SERMON FOR THE 3RD SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY, 6-17-2018

Luther Memorial Chapel, Shorewood, WI

Rev. Michael Larson

Micah 7:18–20; Psalm 103:1–13; 1 Tim. 1:12–17; Luke 15:1–32

Tax collectors and notorious sinners were all drawing near to Christ. Jesus didn’t turn them away and so the pharisees grumbled, saying “this man receives sinners and eats with them.” Those pharisees recalled the first psalm which said that the Messiah doesn’t walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the way of sinners. From Deuteronomy they knew the law, or thought they did: to stay away from every evil thing. They knew from proverbs to stay away from forbidden women – and to turn away from evil.

And so Jesus does something incomprehensible, well, reprehensible to those self-righteous pharisees. Jesus surrounds himself with these shady and troubled people. They draw near to him, they listen with receptive hearts…But the pharisees grumble: “this man receives sinners and eats with them.”     

So he told them this parable: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

The Pharisees didn’t understand it. The scribes and pharisees did not believe in the God who came into the world to save sinners. They believed in a god who blessed men because of the goodness and righteousness they had achieved for themselves. They believed that salvation from sin was earned. They therefore loved themselves and were puffed up in self-righteous thinking. They relied upon the law but in truth did not know the law because they had no room for mercy. And so they hated Christ.

Why? Because Christ taught that man was helpless and unable to save himself, well, like a lost sheep. And who wants to be told he’s lost? Who wants to be told they’re helpless – that they are easy prey, and incapable of their greatest need – to be saved? That requires humility, recognizing one’s sinful condition and sinful deeds, and acknowledging that by nature we are enemies of God. Without proper fear, and love and trust in him. It would actually require one to say something like, I, a poor miserable sinner. And not just to mouth those words but to mean it. Me, a lost sinner? Miserable?

But how about your love of money? How about your love of self and living for vain pleasure? How about the chaos of lust and wicked thoughts that you indulge in with barely a hint of embarrassment? How about pride – the strutting you do, with the undeserved blessings God has given you, whether it be earthly gifts, an untarnished reputation, or other blessings. These are gifts that you would glorify him, but you’ve made it a point of glorifying yourself.

Admit you have a tendency to be like those pharisees: You’re good at calling out those who don’t measure up! You shake your heads with disapproval at those who have fallen into public dishonor, scandal, or vice. You are quick to call them out – an expert really.

But like the Pharisees you make a big mistake in this. A damning mistake. With the rest of the world you go right along with it – and have the tendency to distinguish between great and small sinners. But according to God’s Word the opposite is true because God’s eyes see differently than the eyes of the world. God looks above all at the heart. The most serious sins a person can commit are the transgressions against the first three commandments.

So consider the anarchy of your heart – how far you’ve strayed – how far you’ve wandered from him. Consider how little you actually fear him.

Consider how weakly you love him. How pathetically you trust him. Or sure you give God lip service, but your hearts are far from him. You look good to the world, religious, spiritual, impeccable.

You have an advanced degree in posturing. An advanced degree in pharisee(ing) you might say. Of fooling everyone with the veneer of worldly respectability – which you’ve dedicated nearly every waking hour. But the hard truth is: it’s all worth nothing in the eyes of God. The prophet Isaiah had spoken of us: “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.”   

All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—everyone—to his own way. But, the LORD has laid on him, on Jesus, the iniquity of us all.

That is why these three wonderful lessons are so wonderful. In the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son, we see nothing but God’s gracious heart toward those whose hearts have strayed. Our Lord is consumed with passion to save a single lost soul.

Consider those tax collectors and sinners this morning, who were drawing near to hear Him. Jesus is tender and kind to those frightened by their sins. He loves to show mercy. He doesn’t push them away.

Consider Zacchaeus who wanted to catch a glimpse of that mercy and the Lord gladly announced “Today, salvation has come to this house.” Consider the woman caught in the sin of adultery who kissed the feet of Christ, who tenderly comforted her, “Your sins are forgiven…Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

Consider the criminal, whose sinful life nailed him to the cross, who at the gates of eternity was filled with sorrow over his guilt, asking Christ to remember him in heaven. “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

We recall these accounts to counter a false view of Christ, which comes from the devil: which essentially says “hey God is merciful and loves to forgive. And hey, I love to sin. So I’ll just keep willfully sinning. I’ll harden my heart. I’ll eat pig slops all week, come to communion, and then I’ll run back to the pig slops again.

This is not the Gospel. The Lord has a frenzied passion to save you. And so he runs to you. And bring his salvation by the word of absolution. The law of God crushes you. The Gospel raises you up from the judgment of the law by proclaiming all that God has done for you in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins.

In Catechism class I love asking the young Christians why - why the father in the parable of the prodigal son forgives that son of his. Don’t overthink it I warn them. Why does the father take that rebellious son back? 

“Because he loves him!” they say. The father in the parable of the prodigal son gives to his son because he is his son – simple as that! A son does not earn the love of his father; he is born into this love. So it is for all of you. You are baptized and born into the love of God which is unearned and undeserved.

