The Eleventh Sunday after Trinity 2015

Bible Text: Luke 18:9-14 | Preacher: Rev. Mark Buetow | Series: 2015

The story of the Pharisee and the tax collector is a great story! We see the Pharisee acting like a Pharisee and think, “Well at least I’m not like that!” And Jesus’ point is proven, isn’t it? The truth is you are both the Pharisee and the tax collector. Your Old Adam, your sinful flesh is a Pharisee. You compare yourself to others and you can always find someone who is more sinful than you are. Someone who always messes up more than you. You can always look around and find someone that you’re doing better than. Your New Man, on the other hand, is the tax collector, living only by God’s mercy in Christ. The New Man knows we have nothing. No claim on God. No good intentions. Nothing but sin and so needs nothing but the Lord’s mercy. And so we come to church and that new man leaves justified, right with God, everything is good.

So what is it that saves us? What is it that keeps us from being condemned as that old pharisee who loves to condemn others? Nothing but the answer to the tax collector’s prayer. “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” The answer to that prayer is Jesus. Jesus who is the highest of all, Son of the Most High, who is humbled, brought low for you. He is brought down to the very depths of hell and death. Crucified for you. Nailed to the cross by those who are convinced they are better than Him. Nailed to the cross FOR those who think they’re better than others and Him. And therein lies the prayer of thanksgiving for our salvation. Lord, I thank you I am not like that guy. Your Son. Suffering and dead for the sins of the world. Punished for my sins! I’m glad I’m not that guy because you HAVE had mercy on me and forgiven me and sent me home justified, right with you. Of course, He comes out of the grave on Easter, justified. Proving He’s right with the Father for having taken away the world’s sins.

Now, just like the Catechism teaches, every day the Old Adam, your pharisee has to drown and die. And every day the New Man, the justified tax collector, the saved sinner, walks away justified, forgiven, righteous, square with the Lord. The problem comes, however, when we really see that Old Pharisee gaining the upper hand. It’s the struggle of our lives as Christians that we are at the same time saint and sinner, forgiven and still sinful, justified tax collector and judgmental pharisee. So when that struggle gets rough, how do we know who wins? That’s where the gifts of Jesus come in. Baptism. Absolution. The Supper. Those are the promises and guarantees that your sins have actually been forgiven. That the old pharisee is done for. That the new man is indeed justified and right with God. So yeah, when we pause and hear ourselves say, “I’m sure glad I’m not like so and so…” well, we know what to do. Beat our breasts and look up to the Lord and cry out for mercy. And here, right here in His church, He answers that prayer with the Good News in Word and Supper: your sins are forgiven. You are justified and right with God. Go in peace. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

The Tenth Sunday after Trinity 2015

Bible Text: Luke 19:41-48 | Preacher: Rev. Mark Buetow | Series: 2015

Olly olly oxen free! That’s what the temple had become. Out there, you could do pretty much whatever you wanted. Go to a Baal party! Sleep with whomever you wanted. Steal from people and get away with it. You could walk past people in need and live the good life. And all you had to do was tag the Temple on the Sabbath and cry “The temple! The temple! The temple! I’m safe” Duck in, do your duty, and right back out to doing whatever you feel like. When Jesus says that they’ve made the temple a “den of thieves” He doesn’t mean because they’re buying and selling. He means because they’ve gotten to the point where their religion is nothing other than doing whatever you want and just touching home base to be called safe. It’s a “den of thieves” because that’s where the thieves go to pretend God can’t see their sins. They don’t want forgiveness. They want the OK to believe that God doesn’t care how they live and they don’t need to think of anyone but themselves. If you’ve ever heard the preaching for the forgiveness of sins and thought, “Sweet! Now I can do whatever I want and it will just be forgiven,” then repent! That’s like the kid on the internet. He says, “I prayed for God to give me a new bike, but I know that’s not how it works. So I stole a bike and asked God for forgiveness.” Your Old Adam loves to hear about forgiveness because then he figures he can go and do whatever he wants!

