Sunday, September 27, 2009

Sermon on Matthew 9:1-8 for Children's Sunday, "What ails you?"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Welcome to our church and school families, and to all our students who join in praising our God here today! The message I’ll share with you today is about the Gospel reading, where Jesus forgave and healed the paralytic. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

“This man needs healing! Lord, have mercy on him!”, might have been the words of his friends when they brought him to Jesus. Jesus took notice of their faith—their trust that He could heal their friend. Lying on his bed, they must have carried their friend in as though he was on a stretcher. There was no ambulance to take him, no hospital to care for him, no doctor to heal him. Only Jesus, and the hope of His mercy. Their friend was paralyzed. We don’t know his story; did he experience some tragic fall or accident? Some injury that left him unable to walk? Unable to move his arms and legs? But his friends loved him. They loved him enough to bring him to Jesus, with the faith that Jesus could heal him, and free their friend from his confinement to his bed. A crowd was watching with wide eyes to see what Jesus, the great healer would do.

Jesus, to the surprise of everyone there, does something quite unexpected. Instead of healing the man, Jesus at first ignores the paralysis. To the eyes of all those around Jesus, and to the friends who brought the man, the most pressing need was to heal the man’s paralysis. But He acts as if that wasn’t even the reason they brought him there. Instead He says, “Take heart son, your sins are forgiven!” It’s as if you’d go to the doctor with a broken arm and he treated you for a heart problem first. Now if you went to a doctor for a throbbing pain in your back and they gave you something for your stomach, you might think they were a quack or didn’t know anything about properly diagnosing your condition. But if you went in with an ailment like a broken arm, and he discovered a far more serious heart condition that you weren’t aware of, and treated you for that—far from being angry, you’d be thrilled and relieved that he discovered the life-threatening condition.

This is just what happened. Jesus looks past the man’s physical condition, and expertly diagnoses his real ailment—the actual life-threatening spiritual condition of the heart—and that was sin. It must have been a dramatic scene, as everyone watched with wide eyes to see Jesus heal this man—and then He says, “Take heart son, your sins are forgiven!”—they must have all said, “Huh?! What did He just do? But wasn’t He supposed to…? Can He just do that?”

We probably don’t react with nearly as much surprise to those words: “your sins are forgiven” as Jesus’ 1st century Jewish hearers did. In a way we think opposite of the Jewish hearers of Jesus. We think it’s easier to say “your sins are forgiven” than “rise up and walk” because we’re skeptical of miracles, and we think the miracle is the harder thing. Anyone could say the words “your sins are forgiven.” That’s because we seem to think there’s no power behind those words. Except whatever power we might give them. But Jesus did the miracle to show that
there was real power behind those words, because He was God.

However, 1st century Jewish believers had a clear understanding of the Bible, that only God could take away sins, and that God is the only Savior. To claim what Jesus said, was the same as claiming to be God. No man could claim to take your sins away. The religious leaders who heard Him clearly recognized He was claiming to be God, and so they said amongst themselves, “He blasphemes!”

Blaspheme is an unfamiliar word. Blasphemy was considered the worst of sins, and there were two basic kinds of blasphemy: the first was blaming God for some evil or denying Him credit for some good He has done. An example of this happened when the religious leaders said that Jesus performed His miracles by the power of the devil. They were claiming that Jesus worked good by the power of evil, and they denied God of His honor for the blessings He gave. This also happens when we accuse God of evil things in our lives. It’s to blame God for sin.

The second kind of blasphemy was the one the Jews accused Jesus of doing. This kind of blasphemy is to claim to be God or to have His powers. Or to say something created has those powers or qualities. This is why worship of nature, of idols, or even of human rulers like the Caesars and Pharaohs is strictly forbidden. If a human being claimed to be God, or to exercise God’s authority, this was blasphemy. This is an important point to grasp if we’re to make any sense of why Jesus was crucified. A lot of people puzzle over why the religious leaders hated Jesus so much, and why He was crucified. Because people tend to have an image of Jesus as a harmless person who never bothered anybody and only healed people and did miracles and taught love. But they’re missing an important part of the picture; that Jesus made the claim that He was the Son of God, and truly acted with God’s power and authority. This claim is why the leaders accused Him of blasphemy and later crucified Him. They said, “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Mark 2:7). They knew what Jesus was claiming, and they were furious.

If Jesus wasn’t really who He said He was, then it would have been blasphemy for Him to say such things. But since He really was God in human flesh, they were denying God credit for the good that He was doing. So, Jesus accepts their challenge. They don’t believe He’s divine, or has the authority to forgive sins. So to prove that He has both authority to forgive and to heal, Jesus commands the paralytic to rise and walk, and carry his mat home. With Jesus’ simple words, the man was instantly freed of his crippling ailment, and got back the free use of his arms and legs. The jaws that were gaping when Jesus said “Your sins are forgiven,” were dropping even lower when they saw this miracle. The people were amazed and praised God for giving this authority to men. Jesus took their challenge and showed that He did have divine authority. But would they now believe?

