The Third-Last Sunday in the Church Year 2015

Bible Text: Matthew 24:15-28 | Preacher: Rev. Mark Buetow | Series: 2015

When Moses came down from the mountain, he saw the golden calf with which the Israelites had replaced God. When Jesus shows up, what will you have set up in His place? What is your idol? What false god do you look to to bring your comfort and happiness instead of Jesus? When your conscience is troubled, what fake idol do you look at to get it to stop bothering you? Is it your money? Is it your health? Is it some other person? Is it some thing or object? Is it some habit or behavior? Is it you? What is it? What is your “golden calf” that you would dance around and be happy with but be sad if it were taken away from you? Understand something. Whatever you set up in the place of God is an idol. And idols are abominations. God wiped out nations because of their false gods. He destroyed whole peoples because they turned from Him to worship metal or wood or stone, or, mostly, themselves. When the Lord shows up like the lightning on the clouds of heaven, what will He catch you worshiping? What abomination of desolation is at the center of your life?

Well, you know what the real abomination of desolation is? You know what the real heap of sinfulness is? You know what the absolute center of God’s anger and hatred and wrath lands on and lays waste? Jesus. Calvary. The cross. Your idols have nothing on the filthiness of Jesus on Calvary. Your false gods have nothing on the horrible cross upon which Jesus was made sin for you. That’s because when He hung there, he wasn’t just carrying your false gods and idols. He was carrying everyone’s. There’s irony for you. The Son of God. True God. True man. Damned by the father as if He is the world’s worst idolater, false-god worshiper. The filthiest, sinfulest, falsest sinner and idol-worshiper there is. Because on the cross He is every sinner. He is your sin. The true God in the flesh becomes your idols to be melted down by the wrath of God. And He does it to save you. To save you from your idols which can’t save you. To rescue you from the very things you have put your trust in that will ultimately let you down. To deliver you from being melted in the fires of hell. He did all that. He suffered all that. He endured all that. He was judged for all that. For you. So that He might be made dead, dead and laid in the grave and then kick down the doors of death and hell and rise on Easter. Now THERE is a God who can do something. And the something He does is save you from your idols.

Now beware of people sticking Jesus’ name on their idols. They’ll tell you that Jesus is here or there or coming on this day or that day. Remember the world was going to end in September…? Just like the Israelites said the golden calf was “Yahweh, the Lord,” so people are attaching Jesus’ name to their false theology and teaching all the time. In fact, the biggest idol they stick His name on is you. Jesus loves you, so YOU just have to… Jesus wants YOU to do… Jesus is all about making YOU do something…or do better…or be better… Pay close attention because what they’re really doing is teaching YOU how to take Jesus’ place. The real Jesus doesn’t do that. HE takes YOUR place. HE saves you. HE is your God. That’s why we don’t look for Him where the loonies are telling us. We look for Him where He Himself has promised to be. Font: the water and the Word. Absolution: His Word spoken by your preacher. Sermon: the Good News of His death and resurrection proclaimed to you. Supper: Jesus Himself gives you His body and blood. In those gifts you know exactly where Jesus is and exactly what He’s doing: saving you from your sins! All your idols? Your false gods? Worthless. They can’t help you. And it would be great if we could just quit them. But we can’t so instead we are rescued. Saved. Jesus pulls you away from your false idols, even and most especially yourself as He drowns you with His death at the font and raises you to new life. As He shoves aside the “you” gods and replaces them with His flesh and blood that will do what no other god can do: forgive you and raise you from the dead! So there you go. Jesus has told you. You can’t be led astray by worthess idols now. As Moses pleaded for Israel, so Jesus pleads for you, rescues you from your golden calves and will bring you safely to the resurrection promised land He has prepared for you. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

All Saints Day 2015

Bible Text: Matthew 5:1-12 | Preacher: Rev. Mark Buetow | Series: 2015

Blessed are you! Blessed are you because Jesus Christ has come in the flesh to save you from your sins and bring you back to God. Blessed are you because He gave His life into death as the holy Lamb of God sacrificed in your place on the cross of Calvary. Blessed are you because that Jesus who was dead is alive again the third day, triumphing over death. Blessed are you because He has washed you at the font and made you holy, made you a saint. Blessed are you because He continues to absolve you of your sins and feed you with His holy flesh and blood to keep you holy in His sight. Blessed are you that in Jesus Christ, you are clothed with that white robe that has been washed in His blood and you are numbered in His church with all the saints of Old Testament Israel and all the peoples and nations that stand before the throne of the Lamb. You are His saints. You are a part of all of that. Now we might have lots of earthly blessings for which we can be thankful: money or a job or a house or food and clothing or families or good health. But all that stuff is just a drop in the bucket compared to the EVERYTHING you have been blessed with in Jesus Christ. Forgiveness of sins. Salvation from hell. Eternal life. Blessed are you because…Jesus!

