Redeemer Ev. Lutheran Church, Iola, WI

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

Monthly Archives: September 2015

Service Times at Redeemer

Redeemer Evangelical Lutheran Church (ELS)

Sunday Morning Worship, 11:00 a.m.

Adult Bible Study, to be arranged.

Wednesday Evening Lenten Vespers, 7:00 p.m.

Festival of Thanksgiving, Wednesday, November 27th, 7:00pm

All Are Welcome!

125 North St., Iola, WI 54945


Feasting with God #36 – Salt of the Earth

Feasting with God #36

Salt of the Earth

Matthew 5:13

13You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored?  It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.

By their way of life, the disciples of Jesus (that means you and me and anyone who would call himself “Christian”) will be as useful as salt is.  Think of your delicious dinner meals: pork or beef or potatoes or corn.  All delicious and juicy, but with just the right amount of salt, those dishes are improved, and may even reach perfection.

But if the salt in your shaker isn’t particularly salty, why would you dash it onto your food?  It’s completely useless.  You might as well throw it out.

In this passage from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, he is instructing his followers in their way of life.  They are as salt to the world.  Humanity is the dinner dish which needs the salt.  So the followers of Jesus are to improve humanity.  Just what this meant Jesus said at the end of his earthly ministry: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt. 18:19-20).  If humanity is lead to “observe all that [Jesus] commanded,” certainly that’s an improvement.  Jesus “commanded”: “Judge not, that you be not judged” (Matt. 7:1), and “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them” (7:12), and “Pray then like this…” (6:9ff.), and “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow” (6:34), and “lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven” (6:20), and “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (11:28).  Observing all these things (and countless more), can humanity not be improved?

It is the mission of Jesus’ followers to “Go,” to teach these things, and to “make disciples,” to make more followers, to spread the saltiness.  If they don’t perform this mission, can they possibly be called Jesus’ followers?  This question, asked another way, is, if salt isn’t salty, can it possibly be called salt?

“I’m not a missionary,” says one Christian.  “I’m not a pastor,” says another.  “I don’t teach Sunday School,” “I can’t speak in public.”  These objections are nothing but excuses that our sinful flesh makes to avoid doing what is in reality a difficult task.  For those who undertake the mission given them by Christ, he also warns, “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves….  Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings…” (Matt. 10:16-18).  So these excuses are legitimate, because by avoiding the mission, you avoid the suffering.  But if you avoid the suffering, avoid the mission, then you also avoid the blessing: Jesus promised, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matt. 5:10-12).

That’s the last of Jesus’ “Beatitudes,” where he describes the blessed ones who are members in his Church: Those who are in his church, therefore, can expect persecution, can expect opposition to the righteousness they proclaim, and beyond this they can expect the kingdom of heaven as their reward and inheritance, and they can be confident, because they are not alone, but “so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”  A veritable cloud of witnesses, martyrs, saints, prophets, and mighty Christian men and women go back in history as an example, as friends, as coworkers in the kingdom of righteousness—these great ones were also salt of the earth, just as we are.

And if we are still concerned about how to talk to people, Jesus promises as well, “When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour.  For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you” (Matt. 10:19-20).  And don’t fret that you aren’t a pastor, or a missionary, or a Sunday School.  Each member of Christ’s Church is a salt that is specifically designated to be applied in a different way and in different circumstances, as we sing in the hymn:

If you cannot be a watchman,
Standing high on Zion’s wall,
Pointing out the path to heaven,
Off’ring life and peace to all,
With your prayers and with your off’rings
You can do what God demands;
You can be like faithful Aaron,
Holding up the prophet’s hands.

(“Hark! The Voice of Jesus Crying,” Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary, #191)

Lord, guide us to fulfill the mission you have for us, in whatever station of life we find ourselves in.  If we are to preach, give us the words to preach.  If we are to teach, strengthen us with the knowledge of your Word and the ability to impart it to others.  If we are to serve your kingdom and be the salt of the earth in some other way, prepare us for that service, and encourage us through the Gospel of your Son who paid the price for our sins and enabled us to come into this service, in whose 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.

Feasting with God #35 – Satisfied

Feasting with God #35


Text: Matthew 5:6

6Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

In the apostle John’s first letter, he writes, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).  Between that statement and this passage from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, we can see the whole story of salvation: as we are on our own, we are full of unrighteousness, we are brimming with sin, we are overflowing with wickedness; but to confess our sins, to pour out this pitcher of our hearts, emptying its putrid contents on the floor at God’s feet, asking him to give us righteousness in its place, to put good hearts back where were our wicked ones, this leads to forgiveness and satisfaction.