In the same way that Jesus expertly diagnosed the paralytic’s real need, in the forgiveness of sins—Jesus also diagnoses our crucial need as forgiveness. He sees that sin is what ails us. We tend to focus on our outward problems, but He sees the underlying problem at work in each of us. But we don’t necessarily recognize or believe that. What does forgiveness have to do with all the problems I face? How can forgiveness change me from the inside out? How can forgiveness be the most crucial thing for me even when I face other health problems? Whatever our physical circumstances, if we harbor resentment and bitterness in our hearts, we’ll inevitably be worse off. If we’re laboring under the guilt of something we’ve done wrong, and haven’t sought forgiveness from that person or from God, then we’ll have no peace inside us.

Family quarrels can often start around a sick or dying family member. If they don’t reconcile with one another, there can be deep and lasting divisions between them. Everyone needs forgiveness, and to live life without forgiveness is a fate worse than mere paralysis. It’s worse than being trapped in a bed, unable to move or even care for yourself. What are the symptoms of this need for forgiveness? Life without forgiveness means broken and strained relationships. I imagine we sometimes try to deny the need for forgiveness—but all this does is force us to make excuses for our wrong actions, and always try to prove that we’re right. This would mean either you’re always on the offense, plowing other people over—or you’re always on the defense, defending your actions from those you’ve wronged. But try as we might to ignore the need for forgiveness, it’s a real and deep-seated need in every person, and Jesus diagnoses that need as THE central thing that ails us. We could be healthy, wealthy, and wise—but if we have no forgiveness and are unable to forgive, then the fatal illness of our sin will be our end.

But Jesus has the cure. His Word of forgiveness isn’t empty, and He entrusted this message to His church to proclaim to people as well. So when the believers in Christ proclaim this Word of forgiveness, they do so with Christ’s commission and blessing. He said to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins to every nation. When we forgive each other, it’s not just empty words. When we tell a person who’s weighed-down by their guilt, and is sorry for what they’ve done, to take heart, because Jesus has forgiven their sins—those aren’t empty words. Jesus backed those words up with His death on the cross. If we cannot see the relation between His cross and our sin, then we don’t understand what it means to be Christian. There in His death, He atoned for sin—paid its price, so that we’re no longer paralyzed under a debt we don’t have the means to pay.

Jesus showed He had the authority to lay His life down and take it up again (John 10:17-18). His dying on the cross and rising from the dead showed that He has the divine authority to forgive sins, and He has authority over life and death. So He gives the authority to forgive sins to His church, so that believers may take His message to the world. Forgiveness is His Word to guilty and sorrowful. Forgiveness is His Word to heal broken relationships. Forgiveness is the crucial answer to what ails us. So take heart children of God! Christ has forgiven you of your sins! In Jesus name, Amen.
Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.

Sermon Talking Points:
Read past sermons at:
Listen to audio at:

 Special note: Ephesians 4:26 may cause you some puzzlement. It reads: “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.” We should understand from this verse that anger in itself isn’t always a sin. It’s the outcome or actions we take as a result that may be sinful. We are warned to avoid sinning in our anger, and certainly not to go to sleep with unresolved resentment.

1. Read Matt. 9:1-8. What was the obvious need of the paralyzed man? What did Jesus address first instead?

2. What did the Jewish people often (incorrectly) assume about a person suffering an illness? John 9:1-5

3. Why is our sin the most life-threatening ailment we face? Read Romans 6:23 Why is it even more important to have forgiveness than physical health? (hint: even healthy people all eventually do what?)

4. Why were Jesus’ words, “Your sins are forgiven!” such a shock to the religious leaders? What was the sin they accused Him of doing? Read the parallel account of this healing in Mark 2:1-12 (esp. 7).

5. How did Jesus address their challenge of His authority? How did Jesus demonstrate His authority? (cf. later, John 10:17-18)

6. What are the consequences of not having forgiveness? How does it affect our lives or those around us? How does forgiveness change us? What did Jesus do to make forgiveness possible?

