Monday, June 25, 2018

Sermon on Luke 1:57-80, for the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, "Benedictus"

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. If you have young children, or if you watch how parents with new babies behave—you’ll notice that there’s often a delightful dreaming that goes on. Wondering what their child will be like, guessing at how their little budding personality will flower, dreaming about their future achievements in sports or art or music or learning, or things like these. There’s a sense of hopefulness for their child and the recognition that a child is the birth of something good into this world. Trusting God, we release the fears that cloud our horizons to His care and keeping, and His victory over fear and evil.
The naming of a child can be as simple as choosing a family name, as the relatives of Zechariah and Elizabeth wanted to do, for their newborn son John. It’s an honorable and traditional way to give names. Another traditional practice is choosing a name by its special meaning. All around the world, in ancient and modern times, a name often carries special significance and is often meant as a blessing for that child.
The reason why it was so important to get John the Baptist’s name right, and why this little family tussle over naming him was recorded, is that God’s own angel had directed them to name him John. And perhaps not far underneath that reason, was that his name was prophetic in itself. The name means: “The Lord has shown favor.” Right then, John was just an 8 day old baby, waiting for his circumcision and naming. But some 30 years or so in the future, he would astonish crowds and draw them out to the wilderness, to hear his ringing cry of repentance—to prepare the way, and make straight paths for the Lord. The Kingdom of God was advancing toward them, and the Lord would bring His favor. God was on the move in their day and time, and John was to turn their hearts back to Him. The Lord has shown favor could hang like a frame around the picture of John’s ministry—pointing sinners away from their sins and toward the coming Messiah—John’s own cousin Jesus, born of the Virgin Mary.
When Zechariah confirmed that his son’s name would be John, God opened Zechariah’s mouth from 9 months of silence. From the day that he doubted the angel’s promise to this day of John’s naming, Zechariah was unable to speak. But now that he saw and believed God’s promise, God loosed his tongue, and the first words from his long silent mouth, were praise to God. And his song of praise, often called the “Benedictus” or “blessing”, is more than just the hopeful thinking of a happy parent, but it was the revealed words of prophecy from God Himself. It was the promise of the angel and more—a glorious declaration of how God was now moving for the salvation of His people.
As a preacher, I often tell you that some words in the Bible are “pregnant with meaning” or a “loaded word” that carries a rich treasure of spiritual baggage. A single word may evoke many other vivid Bible passages; a lot of information may be packed into one word. They’re like jewels and diamonds to discover in a passage. Zechariah’s Benedictus, is filled with these word-jewels! Let’s try to briefly take them, verse by verse, to reflect on them in our hands and heart, marveling at God’s love for you. Some  would be worthy of an entire sermon on their own, but here goes a shorter walkthrough of that beautiful song instead.
68. Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people…Visited—God has descended, come down from heaven—into our human life to see us for Himself. Not the remote, distant superpower outside the universe, but the intimate, personal God-on-the-scene. Even as Zechariah spoke these words over 8 day old John, God was still marvelously and wondrously knitting together the hidden form of baby Jesus, that visitor from heaven to earth, still safe in mother Mary’s womb. God watched with parental delight and joy, the growing form of His Son Jesus. Zechariah was singing, from God’s prophetic storyline, the future days of Jesus, come to visit and redeem His people.
Redeem…to purchase or buy back. As from slavery and captivity. Its costly to redeem someone. To give them their freedom. How much greater, the price for His people than for just one. 69. [He] has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David. A horn of salvation—power and joy triumphantly announced! God’s rescue is coming from the house of ancient King David. Named here, not as king, but as servant! The Servant that would come from this house would be Jesus, King of the Jews!
70. As He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from of old. Zechariah revered the sacred Scriptures, and the prophets God gave to write them. The Word of God endures forever, outlasting any kingdoms, monuments of men, or anything else of our making. It is true and reliable, filled with ancient wisdom and present insight. 71. That we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us. Almost all of Israel’s history was dogged by enemies who wanted to destroy them. But God was their refuge, their shield, and deliverer. God’s might triumphs over the might of evil; those who wait upon the Lord will find refuge in Him. We need not fear enemies with God at our side.
72. To show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember His holy covenant. God calls to mind His promises. We also call out God’s promises to Him when we search the holy prophets, and cling to their words. God is not forgetful, but keeps His holy covenant. A contract, an agreement, a promise from Him to us, of what He will do. He will not break His Word.
73. The oath that He swore to our Father Abraham, to grant us 74 that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve Him without fear. God swore an oath—doubling down on His promise to bless Abraham—and confirming it by His unchanging character and His inability to lie (Hebrews 6:13-18). No higher assurance can be given to us. Why does He rescue us from our enemies? So that we would serve Him without fear. Fearless service to God is not crippled by a fear of failure or God’s judgment, because we know all who repent and believe in Him are forgiven. Our service to God becomes a free and joyful service. We’re not forced or coerced. We’re not cowed by enemies, because God is sovereign.
A service 75 in holiness and righteousness before Him all our days. To be holy is to be sanctified or purified—made clean. Only God can bestow on us His holiness. To be righteous is to have God’s legal status, declared innocent and right before Him. Only God declares this verdict, by faith in His Son Jesus, for the forgiveness of our sins. This was John’s message for all to repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins. Clothed by God’s forgiveness, we serve God in holiness and righteousness all our days.
76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare His ways. Here Zechariah’s song becomes personal to his son John. Prophet or messenger of the Most High God, John himself was the fulfillment of prophecies—7 centuries earlier, John was prophesied by Isaiah. 4 centuries earlier, by the prophet Malachi. Both said this messenger would prepare the way of the Lord.
77 To give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins. 78 because of the tender mercy of our God… How do you know that you are saved? How do you know that the Holy and Just God who made the universe cares for you, and will spare you from an eternity of misery and separation from Him? How do you know if your life was well lived or not? None of us gets to be our own judge. None of us gets to excuse our way out of our own sin. Only God’s judgment will count. And we know that God loves us when we know the forgiveness of our sins, in Jesus, the Messiah. When we believe in Him, we have everlasting life, and we know that just so…God loved the world. Just so, we see the tenderness of God’s mercy, that He has made this pathway of repentance—to turn away from self-destruction, selfishness, and sin, and into His loving arms.
78b whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace. The shadow of the grave stretched far over humanity. In all the millennia of human history, none has returned from death, never to die again, save one person. One man, called in prophecy the sun of righteousness (Malachi 4:2), or here, the sunrise that shall visit us from on high. Jesus the Messiah, rose from His grave on the third day. And with the rising of SON Jesus’ light, the shadows of darkness and death were cast away. From the Easter of Jesus walking in His body, out from the tomb, an eternal ray of light is cast that drives away all shadows of fear, and guides our feet into the way of peace. God visited earth in the person of Jesus, to defeat the otherwise undefeated enemy of mankind—death. Jesus took on death and won. And opened to us the way of everlasting life.
The song ends by saying He guides our feet into the way of peace. Biblical peace, or shalom, is a wholeness, a well-being of body, heart, mind, and soul. It’s all encompassing. And as God is the only giver of holiness and righteousness—so also He alone gives peace, as the world cannot give. The peace of sins forgiven. The peace of a heart and conscience at rest with God, because guilt has been taken away on the cross. The peace of facing life or death with the confident knowledge that God our Refuge has not and will not fail us. The peace of serving Him without fear, because what enemy can frighten us, if even death has been defeated? The way of peace because serving Him and not ourselves, gives us the greatest joys and freedoms of a live lived well. May we always sing with Zechariah: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel!”, and as the life of his son John confessed: “The Lord has shown favor!” Amen. Now may that peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting, Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
Read sermons at:
Listen: search your podcast app for “The Joshua Victor Theory” or
listen online at

