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21st Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 23) - Series B

Text: Amos 5:6-7, 10-15

Title: “Seek the Lord and Live!”

Date: Sunday, October 14, 2018

Pastor Steve Bocklage

See if you can identify the speaker of this quotation: “I have spent the best years of my life giving people the lighter pleasures, helping them to have a good time, and all I get is abuse, the existence of a hunted man.”  Who was this man? Was he some public servant from the world of politics? Was he a sports hero? Was he an honest, hard working businessman? No…this man was an infamous American gangster who led a crime syndicate dedicated to smuggling and bootlegging of liquor and other illegal activities during the Prohibition Era of the 1920s and 1930s. It was none other than Al Capone, who was for a time America’s Number One Public Enemy. Capone rationalized and justified his antisocial behavior. He actually regarded himself as a public benefactor…a generous and giving person, who was simply unappreciated and misunderstood.

         In our Old Testament reading this morning, this same rationalizing and justifying bad, sinful behavior is recognized by God’s prophet Amos, who lived about 750 years before Christ was born. Although Amos' home is in the Southern Kingdom of Judah, God sends him to the Northern Kingdom of Israel with an urgent message. Unless the people repent of their sins, their nation will be destroyed. And just what are these sins that cause God to be so angry?

At the time of Amos, the Northern Kingdom of Israel is enjoying great material prosperity and political independence. But there’s a problem…God’s people have forsaken Him. They are worshipping the gods of their pagan neighbors. Widespread crime and injustice makes life dangerous and difficult. The whole judicial system is crooked. Anyone who dares to speak up in court and reprimand those who are guilty of wrongdoing is hated and harassed. Anyone who speaks the truth is ridiculed and socially ostracized.

The situation for the lower class is worse. Extortion is a method used to bleed the poor and helpless. Blackmail…threats of violence…and other types of harassment are used to force farmers to give up the grain they have harvested. In their business transactions, merchants are guilty of shameless dishonesty by overcharging their customers and by shortchange them, using false scales and mea­sures. The greedy landlords demand excessive rent from their tenants so they can live in luxury. The rich and power­ful spend their time enjoying their luxuries and living it up, while ignoring those less fortunate. All of this results in bitterness in those who are wronged. The word that describes their bitterness actually means “wormwood,” which is an herb or shrub that has a very bitter taste.

But God, in His grace, sends Amos to urgently call God’s people to repentance and to warn them of the judgment that is about to come upon them. The Lord's prophet doesn’t mince words, warning that they will not enjoy the comforts and wealth they had so wrong­fully acquired for very long. God's patience with His rebellious people and their shameful sins is running out. Through Amos, God warns the people of the Northern Kingdom of Israel that unless they turn away from their sins…and embrace Him in humble faith…and live in willing obedience to His commands…He will consume them with a fire that cannot be put out. Fake repentance won’t do. No hypocritical show of piety will prevent the impending disaster. Unless there is a genuine change in their attitude and lifestyle, the Lord in His righteous anger will sweep them away. Just as a fire that burns out of control sweeps through a house and reduces it to ashes, so will the house of Joseph become a heap of rubble.

         Sad to say, Amos' message fell on deaf ears. Within a few short years, God permitted the ruthless and cruel armies of Assyria to invade and sweep across Israel. The Assyrians are the great world power of that time and they leave the Northern Kingdom cities in a smoldering ruin, thus conquering Israel. Through their idolatry and wickedness, the people of the Northern Kingdom of Israel forfeited their heritage. Many of the aristocrats were killed. The rest were forcibly deported to Assyria…exiled hundreds of miles from their homeland…and never returned.

         You might be wondering why these people didn’t listen. Why didn’t they repent? It’s vitally important to realize and understand…and to believe and confess…that not one person is exempt from sin! In fact, just the opposite is true. By nature, you and I are enemies of God. By birth, you and I have inherited sin and unrighteousness from our first parents…Adam and Eve. Just as certain as you live and breathe on this side of heaven…you sin…you sin daily…and you sin much. Satan tries to blind your mind and your spiritual thinking. For example, there is a cartoon by Dan Pegoda depicting four congregation members with concerned faces meeting in their pastor's office. With earnest and imploring eyes, they presented him with a clipboard filled with sheets of signatures. "This petition," said the spokesperson of the group, "requests changing the term 'sinner' to 'person who is morally challenged.' "

As hard as it is to admit to yourself “I sin daily and I sin greatly,” God points out in His Word in 1 John 1: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we claim we have not sinned, we make [God] out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives." (1 Jn 1:8, 10) The old Adam in each one of us loves the possessions and plea­sures of this world. Idolatry, immorality, dishonesty, greed…there is no sin in which our sinful nature is not capable of embracing. We are guilty in what we think…in what we speak…and in our actions. That’s why Jesus declares to all sinners in Luke 13: "Unless you repent, you too will all perish." (Lk 13:3) The cry of “Fire! Fire!” at midnight will startle a sleeping person rudely, harshly, and unpleasantly. But who would complain if that cry was the means of saving one’s life? The words "Unless you repent, you too will all perish" (Lk 13:3) may at first seem stern and severe. But they are words of love and may be the means of delivering precious souls from hell.

Without repentance, the old Adam in each one of us will try to deny sin as if it never existed, especially in your own life. You can try to reject sin, dismiss it, or explain it away. But sin is still with you as long as you live…you can’t escape it. Spiritually, your heart is infected as Jesus says in Matthew 15: "Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual im­morality, theft, false testimony, slander." (Mt 15:19) Sin provokes God's wrath and His punishment is not only death but also eternal damnation.

For that reason, you and I are to “exhort one another every day…that none of [us] may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” (Heb. 3:13) “Seek the Lord and live” (Amos 5:6) a life of thankful love toward God and helpful service toward your neighbor. Being covered with the robe of Christ’s righteousness, God's true children will hate what is evil and love what is good, and do what is just and right according to His Word and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you.” (Amos 5:14–15)

You and I also need to heed Jesus’ and Amos' call to repentance. Unless you daily repent of your sins and with God’s help overcome our natural inclination to love the riches and pleasures of this world, you will lose the wonderful inheritance Jesus has won for you. And take to heart Amos’ reminder that the Lord is merciful. St. John assures us that “If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 Jn 1:9)

Believe and trust that God’s Word can radically change hearts from rationalizing and justifying bad, sinful behavior. His Word can work repentance in you and understand that “No one is good except God alone.” (Mk. 10:18)< > The life that you are called to live is found neither in your great possessions nor in your good works, but only in Christ Jesus. Do not harden your heart against His voice, nor turn away from Him, for fear that you will “fall away from the living God.” Rather, “seek the Lord and live,” hear and heed His call, cling to His Word, and “exhort one another every day,” so that you may remain steadfast in Christ and “firm to the end.” (Heb. 3:12–15) Amen.


LWML Sunday

Text: Psalm 62:1-8

Title: “The Rest We Share”

Date: October 7, 2018

Pastor Steve Bocklage

(based on a sermon by Rev. Ken Hennings, LCMS Texas District President)

Social media have brought more information to our electronic devices than ever before. These media give us instant news with live interviews of people experiencing situations in their lives. Some of this has been a blessing to people in need. Rescuers bringing assistance to people in times of a crisis like Hurricane Florence can receive calls, texts, emails, and messages from people who need help. First responders can pinpoint where these people are and where the nearest rescue team is to bring help and assistance.

         But for many, social media have raised the level of fear and uncertainty about their safety and even their future. Church and school shootings, terrorist acts, and threatening Facebook postings are just a few things that have robbed many people of any sense of security or peace. Instead of the world moving closer and closer to peace and love, the world is moving closer and closer to destruction. Hatred and division are on the rise, while love and peace seem to be losing. You and I are brought face to face with the reality of insecurity. So where does a person go for peace and security in an uncertain world like ours?     

         To help answer this question, we go to our sermon text Psalm 62, which was written by King David, who was very familiar with the insecurity of his world. David wrote Psalm 62 sharing his own uncertainty and where he found peace and rest. He was under a serious attack from an enemy or enemies who wanted to overthrow him as king. There are also hints in Psalm 62 that David is an older man when he wrote this Psalm. He uses the phase, “like a leaning wall, a tottering fence,” to describe himself. And some Bible scholars believe that this Psalm might be a reference to the revolt by Absalom, David’s son, when David was an older man and had to flee Jerusalem quickly.

         Whatever situation David was in…when he writes this Psalm, he shares with us his strong response to threat and uncertainty. This Psalm proclaims David’s strong faith, and it proclaims where you and I find rest and peace when we are confronted with the threats and uncertainties in our world. Rest and peace are found in God alone! He is the Rock, the Fortress, and Salvation you and I need!

         You may have heard about Melissa Falkowski, a journalism and English teacher at a high school in Parkland, Florida, who hid 19 students in her classroom closet on Feb. 14, 2018 when she learned there was an active shooter at the school. This heroic woman is a reflection of God who hides you in the shadow of His wings as evil rages. (cf. Psalm 57:1)

         Also at the high school in Parkland, Florida…Assistant Coach Aaron Feis stepped in front of students to protect them from the gunman. In doing this, Aaron gave up his own life for his students. This heroic man is a reflection of God the Father’s only begotten Son, who was sent as your eternal refuge to defend you and give up His life for you. On the cross, Jesus took what would crush you and died in your place. The only place you can find lasting rest in this turbulent world is in the One who conquered death in order to give you eternal life. Through the living Word of God, you receive rest. Through Holy Baptism, you receive forgiveness…you are rescued from death and the devil…and you are given eternal salvation. Through the presence of Jesus in Holy Communion, you are hidden in Jesus’ grace, strength, and forgiveness. Indeed, this world will rage until the Lord returns. It may even injure you physically and emotionally. But Jesus, who is Lord over all, is your rock of protection and your salvation now.

