Wednesday, August 31, 2011


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Sermon on Matthew 16:21-28, for the 11th Sunday after Pentecost, "Life Under the Cross"

Sermon outline

1. Today’s Gospel: Life Under the Cross. More ways than one: 1) discipleship leads on a path where we will encounter suffering; 2) under the cross of Christ—forgiven

2. Peter’s false view of suffering—God forbid! This shall never happen to you! Was suffering not fitting for the glory of the Christ in his eyes? Idea today that “real love rescues from all pain” (Koukl). T or F? Sometimes as parents we let our children suffer under certain circumstances for their own good, because a greater good is in view (Koukl God can teach through suffering.

3. Peter wants to steer Jesus away from the cross. Avoid the path of suffering. Unwittingly the mouthpiece of Satan…just earlier had been a mouthpiece for God “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” 180 degrees. Rock of Confession to stumbling block for Jesus.

4. Which is a greater shock? Peter daring to rebuke God? Or Jesus rebuking Peter (and calling him Satan)? Thought he knew better than God. Have we unwittingly done the same? Hear God’s Word and say “It is certainly not so!” Claiming higher or better knowledge than God. Correcting God. The height of arrogance and idolatry of self to think of ourselves more highly than God. Well-deserved rebuke. Are we “put in our place” by God’s Word often enough (pastors included!)? Satan was behind Peter’s thought, as Satan’s ‘M.O.’ is to challenge God’s Word and command, “Did God really say?”

5. Jesus needed Peter to understand that it was Divine Necessity that He go to the cross. God’s plan. This was part of His “job description.” Without God’s plan, it certainly would’ve been senseless or futile suffering. But since it was God’s plan, it was redemptive. That is, Jesus’ suffering bought us out of our sins. Peter would preach some 50 days after Jesus’ resurrection: 23 this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. 24 God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. (Acts 2:23-24).

6. Cross was part of God’s greater plan. In the short-term it seemed to be an evil, unjust suffering and death. Infinitely greater good in view. To take Jesus’ cross away from Him is to have the thoughts of men, not the thoughts of God. Life under the cross is life redeemed—bought back from sin by His death. God had to suffer to give us His greatest gift—never second-guess what He had to do. Gives humble knowledge and repentance. Accept that our sins had the terrible price of death, and Jesus paid it for us willingly. Life under the cross means life forgiven. We stand under His forgiveness, stand behind Jesus’ innocence when God brings us into judgment. Sin will not be counted against us if we have faith in Jesus.

7. Helping Peter to realize this, Jesus also taught that the life of the disciple (follower) is under the cross. There will be suffering in our lives. Not all of it is attributable to the fact we are Christians. Unbelievers obviously also suffer. But suffering always presents a challenge to our faith. Will we still bless the name of the Lord? My classmate Rev. Carl Roth put it this way: when suffering happens, will we still confess that “God in Christ is completely for [us]; that despite all outward appearances, God is at work saving [us]. When the Christian bears any cross faithfully, he is at the same time confessing to those around him, “God is good in spite of all that is happening to me.”

8. Taking up our cross and following Jesus, means that we accept our sufferings in this life, and follow Jesus by faith. Living under His cross that redeems us. Not that we participate in redemption by bearing our crosses. They’re not redemptive for us. Only Jesus’ cross redeems us. Jesus wasn’t telling Peter that he would share in the work of redeeming the world. When it came to that crucial moment, and Jesus hung on the cross, He was forsaken…bearing sin alone. No one else shared in that burden of sin at the cross.

9. But we are to learn that suffering is inescapably part of the Christian life. Not that we somehow find it enjoyable or that we seek or desire it. It is a reality of our broken world. But we have a specific response to suffering as Christians. Instead of being a sign of the meaninglessness and futility of life, we by faith take up the cross and bear it. Not to complain, not to wallow in self-pity, not even to impress others by our great endurance, but to confess that God is good despite our sufferings, and that whatever reasons there are that are hidden from us, God is working good for those who love Him. Not that every event of suffering has a hidden lesson that we are to try to decipher. But in the time of suffering, we look all the more to Christ. God’s power is made perfect in weakness. Our strength, our redemption, our promise of final deliverance from evil and suffering, is through Him.

