Sunday, July 23, 2017

Sermon -- 7th Sunday after Pentecost (July 23, 2017)

ROMANS 7:15-25a

WE ARE
AT THE SAME TIME
SINNER AND SAINT.

In the name + of Jesus.

     So, are you a sinner or a saint?
     It sounds like a simple question, but you probably struggle with the answer (unless you've already read the theme of the sermon).  On the one hand, you are a baptized child of God.  That means you have been washed in the blood of Christ which purifies you of all sin.  You have been adopted into God's family.  You have been clothed in Christ's righteousness.  If God declares you righteous for Christ's sake and sees you as holy and blameless, then you are a saint.
     But that is not what you see, is it?  You don't look like a saint.  You don't act like a saint.  You don't feel like a saint.  You confess that you are a child of God, but you don't live up to the title.  There's a good reason we begin every service with a confession of sins.  We are by nature sinful.  No one taught us to be self-centered.  That flows out of us in our thoughts, words, and actions.  We have done what is evil and failed to do what is good.  We have been sarcastic to our loved ones and failed to be patient.  We have viewed other people in terms of how they inconvenience us.  We have failed to be charitable.  Any honest assessment of ourselves forces us to confess that we are sinners.
     So, are you a sinner or a saint?  The answer is, “Yes.”  We are at the same time sinner and saint.
     Perhaps you think, “If I had the faith of one of the great people of the Bible, if I had the heart of an apostle, then I could be better.”  St. Paul would let you know that your frustrations are not unique.  I doubt you are better than St. Paul; but I know that you are not worse.  Every Christian knows the frustration St. Paul confesses.
     “For I do not understand my own actions.  For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.  Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good.” (Romans 7:15-16)  Like St. Paul, you have been filled with a godly desire to do what is good.  If you desire to do the good that God commands, then you agree that God's Commandments are good.  The Commandments direct you to always love your neighbor and seek his good.  They show you how to honor God with grateful obedience in response to his great love for you.  This is good; and you know it is good.  Yet, we still do the evil things that we hate.  We are ashamed and frustrated because of our repeat offenses and regrettable behavior.  Sometimes we wonder if we are really Christians.
     It does not seem like a saint would confess this: “I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.  For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” (Romans 7:18-19)  But this is precisely the confession that an apostle of Jesus Christ makes about himself.  It is the honest confession that every Christian makes.  Even when we want to be holy and good, we can't do it.  It results in us concurring with St. Paul's frustrated interjection, “Wretched man that I am!  Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24)   
     St. Paul quickly answers his own question.  Who will deliver us from our wretched condition?  Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:25)  You have proved yourself a sinner and you feel the frustration of doing the very evils you deplore?  Good, because there is good news: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. (1 Timothy 1:15)  It is Christ Jesus who makes sinners into saints.
     We never cease to need our Savior, and Jesus never ceases being our Savior.  Your place in the kingdom of God is not determined by how well you are serving the Lord; it has been determined by Jesus' service to you.  The Lord Jesus has taken your sins away from you.  St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “For our sake [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)  Jesus became sin for us, taking our sin upon himself.  And then Jesus suffered what sinners deserve—a cursed death.  Though Jesus did not struggle to serve the Lord and though no evil was found in him, Jesus suffered and died for sinners—the righteous for the unrighteous.  And why?  St. Paul tells you: “So that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)  
     We are at the same time sinners and saints.  Jesus is our judge, and he has rendered his judgment to us.  He declares that we are redeemed, beloved, purified, and possessors of eternal life.  Jesus has done all the work to win this for us, and he graciously delivers all his benefits to us where his word is preached and his sacraments are administered.  We do not have to wonder if we are good enough or have done enough good.  Our desire is that we will do what is good, but because we are sinners we will fall short.  We will sin.  We will not be proud of it nor pleased with ourselves because of it.  But Jesus is our hope and comfort.  Jesus determines our place in God's kingdom.  Jesus Christ became our sin and bestows upon us his righteousness.  Therefore, in Christ, you are holy and blameless.  That is why we boldly confess that we are his holy people, his saints.  We take the Lord at his word.
     Now, on this side of heaven, it will still not feel like it or look like it.  We are at the same time sinner and saint.  This body we have is corrupt.  The body's sinful corruption is evident in the fact that it gets sick, it aches, it gets frail, it ages, and it will eventually give out and we will die.  That corruption is also made evident by our sins.  It's not that we want to sin.  St. Paul speaks for every Christian: “I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh.  For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.  For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.  Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.” (Romans 7:18-20)  Like St. Paul, we are eager to be done with our struggles against sin and with our frustration that we continue to give into temptations.  When will we finally be done with the struggle?  When will we finally be free from regrets and shame?  When we will be able to live with our loved ones without having to apologize for snapping at them or to live without wishing we had an opportunity to apologize to that stranger we were so rude to?  Our sins will continue to make us cry out with St. Paul, “Wretched man that I am!  Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24)  The answer remains the same: “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:25)  
     The day will come when the Lord will give you a body that is not corrupted by sin or marked by death.  Jesus went into death to pay for your sins, but he is risen from the grave.  He lives to forgive your sins and deliver you from death.  On the Last Day, the Lord of Life will raise your body from the grave and will transform your lowly body so that it will be like his glorious body.  You will live with your bodt finally free from sin.  Your ability to serve the Lord will finally match your desire to serve the Lord in godliness and holiness.  You will not only be called a child of God, but you will look like it and act like it.  You will love the saints with whom you will live, and they will love you perfectly in return.  And we will all live under the gracious love and care of our Savior God.  Then, all sin will be gone.  Then, we will all be saints, and we will always be saints.  Then.
     But for now, on this side of heaven, we remain sinner and saint at the same time.  We will always need our Savior to preserve us in the saving faith and to console us with the forgiveness of all our sins.  And Jesus remains our Savior.  He declares to us through his words that we are forgiven.  Jesus reminds us that our baptism still cloaks us in his righteousness.  He prepares the victory feast of the Lamb and calls us to feast on it now with all the saints in heaven.  Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:25)  He has come for the good of sinners; and his goodness makes us saints of God, now and forever.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Sermon -- 6th Sunday after Pentecost (July 16, 2017)

