Redeemer Ev. Lutheran Church, Iola, WI

Sermons, Devotions, and News from Redeemer Evangelical Lutheran Church in Iola, WI

Monthly Archives: April 2015

Feasting with God #23 – Overcome Evil with Good

Feasting with God #23

Overcome Evil with Good

Romans 12:14-21

14Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. 17Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

If we are Christians, then we ought to live as Christians. Because we are unable to escape our sinfulness while we live on this earth, it’s not always an easy task to live in a Christian way, and Paul gives us some advice in this passage to help us live like Christians.

When someone persecutes us, it’s easy—it’s human nature—to curse them, to wish evil upon them, or to defame them to others. It’s especially easy for Christians, because we know we’re not supposed to react violently. So we’ll react with our words. But Paul says, “Bless those who persecute you.” He lays a great deal of responsibility at our feet, in fact: “Live in harmony with one another…. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” In his Sermon on the Mount Jesus calls Christians “peacemakers” (Matt. 5:9). Paul expects us here to be able to keep the peace. “He started it!” we might say. And we might be right. But the advice of my parents comes back to me whenever I think that: “It takes two to fight.”

So, for our responsibility, we won’t fight. Let our enemies persecute us all they like, we won’t fight back. That’s what Paul asks us to do. It’s not easy. And even harder is what he further asks us to do: “To the contrary, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.’” Not only are we to not fight, but we are to react with kindness, even feeding our enemy. I can think of very few things I would find less pleasant than hosting someone who was my enemy, someone I despised, someone who hated me. I would hate to have to feed them dinner, give them room and board even for a night. But this, Paul says, is what we are to do: “for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”

Of course, there are times when Christians cannot sit idly by while injustices are done. Especially we can see this in the example of Christ, when he drove out the money-changers from the temple, even using a whip and overturning their tables, accusing them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers” (Matt. 21:13). This is a righteous anger, and in the right context, it is the appropriate response.

It may not always be clear to Christians when we should respond with love, “feeding our enemies,” and when we should respond with anger, in wrath and vengeance. Luther writes, “To understand this, you must distinguish between God and man, between persons and issues. Where God an issues are involved, there is neither patience nor blessing but only zeal, wrath, vengeance, and cursing” (LW 14:258). This is the appropriate distinction. When God’s holy things are being defamed and destroyed, the Christian in faith responds with zeal. But when one’s own person is persecuted and broken, then we react in love, trusting God’s promise, when he says, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay.”

“Do not be haughty,” Paul says; and, “Never be wise in your own sight.” If we go about thinking that we can do no wrong, thinking that we are wise and holier than others, then it is natural that we would react with righteous anger rather than love. But we are not to consider ourselves this way. Rather we should humble ourselves. If we are persecuted or wronged, we can forgive, as Jesus did on the cross when the sins were against his own body. We overcome evil with good.

But it’s not easy. We are still sinful on this earth, and we want to take revenge, we want to respond in wrath. But thankfully we can turn to Jesus who accomplished this very thing. By living this way perfectly, forgiving and blessing his enemies, and then by dying as though he were a murderer, Jesus took our place, paid for our sins, including the ones of vengeance and hatred. And now, in faith, the Holy Spirit dwells in our hearts and enables us to react with blessing and love, feeding our enemies when they are hungry, and giving them drink when they are thirsty. We don’t have to have the strength of character to accomplish it. It’s accomplished by God already. We only need faith.

Dear Lord, thank you for paying the price for all our sins, even though we ourselves were your enemies. Help us to forgive and bless our enemies, even as you forgave and blessed us. Lead us to do these works of service to you, strengthening us in doing good, so that we may overcome evil. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Feasting with God #22 – A Table in the Presence of My Enemies

Feasting with God #22

A Table in the Presence of My Enemies

Text: Psalm 23:5-6

5You prepare a table before me
     in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
     my cup overflows.
6
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
     all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
     forever.

