Two Sermons from 2020

to mark the anniversary of our Church’s closure

and to praise God for sustaining us in body & soul since reopening


Dear Members of St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church & School, 

Pastors don’t often go back and reread sermons they had preached in years prior. We are busy looking ahead to the next sermon and what the Word has to say to the world we are in today.  There are some occasions, however, when it is important to look back to appreciate where we once were and how far we’ve come.

So in that spirit I am printing off the two sermons I preached around this time last year.  On March 22, 2020 we streamed our first service during the lockdown for Covid-19.  Liturgically we departed from the appointed Sunday of Lent (Laetare) and observed a day of Humiliation and Prayer.  The next week we resumed our liturgical church year with Judica, and I leaned heavily on Martin Luther’s great lectures on Genesis which he gave during the Plague hitting Wittenberg. 

My prayer is that by rereading these sermons you will be admonished, encouraged, and altogether edified- built up- as the Word of God will always do when it is heard with an honest and good heart.  May God continue to preserve among us the preaching of His Word and the right use of the Sacraments.  To God alone be the glory!  Amen

“Humbled & Needy – A Christian Is Right at Home”

– Day of Humiliation & Prayer ~ 3/22/2020

Texts: Joel 2:12-19; Psalm 6; 1 John 1:5—2:2; Matthew 6:16-21

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ – Amen

Saint John the Evangelist writes, “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous One. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” This is our text.

            A pandemic like the one we are in is many things at once.  It is scary, it is frustrating, it is bigger and badder than some people take it to be, and it is not as significant as others make it out to be.  It is a time to band together even as it is a time we have to stay apart.  It is a time for hope and joy on account of our faith in Christ, but in addition to that it is also a time for humiliation- humbling ourselves before God, and praying to Him for mercy and relief.

On a personal level this week has been very humbling. In case you haven’t learned this about me yet I am a very deliberate person and very deliberate pastor. I analyze and think through situations- beating the dead horse in my own head- before making a decision. And once the decision is made I am so certain it’s the right one that I am very hard to move off it, because I really have thought through and weighed a lot- if not all- the pros and cons and options.  Maybe some take this to be me as a purely stubborn person, and that is definitely part of it- but a lot of it comes from how far in advance I analyze and plan and manage my time… and weeks like this it’s all a wash.

            Everything I planned and worked ahead on for Lent and Holy Week – yanked away.  The ability to work ahead and plan? Nope, one day at a time.  It’s frustrating, stressful…but it’s also humiliating.  It drives me to repentance.  This is a great time for me as a pastor to learn what I need to know most- how to repent and rely on God for forgiveness, for daily bread. He will provide more than I can with all my time management and situational analysis. And it will be more successful coming from Him than from me. 

            One of my favorite Christian thinkers of the last century said it very well.  G.K. Chesterton said- “I don’t need a church to tell me I’m wrong where I already know I’m wrong; I need a Church to tell me I’m wrong where I think I’m right.”  That is humbling and humiliating.  But that is most needed, because it leads us to repentance.  We will come out of this challenging time and you will look back and say, “Pastor, you and the deacons made a bad decision here ____” and I can tell you right now, most likely you’ll be right. I’m ready to be humbled for making wrong decisions. I question myself constantly.

            And that shows me how much I need God’s mercy, and His grace in Jesus Christ. We poor sinners are needy, helpless beggars.  Humbled and Needy – A Christian is right at home.  Driven to repentance by our failures, by our unpreparedness, by our bad decisions, by our sins – we see how great our need for a savior is.  You are spending more time at home and with your family than ever and that is more opportunities to sin against one another- and you have. 

            You’ll be questioning your own decisions, dreading and worrying about the future, and feeling helpless and needy from start to finish.  That’s good.  That is what a Christian is- humbled, helpless, and needy-- standing before a God who IS both all powerful and all loving, who delights to pour out His grace for the sake of His Son, Jesus Christ, who loved us and gave Himself up for us.

            Times like this we are constantly confronted by our Sin.  God’s Word convicts us.  I’ll give you another personal example-  as I read and studied our Old Testament lesson from Joel 2- appointed for this day of Humiliation- I was convicted by God’s approach to disaster and how different it is from ours. “Blow the trumpet in Zion; consecrate a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people.” Did God not know that large numbers of people gathering is not sanitary…much worse in the days of the Prophet Joel than even now?  Did God not know that or did He know that the fellowship of believers is powerful medicine, that prayer and fasting, repentance and faith, can move God who acts more quickly than the CDC?

