Sunday, 17 September 2017

New format

Hello readers... I've decided to try a new format: instead of having a separate post for audio, I've decided to put everything in the one post. I hope everything works as it should. Please contact me if it doesn't work. Stephen.

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Pentecost XV (Proper 19 A) [Matthew 18:21-35] (17-Sep-2017)

This sermon was preached at St Matthew's Lutheran Church, Maryborough, 8.15am, and Grace Lutheran Church, Childers, 10.30am.

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ.

The servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant forgave him the debt.

Prayer: Dear Lord Jesus, send us your Holy Spirit, to me that I may preach well, and to all of us that we may hear well. Amen.

I.                   We are reluctant to forgive people.
We sinners don’t find it easy to forgive people. We are reluctant to forgive people. Last week, in our gospel reading we were reading about Jesus’ advice to his disciples about how they should go about reconciling with people. 

And in today’s reading, we read: Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.” In other words, Jesus is saying to the person, forgive the person, and don’t stop. Don’t count. Just keep forgiving, again and again.

Now this is the topic of our whole reading today. Jesus is talking about forgiving other people. And this topic comes up in the Lord’s Prayer, where it says: Forgive us our sins [or trespasses], as we forgive those who sin [or trespass] against us. And so as Peter looks at his own capacity to forgive—maybe he’s prepared to forgive seven times at a stretch—but Jesus sets the bar much higher: seventy-seven times. Jesus shows us his great capacity to forgive, but our great weakness to forgive. We do not have this capacity in ourselves to forgive, it must come to us from Jesus. Without Jesus, we can’t forgive.

In our reading today, we read about a king who forgives a servant’s debt. But once the servant refuses to forgive his fellow servant, Jesus even issues a very strict and very harsh warning at the end of the reading: We read: Then the master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.

These are very harsh and very sharp words indeed from Jesus. When we refuse to forgive others, we become hardened to God’s forgiveness. Jesus even threatens us with hell here, because our debt is endless, and we can never, ever pay God off.

But this brings us to the second part of our sermon, where we learn about
II.                 The forgiveness of sins.

Jesus says: The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.

Now this is a tremendous passage which gives us some powerful comfort. Look at what the master does in this passage. There is a debt, which the servant can’t pay, which is ten thousand talents. A talent was about 20 years wages for a labourer. A labourer’s yearly wage in Australia can be around $50,000 or so—times that by 20 is ten billion dollars in today’s money. And this man’s not a wealthy man—he is just a servant. This is an impossible debt to pay off. Even selling himself and his wife and family into slavery is not even going to pay off the debt.

But the master forgives him the debt. And get this—not only is the man released of his debt, but he doesn’t receive any punishment for it. The master could have forgiven him the debt, but then put him in jail so that he won’t do it again. No—he does nothing of the sort. The man is free from guilt, and he is free from punishment.

Now, have you ever heard of people speak about a thing called “karma”? The idea of karma has its origins in Hinduism, and this is where people are always judging people when things go badly for them, and they say: “it must be their karma. They must have deserved it”. Karma is a terrible idea, and it turns people into such hateful people. If the teaching of karma had its own statue in town, I would suggest that we would daily go and throw some tomatoes, or mud, or dung at it, so that it topples over! Some people say: “You made your bed, now you sleep in it.” Some people also say: “He got his come-uppance.” “What goes around comes around”, and this kind of thing.

Now God is not like this at all. Sure, sometimes it happens that our sin has earthly consequences. But when we turn to God, we know that any earthly consequences of our sins will just melt away once we have died. And earthly consequences are not a sign of God’s curse, or his punishment. This may be our cross to bear, but it isn’t our punishment. For example, someone may become a Christian in gaol, and they will still have to serve out their sentence, but they know that their sin is forgiven by God. St Paul says: There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

When Jesus died on the cross for you, he took upon himself your guilt, your debt, but he also took upon himself your punishment. In 2 Corinthians 5:21, we read: For our sake [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin. This means that even though Jesus had no sin, and was completely and totally sinless, he took all of your sin upon himself, and died for it, just as if he were the worst sinner on earth. But then in Galatians 3:13, it says: Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us. So Jesus didn’t just become sin for us, but he also became a curse for us. Becoming a curse means he took on himself the punishment. So you can see that Jesus didn’t die for us in such a way that he forgives us, but still punishes us. No—he forgives us, he cancels our debt, and he sets us free, and doesn’t punish us. Our debt is on Jesus, and our punishment is on Jesus.