There’s only one consequence for that way of despising God. Destruction! For the people of Jerusalem, who don’t want to actually get rid of their sins, and trust in God, they’ll get the Romans to come and level the city. Not one stone left on another. For sinners who despise God’s Law, do their sins and throw them in His face, there is death and hell. For Jesus, trial and scourge and crucifixion! Wait a minute. For Jesus? But He’s One Guy who truly loved God’s Word and Temple. There is the One Man who truly treasured what you and I despise and ignore. And that’s the whole point. If Jesus doesn’t do what you don’t do, namely, love God’s Word above all things, then you can’t be saved. And if Jesus doesn’t get wiped out for you, you will be the one getting wiped out. Because when it comes to the Temple, the Temple isn’t a building. It’s Jesus. The Temple was where God was. And Jesus is God in the temple of His flesh. On the cross, Jesus, the Temple is the biggest den of thieves. He is the hideout of adulterers. He is the temple of the idol worshippers. He is every sinner and every sin, all caught up together for God to destroy and wipe out. And that means, when He comes out of the grave, alive, on Easter, the pagan, sinner, hideouts have been raided and destroyed. Sin and death and the devil and hell have had the fight brought to them and lost.

And now that means the Temple is a house of prayer once again. Jesus, where God is, is the place where the Lord is among us. Where Jesus is, there is God hearing and answering our prayer. Where Jesus is, water flows to wash away your sins. Where Jesus is, forgiveness is declared to sinners. Where Jesus is, a feast of salvation is laid where we have true forgiveness. Where Jesus is, His house is the place where He gathers His church to be present among us. Here He calls us to repentance, that is, teaches us to examine our lives and cast away all things that are against God and no good for others. Here He teaches us that He has made us right with God so that we can serve our neighbor. Here Jesus has taught us that we have a true Safe Place from our sins. Not so we can just do what we want and pretend it’s all allowed. Rather, a place where our troubled consciences can find comfort, knowing the certainty of Christ’ water, Word, body and blood declare our sins forgiven. Dear Christians, in God’s house you have a place where the Old Adam runs to to pretend he can do whatever he wants. There, in God’s house, that Old Adam is ambushed and drowned at the font again. And here, in God’s house, the new man in Christ, gifted by the Holy Spirit, confesses that Jesus is Lord. The Lord who saves sinners. The Lord who welcomes us into His house so that we may be with Him and He with us and we have everlasting life. Here is the place where we may hang on every forgiving, saving, life-giving word of Jesus. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

The Ninth Sunday after Trinity 2015

Bible Text: Luke 16:1-13 | Preacher: Rev. Mark Buetow | Series: 2015

When the steward’s life depended on what he was doing, he was in trouble. When he lost everything, then he was free. We don’t have to try to squeeze every detail of this parable into some real life part of our faith. The big lesson is this: Jesus comes and acts as if the Father’s stuff is His to give away. Just think about it. How do the pharisees and scribes and the other religious leaders live? They hoard God’s grace and forgiveness and dribble it out to deserving people. Jesus comes and throws forgiveness around like it’s His to give out. He comes into the world and says, “Whatever you owe God because of your sins? Mark it as paid!” Your debts are cancelled because Jesus comes and tells you that it’s paid. He pays the price, of course. That happens for you because He loses His place, as it were. That is, on Calvary, the Father turns His back. When He hangs on the cross, covered in our sins, it’s as if the Father is telling Him, “You can’t be steward anymore.” But that is precisely the point at which Jesus is free. He has so perfectly and completely obeyed the Father’s will, that He just throws out forgiveness, life and salvation, like it’s his to give! And we, who had debts of sin to God, are off the hook.

And now, the Lord has given His stewards charge over His things. He has given pastors His gifts to give out to the people. And pastors will be bad stewards of the Lord’s gifts if they go around putting conditions and qualifications on that Gospel: You can be forgiven…IF. You will be a child of God…IF. But with a wink, Jesus tells this parable to remind His disciples that wasting the Lord’s gifts as if we own them is precisely what His kingdom is like! Here, we have all of God’s riches and we dish them out as if they’re ours to give. You have sins? Forgiven. You did WHAT? That’s forgiven too! Here, let’s baptize you. Made a mess? Pulled a whopper? Here, come confess it and I’ll forgive you. Goofed up? Fell into sin? Did you act like an Israelite in the Old Testament and run off after some idol or fall into some sexual immorality or grumbling against God? Here, have Jesus’ body and blood! Paul says in our epistle that when we are tempted, God will always give us a way out. But you know what the way out is? Jesus lifted up on the cross to see Him and be saved. Jesus slashing our bills to “zero” and our pastors throwing forgiveness at us like there’s no tomorrow! Lots of Jesus gifts from a Savior who lives like He can do that. Because He can!

