Sermon: Overcoming Temptation (Luke 4:1-13)

Text: Luke 4:1-13
First Sunday in Lent, Series C
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Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Christians throughout the world pray, “Lead us not into temptation” several times a day. Jesus taught us to pray that God would guard and protect us from every temptation of the devil, the world, and our own sinful selves. And there is a reason why Jesus taught us to pray, “Lead us not into temptation.” Because even in the best of times, we have a poor track record of resisting temptation. But did you notice that this morning’s Gospel reading says that Jesus was led into temptation? John had just baptised Jesus in the Jordan River. The Holy Spirit descended upon him like a dove, and then He was filled with the Holy Spirit. And what does the Holy Spirit do? Leads Him into the wilderness to be tested by the devil. The Temptation of Jesus allows us to ask, “what does it mean to be tempted?” And, “How can I overcome temptation?”

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Sermon: “Remember that you are dust”

Sermon for Ash Wednesday
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Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

It’s so easy to forget things. We’re good at forgetting things, aren’t we? Sometimes, we don’t just forget things but intentionally put them out of our minds. If something is particularly unpleasant, we try not to think about it. We don’t want to remember it. We like to avoid things because we don’t want to deal with them. And then, along comes something which reminds us of that very thing we were trying to forget. That’s why we have ashes on Ash Wednesday.

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Sermon: A Well-Built Life (Luke 6:39-49)

Text: Luke 6:39-49
Sunday Before Lent, Series C
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Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

We’re all familiar with the story of the Three Little Pigs. Do you remember how it goes? One little pig built his house with straw, another built his house with sticks, and the third made his house with bricks. All seemed to be going fine and well in their new dwellings until the big bad wolf came one day. Then he huffed, and he puffed, and that showed the actual quality of each home. Jesus tells a very similar story in our Gospel lesson. It’s a story about two men who build two houses. One house is built on rock with deep foundations. The other man built his house on the ground without any foundation. Both homes look good on the outside. Both buildings would be perfectly serviceable in the dry season. But when a flood comes, only one survives. The other collapses and is utterly ruined. Two people, two different houses. Which house is yours?

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Sermon: Jesus’ Cure for Division (Luke 6:27-38)

Text: Luke 6:27-38
Second Sunday Before Lent, Series C
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Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Do you think there are sharp divisions in our country? An honest examination will say that there are divisions. There have been for a long time. Maybe you’ve experienced such divisions among your family, friends, or co-workers first-hand. This epidemic has divided our own congregation. And honestly, I’m ashamed to have to say that. But what are we to do about it? How do we deal with division in our congregation, in our society, and in wherever we may find it? What cure for division does Jesus offer us?

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Sermon: What has your trust? (Jer. 17:5-8)

Text: Jeremiah 17:5-8
Third Sunday before Lent, series C
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Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Our reading from Jeremiah 17 is all about trust. Bad Trust. Good Trust. Jeremiah asks us: who has your trust? Jeremiah gives us a vivid contrast between the two types of trust. He does this by using an image drawn from nature. Jeremiah contrasts a parched desert shrub with a vibrant tree that hugs a flowing stream. These two different plants are two different kinds of trust—trust in man and the Lord.

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Sermon: Listening to the Transfiguration’s Voices (Luke 9:28b-36)

Text: Luke 9:28b-36
Transfiguration of our Lord
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Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Many voices are speaking to us today: the voices of the news media, the voices of government leaders, the voices of protesters, the voices of YouTubers, the voices of bloggers, the voices of politicians, and the voices of television and movie actors. These voices all want us to think, feel, behave, and believe in specific ways. Yet remember, it was because Adam and Eve listened to a strange voice that we find ourselves in this broken world. With so many different voices speaking to you each day, do you think about what they say? Do you consider where the voice is coming from? Is this voice a voice that will promote growth in godliness and Christian virtues? Or is this a voice that condones and stirs up your sin? This morning, consider the scene of Peter, John, and James with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration. There is much to see: the appearance of Jesus’s face is altered, his clothes are sparkling with light, and with him are Moses and Elijah. But this morning, we’re going to listen. We will listen in on the conversation between Moses, Elijah, and Jesus. And we’re going to hear a voice from heaven.

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Sermon: What is Jesus doing in the Temple? (Luke 2:22-24 & Romans 12:1-5)

Text: Luke 2:22-28; Romans 12:1-4
Presentation of our Lord.
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Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Moses instructed that for 40 days after giving birth, a new mother “shall not touch any hallowed thing, nor come into the sanctuary until the days of her purifying are completed.” ( Lev. 12:4). Isn’t this a bit ironic in the case of the virgin Mary? For those 40 days, she was touching a holy thing. She was spending most of her time touching the Most Holy Thing you could handle, the Incarnate God himself. She doesn’t have much choice, though, does she? Who else will feed, change, and lovingly care for baby Jesus? Moses required a sacrifice because a mother brought a sinner into the world. So, she had to be purified. But that isn’t quite how it went with Mary. Her child was not a sinner. When the Holy Spirit comes upon a woman, and the power of the Most High overshadows her, she doesn’t need the purification. Even though Jesus shares in our flesh and blood, He does have our sin. Why does Mary need to be purified if Jesus is the sinless Son of God? Why are they in the Temple?