         Making a strong statement of faith and confidence in Psalm 62, David declares God to be your rock and salvation when faced with a challenging situation…the One who quiets your soul and the One who gives you rest that goes beyond physical and emotional rest. This rest invites you to stand in the presence of Almighty God in silence, receiving the peace your Rock and Salvation gives you no matter what’s happening around you. David knows this and serves as a witness to God’s grace and rescue. He recognizes in the first part of this Psalm that his challenges come from people who use lies and falsehood to bring him down from his place of honor. Outwardly blessing David with their mouth, they inwardly curse him and want him defeated.

         Up to this point, David declares that his soul waits in silence on God alone. God is his rock and salvation, and he will not be greatly shaken. He follows this strong statement of faith with verses 3 and 4 describing the actions of those who want to defeat him. As we ponder what David has written, words of Jesus might come to mind when He said in John 8 that the devil is “…the father of lies.” (v. 44) The devil desires you and me to fall down from our place of honor as children of God. He will challenge you to doubt God’s forgiveness and love for you. You must recognize this and know that we are in a spiritual battle against a mighty foe, needing the Armor of God described in our Epistle reading from Ephesians 6. Because of who God is and His commitment to you and me, we say with David: “For God alone my soul waits in silence, from him comes my salvation. He alone is my rock and salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken.” (Psalm 62:5-6)

         It is our arch enemy’s desire for you and me to prove to God that we really deserve His love and forgiveness because of what we have done. Yet, there is no rest, no refuge for you and me in this approach to God because we will be constantly wondering whether we have done enough. That’s why God invites you and me into His presence to stand in silence and receive from Him His love, based on HIS actions. In Psalm 62, verse 8, David affirms this when He says: “Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us.”

         You’ve read and heard about many heroic rescues during the flooding and destruction of Hurricane Florence. You’ve seen the stirring photos and have been moved by the accounts of self-sacrifice. But there was a much greater storm than Florence. The storm of sin and death engulfs humanity. Our rock and our salvation, Jesus Christ, came and bore our sins onto Himself. He’s the One who was promised to Adam and Eve…the One who died and rose from the dead to give you great confidence and assurance, no matter who attacks you or what is happening around you. In Jesus, you stand before the Father with your soul silent, receiving life abundantly and salvation from Him.

         Many congregations in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod are celebrating and thanking God for the ministry of the Lutheran Women’s Missionary League. For 76 years the LWML has been supporting mission work nationally and internationally. The women truly are Lutheran Women in Mission, and they are also women of encouragement. The LWML hasn’t just been collecting pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters in their mite boxes. They have also been encouraging women and men in their faith walk to find true rest in God alone.

         Over the 76 years of ministry, the LWML has lived through major challenges in our world and country, and even in their organization. Through all of the challenges and uncertainties, the LWML has placed their trust in God and have looked to Him for direction. Lives have been touched through their work and people have received rest that comes from our Lord and Savior, Jesus.

Let us be encouraged in our own witness by the witness of the LWML. There are people all around us that struggle with insecurity in this fast-changing, uncertain world. We have true rest to offer them in the God who loves them and gave His Son for them. Live in this rest…in the One true God who loves you and sent His Son to redeem you, thereby restoring the right relationship with your Rock and Salvation, who said: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Mt. 11:28) Live in this rest…and share this Good News with others. Amen.

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost – Proper 20 - Series B

Text: Jeremiah 11:18-20 & Mark 9:30-37

Title: “God’s Dysfunctional Family”

Date: Sunday, September 23, 2018

Pastor Steve Bocklage

When you hear the phrase, “dysfunctional family,” what pops into your mind? Is it Dr. Phil or a particular reality show? When you hear these words “dysfunctional family,” various ideas, emotions, and memories come to mind, don’t they? How many of you didn’t realize that your family was not as normal as you thought until you got married and introduced someone new to it? Sometimes it takes an outsider to ask simple questions like: “Why does your family do this?” or “Why does your family act like that?” The fact of the matter is not one of us grew up in a family that functioned perfectly. None of us live in families where everything is perfect.

        This morning I am going to take you on a journey. We are going to look at three different dysfunctional family relationships. My prayer for you is that you will grow in appreciation of how God takes you and me…sinners as we are…and through His grace, restores us and reconnects us to Himself and His family. No matter how God finds you or whatever family struggle you find yourself in…my prayer for you is that you will know you are a valued part of God’s family.
        The first dysfunctional relationship that we are going to look at comes to us in the Old Testament reading from the prophet Jeremiah. What is going on here is that God’s spokesman Jeremiah is depressed because he has just learned that a group of people want to kill him. Not just any group of people but these people are from Jeremiah’s hometown of Anathoth. Not only are the people from Jeremiah’s hometown plotting to kill him, listen to what God says in Jeremiah 12:6, “Your BROTHERS, your OWN FAMILY – even they have betrayed you; they have raised a loud cry against you.” Jeremiah’s own flesh and blood…his own family…his own brothers have been calling for his death. I have had my share of disagreements and arguments with my brothers and sisters, but it never, ever ended up in a death wish.
        What a terrible situation for Jeremiah, who feels betrayed according to our sermon text. He feels like a gentle lamb…the family pet that played with the kids and slept in their rooms…who is suddenly being taken away to be butchered! (cf.  vv 18-19) But the worst thing of all is that Jeremiah is now in the unpopular position of having to call down judgment from God, not just on the people of his village, but also on his own family. How hard it must be to speak these words: “But, O LORD of hosts, who judges righteously, who tests the heart and the mind, let me see your vengeance upon them, for to you have I committed my cause.” (v 20) Jeremiah puts his defense into the hand of the LORD Almighty. The prophet has no personal hatred in his heart nor is he seeking personal revenge since he is meek, obedient, and ready to serve the LORD in all circumstances. This situation Jeremiah finds himself in is heartbreaking for him. Is it any wonder that he is sad and sorrowful?
        This leads us to understand something about the second dysfunctional relationship. In Jeremiah chapters 11 and 12, the prophet speaks openly and plainly about how he has been betrayed and how much it hurts him. But Jeremiah is not the only one who has suffered heartbreak on account of his family. Wrapped all around Jeremiah’s tears and grief is the sadness, pain, and grief of God, who has also been betrayed by the family He loves…betrayed by His own people…His own children. You can hear the hurt and betrayal in God’s words from Jeremiah 11:9-10: “Then the Lord said to me, “There is a conspiracy among the people of Judah and those who live in Jerusalem. They have returned to the sins of their forefathers, who have refused to listen to my words. They have followed after other gods to serve them.” It is not hard to see that God’s own people make up the dysfunctional part of God’s own family. What is hard to believe is that they would show such little gratitude to God…or run off and worship other gods…or be so brazen in rejecting the One who loves them so much.

But they do…and it breaks God’s heart, which leads us to the third dysfunctional family relationship that we find in our Gospel reading. This one is a little more personal. This one involves the disciples and it involves you and me. In Mark 9, we meet up with the Son of God taking His disciples away from the hustle and bustle of the crowds to spend some intentional and intense time teaching them about what was soon to happen. Jesus says to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.” (Mk 9:31) This is not an easy thing for the disciples to hear. In fact, St. Mark makes it clear that, “They did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him.” (Mk 9:32)
        Now, don’t blame the disciples for not understanding or, at least, not wanting to understand. This is not what any of them want for their Lord or what they picture happening to the long awaited Messiah. The people whom Jesus comes to save will be the very people who reject Him…punish Him…and kill Him. It is the ultimate betrayal! But Jesus says this is exactly what is going to happen! John 1:11 states it so chillingly: “[Jesus] came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.” The plain truth is that Jesus came into this world to save the very people who rejected Him…who sinned against Him…who killed Him.
        Yes, that includes you and me. There is not one us here this morning who doesn’t fall into this category. You and I have betrayed God and neglected to do what He asks. You and I have gone chasing after other gods. You and I have been unfaithful to our Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier. Of course, you don’t like to think of yourself in these terms. But you and I need to because this is the reality of who we are…poor, miserable, wretched sinners, who have “…bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in [our] hearts” (James 3:14) as St. James puts it. “You adulterous people, continues James. Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” (James 4:4)

        In a book titled: The Heat: Steelworkers' Lives and Legends, Joe Gutierrez tells five stories from his 42 years as a steelworker. In one story called, "Snow Danced in August," he describes a scene of silvery dust flakes that frequently floated to the floor in an area of the mill where steel strips rolled over pads in a tall cooling tower. For years, workers and visitors alike flocked to the sight, which was especially picturesque at night. Then they discovered the dust was asbestos. "Everybody breathed it," wrote Gutierrez, who suffered from the slow, choking grip of asbestosis, as did many other plant workers. "Who am I? I'm everybody” he continued. “Can't walk too far now. I get tired real fast and it hurts when I breathe, sometimes. And to think we used to fight over that job." How many things in our culture and society resemble the silver flakes in that steel mill…very enchanting but deadly to us?

Even when you fail God and sin against Him…even when you have nothing to offer to Him…the Good News is God will continue to love you and have compassion on you. Because the LORD chose to die for all those in His dysfunctional family, including sinners like you and me who have rejected Him at times and chased after idols…He has paid the terrible price for all of our sins, including our double-mindedness and our rejection and refusal to receive Him. By doing this, the LORD restored the relationship that we broke with Him. He reconciled us to Himself and thereby gave us eternal life.  