But we forget. We forget we are blessed. Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn,” etc. All those “blesseds.” That’s you, His holy people. Those words describe you. You are poor in spirit but rich in grace. You hunger and thirst for rightouesness. You are peacemakers and the people who know how to have mercy on others. But you forget. Your Old Adam mucks it all up. He goes along with the devil and the world to make us think every little irritating inconvenience in life is somehow proof God is against us or that we did something to upset Him. That we’re being paid back. Maybe the car broke down and needs an expensive repair. Maybe the cancer is back. Maybe your kids are sick for the umpteenth time and you have no more time to take off work. Maybe you spilled your coffee on your new pants. Maybe your spouse died. Maybe there was some tragedy in your family. Whatever it is, listen up! Every single one of those things that happens, the Lord uses them to teach you to trust in Him. The devil and your Old Adam, however, try to use these things to make you forget you are a saint. And it’s not that your sainthood is stained when you throw a fit and get all upset about it. Rather, what the devil is after is getting you to stop trusting that in Jesus you already have way more than anything you can think of. That in Christ you are a saint. That for Jesus’ sake, nothing can truly harm you. You’re saints! You have every good gift in Christ! But your forget. And when you forget, you aren’t peacemakers and mercy-havers and you don’t hunger and thirst for righteousness. No, instead, you grumble and complain and worry and think that whatever your problem is is the end of the world. And that’s where Jesus rescues you by stating simply: No, you are blessed. Blessed because you are all these things that He says: poor in spirit, meek, persecuted, etc. You are saints. Holy ones. HIS holy ones.

This is why we have All Saints Day. We see the reality of the Lord’s people, the saints who have rested from their labors. There they are around the throne of the Lamb. Dressed in white. No more tears. Not from baby shampoo, but because all sin and evil has been put far behind them. Paradise. The gates of pearl. The golden Jerusalem. When we hear the glimpse of that vision, of our brothers and sisters in Christ who rest from their labors, we learn that the Lord keeps His promises. He really DOES keep His people in the faith unto life everlasting. He really WILL raise all of us from the dead on the Last Day. The difference between us and them is not that we aren’t both dressed in the white robes of Christ. It’s that our Old Adams still cling to us, trying to make us forget everything but ourselves. The cloud of witnesses, the saints and angels, the throne of the Lamb–all of these draw our eyes and ears and hearts and minds away from our pouting selves to remember what it is to be a saint. They are there in their white robes. YOU wear a white robe. You might not see it with your eyes, but it’s been put upon you in holy baptism. They sing praises to the Lamb. So do we, every time the church is gathered and the songs of our liturgies and hymns are upon our lips. We may look around and see just each other, but faith sees one another clothed with Christ. Those saints stand around the throne of the Lamb. You are gathered around that Lamb, too. Again, you may not see with your eyes, but there He is under the bread and wine, His flesh and blood given you to raise you from the dead on the Last Day. St. John reminds us in our Epistle: yeah, we don’t know what we will be like…yet. But we will be like Him because we will see Him as He is. For this life, that’s really all we need to know about that. That Day is coming, the day when Christ will return and raise us from the dead and the Old Adam stays buried and the tears are wiped away. Until then, don’t forget. Don’t forget who you are. You are His. You are saints. You are holy. You are blessed. You are all that in Jesus Christ. Happy All Saints Day. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Reformation Day 2015

Bible Text: John 8:31-36 | Preacher: Rev. Mark Buetow | Series: 2015

So, what are Lutherans, exactly? You ever get that question? You’ve probably heard the answer “Catholic Lite.” That’s the one we hear and chuckle at because maybe we don’t always know how to answer that question. Lutherans don’t worship Martin Luther. We’re not really Protestants like Baptists and Methodists. We have a liturgy and creeds but we aren’t Roman Catholic. So how DO you answer that? When someone asks you, “What is a Lutheran?” or “What are Lutherans like?” or “What does it mean to be a Lutheran?” what can you say? Here’s how you answer: To be a Lutheran is to be all about Jesus. That’s the short and simple answer. Sometimes you need to expand on that so if the conversation keeps going you say: To be a Lutheran is to be all about Jesus who was crucified for our sins, rose the third day, and gives us His salvation through baptism, absolution, the Gospel and the Supper. And the reason we add those words is because we need to make clear to those who ask that the Jesus we believe in isn’t just any Jesus. It’s the Jesus who makes us free.