7. How has Jesus entrusted the power to forgive to His church? Read John 20:21-23; Luke 10:16; 24:45-49. Let’s forgive!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Sermon on Mark 9:30-37, for the 16th Sunday after Pentecost. "Kingdom of Paradoxes"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Today’s sermon from the Gospel reading will look at a few paradoxes in the kingdom of God. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

First we need to define what a paradox is: it’s when a truth or an event is contrary to what we would believe or expect. A famous paradoxical statement is “at the beginning of Dickens Tale of Two Cities: ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.’” Truth is remarkably often found in paradox. A paradox is not the same as a contradiction. It’s when things appear to contradict, but in fact do not. The Christian faith has many paradoxes: Jesus being true God and true man at the same time. That God is Three Persons, yet only One God. That we’re at the same time saints and sinners. Paradox is also reflected in science and nature. Light is described both as an electromagnetic wave, but also as a particle or photon. Paradoxes are when two things seem to exclude each other. It seems that light could not be both wave and particle. It seems that Jesus could not be both God and man at the same time. But each of these paradoxes are true. They give an accurate explanation of the way things are.

In the Gospel reading, Jesus begins to teach His disciples of the paradox of His coming death and resurrection. Seemingly contradictory truths. He was going to be betrayed and killed. But in three days He would rise. They were afraid to question this paradox. But while Jesus was trying to teach them about the importance of His coming sacrificial death, and about the way of humility and service, they were arguing among themselves about superiority and greatness! Isn’t it like that with us? God wants us to learn about the centrality of Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection, and understand how it impacts all our lives—and we’re focused instead on how to get ahead of everyone else, and getting the glory and power.

We struggle and push for influence, recognition, power, greatness—you name it. We have to be first in everything. Something as simple as cutting in line is a reflection of that attitude. People don’t tend to fight their way to the back of long lines at the airport, bank, or supermarket. At first I thought that there wasn’t even an English word for the opposite of cutting in line to get ahead...but I realized there is: courtesy. Courtesy goes against our inborn nature.

There’s another way this thirst to get ahead expresses itself. It’s called narcissism. Narcissism is an excessive focus on yourself. It’s being self-centered or egocentric. It’s the sin of love that revolves around itself. True love is directed outward to someone else. But our sinful nature is curved in on itself, and we love ourselves more than anything else. A recent book by psychologists Dr. Jean Twenge & Dr. Keith Campbell called “The Narcissism Epidemic,” warns how this is becoming a major problem in America, and the serious consequences at hand. When she spoke to college audiences, she was amazed to hear how readily the college students admitted they were narcissistic. She was even more surprised they defended it—almost always giving the reason that “they had to be” because everything is so competitive. So they reasoned that if a little self-esteem is good, then a lot of self-esteem (read: overconfidence) would be great!

But the students were equally shocked to learn from her studies that successful people are rarely overconfident of themselves, and sometimes even doubted their own abilities. They were surprised to learn that being modest, humble, and realistic about your abilities can actually make you more successful, because you often work harder at things. Another paradox. But it has a similar lesson to what Jesus was teaching the disciples. It’s not all about me. “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” Jesus directed His disciples away from their narcissism and self-centeredness to think of others, and be of service to others. To place yourself last, and be a servant of all. I imagine next week I will hear someone say, “Pastor! I got stuck in the grocery line for 2 hours one day, because I kept moving to the back of the line to allow others ahead of me!” But seriously, the attitude of putting yourself first in everything, and seeking power and control, is quite the opposite of how the kingdom of God works.

The paradox that Jesus teaches His disciples here is that the first will be the last and the servant of all. In a similar passage from Matthew, Jesus says, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:3-4). Here we’re pushing, competing, driving to get ahead, just like the disciples wanted to be considered the greatest—and Jesus wants us to understand His servant-like death on the cross for our sins. He wants us to understand how true greatness is not found in the things we’re chasing after, but in lowliness and humble service.

So Jesus takes a child in His arms to teach the disciples an object lesson. Here Jesus finds greatness in the kingdom of God. Here is how one is to enter the kingdom. Receive a child in Jesus name, and He says we also receive Christ and the Father who sent Him. Today we receive Elijah Apuna into Christ’s name in Holy Baptism. With water and God’s Word, the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit is placed on him. Why does Jesus place such great importance on a child? When the disciples are arguing about greatness, why does Jesus point to a child? A child is comparatively weak and defenseless to an adult, they’re only beginning to learn. They don’t have authority or power. They’re dependent on their parents. Sounds a lot like our position in relation to God. In relation to God we’re weak and defenseless, only beginning to learn or understand the faith, and we don’t have power or authority over God. The posture and position of a child is to be our own posture before God. We’re His children.

As His children, we learn to appreciate and receive His gifts. Not to demand them, earn them, or compete for them. But pure receptiveness. When a child receives baptism, it’s a pure gift. They contributed nothing to their baptism, to God’s gift. We’re to understand our baptism the same way, if we were baptized as an adult. We’re to see our baptism as Jesus showed us the greatest in the kingdom of heaven…a child. We contributed nothing to it, whether as a child or an adult. God is the sole purchaser and giver of this gift, and it comes undeserved to His sinful children. God blesses this child with the gift of salvation, forgiveness, and life through Jesus Christ. The baptism of a child shows how we receive good gifts from God’s hand. Not something we grab or take for ourselves, but a totally free gift.