10. So also, the church in mission is the church under the cross. The mission proceeds under persecution, loss of life, great resistance. Do not look for the path of glory, as Peter was tempted to do. The path of least resistance is often not the best path. Greatest achievement happens through trial. We set our eyes on the greater good that exists beyond these sufferings, and accept them graciously as our crosses, with the faith that God will bring us to the greater good of life with Him. We have faith that it wouldn’t profit us anyways to gain the whole world, to avoid all suffering and have all pleasure—if it meant we lost our soul. Rather, we follow the Christ, who taught that if we lose our life for His sake, we will find it. Our little crosses point us to His great cross, where His suffering was turned into our redemption by the definite plan and foreknowledge of God. Life under the cross will have its trials, but the worth of standing under God’s forgiveness is truly to find real life with Christ.

Sermon Talking Points
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1. What are two ways in which Christian life is a life lived “Under the Cross?” Why will we be misled if we think that God’s plan for the Christian would be to rescue them from all immediate pain and suffering? Give an example of a “greater good” that might be in store beyond a situation of temporary suffering.

2. Why was Peter’s rebuke of Jesus such a shock? Compare Matthew 16:16 and 16:22. What are more subtle ways that we might unconsciously “rebuke” God? How is this an idolatry of self, as well as being supremely arrogant? Cf. Satan’s “M.O.” Gen. 3:1

3. Why is it essential to understand that Jesus’ suffering on the cross happened by “Divine Necessity”? Acts 2:23-24; Isaiah 53:10-12. How does that change it from senseless and purposeless suffering, into God’s redemptive act?

4. Most often any apparent “purpose” for our sufferings is hidden from our eyes and mind. How does that “life under the cross” then cause us to rely on faith? Will we still be able to confess: “God is good in spite of all that is happening to me”? Job 1:21-22; 2:9-10; Romans 8:16-30

5. Our crosses are not redemptive—i.e. we don’t “earn salvation” by them. But how do they help us look to Christ? 2 Cor. 12:9. What do they remind us about the cost of our own sin, and the real cross that Christ bore?

6. How is the mission of the church always under the cross? How is following Christ the only way to find our lives, even if we lose them for His sake?

Monday, August 22, 2011

Sermon on Isaiah 51:1-6, for the 10th Sunday after Pentecost, "Your Attention, Please!"

Sermon outline

1. Do you ever get the feeling like God is trying to get your attention? Alarm bells? Financial collapse, disasters, personal illness, consequences of bad choices hit home, chaos in cities. All shake our security or peace. No clear message.

2. God is trying to get our attention, in His Word—notice all the “attention-getters” in Isaiah 51:1-6. “Listen to me...look to the rock...Give attention to me...give ear to me..lift up your eyes...look at...” Are we hitting “snooze” when God’s trying to get our attention? Spiritual sleep, unaware of God, ignoring. Alarm doesn’t shut off (Law). Wake up and listen…good news comes on. (Gospel)

3. What is He calling our attention to? He interprets (v. 6) the instability we see all around us. Not only the health, peace, and financial security are at risk, but the very heavens and earth, and those who dwell on it, are passing away. Attention! Peace isn’t in these! Look to Jesus, to His promises, to His salvation and righteousness. The comfy bed you are snoozing in (i.e. the world) is going to disappear out of under you!

4. Jesus’ ministry was the Instruction (Torah--more than ‘what can you do to obey’, but also promise) that God was going to send out and bring comfort for His people. Look to His justice, a light for the peoples. Pay attention! Pay attention! The warning is going out, and the light is raised for us to see and be saved. Like a lighthouse.

5. Jesus sent out His teaching of eternal life. This is the Gospel news. He was raised like a light for the nations. His justice is the light. We reflect that light to others. The lighthouse of Jesus’ justice, the torah of eternal life, shows us what is real and eternal. Not the heavens, earth, and its inhabitants, but the salvation and righteousness of God. Salvation by grace, righteousness of faith, not of the works of the law.

6. This is the message we should be paying attention to, giving ear to, when all things are collapsing around us. Hey! We knew that would happen! Trust what is lasting and real!

7. Righteousness and salvation drawing near. God’s plan is advancing toward us. Are we part of it or not? Pursue righteousness—seek the Lord: “30 What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; 31 but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. 32 Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works.” (Rom. 9:30-32) Righteousness is found in Jesus, not in ourselves.