ROMANS 6:1-11


BAPTISM SETS YOU 
FREE FROM SIN.



In the name + of Jesus.


     The greatest gift that you received in this world is your baptism.  It is through your baptism that you received all the gifts that Jesus Christ won for you through his life, death, and resurrection.  Those events took place some 2,000 years ago in the land of Israel, but the benefits of Jesus' work is delivered to you here and now in your baptism.  It is there that Jesus washed you clean of all of your sin.  Through your baptism, you were adopted into God's family and made a child of the Most High God.  The Lord gave you garments of salvation to wear, marked you in Jesus' name, and made you an heir of everlasting life.
     Most of you were baptized as infants.  You can't remember the day or the water being put upon you.  But that doesn't mean it is useless.  You don't remember the day of your birth, either, but you are certainly benefiting from that.  Even though baptism was applied to you in years past, its benefits stay with you throughout your life.  In fact, it is your baptism which has given you life, because baptism sets you free from sin.
     St. Paul writes, “We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.  For one who has died has been set free from sin.” (Romans 6:6-7)  The old self is the sinful nature in which we were born.  All people are natural born sinners.  That is why people are so cruel to each other.  People who are supposed to care for you end up seeking their own interests.  We become bitter or envious toward people we are supposed to love.  And we are all too ready to believe the worst about other people, as if that somehow makes us better.  This is the sinful nature at work, and we all have one.
     But you died when you were baptized.  Your old self was crucified with Christ.  The sinner, which had stood at odds with God and his word, was put to death.  Now, if your old self died when you were baptized, you are no longer under sin.  It does not own you.  It cannot claim you.  It does not damn you.  You are free from its curse, its control, and its condemnation.  Baptism sets you free from sin.
     This freedom comes to you through baptism into Jesus Christ.  It was Jesus who first united himself to you when he became man.  Jesus became man to serve all mankind in his perfect life and sacrificial death.  He was baptized in the Jordan River, even though he had no need for cleansing.  Instead of being cleansed, he absorbed our sin and its curse.  He suffered for our sins, died under God's wrath, was dead and buried.  This is what sin brings on all who are guilty.  Now just as Jesus united himself to you by becoming man and being baptized, so also your baptism has united you to Jesus.  Listen to what Paul says: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:3-4)  
     Baptism sets you free from sin.  You have been united with Jesus through baptism.  Your sinful nature was crucified with Christ and buried with him.  And just as Jesus has risen from the grave forever free from the power of death, so also you have been raised up a new creation.  In this new life, you are free from sin, death, and the devil.  Your sin no longer is held against you.  Your death is a temporary rest, but on the Last Day you will be raised from the grave with a glorified body to receive a life without end.  And Satan, whose name means “accuser”, can no longer taunt you over your sins or destroy you with guilt and despair.
    Oh, he will try.  You have probably felt his efforts before.  Satan accuses you of your sins and he does not make anything up.  He brings back vivid memories of words you wish you had never uttered, deeds which you wish you could undo, and thoughts which you pray would never be revealed to others.  Satan tries to crush you with guilt and shame and regret.  He wants to convince you that you are so worthless and wicked that God cannot possibly love you.  But Satan is a liar, and don't ever forget that.  He and his accusations are to be dismissed with one simple phrase: “I am baptized.”  Your baptism means you are clean on all counts.  It does not take away the consequences of your sins.  The thief will still go to jail.  The gossip may not get that friendship back.  But the guilt and curse of sin are taken away by Jesus.  In baptism, God assures you that he has made you a child of God, and you have God's own word on that.  You may have had a wicked past, but you are forgiven.  Baptism sets you free from your sins, and now you have a new life.
     As a new creation and a child of God, you walk in newness of life.  The newness of life means with the recognition that you are now under God's grace.  Your life is not about how many good works you have to do to get on God's good side and earn his approval.  God is already pleased with you.  And if you have to suffer temporal consequences for your sins, that does not mean God is angry with you.  In your baptism, you were clothed with Jesus' own righteousness.  God sees you as holy and blameless; and God loves what is holy.
     This new life also means that you recognize that God's word is true.  God has filled you with a right spirit which acknowledges that God determines what is good and delights in pursuing it.  You do not do it for gain or reward, but because the Lord has convinced you to love what is good.  And in the same way, you avoid what is evil because God has decreed it to be so.  Your flesh will always want you to give into greed, selfishness, lust, intoxication, gossip, and holding grudges.  Some may urge you to avoid these because they only add grief or pain to your life.  But that is like saying, “Don't get drunk because you don't want an addiction or a hangover.”  While that is true, the Lord has taught you better.  You avoid these things because God forbids them and they are evil.  Since sin is no longer your master, flee from the things which lead back to sin and death.  This is what St. Paul means when he says, “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 6:11)  
     Baptism sets you free from sin.  Baptism sets you free for serving the Lord in joy as a child of God.  Now, you will never live up to being what a child of God should be.  We strive for it, but we all fall short.  When that happens, return to your baptismal covenant in repentance.  The Lord will not be disgusted with you or banish you from his family because you have fallen short of his glory.  The Lord does not tire of having mercy upon you or loving you.  His mercies are new every morning.  The Lord will be true and faithful to his promise which he made to you when you were baptized.  He will forgive your sins.  He will raise you up again as a new creation.  He will assure you that you remain a child of the Most High God, and therefore an heir of the heavenly kingdom.  Baptism sets you free from your sin.
     The idea was not original with Martin Luther, but he did put it in his Small Catechism.  He urges Christians to begin and end each day by blessing themselves with the sign of the cross and saying the baptismal formula, “In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.”  As you begin and end each day, remember who you are and whose you are.  You are Christ's.  You are beloved by God the Father.  You are the temple of the Holy Spirit.  You have been redeemed from sin, delivered from death, and released from the devil's claim.  You have been set apart for godly living and for the good of others.  You are a new creation in Christ.  Your baptism has bestowed all of these gifts upon you, and you get to live in the comfort and confidence that baptism marks you as the Lord's, now and forevermore.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Sermon -- 5th Sunday after Pentecost (July 9, 2017)

ROMANS 5:12-15

GRACE OVERRULES 
SIN AND DEATH.

In the name + of Jesus.

