The Sunday of the Passion 2016

Bible Text: Matthew 26:1-27:66 | Preacher: Rev. Mark Buetow | Series: 2016

“Is it I?” Really, Judas? Did you seriously just ask that? You know it’s you. You’ve known since you pocketed the thirty pieces of silver! “Is it I?” Yeah, Judas. Of course it’s you. But you and I would ask it too. “Is it I?” Did I really do something so bad the Son of God had to die for it? Come on! That’s going a bit far. And even if you were right in the middle of doing something you know is wrong, is against God’s Word, you’d still ask, “Is it I? Am I really sinning?” Yes, it’s you! It’s me! It’s all of us! We are to blame. It’s our fault. It’s our sin. We betrayed and killed Jesus. The sad thing is what happens to Judas. He feels remorse. He feels guilt. He gives the money back. But the preachers don’t have any Good News for Judas. “What is that to us? See to it yourself!” Is it I? Am I it? Am I the answer to my own sin? And when the only person Judas can come up with is himself, there’s nothing there but despair. And he hangs himself.

Is it I? It is. Until Calvary. Then it’s He. Then it’s Jesus. On the cross, it’s not you, it’s He. Not your sins but His. Not your hating God but His. Not your hating your neighbor but His. Not your despsing God’s Word or dishonoring your parents or killing or lusting or stealing or gossiping or coveting. His. Is it I? Not on Good Friday. On Good Friday your “It’s me” becomes “It’s Jesus.” There He who knew no sin was made to be sin for you so that in Him you would be the righteousness of God. It is Judas who betrays Jesus. It is Peter who denies Him. It is the rest who all run away. It is you, who by your sins may as well have pounded in the nails with your own hands. But there, on the cross, it all has become His. His to suffer for His to die for. His to forgive in you.

So all of this comes down to your life like this. Is it I? Is it you? Sins? Yes. Mine. Yours. That’s a good confession. Sins. That’s me! Is it I? It is indeed! But forgiveness? Is it Jesus? Yes, Him. For that. You, the sins. Him the forgiveness of those sins because He made them yours. Child of God? Is it I? Baptism says, “Yes, it’s you. Child of God.” Is it I? Confession says, “Yep, it is I. Sinner.” Absolution says, “But then it was His and now forgiveness is yours. Forgiven. That’s you.” Is it I? Your sinful flesh, yes. The sinless body and blood of the Son of God, however takes away your sins. Is it I who will rise from the dead? The body and blood of Jesus say, “Yes. You. Raised on the Last Day.” That’s because you have what Judas didn’t hear: the Good News. That all that makes you the betrayer and denier and murdere of Jesus has been forgiven forever and in their place bestowed live and salvation. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

The Second Sunday in Lent 2016

Bible Text: Matthew 15:21-28 | Preacher: Rev. Mark Buetow | Series: 2016

We need to learn to wrestle with God and pray like Jacob. “Let me go.” “Not until you bless me!” Jacob knows that the Lord is the Lord who blesses and gives gifts and he’s not gonna let go until he gets a blessing from that Lord. So the Lord gives Jacob a new name: Israel. Do you wrestle with God? Go round and round hoping He’ll do something or hear your prayer and answer it? God is not a God who ignores you or puts you off. His wrestling with you is to teach you to hang on tighter, to trust Him more, to learn to believe that you have nothing and that He has everything. The Lord would teach you this lesson: that He is the God who blesses and gives you a new name. That name is given to you in Holy Baptism. The name of “Christian.” That name means you have struggled with God. Your Old Adam has gone down to a watery death kicking and screaming, crucified as Jesus was crucified. Your new man has been brought forth, raised with Christ as He was raised from the dead. And that means you have a name the Lord has put on you. It marks you as one who is the recipient of His promises. Because you have the name the Lord gave you, all the promises He makes are for you, no matter how much it might look sometimes like they aren’t.