Of course, on this side of heaven, you and I will continue to struggle with sinful dysfunction in our lives. But confidently know this: God sacrificed HHimself for your sins and He loves you perfectly. Constantly repent and return to Him to confess your sins and to experience the gift of His merciful restoration once again. After all, God has made you His own, now and forevermore. Amen.

.


17th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 19) - Series B

Text: Mark 9:14-29

Title “In Every Believer, Unbelief Persists”

Date: Sunday, September 16, 2018

Pastor Steve Bocklage

Have you ever been in that tension where you believe, but then you are not certain that you really believe? “I believe!” “I don’t believe!” Which is it? Where is your faith on a scale from extra certain and strong…to weak, faltering, on the brink of unbelief? Faith either grows strong or it becomes weak. It never stands still. More often than not, we plead with the man in Mark 9:24; “I believe; help my unbelief!”

        This man in our sermon text is a father who loves his son very much. But the young boy is severely tormented, overtaken, and dominated in his entire person by an evil spirit…a demon. (cf. vv. 17–18) And this demon robs the boy of his speech. The condition only gets worse and the boy’s father is desperate. “Who can help us?” “What are we going to do?” Neighbors and friends witness this family’s anguish and pain but they keep their distance and seem quite helpless.

        In our world today, there are fine hospitals for children that are located in many cities, each equipped with advanced technology for treating many illnesses. However, no such help is available anywhere in the ancient world for this family. And even if it had been, the technology and medicine would not have helped because the boy is possessed by a demon. But this boy’s father has heard what is now widely known…that the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, healed many with various diseases, and that He drove out many demons. (cf. Mk 1:34; cf. 3:22–27; 7:37)

Prior to His arrival at this village, Jesus was away in the mountains with Peter, James, and John for them to experience His glorious transfiguration. But His other disciples remained in this village where this father brings his son to them, but they cannot drive out the demon. (cf. v. 18) Frustrated and disappointed, this father is losing hope…and losing his faith! All this is out of his control. Is there a doctor or specialist who can help? But there is no help to be found! His son will never be normal. There is nowhere to turn. How can he continue to believe in God? By the time Jesus and three of the disciples return to this village, the man is drained and exhausted. He can only heave an agonizing sigh and cry out, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (v. 24) Such desperation, if it is not answered, can lead to unbelief.

        Unbelief takes many forms. Unbelief does not respect anyone. It plays no favorites. It plagues all kinds and sorts of people. A story is told about a Lutheran pastor who gave a surprising if not shocking testimony shortly before he died. He had been a pastor for more than thirty years. By all accounts, He had been faithful to his calling and did all the things expected of a pastor—preached good sermons, taught stimulating classes, comforted the sick and the dying, led his congregation in ministry and mission. Yet, on his deathbed, he confided to a fellow pastor and friend, “I never believed; I never believed any of it.” You need to be alert and aware of unbelief…your unbelief! Didn’t one of Jesus’ disciples, named Judas, have skepticism about the very Lord He pledged to follow? How else could Judas have become an opportunist and betray our Lord for only thirty pieces of silver?

        Unbelief can also take the form of apathy, which evokes less clarity and more confusion…doubt…and indifference. In the movie Charlie Wilson’s War, congressmen and their staffs…agents of the CIA…and political activists engaged in a covert war to support Muslim Afghanistan against the Soviet Union, who are seen as godless invaders. Most of these players claimed in one way or another to be Christians, but that identity never really mattered. Their lifestyles betrayed any link to the Christian Gospel. To such people, God remains something irrelevant, or practically speaking, nonexistent.

        Unbelief is also a taunting temptation for people who are sincere and do believe in the Lord. Carrying heavy crosses, burdened Christians sincerely desire to believe. But they struggle to believe or have grown weary of believing because the illness…the condition…the circumstance…the situation in their life only seems to be getting worse. Frankly, they are out of sorts, and out of patience, and they are disgusted. Is there help for such believers who understandably are gripped by unbelief?

        When our Lord returns from the mountains and approaches the village, His disciples are engaged in a heated discussion with certain scribes. (cf. v. 14) In fact, these disciples are under attack because they could not deliver this young boy from the demon and return him to normalcy. Our Lord had empowered them to cast out demons (cf. Mk 6:7–13) but they couldn’t get it done here. But now Jesus arrives and everyone expectantly looks to Him. The Lord asks: ‘What is all the fuss about’? From the crowd, the father of the demon-possessed boy calls out, “Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able.”  (vv. 17-18) Jesus then says: “O faithless generation,” (v. 19a) chiding His disciples.

        The disciples had been successful in the past in casting out demons…but not here. They cannot get it done. Momentarily, their arrogance takes over. They become faithless, going on their own without prayer, and accomplishing nothing! It seems that they have slipped out of faith into unbelief, taking for-granted the power vested in them by God, as if they possessed such power in their own right. American-born clergyman, scholar, author, and poet…Eugene Peterson…once said: “Those people who pray know what most around them either don't know or choose to ignore: centering life in the insatiable demands of the ego is the sure path to doom. . . . They know that life confined to the self is a prison, a joy-killing, neurosis-producing, disease-fomenting prison.”

        That’s why the demon doesn’t budge, and the young boy continues to suffer. Jesus confirms this saying: “This kind [of demon] cannot be driven out by anything but prayer,” (v. 29) meaning you and I are to have complete dependence on God and His power, and not dependence on our feeble powers. Pray to God and trust in Him and depend on Him, since Jesus is the only One who gets it done!

Looking for the demon-possessed boy, Christ commands: “Bring him to me.” (v. 19b) No matter how terrible your circumstances…no matter how desperate your situations…no matter how frustrated or angry you are…you are never out of reach of the Lord. You are never beyond His presence. And where Christ is present, He takes charge!

        As Jesus calls for the demon-possessed boy to be brought to Him, a crowd gathers to see the outcome. Here is a desperate father, pleading for help, crying out, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (v. 24) Jesus’ disciples have failed. What will Jesus Himself do? The crowd grows larger…the situation is tense. There is going to be an incident here on the streets, but Jesus takes command and directs stern and loud words to the demon: “You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” (v. 25) What happens then causes the crowd to be astonished. The demon thrashes the boy violently, so that the boy lies on the ground. Some shout, “He is dead.” (v. 26) “But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose.” (v. 27) The father lunges forward and reaches for the boy and begins carrying him to their home.

Yes, you may go from moments of faith to moments of unbelief, caught in that miserable tension. This going back and forth…this tension of believing, then not believing…is resolved when you pray and look to Jesus Christ, the Son of God, as the One who dwells with you in His Word and the Sacraments, and sustains your faith by His mighty acts, which deliver you from sin, death, and the devil. Amen.


16th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 18) - Series B

Text: Isaiah 35:4-7a

Title: “The Source of Life”

Date: September 9, 2018

Pastor Steve Bocklage

One of the first things parents try to teach their children is that there are natural consequences to certain actions. For example, a parent says, "Jimmy, if you pull the cat's tail, she will scratch you!" Should Jimmy question whether his parents are correct and pull the cat's tail? As you know…if he does pull the tail, Jimmy very likely will learn that his parents were absolutely right…that there are indeed natural consequences to certain actions we do!

Isn’t that the same way with God? From the beginning, God has made it clear that He is in charge and that there are serious consequences to going against His command. (cf. Gen 2:16-17) Leading up to today's Old Testament reading, we see more natural consequences of going against God's desire. Israel had repeatedly gone against the Lord's command and was bearing the grave consequences of their disobedience by being surrounded and threatened by nations on all sides who were their powerful enemies.

        Isn’t that the same way with us? When confronted by our own sin, you and I, like the Israelites, find ourselves haunted by past sins. And the unclean things of our lives cannot be exterminated or eliminated by us, no matter how much we try. Just as an owl hoots over and over again in the night, calling to all who will listen…so our sins call out to us…reminding us of our lack of righteousness, which God demands of all people.

        And be assured that our own methods of obtaining righteousness go nowhere in fulfilling our desperate need for it. No amount of alcohol, drugs, entertainment, or any other self-designed remedy will permanently erase the sin that haunts you. These man-made remedies for your unrighteousness are a façade…a false hope that provides no relief from the terrors of your conscience. These so-called remedies fade away into nothingness, just as a mirage's false hope still leaves a desert traveler thirsty.

        Yet, there is hope! God Himself comes to the rescue. He’s greater than the nations lined up against the Israelites and also greater than anything that would turn your life into a desert wilderness ‘haunted by unclean things’ from your own past. God says: “to those who have an anxious heart, "Be strong, fear not!"” (Is. 35:4a) Is this because God points you to yourself and your own abilities? Of course not! He points you to Himself…and Himself alone! God brings Himself into the world from His heavenly home to rescue sinners like you and me…to bring us back to life from the desert wilderness of sin. Being God's people, take heart that your Rescuer is greater than all your enemies. As Martin Luther points out: "Though all devils were rolled into one, my God is still greater!"

        Now, to those who might be thinking: “Yeah, Pastor, God may be greater but He is too far away from me and I cannot reach Him,” the beautiful answer is this: “You don’t have to reach Him…He comes to you!” God reaches out to you in His Word and Sacraments to rescue you from your desert wilderness of sin. At the Johnson Space Center near Houston, Texas, a sign warns visitors to “Keep Hydrated.” The guide explains that some visitors get sick because they don’t drink enough water to handle being outside in the hot, dry, sunny climate.

        Likewise, followers of Jesus Christ are to “Keep Hydrated” in God’s Word in the Bible. This is good, sound advice for the children and youth of our congregation as we celebrate Sunday School Rally Day today. We thank the Lord for how He has wonderfully made you and worked in your lives thus far, including providing Sunday School instruction and Youth Bible Study, in which both are led by dedicated teachers and staff.