Note:  A number of insights in this sermon were gleaned from Rev. David Peterson who serves as pastor of Redeemer Evangelical Lutheran Church (LC-MS) in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

     Adam had one commandment to obey.  The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.  And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:15-17)  The Lord God had not been stingy in the Garden of Eden.  He had given Adam and Eve all kinds of fruit trees and vegetables that they were free to eat.  There was both variety and abundance.
     The devil did not question God's goodness about what God had given.  He questioned God's goodness about what he had forbidden.  The devil convinced Adam and Eve that what God had forbidden was actually good.  They believed the lie.  They ate of the tree which was forbidden by the command of God.  And so sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin. (Romans 5:12)
     This is the sin of Adam.  It is original sin—a sinful nature that originated with Adam and has been passed on to us from our first moment of life.  It is the rooted in us and corrupts our reasoning, desires, and motives.  This is why Satan is so convincing when he lies to us.  He appeals to our sinful nature, using the very same reasoning that brought Adam and Eve into sin, under God's curse, and marked with death.
     Satan does not try to convince us that God's good gifts are bad.  When you pick a ripe, red apple, you do not say that it is bad.  You recognize it as the good gift it is.  The same is true for all of God's gifts.  No one says that sunsets, waterfalls, marriage, or music are bad.  You might think there are bad marriages or bad music, but marriage and music themselves are good gifts from God.  For the most part, the devil does not challenge these things.  The devil convinces us that what God forbids is good and urges us to take it.  So we think that sex outside of marriage is good.  We believe that drunkenness makes for good times rather than shame or that obscenity is to be laughed at rather than scorned.  We covet other people's jobs or spouses or reputation because we think it would be good to have what God has chosen not to give us.  We may even come to believe that God is evil because he did not give some things to us.  Our sinful nature has warped us because we refuse to let God define good and evil for us, and we call what is evil “good.”
      Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law.  Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. (Romans 5:12-14)
     Sin entered the world through one man when Adam broke the one commandment.  The Lord had not given other specific commandments until he gave them through Moses at Mt. Sinai.  Still, death reigned over all mankind because all were guilty of sin.  And death continues because all are sinners.  You may think you should not be held accountable for your sinful condition because it was Adam's sin, not yours.  It does not matter, because you are accountable for your own sins.  It is you who have craved what God has not given you and seized what God forbids.  It is you who have let vicious or perverse thoughts fester in your mind with no real attempt to root them out—plotting to sabotage another's reputation so that you can win pity or harboring jealousy because someone else is enjoying God's blessing.  These are not Adam's sins; they are yours.  Sin dwells in us and oozes out of us.  Death comes to us all because we are all guilty.  We have all earned the curse.
     Throughout St. Paul's letter to the Romans, he employs the word “but.”  This one word  signals our hope.  We cannot refute Paul's charge that we are sinners.  We cannot avoid the consequences of our sins—death to the guilty.  But … St. Paul points us to the place where we find hope.  Grace overrules sin and death.  And grace is given to us through Jesus Christ.
     We are have no righteousness by our own efforts, but a righteousness from God has been revealed.  We have all grabbed after what is forbidden, but God is still good and delivers his gifts to us.  We do not deserve God's grace because we have trespassed into forbidden territory, but the free gift is not like the trespass.  For if many died through one man's trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. (Romans 5:15)  Grace overrules sin and death.
     Adam tried to steal what was not rightfully his, but Jesus gave up what was rightfully his and became man.  Though Jesus is true God, he did not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped.  Jesus subjected himself to the devil's temptations, but he did not listen to the lies or regard his Father as evil for sending him to suffer and die for sinners.  Jesus willingly lived under God's commandments, humbly served where his Father had put him, and gratefully accepted what God chose to give him.  Jesus did not scheme for Herod's throne or for Pilate's power.  He did not covet the Pharisees' reputation.  He did not perform miracles for show or for money.  Then, in obedience to his Father, Jesus went to the cross for sinners.  Jesus went to the cross with our sins, and he went into death for our disobedience.  Jesus' righteous obedience is the remedy for Adam's disobedience.  Jesus' perfect obedience to his Father has rescued us from sin and death.
     Grace overrules sin and death.  For if many died through one man's trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. (Romans 5:15)  The righteous life and death of Jesus Christ restores what was destroyed by the trespass of Adam.  Adam had crossed the line into what God had forbidden.  He had done evil and brought sin and death to all.  But Jesus has restored us to his Father, taking away all of our sin.  He has nullified the curse of death.  We bury our fellow Christians in the grave, but the grave will have to give them back.  As Jesus has risen, so we will be raised in glory to receive a place in the heavenly kingdom.  The life we have always dreamed of will be ours—a life without pain or sorrow, without stress or strife, without broken homes or broken down bodies, without shame or regret, and without end.  Grace overrules sin and death.
     God has demonstrated his love to sinners.  Satan continues to challenge that love, and he still tries to convince us that we will find good things in what God has forbidden.  But if God was willing to give his only begotten Son into death and hell in order to rescue you from them, then why would God withhold from you good things?  Our Lord is most merciful and gracious.  He is not into messing with our lives; rather, he has cleaned up our mess.  Therefore, if God forbids us from doing or saying or thinking certain things, it is because he is forbidding us from going back to sin and death, and from destroying ourselves or harming others.  And if God chooses to withhold from you certain blessings, it is because he knows you and loves you and is doing what is best for you.
     Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.  When the Lord forbids you from anything, it is because that thing is evil; but he is good.  When the Lord forgives your sins and delivers you from death, it is not because you are good; but he is good, and therefore he is gracious to you.  And his grace overrules sin and death.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