Martin Luther was not free. He was a monk and he could never confess his sins enough. His conscience always bothered him. For him, God was the angry Judge who was always looking over his shoulder and ready to throw him into hell. When Martin Luther read Romans and heard that there is a righteousness that is apart from the Law, he realized that true rightouesness comes through Jesus Christ. To put it another way: Luther realized, from God’s Word, that he couldn’t get rid of his sins but that Jesus already had! And he didn’t have to make up for his sins, Jesus already paid for them. He didn’t have to figure out what God was all about, Jesus shows us by His death and resurrection to save sinners. And Luther didn’t have to try to find some assurance in his heart, Jesus already took care of that with rock solid, unchanging gifts: the water and word of Baptism, the pronouncement of holy absolution, the preaching of an unchanging Good News, and the body and blood of Jesus given to sinners to eat and drink. You see, Martin Luther wasn’t free. His conscience was bound. Trapped. In prison. But Christ made him free with the Good News that Christ has done everything. And so Luther preached and proclaimed that. No strings attached. No conditions. No qualifications. No “You do your part and God will do His” nonsense. Just straight-up, what has been called 200-proof Gospel in Jesus Christ!

So if you talk to people around you. And if you reflect on your own life, you’ll find two types of religious people. You are probably one or the other. There are those who despair. They worry that they have sinned too much. Messed up one too many times. Pulled a whopper so big that there is no way God will forgive them. The answer to that sort of thinking is Jesus. To that Jesus says, “The Son sets you free.” But there are also those who side with the Pharisees. They think they are pretty good people. Their sins aren’t that bad. They believe God loves them because they are doing OK in life. What’s the answer to that? Same thing! Jesus, who teaches us through repentance and faith that without Him, we are doomed, but with Him, and because of Him, we are saved. If you think your sins are too much, then remember that Jesus has taken ALL of them away. And if you think you’re a pretty good, worthy person, repent and believe that Jesus paid for that sin too! When it all comes down to it: it’s not about you at all. It’s about Jesus. On the cross. Empty tomb. Font. Altar. Pulpit. Book. This is what the Reformation was all about. It’s why Luther taught what He taught. It’s why there are Lutherans. And so the next time someone asks, “What’s up with Lutherans?” now you have a simple, definitive answer: Lutherans are all about Jesus and Jesus is all about setting sinners free and giving them eternal life. Happy Reformation in the name of Jesus. Amen.

The Twentieth Sunday after Trinity 2015

Bible Text: Matthew 22:1-14 | Preacher: Rev. Mark Buetow | Series: 2015

You could throw the greatest party ever. All you can eat. All you can drink. You can tell people it will go several days to accommodate their schedules. You can tell them there’s no charge, free parking and they don’t have to bring a thing. Just show up and enjoy. You could do all that and you know that some people still wouldn’t show up. So the Lord does. He prepares the feast of salvation. Unlike all the religions in the world, there is nothing for you to do. He’s done it all. He sent His Son Jesus. He sacrificed Him for your sins. He has raised Him from the dead. He has sent forth His preachers to preach and teach and baptize and dish out the Supper. He has done all that and yet there are people who just don’t care. It means nothing to them. They don’t want it. So it was with the Jews of Jesus’ day. They rejected Him. Forty years later, The Lord gave them what they wanted and the Romans wiped Jerusalem off the map. Meanwhile the slaves of Christ have gone forth into the world to drag in anyone they could find. The good. The bad. Doesn’t matter. Jesus died for them and the party is theirs to enjoy. Yours to enjoy!

The host even provides the wedding garment. What does that point to? Being dressed with Christ, his righteousness. His holiness. His forgiveness. Faith. The Holy Spirit. All of that. Your baptism. Absolution. The Father brings you in to His feast that He has prepared and it’s all yours. Don’t over think it. Just enjoy it! Celebrate the marriage feast of the Lamb. The union of the Bridegroom, Jesus united to His bride, the church, from whom He has washed away every spot and wrinkle and stain of sin. And yet there’s a guy that decided he was dressed fine with his own clothes. Or maybe he didn’t want to be there. Doesn’t matter. He was not wearing the wedding garment. And when asked why not, he had nothing to say. When someone asks why YOU are at the party, the only thing to say is, “The Lord dragged me in here. Since it’s on His dime, I’m gonna enjoy it! Feast away!” That means live life as one who is free in Jesus! Enjoy the feast! Celebrate that your sins are wiped out! Love and serve you neighbor and enjoy the feast with them! But don’t think to enjoy this feast without the clothing of Christ. If you want to wear your own good works or life or ideas, then repent! You’ve been given the clothes to wear for this wedding and you’ll never look better than how the Lord has dressed you!