        Like these children and youth, we adults need spiritual renewal and refreshment again and again and again! That’s because the evil one continues to work through the non-believing world and will try anything and everything to keep children of all ages out of worship…out of Sunday School…out of Confirmation class…out of the Bible study class…out of using your gifts to serve God and others. And sadly, many times He succeeds! The evil one tempts you with all sorts of activities that will try to get you to misplace your spiritual priorities. The secular world will force you to work more hours and thereby have less time at home. The ‘father of lies’ will get you students to believe that studying and doing homework and projects aren’t as important as spending your time on social media or playing electronic games. The ‘deceiver’ will get you adults to believe that when you finally pick the right numbers in the lottery, your life will then be complete and you’ll be fulfilled!

        To counter these deceptions by Satan, listen and concentrate on the voice of God through His Word in the Bible. He’s the One who continues to give His all for you! Even though He knew no sin, the source of our new life…Jesus Christ, the Son of God…became the sacrificial offering for your sin so that you could be reconciled with God. And as Isaiah tells us: In the LORD, spiritual healing occurs with absolutely wonderful and great results: “the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped.” (Is. 35:5) The lame do not simply walk…they leap! (cf. Is. 35:6a) Those formerly speechless do not simply stutter and grunt…they shout for joy! (cf. Is. 35:6a)

        Because God comes and saves you, "waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert.” (Is. 35:6b) New life blossoms in humans, who were formerly caught in the wilderness of sin. As the life-giving waters flow where they will, so do they renew what’s dead and barren...parched and desolate. Just as water changes the desert, so does Jesus the "living water," (Jn. 4:10- 11) rescuing and restoring those who have forsaken the LORD and are entrapped in the wilderness of sin and death. He will lead them to "springs of living water," (Rev 7:17) where perfect, eternal peace will reign.

        This talk about water brings to mind the sacred waters of Holy Baptism. When you were baptized, Jesus took you aside and made you His own. When you were baptized, Jesus opened your ears to His Word and gave you His Spirit and faith. When you were baptized, Jesus released your tongue to speak in prayer and praise. When you were baptized, the words of Isaiah the prophet became yours: “He came and saved you.” (Is. 35:4c)

        This is because in, with, and under the water of Holy Baptism is the power and life of Jesus’ cross…where the vengeance and pay-back of God was poured out upon the sin that has oppressed you. In, with, and under the water of Holy Baptism is the power and life of Jesus’ cross…where the fires of evil were quenched by His blood and the storms of hell silenced with His forgiveness. In, with, and under the water of Holy Baptism is the power and life of Jesus’ cross…where the Son of God hung as your substitute and condemned in your place and dying your death, so that you may have His life…eternal life.

        Being the source of “new life,” Jesus Christ is the one who breaks the natural consequences of your sin by dying in your stead so that you might experience His grace for not only your misspent years, but also for your misplaced priorities and for your willful and wayward actions. Being the source of “new life,” Jesus has come and is here for you today…here in His true body and blood for you to eat and to drink in order to save you and to give you the forgiveness, faith, strength, and peace that you so desperately need. Repent and come receive Him, and you will find rest for your anxious heart! For as long as you live in this world and life, you will have many anxiety-causing afflictions. You will have no shortage of troubles. You will not be immune. But you do have this promise that they will not win, and you will not be alone. “He will come and save you.”

So, like the natural consequence that if you pull the cat's tail, he will scratch you…the natural consequence of your sin will land you smack dab in the middle of hell. But "[b]e strong, fear not”…for your God has come to save you! Through Jesus and His love for you...you are released from the desert wilderness of sin. You are now free to serve the Lord and others…and to live with God in joy and peace now and throughout eternity! Amen.


Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost – Proper 17 - Series B

Text: Mark 7:14-23

Title: “Not Scrapped but Redeemed”

Date: Sunday, September 2, 2018

Pastor Steve Bocklage

In August 2009, the Federal government’s wildly popular stimulus program called “Cash for Clunkers” came to an end. People were so eager to take advantage of this program to trade-in their gas guzzling vehicle for a new, more fuel efficient one that the program ran out of money…twice. The first time they added more money and extended the program before finally ending.  But you know what, calling this program “Cash for Clunkers” was never really quite right because your car didn’t really have to be a clunker to qualify. All it had to be was a gas guzzler. Some cars that were truly clunkers didn’t qualify because their mileage rating was too high. And some cars that looked great on the outside did qualify, even though what was on the inside…the engine…wasn’t so good.

         I bring this up because in the Holy Gospel reading we heard earlier, Jesus’ words indicate without any doubt that you and I are clunkers. Though you may look good on the outside…though you may not consider yourself a clunker and others may look like greater clunkers than you…there is no mistaking Jesus’ words today. His words show what you look like on the inside…in your heart…in the engine that makes your life go. According to Jesus, a person’s heart is by nature corrupted by original sin and evil. It is a dirty, polluted, love-guzzling, sin-belching engine. Just listen again to what the Lord says: “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” (Mk. 7:20-23) In other words, when you and I lift the hood on our lives…when we lift the hood on our minds and hearts…there is no mistaking that you and I qualify as clunkers!

         As you might suspect, the thoughts and opinions of the world strongly disagree with this assessment. Instead, the world says that all people, deep down inside, are basically good. The world contends if you dig down deep enough, you will find good, not evil. After all, the world is filled with people who work hard, take care of their families, contribute to society, donate their organs when they die, and lots of other good things.

         Yet, twentieth-century Scottish author, William Barclay, offered the following comment regarding ‘being good’. He wrote: “There is no greater religious peril than the peril of identifying religion with outward observance…. Church-going, Bible-reading, careful financial giving, even time-tabled prayer do not make a [person] a good [person]. The fundamental question is: How is a [person’s] heart towards God and towards his [or her] fellow-[human beings]? And if in his [or her] heart there are enmity, bitterness, grudges, and pride…not all the outward religious observances in the world will make him [or her] anything other than a hypocrite.” Sin keeps spewing out from our hearts. The engine gunk called sin clogs our minds in bizarre and shameful dreams…in awful and hateful thoughts…in angry and biting words. Sin clogs our minds n resentment and jealously…in judgment and gossip. No wonder each one of us deserves to be cast aside and scrapped!

         Thankfully, in God’s mercy and grace, He promised not to trade us in for better models. Instead, God sent a Savior…a Savior to make clunkers into Christians…to take what is worthless and give value again. This is not just a second chance. It’s a transformation because second chances don’t really change anything. They just delay the inevitable…just as today’s shiny new car or truck or van is tomorrow’s clunker.

         Thankfully, Jesus has come to do much more. Because of Christ, what now pumps from your heart are love and life…instead of sin and filth. It’s His love and life…given to you. Instead of trading you in, He traded in His life for yours…redeeming you “not with perishable things like gold or silver, but with [His] precious blood….” (1 Pet. 1:18b-19a) He becomes even worse than a clunker on the cross…bearing all your sin and shame and dying your death on a garbage heap called Calvary. Through His death and resurrection, you become new in His righteousness. And not just new for a time…but new forever!

         This is what happens for you in Holy Baptism. Jesus’ cross becomes your cross and you are redeemed or made new. In Holy Baptism, the clunker in you receives its death, and you are raised and made new with a new heart and a new life. In Holy Baptism, Jesus creates in you a clean heart and gives you a right spirit…His Holy Spirit to live in you so that you no longer are who you once were…a clunker…but now live a new life; a holy life; a Christ life. Being a baptized child of God, your sin no longer defines who you are…and the opinions of the world no longer define who you are. Your baptism into Jesus’ death and resurrection is your new birth to a new life defined now by the Word of God, which declares that you are no longer a clunker, but a Christian.

         Now, that doesn’t mean you’re not going to have your clunker moments. You will…maybe a lot of them and certainly more than you want because your new heart and life is still tied to your old, sinful flesh until it too dies and is raised new with Christ on the Last Day. But it’s that old, sinful nature that caused Paul to cry out that he doesn’t do what he wants to do, and does do what he doesn’t want to do! His old, sinful flesh got the better of him, as it does us.

         That’s why Paul in the Epistle reading urges you and me to “put on the whole armor of God.”  (Eph. 6:11a) This armor guards and defends your heart, mind, and soul against the schemes and attacks of the devil. The Battle of Antietam in 1862 lasted for 12 hours and ranks as the bloodiest day of the Civil War, with 10,000 Confederate casualties and even more on the Union side. "At last the sun went down and the battle ended," wrote one historian, "smoke heavy in the air, the twilight quivering with the anguished cries of thousands of wounded men." Though militarily a draw, the mediocre Union General George McClellan was able to end the brilliant Robert E. Lee's thrust into Maryland, forcing him to retire across the Potomac. How was this possible? Two Union soldiers had found a copy of Lee's battle plans and had delivered them to McClellan before the engagement.

         Similarly, you and I are no match for our adversary, Satan, whose deceptions we are told to be cautious of. But as with General McClellan, our enemy's plans have fallen into our hands. We know his usual strategies…to entice us with lies, lust, greed, and the like. With such knowledge, given to you by God's Word and God's Spirit within, you too can resist the enemy's advances. You can resist the enemy's advances with the armor of truth, righteousness, peace, faith, prayer, and the Word of God…the things that protect you from the evil one. You and I need protection from Satan, who attacks Christians in the church…in public and in private…in good times and in bad times…in strength and in weakness. St. Paul makes it clear that you and I wrestle “against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Eph. 6:12)  

         Although you are not immune, you are safe in Christ. In repentance and faith, and robed in God’s forgiveness, you are safe. To put on this armor is to put on Christ! And to put on Christ is to put on the One who is victorious over Satan. His work for you is ongoing work…changing the mortal into the immortal, the perishable into the imperishable (1 Cor 15)…changing clunkers into Christians. This is not a program for a limited time only, but for a life that will never end.