And yet it remains that children sin. They spurn the love of their father. They abuse his love, they take it for granted. It remains true also for the baptized children of God. We spurn the love of our father in heaven. We are reckless, stupid, and rebellious. We trade in our birth right – and rather than feast in our father’s house – we opt for pig slops instead. Like sheep we have gone astray.

But be comforted. God’s love for the lost sinner is radical and absurd to human reason. Our Lord is consumed with a passion to save the single lost soul. He journeys into enemy territory among wild and evil men who would torture him and leave him for dead on a cross. But the Good Shepherd does not cut his losses and write us off. He knows the cost and how great it is. And he does it anyway.

He lays down his life for the sheep. He lets your sin hang around his bruised and bloody shoulders. He bears it all – the burden of his lost sheep. He pays the price and cries out in victory “It is finished.” And those shoulders are raised up gloriously in His resurrection. Shoulders, strong to save, and carry sheep like you to His Father in heaven.

The Pharisees accusation of Jesus is true. “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”  And God be praised for that. The Pharisees are right. God eats with sinners and we should be glad. Because that means us. And I know we’re Lutherans and that means we’re generally pretty stoic and serious in church but know that inside we’re grinning ear to ear, that Jesus receives sinners. You give him joy. And why should it be otherwise?  You are His after all. He is your shepherd and you are his sheep. Therefore, let him throw you proudly over his shoulders. It’s Father’s day. A good day if any for sons and daughters to come home. In the name of Jesus.

The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Prayer of the Church

Let us pray for the whole Church of God in Christ Jesus and for all people according to their needs.

Lord of heaven and earth, consider our afflictions and troubles, and forgive all our sins. To You, we lift up our souls. In You, we trust; let us never be put to shame. Seek us when we stray, work in us repentance and, by the voice of Your Son, our Good Shepherd, bring us back into the fold. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.

Lord of the harvest, send forth workers into Your vineyard, and bless the pastors and teachers of Your Church. Preserve them from all error, false belief or other great shame and vice. Bless their preaching and teaching, that it would lead their hearers to confess, with St. Paul, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.

Defend Your Holy Church throughout the world. Bless those who serve overseas in the work of the ministry and the extension of your kingdom, especially Rev. Jacob Gaugert, the Wildauer family, the Askins, Cortrights, the Sovitzky family, Dierdre and Temish Christiansen and all those whom we name in our hearts. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.

Bless all our families and, especially on this day, all called to the vocation of fatherhood, that they might faithfully provide and care for those entrusted to them in both body and soul. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.

Support and defend all those who are facing any trials or tribulations in their lives; those in any want or need; those who are burdened with animosity in the home, workplace or community; comfort our homebound members with the consolation of your promises and the gift of Christian friendship and company: Carol, Dorothea, Betty, Doris, Cliff and Carol, Teresa, Ethel, Paul, Maude, and Lou. Give strength and endurance in the midst of all difficulty and, if it be Your will, grant restoration and relief. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.

Gracious Lord, You call all Your penitent children to the feast of Holy Communion. Grant that we who receive this most holy feast of Christ’s very body and blood today would be strengthened in our faith and encouraged to love one another as Christ has loved us. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.

Holy Father, receive our praise this day for all who have fallen asleep in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life in Christ. Keep us in that same faith and hope, that we would rise with them on the Last Day and enter the inheritance prepared for us before the foundation of the world was laid. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.

Into Your hands, O Lord, we commend all for whom we pray, trusting in Your mercy, through Your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

SERMON FOR THE 2ND SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY, 6-10-2018

LUTHER MEMORIAL CHAPEL, SHOREWOOD, WI

Rev. Michael Larson

Prov. 9:1–10; Psalm 34:12–22; 1 John 3:13–18; Luke 14:15–24

To the children of God gathered at Luther Memorial Chapel and University Student Center, grace, mercy, and peace be unto you from God of Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

King David spoke of the wonderful invitation and banquet of the Lord, saying, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of mine enemies, you anoint my head with oil; my cup runneth over.” The 23rd Psalm. The Lord prepares the table, your cup runneth over with forgiving blood. The Lord God is the master of the feast – His Son is the Banquet – the food and the drink. Jesus is Himself the cook, the butler, the waiter, and the meal. It was He who was roasted in the Father’s wrath on Calvary for the sins of the world – making peace by the blood of the Cross – laid in the grave but risen – living – ascended – and yet among us in his life-giving body and holy blood.

Risen from the grave on Easter afternoon, he walked among those confused disciples, troubled over Jesus death, yet not recognizing the Lord of life among them. Everything changed, however, when this stranger took bread, blessed it, and gave it to them – their eyes were apocalyptically opened – they recognized the Lord. Understood his ongoing presence, wherever his word is spoken – and his supper shared. In a life-giving meal, a banquet of his body and blood – given and shed for the forgiveness of sins, for life, and salvation.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me.”