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Sermon: What Does Love Look Like? (1 Corinthians 12:32-13:13) 

Text: 1 Corinthians 12:32-13:13 
The Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany
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Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

How many have heard our epistle lesson read in the context of a wedding? Paul’s beautiful description of love is familiar to us, but it isn’t about what Hollywood means by ‘love’. We use the word “love” to mean so many different things in different situations. I love my wife, and I love my kids. I also love Star Wars, shepherd’s pie, and the colour blue. The English word ‘love’ causes us all sorts of problems because a bunch of Greek words that all get translated as “love.”  

There’s storgé, the natural love and affection of a parent for their child. There is eros. That’s erotic love, romantic, passionate love. There is philos, the love between friends. Philadelphia is known as the city of brotherly love. Then there is agapé, the word used in today’s text. So, contrary to popular opinion, this is not a passage about romantic love. Our reading isn’t about the love between a husband and wife. This chapter is addressed to a divided and conflicted Christian congregation. Paul is displaying the kind of love that is essential for a community that seems to lack a lot of it. This morning we’re going to examine what that kind of love is. Just what does Christian love looks like?

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Sermon: Gladly Hear and Learn It (Nehemiah 8 & Luke 4)

Text: Nehemiah 8:2-4a, 5-6, 8-10 & Luke 4:14-21
Third Sunday After the Epiphany
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Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

One of the problems in the church today is that we have grown Word-weary. The written word seems to be a dying breed. Many churches seem to think that glitzy technology and entertainment is what you need if you’re going to reach people. When I was first looking into becoming Lutheran, I sat down to chat with some local Lutheran pastors. One pastor told me that he would not read or preach the word on occasion at all. Instead of traditional proclamation, he would rather sit on a barstool and just casually “chat” and “share” with folks. Why? All the noise of this world has dulled our ears. We’ve become complacent, bored even. We want to be entertained, amused, inspired. We seek relevance and meaning in our lives. The competing voices we find in the media are loud and assertive. Today is sometimes called the Sunday of the Word of God since both the Old Testament and Gospel lessons deal with the reading and preaching of God’s Word. Our readings stress the fundamental importance that  God’s Word must have in our lives of faith.

Gathered to Hear God’s Word

In Jerusalem at the Water Gate during the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, the people were gathered as “one man.” They were packed tightly together, demanding the hear the Law of Moses. Men, women, children all stood and listened for six hours. From early morning to noon, they heard words they hadn’t heard together in more than a generation. They stood at the Water Gate of Jerusalem and listened as Ezra read from the Torah. And this was not simply reading. He also preached, he “gave the sense,” explained it so that the people understood the reading. No comfortably padded pews. No climate control. No roof over their heads.

They listened. The assembly of Judah wasn’t glancing at their watches, weren’t nodding off, weren’t wearing bored expressions on their faces. They weren’t mad because they missed brunch! The people of Judah were glad to assemble to hear the reading and preaching of God’s Word on a holy day.

It was also a holy day in Nazareth, Jesus’ hometown, the place where He grew up. Jesus was in the synagogue. The local boy made good come to the home congregation. The place was packed, as you might expect. Everyone wanted to hear from Jesus. The attendant handed the scroll of Isaiah to Jesus, and He looked for a passage from Isaiah. And He read it out loud to the people. And then He stopped reading. Jesus handed the scroll back to the attendant and then sat down to preach. The place went silent. You could hear a pin drop as all eyes were fixed on Him. What happened next? Jesus preached, “Today, this Scripture, this very passage of Isaiah, has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Jesus explained that the prophecy he read was just fulfilled right then. The people of Nazareth gathered to hear the reading and preaching of God’s Word on a holy day. Jesus made going to synagogue to hear the reading and preaching of God’s Word a central part of his life.

If this was central to Judah, Nazareth, and even Jesus, this raises some critical questions: What is the centre and core of your life and family? What is the most necessary thing that you do each week? It is hearing and learning God’s Word, the Holy Bible. It’s vital to your very identity. So, listen to what Philip Melanchthon says in our Augsburg Confession: “The church is the assembly of saints in which the Gospel is taught purely, and the sacraments are administered rightly” (AC VII:1, Tappert).