            None were left out, “Consecrate the congregation; assemble the elders; gather the children, even the nursing infants. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her chamber.  Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep and say, ‘Spare your people, O Lord, and make not your heritage a reproach.”  I am humbled by these words.  I question our decisions. If you were to tell me, “Pastor, we’re wrong” I would agree with you.  And I know if we held services- even if no one got sick- and you said, “Pastor that was wrong” I would agree with you then, too.  This is the real world. We don’t have good option versus bad option. Sometimes we have bad choice versus bad choice.

            Thank God we are not saved by our ethical decision making abilities!  Whether we’ve made all the right choices or all the wrong choices I stand here today to ask you all to pray with me that prayer from Joel 2- “Spare your people, O Lord, make not your heritage a reproach,” don’t let your people suffer want and hunger, don’t let small churches around the nation close for good, don’t let your schools go under.  Guard our FAITH, the gift we need the most.  Teach us to suffer with repentance, recognizing that based on our Sin alone we deserve far worse than this.  Teach us to suffer with faith and hope, spending more time in Your Word than we spend on the CDC website, spending more time in prayer than we spend complaining, worrying, and debating it to death with family and friends across social media. 

            Thanks be to God we can be wrong.  Thanks be to God we have an Advocate with the Father, the Righteous one, Jesus Christ.  Thanks be to God that His blood covers my sins and failures as a pastor, that it covers your sins and failures, that it covers the sins of the whole world- even the corrupt Communist Government of China- Jesus even died for dictators! May the whole world, purchased by the precious blood of Christ “return to the Lord our God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and He relents over disaster.”

            So dear Christians, we are humbled and needy, but that’s right where we belong.  In the light of God’s Law we are humbled by our sins and failures, brought to repentance, crying “Rebuke me not in Your anger! (Ps. 6:1) and we are in need of His grace.  And then we behold the rich grace and mercy of our loving savior and we are still humbled, but uplifted in that humility, seeing that God almighty stoops down in His own humiliation to meet our needs in the flesh, not keeping divine social distance, but breathing our poisoned air that we might know His grace and breathe the air of heaven.

            Now Saint Peter gives us good, practical advice for daily living at this time. It’s in 1 Peter 5.  They were suffering by persecution, not a plague.  That is something we must bear in mind, but Peter’s purpose in this practical application of Humiliation and Faith is to warn the people about the Temptations of the Devil during times of despair and suffering.  That much is still true of us.  As surely as God will use this time to test us, the devil will seek to drive you to despair, to adopt worrying instead of prayer, to seek selfishness instead of supporting one another, to learn to love the isolation in place of Christian fellowship. Resist him.

            Saint Peter writes, “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”  - What comforting words for we who have many anxieties right now.

            Then Peter’s warning: “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.” So be on guard against fits of anger or jealousy, despair and unbelief.  Don’t take this time to become slothful or lazy in your faith, or getting used to not attending Church. Know this for certain: the devil loves using things like this pandemic to scatter the flock of God that they might never return.

            But Peter encourages us again, that this shall not last, whether persecution or plague, famine or disaster- “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” So as your pastor, who has failed more than I can imagine in the last week, I call on you to put into practice two things, this day, and for as long as you can- Repent and Pray.  Pray for mercy. Pray for your fellow Christians. Pray for the nation and its leaders.  Pray that God restore His Church. Pray that God confirm our faith in Christ.  Pray that the Holy Spirit would strengthen our resolve to love one another with good works.  And pray that our Triune God establish us in His Kingdom of Grace. “To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.

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A Test of Faith – Will God Provide?                              Sermon for Lent 5 ~ 3/29/2020

Texts: Ps 43:1-5; Gen 22:1-14; Heb 9:11-15; Jn 8:46-59

The Peace of God be with you all – Amen

Jesus says in John, chapter 8- “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.”  If we are to find one moment in the life of Abraham (Gen. 12—25) where he is most clearly and prophetically seeing The Day of Christ’s Sacrifice and rejoicing, it would be that day, that awful day when the Father of Multitudes put the knife to his only beloved son’s throat, ready – and fully intending – to sacrifice everything in order to keep God’s Word. He had passed the test of his faith when the Lord stayed his hand.  Then Abraham looked up at the calling of the Messenger of Yahweh and he did not just behold one, lone ram caught in a thicket.  He saw the day of Christ and was glad.