And so you and I come and gather here again after another week of clunking in sin. Repent and receive Christ’s forgiveness. When it is offered, come to His Altar and receive His body and blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins. In this eating and drinking you are robed again with His faith and love and life. Don’t live as a clunker, but as a child of God, “strong in the Lord and the strength of his might.” (Eph. 6:10) For you are redeemed. You are new. You belong to Christ! Amen.

 

Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost – Proper 16 - Series B 
Text: Mark 7:1-13 
Title: “What Are YOU Hiding?”
Date: Sunday, August 26, 2018
Pastor Steve Bocklage
 
If there is one thing you can say about people it’s this: They are talented when it comes to putting on a happy face when responding to: “How are you doing?” You and I can fake it so good that our lives look great even if they are falling apart. How about the couple who has had the kind of marriage that people want to emulate…but it turns out that they had been unhappy for years and are now getting a divorce. They hid so well behind happy faces instead of being honest and trying to get help. We are SO GOOD at hiding. We can find all kinds of things to hide behind so that people don’t know what is really going on inside of us. Makeup, clothes, skin piercing, tattoos, coloring hair, and so on…can be a mask for feeling ugly or worthless inside. How about a comedian, who overdoses on drugs because life really was not a barrel of laughs for him or her, but filled with pain and insecurity? What about people who have new cars and great homes, but are hiding the debt it took to get them there?
Looking like our life is great while it is actually falling apart is nothing new. We find this going on in our Gospel reading. There is a delegation of big shot Jewish leaders, known as Pharisees and Scribes, coming all the way from the big city of Jerusalem to challenge Jesus and His teachings. They want to entrap him so badly that they can taste it. These hotshot bigwigs are conceited enough to think that they can do it. Upon their arrival, they think they got Jesus cornered because they see something that they believe can destroy His credibility. 
What is it exactly that they see? They see Jesus’ disciples eating with hands that are defiled or unwashed. The Pharisees and the Scribes see Jesus’ disciples being careless about washing their hands and utensils. The tradition is that you don’t eat until you ritually washed your hands. And not only your hands, but also your cups and pots and cooking vessels and even the cushions you sit on. This is not simply good hygiene, the way your mother reminded you to wash your hands before supper. This is “religious hygiene,” the attempt to be pure by one’s own doing, by inventing one’s own washing. These Jewish leaders have a tradition of making sure they wash their hands when they come home from the market just in case they happen to brush up against a non-Jewish person know as a Gentile…or perhaps something a Gentile touched or an item owned by Gentile. The thing is…this tradition goes TOTALLY against what God teaches in His Word. 
The Lord does not have contempt for Gentiles. He loves them just as He loves all people. This is made abundantly clear throughout the Bible. However, this does not prevent the Pharisees from saying they are set apart from everyone else because they can trace their lineage through Abraham. But God promised Abraham right from the start that “ALL nations on earth will be blessed through [Abraham].” (Gen. 18:18b NIV)
So we have a dangerous situation here. These “great” leaders of the faith are abandoning God’s Word and hiding behind man-made traditions. Over time, their stupidity and pride leads them further and further away from God’s Word until they get to this point where they think they can condemn the Son of God…not for breaking the Word of God…but for violating these arbitrary man-made rules! 
Jesus does not respond by defending His actions or His disciples actions in light of the traditions. No, what He does is…He drops the hammer of the Law that comes right from Scripture. “And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, “‘[These] people [honor] me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” (vv. 6-8) Jesus says in effect that it is not your rules that matter! The commands of God should be your concern. But instead, you hide behind your rules. They make you feel safe in your pride. They make you feel OK about sinning rather than doing what God wants you to be doing. Jesus then says to them: ““You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition!” (v. 9)  These Jewish bigwigs use tradition to break God’s clear commands (vv. 10-12) and they are pretty good at it, according to Jesus. (v. 13) 
We are pretty good at hiding from the truth too, aren’t we? Sometimes we use religious tradition to hide from God’s truth. We look for some way to apply a little religious varnish to dress up our sin, whether it is our sins of sensuality or justifying some petty theft at work or making excuses for our gossip, lies, slanders, outbursts of anger, divisiveness, drunkenness, rudeness, pettiness. Rather than confront our own sins and repent according to God’s Word, we like to find comfort in our own ideas or in the laws of the land or in the standards of the world. You can be a lawful citizen according to the state and never love your neighbor. You can be a model citizen and refuse to help your needy parents. You can be a member of a church and yet be a total spiritual train wreck. 
Sometimes we use church traditions to hide ourselves from the world. We ask questions like, “what have we done before,” rather than asking, “what might be most helpful to the proclamation of the Gospel right now.” Sometimes we hide behind the church and what we feel comfortable with rather than praying that God would help us BE the church that follows His lead in reaching out with the Gospel to sinners who reject Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Sometimes we hide behind the church and what we feel comfortable with rather than praying that God would help us BE the church that follows His lead in sacrificing for others and loving sinners. 
We even try to hide ourselves from fellow members of the Body of Christ. We find it easier to smile and wave to those we sit near to in church on Sunday morning than to honestly share our burdens with them or ask them for help. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran pastor who was eventually killed by the Nazis, wrote a book titled, “LIFE TOGETHER,” which tells about an underground seminary he was running. Pastor Bonhoeffer makes the point that it says something about us and our sinful pride when we find it easier to confess our sins to a holy, almighty, righteous God than to fellow sinners, our brothers and sisters in Christ, who struggle just like we do. 
All of us struggle with sin and selfishness. All of us struggle with stupid decisions and disappointments. One thing to remember is that Satan loves it when you hide. He wants nothing more than for you to be alone and try to conquer your sins yourself. When you are isolated, he can beat you up with doubt, fear, and uncertainty, so that you will not cry out for help. But as that great line in the hymn, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” tells us, “one little word can fell him.” LORD… I need you, I’m stuck, I’m sorry, I repent, please forgive me. And the light of God’s mercy comes flooding in like a tsunami and devours Satan’s hold on you.
You do not have to wonder where you can go for help, or if God hears you, or if He loves you. You know the answer to any accusation that Satan throws at you. The answer is not found in any man made tradition. It’s only found at the foot of the cross. The answer is found in Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. It is found in Jesus Christ, the beloved Son of God, who is our help, our hope, our forgiveness of sins, our new life. He’s the one who strips us of our hypocrisy, our sin, our false walls and barricades. He says come to me all who are burdened and give them to me. Give me all that sin. Talk to me honestly and openly. Tell me what hurts. Tell me your fears. Repent and confess your sins. And I will answer you honestly, “I forgive you, I love you.”
Always remember that in Christ Jesus, the truth is…you don’t have to hide your sins anymore because He died for you…rose from the dead for you…ascended into heaven for you…will return for you. Your Lord and Savior forgives you all your sins…and loves you so very much! AMEN. 
 
 
 

13th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 15) - Series B

Text: Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18

Title: “A Christian Motto for Your Home”

Date: Sunday, August 19, 2018

Pastor Steve Bocklage

 “A visionary research and resource company” known as the Barna Group, is widely considered to be the leading research organization that focuses on faith and culture. The founder of this group, George Barna, reported a few years ago that “American Christians are not as devoted to their faith as they like to believe. They have positive feelings about the importance of faith, but their faith is rarely the focal point of their life or a critical factor in their decision-making. The fact that few people take the time to evaluate their spiritual journey, or to develop benchmarks or indicators of their spiritual health, facilitates a distorted view of the prominence and purity of faith in their life." (Barna Group, 12/06)

            This morning, I would like you to take a moment to imagine the future. Close your eyes and imagine what the church might be like in 10 or 20 years from now. Who will be there or not be there? Why will they be there or why will they not be there? What will happen? These are the kinds of questions that must have been running through the minds of many Israelites present in our sermon text as Joshua, their leader and God’s servant, gives his final message to them in the city of Shechem, which is in the center of the land of Canaan. Shechem is the place where God met with Abraham and ratified His covenant with him. This covenant included God’s unfailing promise that His descendants would inherit the land of Canaan. Shechem is a place of vision and blessing that calls forth God’s people to walk in a certain God-ordained path!

            While at Shechem, Joshua stands before the whole Israelite population and calls them to reflect on their history as the people of God. He wants them to recognize that God had called their fathers out of bondage and slavery in Egypt through miraculous signs and wonders. But their fathers rebelled against God and as a consequence, they all died in the Sinai desert and never got to enter the Promised Land.

            But now, Joshua is addressing a different Israel. They have crossed over the Jordan River and are now in possession of the Promised Land that God promised His people. The LORD fulfills His promise to give the land of Canaan to His covenant people Israel as an inheritance. It is an outright gift from the LORD that the people of God in no way deserve. God’s people receive this awesome gift because God is true to His promises. This land is the place where the LORD Himself dwells with His people and showers them with every blessing of His grace. And this land remains God’s land, meaning that God’s people could forfeit it by their disobedience. (cf. Josh 23:12-16)

             That’s why Joshua recalls choice parts of history that emphasizes God’s undeserved love and powerful acts for His people. And that is why in our sermon text, Joshua demands a decision as to whether the people of God will fear and serve the LORD and be a holy people, (cf. Josh. 3:5) or will they fear and serve other gods and be an unholy people. Joshua 24 reminds us that the nation…the church…and the family are all under attack by God’s enemies. It also cautions us against being naïve or delusional about certain things in our life. It cautions us against being naïve or delusional that our children and grandchildren will turn out to be Christian because we are Christian. That they will go to church because we go to church. That our children and grandchildren will take up this role or that role in the church because we do.
            These problems seem to stem from the choices being made. We are a double minded people, who allow the culture we live in to influence us. Is worship sporadic and devotions rare in your life? Is there daily prayer in your home? Is your life lived in Christ and in the service of God? There have been a number of statistical studies done over the years that seem to suggest that if neither Christian parent was involved in worship, then there was a 5% likelihood that their children would do so. Where the mother alone was involved in worship, there was a 30% likelihood that her children would be involved. Where the father alone was involved in worship, there was a 50% likelihood that her children would be involved. Where both father and mother were involved in worship there was a 85% likelihood that their children would be involved.