It’s a paradox that God would work in this way. Our intellect demands that we somehow have a part in earning it or working for it. All of our life is based on this kind of thinking. It’s the knowledge of the law that is common to every person. We work for what we get. But the Gospel is a totally different word from God—a word that reveals God’s gracious working for us. It doesn’t fit our way of thinking. The Gospel is contrary to what we believe or expect. That I, a poor, miserable sinner, can be completely forgiven of all my sins and stand as innocent in God’s eyes, because of what Jesus did? Seems impossible!

But this is just the reason why Jesus became last of all and a servant for us. This is why God Himself took the last and lowest place—for us. Jesus did not seek honor in the way of the world. He had a rightful claim to all power, glory, and dominion—unlike us. He could have lorded His power and authority over everyone. Rather He gave Himself over to suffer and die on the cross, giving His life up to the hands of sinful men. He considered the needs of others more important than His own. He counted our lives worth more than His own, and so redeemed them with His precious blood. Consider what a mess we’d be in if Jesus had been a narcissist. He never would’ve died for us, or suffered on our behalf. He would’ve only been concerned for Himself, and had little concern for the sick, for those who pleaded for His help and healing.

But Jesus was just the opposite. He thought of everyone before Himself. He knew what was in mankind to make us as we are…the selfishness, greed, rivalry and ambition. But He put Himself in the way of all that, to absorb it into Himself. Like sucking snake poison from a wound, He drew all the venom of sin into Himself so that in His death, He thrust our sins into the grave with tremendous force and finality! The crashing weight of sin bruised His heel, but He crushed the old serpent’s head, so that in His death, sin could rise no more. For those who enter His kingdom by His gift of faith, for those who by baptism are joined to His name, sin cannot accuse us any longer. We’ve repented and turned from the sin that turned us in on ourselves. Jesus straightened out the bent circle of self-love that revolved around ourselves and our own success. He points that love upward and outward. Upward to our God who sent His beloved Son, and outward to the neighbor who’s in need of our love. Love conquered on Easter morning, and Jesus, the one who became last and servant of all, became the first: the First-Born from the dead (Acts 26:23). He who is the First and the Last, the Alpha and the Omega, will one day gladly receive all believers into His arms, as His beloved children. Come, children of God, come to His kingdom. Amen. Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.

Sermon Talking Points:
Read past sermons at:
Listen to audio at:

1. What is a paradox? Name some common examples. Why do we have difficulty believing or grasping paradoxes? What are some paradoxes in the Christian faith?

2. What is wrong with the disciples’ (and our) pursuit of greatness? Cf. Mark 10:35-45. Matt. 18:1-7

3. How is narcissism present in our lives? What are examples of self-centered thoughts and behavior in our own lives? Listen to an interview with Dr. Jean Twenge at:
Or the August 2, 2009 episode on

4. What paradox did Jesus teach about greatness? Cf. Phil. 2:5-11

5. Why is a child such a good picture of how God desires us to receive the kingdom of God? Of what kind of posture we have before God?

6. How did Jesus’ life show that He was anything but a narcissist? What are the implications for how and what He did for us?

7. How does Christ change or redirect our love?

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Sermon on James 3:1-12, for the 15th Sunday after Pentecost, "The Untamable Tongue"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Today’s sermon is from James; his warning about the deadly work of our tongue. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

We all know and have felt the evil of gossip in our lives; we all know the feeling of a harsh or hurtful word that was spoken in anger. Think how easily you can darken someone’s day by a rude or thoughtless word. But have we owned the fact that our tongue is a “restless evil, full of deadly poison” as James says? That it sets on fire our whole course of life and it is set on fire by hell? Isn’t that overstating it a bit, we think? How can such a small thing as our tongue be so bad or have such a terrible effect? Sure, maybe we’ve known some people with dirty tongues, who could unless a stream of abuse or cursing that would make a sailor blush…but my tongue?!? Certainly not! But I suspect we all sharpen our tongues sometimes and imagine just what sort of words we’d lash back with, if someone dared to say to us…(you fill in the blank). In the heat of an argument we don’t even pause to think before we launch back with a caustic remark, dripping with sarcasm, and aimed right at the person’s heart. We keep our tongues as a ready weapon to protect our ego, defend our turf, silence our enemy.