This is life in the kingdom of God: forgive like you stole that forgiveness. Like it’s yours to give out. You see, when we think our standing with God depends on us, how we live, what we do, how we act, what we need to accomplish—then we are not free. We hoard what is the Lord’s and are forgiveness penny-pinchers. But when we realize we will never save ourselves, never make a way to God, and that we’re doomed by ourselves, but the Lord has this whole pile of forgiveness to be grabbed and dished out to everyone…well, then we live free. There is the irony of faith. We trust that the Lord will forgive us and love us not when we act like the right kind of people, but when we know we’re not. When we’re forgiven by Christ, we have nothing to lose. That’s because WE have nothing to lose. If God really wants to forgive all those sinners out there, then that’s His problem. We’ll just be a part of that batch of sinners that’s receiving Christ’s forgiveness. Maybe you have some sins you think will keep you out of paradise? Maybe you struggle with some hidden guilt that convinces you that you will have to face the Lord’s wrath on the Last Day? But here comes Jesus telling you, “Slash the bill! Mark it paid! You’re good to go.” Can that be legit? Not your problem! The Steward has said to do it. You Savior has paid it and cancelled it. So if it ever comes time to settle up with the Lord, well, you already know: It’s a done deal. You’re good to go. THAT is the point of this parable. That Jesus takes what is the Father’s and spends it on sinners. And we sinners in turn spend it on others. And in receiving that forgiveness, we have been given a place in an everlasting home with Him. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

The Eighth Sunday after Trinity 2015

Bible Text: Matthew 7:15-23 | Preacher: Rev. Mark Buetow | Series: 2015

Everything Jesus says and does is for your salvation. When He tells us to “beware of false prophets,” He’s telling us that to save us. To rescue us from preachers who would lead us astray and to death because they are bad, dead trees, that produce a withered, poison, fruit. So beware and don’t be fooled! But don’t think such a preacher is going to come along and say bad stuff about Jesus, either! They come in sheep’s clothing to snatch you away. They’ll talk about Jesus. They’ll say all kinds of things about Jesus. But the simple way you can recognize their lies is that the false preacher, even when he is telling you about Jesus, is really telling you about you. You must do this. You must do that. You must improve your life. You must be a better person. You must make a decision or choice for God. You must take hold of God’s promises. You. You. You. Jesus died for you BUT…you something something. You. The fruit of that preaching is hearers who trust in themselves and not in Jesus. The fruit of that preaching is pharisees who think they can keep God’s Law and so be “in” with God. Or else the fruit is despairing sinners, who know nothing of God’s grace and have no hope. Jesus doesn’t want you to think you can keep the Law and save yourself. And He doesn’t want you to despair that you can be saved. That’s why He tells you today: Beware of false prophets.

False prophets make you a debtor to the flesh, as St. Paul calls it. That is, they give you the religion of keeping score with God and trying to do enough. But the Son has set you free to be a son of God and and heir with Him. Jesus came to set you free. Here is the Good News that saves: Christ Jesus came to save sinners. He came in the flesh to be the Lamb. He came to take your being full of yourself on the one hand and despairing of God’s mercy on the other and take that all to Calvary and be nailed with it there to the cross. Talk about a tree that gives good fruit! Apple trees make apples. Diseased apple trees make gross, nasty apples no one will eat. False preachers make people who are withered and turned inward. But Jesus’ cross is a tree that is good. Its fruit is life. Because the fruit of the cross is the salvation of sinners. It’s a fruit of water squeezed into the font and blood poured into the cup. The fruit of Christ crucified for you is the forgiveness of all your sins. All of them. Without exception. Without conditions. Without restrictions. Without anything on your part. The fruit of Christ’s cross is your life as a believer, one who trusts in Jesus and can confess, “Yes, all my sins, all of them, are forgiven for His sake.” The fruit of this preaching, of this Good News, of this real Jesus, is sinners who are set free from their debts. Sinners who know they owe God nothing and are free totally and completely from their sins. They are sinners who smile to rejoice that they are children of God, that they can, for Jesus’ sake, call Him Father.

