Sunday, November 2, 2014

Sermon for 2 November 2014, All Saints' Day (Observed)

The Rev. Paul J Cain
1 John 3:1–7
Pure, Righteous Children of God
All Saints’ Day (Observed), 02 November 2014
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
A little girl was once asked which child in her family was her mother’s favorite. She had a ready answer: “She loves Jimmy best because he’s the oldest, and she loves Johnny best because he’s the youngest, and she loves me best because I’m the only girl.” That is exactly how God loves His children. It is wonderful to know that God loves us personally, no matter what our experiences have been. Each one of us, His Saints, is most precious in His sight.
St. John the evangelist would agree. In 1 John 3 he writes: 1See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. 3And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.
There’s a simple reason why Jesus taught us to pray, “Our Father who art in heaven…” Because of the Son’s appearance to take away sins, we all are His brothers. We all share the same Father in heaven.
That Christians are called children of God means something. Children are heirs of their parents. Your Lord has good gifts for you. Jesus’ last will and testament described these gifts very simply: “for you for the forgiveness of sins.” His death activated the will. His Resurrection was simply uncharted territory, legally. Christ is the executor of His own testament.
Christ’s Resurrection has consequences for you, the children of God. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. Our bodies feel the effects of sin—daily. On the Last Day, suffering, sorrow, and pain will come to an end. No more uncertainty. No more worries. No more death. On that day of Resurrection, our bodies will be changed, glorified. What we will be specifically be has not yet appeared; but we know that when Jesus appears, we shall have glorified Resurrected bodies like His own. It will be good. It will be better than good. It truly surpasses all human understanding.
All of this is possible because of Jesus—bottom line. No one else could be good enough, holy enough, pious enough, sinless enough. When it comes to forgiveness, salvation, resurrection, and entering heaven, our thoughts, words, and deeds are as filthy rags. Those who enter heaven do so with Jesus’ passport, His entrance Visa, His heavenly citizenship papers, signed in His own blood. Fiction—print, web, and video—tends to lie about the afterlife. Beware. And just for the record, all those jokes about St. Peter and the pearly gates are just that—jokes. Even St. Peter gained heaven only as a gift from Christ.
We are blessed with the freedom to exercise our earthly citizenship this Tuesday, Election Day. You have the opportunity to compare your knowledge of the Scriptures and what they say about sin, righteousness, and life in this world with the statements, official positions, and votes of candidates for office or re-election. That is how we as Christian citizens may cast our votes. Please do not take the right to vote for granted. Many people around the world and throughout history did not have the freedom to cast a vote. You do.
Until heaven, we live in this life by faith, and not by sight. We are saved by faith alone. ….everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. 4Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. 5You know that he appeared to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. 6No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. 7Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous.
In the four verses after the three verses of today’s Epistle reading, St. John says everything perfectly clearly, but our ears are unaccustomed to this kind of language. Lutheran ears are used to hearing St. Paul. We have to admit, we’re a little confused. So, let’s find the basics of the Christian faith in the text.
Jesus is Son of God and Son of Man. What else are we taught here? “He is pure.” “In Him there is no sin.” The white paraments this All Saints Sunday reflect that purity, holiness, and divinity. Jesus was literally perfect. He needed to be to accomplish His heavenly mission. What was Jesus sent to do for you? “He appeared to take away sins.” That was the work of His holy life, His teaching, preaching, healing, suffering, passion, crucifixion, death, and burial. The Resurrection is the exclamation point!
Jesus appeared to take away sins. This work could be done only by One who had no sin of His own. Just how serious is this “sin” stuff? “Sin is lawlessness.” “Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness.” “No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you.”
St. John agrees with our favorite epistle writer, St. Paul. Sin is bad. Sin is worse than bad. All human beings sin, but the baptized do not make a practice of sinning. That is lawlessness. One cannot be a participant in the table of the Lord and the table of demons. Sin kills. Sin deceives. Sin is lawlessness. Even one damns. No wonder we need a Savior from sin—Jesus.
We can be deceived. Sometimes the world leads us astray by contrary examples and encouragement to sin by denying that something is sin. The devil lies to us. Satan means “deceiver.” And haven’t you been surprised in the past how you can talk yourself things that you are horrified by in retrospect? Want a sign from the Lord to prove that you are a sinner? His Word is that sign. His Word says it so clearly to every single one of us. We don’t want to hear it, but that’s the truth. Sin kills. Sin deceives. Sin is lawlessness. Even one sin eternally condemns. No wonder we need a Savior from sin—Jesus.
Yet it seems like such a simple message, right? This is Sunday School 101 information to many, if not all of you. Good! Great! Wonderful! This we hear, believe, teach, confess, and do. But before we take this precious teaching for granted, remember how rare it is. This Gospel message is the common heritage of all Christians. Some say it is only for new believers. You know it is something for every Sunday and every sermon and every day. Some say it is old-fashioned, irrelevant, and small minded. You know it is eternally relevant, very practical, and that salvation is open to all who believe in Christ. Some allow the Gospel to be replaced by advice preaching that is only law, while others obscure the Gospel with man-made teachings of today or a thousand years ago. Still others ignore the uniqueness of both law and gospel and end up with a mixed-up “golawspel” smoothie. There are those who never hear. Many hear and never do.
The Christian life is a life lived in Christ, for Christ lives in you. He is the vine and you are the branches. Apart from Him, you can do nothing. We are saved by faith alone, but faith is never alone. Faith is alive and breathing doing good works to serve the neighbor. “Faith clings to Jesus’ cross alone And rests in Him unceasing; And by its fruits true faith is known, With love and hope increasing. For faith alone can justify; Works serve our neighbor and supply The proof that faith is living.” LSB 555:9 Or, as St. John wrote, “Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous.”
Fellow children of the heavenly Father, Jesus appeared to take away sins. This could be done only by One who had no sin of His own. He saved you from the lawlessness and death of sin so that you may practice righteousness—not to earn heaven, but to serve your earthly neighbors, especially other Christians, until the Last Day. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. Amen.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Sermon for Reformation Sunday, 26 October 2014