We also read about this in Isaiah 53 in the Old Testament. It says: He was pierced for our transgressions, and crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. When Jesus died, he completely wiped away our transgressions, our iniquities. He brings us peace and healing. But he also takes the punishment, he is pierced, he is crushed, upon him is the chastisement, and he is wounded.

So this is a really wonderful, comforting word of God for us. It means that in the reading, there is no need any more for the servant to be sold. And we learn this from other readings in the bible too. When the prodigal son returns to his father, he doesn’t have to pay back all the money he squandered. He is received back with open arms! His father doesn’t flog his son, or belt him, or lecture him, but there is only joy, only celebrating! When then shepherd leaves the 99 sheep in the field and goes and finds his lost sheep, he comes home and celebrates. He doesn’t chain the sheep up and break its legs so that he doesn’t run off again! There is no punishment, there is only celebration. In John chapter 8, we read about a woman who is caught in the act of adultery. All the people want to shame her, and even stone her to death. But Jesus says: Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her. And then, they all left. And Jesus didn’t then punish her himself, and put a ball and chain around her foot. He said: Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.

This is the real heart of our reading, that when the master forgives his servants debt, he also releases him from any punishment, or retribution. There is a big red stamp that comes down on this servant’s account, that says: PAID IN FULL. And the same goes for us. Jesus has died for you, and over the list, the account of your sins and debts to God, there is a big red stamp made with his holy precious blood that says: PAID IN FULL. And paid means “paid”. In Isaiah, we read where an angel comes to the prophet with a burning coal and says: Behold, this has touched your lips. Your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.

Now, we come to our third part of our reading, which is about
III.              Forgiving others.

We read: But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt.

Here we see the servant has been freed from his debt, but now that he is let off the hook, he thinks to himself, “That was a close call! I better make sure that I never have to go through all that again.” A debt of hundred denarii is a very small debt compared with the 10,000 talents.

In Matthew 6:14, we read about the Lord’s Prayer: For if you forgive others their trespasses, you heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. So what does this mean? It means, that if you forgive others, it means that you have a wonderful comfort and assurance that your sins are forgiven in heaven. But we might think: Hang on… aren’t we forgiven freely, by grace, without our works? Yes, you’re right. Forgiving others doesn’t earn you forgiveness with God. God doesn’t forgive you because of your works in general, or even because you have forgiven other people. He forgives you completely and totally freely, without any conditions whatsoever, out of pure grace, because His Son has died for you, and because He has promised it. That’s it. But he wants to encourage you to forgive other people, so that when you do forgive others, this can be a little sign for you, a confirmation and an assurance, that your sins are forgiven by God. So Jesus says in Luke 6:37: Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Jesus wants to encourage us when someone has wronged us to forgive them, and when we do this, we know that this forgiveness that we pass on to them came to us from God. St John says: We love because he first loved us.

Now, at the end of the parable, Jesus says: And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.

Now, I don’t know about you, but those words really cut me to the heart: from your heart. You have trouble forgiving people, don’t you? You say: “Forgive and forget”, but you know deep down that you don’t forget. In Jeremiah 31:34 God says: I will forgive their iniquities and remember their sin no more. How can we completely forget the wrongs that people have done to us?

