiah with the sacramental coal, to touch Isaiah’s lips with it, to take away Isaiah’s guilt and purge his sin.

Here is where the reverent awe and fear of God Almighty meets the mercy and love of Yahweh, mercy given for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ through a very specific means of grace.  Before the Lord’s institution of the Lord’s Supper and Holy Baptism in the New Covenant, there was the sacramental coal for Isaiah, delivered from the altar of God to Isaiah for the forgiveness of his sins.  Here in these few short verses is all the doctrine of Scripture, the holy, transcendent, inscrutable God lowering Himself to come to sinful humans in love and grace through very specific physical gifts.  Here is the tension that we the people of God live in daily.  Every day we approach God with fear and trepidation because of Who He is, and yet we come with all confidence and boldness because of what He has promised in His Son Jesus Christ.  We live in the same tension that a small child lives in as he sits upon his father’s lap.  The child feels safe because his dad is dad, the greatest man in all the world and the man who would do the most to protect him.  And yet the child, as safe as he feels, and as confident as he is in his dad, would not dare to make some kind of smart aleck comment to his dad because he fears his dad’s wrath more than anything.  That child is us, resting with appropriate caution and respect in the hands of God our heavenly Father.

Isaiah is touched with God’s grace in the sacrament of the coal from the altar, and he is forgiven, just as we are touched with God’s grace in Word and Sacrament and Sacrament.  But we dare not take these things lightly.  We dare not take them for granted.  We dare not forget the awesomeness, the power, the might, and the holiness of the God who meets us here in these things.  In Baptism you are forgiven and adopted by Christ – but beware lest you use the gift for some other purpose, lest you change it from your sacred calling in life into some kind of ticket to heaven that demands nothing of you.  In the Word you are renewed and taught and given faith – but beware lest you change the Word from something that is given to turn your life upside down into something you can pick and choose scraps and portions from here and there that you agree with and that make you feel good about yourself.  These sacramental gifts are not given to tell you that you are okay and make you feel all warm inside, but to alter you and change you into what the Almighty has planned for you.  It would be far better for you not to interact with them at all than to misuse them, because in them you interact with the holy and mighty God and if they don’t change you from the inside out you are still just a sinner, just an ice cube headed for the center of the volcano.  Whatever happened to the people of God who used to quake with fear at His approach and beg for mercy and who earnestly desired to know, “What does the Lord demand of me today?”

Another one of my professors in seminary told us that he wished that we could print Communion cards that said, “If you are not in full agreement with our confession of faith, if you do not believe that in the Lord’s Supper you receive the true body and true blood of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and if you currently hold any grudges against a brother or sister in Christ, we ask you not to partake of the Lord’s Supper with us today, lest you get sick and die,” because that’s Biblical.  That’s 1 Corinthians 11.  Beware of taking for granted and misusing and abusing the gifts through which the Holy Spirit delivers Christ to us.

But thanks be to the Holy Spirit for His faithfulness to His promises.  Thanks be to Him for remembering that we are dust, that we are nothing but grass that dries up in the sun’s heat and withers and dies and is blown away in the wind and forgotten.  Thanks be to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit for hearing our repentant cries, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner … for I am a man of unclean heart, I am a man of a black heart corrupt and broken to its core, and I live among a people of unclean hearts.”  Praise and thanks be to the Lord for doing what He does best, for doing what He most loves to do, for coming to us with His sacramental gifts and pronouncing His divine absolution upon us.  We are forgiven, we are His, and nothing will ever be able to separate us from Him.

Then the Holy Trinity speaks – “Who shall I send?  And who will go for us?”  And Isaiah responds the only way a sinner called by the Gospel can respond – “Here am I.  Send me.”  God’s absolution is not an undemanding ticket to heaven.  God’s absolution is a draft notice.  You are no longer your own.  You have been bought with a price.  And now, you serve.  That’s the only reason you’re still here in this world.  If Jesus was just issuing tickets to heaven, we’d have to have some kind of hole in the ceiling here because the words “I baptize you in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit” would be quickly followed by an elevator ride to heaven.  We are still here to serve.  “Who shall I send?  And who will go for us?”  “Here am I.  Send me.”  And now we each have our callings.  You and you and you and you and you and me.  We each have our stuff that we’ve supposed to get done out there over the course of the next week, in love and service to our neighbor.  And we’re supposed to do all that stuff in a way that provokes the people of the world to jealousy, to make them ask, “What is it about you that gives you your sense of purpose and your joy and your certainty about the future that I would like to have.”

Of course, it doesn’t always work out like that.  Like Isaiah, we live in a generation and a society that doesn’t seem to want to hear the truth.  But like Isaiah, we do the best we can and we don’t give up.  I had the good fortune this week to have a discussion with one of my co-workers where I mentioned to him that I really like the Russian writers of the 19th century because they hadn’t rejected God the way so much of the rest of Europe had rejected Him at that time.  And that discussion led to him saying that he had been away from God because he had been raised in a strict Catholic background and had been essentially kicked out of his family for marrying a divorced woman and that that whole experience, plus all the scandals involving the Roman Catholic priests, had left him with a lot of scars that were difficult for him to get over.  And we talked for a while, and I left that discussion feeling like he had moved a little bit closer to where the Lord would like him to be and also that he was now more comfortable talking about these things with me and that I might be someone he would talk to in a week or 3 months or a year when he was ready to talk about it some more.  Unfortunately, I don’t get those opportunities much.  Everybody seems to be so militant about their beliefs that they can’t really talk about anything.  And I’ll bet that you find yourselves in the same kind of environment.