“And Ezra the priest brought the law before the assembly”, that is, the Church. The Church is the assembly of God’s people. This is what God’s people do: we assemble to hear the reading and preaching of God’s Word. If someone were to look at your life, is that how they would remember you? As someone who gave God’s Word the first place? A Christian doesn’t look at the clock and say, “Is it time to go yet?” A Christian says, “Couldn’t we hear some more? Keep reading! Keep preaching! Keep giving us the Word, we can’t get enough of it.” Often you will hear some Christians talk about “being the church.” How do we “be” the Church? By assembling together to hear God’s Word.

We genuinely need to work on this. Many of you do not assemble regularly. We have nearly 300 souls, of whom only 20 or so come to bible class and listen later. That’s shameful and downright sinful. We have 300 souls, about a third of which will come to Church in six months. What could be more necessary than hearing and learning God’s Word? The Word of God has the power to change lives. Why aren’t you here for Bible class if you believe that? Why aren’t you coming to Church regularly? Why aren’t you reading your Bible every day? You can spend half a dozen hours watching TV or scrolling through Facebook, but you can’t spend 20 minutes twice a day to read God’s Word? Reading, hearing, and learning God’s Word is who we are. It defines us as Christians. It identifies us as the Church. The casual attitude that some of you have just won’t cut it.

Responding to God’s Word

Look with me for a moment at the two different responses to the preaching of God’s Word in our texts. When Ezra opened the book up, all the people stood up. When Ezra went to read the Law, he blessed the Lord, and the people answered with their “Amen, Amen.” They bowed with faces to the ground, worshipping and praising God for the goodness of His Word. (Do you recognize these ceremonies? Don’t we have similar rituals surrounding the reading of the Gospel? )  Far from being a happy experience, the people burst into tears. What is going on?

When they hear the commandments of the Law read, the people weep because they have not been keeping some of them. They recognised how sinful they were and how gracious the Lord was. And they wanted to hear more. Yet Ezra tells them not to be grieved. So, instead of mourning, it was a day of feasting on fat, drinking the sweet wines and sharing with the neighbour. It was a day of rejoicing, “for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” The returning exiles were glad and eager to hear the Word. They were grieved at their sins and rejoiced in God’s forgiveness. That’s the hearing with faith and repentance.

We see the opposite reaction in Nazareth. Jesus’ preaching filled them not with faith but with anger. They wanted to get rid of him! They did not want to hear what he had to say. And they rose and drove Jesus out of town and tried to push him off a cliff.

There are only two responses to God’s Word: repentance or rejection. You can hear the Word of the Lord and rejoice in the mercy of God, who has forgiven your sins. Or, you deny the Word and despise the goodness of God and want to silence it. “The Third Commandment. Remember the Sabbath Day by Keeping it Holy. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word but hold it sacred, gladly hear and learn it.”

Do you gladly hear and learn God’s Word? Do you hold it sacred? Do you respond like Judah or like Nazareth? When God’s Law smacks you between the eyes, do you repent or get angry? There is sin that clings to us, and it still hates the Word, and wants the preacher to shut up. There are times when we are slow to arise on Sunday morning. We sometimes look for any excuse to stay away from the Word, eager to get on with the day. That is the remnants of sin in you. There is evil in us hates God’s Word. And at times, we must force ourselves to hear it.
Yet part of you is willing, even eager, to stand at the Water Gate for hours upon hours to hear the Word of God and delight in it. That’s the new life given to you in Baptism. So that means there is a struggle between the old and new. An effort to get to Church. A fight to pay attention. A struggle to open that Bible and read. A battle against boredom and complacency. A struggle to go to a bible class that you don’t want to go to. We must fight against the ways we might want to despise preaching and God’s Word and treat Jesus as optional or secondary.
Repent of that.

And hear and learn the Word of the Lord. Brothers, Jesus came to set you free from that old sinful nature. He came to proclaim liberty and freedom. Your old bondage and slavery to your sin is over. Your sins are forgiven, and you stand justified before God because Jesus shed his blood for you. You also have been given new life. You have the freedom to live, and the joy of the Lord is your strength.  We live in an imperfect world. We miss the mark. But, the core message of the Bible is that Christ forgives us, embraces us, and loves us with everlasting love. He remains at the centre of our lives even when we behave, act, or think differently.
“Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to him for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

May the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Sermon: Good News for Dark Days (Isaiah 62:1-5)

Text: Isaiah 62:1-5
Second Sunday after the Epiphany
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Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Have you ever felt completely abandoned and rejected? We’ve all experienced rejection from time to time. Now, if you can, imagine being abandoned and forsaken, but then you suddenly and unaccountably find yourself welcomed and taken in. If you can imagine that, then you can understand what is going on in our Old Testament lesson.

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