The Rev. Paul J Cain, Jr.
John 8:31-36
Free Indeed
Reformation Sunday, 26 October 2014
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming

Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
O church, arise and put your armor on;
Hear the call of Christ our captain;
For now the weak can say that they are strong
In the strength that God has given.
With shield of faith and belt of truth
We'll stand against the devil's lies;
An army bold whose battle cry is "Love!"
Reaching out to those in darkness.

If ever there was a time for the Church to arise and put on the armor of Christ, it is now. The Church does two things at once. We defend the faith once delivered to the saints and confess the Truth of Holy Scripture, God’s Word, especially the law of God that convicts us of our sin and the Gospel of God in Christ that gives peace to the conscience, reconciliation with God, and the promise of eternal life.
O Church, Arise! This hymn was written by non-Lutherans to honor the tradition of Lutheran hymnody in the life of the Christian church. It encourages me to speak up for truth and defend God’s word against all enemies, foreign and domestic, secular and supposedly “sacred.” God’s truth sets free. Most dangerous are those who lie in God’s name.
There are days we are on defense because the Church and Christians are under attack. There are days we are primarily on offense. That is when we make ourselves known primarily for what we are FOR rather than AGAINST. That is when the Church is known for making disciples of all nations by baptizing and teaching God’s Word.
These two things that the Church does are not at war with one another. That would be silly. We are faithful and care about mission. We wish to preserve pure teaching and preserve human life. We oppose abortion, euthanasia, suicide, and murder, yet see a purpose in Romans 13 for just war, self-defense and even capital punishment. The Church can walk and chew gum at the same time. We are the baptized people of God, given to care about Gospel Outreach and Human Care. As President Harrison and The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod emphasizes, the work of the Church is Witness, Mercy, and Life Together.  