It seems absurd.  It seems like we’re swindling God, conning him into a terrible deal.  “Give us your holiness, your righteousness, and godly glory, and we’ll give you a mortal, death-pocked heart, rotting away with sin.”  Yes, it certainly seems that God is getting the short end of the stick, but that’s the essence of grace.

Martin Luther was fond of illustrating our salvation as a marriage: Christ was the groom, rich and powerful, and we his Church were the bride, poor and lowly, wicked and criminal.  This mighty, wealthy man selected this bride out of the slums and married her.  Because of that wedding, all her crimes were attributed to him, and he had to make the payment for them.  And at the same time all his wealth, his mansions, his feasts belonged to her.  This is called the “Great Exchange.”  Our sin was given to Christ on the cross, and in exchange his righteousness was given to us.

The problem is, when the groom comes looking for us, we tend to scurry deeper into the garbage heaps we call home, fearing that his extended hand means us harm.  After all, if he pulls us into the light, won’t our ugliness be revealed for all the world to see?  If he removes the hoods from our faces, our diseases will terrify those around us and send them fleeing.  And besides, we know how often we have offended this very prince himself: we’ve cursed his name to our friends, we’ve mocked his grace, we’ve preferred to be our own masters than under his rulership.

The problem is, we don’t hunger and thirst for righteousness.  We proudly ignore the rumblings in our stomachs and say, “I’m fine.  I don’t need a handout.”  We really had to be dragged kicking and screaming from the slums, objecting that we were being persecuted, oppressed, and assaulted by this prince.  We were like rats cockroaches who never willingly come into the light and instead convince ourselves that we’re content to feed on garbage.

But his grace, despite our protests, carried us to his mansion, washed us clean, dressed us in fine silk and jewels, vowed to keep us as his own, “to love and cherish,” “in sickness and in health,” “for better or for worse,” “as long as we both shall live,” and then he placed before us the most magnificent feast we had ever seen, with the richest bread, the sweetest wine, in endless supply.

Taking our first bite of this grace, we can see how hungry we really were, and this leads us, ever afterward, to realize when we are starving for lack of grace.  Then we hunger for this righteousness once again.  We are moved by our Lord always to seek his grace.  And in that we are given the promise: he will never allow us to go hungry again, there will never come a time that he does not offer us his righteousness, we shall be satisfied.

Dear Jesus, for your sacrifice we thank and praise you, for we could never deserve such a rich gift as you give us in the righteousness you have earned and with which you have clothed us.  Lead us never to become complacent, never to forget what great nourishment you offer us in your Word and Sacraments.  Guide us ever back to the study of your word, with which you satisfy us in your righteousness.  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.

Feasting with God #34 – God Sent Me to Preserve Life

Feasting with God #34

“God Sent Me to Preserve Life”

Text: Genesis 45:4-8

4So Joseph said to his brothers, “Come near to me, please.”  And they came near.  And he said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt.  5And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life.  6For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest.  7And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for your many survivors.  8So it was not you who sent me here, but God.  He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt.”

This passage is the climax of the familiar story of Joseph and his brothers who sold him into slavery.  What began as the selfish and greedy actions of Joseph’s brothers, trying to remove the one who was obviously their father’s favorite, turned into a miraculous working of God’s providence.

A famine was on its way to Egypt when Joseph was sold into slavery.  His brothers could not have known this, and neither could Joseph himself.  But because of the despicable actions of his brothers, Joseph was placed in just the right place at just the right time.  Pharaoh had a dream that he desperately needed interpreted, and Joseph was just within his circle so that he could foretell the seven years of plenty, which would be followed by seven years of famine.  It was just in time to put a plan into motion which would provide food for all the land around Egypt during the intense seven-year famine.

So it was by the evil deeds of Joseph’s brothers that God saved countless lives.  This is the concept we discover also in Paul’s letter to the Romans: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28).  The moral of this history, of course, is that we may trust God, even when the worst happens, to work it for the best.

Before his brothers can even venture to apologize for their sin against him, Joseph tells them, “And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves.”  Essentially, he told them, he has forgiven them, and because he has forgiven them and God worked their evil for good, they should acknowledge themselves forgiven.