Friday, July 7, 2017

Well, well, well....

That's what we just found this evening in our yard by the driveway into church.

Peter was walking by the drive way and stepped on some top soil left over from a flower barrel.  It gave way.  Mercifully, Peter just stepped over it and away from it.  It opened a hole just larger than the size of his foot.

We looked and noticed that the hole went down, mainly under the asphalt driveway, quite a ways.  Caleb put in a broom and did not find the bottom.  Philip stuck down a hockey stick as far as he could reach.  Still no bottom.  I put a 25 foot tape measure down.  Still did not hit the bottom.

After contacting some church council members, I was advised to call 9-1-1.  The Novi Police came (3 squad cars -- a slow night combined with curiosity?) and shone a better flashlight than I had into the hole.  The conclusion: It was a well, about 30 feet deep.

Whatever had been put on top of it to cap it must have deteriorated and gave way.  Once again, we are grateful that we did not discover this in a much more tragic fashion.  Hopefully, it will be filled in without much delay and without too much cost.

Vacation and New Ventures

Our family vacation this year took us to Indiana and Kentucky.  The days of the whole family going on these trips have ceased.  Summer jobs keep some home.  Pursuing careers keeps some away from home.

Still, most of us went to Indiana to stay with Laura's parents for a number of days.  The kids went swimming at Forest Park in Noblesville.  We had a 4th of July celebration with more of Laura's family.  On Monday, July 3, we went to the Louisville Slugger Museum (Hillerich and Bradsby Co. -- look at the trademark on the bat) and then on to Abraham Lincoln's Boyhood Home in southern Indiana.  Some photos of that are below.

But then we got news that Faith had received an emergency call to serve as a 1-2 grade teacher at Emmaus Lutheran School in Phoenix, AZ.  After several days of phone calls, questions, discussions, and prayers, Faith has decided to postpone her final year of college and teach in Phoenix.

This news, as well as the predicted rain and storms, re-directed our vacation plans.  Instead of continuing on for a few days in Kentucky, we came home.  Laura is preparing to hit the road and go with Faith to Phoenix to help her get settled there.

The family adventures continue.










Based on excavations, this is believed to be the foundation of the home Lincoln lived in for about 14 years in Indiana.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

25 years of marital love and commitment

The post below is from the book I had made for Laura and me for our 25th anniversary.  It has been slightly edited for this blog entry.  It is also not nearly expressive of what my beloved wife--as well as my best friend--has meant to me for all of these years.

I love you, Laura!  Happy anniversary, and may God grant us many, many more.

June 27, 1992.
June 27, 1992.
Bethany Evangelical Lutheran Church,
in Appleton, Wisconsin.
       