James uses common examples to show how such a small thing can cause so great an effect. A giant ship steered by a small rudder, a horse controlled by a bit in its mouth, that is no bigger than your hand. A spark that sets a whole forest on fire. We’ve all seen how a well-timed bit of gossip can tear a close friendship apart. Whether it’s true or not often has little bearing on how much damage is done. Trust is betrayed. You once counted on a person to defend your reputation, and they turned around and slandered you. Or they spoke something hurtful about you to someone, and you were left embarrassed and ashamed. But gossip can have much further-reaching implications than just our personal friendships.

The workplace can become a gossip-mill, where stories are passed from one person to another, and never with the full information. So each person adds a little fiction or speculation to the story, and pretty soon a full-blown rumor is circulating, and a person suffers. The reason that is so terrible, is that as James says, we’re people who are made “in the likeness of God.” We’re cursing or slandering God’s handiwork…more than that…the crown of His creation that He invested with the imprint of His own image. Nothing else in creation bears His likeness in this way. Yet we curse one another. The church is also a group of people among whom rumors and gossip often freely circulate. The church, the people of God who are gathered to praise God with our tongues…using them for evil. James laments, “my brothers, these things ought not to be so.” How many congregations have been divided by gossip and the malicious use of the tongue?

But gossip is just one of the uses of the tongue that sets the entire course of our life on fire. The evil use of our tongue directs the actions of our lives as well. When we tongue-twist God’s Word, and bend it to our own purpose or misuse, the tongue does not tell truth apart from error. False speech is treated as true, and clever arguments cover our tracks. Toying with language is no new trick…the devil first played it in the garden when he questioned God’s Word: “Did God really say…??” We’ve seen recently with the issue of homosexuality how those same words, “Did God really say..??” find their way into our mouths. We take quick notice only because this is still shocking to us. But it’s just as much a mix of true and false speech when we doubt God’s Word in any area of life or any of God’s teachings. And when false speech is added to truth, it becomes a lie and deception.

Another evil use of the tongue is simple lying or deceiving. The Psalms and Proverbs speak extensively of the things the tongue does…both good and bad. Lying, deceiving, flattery. Flattery is to speak insincerely to someone, paying them compliments or acting nicely, so that you can get what you want. It’s a way of manipulating another person while disguising your real purpose. Double-speak is another. Saying one thing to one person, and changing the story with another. Holding to two standards. It’s the game we play when we’re trying to please people, rather than please God by doing what is right. In Sunday Bible class we’ve quoted the old adage more than once: “Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.” If we set out to lie and deceive, and practice double-speak, it won’t be long before we’re tangled in the mess of our own lies.

The tongue also boasts and speaks grandly about how great and wonderful we are. It fills us with pride as we brag about ourselves. It cuts down those who seem to threaten us. Such a force of evil! Can we now own the fact that the tongue is a restless evil, set on fire by hell? But what about the good that the tongue speaks? It seems an irreconcilable contradiction that the same tongue that curses can also bless our Lord and Father, and sing praise to Him! The Psalms also speak of the righteous person, whose tongue tells of God’s righteousness and praise all the day long—whose mouth speaks wisdom and justice. The tongue tells of God’s righteous help for us all day long; it sings of God’s word and righteous commandments; and EVERY tongue will one day confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. This irreconcilable contradiction, is that a tongue that can be used as such a force of evil, and for so much harm, can also be used to bless and praise God. James puzzles that it is just as illogical as a spring of water that produces salt and fresh water (or more literally, bitter and sweet water) from the same opening. Or as illogical as vines and fruit trees bearing the wrong kind of fruit!

So what are we to make of this contradiction? We’re already warned that this tongue of ours is an untamable evil. While we may have different degrees of self-control over it, from person to person, none can claim we never stumble in what we say. We all stumble in many ways. To think otherwise is self-deception…another work of our tongue. This contradiction is the simple fact that we’re at the same time saints and sinners. Sinners because of our sinful nature and the untamable tongue. Saints because God has purified us of all uncleanness and sin, and has given us a new spirit within us. The sinner speaks evil, the saint speaks what is good and righteous. But we’re still left with the problem of the untamable tongue. But thanks be to God through Christ Jesus our Lord! There is ONE who can tame the tongue, and that is Jesus.