Let me explain something here. In English, “remembering” and “forgetting” often means something that we do in our heads, or in our minds. It has to do with our memories. But in Hebrew, remembering means something that you do. So for example, when Joseph was in prison, he interpreted the dreams of two men. One man was released from prison and went to work for Pharoah, and Joseph said: Remember me, when it is well with you, and do me the kindness to mention me to Pharoah, and so get me out of this house. Remember here, doesn’t mean that the man should simply think about Joseph in prison, but he means that he should actually go and say something to Pharoah. Another example is in 1 Samuel, where it talks about the prophet’s Samuel’s parents, Elkanah and Hannah, who had wanted a child for many years. We read: Elkanah knew Hannah his wife, and the Lord remembered here. And in due time Hannah conceived and bore a son. When it says, the Lord remembered her, it means he actually did something for her and made her pregnant. Another example is in the Lord’s Supper, when Jesus says: Do this in remembrance of me. It doesn’t mean that we simply think about Jesus in our heads while we eat nothing but ordinary bread and wine with our mouths. Remembering here means doing something: it means eating his body and drinking his blood in remembrance of him. Or what about the thief on the cross? He says: Remember me when you come into your heaven. He doesn’t mean think about me, when you’re in heaven and I’m in hell. He means, bring me to heaven with you! In English too, sometimes we talk like this, like if someone has a wedding anniversary. If a man doesn’t do anything, his wife will say: “Um… did you forget something today?” And he’ll say, “Yes, I remembered.” But that’s not good enough! He has to do something: he has to congratulate her, kiss her, give her a card, chocolate, breakfast in bed, flowers, or whatever else people do on their wedding anniversary. Remembering the anniversary means doing something.

So when it says that God will not remember our sins, it doesn’t mean that he has a bad memory. It means that he won’t do anything about them. He won’t act on them, he won’t punish us for them. Psalm 103 says: He does not deal with us according to our sins. And so, we might have bad memories about something that someone did to us, but forgiving them from our hearts doesn’t mean that we suddenly have memory loss, but it means that we don’t act on it, we don’t punish them for it, we don’t think up ways to make their lives miserable so that we feel better.

Luther says this really well in the Small Catechism: We pray in this petition that our Father in heaven would not look at our sins, or deny our prayer because of them. We are neither worthy of the things for which we pray, nor have we deserved them, but we ask that He would give them all to us by grace, for we daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment. So we too will sincerely forgive and gladly do good to those who sin against us.

Do you see those words: “gladly do good”? God gives us everything we need every day. He gives us our daily bread. But when we sin, he still gives us our daily bread, and doesn’t hold it back from us. Now we Christians also do good to those people who are good to us, but we are also called to forgive and do good to our enemies and those who hate us and those who have sinned against us and hurt us. Sometimes this takes strength that we feel we don’t have, but Jesus will provide it for you when you ask him.

Think about a person who has hurt you deeply—Jesus died them just as he died for you. It’s not Jesus’ desire to punish him—it is yours?

When we receive absolution, and the forgiveness of sins, this absolution begins to take effect in our life. And as it takes effect, hatred begins to melt away. We are saved by faith alone, without any works of ours. But then this faith, like a tree, grows up and begins to produce all kinds of fruits. When Jesus was on the cross, he prayed: Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing. The first Christian martyr, Stephen, when he was being stoned to death, said: Lord, do not hold this sin against them. In other words: don’t punish them for this, he prays. And what happened? Well, one of the men there was Paul, and the Lord didn’t hold his sin against him, but appeared to him on the road to Damascus, converted him, changed his heart, and then he wrote the most wonderful books in the bible which teach us about how God doesn’t hold our sins against us, just as Stephen prayed.

Now who has hurt you personally? Or who are the persecutors of Christianity? There are many people at the moment who have a lot of hate-speech to say about Christians. Why don’t we pray for them, and for their forgiveness? Have you ever prayed about the members of ISIS who have killed many Christians in Iraq, and even crucified two-year-olds on soccer ovals? Those people need our prayers for forgiveness too.