  1. Why was it so important to Zechariah and Elizabeth to get the name of their son right? Luke 1:59-64. Why did was the name that meant “The Lord has shown favor” fit John’s life so well?
  2. Why was Zechariah’s prophecy in Luke 1:68-79 more than just the hopes and dreams of a loving parent? What great themes fill this song, the “Benedictus?” (“blessed”).
  3. What does it mean that God has “visited” His people? John 1:14; 3:31; Luke 7:16; Exodus 4:31.
  4. A “horn” is a symbol of power or victory. How has God raised up His power and victory, in the time of John the Baptist? How is this connected with His “redeeming” of His people?
  5. How does Zechariah reverence the Word of God? Luke 1:70. How did Israel face their numerous and powerful enemies? When and why did they suffer defeat (or victory)?
  6. What is God’s “holy covenant?” How does God assure Abraham that He will keep His covenant? Hebrews 6:13-18; Genesis 12:1-3.
  7. What is it to be “holy” or “righteous” in God’s sight? Romans 4:2-3. How are we clothed in that righteousness and washed pure? Romans 6; Galatians 3.
  8. How was John foretold in prophesy? Isaiah 40:3; Malachi 3:1. What title was given for the coming Messiah? Malachi 4:2; Isaiah 40:3, 5.
  9. Describe the many facets of the word “peace.” Which “jewel” or word in this Benedictus is most precious to you this day?