We need to learn to pray like this Canaanite woman. Jesus ignores her. She persists. He calls her a dog. She agrees and says, “Yes! And even dogs get the crumbs.” Because her daughter is under the power of the devil and she knows that Jesus cannot leave her in the devil’s power. That’s just not the kind of Jesus He is. He must help her because that is why He came. And when Jesus says, “Woman, great is your faith!” He’s NOT telling her, “Way to be stubborn and hang in there.” He’s telling her, “Your faith trusts in Me, and it is not misplaced. I am the one who destroys the devil’s power. And now it is destroyed for your daughter too.” And for you too. Why? Crumbs from the table. Ok, more than just crumbs. But even a little bit of the body and blood of Jesus is enough to send the devil running away in fright! What does Jesus have for you? Against sin, death, temptation, devil, hell, the judgment of the Law, He gives Himself. The body broken on Calvary, the blood shed there–these declare to you, “Your faith, your Jesus has saved you.” Faith is nothing else than saying, “I need that body and blood. As often as I can get it.” For that body and blood, from this Master’s table, is a healing, saving, forgiving, devil-overthrowing, death-destroying food. Between the Name you’ve been given in the water and the Word and the crumbs of life and salvation from Jesus’ table, you can’t but believe that God does not have it in for you but is out to save you and bless you.

Listen dear little doggies of Jesus: the devil has it in for you. He wants you to believe that God is going to put you in a sleeper hold and then abandon you. He wants to convince you that you have no claim on Jesus so it’s no use trying to ask Him for anything. But everything the Lord does says otherwise. Jesus came to defeat this liar by speaking His Word. The Word of blessing that He speaks to Jacob, the Word of healing He speaks to the mother of the little girl, and the Word of your baptism, and the Word of absolution, and the Word of the Gospel preached into your ears, and the Word of His Supper–all these say the devil is a liar. These gifts and promises declare that no matter how badly things seem to be going right now or at some point, you cannot be anything other than loved and blessed by the Lord. No matter how much you seem to struggle, no matter how much things seem to fall apart, no matter how much temptation and sin attack you, you are the Lord’s. His. No one else’s. He died for you. He rose for you. He has named you. He feeds you. There is nothing you could want that God does not truly provide for your salvation and everlasting life. So go now, your faith, your Jesus, has saved you. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

The First Sunday in Lent 2016

Bible Text: Matthew 4:1-11 | Preacher: Rev. Mark Buetow | Series: 2016

Admit it. Confess it. You would turn the stones to bread. You would jump off the temple to see if the angels caught you. You would take a knee for Satan just for a few seconds. Admit it. You would. I would. Know how I know? We do it all the time. We come into God’s house and hear of His immeasurable grace. We hear of His great forgiveness. We hear all of the Lord’s promises. And then we go right back out and live and do things as if the whole point is to test it. “Can I do this and still be a Christian? If I do this, will anyone find out? If I go through with this, if I give in, I can just be forgiven again.” For us temptation isn’t even a struggle usually. It’s a foregone conclusion. After all, we are our parents’ children. How long did it take from creation until Adam and Eve botched the whole thing? And this is why we need Jesus. Because when the devil shows up, we wave our hands and say, “Pick me!” And Jesus doesn’t play that game. And we would want Him too. Turn stones into bread? That would be awesome! But He does the only thing that will actually save us: He denies Satan his accusing power and He defeats temptation for us. He defeats it by not giving in. And He doesn’t do this so we can say, “Hey, Jesus stood firm. You stand firm too!” He does it so that it will count for you. So it will be, as you are in Christ, as if you have never given in to temptation. As if you have never sinned. As if you are perfect as He is perfect. In Him. In Jesus.

“If you’re the Son of God, turn the stones into bread.” Not that kind of Son of God. “If you’re the Son of God, jump off the temple and let the angels swoop down and catch you.” Not that kind of Son of God. “Fall down and worship me and I’ll give you all the kingdoms of the world back.” Not that kind of Savior. Here’s the deal with Jesus. If He does something for Himself, if He saves Himself, satisfies His own hunger, takes the easy way out, then there is no hope for you. You can’t save yourself. You’re right there ready to make loaves of rock bread. So if Jesus listens to the devil, we’re done. That’s what Adam and Eve did. They listened to the lies. Jesus does the opposite. He stands firm in the Word. He glorifies the Father. He saves you. The devil will be back. It’ll be the voices of the people around Him on Good Friday. The people looking up at the cross: “He saved others but He can’t save Himself. Let Him come down off the cross if God loves Him so much!” The thieves next to Him: “Hey, save yourself…and us!” Save yourself, Jesus. He could. But if He did, that’s the only person He would save. So He loses His life to save yours. He gives Himself into suffering and death so that the devil will have no claim upon you, no power over you, no accusation against you. You see, the ultimate temptation of the devil was to make man believe he could be God. And that lie is finally defeated when the God who became man saved you by dying and rising for you.