This morning the Lord’s Supper will be celebrated on altars across the world. Christ stands at the altar and pulpit the world over with his arms wide open, graciously inviting all to come, saying, “come, eat, drink, for everything is ready.” Every creature plagued by sin, death, and hell should run with delight to this feast and find strength and joy, forgiveness, and health – eternal life and sublime happiness.

Imagine, that feast centuries earlier spoken of by Isaiah: A banquet on God’s holy mountain – of rich food and well-aged wine for all people. The best meat and the best of wine. That God would lift the veil spread out over all the nations - swallow up death forever – banish all sadness - and wipe the tears away from every face.

Imagine the thousands of years that God had prepared his people for this magnificent feast.

And now that feast has come where Christ is present offering just that feast: himself…. Imagine God’s grief, the sorrow in his heart, that this invitation would be met with indifference. The whole world shrugs their shoulders at this mystery of God’s presence in weekly worship.

Jesus said “A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ But they all alike began to make excuses: one fella had bought some land, another had some animals to see, another guy, thought being recently married, was a decent excuse. “Too busy,” they all said! More important things to do. They all rejected the banquet.

But sin of course makes us stupid. The excuses for abstention are ridiculous today just as they are ridiculous in the Gospel this morning. Sports, real estate, sleeping in, hectic schedules, a day for myself to sleep in. It’s easy to fool our own family members, friends, and maybe even the pastor with all our excuses. But the excuses are still foolish. And while me might fool one another with excuses for rejecting the banquet, or giving up on family prayer, or bible reading, because our schedules are so hectic – we cannot – and will not ever pull one over on God. He’s knows what’s behind it all; because it’s personal. It’s all fundamentally a rejection of him.  

He’s God; he’s knows the thoughts and intentions of our hearts. The misplaced priorities. The greed, the anxiety, the faithless fears. It aint pretty. Now Yes, Jesus is mostly warning the Jews of their rejection of him, God’s special people, whom he had taken such a special interest in to spread His Gospel to all nations. And yes, today’s text is mostly a warning to those who are not here this morning – those fallen away – or in need of prayers to be restored.

But it’s also a warning to all of us. The Lutheran version of those excuse making privileged Jews, is to become bored or indifferent to the holy things of God: such things as the words of absolution – or real presence of Christ in the Supper.

Repent and be filled with wonder this morning that God has not changed his mind about you. That despite the week you just had, the numerous times you fell, sinned, and were silent in prayer, that God is not silent toward you this morning. Unlike your treatment of Him, he has not given you the cold shoulder. No, he is not silent, but inviting you, and loving you, forgiving you – and speaking loudly and clearly that your sins are forgiven. That you are loved by God and have a special place at the table.

Repent and live like that other group, who considered an invitation to God’s heavenly banquet as the most unexpected, wonderful, and greatest thing in the whole world.

Consider again the surprise, the complete and total surprise, that God’s love has overpowered your sins, that they are cast away, as far as the east is from the west. And that God remembers those sins no more.   

What a surprise! Because you know the truth. God your Father, the master of the Heavenly Banquet, could have made a lot of good excuses for excluding you, leaving you out of his heavenly banquet. But he didn’t do that. It’s his good pleasure to give the kingdom to those who think they are unworthy of it.

God could have made excuses that the price to save you was too high – the suffering and sacrificial death of his own Son – But for God who loves you, with a love that is incomprehensible – it was worth it.

So consider those frivolous excuses made in today’s Gospel and consider those greater things that God gives:

Consider that the first excuse-maker had bought a mere piece of land, but now consider that God gives you the real estate of paradise itself – he gives you an everlasting kingdom. The second excuse-maker ran off, to consider the sacrifice of oxen, but you receive the sacrifice of Christ, the finest meat and finest drink – that truly gives life.

The third ran off to his wife. But now in this banquet you are about to taste, he nourishes you and declares you to be not any old spouse, but the zealous object of his love, his perfect bride, the church.

He is pleased that all of you are here. He’s got you right where he wants you. In his heavenly house, at his banquet, where you forever remain his most prized possession. So eat, drink, be merry. Bask in the undeserved love of God and boast that you, who were once far off, have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

The Lord invites you to the altar, saying “come, for everything is now ready.” Consider that the charge of the pharisees is so gloriously true, that this man, Jesus, welcomes sinners and eats with them. He welcomes and eats with you. And just as wonderful he actually enjoys your company. In the name of Jesus. Amen.

The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Prayer of the Church

Let us pray for the whole Church of God in Christ Jesus and for all people according to their needs.

Heavenly Father, bless us, Your baptized children, who were once far off but have been brought near by the blood of Christ, through whom we have access in one Spirit to You. Hear our prayers and supplications, and unite us together in the unity of faith and the bond of peace. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.

Gracious Father, through Your faithful servants, You invite all sinners to come and feast at Your great banquet. Send forth such faithful servants and bless them to proclaim to all, “Come, for everything is now ready!” Through the faithful preaching and administration of Your Holy Word and Sacraments, fill Your banquet hall with sinners redeemed by Christ the Crucified. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.