Monday, June 18, 2018

Sermon on Luke 15:1-10, for the 3rd Sunday after Trinity (1 yr lectionary), "The Faithful Retriever"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Luke 15 has three of Jesus’ most recognizable parables. Sometimes called the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, and the Lost Son, though perhaps the parables would be better identified by pointing to the “Finder” or “Retriever” in each story. But in any case, our reading was the first two. The Pharisees and scribes didn’t like Jesus receiving sinners and eating with them. Jesus shouldn’t be mixing Himself up with that crowd, they thought. The three parables point to God’s powerful love for the lost, and what He does to bring them back. Each parable gets sharper in its application, until in the last one, the Pharisees and scribes are confronted by their own unwillingness to welcome back the lost, in contrast to the redeeming love of God the Father.
But back up to today’s parables and reflect. Thankfully, God’s love for the lost has long been on record in the Bible. But we’re ever forgetful, and so constantly need to “rediscover” that truth, both to appreciate it and to let it transform our lives. When we forget God’s love for the lost we take it for granted, or worse, ignore it and act against God’s love for the lost. Think about the alternatives. If God were purely a God of justice, and not of mercy and love for the lost, there would be no point of return to God. There would be no pathway to repentance, no road home, no return to God’s good graces. God could be entirely just—punishing sin, and rewarding obedience, but never allowing the lost sinners to return to Him. That would be His prerogative.
But wonder of God’s love—that’s not how He deals with us. From the very beginning—from Adam and Eve’s first fall into sin—God has mercifully and lovingly made a pathway of repentance for us. There is a road home, there is a return to God’s good graces. These parables show us how eagerly God desires it!
100 sheep and 1 lost. 10 coins and 1 lost. In a day like ours, of such privilege and excess and waste, you could hardly know whether any given person would have the same drive and determination to retrieve their lost property. When we possess so much, it’s easy to be casual or careless about our losses, as though they are insignificant. By contrast, someone who is as determined as the shepherd with the lost sheep, or the woman with the lost coin, is someone who truly values what is lost, takes responsibility for it, and keeps a careful accounting of all that belongs to them. There’s a big difference in how someone cares for what is theirs, when they value it, take responsibility for it, and keep careful track of it. It’s easy for things to get lost, mistreated, or broken, when we don’t value them and take responsibility. God takes the maximum value, responsibility and accounting for all that He has made. He’s not careless, irresponsible, or inattentive. There is no loss that is insignificant to Him. The persons in the parable drop everything to find what is lost. That only happens for someone who cares deeply and considers it their responsibility to retrieve what is lost.
God is, if you will, “the Faithful Retriever.” In other words, God doesn’t sit back and complain about what is lost, or leave it to someone else, or pass the blame. Jesus, our Good Shepherd goes out hunting in the wilderness for even one lost lamb. Jesus, like the woman, gets down on hand and knees, and goes sweeping and searching through a peasant’s dirt floor house, to find the lost coin. God is not afraid to get His hands dirty, because He is the Faithful Retriever, who will not rest until He recovers what is lost and is precious to Him. God got His hands dirty, through the blood and water of Jesus’ human birth, entering on our level in the most fundamentally human way. He lay in a straw manger, bedded beside farm animals. He was circumcised in the flesh, according to the Law. He washed in a sinner’s baptism, to the surprise of John the Baptist, though Jesus had no sins of His own. He embarked on a teaching journey of dusty roads and forsaken villages, of forgotten lives and lost causes, bringing the light of salvation to those dwelling in darkness.
He found lost sheep and lost coins everywhere. Teaching on lonely hilltops, eating with tax collectors and sinners, conversing with disciples who were trying to wrap their heads around the kingdom of God. He was patient, He was determined—He met people in their suffering and agony and distress, and brought His healing touch, His authoritative Word to drive back evil, illness, and lies. And His determined search for the lost took Him all the way to the cross. Where the Shepherd laid down His life for us sheep, and took on Himself the awful curse of our sin.
How much more responsibility could God take, than to bear the very curse of what we ourselves had done in our lost-ness and rebellion against Him? He truly took maximum responsibility for all of us, His creatures. And our value—however we measure it, or others measure it—He alone sets our value. He created us. And whatever value we lost through our fall into sin—God has restored and even increased by redeeming us in Jesus’ death on the cross. You are precious to God—this is the unmistakable and heart-healing discovery of God’s love for the lost, in these parables. It’s that God spared no price to redeem you.
What a marvelous model and example of love for our earthly fathers to imitate. The way God values what is His, is the way earthly fathers should strive to value all that is entrusted to our care—our children, spouses, our family coins or finances, and everything else. The responsibility that God places on what is His, is the way that we as earthly fathers should take responsibility. God is sinless, and we are not. He was not at fault for our sins, waywardness and rebellion. He nevertheless took responsibility to retrieve what was lost, to sacrifice Himself for our restoration and reconciliation. Earthly fathers, and men in general—we need to take responsibility—even the greater share of responsibility, and to sacrifice, to lay down our lives for those whom we love. Whether you have children or not, a godly and positive sense of masculinity drives us to protect, to lead, to see what needs to be done and to get it done.
It’s a heavy load of responsibility. Many men today are glad to shirk responsibility. In a society where people are purposefully blurring the distinctions between male and female, and in some situations even hating the difference between male and female, we have a real crisis. Youth, boys and girls, need good, positive male role models just as much as positive female role models. But men face the temptation to abdicate that responsibility. And as men, it’s all too easy and natural to our human nature, to give up the masculine responsibilities of leadership, protection, and self-sacrifice. That’s not to say that women don’t often do some of those things—but we have a real crisis when men step away or are chased away from the positive, godly roles that God has called men to. And we have a real crisis when we cannot see the positive good in what is masculine or feminine, and the uniqueness of how God made us male and female. The world needs both godly men and godly women, in all that each uniquely brings to God’s created order. The world needs young men and women who are not conformists to this world, but who are transformed by God. The June issue of the Lutheran Witness just arrived in the mail, and is an excellent exploration of biblical manhood, and I recommend all of our congregation to take a half hour or so and read the many valuable articles in it that help to faithfully interpret our world. Also, some statistics about absent fathers, (not in the magazine) are that children raised without fathers are 5 times more likely to end up in poverty, 9 times more likely to drop out of school, and 20 times more likely to end up in jail. That doesn’t mean that no child can overcome the odds, but that the cards are stacked against them. Fathers have huge impact on their kids.
God is our Father because He leads, corrects, and shapes us in what it means to be godly men and godly women. He pulls us back from falling in on our own selfishness, irresponsibility, or envy of the opposite sex. God reorders our desires from jealousy toward a joyful love and appreciation of what makes us unique and different, so that we can see His plan and purpose in life as male and female. We can find joy in blending our complementary gifts into joint service to God. What beautiful things can happen when we put our love into service of God’s goals, and not first our own? What goodness in life can we discover when we walk in harmony with God’s pattern and intent for our life, rather than kicking against it or walking away from it?
Perhaps you know how you’ve fallen short of praiseworthy goals. A heavy load of responsibility weighs on fathers, on boys growing into men, on mothers, on girls growing into women. We have a high and lofty example in the love of God—but the burden is not ours to carry alone. Scripture says His commands are not burdensome. God’s redeeming love was not shown to us by a crushing load of responsibility that we could never carry, but it’s shown in Jesus taking up the crushing load of sin’s curse on His cross. He bore with all our waywardness, sin, and rebellion, carrying that awful guilt to its dreadful conclusion in His death. And there sin’s guilt is concluded. In His death. We daily drown our sins in repentance and returning to our baptism, where our sins meet their conclusion in Jesus’ death. They go no further than His cross. Sin’s wage is paid in full in His death. He gives us a light and easy yoke, a joyful responsibility to follow in His footsteps. He sends His Spirit to accomplish in you all that He desires.
No one says being a father or mother is easy. It’s not, and the responsibility that one either carries or drops, is not easy. God, the Faithful Retriever, is alongside every Christian disciple—father, mother, son, or daughter. The God who is filled with wonderful, redeeming love, is ever at your side, and carrying the burdens of your sin and failures. How many times, without knowing it, were you joyfully carried home on His shoulders? Lost and trapped away from the safety of the sheepfold, but our Good Shepherd faithfully searched and found us, and tossed us lightly upon His shoulders, wrapped us close around His neck, safe again in His warmth and embrace, a child on their father’s back? And not only do we experience the amazing mercy and love of God in these parables, we also discover His joy at retrieving the lost. 1 lost sheep, 1 lost coin, FOUND, is worth calling in friends and neighbors for a party, God says!
I don’t know when the last time you called your friends and neighbors and threw a party for recovering your lost wallet, phone, or maybe even a lost pet—but God and all the angels in heaven thrill with rejoicing when the lost repents and comes home. Heaven’s great joy is for the lost to be found. We began by thinking about the alternatives—God could have left no way of repentance, no road home. But gloriously and to His eternal credit, He has. The path of repentance is the open way for the lost to return home. He has traveled out to us and found us, to carry us and lead us back in. Everything aimed at recovery and retrieval, because our God is faithful, because our God is Love. Because He is a Good, Good Father, who took maximum responsibility to seek and to save the lost. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
Read sermons at:
Listen: search your podcast app for “The Joshua Victor Theory” or
listen online at