So Jesus is tempted. He wins. He’ll be tempted worse. We’d come down off the cross if we could. Anything to end the pain. Jesus stays there. For you. He overcomes the devil in the wilderness by showing his accusations to be a lie. The devil accuses Jesus of not really being the Son of God. But Jesus shows that He is most of all the Son of God because He obeys His Father and saves you. Now, when temptation is thrown at you, you have the weapon to defeat it: The Word of God who was tempted for you, died for you and rose for you. When you have the whisper that you aren’t really a child of God, so do whatever you want, you have the Word and water of Holy Baptism to remind you that you ARE a child of God. When you go after that temptation and fall into it, you have the Word of Holy Absolution that you are forgiven. When your flesh is weak and frail, then you have the Word made flesh and given you to eat and drink in the Supper of salvation. Get it? The way out from temptation isn’t you. It’s Jesus who has already defeated it. Held fast. Overcome. His victory is your victory. And when the devil, the world, and your sinful nature are whispering, calling, shouting, urging you to dive into that pool of sin, you throw against them your baptism, Jesus’ words spoken by your pastor, Jesus’ body and blood which you have feasted upon. Those are the things that defeat the devil. They drive him away and declare he has no power, no authority, no accusations that can stick. These gifts are the ones which stand fast against a world that is passing away. These gifts are the ones that give you new life while putting to death that Old Adam who loves to give in to temptation. Now, you won’t turn those stones into bread. You love the Word of God above all things. You wouldn’t jump off that temple. You wouldn’t take the knee for Satan. You can’t. Because Jesus didn’t. And what He didn’t do you didn’t do. And what He has done you have done. And what’s His is yours. And now, where paradise was shut by the sin of our parents, now it is once again opened to you by the Son of God. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Septuagesima 2016

Bible Text: Matthew 20:1-16 | Preacher: Rev. Mark Buetow | Series: 2016

There are two ways you can deal with God. The first is that you can work out an agreement with Him. Earn what you get. Like the guys who got hired first. You work a day, you get a denaius, a day’s wage. People do this. They want God to do something in exchange for their good behavior or fixing something in their lives. “God, if you save me, I’ll do x, y, or z.” “Jesus, help me and I’ll be a better person.” This is how the world figures God works. (Otherwise, those guys wouldn’t have assumed they were going to get more when the others got the same.) God gives you what you earn. You get what you deserve. That doesn’t usually work so well because you’re going to get what you deserve when you don’t hold up your end of the bargain. Sinners don’t keep the commandments. They may be hired in the morning but there’s no way they did a full day’s work. The worst thing about dealing with God this way is that in the end, all you have is what you have earned and that will never be enough for eternal life and paradise. You want to deal with God like that, go ahead, but the result will be very sad. “Take what you got and go away.” But the other way of dealing with God isn’t about you at all. It’s about His grace. It’s about Him giving you not what is fair, not what you’ve earned, but what His generosity comes up with: forgiveness of sins and eternal life. That comes to you not because of you, but because of Him, His grace, His mercy, His generosity. His gifts are just that: gifts. Undeserved, given freely, given to you and the world.

I should think that the less you worked in the vineyard, the more generous a denarius is. If you work all day and you get paid a day’s wage, well, meh, that’s not that big of a deal. If you worked half the day and got a day’s wage, that’s pretty cool. If you only worked an hour and got a day’s wage? Awesome! And here’s the point: We could extend that out infinitely when it comes to our sinfulness. If you don’t have a lot of sins, what Jesus has for you isn’t that impressive. But if we understand just exactly what it is the Law says about us, that no sin is too small to condemn us and no work is big enough to save us or make us right, then we’ll begin to see just what exactly Jesus has done. His work. His bearing the heat of the day. His brow crowned with thorns, His hands nailed to the cross. His side pierced for blood and water to flow. His enduring the agony of death and the punishment of the Law for those who wouldn’t lift a finger to keep it. His death on the cross in the place of sinners who demand something from God and think they’ve earned something when they’ve earned nothing. It is the death of Christ for sinners that is the demonstration of the vineyard owner’s mercy in giving all of us way more than we deserve. To put it another way: the point of the parable isn’t something about us but something about God. It’s that He is merciful and He dishes out that mercy to those who don’t deserve it at all. It’s His forgiveness, life, and salvation to do with what He wants. And he wants to give it to you.