With eyes of faith he beheld That Great and Awesome Day where God the Father offers up His only beloved Son as a Sacrifice for the sins of the World, the spotless Lamb of God nailed to the cross with a thicket of thorns twisted into a crown on His innocent brow.  Overflowing with tears of joy at the salvation of his dear son, Isaac, “Abraham called the name of that place, (Yahweh Yireh) ‘The Lord will provide’; as it is said to this day, ‘On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.’

We will come back to that Mountain of the Lord, the place where the Lord provides His own sacrifice to die in your place and to save your children.  First, let us understand the Testing of Abraham’s faith.  Moses writes, “God tested Abraham”.  To many in this World this entire idea is abhorrent! Reprehensible! They cannot bear the thought that God would test us. They will be offended at the biblical teaching that God uses and even sends Suffering and does so for His GOOD purpose.  To the unbelieving suffering can never be Good, and if God sends it, then they see God as a harsh and cruel tyrant.

Yet even this misunderstanding comes from God and is used by God.  The unbelieving NEED to feel the hard and heavy rod of God’s wrath. They need to feel the impending doom of a righteous judge if they are ever to repent and hear the good news of a suffering savior for the Good News that it is. If the Law does not totally shatter their proud and arrogant hearts underneath God’s Rod of Iron then the Gospel will never heal and resurrect them. Our God is a God who kills and makes alive!

But what about you, the BELIEVERS? For you, such tests do not come from a wrathful judge, but from a loving Father.  It is the same test, the same pandemic, but for the unbelieving it is a sign of the coming judgment. For the believers it is a sign of a Father’s love, His chastisement, His discipline to teach us and strengthen us, and help us grow. In his lectures on Genesis 22, Martin Luther says, God “does not test us in order that we may fear and hate Him like a tyrant, but to the end that He may exercise and stir up FAITH and LOVE in us.”  This pandemic is most certainly doing that- it is calling you to trust God in ways deeper than you have considered, and it is calling you to love your neighbor with greater need & responsibility than we have seen in decades.

That covers the how and why of God’s Testing.  But what is the test?  What, specifically, is Abraham’s test of faith? And what is ours today in this pandemic?  Here it is:  Will Abraham believe in God’s Word of PROMISE even when God Himself seems to contradict it?  The test is about keeping faith in the Promises of God when everything else seems to rush against it.  God had made promises to Abraham about his son Isaac, that through Isaac’s offspring all the nations of the world would be blessed, and now Abraham is told to kill Isaac while he is yet unmarried and childless.

Abraham passes the test because he continues clinging to the Promises of God.  Abraham passes the test because he believes in the Resurrection.  Hebrews 11 says Abraham believed God’s promises and trusts that even if Isaac is dead and burned up, God can raise up offspring for Isaac from the Ashes scattered on Mount Moriah.  Abraham believes that God will KEEP His promises even when everything else he sees and experiences contradicts it.

Despite this great demonstration of Faith, we are terrified by this chapter.  We cannot fathom God asking us to sacrifice our own children, to let them suffer and die…much less could we ever be the ones to hold the knife and do the deed!  Even the blessed Virgin Mary who did see her Son sacrificed was only a spectator and not the executioner!  So Genesis 22 terrifies us because of how GREAT the test of faith is.  And yet our tests from God cover the same CONTENT, even if they are not to the same degree.

We are not tested to slaughter our children, but we are asked to cling to the Promises of God when everything around us would say God is absent, or worse yet Evil.  Martin Luther again teaching on this amazing chapter- “These events are recorded for our comfort, in order that we may learn to rely on the promises we have. I was baptized. Therefore I must maintain that I was translated from the kingdom of Satan into the kingdom of God…Therefore one should hold fast to this comfort, that what God has once declared, this He does not change. You were baptized, and in Baptism the kingdom of God was promised you. You should know that this is His unchangeable Word, and you should not permit yourself to be drawn away from it.” What’s drawing you away these days?

            Here is your test of faith in this pandemic. I have God’s sure and certain promises in Holy Baptism.  Even if everything else is taken from me, this Baptism will never leave me!  The Lord will provide! Even if I suffer, even if I die, none of this changes His Word of Promise to me.