His work in us begins with the conviction of the Holy Spirit—the realization that our tongue is a world of unrighteousness. There is an unlimited store of harm built up in our tongue, that we cannot bridle on our own. So the Spirit convicts us of this sin, and we repent to God and ask for His mercy. Then the tongue of Jesus goes to work. For as Isaiah prophesied about Him in today’s reading, the Lord God has given Jesus the tongue of those who are taught. And what does Jesus use His instructed tongue to do? He knows how to “sustain with a word those who are weary.” The word of Jesus’ Gospel, the Good News of His forgiveness, leaps from His tongue to lift up the broken and weary sinner. The one who is frustrated and despairing over their attempts to tame their tongue. The one who has seen what harm their words have caused, and humbly cries to God for forgiveness. Jesus speaks peace to the troubled heart, saying “I have taken your disgraceful words upon myself. It was I who felt the sting when you cursed your brother, who is made in my image. I felt the betrayal when you gossiped about your sister and slandered the reputation of your coworker. But take heart! I have forgiven you, as I have forgiven those who did not know what they were doing, when they nailed me to the cross.”

Christ Jesus’ words come from God’s heart of love, that does not speak evil of us, but lifts us up to hear the wisdom, the righteousness, and the justice of God’s pure Word. His Word that corrects the course of our life when we turn astray. Jesus is the pilot of our life, who is the only one who can tame the tongue of our life, and steer this little rudder toward righteousness. He’s the rider that can tame our untamable tongue with His bridle. He’s the one who opens the mouth of the sinner and can turn it into a spring of fresh water that flows forth with sweet life and truth, rather than bitterness and cursing. Jesus’ word of blessing enters our ears, and flows forth from our mouth. Our worship of God flows in this way: we hear from God and receive His blessing, and our Lord opens our lips to declare His praise. From what we hear, we speak back to God and our neighbor. Then our tongue is restored to its rightful use and original nature. Then our tongue reflects the likeness of God, and echoes God’s Words of blessing and forgiveness to others. Then our tongue is bridled when we would be tempted to gossip, and we instead let gossip die in our ears. Then our tongue is filled with the truth of God’s Word, and speaks openly and honestly of the Truth.

Jesus put His tongue to good use throughout His life and ministry, and the fruits of His blessed speech never cease to pour out for us, even 2,000 years after He walked the earth. He spoke healing to the sick and cast out demons from the possessed. He spoke forgiveness to those who were crushed by sin, and even to those who struck Him, spit on Him, and spoke disgracefully of Him. Who else can speak with such power and authority, than the Son of God? He spoke peace to the troubled in heart and to the fearful. He taught crowds with the Word of Life that gushes like a living spring of water, that brings eternal life. He silenced His naysayers, and exposed hypocrisy. He spoke the hard truth when it was required. He speaks still for us today. In baptism He speaks to call us His own children. In the Word of God He speaks words of Spirit and Life. In the Lord’s Supper, He speaks: “this is my body, given for you…this is my blood, shed for the forgiveness of your sins!”

Jesus continues to speak to the Father on our behalf, as the One Mediator between God and man. Jesus speaks that our sins belong to Him now, and that He has paid the full price, so that we can walk free in His path. He speaks of the ending of our sorrow, as one day He will take us to His kingdom of eternal joys, where once and for all the sinful shell of our tongue will fall away, and the song of our tongue will be filled with continual thanksgiving and praise and blessing. As proof that He alone can tame the tongue…even more than that…that He will tame EVERY tongue on earth…we read in Scripture that God has rewarded Jesus for His righteous life, death and resurrection in this way. God has highly exalted Jesus above every other name, so that when Jesus returns to judge the living and the dead, “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:10-11). Even the reluctant and unwilling tongue will be compelled to confess on that day, that Jesus Christ is Lord. So it is to Him that we turn, so that our life is not set afire by our restless tongue, but that our tongue would be tamed by Jesus toward goodness, blessing, and praise to God. Amen. Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.
Let us use our tongues to confess our faith in God right now, as we speak together the words of the Apostle’s Creed.

Sermon Talking Points:
Read past sermons at:
Listen to audio at:

1. What deadly work can the tongue do? How have you been hurt by someone else’s tongue? How have you hurt someone with your tongue?

2. Why is gossip so harmful? What is the purpose of the 8th commandment, and what does it seek to protect? Exodus 20:16, and see explanation in the Small Catechism.

3. What other evil uses is our tongue put to? See Psalm 5:9; 12:1-8; 50:19; 52:2-4. Contrast with Psalm 35:27-28; 37:30; 39:1; 66:17; 71:24; 119:172; Philippians 2:10-11. How does this show we are at the same time saint and sinner?

4. What hope is there for our untamable tongue? How can this salt spring be turned fresh?

5. What did Jesus’ tongue accomplish? Isaiah 50:4ff; see the entire Gospels.

6. Who ultimately feels the insult and the pain when we curse or insult a brother? Matt. 25:40, 45. Why?

7. How does the pure speech of Jesus’ tongue overflow to blessing in our lives? How did He and does He still speak to us, and what blessing does it bring? How will all tongues finally be tamed? Phil. 2:10-11

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Romans 10:5-18, "Faith Comes By Hearing"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. The sermon text today in connection with our special gift of the New Testament in audio is Romans 10:5-18.