And He does. At the font. At the altar. From His Word. From this pulpit. Grace. Mercy. Not what is fair. What is “just.” What is “right.” He gives you the forgiveness of sins, everlasting life, and salvation. He rescues you from death and the devil. He opens heaven and paradise to you. Why? Because you earned it? Nope. Worked for it? Nope. Kept your end of some bargain with God? Nope again. He gives it to you because His mercy is His to do with what He wants. And He wants you to have it. To have all of it. To have the Jesus-born-of-a-woman-grown-up-to-die-and-rise-for-you mercy that means it’s yours. Look around at the church. Here you are. Brought in by the Lord. Some of you were scooped up by Jesus when you were babies. For others it was later in life. Some of you have rotten, obvious sins, and others have dark, hidden sins. Some of you are dealmakers with the Lord. Others might not even know what to try to negotiate. Some have drifted away and been brought back. Others of you have been here your whole lives. The thing is, none of that is the point. Time frames and quantities of sins and all of that is really not the point at all. Jesus is. He has borne the heat of the day for you. And you receive a wage based on His work. The vineyard owner is super generous. He’s crazy generous because He pays people like no other employer ever: not on your hours worked or your performance, but because He likes to gift His riches to you. And that’s what He does. After Transfiguration last week, it probalby won’t surprise you to learn that right after this Gospel lesson too, Jesus gives another “going to Jerusalem to die and rise” speech. That’s because it is by His death and resurrection, by His water, Word, body and blood, that you are called and chosen to be on the receiving end of His immeasurable gifts. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

The Transfiguration of Our Lord 2016

Bible Text: Matthew 17:1-9 | Preacher: Rev. Mark Buetow | Series: 2016

When Jesus was baptized, the Father declared, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased!” Right there. In the Jordan River. Boom! That’s God’s Son! At the Transfiguration, with Jesus shining in His glory like the sun, the Father speaks again: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” But this time He adds, “Hear Him!” Listen to Him. Why does the Father add that on? Because what is about to happen is completely unlike what everyone pictures about God. Jesus shining in glory and power and majesty on the mountain top, hanging out with the likes of the Old Testament saints Moses and Elijah? That’s awesome! Awe-inspiring. Fear-inspiring! That’s God! Right there! You can’t even look at Him! But what Jesus says after that doesn’t make any sense. It’s after our Gospel reading. But it goes like this: Jesus tells His disciples that He’s going to be betrayed into the hands of evil men, suffer many things, be crucified and rise again the third day. He shines like God on the mountain and then tells them He’s going to undergo some very not-Godlike stuff. Suffering? Dying? What kind of God does that? This is why the Father says to “Hear Him!” Because it is the Word that tells us what Jesus is doing. What He will undergo. What will happen to Him. And since the disciples had seen Jesus on the mountain, they might never have believed what would happen to Him in His suffering and death. They certainly didn’t and they were blown away by His resurrection. But He had told them everything ahead of time.

Jesus’ Words save us from a false Jesus. They rescue us from our disappointment in a God who lets Himself get arrested and who suffers. We want the God who rides in on the white charger with His legions of angels and destroys all the bad guys. Except we’re the bad guys too. We’re sinners. If Jesus came to deal with sinners like that, we’d all be toast. So He comes to take the place of sinners, as we heard when He was baptized, and to suffer our suffering and die our death. To rescue us, forgive us, and give us new life. This is the Father’s beloved Son. Hear Him! What does He say? He says that He has come to bear your sins, to be your rest, to heal and restore you. He says that He has come into this world not to be served but to serve and give His life as your ransom. Jesus says that He is the fulfillment of all the Law (Moses) and the Prophets (Elijah) so that we know God always keeps His promises. He says that He will give Himself into death for you so that He will raise you up on the Last Day. He says that He glorifies the Father by doing His will, which is to save sinners. He says that He is not here for Himself but for your sake. Jesus says that all that He will undergo, He undergoes for you. To save you. So when the Father says “Hear Him!” then we listen to Jesus tell us what sort of Savior He is and how He will do His saving. That way, we’re not disappointed by a God who can die on a cross but rejoice that His death and resurrection save us.