            As children of the triune God, you and I are reminded in this sermon text that God is to be the first and foremost important entity in our life. Joshua cautions us not to take for granted God and His Word, which should matter the most to us. Joshua commands God’s people to “…choose this day whom you will serve…. (v 15a) Jesus said that you cannot serve two masters. (cf. Mt 6:24) If what He says is true, what is your choice? Have you ever felt that you cannot serve the Lord? Choose today whom you will worship daily with your life. Choose this day the god you are willing to obey. Choose today how you are going to live your life each and every day.
            Through Joshua, God provides a motto that could very well be your family motto or church motto or even our national motto. Joshua confesses his faith and trust in the triune God saying: “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (v 15b) So in response to Joshua’s statement, the people reaffirm, “We also will serve the Lord, for He is our God.” (v 18b) But they have questions on their minds that have to do with whether they will be able to hold on to it and who will be there in the future? The Israelites think that they can. So do you and I, don’t we? As World War II was drawing to a close, the Allied armies ended up gathering together a great many orphans. These children had suffered privation, hunger, grief; they had lost everything, including their hope for the future and the security of a safe tomorrow. True, these children had been gathered together and placed in camps where they received excellent medical care and were clothed and fed. Yet, in spite of all they had, these children kept worrying about tomorrow and what the future held. They were lacking energy. They slept poorly. Finally, a psychologist suggested a solution to change their perspective. Each child, when he went to bed, was given a piece of bread. They were instructed not to eat the bread; instead, just hold on to it. Those pieces of bread produced wonderful results. The children went to bed knowing they were not going to starve. They knew their tomorrow was taken care of. They were secure. That knowledge, that guarantee, gave them a restful and contented sleep.
            Likewise, those of you today who are worried and restless and feel frightened and forsaken, the LORD wants you to hold onto His Word! He holds out to you eternal forgiveness, eternal contentment, and eternal peace! The Bible makes it strikingly clear that without Christ, we are spiritually dead…and dead people cannot make themselves alive. (cf. Rom 6) The Bible makes it clear that you and I were blinded by the devil. (cf. 2 Cor. 4) Scripture makes it clear that you and I are deaf and blind to God. (cf. Jn. 3; 9) That’s why God did the sending. That’s why Jesus came as the Light of the world. It’s why He opened eyes, ears, hearts, and minds to the truths of God’s Word. (cf. Mk 4) Martin Luther’s explanation to the 2nd article of the Apostles’ Creed puts it succinctly: “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, but He has called me by the gospel, enlightened me by His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the one true faith.”

            God has done this for you and me as His baptized children. And that’s why you and I are to confess: “As for me and my house we will serve the Lord.” This means renouncing false gods and false allegiances. It means repenting and confessing your sin to God. “As for me and my house we will serve the Lord” means you are to read God’s Word on a regular basis and have home devotions and prayer times. This motto, “As for me and my house we will serve the Lord,” is often used for baptisms, confirmations, home dedications, weddings, and funerals. It’s appropriate that it’s used on all of these occasions since it’s true that you are not ready to die until you have first learned how to live in God’s love and service.

So, in this life “…try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord” (Eph. 5:10) and I pray that this Christian motto, “As for me and my house we will serve the Lord,” will be an important part of your life as a Christian and that you confess with Peter in the Gospel reading: “You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” (Jn. 6:68b-69) Amen.Text: Ephesians 4:17-5:2

Title: “Be Imitators of God”

Date: Sunday, August 12, 2018

Pastor Steve Bocklage

Hopefully there has never been a time in your life when you deliberately wanted to make someone sad. But the reality is that in your lifetime, you probably will make or have made someone sad…perhaps very sad. All too often we hurt the feelings of the very people we love using harsh, stinging words. It goes without saying that with sin in this world and in our lives, there is going to be sadness. And worst of all…we make our Lord sad with our sins of what we do and don’t do every single day of our lives. This “sadness of God” is a human term we apply to the Lord. It helps us to understand that our sins have separated us from our God. Our sins keep us from understanding God’s will perfectly in our lives on earth and from fully understanding God’s great unconditional love and forgiveness for us sinners.

         In our sermon text, St. Paul’s inspiring words to the church in Ephesus is unique. That is because this apostle of Christ does not address any specific problems in this church. Even though Paul is a prisoner in Rome, he writes to encourage believers in Jesus to live their Christian life daily in unconditional love and forgiveness. He writes encouraging believers to live out their Christian life until they are called to their eternal rest. Like you and me, these followers of the Living Bread…Jesus Christ…are new creatures who believe they are saved by grace and who “put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (v 24)
         Ephesians 4 closes out with Paul’s encouragement to a live full Christian life so as to not grieve or sadden the Holy Spirit (cf. v 30a) due to the promise that the Holy Spirit gives the gift of faith and guarantees eternal life. (cf. v 30b) With this in mind and to help you live a full Christian life, St. Paul makes a list of negative characteristics in verse 31 that grieve the Holy Spirit. These negative traits move from bad to worse. “Bitterness, rage, and anger” deal with emotional baggage bothering believers. “Brawling and slander” point to fighting and name-calling that saddens God. “Malice” is every form of hatred that is to be removed from the hearts of every disciple of Christ. Hatred harboring in our hearts is very, very dangerous because hatred is our natural condition that leads to vengeance, violence, and even murder.

Why are there such feelings in the church at Ephesus? There was a time when the Jews and Gentiles did not get along with each other. But now that these two different groups of people are thrown together as followers and worshipers of Jesus Christ…there are still some hard feelings lingering. Since all humankind is born with original sin inherited from Adam and Eve, evil lurks in the dark corners of our hearts. "For out of the heart,” says Paul, “come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander" (Mt 15:19) that no one on their own can escape.

American author, educator, and clergyman…Henry Van Dyke (1852 – 1933) once wrote: “Cannibalism is dying out among barbarous tribes, but it still survives among the most highly civilized peoples…. If you wish to serve up somebody’s character at a social entertainment or pick the bones of somebody’s reputation in a quiet corner, you’ll find ready guests and almost incredible appetites.“ Of those ready guests with incredible appetites, it is sad to say that Christians are often among those ready guests with incredible appetites, even though we are tempted to wrongly think we are not as bad as the next person. Or we might consider many others to be far worse than ourselves. But neither one is really the truth because whoever sins against one law of God is guilty of breaking the whole law of God. Since our sinful hearts are filled with evil all the time, we are guilty…guilty…guilty! In Romans 8, St. Paul reminds you and me that "The sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so." (Rom 8:7) Indeed, sin has infected each and every one of us. Sin affects you and me day after day after day. No one is exempt from the curse of sin.

         But God in His grace seeks out the sinner and saves the sinner by His unconditional love. Our response to this is supposed to be to put sinful living behind us. Since you are a Christian, refrain from speaking evil and have a kind, merciful, and loving attitude and behavior toward others. The writer of Proverbs 16:24 writes: "Pleasant words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the bones." With the strength of the Holy Spirit, you can rid yourself of bitterness, hard-feelings, and anger. That’s because “the mind controlled by the [Holy] Spirit,” St. Paul says, “is life and peace.” (Rom 8:6b)

         With the strength of the Holy Spirit, you are able to follow in the footsteps of Jesus by imitating God with godly lives. (cf. 5:1) Since God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit has made you and me His dearly “beloved children,” you and I are to “walk in love” and live lives of unconditional love “as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (v 5:2)

As you probably know, this will not happen by your own strength and will power. Jesus says in today’s Gospel reading, “I am the bread of life. . . . I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (Jn 6:48, 51) This is the same flesh and blood that conquered sin, death, and the devil by dying your death on the cross and then rising to life again to forgive your sins and to give your life and salvation. This is the Living Bread…the Bread of Life…the same flesh and blood that gave His life for the life of the world and now gives to you and me at His Table and in His Holy Supper.

Only by this gracious and awesome love and work of God in Christ Jesus do you know what love is. His love and forgiveness should motivate you to live a life of love and forgiveness. And those who live a life of love and forgiveness will reflect divine kindness and compassion, (cf. Eph 4:32) that was learned from the forgiving Savior…the Bread of Life…Christ the Lord. Before coming to power, Louis XII of France had been cast into prison and kept in chains. Later, in the early 16th century when he did become king, Louis XII was urged to seek revenge on his enemies, but he refused. Instead, he prepared a scroll on which he listed all who had perpetrated crimes against him. Behind every man's name he placed a cross in red ink. When the guilty heard about this, they feared for their lives and fled. However, the king explained, "The cross which I drew beside each name was not a sign of punishment, but a pledge of forgiveness extended for the sake of the crucified Savior, who upon His cross forgave His enemies and prayed for them."
         The love of Christ for His dearly loved children is life changing. The love of Christ in you forgives others even as God has forgiven you. The love of Christ in you is what St. James puts this way: “…the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy." (James 3:17) The love of Christ is the motivation that God’s Gospel of salvation in Christ provides for our daily, godly living in this sin-darkened, evil, wicked world. Too many of us try to live or do God’s will by our own strength or emotional willpower but faith cannot and does not work that way.