  1. Luke 15 is a remarkable series of three parables that portray God the Father’s redeeming love for the lost. Read in its entirety, it’s clear that God loves and longs for both the lost sinners, and those, like the Pharisees, who think they are righteous, but need to return to God’s redeeming love. What qualities of God are shown in this parable? How do they relate to fatherhood?
  2. How might a “hired hand” treat sheep differently than a good shepherd? John 10:11-16. What does the shepherd do for the lost sheep?
  3. How does our society experience confusion over the differences of what is positively masculine and positively feminine? How does society try to erase, blur, or otherwise treat these differences negatively? What is lost by failing to appreciate the distinctiveness and uniqueness with which God has made both sexes?
  4. God was willing to “get His hands dirty” to recover what was lost, as depicted in the parable. How is this combination of taking responsibility, loyal love, self-sacrifice, and determination a perfect role model for earthly fathers to imitate?
  5. What creates profound joy in heaven? Luke 15:5-7, 9-10. What does it mean to “repent?” Joel 2:12-13; Jeremiah 3:12; Acts 3:19-20. What follows after repentance? Acts 3:20; 22:16.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Sermon on Luke 14:15-24, for the 2nd Sunday after Trinity (1 Yr Lectionary), "Turn toward God's generosity"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Meals are inescapably at the center of human life. Eating is a defining feature of our existence—stop eating, and you won’t be sticking around for too much longer. Meals and meal etiquette are at the center of much human culture. A feast or a banquet is an especially important meal—usually greater time and care is taken in preparation; and usually a feast or banquet is a celebration of something significant. Meals, whether a feast or an ordinary meal, are a place where hospitality, friendship, trust, brotherhood, and even forgiveness and reconciliation can be communicated. Meals truly are a key part of our human existence.
Today’s Gospel reading is part of a series of mealtime conversations with Jesus. It’s one of many in Gospel of Luke. Zoom out one step further to the whole Bible, and you’ll find dozens more examples of prominent meals with God, feasts or banquets. They are so important because they are often a sign of God’s presence and the place where He teaches His people about salvation. The prophet Isaiah, for example, 700 years before Jesus’ birth, speaks of a great heavenly feast, a feast of the Messiah, where death would be conquered, and all nations will be gathered (ch. 25). We’ll return to Isaiah’s prophecy later. Our Old Testament reading from Proverbs 9 today also talks about the feast of wisdom, with rich food and a broad invitation to all the simple to come and learn. Meals are central to our spiritual existence also, and Christ comes to be with us and to teach us.
While obviously not every one of those meals in the Bible are the Lord’s Supper, the Lord’s Supper does fit into the bigger picture of that “meal theology” or the theme of feasts in the Bible. Our worship service, and the Christian history of worship for 2,000 years, has been profoundly shaped by that simple pattern set by Jesus, of teaching and a meal. In everyday life we don’t often associate teaching with a meal, but Biblically, table and teaching are strongly bound together. So also today, Word and Sacrament—the outline of our worship.
So what was Jesus talking about at this meal in Luke 14? He’s responding to a person who recognizes the blessing of eating bread in the kingdom of God. This person is longing to be fed by God. Jesus’ tells a parable of a great banquet with many invited.
Notice that two invitations go out. The first invitation was extended to many. We are to understand that these people accepted the first invitation—they RSVP’d if you like. But the second invitation went out when the banquet is ready. Like a wedding reception or special banquet, the food has been paid for, cooked, and prepared, and now the previously invited guests are to be called in. When the messenger goes out to the invited guests, he’s “treated” to three astonishing excuses or refusals! Perhaps with modern ears, used to many excuses, they may seem rather ordinary—but on closer examination, they are not only very rude to the master, but are almost a slap in the face. No one, for example, in the ancient world, would purchase a field without first inspecting it, and doing a great deal of “due diligence.” This is not a legitimate sudden emergency that would cause him to break an RSVP for the banquet. It’s a sign that he doesn’t want to be there. It would be like a man calling his wife and saying, “Sorry hon, I’ll be late for dinner, I just bought a new home and want to go look at it.” Come on!
Secondly, when buying oxen or modern things like a car or costly work equipment, this also is not a spur of the moment decision. Both of the first two guests are simply putting a thin disguise on their obvious disinterest in coming to the master’s feast. They’re not blunt enough to just say “I don’t really want to come,” so they hide it with a lame excuse. Lastly, the third guest simply says “I’ve married a wife and therefore I cannot come.” In Middle Eastern culture, people then and now speak with great modesty about their wife, and this would have been the most offensive refusal of the invitation. The normal response would have been for the man and his new bride to joyfully join in the banquet. But this one does not even ask to be excused.
It is bizarre that anyone would turn away from God’s grace and generosity. But that’s just what happens, and it’s what Jesus pictures through this story. Jesus saw people turning up their noses at, or refusing God’s grace. Many were offended that Jesus was turning to sinners, tax collectors, and outcasts to sit down for a meal and teaching conversation, instead of those who viewed themselves as being more worthy, like the Pharisees. There were certain classes of people they thought just didn’t belong at a table with Jesus, or with the “upper crust”.