Merciful Father, look upon the poor, hungry, homeless and unemployed with compassion, and tend to their needs. Fill us with Your mercy and compassion, and remove from us any excess love of earthly treasures, that we would be moved to provide assistance to those in need. Bless the charitable organizations and social agencies of our land, that relief would be found in them for those who need it. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.

Loving Father, have mercy on all who are suffering and desire Your aid at the present time, especially our homebound members: Carol, Dorothea, Betty, Doris, Cliff and Carol, Teresa, Ethel, Paul, Maude, and Lou. According to Your gracious will, heal their infirmities and give them strength to bear all their crosses in Christian patience, always looking to Your Son, Jesus Christ, for courage and care. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.

Holy Father, here at the holy altar we are blessed to receive a foretaste of the feast to come at Your great banquet. As we partake of the very body and blood of Christ, which is, for us, the medicine of immortality, forgive our sins and preserve us in body and soul unto life everlasting. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.

Heavenly Father, we remember all who rest in Your nearer presence, especially those in our families who have gone before us in the faith. Prepare us every day to fall asleep in the wounds of Jesus Christ, our Redeemer, that we may rise with them in glory at our Savior’s return to judge the living and the dead. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.

Into Your hands, O Lord, we commend all for whom we pray, trusting in Your mercy, through Your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

SERMON FOR THE 1ST SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY, 6-3-2018

LUTHER MEMORIAL CHAPEL, SHOREWOOD, WI

Rev. Michael Larson

Gen. 15:1–6; Psalm 13; 1 John 4:16–21; Luke 16:19–31

There are two paths in this life. A way life and a way of death. One leads to eternal life and blessedness the other to eternal ruin and torment. This morning we see both ways in two men – the rich man and Lazarus. The first only eats the best foods. Enjoys the very best entertainment. He is dedicated to his own pleasure. In a way, he counts his own blessings. He is happy with his lot. He is secure, comfortable, and self-confident. He is aware of his own success. He has a prosperous home and family. He lives large, and spares no expense. His reputation is impeccable in town. He is loved by all, admired by the whole world who considers him fortunate above all.

The second man’s lot is different. He is poor, covered with sores, hungry, living in poverty. He is forgotten, scorned, and hated. Lying at the gate of the rich man he hoped to be fed the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table. But he received nothing and even the dogs that wandered the streets were kinder to this poor man Lazarus then everyone in the whole village.

This poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side in the blessedness of heaven. The rich man also died and was taken down to hell to be tormented by the demons and scorching fires. When the rich man saw that his cause was helpless he demanded that Abraham warn his brothers so that they would escape this place of torment. To which Abraham replies “Your brothers have Moses and the prophets; let them listen to them. If they do not listen to them neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.”

Here we see two men. One man goes to hell and the others goes to heaven. There are two paths. One is the path of life. The other is the way to destruction and eternal death. The difference in these men, however is not that one has some money and the other does not. Money is not evil. It is their hearts, which were different. One man trusted in God. The other man trusted in himself. One man’s God was true the others was false.

What is the first commandment? You shall have no other Gods. What does this mean? The Small Catechism tells us. We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things. This is not so much a question about the content of their wallets as it is about the content of their hearts. Because even the rich can be most generous and the poor can be frighteningly greedy and stingy. 

The Scriptures say that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” This is why Lazarus was wise unto salvation. Lazarus recognizes that he has nothing to offer. He recognizes his own sinfulness. He is aware of his own poverty. When he says I a poor miserable sinner, he actually means it. He is unworthy, he is unclean, and he doesn’t deny that his treatment in this life is undeserved. But more importantly, Lazarus looks to God and believes that God is good to him, despite all evidence to the contrary. Lazarus looks to Christ, the promised Messiah.

Even though this whole world has written him off, he knows that God is merciful. He closes his eyes and believes in his heart that the Lord is kind and will help him. In fact, that is what the name Lazarus, means in Hebrew – “God helps.” Lazarus actually believes that God will raise him from the dead, and deliver him from this valley of tears to Himself in heaven.

But the rich man takes the easy path – and they say that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. And the rich man intended to live the best life he could and in the process forgot about his poor neighbor. Forgot about God. And seeking to be rich became the poorest of all men when he died a miserable death and was separated from God in eternity.

But Lazarus who trusted in God is delivered and saved by the Gospel. Because he had a friend who could identify with him. A rich man, who left his throne in heaven, to be become poor, so that Lazarus, through his poverty, mighty become eternally blessed. Yes, there is another poor man who identifies with Lazarus – who suffers from painful wounds. He came to his own and his own knew him not. A man of sorrows acquainted with grief. A man from whom men hid their faces. A poor man with nowhere to lay his head. Like Lazarus, living in poverty. A man treated harshly by the rich and powerful and left to die outside of the city gate. A poor man starved and thirsty, covered with sores, hanging upon Calvary’s hill. Forgotten, left for dead upon the cross. Lazarus’s only friend was Jesus.   