It is Christ’s undeserved love for you that is to be your motivation to walk in His footsteps. Christ lives in you so that others may see the Savior alive in you. Because the love of Christ is alive and well in each and every heart…of each and every believer…the strength of God is your strength. Christ dwells in your heart and life by grace through faith. Only then will you be able to get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, brawling, slander, and every form of malice. Only with the power of God’s love in your believing heart will you be an imitator of God…to be like God in true righteousness and holiness in thought, word, and deed. As St. Paul writes in Colossians 3: "Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you." (Col 3:12-13) Amen.


11th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 13) - Series B

Text: John 6:22-35

Title: “Wonder Bread”

Date: August 5, 2018

Pastor Steve Bocklage

The people saw the wonders…but they did not see the signs. They saw Jesus heal the sick and drive out demons. They saw Him multiply the loaves and fishes. They heard Him teach with an authority not of this world. But they could not see beyond these wonders. They couldn’t see what these things pointed to. They see the things of this world, but not of the next. They see a man, but they couldn’t believe that this man is God.

         And yet, that is the point of the wonders that Jesus performed. That they wouldn’t be just wonders, but signs pointing to a greater reality. That the people would not just marvel, but believe in the One that the Father had sent (cf. Jn. 6:29)…the One sent to be the Savior of the world. But with eyes firmly focused on the wants and needs of this world, this Savior is not what they want or what they think they need. They don’t want the wonder bread that God can give them…a life they don’t have! Directing their eyes to the things above, this wonder Bread…this greater Bread…this greater Life…the Bread of Life…Jesus Christ proclaims: “Do not labor for the food that perishes but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” (Jn. 6:27)

         Picture in your mind for a moment, a father away on a business trip. Before coming home, he buys a gift for his little boy…a billfold with a $5.00 bill hidden inside. He returns home and walks into the house…calls for his son…and gives him the gift. The boy is so excited that he grabs the billfold and runs to show his friends before his father is able to explain that there is more to the gift. It was wonderful that the boy was excited about the gift, but he should have contained his enthusiasm until he fully understood and appreciated the total gift. Even so, our mission is to the whole person with the even greater gift of the Good News of Jesus Christ and the forgiveness and new life He brings.

         So…the question is: Do you have eyes too firmly focused on the things of this world and life? Even as Christians, we sadly miss the signs. After all, hasn’t it crossed your mind that if only Jesus were here today multiplying a few loaves of bread and fish, and healing, and teaching, and raising the dead…then our church would be so full that there wouldn’t be enough room for all the people who would come? Wouldn’t that be great? But thinking that way…you are just like the crowds who chased down Jesus that day in our Gospel reading, focusing on the wonders but missing the signs.

         Brothers and sisters in Christ, Jesus is here…and He is performing wonders and signs. For instance, we pray in the Lord’s Prayer: Give us this day our daily bread, and every day our Lord is doing just that…and for many more than the 5,000 gathered that day on the hillside! But do you realize it? Do you realize that day by day, God is providing you not only food and drink as Luther’s Small Catechism points out, but also clothing, shoes, house, home, land, animals, money, goods, a devout husband or wife, devout children…just to name a few of His provisions? (Explanation of the 4th petition) Or do you take these things for-granted, or worse, thank yourself for them? How about your health and healing? Do you take everything that you are and have for-granted? Is it our work…for us? Or is it the work of God…for us?

         What about the signs and wonders that God is working in His Church each day? Relating to this question, here’s a little test for you.  #1: When’s the last time you saw someone raised from the dead? The answer is…the last time you witnessed a baptism. (Rom 6)  #2: When’s the last time you heard God speak to you? The answer is…just a moment ago when you heard the very Word of God read to you. (2 Tim 3)  #3: When’s the last time you practiced for the last day, the final judgment? Answer…this morning, when in confession and absolution you heard the verdict that will be pronounced upon you that day, namely that in Christ you are forgiven, not guilty. (Mt 18; Jn 20; Small Catechism, explanation to the Office of the Keys)  #4: And then what about the wonder bread? That’s an easy one, and by now you’re catching on! It’s here, on this altar, on the Sundays we have Holy Communion. Not just bread and wine, but the body and blood of Jesus Himself. Not just food, but forgiveness. Not just bread, but the bread of life. (Mt. 26)

         Do we fail to see these signs because these wonders come to you and me in such ordinary ways…through such ordinary means? It’s been that way since the beginning, when Satan blinded the eyes of Adam and Eve and focused them on something more, something bigger, something better, something a bit more exciting. Aren’t we following in their steps and being like the folks in the wilderness, grumbling against God…like the people on the hillside that day with ordinary-looking Jesus, asking for another sign?

         Children of God…believe and trust in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit! See behind the wonders and see the signs. See the hand of God at work in your life. The free gifts of this life God lovingly gives you now signifies the even greater gift of eternal life that God gives by grace through faith. Believing you have life in His Name is the work of God and why Jesus lived and died and lives again.  (cf. Jn. 20:31)When it comes to your salvation, there is nothing you can do to make God love you more or make God love you less. The cross shows us that. God cannot love you more than that or less than that. Your sins have been atoned for…you are forgiven…it is done! The work of God is for you! As Jesus says to the crowd: “This is the work of God that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” (Jn. 6:29) Martin Luther writes in the explanation to the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed: “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, or come to Him.” That’s because it is the work of God! And toward this end, our Lord is always working…at all times, in all places, and in all things…that we believe in Him and His work of salvation, forgiveness, and eternal life.

         Leo Tolstoy, a Russian writer who is regarded as one of the greatest authors of all time, wrote what the Encyclopedia Britannica describes as "one of the two or three greatest novels in world literature" titled War and Peace. But he also wrote a book in 1879 titled, A Confession, which tells the story of his search for meaning and purpose in life. Rejecting Christianity as a child, Tolstoy went away later in life seeking pleasure. In Moscow and St. Petersburg, he drank heavily, lived promiscuously, and gambled frequently. His ambition was to become wealthy and famous, but nothing satisfied him. One question haunted him to the verge of suicide: "Is there any meaning in my life which will not be annihilated by the inevitability of death, which awaits me?"

Nicky Gumbel, an Anglican priest and author, explains what triggered Tolstoy's conversion to Christianity. “He searched for the answer in every field of science and philosophy. As he looked around at his contemporaries, he saw that people were not facing up to the first-order questions of life: "Where did I come from?" "Where am I going?" "Who am I?" "What is life all about?" Tolstoy eventually found that the peasant people of Russia had been able to answer these questions through their Christian faith, and he came to realize that only in Jesus Christ do we find the answer that God the Father sent His Son to work the work of God on the cross in order to take our sin away from us and put it on Himself so that we be set free. And to this end, God the Son sends His Spirit to work the work of God in us…to give us the gifts and grace of God in order that we might believe.”

Yes, Jesus is still directing your mind and heart to the things above. To shift your mind from sin to salvation…from what you want to what He wants… from the things of this world to the next…from what you do to what Christ has done for you so that you believe. Eat your Wonder Bread in this life and forever at the banquet feast of Heaven that will never end! Amen.


Tenth Sunday after Pentecost – Proper 12 - Series B

Text: Mark 6:45-56

Title: “It Is All About Jesus”

Date: Sunday, July 29, 2018

Pastor Steve Bocklage

Before we get into today’s Gospel reading, let’s take a look at what has happened in the Gospel readings from Mark 6 the last few weeks: First, Jesus is rejected in his hometown of Nazareth. Then the Apostles are sent on mission impossible to heal, preach, and cast out demons in Galilee, which God makes possible. Next, John the Baptizer, who is Jesus’ cousin and the one who cried out, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (Jn. 1:29b) is beheaded and buried. And last week’s scheduled Gospel reading was Jesus feeding thousands of people with just 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish, with 12 big baskets full of leftovers.

         In our Gospel reading this morning, Jesus dismisses this same crowd after feeding them late in the day. He then compels His disciples to get in their boat and sail on the Sea of Galilee “to the other side…to Bethsaida.” After bidding them farewell, the Lord goes up on the mountain to get some time alone to pray. All seems well. Hours later, long after the sun has set, Jesus is still “alone on the land” and the disciples are still in “the boat…out on the sea.”

         Then a storm comes up. The water becomes very rough, which is not uncommon on the Sea of Galilee. Knowing how the winds kick up strong at night, Jesus is well aware of their situation. He sees them out there struggling and “…making headway painfully, for the wind was against them.” (v 48) Even though several of these men are experienced fishermen and know how to pilot a boat in storms…they are having a very tough time in this storm. In this horrendous weather, their progress to get to their destination is real slow. It has now been around 8 hours of being distressed, tired, and tormented.

         As if that isn’t enough, somewhere between 3:00 a.m. and 6:00 a.m., they think they see a ghost. Seeing Jesus walking on the water, they think He is a ghost and they cry out terrified and literally scared out of their wits. (cf. vv. 49-50a) Who of us here would not have reacted in much the same way? For the disciples, this is simply a case where faith gives way to superstitious fear.

The strange thing about this is not Jesus walking on the water. What is strange is that “…He meant to pass them by.” (v. 48) This is where the brakes slam on for me. What does that mean “…He meant to pass them by?” Did Christ mean to sneak by them but got caught? That doesn’t sound like the Creator of the universe…the One who controls the wind and waves with His very voice! Did Christ mean He wanted to beat them to the other side? Why would Jesus do that?