The Church does these things because of Who God is and What He has done for us in Christ Jesus. We are forgiven that we may forgive. We are blessed so that we may be a blessing. As we abide in God’s Word, He abides in us. Hear again a portion of John 8:
31 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 33 They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?”
34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. 35 The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. 37 I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you. 38 I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.”

Free indeed. We are free indeed in Christ. Even when mischaracterized or lied about, persecuted or praised, vilified or seen as a partner by communities or governments, in Christ you are free indeed.
It may not always feel that way when a Houston mayor and City Council cross the line on common sense, free speech, the free exercise of religion, and threaten the liberties of pastors under the First Amendment of the U. S. Constitution by sending subpoenas for their sermons and communications with members. We may well yearn for the whole armor of God in Ephesians 6 when Christian ministers in Idaho in a for-profit marriage chapel are ordered to conduct same-sex so-called weddings. Granted, their business is not a church, but the religious liberty of wedding photographers and cake bakeries is similarlythreatened.

Our call to war, to love the captive soul,
But to rage against the captor;
And with the sword that makes the wounded whole
We will fight with faith and valor.
When faced with trials on ev'ry side,
We know the outcome is secure,
And Christ will have the prize for which He died—
An inheritance of nations.

Hold on to the Word of Christ this Reformation Sunday and always. The Reformation was never really about Luther or Germany or only protesting ecclesiastical authority. It was and is all about Jesus, a return to Scripture, the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, and reforming human traditions on the basis of Scripture and the Gospel: Grace alone, Faith alone, Scripture alone, Christ alone, all to God’s glory alone!

Consider again how you felt when you first heard that Wyoming’s ban on issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples was overturned by one Federal judge in Casper. I have great pity, concern, and compassion for anyone struggling with their gender identity or any sexual temptation. Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. He did not come that any of us would remain trapped by any sin, whether it is habitual gossip and slander or fornication and adultery. The simple practical reality that some sins have less consequences than others does not mean that such sins are harmless. If one keeps the whole law, as James writes, but fails at one point, he has become accountable for breaking all of the Commandments of God.
As a pastor I will continue to do premarital counseling for the kind of couple God has promised in Scripture to bless, one man and one woman. Whether Synod and legal counsel will advise us to visit a Justice of the Peace for the actual legal ceremony remains to be seen. Some fear that a pastor’s name on a wedding license may open him and his congregation up to lawsuits if he and his congregation will not also perform Christian ceremonies for same-sex couples contrary to Scripture. In Luther’s Germany, the pattern was to get a civil marriage and then have a Church ceremony. In Luther’s case, his church wedding was two weeks after the civil ceremony, the equivalent of our “marriage license” from the county court house.
Please do not misunderstand me. I do on occasion speak from the pulpit about political matters. I speak up when religious liberty is at stake, when a governing authority threatens your and my right under heaven and the Constitution of the United States to freely assemble, speak, and exercise our religious freedom in accordance with the Holy Bible. Are such concerns political? Yes. Are they coming from a partisan perspective? No. My Call as your pastor is to preach and teach the Word of God. And my Bible still includes Romans 1 and Genesis 18-19, just to mention two relevant passages.
In Acts 5:29, Peter reminds us that “We must obey God rather than men.” Do not be surprised if a government gives citizens the legal freedom under the authority of the state to do something condemned by the Lord in His Word, something prohibited by the Ten Commandments, something clearly identified as sin. Jesus said, “What God has joined together, let not man separate.” We could also say, “What God has not joined together, let not man dare join together.”
Anyone caught in any sin should not be given permission to keep on sinning. Sin separates a person from God. Christ Jesus, by atoning for sin, is the mediator between God and man, the bridge to the Father, the Reconciler, our Savior. Out of true love, the love taught in God’s Word, sin is to be pointed out. Sinners are confronted with their affront to God and His will. This is done so that sinners would be brought to repentance. And that the Holy Spirit, by the preaching of the Gospel and the Spirit working as He wills, to bring that sinner to faith and the status of “saint” because of Jesus’ atoning death and victorious resurrection for that person, that dear child of God.