Now I want you to notice something. The people who are at that wedding feast are both “the good and the bad.” That is, they are there without reference to how they live or what they do. Of course, we’re all sinners but the point is that it isn’t more or less sins that get you an invitation. The grace of the host is what brings you in. Christ is your Savior and this feast is for you no matter who you are or what you have done or not done. And at the wedding, the wedding garment covers the good and the bad. If you’re a good person, don’t worry, you’re still covered by Jesus! Same with a bad person. Covered by Jesus. What gets the guy thrown out is that He rejects the garment. Rejects Christ. Rejects faith. Rejects Christ’s baptism and Supper. That’s our warning. Not to toss off the wedding garment. Not to neglect the gifts of Christ by which we are clothed and remain clothed with Jesus. Don’t stop coming to church, hearing Christ’s Word, receiving Christ’s body and blood. But also never doubt that there is never going to be a cover charge for this party. No admission price to this feast. It is yours. Christ has been sacrificed. The feast is ready. Come to the feast! It’s been made for you. It’s all a gift. No strings attached. Forgiveness. Eternal life. Enjoy! In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

The Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity 2015

Bible Text: Matthew 9:1-8 | Preacher: Rev. Mark Buetow | Series: 2015

Do you know what you need most of all? Of everything there is to need, what is most important? The forgiveness of your sins. All that you have done against God and others. Forgiven. When it is forgiven, that means God does not hold it against you. When your sins are forgiven, then you have eternal life. When your sins are forgiven, the devil, the world, and even your own sinful nature cannot accuse you. When your sins are forgiven, the curse and damnation the Law hammers upon those who disobey–will not fall upon you. Without forgiveness, there is a sad, lonely, and horrible hell that awaits. So, no matter who you are or what you do or what you’ve done, the single greatest gift you need is the forgiveness of sins. And that’s the gift that Jesus brings. When Jesus tells the paralytic, “Your sins are forgiven,” He means it! He means that there is nothing that will keep this man from paradise. Not even being paralyzed. Being paralyzed, of course, is a reminder of sin. Not any particular sin, just the fact that this creation has been ruined by sin. So Jesus speaks the word of pardon. He can do that, of course, because the Bible said He would “bear their infirmities in His body.” And He carries not just sicknesses but sins. All of our sins. All of the sins ever. All sin and sins everywhere and anywhere and anywhen. Carries them to the tree. Paralyzed, in a manner, Himself, by being nailed to Calvary’s cross. Blood shed. Spirit given up. Dead, dead. Side pierced. Buried. The third day, alive. Sins left buried. Gone for good. That’s forgiveness.

But how do you KNOW you have it? How can you be certain that this Calvary-dying and Easter-rising Savior has forgiven YOUR sins? Well, I think according to the Pharisees, all you’ve got is some mystic hope that God will forgive you if you deserve it. But that’s not what Jesus does. He tells the man Himself. “Your sins are forgiven.” And the crowds marveled”–listen closely to the last words of the Gospel reading–“that God had given such authority to men.” And He still does. When your called and ordained preacher says, “I forgive you all your sins…” he means it. He is doing it. Because he has been given authority. People will argue with that. “Only God can forgiven sins.” “That’s between me and God.” “I don’t need a pastor to get forgiveness.” Why would we talk that way about a gift? What if your boss came to you and said, “Hey, you’re getting a raise!” and then you said, “Well you can’t give me a raise, only the owner of the company can give me a raise. I don’t believe you.” That would be nonsense. Just so, Christ Himself has given your pastor the authority to forgive sins. Your sins. Forgiven. And if you ever doubt that your sins really don’t count to God any more, just ask your pastor to tell you. “Pastor, please hear my confession in order to fulfill God’s will.” “Do you believe that my forgiveness is God’s forgiveness?” “Yes.” “May it be done for you as you believe: I forgive you all your sins in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” And with that pardon, that absolution, you can cast down the kingdom of hell, because there is no enemy that can accuse you when the Lord Himself has forgiven your sins and set you free.

Now, if what you need most is the forgiveness of sins, what do you think your neighbor needs most of all? That’s right: the forgiveness of sins! So what a great thing you can do for them to bring them to your pastor so they can hear the same thing. But guess what else you can do? YOU can forgive them. Forgive them in the name of Jesus. Tell them, for Christ’s sake, that their sins are forgiven. This is your pastors job, and it carries with it the seal of the confessional. But you, dear Christians, having been forgiven by God, are also authorized to forgive sins. Not because you’re ordained, but because God has set you free from your own sins and that gives you the authority to set others free from their sins. What if someone is burdened because they have sinned against you? Forgive them! What if someone does something against you that is bad? Forgive them. What if someone is troubled by something they’ve done maybe not to you but to someone else? Forgive them. Bring them to your pastor for forgiveness, and help them learn to apologize and ask the person they’ve hurt to forgive them too. If the forgiveness of sins is really the most important thing we need, then that means forgiveness is the most important thing that we have been given and possess and have to give to others. You are a walking, talking, lightning rod of forgiveness and a dynamo of forgiveness given to others. Put their sins away. Don’t hold them against them. Don’t carry a grudge. Don’t “Forgive but not forget.” Forgive because you are forgiven. The greatest thing you have been given, the forgiveness of sins, is for others as well. That forgiveness will be stocked up and reloaded as you remember your baptism, as you are absolved, as you are given Christ’s body and blood. Hey, Jesus, you can’t forgive sins. Only God can do that. But didn’t we hear last week that Jesus IS God? But He’s also true man. And He can and does forgive, by His cross and resurrection. And He makes sure that forgiveness gets where it’s supposed to by sending pastors to absolve sinners. And He keeps that forgiveness going as absolved sinners forgive others. What do you need most? The forgiveness of sins. What does Jesus have for you? The forgiveness of sins. So what do you have for others? The forgiveness of sins. What do we all have fro Jesus, for everyone? The forgiveness of sins. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

The Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity 2015

Bible Text: Matthew 22:34-46 | Preacher: Rev. Mark Buetow | Series: 2015

It’s always about us. “So, Jesus, which is it? Which is the great commandment in the Law? There’s lots of commandments but which one is the most important? Which one do I need to make sure I’m keeping better than all the rest?” Easy. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, your soul and your mind. Awesome! I totally do that. Don’t you? Who here wouldn’t raise their hand if I asked, “Does anyone here love God?” But do you love Him with your WHOLE heart? Your WHOLE soul/self/being? Your WHOLE mind? No. Not even close. And you know how I know? Because there’s a second commandment like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. If you loved God, you would love your neighbor. If you loved God with your whole heart and soul and mind, you wouldn’t look down at others, whisper about the things they do. You wouldn’t get angry at them when they step on your toes. You wouldn’t hold a grudge against your neighbor. You wouldn’t give your neighbor the silent treatment. If you loved your neighbor, you would be in church without fail, to boost up your brothers and sisters in Christ and show them that along with God’s Word, they are the most important things in your life. If you really loved God. If you even tried to love your neighbor. But loving God and loving your neighbor would require you to love YOU the least not the most. And our sinful nature will not stand for that. So that Old Adam has got to die. He will hang on that Law: Love God. Love your neighbor. You don’t. The commandments condemn. Doom for the God and neighbor haters!

Until Jesus. He’s the son of David. And He’s David’s Lord. Now pay attention because what I just said about those commandments spells certain doom for you but what I am about to say spells certain salvation and eternal life. Jesus is David’s Lord. Because Jesus is God. Because He is the eternal Son. And Jesus is David’s son, because He’s born in the human family tree of David, from Mary. Jesus. Is. God. Jesus. Is. Man. Jesus is both true God and true man. And the whole Old Testament (the Law and the Prophets) is pointing to Him. Love God. Love neighbor. Jesus does exactly that. He loves God the Father above all things, even His own life, because He obeys the Father to undergo humiliation and suffering and death. And He loves His neighbor because He undergoes that humiliation and suffering and death, FOR YOU, His neighbor. Get it? Love God, love your neighbor. On those two commandments HANG all the Law and the Prophets. On those two commandments hangs Jesus. There’s the you and God part (vertical) and the you and your neighbor part (horizontal). And they meet in a cross. And the God-man hangs there to fulfill it all. What Jesus does, He does for God the Father and for everyone else. Not a bit of Jesus doing anything for Himself. And this is the difference between us and Jesus. We want to know what commandments we need to keep to try to save ourselves. Jesus keeps the commandments to save you.

So don’t be like the Pharisees who couldn’t answer the question. How can Jesus be David’s son AND David’s Lord? Because He’s God and man. What is the greatest commandment? Love God AND love your neighbor. It all comes together in Jesus. At Calvary. And it comes together for you at the font. In His Word. At the altar. Because there, your breaking the Law is covered and forgiven. There, His keeping of the Law is given to you. In your baptism, you do love God and your neighbor. When your sins are forgiven, you love God and your neighbor. When you are filled with the body and blood of the God-man Lamb of God, you love God and keep your neighbor. And by these gifts, the Spirit puts to death Mr. I’ll-keep-the-Law-to-save-my-own-bacon-Old Adam and gives to your new man the gift of learning to actually love God more than yourself and to love others more than yourself too. By water and Word and body and blood, Jesus gives you such a faith that, trusting in Him, you do love God because Jesus is God and your neighbor because Jesus is your neighbor. That is to say, by faith in Christ, His keeping and fulfilling the Law means you keep and fulfill the Law in Him. And suddenly, the commandments are not the way we save ourselves, they are the gift by which we see our lives in love of God and fervent love toward one another. Then by God you are saved from your sin and your neighbor is saved from Old Adam you to be blessed by New Man you in your daily life in Christ Jesus. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

The Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity 2015

Bible Text: Luke 14:1-11 | Preacher: Rev. Mark Buetow | Series: 2015

So let’s get this out of the way right now. Jesus’ teaching today isn’t really about who goes first in the potluck line. I used to think that. “Don’t choose the high place,” says Jesus. “Pastor, the food’s ready, go ahead.” “No, no, you first.” Well, nowadays, if you tell me to go first, I will. Because what Jesus is talking about here is not table manners. It’s our position in the kingdom of God. And we can say it simply like this: If you try to take Jesus’ place, you will be cast out. But if you are GIVEN Jesus’ place, then that is His gift to you and your salvation. Jesus came into this world to be humbled. He is given the lowest possible spot: on the cross, despised and forsaken by His Father and the whole world. And He dies and is laid in the grave. You don’t get much lower than being dead. But then…Easter! Christ is risen and He ascends to the right hand of the Father and is crowned with all glory and honor and majesty. See? He humbled Himself and was exalted! He willingly took the lowest spot there is and the Father raised Him and exalted Him to the highest spot there is. But He does this, so that you can tag along, hang onto Him, and go with Him to the highest spot too.