This psalm is in our culture today among the most beloved, because of the great comfort it gives.  It begins with the personal care and comfort we claim from God, stating, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want” (23:1).  The very sick or the dying have found comfort in the passage, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me” (23:4).  God is present to the one who speaks this psalm, very close and providing comfort and care and guidance, and it moves us to let go of any reliance on ourselves and to yield to God’s caring arms, like a tired child in the arms of his parent.

The verses cited above are no different from the rest of the psalm; they speak of the same great comfort, but there’s something new: our comfort comes “in the presence of my enemies.”  It seems as though we mean to gloat: that we’re showing off to our enemies, proving the riches we have and letting them starve or eat dirt.  If we take that picture too far, it seems like we’re turning ourselves into the rich man who denied help to poor Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31).

This devotional series is called Feasting with God for a reason.  We are moved by these passages of Scripture to see the great blessings God provides for us, often spoken of metaphorically as a great banquet or feast.  God feeds his people, so that we never go hungry.  And the blessings of this food are explained in the passage above: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”  The blessings that God feeds us with are goodness and mercy in this life, and dwelling in God’s house in eternal life.  We have two sorts of blessings: blessings now, and blessings hereafter.  These blessings are so great, and move us to such wonderful appreciation and thanksgiving to God, that we want to show them off, we want to share them.

Perhaps this means we share them with our friends, showing them what great blessings we have, as Peter writes encourages Christians to be “prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Pet. 3:15).  Notice, they are the ones asking us.  So they have to see the evidence of our hope.  We hope in the blessings which we receive now, and which we will receive hereafter.  That ought to be visible.

But the text speaks specifically of enemies.  Christians have plenty of enemies.  The whole world is full of sin, and sometimes it is our own sin which is our enemy.  Sometimes it is the author of evil, the devil himself, seeking to tear us down.  Sometimes it is other people, who see the things we teach and believe that we are close-minded, old-fashioned, bigoted.  We can have courage in the face of all these troubles, however, because God provides a table of blessings before us, even before them.  Even when these enemies are gnashing their teeth at us the worst, we have God’s blessings.  And sometimes that means that those enemies will see our blessings as well.  Sometimes those enemies will notice that our spirit is not broken despite their best efforts.  Perhaps that will make those enemies lose heart, or perhaps it will cause those enemies to become jealous of our hope and blessings, and perhaps they’ll want to have some of those same blessings.

It’s always a good thing for our blessings to show.  No, these blessings aren’t physical things—perhaps we’re blessed with a good job, a happy family, a nice house, fine toys and things—the real blessings that we show, though, are the spiritual blessings we have received: faith in the one true God, in his Son Jesus Christ who died to win us eternal life.  Let the joy of that show on our faces.  Trust the Holy Spirit to keep us safe and secure in that faith.  And notice, it’s not up to us to try really hard to show it off.  It’s God who prepares this table before us.  Our faith rests fully and securely in him.

Dear Lord, our Good Shepherd, guide us as you have promised in green pastures and beside still waters.  Restore our souls and lead us in paths of righteousness for your name’s sake.  When we face death or deep darkness, help us to fear no evil, knowing that you are with us, comforting us with your Word.  Prepare before us a table of sweet blessings that all our enemies may see.  Confirm your election of us by keeping us in faith, making us sure of the goodness and mercy that follow us in this life, and of the hope of our eternal life, dwelling in your house forever.  Amen.

Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

Feasting with God #21 – I Am the Bread of Life

Feasting with God #21

I Am the Bread of Life

Text: John 6:35-40

35Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.  36But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe.  37All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.  38For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.  39And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.  40For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

We have seen Jesus rise.  No, our physical eyes weren’t there 2,000 years ago, but with our eyes of faith we look on the Son who was killed for our trespasses and who was raised again for our justification, and in that belief, we have eternal life.

It’s sometimes hard to think about all the people in the world who are starving.  We think of the third-world countries in Africa, parts of Asia and the Middle East, some even here in the United States.  We picture so easily the sad children of those places, who never know where their next meal will come from, or even if they’ll have a next meal.  Our hearts can’t help but go out to them, and often we wish there was more we could do.