This very pattern has continued throughout history.  All kinds of evil created by sinful human beings is worked by God for good: think of the greatest evil ever committed, when some power-hungry and jealous Jews and Romans murdered the very Son of God.  And yet even that greatest of evils was turned into the very greatest good mankind has ever seen.  The death of God himself meant the salvation of all people.

If God can work even evil for such good, then we can be confident that he will provide for us throughout our lives, working everything for good.  If God works such horrendous things for the very heights of providence, then when we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” we can pray it with confidence that he will give us the very nourishment which is most necessary for us.  And because he has worked all the evil in the world for our salvation, we should regard ourselves as saved, justified, and forgiven.  No, this does not mean that we should “continue in sin that grace may abound” (Rom. 6:1).  Rather, in the spirit of our salvation, we can continue rejoicing at God’s providence!  Like Joseph’s brothers, embrace your Savior, the one whom God used to bring about your evil for your salvation.  Jesus was sent by God, through our evil, in order to preserve our life.

Dear Lord, strengthen our faith in your providence.  Lead us to see in our lives how you work evil for good.  Lead us especially to see how this was done in the redemptive work of your Son, and in thankfulness to live forgiven and worthy of the name of your Son.  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.

Feasting with God #33 – Thirsting for God

Feasting with God #33

Thirsting for God

Text: Psalm 42:1-3

1As a deer pants for flowing streams,
so pants my soul for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God.
When shall I come and appear before God?
My tears have been my food
day and night,
while they say to me all the day long,
“Where is your God?”

In a world which seems hell-bent on destroying anything to do with our Christian faith, the imagery of this psalm is particularly relatable.  The despair we feel at the seeming victory of the godless, of this world’s prince, even of sin over our own bodies can make us fall into this deep, physical thirsting.  As a deer, who runs in the chase away from its predators, wants only to stop and take a drink from a stream, we in our lives just want to rest, just want to have sanctuary before our God and to be nourished by him.

But instead, why does it so often seem that the only thing we’re able to drink is our own tears?  Our own predators chase us mercilessly.  They never grow tired.  They never stop.  We hide from them behind locked doors, only to find that they’ve already gotten inside.  We run back outside, trying to find protection among friends, only to find that our predators are hidden even among those friends.  Exactly how these predators attack us is said by this psalm: “They say to me all the day long, ‘Where is your God?’”

These predators don’t attack our bodies.  They attack our faith.  They try to create doubt in our hearts.  They mock us before others so that when we can’t answer their tough questions, we become fools in the eyes of others, and suddenly it seems that it’s our fault that the faith of others starts to fail.  Then we start to ask, “Where is God at these times?”  We’re dying of thirst, because the nourishment of God seems absent.

But this psalm goes on:

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God….
Deep calls to deep
at the roar of your waterfalls;
all your breakers and your waves
have gone over me. (Ps. 42:5, 7)

Hope is what this psalm encourages.  St. Paul has this to say about hope: “Now hope that is seen is not hope.  For who hopes for what he sees?  But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (Rom. 8:24-25).  No, we don’t see God’s salvation at these moments.  We don’t see God standing on our side.  But we hope for him.  This psalm talks about remembrance, how the speaker remembers how God came through for him in the past: if God helped him before, he will certainly do so again.

And with hope, even before the deliverance is seen, our thirst is quenched: even beyond what we could have imagined: the psalm speaks of God’s “waterfalls” and “breakers” and “waves.”  We are not given any mere stream of water, but even simply by the hope of what God will give us, we have roaring waterfalls which echo so loudly that “deep calls to deep.”

Jesus told his followers, “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For…your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.  But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matt. 6:31-33).  This is the essence of hope.  When we seek for God’s kingdom and righteousness, we have a sure hope that he will give them to us.  This hope is sure because these things were won for us, and are freely given to us, by Jesus Christ himself who died on the cross for our unrighteousness, and rose from the dead to share with us his righteousness, and to open the gates of God’s kingdom for us.  We can look back, remember that historic event, remember how God gave up his own Son for our salvation, and have that as foundation for our hope in what God will give us further on: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32).

So yes, we do thirst for God, but not in despair: we thirst for him in hope.