            How do you put that into practice at this time?  Be bold. Be faithful.  Learn from Abraham’s example. One thing I find remarkable in Genesis 22 is how LITTLE Abraham actually speaks!  In our English Standard Version he says about 50 words total!  Maybe that is our practical application.  When others want to gas off about Corona Virus- and I have done my share of that- let us follow the example of Abraham.  Let your words be FEW and FAITH-filled. 

            Abraham’s words are few. And they are filled with faith in God’s promises. “I and the boy will go over there and worship and [we will] come again to you”- He believes God will provide either a substitute for Isaac or He will resurrect him from the ashes.  Again, Abraham answers his son’s question with words you can directly quote when you are doubting during this Test of Faith, “God WILL Provide!” “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son”. You too, in this pandemic, let your words be few, and let them be filled with faith in the promises of God.

            When someone you love or your own soul panics over this virus, rebuke any fear that comes from unbelief!  Repeat the promises of Christ: like John 8, “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” So what are you scared of?  As Paul says, “To live is CHRIST, to die is gain.” You have nothing to fear. Be bold.  Be faithful.  Stop worrying about what we do not know and retreat to the Strong Refuge of what we do know- the Grace of God in Jesus Christ. Yahweh Yireh – the Lord will provide.

            Second: take heart in the knowledge that this is not the first plague that the Lord has sent.  I’ve referred to Martin Luther’s lecture on Genesis 22 several times.  He gave it in the middle of the Plague hitting Wittenberg.  What they witnessed in the plague is far more devastating than what we’ve seen. Yet Luther reminds us that God uses these tests to strengthen (1) our faith and (2) our love for the neighbor.  That wasn’t happening in Wittenberg, so he rebuked them with words that we need to hear today.

“At this time, in the present danger of the plague, we are in a state of trepidation. It is as though we did not have the command to live and to call upon God.” – have you forgotten how to live? Have you neglected the Ten Commandments or the duty of Christians to pray without ceasing?  I have!

Luther goes on: “We have a most dependable Word uttered by the mouth of the Son of God (John 11:25–26): ‘I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.’” We have the sure promise of a Life that can never end and then we flee from our responsibilities as if our Life was in danger.

Next Luther hammers the Government and Pastors: “The negligence and idleness of the government is familiar to all. The bishops and the pastors remain silent like dumb dogs (cf. Is. 56:10) and do not believe that they are what they are,” They are to preach the Word of God- repentance and faith. Luther lit a fire under the tail of this dumb dog this week!

Now Luther aims at all of us, “Meanwhile we [the people] complain that we lack the opportunity to do good works. We have the command that applies to us all, namely, that we should love God and fear no one—not the devil, not the Turk, not the plague—when we walk in our ways, even if our life is in danger, [we walk] in accordance with Ps. 27: ‘Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage.’” Then Luther asks, “But who heeds this? Nobody. For nobody believes that God has commanded confidence and has condemned despair.” Wake up, People of God! Luther definitely got my attention, are you awake?

            In the midst of this Pandemic, strive for a lively Faith and confidence in God.  “Yahweh Yireh” –The Lord will provide!  Abraham spoke that about the future, not the past. He did not say, “God provided” done, over, no more. Abraham spoke of what was unfinished, in the future. God will not stop providing on Mount Moriah.

            This same spot on Mount Moriah is where God Himself stopped the Plague He had sent against Israel in the days of king David. You can read that in 2 Samuel 24 and 1 Chronicles 21.  Yahweh Yireh, the Lord was merciful and provided.  It was on this same spot of Mount Moriah where Solomon built the first Temple to the Lord (2 Chronicles 3). There the sacrifices would be provided by God continually, until His own spotless Lamb stepped forth.

            Yahweh Yireh- The Lord will provide, it went unfinished, in the future, until the Day of Christ when God in the Flesh, caught in the thicket of His cross, said, “It is finished”. Now that blood of Sacrifice is offered to you on this Altar, this holy hill, this mount Moriah where the Lord provides what is truly given and shed FOR YOU.  This is where your great High Priest provides for you. Jesus “is the mediator of a New Covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance.” Your faith is being tested.  Here is your Provider, your Mediator. Here is His blood. Here is His Word of Promise. Cling to it. You need this Bread of Life and Medicine of Immortality. 

Therefore, let us repeat the prayer of our Introit:

Send out Your Light and Your Truth; let them lead me;

Let them bring me to Your holy hill and to Your dwelling!

Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy! Amen


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