There was a mysterious ancient Jewish community, the Essenes, around in the time of Jesus. They were the people who lived where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found, actually. We don’t know about any contact with Jesus, as they aren’t mentioned in the New Testament alongside the Pharisees, Sadducees, or the Zealots—the other sects at the same time.. But remember how I mentioned a really important prophecy in Isaiah 25, about the great messianic banquet? A meal prepared by God, at which the power of death would be destroyed, and to which people from all nations would gather? Well the Essenes thought that no Gentiles would be allowed at this future heavenly banquet. They also thought that no one who had a visible blemish in their flesh, paralyzed feet or hands, no one who was lame, blind, or deaf, could be permitted to eat at this banquet. That’s a pretty stark contrast to what happens next!
When the master finds out that his invited guests have refused to come at the last hour, he does something unexpected. He turns his anger into grace by broadening his invitation to many others. Who? The poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame. Not sure if Jesus was directly commenting on the views of the Essenes, or if others in the audience would have picked up on this, but it’s such a radical contrast, that God is expanding the invitation out to all these who were needy and afflicted. The new invitees are not the rich and the prosperous, who can later return the favor. But they are exactly the people that the Essenes thought wouldn’t be welcomed into the messianic banquet. Even though in society, they were nothing, they are welcomed with great enthusiasm by the master. When this was done, and all these new guests are gathered in, the guest hall is only partly filled!
So the master sends them out for yet another round of invitations—going even further to the outskirts of town, to every person that they can find, to compel people to come in. I understand that this passage was at some points in history badly misinterpreted, to encourage forced or compelled conversions to Christianity, during the Inquisition, for example. But the real meaning in the context here, is that the rag-tag assortment of guests who are turned up from all over town—the poor, the lame, the outcasts, the strangers—they can hardly believe the invitation is serious! They can hardly believe that they should be welcome at the grand banquet of this wealthy master, who had invited so many special guests. Surely, they were not really wanted. But yes! The master says “Compel them to come in!” You might have to take them by the hand and bring them in—I really do want my house to be filled!
God has sent us to do this very thing. None of us were on the “original guest list”. And rather than falling into default groups of “worthy and unworthy” to enter God’s feast—we all are by default unworthy. And physical health, blindness, lameness, injury or blemish, is not even factored into Jesus’ invitation. Our income or social status isn’t factored in either. Rather, God won’t let His generosity be despised or go to waste. He’s not looking for repayment of His generosity, only that as many as possible join in receiving it and in the joy of the celebration! Come, for everything is now ready! the messenger urges.
Jesus lived this reality with His listeners. He sat at meals with whomever would listen to His teaching, and receive God’s kingdom. For those who put on airs, or despised the lowly, He was quick to humble them and show them that God’s grace is not an “earn-it” or merit-based proposal. God’s invitation goes out to all, and the poor, crippled, blind, and lame, and we are granted entrance by His grace, not our worthiness.
So we each stand in view of God’s invitation. Jesus wants to teach us, and to break bread with us. Is there any conceivable reason for turning away from the goodness and generosity of God’s gifts? Rather, isn’t there every possible reason for turning toward the generosity of God? Every reason to open our hearts and hands to be blessed? God has indeed gone to great expense for us. The precious blood of Jesus, innocent of any sin, is a price greater than we can ever imagine paying. God taking on Himself the cost of our sins, a price we cannot fathom.
And God has prepared countless feasts and meals for His people throughout history. The Passover, a celebration of their redemption from slavery, and a lasting teaching meal, to remind future generations of what God had done. Psalm 23 talks about the table He sets before us in the presence of our enemies, and that our cup overflows. The great messianic banquet of Isaiah 25, where all peoples gather for a rich feast, and God swallows up death forever. Jesus’ frequent meals with the lowly and rejected of the society, and certainly not last or least, the Lord’s Supper. God sets a table by His grace, and He is the one who makes us worthy to participate.
He washes us in baptism, teaches us His Word so we believe in our hearts and confess with our mouths. He leads us in repentance for our sins and in reconciliation with our brothers and sisters. Jesus makes us worthy to participate by crossing the boundaries of race, wealth, health, and status, to make His way to us, and to eat with us sinners! God’s table fellowship with us in Christ Jesus enters this very central human part of our existence—how we are fed. Stop eating for very long, and you won’t be sticking around! How much more is this true for our souls, than just our bodies—that they need to be spiritually fed and nourished! And God has richly poured out His generosity and so that His invitation stands: “Come for all is now ready”.
In every corner of life, God’s generosity is richly poured out and can be discovered. But especially here, where we gather around His gifts, do we thank and praise Him for that generosity, and turn toward His generosity with open hands, and the prayer on our lips, “Lord, have mercy!” May we always gladly take that posture of humble repentance and open hands, to be the recipients of His generosity and grace. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
Read sermons at:
Listen: search your podcast app for “The Joshua Victor Theory” or
listen online at