St. Paul says, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.”

He who loves his life will lose it and he who hates it in this life will keep it in eternal life. That is what Jesus says.

The most important lesson we learn this morning is that the good things we enjoy, our health, our money, as fine as they are, are not in themselves proof of God’s love. God giveth and He taketh away.

It’s easy to love God when things are good. But what if you were struck down like Job and lived like Lazarus, a beggar on the street? Would you still worship God and thank Him? Do you trust in him when God seems to be against you? Lazarus teaches us to live by faith even when God’s love seems contrary to the evidence.

Dear Christians, how many Lazarus’s has God placed at your door, which you ignored, scorned, and neglected? How many opportunities have you had to love your neighbor and bring him relief? Face the facts, you are much like those five brothers of the rich man, who live like him, and are in danger of dying like him. And it would be so, were it not for the preaching of Moses and the prophets – a Gospel preached to you – which saves you from utter destruction. There would be no hope, were is not for the forgiveness of Christ and his blood can deliver us from hell and bridge the divide between us rebels and the God of love. That bridge is the cross and the body and blood of Christ in which we have pardon and forgiveness of sins.

There is a way of life and a way of death. In Christ, you have been saved and set free. Free not to self-gratification and hedonistic living, that is slavery to sin, and its end is destruction. No, you are saved from that! Rather, you are free to love sacrificially, as you yourself have been loved by God – free so that you can extend that same refreshment, that same peace and help to one another that you yourself have received, until you are carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Prayer of the Church

Let us pray for the whole Church of God in Christ Jesus and for all people according to their needs.

Almighty and eternal God, worthy to be held in reverence by all people everywhere, we give You humble and sincere thanks for the innumerable blessings that You have bestowed on us without any merit or worthiness on our part. We praise You especially for preserving for us Your saving Word and Holy Sacraments. Grant and preserve for Your Holy Church throughout the world purity of doctrine, and provide faithful pastors to preach Your Word with power. Help all who hear the Word rightly to understand and truly to believe it. Send laborers into Your harvest, and open the door of faith to those who do not know You. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.

You have graciously given us, Your children adopted by grace, the gift of faith. Remove from us all wayward boasting and any inclination toward self-righteousness. Increase our faith in, and fidelity to, the Holy Gospel, which is Your power unto the salvation of all who believe. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.

We love because You first loved us. Where we have failed to love as we ought, grant us repentance and the desire to amend our ways. Increase in us the desire to show forth our love to one another in acts of charity and kindness, and fill our hearts with generosity and compassion toward all, Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.

Bestow Your grace on all nations of the earth. Bless especially our country, its inhabitants and all who are in authority. Let Your glory dwell in our land, that mercy and truth, righteousness and peace may abound in all places. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.

Graciously defend us from all calamity by fire and water, from war and pestilence, from scarcity and famine, and from every other evil. Be the God and Father of the lonely and the forsaken, the Helper of the sick and needy, the Comforter of the distressed and those who sorrow. Comfort our friends who are homebound, especially Carol, Dorothea, Betty, Doris, Clif and Carol, Teresa, Ethel, Paul, Maude, and Lou. Be with those recovering from surgery, including Marcia Genthe - that they may ever cling to Jesus as their sure and certain hope. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.

Grant Your Holy Spirit to those who come to the Lord’s table this day, that they may receive the body and blood of Jesus Christ in sincere repentance and firm faith and to their abundant blessing. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.

Father, as we are strangers and pilgrims on earth, help us by true faith and a godly life to prepare for the world to come, doing the work You have given us to do while it is day, before the night comes when no one can work. And when our last hour comes, support us by Your power and receive us into Your heavenly Kingdom, through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

SERMON FOR THE HOLY TRINITY, MAY 27, 2018

LUTHER MEMORIAL CHAPEL, SHOREWOOD, WI

Rev. Michael Larson

Is. 6:1–7; Psalm 29; Rom. 11:33–36; John 3:1–17

For preachers on this day, in the Lutheran church, there are a couple challenges that arise on the Feast of the Holy Trinity. First, we are challenged to confront some theological terms. Substance and person, infinites and coeternals. We confess a creed, starting, with an A, that’s long, and difficult to say. The second challenge is that congregations, again, on this day, have a renewed suspicion that their Lutheran pastors are subtly suggesting they become Roman Catholics – and pledge their loyalty to the pope.

To the latter concern, you may rest assured, that we’ll stay Lutheran. It is not arrogant to say that to be Lutheran is to be Christian – it is simply the clearest expression and confession of the Christian faith. However we also acknowledge that it’s not only Missouri Synod Lutherans, who belong to Christ's Church, and who now rest from their labors. Hopefully it’s not a disappointment or surprise that heaven is also filled with those who didn’t call themselves Missouri Synod or even know what that is. Consequently, we are catholics, in the sense that we acknowledge the universality of the holy Christian Church, all believers, at all times, and all places. Holy apostles, martyrs, saints, angels, and archangels.