8. Our puzzlement/worry about the speed and the location of the Gospel’s advance. Why not in some places? Why so long? Failed mission efforts. Aging or apparently dying churches. The mission will succeed in God’s timing. Planted seeds that bloom late. Romans 11:33-34, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” We don’t have the “God’s-eye-view” of why some are saved and not others.

9. Abraham and Sarah...remember your origins! Same way God will work through the Word, His Torah, to create the church. May look barren, dry, aging. But the promise!

10. Deserts, wastelands, wildernesses, turned to gardens and paradise, filled with joy and song. The church is a sanctuary, an oasis in a desert or waste place, because it has Christ, the Living Water. The church is an outpost with refreshing water in a parched world. A feast in the midst of famine. Joy and thanksgiving and song, in the midst of sorrow in a suffering world.

11. The light is for all nations. The Gentiles. All should hear the message. The coastlands/islands hope in Him and wait for His arm (that brings salvation!). We’re here spreading the word in the islands. When the mission seems unfruitful, remember Abraham and Sarah! Barren > fruitful, wasteland > garden. Remember God’s Word is active and powerful.

12. The church shines the beacon of Christ’s justice, righteousness and salvation. Hope for the distressed, those in darkness, those shaken by the warning signs that the world will not hold together forever--God’s salvation will be forever, His righteousness never dismayed. Trust in Him, and you will not be dismayed.

Sermon Talking Points
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1. What events in life might compel us to turn to God’s Word for answers? What things have shaken the whole world recently? What does this tell us about the (im)permanence of the world? Isaiah 51:6; 40:6-8; 1 Peter 1:22-25. Where should we put our trust and confidence instead?

2. Isaiah 51:4 talks about “a law” going out from God, His justice for the nations. “Law” here is in the original Hebrew “torah” which means more than just laws and commandments. It means “teaching” or “instruction,” inclusive of all of God’s Word—both law (commands) and gospel (promises & good news). Who would make this “teaching” go out, and serve as a light to the nations? See Matt. 12:18-21; Luke 2:32

3. How does the church bear this light to the nations? How is Jesus’ teaching the way to eternal life? John 6:68; 5:24; 14:6

4. What does it mean to pursue righteousness? Is. 51:1, 7. What are two different ways to pursue it, and which one leads to eternal life? Rom. 9:30-32.

5. Whose righteousness do we get by faith? What is the quality of this righteousness and salvation? Isaiah 51:6

6. How can the success (or apparent lack thereof) of the mission sometimes cause discouragement or doubt? How does the example of Abraham and Sarah remind us of how God is able to work when things seem barren or unsuccessful? Isaiah 51:1-2.

7. How is the church a sanctuary or oasis in the desert? A lighthouse? Who is the water? The Light? John 7:37-38; 8:12.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Sermon on Matthew 15:21-28 for the 9th Sunday after Pentecost, "Mission and Mercy"

Sermon sentence outline

1. The Gospel reading is thick with tension. Different than we expect. Ignored, rebuffed, rebuffed again. Finally she turns the tables…one final rebuff to send her away? Surprising turn as He praises her faith and grants her request

2. John Gerhard compares this to Jacob wrestling with God—a test of faith where she had to wrestle against Jesus and prevail. “Often times Christ, our best friend, hides His blessed, kindly-disposed face from us, and He presents Himself against us as a stranger whom we have to engage in a wrestling match.” Just like Jacob wrestled and had the victory of faith (insisting on a blessing), so the woman had a victory of faith and held Jesus captive to her request. She persisted in chasing after His mercy. He was willingly held captive by His own words. Imagine a father play-wrestling with their child and surrendering to them.

3. How would our faith stand up under this kind of trial? In the shoes of that woman, would we have given up sooner? Walk away discouraged? Angry? Or would we hold onto Christ until He blessed us?

4. Where did this courage and persistence come from? She was a Canaanite. Where did the hope that Jesus would grant her request come from? Why did Jesus finally grant it, when He first said that He came for the lost sheep and children of Israel? The answer is in what she knew about the mercy of God, and in God’s plan to bring the people in.

5. First, she would have known about Jesus from His teaching and healing…She addressed Him with words of faith: “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David”—She knows He is merciful, and appeals to His mercy. She calls Him Lord, acknowledging that He has power to save and heal her daughter. She calls Him Son of David, recognizing Israel’s prominence.