But not because you cut to the front of the line. There is no calling “shotgun” in the kingdom of God. There’s no sitting at the head table at the wedding if you’re not in the bridal party. Taking the top spot at the table is Jesus’ way of calling out how the Pharisees behave and it’s His way of exposing our own sinful selfishness for which we need repentance. What does that look like, taking the top spot at the table? It looks like Pharisees inviting Jesus to dinner just so they can watch him heal a man on the Sabbath and then accuse Him of breaking the Sabbath. Taking the high place is you and me looking down our noses at someone who doesn’t do as well as we do at…whatever…coming to church, raising our kids, helping others, doing their job…whatever. Taking the high place is how we treat others, thinking they owe us and that we have a right to this or that. We think to ourselves, “WE deserve a higher place in the kingdom of God than THAT person because we try harder, do better, behave better.” That’s to be a Pharisee who exalts yourself. Kingdom of God? The wedding feast of the Lamb? Oh, sure, I’ve got a spot right up there by the Lord! No, you don’t. Not like that. Not on your own. Not based on YOUR sins or lack of sins. Repent because those who seek to take Christ’s place and be their own Savior…they will be humbled. Thrown down. Cast out.

No, your place is at the bottom, the lower level, the last table, the farthest seat. The seat that no one can see. The seat that says, “I don’t eve deserve to be at this party. Look at me. Sinner. I’ll never get in. I don’t belong.” That’s when Christ comes to you. At the font, He says, “Friend, come up higher. Take your rightful spot.” Then someone might question whether you should be there. Christ says, “I forgive you all your sins. Nothing prevents them from sitting up there with me.” Then, kneeling at the altar, to receive Christ’s body and blood, we can be certain this is exactly what Jesus is doing: Come up higher. The highest, most honored place in the kingdom of God is there, where the Lord Himself, the Lamb, the Master of the Feast Himself comes to serve you and give you Himself as the holy food of forgiveness, life and salvation. The Old Adam tries to call shotgun and he gets booted down to the low spot. The New Man, in humility, claims nothing from God and yet is invited to sit with the Lord right up at the head of the table. This is how God’s kingdom works. When we try it, go for it, work it out, attempt it, grab it–then bam! thrown down. But when the Lord brings it, does, it accomplishes it, gives it, bestows it, and declares it to you as a gift–well, then that’s exactly what it is. You have been GIVEN the top spot, the head of the table, with Jesus. He did that for you. He came to be humbled in His death and grave and exalted by His resurrection and ascension so that you would be humbled in repentance and exalted by faith to the highest spot in the kingdom of God. So no need to cut in line or yell “shotgun!” That place is already yours because Jesus has invited you up and brought you to it. And one more time, on the Last Day, He’ll call you from that low spot–your grave–saying, “Friend, come up higher,” to the high spot, everlasting life with Him. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

The Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity 2015

Bible Text: Matthew 6:24-34 | Preacher: Rev. Mark Buetow | Series: 2015

The question is: Is your heavenly Father going to take care of you or isn’t he? Is He going to give you your daily bread or not? Is He going to make sure you have food and clothing or isn’t He? Jesus thought He’d be just fine. Do you ever see or hear Jesus worrying about money? Jesus just went around living like He would always have something to eat, something to wear, some place to stay. Jesus’ heart was never divided. He only ever desired to do the Father’s will. And he was confident His Father would provide for Him. And He did. Do you ever see Jesus hungry or thirsty or naked? Well, actually, yeah, we do. Good Friday. Calvary. Naked. Thirsty. His clothes were given away. Nothing but a sponge of sour wine to sip. What happened? Just this: by giving His Son into nakedness, and thirst, and death, your heavenly Father is making a promise that He will always feed and clothe you because He has first made sure your were righteous. The Lord has first made sure your sins are taken away. Christ has saved you from death and hell and, until He comes again, His Father and our Father’s promise to you is that He will provide what you need for this body and life.