Heavenly Father, who was gracious enough to give up your Son for our salvation, we hope, we thirst, we yearn desperately for all your blessings.  Deliver us from evil in this world, as you have promised.  Forgive us all our sins, as you have promised.  Refresh us continually with your Word, as you have promised.  Bring us to our heavenly home and eternal refreshment, as you have promised.  We ask it for the sake of your Son, who sacrificed all so that these things might be ours.  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 #32 – “Lord of the Sabbath”

Feasting with God #32

“Lord of the Sabbath”

Text: Luke 6:1-5

1On a Sabbath, while he was going through the grainfields, his disciples plucked and ate some heads of grain, rubbing them in their hands.  2But some of the Pharisees said, “Why are you doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath?”  3And Jesus answered them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: 4how he entered the house of God and took and ate the bread of the Presence, which is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those with him?”  5And he said to them, “The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”

Ever on the watch to catch Jesus in some wrong, the Pharisees thought they had him now: his disciples were clearly breaking the Third Commandment!  By taking grains from the field, technically they were “harvesting,” and by rubbing the grains on their hands, technically they were “milling”—they were working on the Sabbath!  So the Pharisees, smug at their apparent victory, asked Jesus, “Why are you doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath?”

But Jesus had a precedent which he could refer to that defended the actions of his disciples: he called attention to King David, who, on an expedition with some men, had to feed them, and all that was close by was bread designated as sacred for the priests to eat; in his necessity, it was lawful for him to eat this sacred bread.  Cleverly Jesus points out this great Old Testament hero, for who among the Pharisees would dare claim that by this action the great King David had done wrong?  If what David had done was acceptable, then what Jesus’ disciples were doing should also be considered acceptable.  Ultimately, however, this is not because David set the precedent, but as Jesus explains: “The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”

The thinking of the Pharisees is an easy slope to slide down.  We can observe our behaviors: I go to church on Sunday, I have family devotions, I pay my taxes, I drive the speed limit, I do this or that good for my neighbor and I never do anyone any wrong.  Then we see someone else, someone who perhaps skipped church, someone who speeds past us on the highway, someone who walks by on the other side when his neighbor is in need.  These comparisons are easy to make: I’m good, that guy isn’t.

There are certainly hints in outward behavior that give us some clue towards the state of a person’s heart, but we also must remind ourselves that only God judges the heart.  And we can remind ourselves of Jesus’ words: “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” (Matt. 7:4).  It is far too easy for us to catch others in sins, and nearly impossible for us to notice our own sins.

In fact, what Jesus’ disciples were doing was not a sin: that’s how blind these Pharisees really were!  They snapped to a judgment about their character and their flaws without actually knowing the truth; a prime example of a log in the eye blinding the sight.  But how could this be no real sin?  Weren’t the disciples working when it was unlawful to do so, because it was the Sabbath?  And God had said, “Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God.  On it you shall not do any work” (Ex. 20:9-10).

The key is in what Jesus said to close this section: “The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”  Jesus Christ is himself the ruler of the Sabbath, being himself God.  In a parallel account in Mark’s Gospel Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27).  The Sabbath with its laws ought to be seen as a gift, an opportunity for us to rest in quiet from our work as God rested from his work of creation.  He rested in order to look out over all his creation and to instead do the work of preservation.  We rest from our day-to-day work in order to look over God’s creation, his preservation, his salvation, and to do a different sort of work; a blessed work which God enables us to do.  It is not a work which wins any righteousness, but a work which shares the righteousness that the Son of Man already won for us.  This Sabbath was made for us (whether it’s Saturday as the Jews celebrated, Sunday as Christians traditionally celebrate, or any other day or even a few hours when we can sit with God’s Word), so that we can rest in God’s blessed works for us.

Yes, the Sabbath was a command.  There were harsh penalties for those who disobeyed the command.  But the Son of Man, Jesus Christ, fulfilled all laws in himself, the Sabbath included, and he paid the price for disobeying all laws.  Therefore we are set free from having to obey any laws ever again.  Instead, now we live our lives in thankfulness for the Son of Man’s payment.  This means that we are free to observe the Sabbath on any day, or on every day.  This means that we may enjoy the food and work that God provides for us, without guilty conscience.

Dear Lord, we thank you that you have given us the gift of Sabbath rest, when we may meditate on your work and your Word.  Lead us to see the great blessing we have received in your Son’s payment for all broken laws, keeping those laws in our place.  Lead us also to use our newfound Christian freedom to worship you in thankfulness.  In your Son’s 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.