          For one quarter of a century, God has graciously blessed us.  We were wed on June 27, 1992 at Bethany Evangelical Lutheran Church in Appleton, Wisconsin.  Since then, we have lived briefly in Sheboygan, Wisconsin.  Then we moved to Jenera, Ohio were Tom served as a vicar under Pastor Alois ("Brownie" -- we still haven't called him that to his face) Schmitzer.  We moved to Grafton, Wisconsin where Tom completed his seminary training.  Then after Tom was assigned to be an instructor at West Lutheran High School in Hopkins, Minnesota (it has since moved to Plymouth, MN), we settled in an apartment in Eden Prairie.  Our second year there, we lived in a rented house in St. Louis Park.  Finally, Tom was reassigned through the Seminary to serve as a parish pastor at Good Shepherd Evangelical Lutheran Church in Novi, Michigan.  We moved here in July of 1996 and have been here ever since.

          In those 25 years, we were richly blessed with children.  Faith was born in St. Paul, MN.  Nathanael was born in St. Paul, MN.  Andrew was born in Livonia, MI.  Caleb was born in Livonia, MI.  Philip was born in Livonia, MI.  Peter was born in Livonia, MI.  We were also anticipating another, but on May 4, 2010, Isaac Christopher was still born.  His body awaits the resurrection at Glen Eden Cemetery in Livonia.

          25 years has not been without its bumps and bruises.  We have been parted from grandparents and friends by death, and we have bid farewell to friends whom we were thankful to have had in our lives, even if momentarily.

          Still, God has been good, and has been pleased to see to it that we still have had each other to lean on, to laugh together, to cry together, to celebrate the joyous moments with thanksgiving, and to pass through pain and hardship with prayer.

          We did not know where we would go when we were married 25 years ago.  We did not know how the Lord would bless us and what we would experience.  But we were committed to going through whatever it would be together.  We would not have had it any other way, and we would do it all over again in a heartbeat.

After 25 years, ths is what the Lord has turned us into.
December 25, 2016.  It is getting harder and harder to get us all together in one place.

Summer 2017, celebrating 25 years together.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Sermon -- Presentation of the Augsburg Confession (June 25,2017)

MATTHEW 10:26-39

WE FAITHFULLY CONFESS 
THE TRUTH FOR OUR SALVATION.

In the name + of Jesus.