Even when we come together as a church, one of the first things we do as a church is pray for forgiveness. Our whole life-blood as Christians is the forgiveness of sins. When we receive the Lord’s Supper, we drink Christ’s blood for the forgiveness of sins. We receive forgiveness, and our whole mission as Christians is to forgive others. Let’s pray that Jesus may help us in this and inspire and change our hearts, so that we may forgive those who have sinned against us. Amen.

Lord Jesus, thank you for cancelling our debt to us, and taking on yourself our guilt and our punishment. Let this forgiveness sink in to our hearts and inspire everything that we do, so that we may spread this forgiveness to others. Amen.

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Pentecost XIV: Audio Sermon (10-Sep-2017)

Click title for link

Pentecost XIV (Proper 18 A) [Matthew 18:15-20] (10-Sep-2017)

This sermon was preached at St Matthew's Lutheran Church, Maryborough, 8.15am (lay-reading), and Grace Lutheran Church, Childers, 9am.

Click here for PDF for printing.

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ.

Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

Prayer: Dear Lord Jesus, send us your Holy Spirit, to me that I may preach well, and to all of us that we may hear well. Amen.

In our reading today, Jesus teaches many amazing things, and so many practical lessons for our everyday life. He teaches us about how to go about reconciling with others, he teaches us about how we receive the forgiveness of sins on this earth, and also he also promises to be present in the church and to be with us.

Let’s come to our first part today, where Jesus teaches us about

I.                   Reconciliation.

Today, in our reading, Jesus gives us some very helpful words of wisdom that have to do with the eighth commandment, which is: You shall not give false testimony against your neighbour.

In the Small Catechism, Martin Luther wrote something about this eighth commandment. He says:

What is the Eighth Commandment? You shall not give false testimony against your neighbour. What does this mean? We should fear and love God, so that we do not tell lies about our neighbour, betray him, slander him or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way.

I’d like us to think about a couple of things about this as we read our Gospel reading for today: In the church, one of the ways that we stir up conflicts, and can often break this commandment very badly, is through gossip. Gossip is a very terrible thing anywhere, but especially in the church. We have so many good things to say in the church—the church has been given the good news of salvation to speak to the whole creation. That’s why it’s such a terrible shame when we use our God-given mouths for the wrong purposeKing David in Psalm 120 knew what this was like, and he groaned and prayed strongly against this, and said: Deliver me, O Lord, from lying lips, from a deceitful tongue. The apostle James has a lot to say about taming the tongue in his letter, chapter 3. He says: How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness…It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

We should take these words very seriously to heart, and realise just what damage we do in the world, and to the church, when we use our tongues for evil. Thank God that Jesus uses his tongue to forgive us—and don’t we so desperately need to hear that forgiveness spoken constantly!

In our Gospel reading today, Jesus shows us that in this world—and even among his own people in the church—there are going to be conflicts. People are going to disagree, people are going to sin against each other. And so Jesus says: If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.

In Australia, people have a really difficult time reconciling with each other. There are lot of people who have a falling out, there are a lot of families who don’t talk to each other, and there are many people who then go around and talk about people they don’t like behind their back.

Instead of talking behind people’s back, Jesus wants us to talk to them to their face. He says: If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. How simple this advice is, and yet how difficult it can be! It puts us in a vulnerable position, and it might require us to have a difficult conversation, but when we do this, we know we have the blessing of Jesus in doing it. Especially here, Jesus is speaking about if someone sins, not just in general, but against you. You might have hurt someone yourself, in which case it’s a wonderful privilege to go to another person as a Christian and confess it to them. But someone also might have hurt you, and Jesus encourages us to go and clear the air, and bring the matter out of the darkness into the light.

Many people don’t like to be told what to do. Many people think that what they do is their private business, even if it affects other people. This is not the case—it’s not you, or anyone else, who invents the standards for morality, ethics, or for holiness. That’s God’s job—he sets the standard. And so, it means that the way we behave and act as Christians does not come from our own ideas or feelings or minds, but it comes from God’s word. And if it comes from God’s word, it means that we often don’t know it all, and we need to learn it. We Christians are therefore called by Jesus here to teach and encourage each other. Jesus says: If your brother sins against you [or your sister!], go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.