Then now, today, in your life, “Hear Him!” You see, you are a child of God. You shine with a hidden glory the world cannot see. But the world, along with the devil and your sinful nature, wants to cause you to suffer. And you will suffer. You may suffer the things that other people do to you. You will put up with the indignities of people’s faults that cause you suffering or they may cause it directly. You will put up with the suffering that comes from plain old life, as the world and the devil try to take you down: bills, job, disasters, whatever. You will suffer as death creeps on your body, making you old, making you sick. You will suffer the attacks of your sinful flesh which plunges you into the frustrating and wearying habits of your sins and transgressions. And you will look up to God and you won’t see bright, shiny Jesus and you’ll say, “Well what am I supposed to do now?” And the Father says, “Hear Him!” And what does He say? “I baptized you…” “I forigve you…” “I died and rose for you…” “Given and shed for you, for the forgiveness of sins.” The Words of Jesus mean what they say and deliver what they promise. Even when it doesn’t look like it. Even when Jesus in water, Word, bread and wine doesn’t look anything like the shiny, bright, power-God everyone demands to see. His Word. Hear Him. He says what you need to hear. Always. You are the Lord’s. His death and resurrection happened for you. Your sins are forgiven. Your enemies are defeated. Your suffering is not all there is. Your death is not the end. You have a Savior. You have eternal life. Jesus is the beloved Son. You are a beloved child of God. How can you know? Hear Him. Jesus tells you exactly that. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

The Baptism of Our Lord 2016

Bible Text: Matthew 3:13-17 | Preacher: Rev. Mark Buetow | Series: 2016

“Why can’t you be more like your brother? He’s the responsible one?” “Why can’t you be more like your sister? She always cleans up her room when I tell her.” “Why can’t yo be more like her husband…he’s always fixing stuff when it breaks?” Why can’t you be more like…? Oh, come on. If we’re going to do that, let’s go all in! Why can’t you be more like JESUS! Why can’t you act more like He does, all loving and well-behaved and all that. The fact is, we could do that. We could play the “Jesus card” and lay it out for people that they need to act more like the Son of God. But that misses the entire point of what Jesus is all about, doesn’t it? Today, we arrive at the Jordan River to see the camel-hair-wearing-locust-eating prophet John baptizing sinners. Sinners show up. Sinners confess their sins. John washes them away in the river. But wait, what’s this? Jesus is showing up? To be baptized? With the sinners? John gets it. He thinks like us. “Jesus, I gotta be more like you! You’re the spotless Lamb of God. You should be doing the baptizing.” But Jesus has not showed up to tell the world, “Hey! Look at me! Act like me! Be like me!” He has arrived at the Jordan River to delare to the world, “I will be like you. You are sinners? Then I will be as one of you. I will take on your sins and make them my own so I can take them to Calvary and get rid of them by my suffering and death.” Being saved, being a Christian, being a saint, is not about you being like Jesus. It’s about Him becoming like you, taking on your sins, making them His own, and saving you from them. That’s why Jesus shows up to get baptized today.

But there’s more. Jesus does this so that you WILL be like Him. And by that I don’t mean you’ll improve a bit here and there. Jesus doesn’t get in that water so you can have a nice example to follow. He is baptized with the sinners so that you will be perfect. Holy. Innocent. No guilt. No sins. And this isn’t something you strive for or work at. It’s something that is given to you. It’s yours! Just as our sins are given to Him at His baptism, so His perfection and righteousness is given to you in yours. Paul told us in the epistle reading: Jesus has become for you the wisdom of God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption. Righteousness because you won’t get right trying to live right. You’re right with God because Jesus goes to Calvary to die and rises the third day. Sanctification because you won’t be a holy person trying to imitate Jesus. You’re sanctified, holy, because Jesus is holy and perfect and has taken all your sins away. You can’t redeem yourself; you can’t make up for your sins and work your way out of them. Jesus is your redemption because He trades places with you, swaps His innocence for your sins and gives you His righteousness in place of your transgressions. Get it? It’s all Jesus doing this.