     Our Lord Jesus Christ said, “Everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 10:32-33)  Therefore, we faithfully confess the truth for our salvation.
     This sounds easy enough, but Jesus also said that this confession comes with a cost: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth.  I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.  For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.  And a person's enemies will be those of his own household.” (Matthew 10:34-36)  We might think that the sword Jesus speaks about is Islamic terrorism or an erosion of freedoms for Christians.  While these are threats to pray about, Jesus does not speak here about international terrorism or civic groups who fight to get the Ten Commandments removed from a county courthouse.  He spoke about animosity in one's own family and friends.
     Now, it may sound strange that people would be hostile toward a message which you hold so dear, and hostile toward you who joyfully confess it.  Why does Jesus and his salvation bother people so much?  St. Paul gives the answer: “The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot.” (Romans 8:7)  People refuse to acknowledge that they are sinners.  They like their sins.  They aren't going to apologize for them or stop doing them.  They conclude that God is the one with the problem, and they have friends who encourage them to continue in their sins.  They don't want to repent; they like what they are.
     People are also hostile toward God's word and those who confess it because they despise God's grace.  Even people who profess to be Christians are guilty of despising God's grace.  We do this because we think there are good reasons that we are saved: We behave better.  We go to church more.  We pray harder.  We think that we have done something to prove our worth before God.  In other words, we believe that we deserve our salvation because of something we have done.  In that case, your salvation is not a gift, it is a wage.  This is to reject God's word: “By grace you have been saved … so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)  
     We faithfully confess the truth for our salvation.  The truth is that your salvation has been taken out of your hands.  You do nothing to be saved.  That is the very nature of being saved.  He who is lost must be found by someone else.  He who is dead must be revived by another.  He who is hostile must be converted by the love of another.  And this is what our Lord has done.
     We faithfully confess the truth for our salvation.  We confess what God has revealed.  The Lord became flesh and willingly lived a humble and holy life in obedience to God and in service to his neighbor.  But Jesus gives you the credit for it.  He did the work, and he gives you the benefit.  By faith, you are justified; by grace, you are saved.  The sins you have committed—whether you have taken pride in being better than others, taken pleasure in seeing the sins of others, or taken pleasure in your own sins—these sins Jesus has taken from you.  Jesus suffered your curse and was afflicted by the wrath that you deserve.  The punishment has been lifted from you.  You are forgiven.  You are not forgiven because you are better.  You are forgiven because Jesus gives you salvation which you have not worked for and a blameless record that you do not deserve.  It is by grace you have been saved.  Since your salvation is completely the work of Jesus Christ, you can be certain that you are saved.  He did work—completely, perfectly, freely.  You, by faith, benefit.  We faithfully confess this, certain that there is no other Savior, and confident that Jesus' saving work is perfect.
     Still, it comes at a cost.  Satan enlists others to demand that we look for salvation outside of or in addition to Jesus.  In the Middle Ages, people were told to look for their salvation from the Pope in Rome.  The Pope urged people to buy indulgences which were suppose to deliver people from purgatory, to pray to saints, to go on pilgrimages to shrines, and to reverence the relics of holy people.  God's grace was not enough; and Jesus Christ was pushed aside.  Even though it seemed ultra-religious, none of it was supported by Scripture.