As Christians, we ought to do what we can to help those in need.  Sometimes that does mean donating money to charity, or even providing literal bread to someone in need.  Truly noble acts, but how much do we think about the long run?  A loaf of bread may feed several children for a week, but they need more than that.  They need the means to have food for the rest of their lives.  But they need even more than that.  They need access to food that will keep them from ever going hungry.

In the text today, Jesus provides the access to that very food.  “Whoever comes to me shall not hunger,” he says.  He’s not speaking about a loaf of baked bread.  He’s speaking about eternal, spiritual food.  Any earthly bread will keep our earthly bodies alive, but what about our souls?  Our spiritual bodies will need nourishing as well, and this we get by faith in Christ.  This Jesus states clearly: “Everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”  By faith we take part in the nourishing bread that is Christ.  By believing in him, we have access to the true feast of God, that nourishment that will give us life eternal.  Because of that holy bread, we will never die—not really.

Jesus came from heaven with that mission, to share eternal life with us.  That way, whoever dies in faith can be described as only sleeping, because on the last day their bodies will wake up to new life, to full life, to eternal life.  Jesus’ resurrection on Easter gives us a picture of what that will be like for the rest of us.  Our bodies are frail and breakable and living only in shadow now.  But when we are glorified in him, our bodies will be pure, whole, and really living.

So we look to Jesus to have that pure food, to have that eternal life.  And this is a food that is easy to share with others.  We direct their eyes to the same Jesus.  We tell them his Word.  We declare that it is free, that we don’t need to do anything to get this heavenly bread, but it is given to us by God’s grace.  God loves a cheerful giver.  We can give earthly bread, earthly money to support those in need—and those things are important.  But don’t forget the most important thing: the bread that feeds our souls for eternal life, Jesus Christ.

Direct our eyes of faith, O heavenly Father, to your Son, and the great gift you have given us through him.  We often feel so harshly the temporary nature of this earthly life.  Yet as you give us our daily bread to nourish this life, do not leave us without the bread we need for eternal life.  Strengthen our faith which looks constantly to Jesus Christ as our Savior, and through him, grant us forgiveness, life, and salvation, all that we need to never go hungry.  Amen.

Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

Feasting with God #20 – See My Hands and My Feet

Feasting with God #20

See My Hands and My Feet

Text: Luke 24:36-43

36As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!”  37But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit.  38And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?  39See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself.  Touch me, and see.  For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”  40And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet.  41And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?”  42They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43and he took it and ate before them

He is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Easter Sunday we Christians rejoice in our risen Savior, because he not only died to take the punishment that our sins deserved, but he rose to life to prove that God had set his seal of approval on Jesus’ sacrifice.  Therefore we know that we, too, will rise again to new life through our faith in him.

Of course, that fact means little if we never heard about it.  It could have easily been left as a mystery in the ages what happened to Christ’s body.  He could easily have become just one more idealist who died for his beliefs.  But the plain fact is that he didn’t stay dead.  And we know this because he appeared to his disciples alive again, proving to them that their sins were paid for.

Think of the progression: Jesus rose from the dead, then he appeared to a few on Easter Sunday.  Those few told others, and Jesus himself appeared to others in the days that followed.  Then the message spread from those who saw him to others, who told others, who told others, until, 2,000 years later, you and I heard about it.  Hearing this message should bring us such joy!  Hearing that our Savior rose from the dead should give us confidence to go through life, because we know that only joy and blessing await on the other side.

At Jesus’ resurrection we commonly talk about the beginning of his “exaltation.”  While he lived on earth, from his conception until his death and burial, we speak of his “humiliation.”  That was the time that Jesus humbled himself, brought himself down to our level, was “born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law” (Gal. 4:5).  But at his resurrection he returned fully to his Godly power.  Now that the work of redemption and salvation was complete, he could come into his power once again to attend to the work of preserving the world, of exercising God’s power and authority in heaven.  And yet, even after his humiliation was complete, Jesus demonstrated some of that humiliation again.