But we don’t give up.  We have been sent.  And those kinds of interactions are what we have been sent to be a part of.  Here am I.  Send me.  It’s the only response that we the people of God can have when the holy, transcendent, and inscrutable God forgives us and asks, “Whom shall I send?  And who will go for us?”  Here am I.  Send me.

May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, into life everlasting.  Amen.

 Forgiven and Sent by the Holy and Inscrutable God   2/10/19

The Rev. Richard J Bellas, St. Paul’s Ev. Lutheran Church, Lockport, IL

“What is This Word?”

The Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany (C)
“What is This Word?”
February 3, 2019

Sermon Text: Luke 4:31-44

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,

Desensitization – We all know what it means… what it entails… namely us or others having, over time, a diminished emotional response to something negative… something aversive.

A very real problem and concern in our society today is how desensitized people have become to murders and killings… to shootings and stabbings. Why? Because it happens all the time. It is seen all of the time on the news to the extent that it no longer elicits a proper response.… where it is just another occurrence and we fail to consider after a while what really happened… that real men, women and children have died… that real family members and friends are grieving, grief stricken, having lost a loved one.

Certainly, this includes the reaction of many… of most… to abortion. By and large the horror is gone… the disdain, disgust, repulsiveness of the same no longer present. We hear the numbers of babies killed in utero and that is all it is… numbers without faces, numbers without little bodies in various stages of development… various stages of being made by the very hand of God.

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“Done! Then, Now, Forever!”

The Third Sunday after the Epiphany (Series C)
“Done! Then, Now, Forever!”
January 27, 2019

Sermon Text: Luke 4:16-30

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

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

I’d like to begin this message mentioning something that happened this week. And I do so because, as you will see, it fits perfectly into… and is incredibly connected to… today’s Gospel lesson.

Quite frankly, if we as Christians do not hear it from the pulpit, we cannot expect to hear it in public. If the called and ordained servants of the Lord are not saying something… anything… can we expect something… anything different from lay servants of the Lord… from you and all the faithful?

You probably know what took place this week in both the State of Illinois and New York State and the further condoning… the giving of additional rights and provisions for the killing, murdering and dismembering of unborn children… babies in the womb… human beings… in some cases right before their birth.

Continue reading ““Done! Then, Now, Forever!””

“The First of Many”

The Second Sunday After the Epiphany (C)
“The First of Many”
January 20, 2019

Sermon Text: John 2:1-11

Grace, mercy and peace be unto you from our Messiah, Christ Jesus. Amen.

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

The Epiphany Season continues and with it… in it… so do the epiphanies… the revelations and enlightenment… the coming to know… and this more and more… that Jesus of Nazareth is undeniably the Savior of the world… our Messiah… our Lord… our King.

We have seen how the Christ-Child… this Jesus… was revealed to the shepherds tending their flocks by night by means of an angel and all the heavenly host. We have seen how this holy Infant was revealed to the wise men by means of a magnificent guiding star. We have seen how Jesus was revealed to truly be the Son of God by His own Father… God the Father… whose voice proclaimed as our Lord stepped out of the river Jordan, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17)

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“The Heavens Were Opened”

The Baptism of Our Lord (Series C)
“The Heavens Were Opened”
January 13, 2019

Sermon Text: Luke 3:15-22

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

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

The holy evangelist, St. Luke, certainly provides an interesting account of the baptism of our Lord. Before getting into this most holy and blessed event, he talks about the work of John the Baptist who made it clear to all that he was not the Christ… that he was not the anointed One… not the Messiah.

He was, instead the forerunner of Christ… the one who prepared the way of the Lord… the voice crying out in the wilderness.

In fact, Luke tells us that as John continued to baptize those who came out to him in the wilderness, there by the river Jordan, that he also made it very clear that the One who would come after him… the One of whom John was not even worthy to do the simplest and most menial of tasks, namely  untying the straps of His sandals… that this One… the true and only Christ… would baptize “with the Holy Spirit and with fire” as He separated the faithful from the unfaithful, the believer from the unbeliever, the repentant from the unrepentant… just as good and wholesome wheat is separated from useless chaff that is destined to be burned in the fire.

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“Guided by a Star”

The Epiphany of Our Lord
“Guided by a Star”
January 6, 2019

Sermon Text: Matthew 2:1-12

Peace be unto you from our revealed Messiah, Christ Jesus. Amen.

Dearly Beloved of the Lord,

I think we have all been in the situation where… out of a fairly large group of people… we were the last to know something… the last to be aware of something… to be privy to some information.  And when we eventually find out and share the same with others declaring “Who knew?” … all of a sudden people start raising their hands or otherwise acknowledging… admitting… that they did… that they already knew.

Thankfully, in most cases, what counts is knowing, whenever that may take place. Earlier for some… later for others… but still knowing. This certainly holds true in regard to the Christian faith. It holds true in our knowing Jesus.

Today we celebrate one of the major festivals of the church year – The Epiphany of Our Lord – where the revelation, manifestation and attestation begin in earnest.

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