So therefore you can’t serve two masters. You can’t serve God and mammon. You don’t NEED to! God’s got you covered. But, oh don’t we try! The love of money and the worry about money are doubly bad. First of all, worrying about money and loving money so much that it consumes us is that it has become a god we serve. Go to school so you can get an education. Why? So you can get a job. Why? So you can have money. Why? So your parents don’t have to support you your whole life and they’ll have money again! When I have enough money, then I’m happy, and grateful for having money. When I don’t have enough, then I love it and wish I had more and I’m grumpy and I pout and yell at people. Which means making mammon your god is not only idolatry, it’s bad for your neighbor. When we worry, we’re no help to others. “Yeah, yeah, I know you need help, but MY problems are way worse!” “Sure, I’d like to help, but you know, things are kind of tight right now.” How many of you have worried about how you’re going to pay a particular bill or be able to pay a bill and still buy something you want? But how many of us ever work hard to figure out how we can support our church? Or take care of something that someone ELSE needs? I’ve wracked my brain figuring out a way to scrape together enough money to buy this awesome thing I want, but I don’t seem to work that hard to figure out how I’m going to support my congregation, or get what my kids need, or help someone out. This sort of worry and mammon loving just exposes what’s in our hearts: idolatry. Selfishness. Greed. Sin. No, we can’t serve God and mammon. But we try. Help us, Lord! Teach us to repent and trust in you for all that we need.

Now, when faced with the stark reality of your sinful worrying and mammon loving, you need to be certain God won’t hold that against you. That’s where your baptism comes in. Worried about what to wear? In Baptism, Christ has clothed you! A robe of His righteousness. Worried about where you next meal will come from? Here’s His body and blood to eat and drink. These gifts are promises. They are promises that God doesn’t hold your sins against you. It’s His promise that for Jesus’ sake, who died and rose, that even when you love other stuff more than Him, He still loves you completely, and forgives you and calls you back to Himself. And these are His promises that what Jesus says about birds and lilies is true too. Your heavenly Father takes care of all of them. He’ll take care of you, too. Wasn’t it amazing that Elijah dared to tell a widow what to do with her last bit of oil and flour? Yet the Lord took care of her. Took care of Elijah. He takes care of you, too. Even with our doubts and faithlessness, the Lord is faithful. The cross says so. The empty tomb says so. The water, Word and Supper say so. The widow reminds us. The birds and lilies do too. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

The Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity 2015

Bible Text: Galatians 5:16-24 | Preacher: Rev. Mark Buetow | Series: 2015

Well, there they are. Look at the list again in your bulletin. The Epistle, from Galatians. The works of the flesh: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like. Which ones are your favorites? To which ones do the devil and world tempt you such that your sinful flesh just has to give in and go along with it? Maybe it’s the sexual ones that overwhelm you, as you give in to lust and such. Maybe its jealousy or anger or stirring up trouble. Maybe its drinking too much and getting into trouble. There’s the list. You can look at it and you know that your sinful flesh has its favorites. But St. Paul says that those who do such things will. Not. Inherit. The kingdom of God. You know you do those things. Don’t try to hide it. St. Paul says to walk in the Spirit. If you are led by the Spirit, you will look at those sins, those works of the flesh, the projects and plans of your sinful nature, and you will be afraid of what they deserve from God. You should recoil in horror to say that you bear the name Christian and yet your flesh falls into all that stuff. Thanks, Old Adam, for dragging me into your sins and trying to get me to love these wicked things instead of hating them, and running from them.

St. Paul says the way we battle these is to walk by the Spirit. What does that mean? Try harder! Do better! Well, sure, I suppose. That’s always a good goal. But the only real way to fight the flesh is to walk by the Spirit. And to walk by the Spirit means nothing else than to have faith in and believe in and trust that for Jesus’ sake your sins are forgiven. This is your Christian life: to see what your sinful flesh wants and to cling to Christ who has borne your sins in His body one the cross. His perfect, sinless flesh was covered with your sins, infected by your sin-flesh, and on Calvary He became the curse for you. To walk by the Spirit is to believe that for Jesus’ sake all those works of the flesh have been died for and paid for and forgiven. To walk by the Spirit is to flee from those works of the flesh to the font, where you were baptized and called God’s own child. It is to cry out to your pastor, “Absolve me! Forgive me in the name of Jesus!” It is to feast upon the saving body and blood of Jesus by which your sinful flesh is overcome by the holy flesh and blood of Jesus that forgives your sins and promises you everlasting life. See, walking by the Spirit isn’t YOU walking. It’s the Spirit doing His thing with the gifts of Jesus in you. It’s the Spirit absolving you and keeping you in the faith. It’s the Spirit who knocks down your sinful flesh with contrition and repentance and who gives faith to your new man in Christ to believe and trust in Jesus and all that He has done for you.