Come, see the cross where love and mercy meet,
As the Son of God is stricken;
Then see His foes lie crushed beneath His feet,
For the Conqueror has risen!
And as the stone is rolled away,
And Christ emerges from the grave,
This vict'ry march continues till the day
Ev'ry eye and heart shall see Him.

That is why we abide in God’s Word. That is why we are not surprised at the threats of Al Qaeda, ISIS, or other Islamic terrorists. 
Did you know that militant Islamists have been at war with America since the Jefferson administration? Today we hear the name “ISIS” or “Islamic State” in the news. Back then they heard “Barbary Pirates.” They are the reason why “the shores of Tripoli” are mentioned in the Marine hymn. American marines fought in Libya back then. And some Marines tell me that the reason why Marines today are called “leathernecks” is because of the wide strips of leather worn around the neck at that time. A leather collar like that would help keep your head up straight. It would also make it harder for Muslim foes to behead you.
In Luther’s day, Muslim Turks had besieged the city of Vienna in what we call Austria today. That is why the original text of his hymn, “Lord, Keep Us Steadfast in Thy Word,” went like this in its first English translation:  LORD, keep us in Thy Word and work,       Restrain the murderous Pope and Turk,             Who fain would tear from off Thy throne Christ Jesus, Thy beloved Son. (ELHB)
If someone opposes the clear teachings of Scripture by removing portions offensive to them, adding human ideas and declaring them equal to or superior to Scripture, or lives or encourages others to live contrary to God’s Word, we must speak up. We dare not remain silent. Too much is at stake spiritually. As Lutheran Christians, our concern for religious liberty is a real and practical part of our Christian heritage. Defending the faith and speaking up for Bible Truth is necessary for every generation of Christians. It has been said that God does not have grandchildren—only children. Spiritually, it doesn’t matter whose genetic offspring you are. You don’t get faith or eternal life or salvation merely because your ancestors were faithful practicing Christians. By God the Holy Spirit you have been called to faith in Christ and reconciled to the Father. Thanks be to God!

So Spirit, come, put strength in ev'ry stride,
Give grace for ev'ry hurdle,
That we may run with faith to win the prize
Of a servant good and faithful.
As saints of old still line the way,
Retelling triumphs of His grace,
We hear their calls and hunger for the day
When, with Christ, we stand in glory.

Jesus said, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free…So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” O Church, Arise.  Amen.

The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Sermon for 28 September 2014, Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity

The Rev. Paul J Cain
Matthew 6:24-34
Enough to Worry About
Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity, 28 September 2014
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, WY