     God graciously directed some people back to their Bibles for comfort and assurance.  While this brought peace to troubled souls, it also brought a sword.  The Pope excommunicated clergy who demanded their answers from the Bible rather than Church traditions, and he banned writings which pointed people to Jesus.  The Emperor, Charles V, threatened the destroy churches, kingdoms, and princes who did not turn back to the established customs.  Emperor Charles summoned these princes to Augsburg where he demanded their allegiance to him and to the Pope.  These Lutheran princes, instead, came to the Diet of Augsburg to faithfully confess God's truth.  This was not a show of stubborn independence or rebellion against authority.  When the Lutheran princes at Augsburg were commanded to forfeit their confession for the sake of unity in the Church and empire, Margrave George of Brandenburg replied, “Rather than deny my God and suffer the Word of God to be taken from me, I will kneel down and have my head struck off.” (Concordia Triglotta, page 23)  The Lutheran princes faithfully confessed God's truth even though it meant a sword against them.  They stood firm on God's word for their own salvation and for the salvation of those in their kingdoms.
     We faithfully confess the truth for our salvation.  To keep this confession pure is to keep certain of our salvation.  If this confession becomes polluted, God's truth becomes distorted or even denied.  Then, our salvation is at least put in doubt, at worst it is lost completely.  Therefore, our devotion to God's truth is essential.
     We faithfully confess the truth for our salvation, knowing that we may pay a price for holding to this confession.  We may think we can avoid the sword by keeping our confession to ourselves, but silence is not an option.  For this is what Jesus says, “Everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 10:32-33)  Jesus does not say that it is enough to acknowledge him in your heart and keep your faith a secret.  If we believe in Jesus and take his word to heart, it will reveal itself in our words and actions.  Light cannot be hidden.  Confessions must be made with words.  However, if you confess your faith and suffer for it, you are in good company.  The apostles died rather than remain silent in their confession.  The Lutheran princes were ready to die rather than deny Christ and his word.  About twenty years after the Augsburg Confess, the sword did come to their lands because of their confession.  I don't know what price you might have to pay or what cross you will have to bear.  If you refuse to confess God's truth, the world may praise you; but Christ will disown you.
     Yes, these are serious matters with eternal consequences.  But that is why we take them seriously.  And that is why we need our Lord's word and grace.  He reminds us: “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.  Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28-29)  We need not fear those who are mortal.  Rather, we fear the Lord who holds our eternal judgment in his hands.  But good news: The Lord who holds our eternal judgment in his hands has also told us that we are redeemed and beloved by him.  Even if our body is slain, we are not robbed of life in God's kingdom.  And if the Lord cares enough about the number of hairs on your head, he certainly will preserve you in his kingdom through his word and sacraments.
     Therefore, we devote ourselves to God's truth—reading, learning, marking, and inwardly digesting it—so that our confession will remain true, so that our Lord will keep us faithful, and so that we will be sure of our salvation.  We faithfully confess God's truth for our salvation; and our comfort and confidence is always this: that our Lord Jesus Christ is pleased to acknowledge us before the Father, and that our glory will be known in the life to come.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.