6. Probably didn’t know the OT reading from Isaiah, but there we find that she was not wrong to put her hope in Jesus, even as a Canaanite. God’s mission was always to bring His salvation to the world. Key ideas: “foreigners [will] join themselves to the Lord, to minister to Him, to love the name of the Lord and be His servants”… “a house of prayer for all peoples”… “The Lord God…gathers yet others to Him, besides those already gathered.”

7. Long before, in the OT, God’s mission trajectory was already set outward, to bring the nations to Him, gather in the outcasts, to join foreigners to Him. It was in keeping with God’s plan and deepest desire that this foreigner, this Canaanite be joined to Jesus by faith.

8. Luther wrote about the turning point in the story, how she made Jesus captive to His own words: “Let me, merely like a dog, pick up the crumbs under the table, allowing me that which the children don’t need or even miss, the crumbs, and I will be content [with that]. So she catches Christ, the Lord, in his own words and with that wins not only the right of a dog, but also that of the children. Now then where will He go, our dear Jesus? He let himself be made captive, and must comply. Be sure of this: that’s what he most deeply desires.”

9. She didn’t come proudly declaring her worthiness or defending her sense of honor, but humbly asked for nothing more than the crumbs of God’s grace. She would be satisfied, content with the crumbs…because she knows that the crumbs of God’s grace are more than a feast. She only needed a little. Christ lets Himself be caught and made captive, and she gains more than the right of dogs, but the right of the children. We see how deeply He desired this outcome by the warm and generous praise He gives to her faith when she prevails—praise that would have been shocking to the Jews and disciples, who might have expected one last rebuff to send her packing.
{Added during sermon: "You may not have thought about it, but this is the same posture we adopt when we gather for worship and begin by confessing our sins, that we have done wrong, and don't deserve anything but God's punishment. We come, confident of God's mercy for the sake of Jesus Christ, but humble because of our sins. And after we have heard the proclamation of forgiveness from the pastor, what are the next words in our liturgy? 'Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy upon us!' We cry out to the merciful God, confident of His desire to help us."}

10. Since it is God’s deepest desire that we cling to Him for mercy, since its His desire to bring in the outcasts, to join foreigners to Him, to make His house a house of prayer for all peoples, how do we follow God’s mission trajectory to the world? We look for the broken, the outcast, those who might be overlooked or left behind as worthless or a nuisance. Those whom society treats almost as “non-existent” (Harrison). Jesus came to the humble and lowly. They need unconditional love from their Savior, and from us.

11. If the mouth of mission is the proclamation of the Good News about Jesus, and the merciful God who wants to save us and join us to Him—to bring us into a covenant relationship with Him—then the hand of mission is the mercy that we extend to those who are suffering or in need. The opportunities to extend mercy, with no strings attached and nothing expected in return, are as countless as the needs which the world is everywhere filled to overflowing. The food pantries, women’s shelters, the prisoners and families of those in prison, the foster children, the victims of natural disasters, the sick and the shut-ins…the list can go on and on.

12. People everywhere are crying for mercy, some are wrestling with deep trials and adversity, but without the benefit of faith—and so often they become overwhelmed or broken by the suffering of life. We can be the hands and feet that bring mercy to them, and also offer the greatest gift of God’s Word and promises. Show them the merciful God who knows and understands the broken, and desires to join us to His saving life, to make us joyful in His house of prayer. Jesus deeply desires to give us mercy, and though we will sometimes have to struggle with God against the tests of faith in life, Jesus deeply desires to give us the rights of children, to be fed with the full portion of His grace and love. Forgiveness and salvation are no crumbs from the table, they are God’s rich blessing to those who trust in Jesus.

Sermon Talking Points
Read past sermons at:
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1. Describe the tension in the Gospel reading. After the series of apparent rebuffs, how might the disciples have expected the exchange to end? How does God sometimes “wrestle against us” with trials and difficulties? Genesis 32:22-32; 2 Cor. 12:7-10

2. How did the Canaanite woman cleverly catch Jesus in His words? How does it become clear that He was willing to be held captive by His own words?