To say Christian church, in one sense, is a redundant phrase. Of course the church is Christian what else could it be?

But catholic, now we’re emphasizing the unified confession of the one church in all times and all places, built upon the doctrine of the apostles and prophets, whose cornerstone is Christ, believing, teaching, and confessing what has always been believed, taught, and confessed. Catholic is actually a Bible word, from the Greek catholika, emphasizing to us the broad, wide-reaching embrace of the love of God, and the faith shared by our brothers and sisters the world over – in the mutual confession of Christ and him crucified. And in that sense, the word catholic must likewise always be Christian.

The first challenge I mentioned, about unfamiliar words, phrases, and theological terms – will continue to bewilder in our present age. In an age of tweets, Instagram, and social media – I’ve often wondered if that Athanasian Creed is met by our churches with some degree of confusion or even annoyance. “Pastor,” folks may say, “leave that stuff to the theology professors and seminaries. Theology may be fine for you, but give me something simple, give me a practical religion, something that I can really use in my life.” In one sense they are right. Teaching and doctrine should be clear and understandable. There is nothing worse than a preacher or teacher talking above his students. Folks should be able to make connections and apply theology and Christian doctrine to their lives. All preachers can be better at this, including myself.  

Yet in another, sense, those folks are dead wrong in their criticism. They are wrong in their assumption that everything about our holy faith ought to be simple, and easy, and that if anything about what is taught or confessed here becomes too complicated, they can check out, dismiss it, and leave it to the professionals – with advanced degrees.  

The dangerous underpinning of this thinking is that the Lord is primarily there to help me live a better more fulfilled life, to make me feel better, to help me with the practical stuff – so I can have a better sense of control over my life, etc.

To a degree there is some of this thinking in Nicodemus, a practical man, if there ever was one, who wants to understand Jesus in a way that fits the Pharisees focus on rules for righteous living – a little more practical, “give me something I can really use”. We and Nicodemus have a lot in common in that respect.   

But Jesus doesn’t indulge him: “truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” The sermon Jesus goes on to preach must have sounded very strange, complicated, and impractical – for Nicodemus, a well-intentioned man, genuinely wanting to serve God.

But our Lord turns it all around, and rather than focusing on man’s work to please God. He speaks of God’s mysterious and wonderful work in man. This is the work of God, said our Lord, that you believe in him whom he has sent. You must be born again. Unless one is born of water and the spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. He goes on to preach about his incarnation – his divinity, saying, “No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.” He spoke of his crucifixion and resurrection, saying, “as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believe in him may have eternal life.” He speaks of judgment, For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

Jesus speaks of the Trinity: Of the Father and of the Son “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son.” He speaks of the work of the Holy Spirit “the wind blows where it wishes, and you hear it sounds. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.

How did Nicodemus walk away that day? Maybe a little like so many Christians confessing the Athanasian Creed: a little puzzled, perplexed, maybe even slightly little annoyed.

The Athanasian creed may seem impractical – a bit irrelevant for the day -  the stuff of professors and theologians. But how wrong we would be! These aren’t some old, outdated doctrines from dusty books. This is life, and salvation, to know God as He has revealed Himself: as Father, as Son, and Holy Spirit. To know who we are as creatures, sinful, crying out like Isaiah, Woe is me; for I am a man of unclean lips,” yet redeemed by the God-man Jesus. Above all, the doctrines of the Trinity and the incarnation in the Creed today should make us think about the crucifixion of Jesus. Because there hangs God, giving his life for you. That flesh is God’s flesh, and that blood is God’s blood. And that suffering is God’s suffering, and that death is God’s death.    

Theology literally means the science of God. It’s practical, it’s relevant. It matters. There are certain unalterable facts about His own nature that He has revealed to us. In Christ, we see the fullness of God. When God speaks He speaks Jesus. And in Jesus we see the Father’s kind and loving heart toward you. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.   

What’s more practical and relevant than the fact that Jesus is God. What’s more useful and helpful than being raised from your grave on the last day, with an incorruptible body, to enjoy life everlasting. What’s more relevant than baptism, the washing away of sins, and participating in the communion of love with the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

As misdirected as Nicodemus was – he had perfect vision to be at the right place at the right time – when it really mattered. He who came first to Jesus in the secret of night now comes boldly in the light of day. He took our Lord Jesus down from the cross. Bringing myrrh and aloes he anointed Jesus in his death. He gently wrapped his body in linen clothes, and laid him in a garden, for sleep in a new tomb. He was at the same time the first great theologian of the cross, and the first head of the altar guild.

We can learn something here. Namely, that all of our questions, are answered by Jesus death on the cross. Furthermore, from Nicodemus we learn to be at the right place at the right time, to be as close and near to the crucified and living Christ as we can be. How can a man be born again? To be baptized into his death – to be raised in his resurrection – to participate in the life of the Triune God. To have the blood of Christ touching your lips; and the Lord, declaring, “your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” In the name of Jesus. Amen.  