In the Name of the Father and of the T Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
It was a difficult spot to be in to say the least. Tom had two full-time jobs and had an impossible schedule each day. He had more than enough to worry about. From early in the morning to early afternoon, he worked at the lumberyard. Then, he had the late shift at the railroad yard. He barely had time to eat and sleep. He wasn’t married. If he were, he’d never see his wife and children. We’d probably all agree that this was no way to live. Something had to give. And finally, Tom had to make a choice. He was promoted at the railroad and was offered the day shift. There simply was no good reason to try to work two jobs. Even the money wasn’t worth what it was doing to him. Tom learned by experience what Jesus said: “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.
Money is a wonderful servant but a terrible master. For some, it becomes the god in which they put their trust. Providing for the family becomes a convenient excuse to work more and more and accumulate more money in the bank account or more stuff in the house or garage.
Even our young people sometimes fall into the trap. Money from a part-time job often goes to what are really luxuries: cars, music, electronics, video game systems, or name-brand clothing. While none of us would likely give up being a Christian for a billion dollars, many simply do it for minimum wage. I’m thankful to see you for Church today.
God knows we need our daily bread, everything that supports our bodies and lives. We pray for daily bread daily. By faith we see that everything we have is a gift from Him. We receive our daily bread with thanksgiving. But we still worry. We worry about important things. We worry about silly things. We worry about what other people will think. We worry about how we’ll pay the bills. We worry about how much we worry.
And Jesus says: “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
God provides you with everything you truly need. That’s the sermon in one sentence. God gives you daily bread and spiritual bread, forgiveness in Christ. You have enough to worry about in regularly receiving the Lord’s gifts and offering back to him your sacrifice of thanksgiving, offerings, praise, and doing good works in service to your neighbors.
Seek the kingdom first. The spiritual gifts endure forever. They are the only ones you can take with you once you die. God knows you need physical blessings. He gives food to all, even the evil. Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
Worry means that what you’re concerned about rolls around in your head, fills your heart, and consumes your time, yet without much positive result. You may well be powerless.
In prayer, we take any thought captive to Christ, exercise God-given faith in our heart, and make better use of our time by presenting our needs before the Lord who can do something about them.
I’m not going to rehash a list of the things that may concern you. That would be a waste of my time and yours. Instead, think about those things before the Lord in prayer and pray in faith that the Lord can and will resolve them! Worry uses up so much valuable prayer time. Many times you cannot change what is happening. You just have to sit there and watch it happen. You can change how you react to situations. You can act out of faith instead of acting out of fear.
We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things—including money. All too often we have a different kind of fear—the being afraid kind—and it can be paralyzing.
One dark pitch-black night a man was walking down an unfamiliar road. On either side was a steep ravine. [Why he’s walking down the road and why it’s at night we’re never told.] Suddenly he stepped into space and began to fall. Thinking he was falling to certain death, he began flailing his arms and clutching for anything he could get his hands on. He was able to grasp a bush along the side, and he held on for dear life. It was agony. His body became numb. At last in weakness and despair, he let go and dropped—six inches to the bottom of the ditch. Think of the endless agony he went through because he didn’t let go sooner. Think of the needless agony you go through in the midst of your worries because you don’t let go of our worries and appeal to Christ in prayer.
You have enough to worry about. And worry is often an excuse to doubt God’s love and care of us. We lean on Him and our families and Christian family in time of need. And sometimes we actually pay enough attention to notice that the Lord has provided enough. We just haven’t been spiritually awake enough to see all that He has provided. God will provide for your needs. He may have a difference of opinion with you regarding something you want versus something you truly need. Worry is not something you need. Prayer is.
 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
Isn’t that the truth! God gives daily bread daily. Trouble comes daily. And God gives us what we need to make it through each day. We aren’t told exactly what each day will bring. God has called us to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. We pray that the Lord will give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that His hand is leading us and His love supporting us through Christ, our Lord.
The famous musician was depressed. His right side was paralyzed. All his money was gone. He was so deeply in debt that he was threatened with being thrown into jail. Nevertheless, he worked on composing the musical masterpiece for which he is still remembered. He worked so fast and hard, he seldom stopped for meals. When his servant brought him food, the servant often found his master weeping. In twenty-four days, from August 22 through September 14, 1741, George Frederic Handel finished his oratorio Messiah.
We don’t know how much this grandson of a German Lutheran pastor prayed while he was composing such great music amid such great anxieties, [yet] He is said to have commented, “I think I did see all heaven before me, and the great God Himself.” Handel’s music shows us how needless are our worries, even in the face of what appears desperate, because the Almighty accomplishes great things!
We celebrate some of those great things today. We remember our baptism into Christ in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. We rejoice in the forgiveness of sins. We thank God for the opportunity to hear His Word. We are blessed to be able to freely assemble in His name in this country thanks to the sacrifice of others. We will leave this place with His blessing. And we give thanks for the good we are able to both receive and give this day and this coming week. This Wednesday and next Sunday, we will receive the Lord’s Body and Blood for the forgiveness of sins.
God provides you with everything you truly need. Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. In Christ, You have nothing to truly worry about! Amen.
In the Name of the Father and of the T Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.