5 For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them. 6 But the righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) 7 or “‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8 But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
18 But I ask, have they not heard? Indeed they have, for “Their voice has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world.”

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

The reading identifies two different kinds of righteousness. Righteousness is an important Biblical word that simply means innocence, or that you are a just person. There are two kinds of righteousness: righteousness based on the law, and righteousness based on faith. The righteousness or innocence based on the law is a righteousness of doing. The righteousness or innocence based on faith is a righteousness of believing. There is only one way to attain the righteousness of the law, and that is by fully and completely living by the commandments.

Can anyone here claim they have lived by the law, without exception? The closest someone (other than Jesus) gets to claiming this in the Bible, is a young rich man who told Jesus he’d lived by all the commandments since his youth. But he was sent away sad when Jesus proved that he’d neglected the first and greatest commandment, to have no other gods. Money was his god. Find me a person who truly lives by the law, and you’ll have found a person who will never die. There are often people we think are really nice, and we say probably deserve to go to heaven because they’re such good people. But we’re trying to credit them with a righteousness of the law. If they were good enough that they never died nor will die, then I guess they wouldn’t need to believe the Gospel. But there’s no such person besides Jesus. Even by our original sin we’re already guilty by the law’s standards. No one lives by the law, or else those people wouldn’t be dying. Death is proof that we’re sinners.

There is only one who lived by the commandments, Jesus Christ. If we don’t trust in Him and His obedience for us, we’re trying to claim our righteousness through the law. How do we claim the second kind of righteousness or innocence that Paul speaks about? It’s only available through faith. We confess with our mouth that Jesus Christ is Lord, and believe in our heart that God raised Him from the dead, and we’ll be saved! When we have faith, or believe in Jesus as our Resurrected Lord, the only one who did live righteously by the Law, then God credits this faith or belief as righteousness. That means that God counts Jesus’ righteousness to be your own—so that Jesus’ perfect record is given as yours by faith. This good news is unmatched in all the world! Nothing compares to this gift! This is what he means that “Everyone who believes in Him will not be put to shame.” The only righteousness or innocence we can stand on is Jesus’.

If we tried to claim the righteousness of the law for ourselves, then we would be put to shame, as every past deed and sin and failure to do good according to the law would be under examination as our record. We’d stand ashamed before God as all our sin was laid open. But everyone who believes in Christ won’t be put to shame, because by believing in Him, He grants His perfect record as our own. This is a gift that everyone needs, and this is a gift that we have the privilege to freely give away! Everyone needs it, because after death, everyone will have to stand before God in judgment. And they can either claim their righteousness by the law, or they can claim the righteousness that is by faith in Jesus. Every person who lays claim to the righteousness of the law will be found guilty. But everyone who lays claim to the righteousness of faith will be found innocent! So the Good News of Jesus is an absolutely essential message to get out and spread to the world!

That’s why I was absolutely delighted to find out that the single most consistent answer that our congregation gave in the self-study surveys that were returned, was about the purpose for the existence of Emmanuel Lutheran Church. The overwhelming answer was to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ and fulfill the Great Commission by making disciples. I rejoice that our congregation has this strong sense of our purpose and identity, to bring salvation to the world. Now we need to live out and act out that identity and purpose in what we say and do! There are opportunities all around us to participate in advancing the mission of God throughout the world. Don’t forget that we’re participating in God’s mission. We don’t ascend up to heaven to find Christ, but He came down to us. In a similar way, we go out to those around us to bring them the word.

But there is an important challenge. The way to get this saving faith is by hearing the word of Christ. Hearing is the trigger for faith, and many around the world, and even in our own communities have not yet heard. We have an opportunity to help change that. In the next two weeks, I want our church to take up the challenge to give a small extra offering to help the mission of providing the Scriptures in audio to people in foreign countries. The mission organization “Faith Comes By Hearing” is working to make audio recordings of the New Testament available in other languages around the world, and has given our congregation over 200 audio Scriptures in English for free, for our personal use in listening to the Bible.

If, for example, we had only 40 families give an average of $24 each, that would be $960, enough to fund the recording of one book of the New Testament in another language. And when the “Proclaimer” bible stereo’s are sent to those countries, hundreds of people can be reached at each listening station. After the service I’ll show you a short video that describes how this particular mission work is happening throughout the world. But just imagine for a moment what it would be like for us if we didn’t have the privilege of hearing the gospel in our own language? What would you think? That the message was only for people of another language, and not your own? Maybe you’d think God couldn’t understand your prayers? You wouldn’t know of God’s saving love and of the free gift of Christ’s righteousness that is ours by faith!