The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Prayer of the Church

Let us pray for the whole Church of God in Christ Jesus and for all people according to their needs.

For an increase in devotion for all the saints, for the faithful proclamation of the Gospel by all pastors in Christ, for an end to schism and division within the Church Militant, and for the proper fear and fervent praise of the Holy Trinity among all those born again from above in Holy Baptism, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.

For Jonathan Jennings, preparing for ordination into the Office of the Holy Ministry – that he would be a blessing to his congregation, exercising the office of the keys in the stead and authority of Christ, and administering the life-giving medicine of the Holy Gospel, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.

For the sojourner and stranger, for the persecuted and oppressed, for prisoners and their families, for the enemies of the faith, and for the true repentance of all, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.

For thankful hearts, and for the faithful support of the Church and the work of the Lord, here and throughout the world, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.

For the safety of all those who travel, and for a time of enjoyment and refreshment among all who gather together with family and friends, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.

For the nations and those who lead them, for peace in the world, for an end to violence and war, and for the remembrance of those who defended our liberty with the cost of their lives, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.

For those mourning the death of loved ones, especially Martha Galvin at the death of her brother Rodney, that all would find comfort and peace in the blessed hope of the resurrection and a happy reunion in heaven, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.

For reverent awe as our lips receive the very body and blood of Christ from the holy altar, for the removal of our guilt and deliverance from evil, for the strengthening of our love for God and for one another, and for an increase of faith, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.

For the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the dead and the life everlasting, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.

All glory, honor and praise be to the most Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Holy, holy, holy is He whose name is majestic in all the earth, through whom we receive forgiveness, life and salvation. For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen.

Sermon for the Day of Pentecost, May 20, 2018

Luther Memorial Chapel, Shorewood, WI

Rev. Michael Larson

Gen. 11:1–9; Psalm 143; Acts 2:1–21; John 14:23–31

Today is 50 days since we celebrated the glorious resurrection of Jesus Christ – on Easter. That Jesus is truly raised from the dead. Jesus death upon the cross paid the price for sins. Being sinless and righteous it was impossible for the grave to hold him. The father raised him up. He showed himself alive to the disciples absolving, showing himself to hundreds, announcing his victory over sin, death, and the power of the grave – a victory that belongs to us all by faith.

Ten days ago we gave attention his ascension by which we confess his position of authority from the Father to reign over all things for the sake of his church. That in ascending to the right hand of the Father, he lives and reigns with authority and power.

Now, on this Day of Pentecost we celebrate how that victory, his grace and mercy come to us. We give thanks for this day– a day in which the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the apostles in order that the Gospel might be proclaimed in all the earth. Today our paraments are bathed in the color red signifying the tongues of fire on Pentecost and the giving of the Holy Spirit. Red also reminds us of the blood of Christ – a blood shed for us poor sinners.

Today we confess the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified. Who is the Holy Spirit? The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Holy Trinity, who proceeds from the Father and the Son to give life to the world. His work – the vocation of the Holy Spirit is to proclaim Christ – to bring Him to us and to draw us into Him. The Holy Spirit is active in the world through the preaching of the Gospel and the administration of the sacraments to bring sinners to faith in Christ and to sustain them in the life of faith.

Sometimes, Lutherans are falsely accused of neglecting the Holy Spirit or not speaking enough about the Holy Spirit. However, this betrays their own misunderstanding of the Holy Spirit’s work. Because the Holy Spirit is not a self-promoter. He’s not about Himself because he’ll all about Christ. This morning Jesus says, “the Helper, the Holy Spirit, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” The Holy Spirit’s calling is a teaching ministry. A ministry of love that takes what belongs to Christ and brings it all to you. His righteousness, his innocence, and his blessedness. Last week we heard Jesus so plainly teach that the Holy Spirit will take what is mine, what is Christ’s, and declare it all to you!

The Holy Spirit does not draw attention to Himself. He is all about Jesus. That you would be brought from the death of unbelief to the life of faith in Christ. That you would believe that Christ has won for you forgiveness of sins – and that God no longer holds those sins against you.

What the Holy Spirit does through the Word and sacraments of Christ makes you holy. What you cannot do yourself, the Holy Spirit does for you. He sanctifies you, as you are drawn into the life of the Holy Trinity. You participate in this communion of love with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and live godly lives here in time and there in eternity.  

To be filled with the Holy Spirit is to confess Christ. To say that you believe in Him. That he was born for you, died for you, and rose for the likes of you. To be filled with the Holy Spirt also involves acknowledging your deep sinfulness, saying Lord I believe, but help my unbelief. I am plagued with sin, I am tempted, at times brought to the brink of despair. Even though you are afflicted and carry around sinful flesh: Be comforted, for if you were not troubled, if you did not occasionally suffer, a deep crisis of faith, what need would you have for the Holy Spirit, for the helper, at all. 