3. What is the “mission trajectory” of God, that you can already see in the Old Testament? How does Isaiah 56:1-8 show God’s plan to join the foreigners and the outcasts to Him? Cf. Rom. 11

4. How does the woman show humility in approaching Jesus? What small right does she plead for? What right does Jesus in turn grant her? Psalm 51:17; 34:18

5. How did Jesus’ ministry incorporate care for both the body and soul? What was the word of mission, and what were the hands of mercy? What work is there for our hands and mouths in the mission and mercy of the church? Where are the opportunities to serve and to help? How can the word bring faith and hope to the lives of the broken and the outcast?

6. How is the forgiveness of sins and the life and salvation that Jesus won at the cross, more than mere “crumbs” and truly a feast to satisfy and content our souls? Psalm 63:1-8

Monday, August 08, 2011

Sermon on Romans 10:5-17, for the 8th Sunday after Pentecost, "Need to Hear"

Sermon outline

1. “Evangelism is witness. It is one beggar telling another beggar where to get food. The Christian does not offer out of his bounty. He has no bounty. He is simply guest at His Master’s table and, as evangelist, he calls others too.” Daniel T. Niles
a. We can’t witness to Christ unless we first have Him ourselves. It’s not out of sharing our poverty that others will come to Christ, but by sharing Christ and His bounty.
b. So we must constantly hear the Word of Christ ourselves and know the love of Christ that He came into the world, God’s loving act to join Himself to the fallen creation, fallen mankind, and to collect our sin and guilt upon Himself, so that Jesus could pay the ultimate price on the cross. God was justifying us in Christ—declaring us innocent in His eyes, because the guilt had been paid, and Jesus’ perfect life stands to our credit. It is this good news, what we call the “Gospel”, that we confess with our mouths that Jesus is Lord, and believe in our hearts that God raised Him from the dead, so that we are saved. For with the mouth one believes and is justified and with the mouth one confesses and is saved (because of that saving act of Christ!).

2. Christianity is an “Audio faith.” It exists and spreads through speaking and listening. It’s through the audible Word of God, through hearing that message about Christ, that we receive faith.
a. Christianity is the only truly global religion, that has so successfully taken root in cultures on every continent and almost every country around the world. While Buddhism and Islam have also spread to other places, they remain concentrated heavily in certain regions, and haven’t transferred as well to other cultures. Scripture says: “There is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on Him. ‘For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’”
b. Amazing shift of Christianity to the South—growth in Africa and South America, beginning of a significant spread to Southeast Asia. Center of Lutheranism has moved from Europe and North America to Africa. Over 15 million Lutherans in African countries, compared to about 7 million in North America. Tanzania, Madagascar, and Ethiopia each have Lutheran churches larger than our 2.3 million member LCMS! God’s Word is alive and creating faith around the world!
c. We want people everywhere to hear and know Christ, because He came for them. But God doesn’t just randomly “zap” people with faith around the world, He works through the humble means of preaching and speaking the Gospel of Christ. This is the audible Word of God that the Holy Spirit uses to create faith and make disciples.

3. So we know the method by which the church advances throughout the world—by proclaiming the Word of Christ. Notice, this is not by coercion or force, not by the power of the sword or the threat of death. Paul acknowledges that not all have obeyed the gospel. In other words, not everyone is going to believe and accept it.
a. How can we participate and support the advance of Christianity? How can we get more people to call on the name of the Lord?
b. Paul’s rhetorical questions: “How can they call on Him in whom they have not believed?” Of course they have to believe in Him, before they can call on His name to be saved. “How can they believe in Him of whom they have never heard?” Of course they must hear of Christ. They must learn of His saving deeds, and that they were done for them. “How are they to hear without someone preaching?” Of course someone must tell them! There must be a person who tells what God has done in Christ. “And how are they to preach unless they are sent?” Of course people must be sent!
c. Hopefully by stating the obvious, we can see several places where we can be involved. Tell others of Christ. Fear: don’t know enough. Remember: we’re beggars, pointing the way to the feast. Know Christ so you know His Word and can confess it with your mouth. If someone has the gift and the passion for sharing God’s Word, encourage them to pursue that calling. Help send workers into the harvest field by prayer, encouragement, and financial support!
d. Men in the congregation feeling led to study God’s Word and prepare to serve as a pastor or missionary? Men and women being led to share God’s Word through teaching, through local or international missions, through mercy work, etc.