  1. The Jewish audience of Jesus’ teaching in Luke 14:15-24 would almost certainly have recognized the theme of a rich banquet or feast, from several Old Testament passages. Isaiah 25:6-9; 55:1-3; Proverbs 9:1-6. What surprises are there in Jesus’ parable, about who comes to the banquet?
  2. Note that the frequent meals that Jesus eats with various people in the Gospel of Luke are always combined with teaching. How does this set the pattern for future Christian worship? Why are those two elements key to our worship still today?
  3. In the parable, there are two invitations—we are to understand that the first was accepted, but the second was rejected. Luke 14:16-20. Why were these excuses “lame” and even offensive to the master? What were they refusing? Spiritually, what is the lesson for us? Whose generosity is often despised and rejected? Those who refuse it have no part in it (v 24)
  4. What are various ways and examples of how God extends His generosity and invitation to us, and we have refused it or made excuses?
  5. How does the master “reprocess his anger into grace”? Luke 14:21-23. How does this speak to the universality of God’s desire for the salvation of mankind? John 3:16; 1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9.
  6. Vs. 23 talks about “compel them to come in.” Why would these last-minute guests need special encouragement that they really were to enter the feast? How do we make the same offer of grace to those in doubt?

Monday, June 04, 2018

Sermon on 1 John 4:16-21, for the 1st Sunday after Trinity (1 Yr lectionary), "Love Perfected"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. What does it mean to be perfect? Depending on what you are talking about, you could probably stir up some pretty hot disagreement about that word. What defines a “perfect” work of art? A painting, a sculpture, or a story or a song? How closely it reflects reality? Other’s might argue that “perfection” isn’t even a goal we should aim for. They might find the beauty in the irregularities and imperfections of life, the organic beauty of nature, or the jumbled threads that make up the back of a tapestry. Or what defines a perfect person, or perfect parenting, or a perfect job? We might get into similar arguments about right or wrong methods, about the danger of “perfectionism”, impossible standards, etc. “Perfect” can be a contentious word.
Do we resent the idea of “perfection” when almost everyone these days says: “nobody’s perfect!”—or do we just want someone to cut us some slack? Whatever your opinions on those questions, the Bible has something to say about being “perfect” too. 1 John 4:17-18 says By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” Jesus also teaches that loving your enemies shows you are sons of your Father in heaven. He says in the Sermon on the Mount: “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).
Is this the part when we surrender and give up all hope? God has laid down the impossible standard for us? Surrender? Yes. Give up all hope? Never! Do the impossible? You betcha!....But here’s the essential point—it’s not by your power. That’s why we have to surrender. Surrendering ourselves to God is to admit that it’s not in our own power to become the person that God would have us be. But don’t ever give up hope, because with God, all things are possible! Any movement toward the perfect can only come from above, from God.
I led you on a bit of a rabbit trail with the questions about perfection at the beginning. Showing you our definitions of “perfection” is to highlight what’s missing from the central dimension of the Bible’s definition. The root word in Greek is “telos”. Whether part of a verb, noun, or adjective it conveys the central idea of something reaching its completion, fulfillment, or goal. A telos is an end, a goal, and a purpose. When Jesus dies on the cross with the word “Tetelesthai” on His lips—He’s saying—“It is finished; completed; perfected.” Jesus had accomplished His goal or purpose in that suffering death on the cross. To take away our sins.
When Jesus talks about us being “perfect” as our heavenly Father is perfect—we need to think not only in terms of sinless perfection—which we can only receive in heaven, when we have been glorified. But we need to think in terms of being mature, complete, and patterned after the Love of our heavenly Father. When our reading from John talks about God’s love being perfected in us, it’s talking about God working out the purpose of His love in us. Completing us, shaping us, bringing us toward His perfection. Now that you are hopefully able to think about and understand the word “perfect” in the sense of the goal and purpose toward which God is bringing your life, let’s look back at what the Bible passage says, with greater understanding.
16 So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. God is Love. God defines Himself by Love. But love is another sloppy word that’s used to mean just about everything today—from “I love that TV show” to “I love my wife” and everything between. Love in our vocabulary often boils down to a feeling. “I like it; I enjoy it.” At least right now, anyhow. Check back in a couple of years, or maybe even a couple of days, and my feelings might have changed! But that’s a lousy definition of love, especially if we’re going to speak about “God is Love.” But it’s even a lousy definition for human relationships too!
God’s love is a sacrificial love. He makes great and unthinkable sacrifices for us. How do I know? Jesus said “Greater love has no one than this—that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13). He also said, “I am the Good Shepherd…I lay down my life for the sheep…for this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.” (John 10:14-18, excerpts). God’s love is not just a warm feeling, but He loves us in concrete and costly ways. Jesus laid down His own life, freely—not as a victim, but as the Good Shepherd. This is truly great love. Any definition of “God is love” has to recognize the enormous price He paid.
1 John is echoing this, a few verses before our reading, in 4:10, “In this is love, not that we have loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” Propitiation means that Jesus’ death on the cross put away God’s anger against our sins, and now we face God’s blessing and forgiveness instead. We love because He first loved us, vs. 19 of our reading reads. All of our growth, our development, our being perfected and matured in love, begins with God’s first-love for us in Christ Jesus. God’s first-love initiates a new love in us. We love because He first loved us. This is no chicken and egg problem—God’s love clearly comes first, and our love after.
17 By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. Our confidence in the day of judgment is not that we have achieved perfection apart from God, or that our good works reached a high enough level that God could “grade us on the curve” and spare us His judgment. No, our confidence in the day of judgment is that just as Jesus is—perfect and holy before God—so also are we in this world. God has radically and completely forgiven our sins and given us the status of His Son Jesus—by faith in Him. The inexpressible gift of God is that He counts you with the same innocence and holiness as Jesus, His beloved Son. This status is impossible on our own—but with God, all things are possible! He delights to call us His children, as we trust in Him.
18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. Obedience to God’s law is always better than disobedience. But not all obedience is the same. Kids can obey their parents to avoid the threat of some punishment or lost privilege. Would-be criminals can obey the law for fear of the punishment. Fear can create obedience. But God is after a higher obedience. God wants us to be “perfected in love.” A higher obedience is when a child, a citizen, or a Christian obeys and does what is good—not from fear, but from love! Loving our neighbor, showing generosity, kindness, goodness—not because we are being coerced to do it, not because of fear or guilt, but because of love. A willing and grateful obedience is pleasing to God. Perfect love casts out fear.
Perhaps at times we have obeyed God motivated through fear. The problem with that kind of obedience is that it is often linked with resentment. It is not joyful and willing act, but grudging or tedious. But God’s perfect love casts out fear. Knowing God’s love for us in Christ Jesus—witnessing what He did for us on the cross, and how that wipes away all the guilt of our sins, frees us to let go of fear. Knowing that we aren’t under the threat of punishment and the impossible duty of maintaining a “score card” or “grade report” with God—frees us from worrying about never being able to please God—and reminds us that God is perfectly pleased with His Son Jesus Christ—and that status is freely given to us as children of God who believe in Him. It frees us to practice a new kind of obedience.
We are free to serve our neighbor in love. 19 We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. Our love begins with God’s first-love for us. Our love is an overflowing, or an outpouring, of the love that God has first poured into us. A love that makes sacrifices, that cares about the good of others, and doesn’t put ourselves first. A love that is committed, real, and durable—that doesn’t surrender at the fickle changing of feelings, but seeks perfection in God’s love.
God gives us a real and tangible “testing ground” to show our love for Him. It’s how we love our brother. Hatred is a sure sign that God’s love hasn’t taken root in our lives, and that we cannot truly love God whom we have not seen. Hatred is the opposite of love. Hatred wants someone to suffer evil. It’s filled with ill will toward a person. God’s commandment is that whoever loves God must also love his brother. All our life is an opportunity to live out that truth, to put it into practice. Even against our enemies, as Jesus taught us. Words are not enough, our actions must show that we love.
It brings us right back to the beginning—how can we be perfected in love? Only by God’s grace, and by His perfect first-love for us in Christ Jesus. God’s perfect love melts down the walls of resistance, stubbornness, selfishness, and hatred built up in us through sin. God’s love creates in us a new love, poured into us by the Holy Spirit. And that love is perfected in us, our whole life long, as we are given over to God’s way of living—to learn to walk in His ways. How can I know that this will happen? Why can I be confident that God is going to work this transformation in you? As St. Paul says in Philippians 1:6, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ”. Completed, finished, perfect. God has committed to perfecting His love in you, and the date of completion is the return of our Lord Jesus! Amen! Come Lord Jesus!