And all of that makes you God’s beloved son, too. Your baptism: You are God’s beloved. He loves you! Christ’s body and blood? Makes you the Father’s beloved. You got Jesus and His righteousness. You got the Father’s “atta boy!” spoken about you. You got the Spirit on you that declares you are the object of God’s loves and forgiveness in Jesus Christ. And so for the new man in Christ, there IS some imitation. We want to imitate the Father who says of Jesus, that is my beloved son. We want to imitate the Father saying that about other people. Look around you. At your brothers and sisters in Christ. At your families and friends and coworkers. They are beloved by God in Christ Jesus. How could you see them any other way? How could you call them sinners or think less of them for their faults and mistakes when God Himself cannot? There you go! There’s some repentance: Be more like the Father, which means merciful to those who have been redeemed by Jesus. They, like you, have had their sins answered for by Jesus’ death. He became for them, as for you, their righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. You couldn’t possibly see them any other way! You can’t be more like Jesus! You’re as like Jesus as you’ll ever be because He has clothed you with His own righteousness. You couldn’t be more like Jesus if you tried. When the Father looks at you, that’s what He sees. And when you look at others, well, that’s what you see too: Jesus. And in Him, there is nothing but everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness. Because He became one of us and took our sins upon Himself to save you. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

The Third Sunday of Advent 2015

Bible Text: Matthew 11:2-11 | Preacher: Rev. Mark Buetow | Series: 2015

Maybe it’s because I keep getting older. Or maybe because I am getting more cynical. Or maybe it’s just because I get tired of looking out at the world and seeing everything it throws back at the church. For example, some atheists are putting up billboards for Christmas that say, “Go ahead and skip church.” You just look at the world and it despises religion so much that you wonder what good religion actually does. Do you really need it? And while the world seems to get along OK without Jesus, at least so it thinks, I look at my own life. And if you’re like me, you might wonder how it is that you bear the name Christian but can’t seem to become a better person. Maybe you struggle with some sin or habit or disagreement with someone. Maybe you can’t forgive. Maybe you feel trapped by your situation in life. And it just makes you finally ask the question John asks. “Jesus, are you the One who is coming or do we look for another?” Seriously. Jesus. Is He really the Guy? Or isn’t he? Is He the One who can save us or not? Is He even doing anything? John preached about Jesus like He was going to show up to kick butt and take names! Axe laid at the root of the tree and the chaff getting thrown into the fire and all that! But when Jesus finally shows up, what happens to John? Thrown in jail for preaching God’s Word. It’ll get worse. He’ll die a stupid death. Beheaded because Herodias hates him and Herod is a loud mouthed wimp. Where’s all the axe and fire stuff now, Jesus? Maybe you ask that too. When the cancer hits. When your struggle with sin intensifies. When the world looks at you and rolls its eyes because you claim to be a believer in this Jesus. So how about it, Jesus? Are you really it? Or do we look for somebody else?

And how does Jesus answer? Go, tell John what you see and hear. The blind can see, the deaf can hear, the lame can walk, the dead are raised and the poor have the Gospel preached to them. It’s all the stuff the prophets promised the Messiah would do. Jesus is telling John, “You know what’s in the prophets. The Scriptures. The Bible. Is that what I’m doing? Then there’s your answer.” Yes, this Jesus IS the Coming One. How about you and me. I guess there’s the answer: What do you see and hear? Well, we hear from the eyewitnesses who wrote the New Testament all those things Jesus did: healing and raising the dead and all that. But we hear even more. Stuff even John didn’t live to see. Jesus being betrayed, handed over, mocked and beaten, scourged and crucified. We heard what Jesus did: hung on the cross, bleeding and then dying. We heard what happened. Laid in the tomb. We heard even more: Raised from the dead. Alive. Seen by lots and lots of disciples. Seen alive! And there’s still more. What else do you see? People are baptized. The water and Word are put upon them. Sinners are absolved of their sins in the name of Jesus. People hear the Good News preached to them: Jesus died and rose FOR YOU. God’s people eat and drink Christ’s Body and Blood. What do we see? The sick are comforted. Those who struggle with their sins are encouraged in Christ by His Word. Martyrs give their lives around the world with Jesus’ name on heir lips. It’s happening. All over. Jesus Christ is at work all around the world, and right here in His church. He is right here and at work in His Word delivering the comfort that Isaiah prophesied, giving out the mysteries of which Paul and all preachers are stewards. Giving reassurance to John and me and to you and to all His people that, yes, He is the One. The One who comes to save you.