And that is the fruit of faithful preaching. That a sinner knows they are the Lord’s because of Jesus and for no other reason. False preachers cast doubts. Faithful preaching points to Jesus. A false preacher will tell you about Jesus and then leave it in your hands: “Have you…? Did you…? Will you…?” Faithful preaching declares: “Christ has. Christ did. Christ will always. For you.” Do you see the difference? False preachers will encourage you to look at your own life to see if you are doing enough, being good enough, trying enough. And you need to watch out because your Old Adam loves to get sucked into that “all about me” stuff! That’s why these false preachers are so dangerous. They’re preaching to the Old Adam and he’s all ears! But you, you are the ones who call God, “Abba! Father.” You are the heirs of God’s riches along with Christ. You are those whom the Lord has given the Good News of Jesus so that you don’t have to look to your own hearts or lives to see if it is true. You are those who have been baptized and absolved and fed with Christ’s flesh and blood so that you can look to those gifts and declare confidently that your sins are forgiven. False preachers. Bad fruits. Beware! Jesus. Cross. Good fruits. Forgiveness. Life. Salvation. Heirs with Jesus of all the good things God has. As your preacher, called by Christ, and in His stead, that’s what I declare to you today: It’s not about you. It’s about Jesus. And since it’s about Him, then it’s all about you being saved and being children of God and heirs of eternal life forever. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

The Seventh Sunday after Trinity 2015

Bible Text: Romans 6:19-23 | Preacher: Rev. Mark Buetow | Series: 2015

Gift. That’s the word of the day today. Gift. What is a gift? A gift is something someone gives you the you didn’t have to pay for. You didn’t have to earn it. You didn’t have to negotiate for it. It’s a gift, given from the kindness of the giver. Adam didn’t even exist, but God made man and gave him everything. Rivers. Gold. Animals. Plants. The whole earth and all that was in it. A gift for Adam and his wife. Likewise Jesus gives the 4,000 the gift of food. They didn’t bring enough. They didn’t prepare, plan ahead, or bring enough money. His disciples didn’t know how they could feed everyone. So Jesus takes the little that they have and multiplies it for everyone to have some. That’s a gift. And St. Paul tells us that the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Eternal life. A gift. You can’t get that on your own. Paul tells us about wages too. Wages are what you earn. Work so many hours, clock in, and get your paycheck. That’s wages. And what your sins have earned is death. But God has a gift for you. Eternal life in Christ Jesus. He comes into this world as a gift to you, to save you and forgive you, to live and die for you. Undeserved. Unasked for. Jesus. Gift.

Our sin is that we reject gifts from God and that we put conditions on gifts for our neighbor. The Lord doesn’t just give us food for our tummies. He gives us the gifts of eternal life in His Word and water and body and blood. And we reject those gifts. We ignore them. We act as if we don’t need them. Don’t want them. We’d maybe skip a meal once in awhile if we were busy but we can let weeks go by between coming to receive the meal of salvation. Our jobs and families demand that we punch the clock, feed ourselves and keep the laundry mostly done and we do those things whether we like it or not. But what about hearing God’s Word and praying? Easily forgotten or skipped. And when we receive Jesus’s gifts for ourselves, we turn them into wages for others. Sure, it is a gift for you to receive the forgiveness of all of your sins, but you would attach strings to it and make others work for it. What must the people in your life do to be deserving enough of your forgiveness? What conditions and strings do you attach to the forgiveness you would give to others? What limits do you put upon your kindness and good deeds for others? “Sure, I’ll help you if you… I can lend you if you can… If you do this, THEN I’ll do what you need or ask.” Repent. Flee the wages! Don’t think you must punch a clock with God to get what He has for you and don’t put others on the clock either. Forgive! Give! Live in the glad confidence and freedom that everything God gives you is a gift. No strings attached. Don’t have to get it yourself. Don’t have to try to keep it yourself. He gives you all things freely.