4. Learning at the seminary that the mission field is all around us. Encounters with men of all different ages, some leaving behind other careers as doctors, computer programmers, engineers, teaching, sales, etc…meeting students from Nigeria, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Kenya, Argentina, South Korea, Poland, Denmark, and other countries. POBLO missionaries to people of Islamic faith, from Morocco, Iran, Pakistan, India, Egypt, and other Muslim countries. Is God calling you to the full-time ministry of the church? Has He set a mission opportunity right at your door? Is there a person who you can tell the Word of Christ to?

5. To be good messengers we need to have the good message—the Gospel of Christ. Know the difference between trying to climb up to God (by works, by reason, by mysticism = fail!) and God’s descent to us in the person of Jesus, to save us (grace, receive, faith, not works).

6. Having the good message makes for beautiful feet. The bearer of good news is always welcome. (Imagine the postman coming down the street, with a letter from a husband at war—how the wife would anticipate, cherish the words of her love). Do we cherish the Word of God? Do we wait for it with eager expectation? It’s the Word of Christ—the message that God came down out of heaven, and He targeted each and every one of you for His personal plan of redemption, to buy you out of your sins, so you could stand forgiven and alive before Him in eternity. This is the news we need to hear, and others do as well! How beautiful to hear, and how beautiful to carry that message to others!

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

1. If we are spiritual beggars, and Christ is the one who has prepared a feast, what is our role in God’s mission? What is it that we have to share with others?

2. How do we “enrich ourselves” to be able to share with others? Rom. 10:12; 2 Cor. 8:9; Isaiah 55:1-2.

3. Why was it necessary and part of God’s plan that Christianity would become global? Matt. 28:19-20; Luke 24:47; Acts 1:8; Col. 3:11; Joel 2:28-32

4. What is God’s method or means to create faith? Rom. 10:14-17. How does that get us involved in the mission of God?

5. Have you considered whether God is calling you to serve in the mission and ministry of His church, either as a pastor, teacher, deaconess, missionary, youth worker, or in another capacity? How can you support and encourage those who might be called? How can you support the work of the church in preparing such workers for the harvest?

6. How does having the “good message” make for a good messenger with “beautiful feet?” Rom. 10:15; Isaiah 52:7.

7. Summarize that “good news” or Gospel about Jesus Christ, and how you can tell it simply to another person. What has God done for us in Christ Jesus? Use the words of the Creed if you need help. Why is this a message to be cherished and to always hear with joy and expectation?

Monday, August 01, 2011

Sermon on Isaiah 55:1-5, 7th Sunday after Pentecost, "Beggars All"

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. For the one who is desert-dry, parched and thirsty, what words could be more inviting than “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters.” For the one who is weary from their journey, staggering from the weight of their burdens, or exhausted from the difficult road, nothing can be more refreshing than the cool, splashing water, quenching your parched throat. For the one who is hungry, starving for food, but flat-broke, what words could be more inviting than “he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price!” Such an offer would be a beggars’ delight. Free food, wine, and milk?! A feast freely offered, of the best and richest food? Would anyone refuse such an offer?

If you were such a person, parched and thirsty, starving hungry, would you not drink deeply and refresh yourself, and eat the rich food and satisfy your hunger? If you were traveling with others through the desert, and they were also thirsty, would you not call them and bring them to the waters to drink? If you were a beggar who discovered a feast, would you not tell the other beggars where to come and be fed for free? Or would you keep the knowledge to yourself?

Well, we should start by asking whether or not you and I are such thirsty persons or are such beggars, with no money and no food. If I came offering you a free meal, how would you respond? Uhh….a beggar? Me, a beggar? Sorry, you’ve got the wrong guy…he’s the one down on the street corner holding the sign. Me? I’m no beggar? Do you see my clothes? My watch? The car I drive? No, you must be mistaken. I’m no beggar. No, I doubt many of you would self-identify as beggars. Probably doesn’t matter how fancy or ordinary your clothes, watch, purse, car, or home…you probably don’t self-identify as a beggar. Safe bet. But what if I were to tell you that it’s all a mirage? An illusion? Maybe the “emperor’s new clothes?” That’s right. What if I were to tell you, that no matter whether you had bought into all the clothes, accessories, and status symbols of the upper class society, or whether you chose the marks, clothes, and symbols of the middle or lower class of society, that these were all a mirage. A disguise that doesn’t cover our real identity. For some, this might take a little convincing. I don’t suspect you are all so ready to admit you really are beggars.