Sometimes, we might think: there’s no point in going and doing that, because they won’t listen anyway. But listen to what Jesus says: If he listens. If… You can’t make a person listen. Only God can change the person’s heart, but it is your job to tell him his fault.

You might know the story of Queen Esther. She wanted to the go to the King to plead for the Jewish people. But she knew that if she went into the king’s presence, that she could be killed for doing so. But her Uncle Mordecai says to her: Who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this? And Esther says: I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish. And it is a special miracle from God, that the king does listen, and Esther doesn’t die after all!

The same should go for us if we have it on our mind to go and tell someone their fault, as Jesus says here. This is a wonderful thing that Jesus is calling us to do, but it is his work to open their ears so that they hear, not ours. Paul writes to Timothy: God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will. When we are called upon to do this, let’s pray to Jesus that the person’s ears may be opened to hear, so that they repent. And if someone needs to come and tell us our fault, let’s pray that Jesus may open our ears too! Jesus says: If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.

Now, Jesus gives us some further advice, if the person doesn’t listen. He says: But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. Jesus encourages us to bring someone (or a couple of people) along with us, so that you can talk to the person together. Notice, also that Jesus always wants us to deal with the person, not behind their back, but to their face again. If someone has sinned against us, the right thing to do is to deal with the matter in their presence, and to deal with the person personally.

Then Jesus says: And if he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Here Jesus says, only when you have tried to convince the person in private and repeatedly, do you then make the matter public. And the church can speak as a whole to the person publicly and in some official way. If they still don’t listen, Jesus says: Let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. In other words, treat the person like an unbeliever, they have lost the faith.

Now, how do we treat unbelievers? Do we walk on the opposite side of the street, and treat them like lepers? No—of course not! As soon as the person shows the slightest sign of remorse and repentance, then we welcome them with open arms, just as the father did to his wayward son, and runs to meet him down the road, and just as the Jesus did with the thief on the cross who asked to be remembered by Jesus when he entered his kingdom.

We learn here that we Christians need to watch ourselves, and not get lazy, as if it’s not important what we do or how we act. We need to persevere in the faith, and make every effort to lead a Christian life, and not harden our hearts when someone points out to us our faults. It’s not enough for us to stand for a moment in faith, but to walk in faith every step of our lives.

We now come to the centre of our reading, where Jesus teaches us about
II.                 The forgiveness of sins in the church on earth.

Jesus says: Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

A couple of weeks ago, we read where Jesus said these words to Peter. But in our reading today, we see that Jesus never intended for these keys to be given only to one person, but he sent out all of his apostles with the same keys, and with the same task, with the same message, to do the same thing. Jesus doesn’t want us to put our trust in a person—such as Peter—but to put our trust in the word they speak, which is God’s word.
Jesus has given us an example of a situation where a person’s sin may be bound upon them, when their heart has been hardened by all correction and encouragement. This is what it means when Jesus says: Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven.

But then, he says: And whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. What does he mean by “loosing”? Loosing means setting a person free by forgiving them their sins. “Loosing” means “forgiving”, and Jesus wants his church not just to talk about forgiveness, but to give it to people, and actually to loose their sins free from them. Being loosed means not just having one sin forgiven, but the entire library, our whole debt, completely forgiven. We are set free, completely freely. It's as if we were expecting an enormous bill from God, that we knew we couldn’t pay. But Jesus wants you to know that it is paid in full, and you are completely wiped clean. Jesus doesn’t charge anything to your account, so that you can live in peace with him. When God the Father looks at you, all he sees is his perfect Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus says: Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.