Living as if things are a wage, as if you earn what you get from God–that’s being a slave to sin. That’s the life of keeping score and watching your back. But St. Paul tells us we have been crucified with Christ. We are dead to sin and that means dead to the way of measuring and accounting. You are alive in Christ, you are dead to sin and alive to righteousness. Your baptism has made it so. The water and Word have crucified your Old Adam and raised to life your new man. And whenever the Old Adam starts trying to shove his way to the time clock, when you start to figure things are running the way of 40 hours and overtime with God, then that Old Adam has to be put to death once again. Drowned in the remembrance of your baptism. Put down by the proclamation of Holy Absolution. Shoved aside by Jesus with His body and blood put into you. Jesus is rescuing you from the life that lives on the clock of counting your hours and getting paid for your sins. Instead, He gives you gifts! Gifts given to Adam and Eve. Gifts given to the 4,000. Gifts given to you. Gifts to be received with thanksgiving and joy, knowing you don’t have to try to impress God to get them. Gifts that forgive and save and give eternal life. Gifts for this life like food and clothing and all that. It is a great relief and lifting of a burden to recognize that God is not a divine scorekeeper. He’s a divine gift giver. And Christ has come in the flesh, God Himself coming to deliver those gifts in person. Wages. Earned. Death. But in Christ? Gift. Given freely. Eternal life. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

The Sixth Sunday after Trinity 2015

Bible Text: Matthew 5:17-29 | Preacher: Rev. Mark Buetow | Series: 2015

You are murderers. The Law of God says so. The Lord drops the Law upon us like tablets of stone and it is a crushing load that leaves no wiggle room. Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of God. No murderers in God’s kingdom. And that’s you. Because your righteousness does not exceed the scribes and Pharisees. You, like them, think you are not a murderer because you haven’t killed anyone. You’ve never taken a life so you can’t be a murderer. So Jesus will now school you all the way with the Law. Murder isn’t just killing. It’s hatred. It’s bearing ill will toward someone. It’s keeping a grudge. It’s being angry with someone. And every one of you has someone you don’t want to forgive, that you’re at odds with, that you need to be reconciled to. And because of that, because you are angry at them, because you won’t forgive them, because you would hurt them if you got the chance or at least you THINK about hurting them and how you would—because of all that, you are a murderer. And in God’s way of doing things, murderers get the death penalty. Don’t try to wiggle out of it. No excuses. The Law is clear. You are not perfect. You are a cold-blooded killer and deserve hell. That’s what the Law has to say to you. That’s what all the commandments but in particular today the Fifth Commandment says. Murderer. You’re done.

So…want some Good News? Want THE Good News? It won’t come from the Law. The Law says do this and live or else don’t do it and die. Here’s the Good News: the Son of God came to trade places with murderers. If you’re a murderer like the Commandment says, guess what? Jesus will trade with you. That’s what happened, of course. Remember Pontius Pilate? “Do you want the murderer or the King of the Jews?” And they picked the murderer. The guilty guy goes free. The innocent Jesus gets the scourge and the cross. But it’s not just Barabbas who goes free. You go free. Jesus isn’t just taking his place, He’s taking your place too. That’s right. You’re the murderer who goes free because Jesus takes the fall for you. Takes the hit for you. Gets your sentence, takes your punishment, does your time, dies your death. And you? Your fate? Not guilty. Set free. Forgiven. Debt paid. Reconciled to God. Can you be sure about that? As sure as the water and Word put on you at the font. As sure as your called and ordained pastor absolving you. As sure as the body and blood of Jesus are given and shed for you to eat and drink for the forgiveness of sins. As sure as you are baptized into Christ, His death is yours, says, St. Paul, and because He rose, you have been raised at the font to new life.