Because, after all, we are pretty good at choosing and wearing our disguises. Society grants us permission to do this, especially through the internet, where we can project “profiles” or “avatars” or whatever sort of identity we want to create for ourselves, for others to see. Of course we get to decide what’s seen and what isn’t seen. So we project what we want to be, or what we want people to see, not our true selves. Especially not our darker aspects or secrets, unless that’s how we want to identify ourselves. But of course we don’t even need the internet to engage in that sort of artificiality. Long before computers, we’ve been told to “invent ourselves.” Any person can “reinvent themselves” by choosing the type of food they eat, clothes and fashions they wear, the products they use or the music they listen to, the sexual lifestyle they prefer, and whatever beliefs they claim to hold. We think of ourselves as the blank canvas on which we paint our lives and make our personality.

But what if all that posturing, whether conscious or unconscious, was exposed? What if somebody saw through it all, and realized that the fa├žade or front wasn’t really who we were? Well, you’ve probably long guessed the direction I’m headed, that God sees through all our postures and disguises. In the second verse of Isaiah 55, it says “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?” Is there a more pointed description of our society today? How we work and work to get money, and we buy things that can never satisfy us? Some of you may even work yourself to the point of exhaustion, but the things we buy don’t satisfy our hunger. Not just physical hunger. It’s that we fill ourselves up with things that can never satisfy. We buy and use everything that delights our eyes and senses, with the thought that this will give us the life or the identity that we want. That somehow these things will fill up the emptiness we feel inside.

But we’re trying to fill ourselves with empty calories. And I don’t mean potato chips, candy, and soda—literal junk food—I mean all the things we try to fill up the emptiness with. There are all sorts of reasons for the emptiness in our souls. It could be a lifelong absence from God. We chose our way, and it was our own way—far from God’s commandments and plan. Our choice was that God would be absent from our lives, and we pushed Him far away. Our emptiness could be from grief and tragedy.
There’s no shortage of grief in a world where sin still powers death and all the suffering that accompanies it. Grief from the unexpected loss of a loved one. Or from the prolonged suffering of a loved one. We are left parched with spiritual thirst.

Our emptiness might be a personal loneliness, searching for true companionship and love in a world where our sinful love is so often turned in on itself, with little left to share. Or our emptiness might come from the guilt or shame that we bear, from a terrible sin that we have committed, a relationship broken, or a bitter thing we had done to another. So we bear that guilt and shame, and find ourselves helpless to reconcile, to set things right. We want only to hide our face. In a world swamped in sin, there is much to leave us thirsty, hungry, empty.

And somehow when we try to entertain the emptiness away, filling our time with movies and games, or fill our ears with music or gossip, or fill our wardrobes with clothes and fashions, or fill our homes with furniture and technology, or fill our bank accounts with money—somehow the emptiness doesn’t go away. We can ignore it, cover it up, drown it out, but the emptiness comes back. The emperor’s new clothes don’t cover our spiritual nakedness.

Maybe we are beggars after all? You see God doesn’t look at all the outward trappings of man. He doesn’t judge by appearances and all that we do. God judges the heart. And painful as it is to admit, as blushingly embarrassing as it might seem, we really are beggars before God. Martin Luther scratched it down on a piece of paper, nearly 500 years ago, just before he died. The great Reformer, who stood up for the Word of God, and lead a Reformation that forever changed the Christian church, pointing it ever more clearly to the cross of Jesus Christ, penned these dying words: “We are beggars all, this is true.” What Luther was saying, and what I hope is fastening onto each of your hearts, is the knowledge that before God, we have nothing to bring, nothing to offer. We’re the ones who come with no money, but thirsty and hungry. What could we possibly bring to God? Nothing. We are beggars all, this is true.

When we finally come to this realization, and turn out our empty pockets and admit to God that we have nothing to offer Him, then those words can drip into our ears with refreshing joy and delight! “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David.” Don’t those words just leap into your heart and begin to fill that emptiness inside?