This is why the good stuff—the love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control—are called FRUITS of the Spirit. They are His fruits in you. All that stuff is what happens when the Spirit has gotten a hold of you by Christ’s Word and made you the Lord’s. As long as you’re in this body, this life, you will have this struggle, this battle, this war, between your sinful flesh and the Spirit. This battle will rage within you. You will never stop being astounded at how you keep falling back into the same sins. You will strive to overcome something and then when you do it again you will wonder why. Some days you will seem to triumph, having overcome and mastered your lust or your anger or cut off those words you were about to say to someone. Other times the flesh seems to have the upper hand and you let loose, caring about no one or nothing than yourself and your own happiness and pleasure. This battle, this struggle, to flee the works of the flesh and walk by the Spirit—this battle is a gift. Why? Because when you see just how awful your sins are, it means Jesus and His forgiveness are just that much sweeter. If you weren’t a sinner, a diehard, hard-boiled, low-down, dirty rotten sinner—well then Jesus wouldn’t be much of a Savior. But when we recognize just how awful those works of the flesh are in us, then it makes it all the more amazing that God, in His grace should save us from them by giving up His own Son into death. But that’s walking by the Spirit. Christ gave Himself for you, to pay for your works of the flesh. And He has given you the Holy Spirit by water, Word and Supper so that you are now led by the Spirit. And led by the Spirit, you can see the struggle and know the outcome: the victory is with Jesus Christ. And so it is your victory too. And when that Last Day comes and you are raised from the dead, that battle will be over. You will be the winner because Jesus is on your side and has already won. Until then, the Spirit is right there with you, knocking down your flesh and keeping you in Christ. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

The Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity 2015

Bible Text: Luke 10:23-37 | Preacher: Rev. Mark Buetow | Series: 2015

You are baptized in the church. You are clothed with Christ. You are given the riches that belong to a child of God. And off you go into the world. And as you go the devil, the world, and your own sinful nature jump you like a band of highway robbers. They beat you up, try to strip Christ’s righteousness off you, take your riches in Christ and leave you for dead. Now what? Maybe the Law will save you? Maybe obeying God and loving your neighbor will get you out of the ditch. The problem is you’re half dead. You’re beat up. You’re a poor, miserable sinner, by nature sinful and unclean. You aren’t going to save yourself. But the Samaritan comes by. That’s Jesus. He sees you there and saves you. He picks you up. Clothes you. Bandages your sin wounds with the waters of your baptism and the wine of His blood in the Supper. He takes you to the inn, His holy church, where He gives your innkeeper pastor charge of you to keep giving you healing medicine. That is, to remind you of your baptism daily, to give you the strengthening food of Jesus’ body and blood. Sin and death put you down. Christ rescues and saves you.

You need to hear when it comes to this story that you are the person in the ditch. Why? Because you want to justify yourself. Oh, sure, the young expert in the Torah, the Law, says, I can love God. But let’s make sure I’ve got loving my neighbor down. So, Jesus, who is my neighbor? Tell me so that I know who I have to be nice to to get eternal life. And everyone thinks Jesus told this story so the guy will think, “Well, I guess next time I see a guy in a ditch who needs help, I’ll help him out.” Then I did good. I lived right. I’ll inherit eternal life! That’s us. Justifying ourselves. Tell me what to do. How to live. How to act. Be a good person. Sure, I can improve, so tell me what I gotta do and I’ll be in, too. You justify yourself. You’re a good person. You go to church. You stayed married. Your kids behaved. You’re not a meanie like the other kids. You waited ’til you’re married. You didn’t steal that thing. You didn’t gossip…too much. You got confirmed. You love God? Of course you do! You love your neighbor? Well, usually. Just remind me who that is again so I can be a nice person and get some eternal life.

And when you think that, when you’re laying in a ditch of sin, wounded and bleeding, because you wanted to do it yourself and the devil carjacked you and left you for dead, the Law won’t save you. It will come up to you. Love God. No, you don’t. Sorry. Pass by on the other side. Love your neighbor? Yeah, right. Look at all the people you don’t love. Pass by on the other side. Jesus shows up. “Law didn’t help did it? It didn’t save you. You couldn’t do it. Couldn’t get up out of the ditch. The commandments didn’t rescue you. They didn’t make you right. They won’t get you eternal life. Here, I’ve got this.” So down he comes into the ditch. Into the flesh. Your flesh. Your sin. Your nakedness. Suffering. Cross. Death. Grave. Resurrection. Jesus has got this. That’s how He saves you. He’ll go with the thieves. Hung between two of them on Calvary. And passed by by the priest and Levite and all the “experts in the Law.” Hung their by those who justify themselves. Scribes. Pharisees. Levites. You. He dies His death to make it your death. Your salvation. Sins paid for. Blood and water from His side. That means oil and wine for your wounds. Baptism. Supper. Word. Inn. Church. Pastor. Healing. That’s what you need. Because every time you want to justify yourself, the devil, the world, and your sinful nature will beat the tar out of you, rob you and leave you laying in the ditch. And every time, Jesus the Samaritan will come along, climb down next to you, and take you out of there and back to the place where you can get better. You want to justify yourself? Jesus knows. That’s why He comes to save you and justify you before God by His rescuing you from sin and death. Jesus, your Good Samaritan. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.