And what does new life look like? It’s about not calling in debts that come due. It’s about forgiving them. It’s about looking at the hatred and anger you have at another person and forgiving them and being reconciled. It’s saying, “The Lord has traded places with me and taken my death. He’s forgiven me. So I forgive you. And I ask you to forgive me.” Jesus doesn’t tell us to be reconciled to our brother because that’s how we somehow “activate” God’s forgiveness. He tells us that because, unlike the Pharisees and the scribes, knowing the Lord’s mercy means knowing what He has forgiven in you and that you cannot possibly hold what someone else has done against them. You see, in the kingdom of God, Jesus is all about taking the place of murderers and forgiving the hearts like ours that don’t want to forgive, and teaching us to forgive one another and be reconciled to one another. That is a blessed gift the Law cannot provide. It can only say do or die. But Jesus takes your place and puts everything right, just how it should be in a kingdom that is all about forgiveness and debts paid in full. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

The Fifth Sunday after Trinity 2015

Bible Text: Luke 5:1-11 | Preacher: Rev. Mark Buetow | Series: 2015

Let’s face it. People just aren’t impressed with velociraptors and Tyrannosaurus Rex anymore. We need bigger and scarier dinosaurs, like Indominus Rex! It’s the same with God. People always want more and impressive proofs that God exists or that He is doing things. They want some big show that proves to them that they can believe. Wind that smashes rocks! Now that’s awesome! But the Lord was not in the wind. An earthquake to shake a mountain! But the Lord was not in the earthquake. A roaring, all-consuming fire! But the Lord was not in the fire. Then, a still, small voice. A whisper… And the Lord spoke to Elijah. And He speaks to you. His Word. The Word of God is not impressive in the eyes of the world. “The Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us.” The Word was a Baby! A baby isn’t scary! A baby doesn’t look like the awesome power of the Almighty! That baby grows up. He preaches. He speaks the Word. “Arise. Be saved. You are forgiven.” That’s not impressive! If God is not gonna look awesome, we’ll show Him! Thorns. Nails. Cross. Blood. Death. And that shook the world. Because the Son of God died. The Word-made-flesh looked about as unimpressive as you could think of. But the Lord wasn’t in the wind or the earthquake or the fire. He was in the flesh, dead on the tree. For you. For the world.

We aren’t impressed with THAT God. Neither was Peter. “Well, Lord, we—you know, the professional fishermen, DID fish all night and didn’t catch a single thing. But, well, at your Word, I suppose…” And then fish! Lots of fish! Loads of fish! More fish than one boat can handle! More fish than two boats can handle! Sinking boats full of fish! And a fisherman on his knees repenting of his sinfulness. And the Lord’s voice. Not wind. Not thunder. Not fire. A voice. Words. “Do not be afraid. From now on you will catch men.” And Peter will do that with the Word. That’s what catches us. That’s what snags us and brings us in. Wind and fire won’t do it. But the Word of God does. Guy in a robe. Speaks words. Pours water. The voice of God: “I baptize you…” Preacher. Opens his mouth. Speaks words. The voice of God: “I forgive you all your sins…” Altar. Bread. Wine. Jesus’ Words. Body. Blood. Forgiveness. The promise you will be raised up on the Last Day. The Wind of God would blow you away. The Fire of God would burn you to a crisp. But the Voice, the Word, saves you. Forgives you. Declares you to be a child of God. It’s the Word that ordains a preacher and through which preacher the Lord speaks His Word and saves sinners. That’s how God operates. But we want a bigger and better and flashier God who is Indominus Rex! Instead we get Rex Iudaeorum. The King of the Jews. Crucified and risen for sinners. The Savior.

You want a mighty, flashy, rock-cracking, windy God? You want a God who will right in front of your very eyes do something awesome to show you He’s real? Repent! That’s not the God you have and it’s not the God you need. You need the God who has a voice. The God who speaks to you. The God whose voice is a voice of promise and comfort. A baptizing, absolving, Body and Blood-delivering voice of forgiveness, life and salvation. And let’s be honest. Such a voice, such words, such A Word, is not impressive like giant dinosaurs or burning mountains. But would you really want a God who can eat you up in one bite or vaporize you with a puff of His breath? That’s the kind of God you can expect apart from Jesus. Without Jesus, God IS in the wind and the earthquake and the fire and He’s blowing things up! But in Christ, the God you have is a talking God, a God who speaks, a God whose voice creates and redeems and makes holy. In Christ, you have the God who is like you, who takes away your sins, who conquers death, who gives you life. In Christ you have the Word of God. In the flesh. Speaking promises to you. In that God, that Jesus, you have a reason for the hope that is in you. And that is a God whose still small voice is enough even to drown out the world and speak peace and life to you. And with that still small voice, the voice of His Word, that God brings all His power and might together to save you forever. In the Name of Jesus.