         Thank the Lord it doesn’t mean any of these things. It has much more significance than that. When the Bible speaks of God passing by someone, it often means He is going to reveal Himself to them. It means He is going to pull back the veil of His glory for a moment and show a glimpse of His power, His holiness, His perfection…and freely give His love.  That is exactly what Jesus is doing here. He wants to pass by them and let them see that He is there with them…that He is powerful and holy…that He is in perfect control of His creation. While it is surprising to see the Lord showing up the way He does, the disciples shouldn’t be shocked. After all, they have seen Jesus heal Simon’s mother-in-law. They have seen Him cure a leper…a paralyzed man…a bleeding woman…and a shriveled hand. They have seen Jesus raise a dead girl…calm a storm…cast out demons…and feed a huge crowd of people with almost no food. These are just a few of the many miracles Jesus did to show that He is God…that He is powerful, holy, and perfect…that He is the King of all creation. Miracles that the disciples will see when they land in Gennesaret and the people will lay “the sick in the marketplaces and [implore Jesus] that they might touch even the fringe of his garment.” St. Mark writes: “And as many as touched it were made well.” (v. 56)

So, when the disciples see anything out of the ordinary, they should KNOW it is Jesus. They of all people should “get it.” After witnessing the feeding of the five thousand, they should have understood much more than they did. They should not have been “utterly astounded” as having “little faith” or having “spiritual weakness.”  These disciples of Christ should have understood that the One who had multiplied the loves and fish could readily walk on the water.

         Yet, the most amazing thing has to do with Jesus Himself and how He responds to these guys. In fact, the Lord makes His identity and His love for them very clear when He says: “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” (vv 50b) Then St. Mark points out that Jesus “got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased….” (vv 51) Don’t you just love that? Jesus doesn’t say, “forget you guys, after all I’ve done for you” or “you of all people should understand.” He does not say any of that stuff. The Lord Jesus just comforts them by telling them again who He is. He comforts them by coming closer to them and being with them. “Brothers, I didn’t mean to scare you. Have some courage. It’s me. Don’t be afraid.” Or to translate it literally – Have courage. I AM He. Fear not.

         That is what this Gospel lesson is all about. It is all about Jesus! It’s about His love for His people…His love for you and me…as hard hearted and dimwitted and sinful as we are. Because you and I are this way, don’t we need to be reminded all the time of who Jesus is and what He has done for us and continues to do? In April 2001, in the midst of Israeli/Arab conflict, a motorcade carrying the Security Service Chief of Gaza came under gun fire from Israeli troops. The frightened security official called PLO leader Yasser Arafat from his car for help. Arafat in turn called the U.S. ambassador…who then called the U.S. secretary of state, Colin Powell. Colin Powell then phoned Ariel Sharon, the Israeli prime minister, who ordered the shooting to stop immediately. And it did. The Security Chief's connections eventually saved his life.

         In a similar way, Christians have a divine connection to Jesus Christ, who can make a world of difference in any situation. You look at your life and see situations that are tough on you and may even be scary to you. How about worries you have for your children or grandchildren no matter what their age? What about problems at home you do not want to talk about or ignore? How about financial concerns…health issues…job concerns?

         Whatever they are, just remember…Jesus is always with you! Never forget that God is always in control! The Lord sees you at all times…even when you can’t see Him or feel His presence. Jesus comes to comfort you…to remind you who He is…to let you know He is with you. This is Jesus…who is powerful beyond knowing…who created the universe…who walks on water…who calms the storms with His mere presence.

You have a God who is present in your life and who loves you more than you can possibly ever know. When He suffered torture and died for your sins on the cross…He did it all for you! When Christ rose from the dead victorious over sin, death, and evil…He did it all for you to assure you that He will raise you up on the Last Day! He showed you His power, holiness, and perfection by taking your sins upon Himself, and in exchange, giving you His holiness and righteousness in order for you to live with Him forever and ever.

So, your life as a Christian…as a baptized believer in the Lord Jesus Christ…is a life that continues to unfold and grow in who you are and what Jesus has done for you and continues to do. Don’t become distressed or terrified…because the Lord’s purpose is to exercise the faith His Spirit has created in you….which believes these blessed words: "This is My Body…This is My Blood…Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins." God’s purpose is to work trust in you of His promises so that you might grow in faith…in hope…in patient endurance…and that you might grow to always rely on Him. Amen.


VBS Closing and Ninth Sunday after Pentecost – Proper 11 – Series B

Text: Luke 18:15-17 

Title: “Let the Children Come to Me”

Date: Sunday, July 22, 2018

Pastor Steve Bocklage

Five-year-old Kayse grew more and more excited about her upcoming first day of kindergarten. Kayse’s 3-year-old sister, Jayme, watched her with great fascination.

However, on the Sunday before Kayse’s first day of kindergarten, she fell and skinned her knee. Tears began to flow, and 3-year-old Jayme, seeing the blood on her big sister’s knee, tried to comfort her. She said, “Don’t worry, Kayse, if you die, you’ll go to heaven.” But that made Kayse cry even more. “I don’t want to go to heaven,” she said. “I want to go to kindergarten!”

Hopefully, after having gone to kindergarten, Kayse did want to go to heaven too!

         In Luke 18, Jesus was teaching His disciples about the kingdom of God because He wanted people to understand how to enter into heaven. Having child-like faith is important, as well as, humbly trusting in the righteousness of another. The only righteousness or good works that God accepts to gain access into heaven is that of Jesus Christ.

Luke then further illustrates God’s love and that kind of humble trust in Jesus by telling us about the Lord blessing the children. Luke writes in verse 15a that the parents were bringing even infants to Jesus so that He might touch them. The Greek word for infants (brephos) may also be translated as “(young) child.” Jesus likely scooped up each precious child into His loving arms and cuddle the child…place His hand on the warm, soft head…lift his eyes up to heaven…and pronounce God’s blessing on them.

However, when the disciples see the parents bringing their children to meet this famous Jesus for His blessing, they rebuke or scold the parents. (Lk 18:15b) Why did the disciples rebuke the parents? Luke doesn’t tell us the reason. At best, they are protecting Jesus and don’t want Him to be bothered by these interruptions. At worst, they see the situation as a waste of time. As the VBS children learned yesterday in Cool Bible Adventures, the disciples were something like BODYGUARDS, who keep people like us away from famous people. The way Jesus loved and healed people, it’s not surprising that crowds followed Him around a lot. So maybe there was a crowd pressing in on the Lord, and the disciples were just trying to protect Him.

         But Jesus will not let anyone keep the children away! He allows the children to come to Him saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.” (Lk 18:16) We see here the heart of Jesus for all people, including young children. Children by their very nature represent helpless dependence. A baby, and even a young child, is unable to survive its early years on its own. A baby or young child is utterly helpless and utterly dependent upon others for its very survival. Likewise, helpless dependence on God is needed in order to gain entrance into the kingdom of God. As one scholar writes years prior to Rev. Billy Graham’s death: “When Billy Graham enters the kingdom, it will not be because he has personally preached to more people than anyone else in history. It will not be because he has remained impeccable in his finances when so many have failed. It will not be because he has been a faithful husband. It will not be because, despite his fame, he has remained a humble, self-effacing, kind man. When Billy Graham enters the kingdom, it will be because of God’s undeserved love and kindness toward Billy’s helpless dependence on Christ.

         No matter how young or old you are, never forget that JESUS WILL ALWAYS LOVE YOU! (COOL!) [& giving a thumbs-up] and has time for you. Our sermon text demonstrates His love for children and His desire for children of all ages to come to Him. And as Jesus says in verse 17: “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”

         Just what is the kingdom of God? It’s the gentle rule of God through the Holy Spirit in the hearts of people. The kingdom is at times spoken of as a future blessing, (Mt 7:21; 8:11) and at times as a present reality. (Lk 16:16; 17:20; Jn 3:3–5) As a baptized child of God, it should be your heart's desire to be under the gracious rule of God. (Mt 13:44–46) As a baptized child of God, you have forgiveness of sins. Scripture states that in baptism, we put on Christ (Gal.3:27) and that baptism is the powerful work of God. (Col.2:12) Baptism is that which saves and washes away sin. (Acts 22:16, and 1 Peter 3:21) Baptism is where we were united with Christ in His death and resurrection so that “we too may have a new life.” (Rom.6:4)

Also yesterday in Cool Bible Adventures, I had home-made autograph books for each child and for some of the VBS leaders, including myself. As you know, autograph books contain an important person’s or a famous person’s handwritten signature and possibly a personalized note. Even though there were no famous people at VBS, there were some very important people…incredibly important people…just as there are here today. Each one of us is important to Jesus and that’s why each child and leader signed each other’s autograph book. How do you know that you are important to Jesus? Because of God’s promise that JESUS WILL ALWAYS LOVE YOU! (COOL!) [& giving a thumbs-up] St. John says: “We love because he first loved us.” (1 Jn 4:19) This awesome love of God is received by those who receive the kingdom of God as little children, demonstrating childlike faith. Renowned English Baptist preacher and author, Charles Spurgeon, once said, “We must not think a child cannot come to God until he is like a man, but a man cannot come until he is like a child. We must grow down until we become like a child.”

So brothers and sisters in Christ…believe and trust that JESUS WILL ALWAYS LOVE YOU! (COOL!) [& giving a thumbs-up] Thank Him that He does since you’re not able to present any meritorious good works of your own to God because your “righteous deeds are like filthy rags” (Isa. 64:6) to God. The only righteousness deeds or good works that God accepts to gain access into heaven is that of Jesus Christ. And only child-like faith and humble, helpless dependence upon Jesus and His work on the cross are you able to receive His loving gifts of sins forgiven and eternal life. Amen.

JESUS WILL ALWAYS LOVE YOU! (COOL!) [& giving a thumbs-up]

 

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