Yet even though faith comes by hearing, it does no good for me as an English-speaking preacher to go to a crowd of Malaysians, Cantonese, or Kenyans who don’t speak a word of English, and expect that all I preach and tell them from God’s Word will somehow have an effect on them. Of course it must be spoken in a language they understand. That’s why it’s so crucial to get the Bible translated into other languages. And people who have skill in languages are desperately needed in countries where the Gospel is not yet available to them. And in hundreds of languages where the bible is available, the second problem to overcome is widespread illiteracy. They say that 3.1 billion people in the world will never read the Scriptures, because more than 50% of the world’s population can’t read. And that makes it doubly important to have the scriptures available in audio, so even the illiterate can hear and believe the Gospel. Did you know that this was one of the reasons for church art and stained glass windows in the middle ages? The old cathedrals with beautiful stained glass windows that depicted various biblical scenes, and other artwork, were to aid in teaching Bible stories to the illiterate.

Notice that Paul names only one way for us to come to believe—by hearing. He doesn’t assume that God will just “switch on faith” in whoever He pleases, wherever He pleases. God doesn’t work in this way, nor does He desire to, as if God were seated at a giant switchboard that had a switch for every living person, for whom He chose to randomly turn faith on or off. If this were how God worked, He’d have no need for the Holy Spirit to awaken faith, He’d have no need for people ever to hear the external Word of God, and there’d be no need for Christians or preachers to proclaim God’s Word. Everything would happen internally, invisibly, without our involvement. Perhaps we wish things could be that way. We wouldn’t have to be involved. But God delights to carry out His work through human beings. He makes us His messengers, His co-workers, and His ambassadors to bring His love and the good news to the world. This is why it’s urgent for us to have missionaries carry the Gospel to places where it hasn’t yet been preached. Paul said “how will they preach unless they are sent?” He doesn’t just assume “God will take care of it” and leave the concern and responsibility to another—he calls people to this task.

Perhaps there are people among us here today, whom God is calling to mission work! There may be men in our congregation would God may be raising up to become pastors or missionaries in His church! Have any of you considered whether God might use you in that way? There may be women whom He’s raising up to be teachers, missionaries, or deaconesses in the church—using your varied gifts and talents in the service of his kingdom! Some of you men and women are already engaged in those tasks and ministries here at our church. Are there more? Are there some among you who might have the inclination to continue your education and study the Word of God? Maybe God has a plan to use you and you don’t even recognize it yet! And the church should always be in the business of sending…sending Christians out to go spread the word. It isn’t a message to keep to ourselves!

But don’t forget that the mission field is not just overseas, its right outside your doorstep. Pray daily for opportunities to come for you to tell someone about what Jesus has done for them, and keep your eyes open! It will happen! And pray also that God gives you the words to speak. Nothing complicated, but just explain what God has done for them in Christ Jesus. The wonderfully freeing thing about our role in evangelism and the mission of the church, is that we’re simply the mouthpieces and the hands that share the word and the love of Christ. He takes the responsibility of whether that grows into faith in a person’s heart. We cast the seed, He makes it grow. So we can never know for sure what our efforts will come to, but God will ensure that His Word grows and the harvest comes in.

Jesus, the Son of God became incarnate in human flesh, to communicate His saving Word to us. He entered the world in a way that we could understand and spoke simple human language. We enter into the cultures and languages of other nations to speak the word of Christ that promises the righteousness of faith to them. Taking on a Christ-like servant role in communicating the Good News to them in their own language. Give thanks to God for His saving Word, and that other Christians faithfully carried out their duty in bringing God’s Word to us! Thanks to God for His Spirit that creates faith in the hearts of those who hear! Pray that many would believe and receive the righteousness of faith. Amen. Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.

Sermon Talking Points:
Read past sermons at:
Listen to audio at:

1. Why is the righteousness of the law inaccessible to us on our own? Rom. 10:5; Gal. 3:10; James 2:10.

2. How is the righteousness of Christ credited to us? Rom. 3:21-4-8. Why does the righteousness of faith enable us to stand before God without shame? Rom. 8:1; 9:33; 10:11

3. What is our identity and purpose as a Christian church? What does it tell us or remind us when we call it God’s mission or the mission of God? John 1

4. What would you think if you lived in a country were the Bible was not in your language? What would you think about your relationship to this God if you couldn’t hear His Word in your heart language?

5. What is the way that God chooses to create or awaken faith in the hearts of people? Faith comes….? What is necessary for this to happen? How are we involved? Reread Rom. 10:14-15

6. Have you considered how God might be using you to work in His kingdom? Where does the mission field start? Is found?

7. What’s the Gospel message that we’re privileged to share?