There is a fountain where we can drink so deeply, oh so deeply of the waters of life.
That fountain is Jesus Christ, who proclaimed that He was the Living Water, a water that would well up inside us to eternal life. Welling up inside us! A living source of water! Jesus, the Son of God, is that Living Water that can satisfy an ever-parched and thirsty soul. The only water that can quench our spiritual thirst and emptiness, because it’s a water than never runs dry. The washing, cleansing, splashing water of grace and forgiveness that Jesus pours out for us in baptism, joining us to His death on the cross. The water that flowed in a stream from Jesus’ naked and bleeding side, when a soldier pierced Him with a spear, to make sure that the cross had done its job, and killed Jesus. A stream of living water, that carries away our sins in a cleansing stream. A baptismal washing, not of our bodies, but of our consciences. To take away the guilt and stain of our sin, so that shame would not hide our faces, that guilt would not separate us from God, but so that we would stand forgiven on the level ground beneath the cross. There no postures, no masks, no good deeds stand us higher or lower than any other. Here we’re the beggars, receiving a blessedly good and wonderful handout of God’s undeserved love and favor.

Throats clenched and dry from grief can drink deeply of the Living Water. The Living Water of Jesus that wells up to eternal life. The hope that bears us through our griefs and the tragedies that surround us. Carried by the knowledge that God has appointed a day when all will be set right, and when our lives and the lives of all who have drank of Jesus, the Living Water, will rise up from our graves. To rise up and receive the fullness of that big and bountiful banquet that we’re already tasting now. To come to the heavenly feast where Jesus is our host, and we’re His guests. We who have been baptized in the Living Water and trust in His Word, already get a foretaste of the feast to come, when we eat the Lord’s Supper, and receive Jesus’ body and blood. For those who have been spending their money and labor on bread that does not satisfy, here is a true feast to satisfy.

Jesus said, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (John 6:51). In a mystery we can’t begin to fathom, Jesus presents His body and blood, the same body and blood He offered on the cross, now presented to you, to eat and drink as wine and bread that do satisfy. He says, “For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink” (John 6:55). But though our mind cannot begin to understand it, our faith embraces this truth, and we leave it to God as to how this is possible, and trust simply in His Word (LSB 622 verse 5).

In the loneliness of our life, we come to this banquet where we find true fellowship with God. Jesus feeds us and dines with us, offering the forgiveness and mercy He won at the cross. We begin to know the God who is hidden by faith, but reveals His heart and His compassion for us through His Word and through Jesus’ life. Here we find God reconciling us with Himself, taking our sins to Himself, and giving us innocence in exchange. Here we find a strength and foundation to go and forgive others, and be reconciled with one another.

Fed by such a rich banquet, we go forward uniquely changed and forgiven. It would be unthinkable that we would want to go back to the thirstiness, the emptiness, or the posturing. We belong at the true fountain and feast. For all those who thirst in this life, we also call them to come and drink! Of course we will bring other beggars to the table, to buy and eat without cost. We come as beggars, this is true, but it’s a blessed place to be across the table from the God who is so rich in bounty, and who is the only One who can fill our emptiness to total and complete satisfaction. In the end, we will be glad to admit that we have nothing of our own to bring, but throw ourselves completely on the mercy of Jesus Christ. To Him, beggars belong! 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
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1. Imagine yourself parched from a long trek through the hot desert, and discovering a fountain of cool, refreshing water. How would you feel? Imagine yourself a poor, starving beggar, being offered a feast of rich food for free. How would you react?

2. Why would we want to deny the fact that we are beggars? Why might we not want to carry that around as our identity? Who would we rather be seen as? What is the personality or identity that you try to “project” as a person? How do you want people to see you?

3. Why does Isaiah 55:2 expose our disguises and posturing as unable to fool God? Why can material things and earthly pleasures not truly satisfy the emptiness within us?

4. What is the source of the emptiness that we feel in our souls? Why is God the only person who can fill that emptiness and satisfy us? Reflect on this quote from St. Augustine: “You have made us for yourself O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.”

5. Apply Luther’s dying words to yourself: “We are beggars all, this is true.” What perspective does this bring?

6. What is the fountain of water to which we are invited to drink? What is the rich feast where we are invited to eat? John 4:10-15; 7:37-39; 6:47-69; Isaiah 25:6-9. What is the price of admission? Who paid for our place at the table? Consequently, we are beggars, invited to the feast!