God in Christ has had mercy on you. The great joy of being a Lutheran springs from the sobering reality we confess about our spiritual condition, apart from the office and work of the Holy Spirit. We don’t say “I’m a strong Christian.” We don’t say, “look at me, just look how strong my faith is.” No, our confession of belief, our creed, if you will, actually begins with a negative statement. And it’s absolutely central to getting to the truth of who God is and who we are. We say, I believe, credo, that I cannot. I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to him.

That’s the reality. That’s the truth. And if that was the end, we’d be in trouble. But thanks be to God for the gift of the Holy Spirit…the catechism continues…but, the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the truth faith.

In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers. On the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ.

Who is calling? Who is enlightening? Who is sanctifying and keeping, and forgiving? Who is raising the dead and giving eternal life? Who is doing all those verbs. It’s not you. It’s not me. It’s the life-giving work of the Holy Spirit among us.

Today on Pentecost as you reflect on the readings. Do marvel at this miraculous event – a mighty rushing wind from heaven in the upper room! Divided tongues as of fire! Marvel at those apostles filled with the Holy Spirit and speaking in languages that every nation in the world can understand. Simple amazing!

But don’t miss the ordinariness of it. A congregation gathered from many different walks of life. Here they are 9am on a Sunday morning. Peter stands up preaches a sermon from the Scriptures with Christ at the center. The congregation acknowledges their sin, and their need for a Savior. They repent. They are baptized. Even the little children confess Jesus. They devote themselves to the breaking of the bread, the Lord’s Supper. They pray, they give sacrificially. They grow in faith toward God. They live in love toward one another.  

I hope you see it. Sure, the signs on that first Pentecost Sunday are dazzling, but consider the Spirit’s work among you. Just look at all of you here today, different races and faces and languages from very different backgrounds. The Scriptures are read and preached with Christ at the center. The Word of God, again calling you to repentance and faith. The joy of Pentecost continues this day. Children are baptized and confess Jesus. Marriages are strengthened and saved. Sinners are comforted from by the word of the Gospel.

Even this morning, our confirmands will stand before this congregation, and under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, will confess their faith - that they would rather die than fall away from the Christian faith. Miracles! Bread and wine will be declared to be the body and blood of Christ.

You are the heirs of Pentecost. The miracle of creating and sustaining faith continues. The same Spirit who hovered over the waters at the dawn of creation, who descended upon you in your baptism, remains and abides with you. Marvel also at the Spirit’s work among us.

Above all, Pentecost is a miracle of Words. Words that reverse the curse of the tower of Babel – words that unite us in the bonds of Christian fellowship and love. Words that unite us with God, and each in love, toward one another.

Marvel at the miracle of Words the Holy Spirit brings from the mouth of Jesus: words like, “your sins are forgiven.” Words like “drink of it, all of you, this cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” Words like “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.” Words like “Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” Words, like “behold, I am with you always, even unto the end of the age.” In the name of Jesus. Amen.

The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Prayer of the Church

Let us pray for the whole Church of God in Christ Jesus and for all people according to their needs.

For all baptized believers, that they would be given ears to hear and an eagerness to learn all that the Holy Spirit teaches them about their Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and the salvation they have through Him, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.

For spiritual renewal in our congregation, district, Synod and the whole Church on earth, that by God’s grace and the power of the Holy Spirit, we would long to keep Christ’s Word, dwell in His peace, sing God’s praises and love our neighbors, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.

For those who serve in Christ’s Church, that all pastors may faithfully preach Law and Gospel, all missionaries be fruitful in their labors, and all church workers be faithful in their service, so that all who call on the name of the Lord may be saved, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.

For the saints at History Trinity in downtown Milwaukee, that God would comfort them amid loss and sadness from a devastating church fire. That their hearts would neither be troubled nor afraid, knowing that nothing can separate them from the love God has for them in Christ. Let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.

For Ilsa, Kayle, Olivia, Ruby, Elsie, Fredrik, Ezra, and George. That these catechumens would remain life-long disciples of the Word of God. Bless their parents who instruct in the Christian home, and for all present this morning – that they would come in faithful reverence and awe to the Lord’s Table, recognizing how awesome God is from His sanctuary in giving them the very body and blood of their Savior to eat and to drink for the forgiveness of their sins and the strengthening of their faith, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.

For our University Students and professors completing their academic year. That they would employ those gifts of God entrusted to their care to glorify God – in theology, art, and sciences, and to be of service to their neighbors in love, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.

For those who have gone before us with the sign of peace and who now rest from their labors, that we may follow them, as they followed Christ, and be found faithful by those who come after us, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.

Through our Lord, Jesus Christ, all glory, honor and worship is Yours, Almighty Father, with the Holy Spirit, both now and forevermore. Amen.

Luther Memorial Chapel & University Student Center | 3833 N Maryland Ave | Shorewood, WI  53211
(414) 332-5732 |lmcusc@lmcusc.org

Divine Service: Sundays - 9:00a Mondays - 7:00p Bible Study & Sunday School: Sundays - 10:45a