The almighty God needs no food.  The Creator of the universe doesn’t need something cooked up by men in order to survive.  And yet, Jesus asked, “Have you anything here to eat?”  He ate not for his own nourishment, but for the benefit of his disciples.  He showed a little bit of humility once again, stooping down to do something as simple and base as eating.  By this he proved two things: 1) He wasn’t a ghost, but real, flesh-and-blood, alive; and 2) He is still a human being.  This is comforting to us on two accounts.  First of all, we see the proof that our Savior has really risen from the dead!  He has come back to life so we know that the price he paid has been accepted, and there’s nothing more we need to add.  Second, that Savior, our God, who sits in heaven, shares still in our human nature.  He still eats and drinks with us, and he understands the weaknesses, frailties, sorrows, and even joys of our humanity.  We have a God and a mediator who knows all we go through in life, and he promises to hear us and care for us through it all.

As the season of Easter progresses, rejoice in the resurrection of our Lord, and see what it means for our comfort and our salvation!

Dear Jesus, who suffered even the torments of hell in our place, we rejoice today in your resurrection.  Help us to rejoice in that event ever after.  Keep us from growing bored or tired of hearing the message of your resurrection, and lead us to acknowledge its truth.  Each time we sit to eat, remind us that you are there as well, as a human being the same as we are, and that you are also true God who hears our prayers and works for our benefit.  In your name and on account of the pure merits of your life, give us those blessings you have promised us of forgiveness, new life, and salvation.  Amen.

Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

Easter Joy

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Last Saturday Redeemer hosted an Easter for Kids event. The children sang songs, made crafts, ate snacks, and learned the story of Jesus’ resurrection.

We invite everyone to come to our service tomorrow morning at 9:00 to hear that same message, and to share in the joy of our salvation!

Feasting with God #19 – Communing with a Betrayer

Feasting with God #19

Communing with a Betrayer

 

Text: Luke 22:19-23

19And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 20And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying,“This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. 21But behold, the hand of him who betrays me is with me on the table. 22For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed!” 23And they began to question one another, which of them it could be who was going to do this.

The Lord’s Supper is often called simply “Communion.” We refer to it in this way because in this meal, as we eat and drink our Lord’s body and blood we find ourselves in communion or fellowship with him. This meal brings us so close to Jesus, it is as though we are sitting down to an intimate dinner with family and close friends.  And not only are we in such close communion and fellowship with Christ, but we are with our fellow communing Christians – those who stand or kneel next to us at the altar rail, those in all other churches around the world, and even those who have died, the saints in heaven.  This sacrament is a sacrament of community, by which we confess that we share in the beliefs and mission of those we commune with.

But the first communion hosted an intruder.  It should have been the most intimate of suppers: Jesus and his closest followers, his twelve disciples.  But among them was the one who would betray their master.

Paul warns other Christians against the same thing in his first letter to the Corinthians: “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord” (1 Cor. 11:27).  The Lord’s Supper brings us forgiveness, and where there is forgiveness there is also life and salvation.  These are brought to those who are in true communion with their Savior and with one another, but anyone who eats and drinks as though he is part of this communion and yet is not “eats and drinks judgment on himself” (11:29).  This difference we see between Judas and the other disciples, when we examine their ends.  Judas, who betrayed him, hanged himself in sorrow, unwilling to accept any forgiveness that would be offered to him.  The other disciples, after Jesus’ resurrection, were sent into the mission of their Lord, to make disciples of all nations and baptize them, and to teach them Jesus’ doctrines and truths.  This they did joyfully, because the forgiveness that was offered to them on account of Jesus’ death – the forgiveness tangibly fed to them in this communion, inspired this new life in them.

Let us be aware of the forgiveness we receive in this communion, and of the closeness of our relationship with our Lord and one another.  Judas sought silver to replace all that, but what could be a greater treasure than forgiveness, life, salvation, and communion with God and our fellow Christians?  All that is possible because of the sacrifice Jesus made and the Supper he instituted.

Dear Jesus, thank you for the great gift you have given us in the Sacrament of Communion.  Guide us to see the wonder of the forgiveness, life, and salvation we receive there, and move us into ever closer fellowship with you and one another.  Make our faith and new life sincere, and strengthen it by this Supper.  In your name we pray.  Amen.

Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.