Sermon Talking Points
Read sermons at:
Listen: search your podcast app for “The Joshua Victor Theory” or
listen online at

  1. Read 1 John 4:16-21 and reflect on the meaning of this passage. Start with some definitions of these common words: Love; perfected; fear; punishment; hate; brother; commandment. Note! The Biblical definitions may not be what we commonly think of from these words.
  2. God is Love. Therefore God cannot be truly known apart from His love. It’s the essence of who He is. God’s love is sacrificial and self-giving. How do we know? 1 John 4:10-11, 19; John 10:14-18.
  3. The Greek word translated “perfected” in v. 17 refers to the completion of something or reaching its purpose or goal. How is love brought to its purpose in us by a confident trust in God? By loving our brother and our neighbor as ourselves? By obeying God, not out of fear, but out of love?
  4. What does fear do to our obedience? What does love do to our obedience? What does fear do to our relationships? What does love do to our relationships? How does “perfect love drive out fear?” 1 John 4:18
  5. Why must all our love flow from God’s “first love”? 1 John 4:19. Why is that an amazing relief, and a source of confidence on the day of judgment? 1 John 4:17.
  6. Why is hatred totally inconsistent with love for God? Why can’t we have it both ways—hating our fellow man, but loving God? 1 John 4:20-21.
  7. How does God reform our love into His own pattern? Where do we see this pattern perfectly and clearly?

8th Grade Graduation Address, Proverbs 3:1-12 "Miners of God's Wisdom"

Proverbs 3:1–12 (ESV)
1 My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments, 2 for length of days and years of life and peace they will add to you. 3 Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart. 4 So you will find favor and good success in the sight of God and man. 5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. 6 In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. 7 Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. 8 It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones. 9 Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce; 10 then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine. 11 My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, 12 for the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.

There’s a fascinating chapter of the Bible, Job 28, written some 3,500 years ago, a poem about ancient miners digging in the heart of the earth and under mountains to find gold, iron, copper, sapphires, silver, and other precious metals and gems. The ancient miner goes out to lonely and forgotten places, and digs deep under the earth, hidden from the sight of the birds and the animals, away from mankind, and finds great treasures. But this isn’t a passage about how to get rich with your pickaxe and shovel. Job compares this search for treasure to the treasure of God’s wisdom. Priceless in worth, God’s wisdom can’t be bought with gold, or found deep in the earth or the ocean. Its hidden from the sight of birds and animals. Yes God’s wisdom is even hidden from humans who think they’re wise. Our reading from Proverbs calls it being “wise in your own eyes.” Job 28 ends by stating “the fear of the Lord; that is wisdom, and to turn away from evil is understanding.” God is the source of true wisdom.
What if I told you all your teachers here at Emmanuel were miners, and didn’t even know it? They’ve spent years working in the mines—the treasure mines of God’s Word. They’ve gained great profit from that mining—not a profit of money—but the profit of God’s wisdom. And all these years they’ve been teaching you how to use your “pickaxe and shovel” to go into the treasure mine of God’s wisdom. Your most basic skills developed in school—how to listen, how to read, and how to understand, are your “pickaxe and shovel”. You’ve just started scratching the surface of a treasure mine with your “tools.” There’s so much you have never explored, not only in the knowledge of this world God has made, but especially in God’s Word, the Bible. The discovery and enjoyment of that wisdom and knowledge will take you more than a lifetime to experience. Curiosity and a love for God’s Word will keep you exploring and learning. On the other hand, by ignoring the treasure, and growing tired of the ‘dig’, you will miss out on the priceless worth of what God would teach you.
You’ve chosen Bible verses that are like little sparkling diamonds that you’ve discovered—either on your own, or by the help of an experienced miner who knows the “mines” of God’s Word, and has helped you find your way to a precious jewel. And you know what? They haven’t left those mines, and it’s my prayer, that you will never leave them either, but will continue in a lifelong search for God’s wisdom for your life, in the Bible.
Mr. Rempfer introduced Proverbs 3 to you at the beginning of your 8th grade year. It’s about growing in knowledge and wisdom. Listen to these verses:
5Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. 6 In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. 7 Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. 8 It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.