Now, this is not how it goes down: The disciples of John don’t come back and say, “Here’s all the stuff Jesus is doing and also He’s on His way to bust you out of prison!” No, John dies a stupid death at the hands of those who couldn’t care less about God and His Word and promises. Yet John died knowing that Jesus was for Him. He pointed to Jesus the Lamb of God. Jesus was for John. And Jesus is for you. I don’t know how long you’ll live. I don’t know when and how you’ll die. I don’t know when and how I’ll die. It might be a long time. It might be something quick and stupid. It might be from disease or old age or at the hands of the enemies of Christ. None of that changes what Christ has done. And if He has raised the dead, and He Himself been raised, then believe it: He can and will raise you too! So like I said, maybe you’re like me. Maybe you sometimes wonder with John whether Jesus is the real deal. Repent of taking offense at Jesus! His death and resurrection declare that He is indeed the real deals. The fact that He continues to wash, preach to, and feed Christians also proves that He is. The devil, the world, and our sinful natures try to get us to doubt these gifts and what Jesus is doing. But His Word is stronger. His death and resurrection are stronger. Your baptism is stronger. His flesh and blood are stronger. And now you, who are least in the kingdom of God, are even greater than John, for you know the whole story: Jesus crucified and raised. The holy church preserved through all the ages until Jesus comes again. And when he does, then you and I and John and all His saints will have all the words of Jesus and the prophets that say, “Told you so. It’s just as He said. His Word is certain.” In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

The First Sunday of Advent 2015

Bible Text: Matthew 21:1-9 | Preacher: Rev. Mark Buetow | Series: 2015

Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest! “Hosanna” means “save us now!” So Jesus rides into Jerusalem to do that. To save you. To repent you. To faith you. It always seems strange to think that our wait for Christmas begins with Jesus going to die, but then again, that’s really what Christmas is all about: Jesus showing up in the flesh, to die for you. So no surprise that Christmas doesn’t come without Jesus’ cross. Jesus rides into Jerusalem to show that He is the king. He’ll wear a crown of thorns. His throne will be the cross. The world is gearing up to party. We’re coming off the feasting and shopping and it’s just full bore until we can tear into the presents under the tree in a few weeks. Advent, on the other hand, slows us down. Hit the brakes. We don’t celebrate just to celebrate. We celebrate Jesus’ birth at Christmas but we celebrate it because He was born to die on Calvary for our sins. So Jesus coming into Jerusalem on the First Sunday in Advent sets us up for the whole year: where are we looking? What are we hearing? Where is our attention? On Jesus Christ, who came to save sinners. He is the righteous branch whose name is “The Lord our Righteousness.” So says Jeremiah and that tells us everything we need to know about this King riding to suffering and death.

Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest! We need to know that Jesus is the king and that He’s the King who saves us. When King David was on his deathbed, one of his sons tried to become the next king. But David had decreed that Solomon should be king. So they put Solomon on David’s donkey and rode him into Jerusalem so everyone would know who the real king is. So Advent orients us by reminding us who the real King is. Jesus. Not you. Not me. This is our problem. We like to be kings of our own little kingdoms, thinking this life and world are all about us. We are in charge. No one is the boss of me. I do what I want. Believe what I want. Think how I want. Jesus comes riding into Jerusalem in Advent to save us from that. If He doesn’t bring us repentance and faith, we’ll never receive Him when He comes in the flesh. Advent is the time of preparation when we stop to consider: He is riding into Jerusalem because of me. Because of my sins. Because I want to be God instead of Him. Because I don’t want to love my neighbor. Because I don’t really want to love God and give Him any time or attention either. Just think of it: we’re living in a holiday season in which you feel guilty for not getting just the right gift and pretty awesome when your party or presents or anything else turns out great and everyone loves it. We have too much excess; or we feel really good for helping others this time of year. Doesn’t matter. See how we did that? We made the holidays all about us. That’s our problem. Repent! Change! Flee your false god of “you.” That’s why Jesus is riding into Jerusalem. To save you from that. To be your real King and your true God and your Savior. To wear the thorns for you. To suffer the mockery for you. To go to the cross for you. To breathe His last for you. To rise on Easter for you.

Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest! That all sounds great and it would surely keep our attention if we were there spreading our cloaks and palm branches. But we’re not there. It’s easy to forget. But Jesus is here. We still sing those words. Right before Jesus shows up on the altar. Save us now! Ok, He does. Body. Blood. Given and shed. Forgiveness of all your sins. Advent wouldn’t really do us any good if it were only about Jesus showing up back then or sometime in the future. Advent means “coming.” And the Lord comes to us right here, right now. Font. Altar. Pulpit. Word. Water. Body. Blood. There He is! Your King. Righteous and having salvation. Why does Jesus show up riding on the donkey? To save you. Why does Jesus show up in water and the Word or with the bread and wine? To save you. Why will Jesus show up again on the Last Day? To save you. Get it? Do you see the light and comfort of Advent? Jesus is coming to save you. Rescue you. He already did. He still does. He will again. So Happy Advent. It’s the season the Lord rescues you…from you! It’s the season that gets us ready by teaching us to cast aside our idols and believe in Jesus. To remember our Baptism and to receive Jesus coming to us in His body and blood. Hosanna! Save us now! And that’s exactly what He does. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