We find God’s wisdom and knowledge by trusting in Him. Having the posture of a student, a listener, a learner. Being teachable—someone who is open to instruction. The verse also describes the opposite attitude. “Leaning on your own understanding” or being “wise in your own eyes.” That’s an attitude of being the “wise guy” or “wise girl” who already knows everything, who doesn’t need to listen, or doesn’t want to learn. It’s the attitude of “I know best.”
God’s Word is not a “treasure map”—it’s the treasure mine itself. What do we find inside? God’s Word of salvation, the origin and purpose of life in this world, and how to live at peace with one another and enjoy the fullness of life. We learn the reason for evil and suffering in this world—how sin turned us against God’s Wisdom, and made us wise in our own eyes. How sin twists life and breeds selfishness, greed, hatred, betrayal, warfare, and all other evil things. But we also learn how God has dealt with evil, sin and death by sending His Son Jesus into this world on an amazing rescue mission. The greatest treasure we can discover in God’s Word is this Good News: that God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life.
Bring a learner’s attitude to God’s Word. Be ready to listen, read, and understand; and the Holy Spirit will fill us with wisdom. Did you know that Jesus said God will never turn down a prayer request for His Holy Spirit? Or that the Bible promises you can pray for wisdom, and God will answer yes? Don’t lose the learner attitude—not after this graduation or any future one! You are never done learning, even when you finish school!
Proverbs 3 also describes many of the rewards of a learner’s attitude. God will guide you on straight paths, and keep you from evil. When you stumble and make mistakes, be humble and turn back to God (repentance); He will bring you healing and refreshment. Jesus is a patient Teacher. He wants us to learn, and not fail.
Another section of the reading says this:
11 My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, 12 for the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.

This is another important lesson. Don’t resent loving relationships that involve discipline. What are some of those relationships? With your parents, teachers, principle, pastors, coaches, eventually employers, etc. Young or old, sometimes we think that love means having no boundaries, or we just think we should be able to do whatever we want. Our parents tell us “No!” and we shoot back—“See! You don’t love me!” As if their love meant they could never tell us “no” to anything. Obviously that’s not true. Your parents love you deeply and care about your growth into maturity. So does everyone who surrounds you today. Everyone knows this is an exciting step into bigger responsibilities, more decision-making, and bigger challenges.
High school is exciting. It’s also really a tough time for good decision-making. More and more, that will be your responsibility. Strong emotions, peer pressure, a need to “fit in” or “belong”; excitement, danger, and fun are all jumbled up in the years ahead. All that affects your decision-making. Academics, sports, extra-curricular activities, relationships, getting ready for college. It can seem overwhelming, and it’s easy to just be swept along. And sometimes, because your parents, teachers, and others love you, and care about you—there is discipline. You make unfortunate choices, and there are consequences. Maybe you lose a little freedom for a while. But don’t resent them for it. Discipline now spares greater pain in the future.
God corrects those whom He loves, and who have a learner attitude. God disciplines those whom He loves. God’s treasures in His Word, and lessons gained in life are not always easy to access. Sometimes we learn the hard way. Sometimes through pain, difficulty, and frustration. But give thanks that you have loving parents, loving teachers, and most of all a loving God teaching you. Give thanks that they care enough about you to help set boundaries to guide you on a path to success. Give thanks for those who care enough to help set you back on the right path when you’ve veered off it.
You’ve been given many tools for success at Emmanuel. You’ve been loved, you’ve been taught, you’ve been given the tools for learning. You’re still just starting that learning journey. The tools are a little unfamiliar in your hands; but you’ll get better at using them over the coming years. Don’t get frustrated by failures. Almost nobody succeeds without first having made a lot of failures along the way. But the more that you turn to God’s Word, relying on His wisdom instead of your own—the more you can avoid the foolish and avoidable mistakes. There are plenty of unavoidable mistakes and failures too—but that’s all part of the learning process.
Proverbs 3 began with these words: “do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments”. My last thought for you today is this—it’s easy to forget what we’ve been taught, especially when we don’t keep it in use and practice. Maybe you’ve already forgotten half of what I’ve said today—but God wants you to keep His wisdom, His love, and faithfulness closely held around our necks and written on our hearts. Don’t let it get far away from you. Don’t abandon the mine. Many real life treasure mines have been abandoned after all their riches were exhausted. But God’s Word, the Bible, is an inexhaustible treasure mine. Never abandon His Word—especially when other’s tempt you with fool’s gold, that is of no value, or when you feel tired, bored, or lazy. Don’t give up the pursuit of God’s Wisdom, and don’t lean on your own understanding.
Jesus said it this way: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” There are many lessons that have been learned and even forgotten in these years at Emmanuel—but do not forget God’s teaching. Always return to the treasure mine of His Word; put your heart there and you will find joy, confidence, peace, wisdom, and love in greater measure than you can explore in a lifetime. God’s precious plan and purpose for you is to know Him deeply and to be loved by Him. He sent His love in person to us, through His Son Jesus Christ—He is your companion, your Teacher, and your Treasure for all the years that are ahead of you. Congratulations and God be with you! In Jesus’ Name, Amen.