The Last Sunday in the Church Year 2015

Bible Text: Matthew 25:1-13 | Preacher: Rev. Mark Buetow | Series: 2015

So, let’s get something straight. The bridegroom showing up is NOT a bad thing! Everybody makes the End of the World and the Last Day some scary, horrible day. But it’s not. Think about it. Jesus is the BRIDEGROOM! When He arrives, the party starts. It’s like that moment at the wedding reception when you’ve been waiting for what seems like hours while the couple is out getting pictures all over town. But when they are announced then you know the food will be ready and the party will begin. So Jesus doesn’t tell us, “Watch and be ready!” for any other reason than this: He doesn’t want you to miss out. The party is ready. He’s died for you on Calvary. He rose for you on Easter. He ascended to the right hand of the Father. Now all that remains is for Him to show up and then we’ll get this party started. Because life in the resurrection is a celebration that goes on forever. In the resurrection, we celebrate a Savior who has triumphed over death. We’re alive! In the resurrection, we celebrate a Savior whose blood set us free from our sins. Sin is gone! In the resurrection, we celebrate a Savior who has destroyed the power of the devil and hell. Every tear is wiped away! In the resurrection, we celebrate the Bridegroom’s wedding to us, His holy bride, His spotless church. So never think of this day as a bad day, or a scary day, or a day of terror. It’s the start of the party! The feast begins! The Lord shows up. The virgins wake up and they go in to the celebration. Yeah, good times.

So what Jesus doesn’t want is for us to be foolish and leave the oil behind so our lamps can’t be lit and we have to be running around when He comes. So what’s up with these foolish virgins? Here it is nice and simple: the oil is Jesus and His gifts. Jesus’ blood and death and resurrection. Faith which trusts in Him. Baptism. Body and Blood. The forgiveness delivered by those gifts and His Word and absolution too. So to have no oil means to have no Jesus. To have left Him and His gifts behind when you die instead of dying in those gifts. All the virgins fell asleep. It’s not that they can’t keep awake. It’s that, when Christ comes and they wake up, the foolish ones are unprepared. They’ve not remained in the faith. They’ve ignored and despised the gifts of Jesus and so they are left without any oil. Why would you do that? Jesus has already given you the oil. His water, Word, body and blood. That’s what powers your lamp so you recognize Him when He comes again. But where is that oil supplied? Where the gifts are. In the church. So again, making it simple: If you despise His gifts, if you skip out on church, if you don’t receive His gifts, then your vessels will be empty and you’ll be scrambling on the Last Day. If you don’t think you need Jesus now, you won’t have Him on the Last Day and we saw what happens: the door is shut and they’re left out.

But that’s why Jesus tells this parable and that’s why I’m preaching on it right now. So you’re not unprepared. So you watch! And how do you watch? You just live in Jesus’ gifts. He’s done all the prep work. You just receive and enjoy His blessings. You’ve got the wedding invitation. That’s the preaching of the Gospel. You’ve got the wedding garment. That’s your baptism. Drake’s baptism! You’ve sampled the feast. That’s the Lord’s Supper. Now the only thing left is for the Bridegroom to actually show up and kick off the party. And having these gifts means you’re not ignorant or foolish like the people St. Paul describes, living for themselves, and being unaware that Jesus is coming back. But even he reminds us that Jesus is not coming back to pound us into dust but to save us. So that gives us something to do until now, namely, encourage one another. That’s your job Seth and Paige, for Drake (and Jayden)- to remind them of the oil they have been given, the gifts of Jesus, the salvation He’s bestowed on them. And your friends and loved ones who suffer, who are sick, who struggle, who have troubles…your brothers and sisters in Christ–look around! Encourage each other with this Good News: Christ is coming back! He died. He rose. Everything is going to work out just fine. He’s got this. We may have to wait for a little while, but then He’ll be back. New heavens. New earth. And then that celebration will start and never stop. So, wake up! The night is flying! It’s almost over! The Bridegroom is almost here! Trim your lamps and out we go to meet Him. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

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.