Now, the other thing we learn from this passage is that we need the forgiveness of sins on this earth. Jesus says: Whatever you loose on earth shall be loose in heaven. This is the reason why we exist as the Christian Church on this earth, so that people can hear the good news that their sins are forgiven. And we can say this confidently, because we know that Jesus died for the sins of the whole world. This also means, that God will judge us on the basis of this earthly life that we live now. There is no second chance after we die. The time of hearing God’s word is now, so listen to it while you have the chance! But then also, we learn here that as Christians we are called to persevere in the faith, and keep going, to be sustained in faith, to keep our confidence right to the end, to be faithful unto death.

And so, how does Jesus want our faith to be sustained? He doesn’t want you to sit in your room and wait for God to send you a feeling or an angel. He wants to you to go and hear the forgiveness of sins spoken to you on earth in his church. He wants us to receive the forgiveness of sins again and again. On one hand, he sends pastors to speak this forgiveness constantly. Pastors speak it every Sunday in the absolution, and sometimes we might go to a pastor and ask them privately to speak the forgiveness for something that’s particularly burdening us, or has cut us to the heart. And a pastor’s job is to speak that forgiveness, and to speak it freely, because Christ died for all. And God calls you to believe it.

But also, we learn from our reading today, that it’s not just the absolution of pastors that is valid in heaven, but also the reconciliation of everyday Christians. Jesus says: If he listens to you, you have gained a brother. Jesus recognises this, and blesses it. If only we knew the wonderful treasures of this teaching in relating to people here in our own congregation, or in our own homes and families. Sometimes we sons and daughters need to admit our wrongs to our parents, but also, what a wonderful example of Christian life it is for we parents to admit our wrongs to our children and to ask them for the forgiveness of sins.

This  brings us to the last part of our reading where Jesus talks about”
III.              The community of the church.

Jesus says: Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. Hear we see the wonderful fruit that comes from the forgiveness of sins and from faith—agreement, harmony, unity. And it’s not just like we just sit around and look at this agreement among us, but we can do something. Jesus says that we can even go to our heavenly Father and ask something, not as enemies, but as friends, as fellow believers: If two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.

Look at what happened on the first day of Pentecost. After 3000 people had been baptised, and had received the forgiveness of sins, then we start to see the wonderful fruits. It says: And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Can you see the agreement and the unity they had? They were united in learning from the apostles, they were united in fellowship, in helping each other and sharing each other’s burdens—burdens of body and of soul--, they were in agreement as they broke bread and celebrated the Lord’s Supper, and they were united in prayer, just as Jesus talks about in the reading.

It is a wonderful privilege—and a strong weapon against the devil—when we pray together with other Christians, because when we agree on earth about anything we ask, it has such a wonderful promise: it will done for them by my Father in heaven. And so when we come together in church, we pray. And we can also pray at home with our families. And we can also pray with our fellow Christians whenever we like.

But there is one last thing that Jesus says, which is one of the most amazing things of all in our reading. Jesus says: For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them. This is such a wonderful encouragement to us as Christians in a time when churches are becoming smaller. Jesus does not say: two or three hundred, but simply two or three. Let those word sink in!

But then also notice, Jesus does not say where two or three are gathered in my name, the Holy Spirit will be among them. If Jesus had said that, it would be true, but it’s not what he said. He said: there am I among them. We also know that Jesus is always God and man in one person. He is never one or the other. And so just as Jesus was there among his disciples teaching them, so also Jesus is among us teaching us, and blessing us. The difference is not that Jesus was there with them, but is absent from us. The difference is not that Jesus was with them on earth, but now he is in heaven. Yes, he is in heaven, but he visits us, and makes heaven and earth overlap for us. The only difference is that the disciples could see Jesus, but we can’t. For them he was with them and he was visible; for us he is still with us but he is invisible, in the flesh, in his glorified body, giving us life with his true body and his true blood, and even blessing us with the light his true human face.

And so when we are gathered together in his name, Jesus says: there I am among them. King David looked forward to this wonderful presence of Jesus in the church when he said: Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me. This is the same thing which he says at the end of Matthew’s Gospel: Behold, I am with you always to the very end of the age.


Dear Jesus, search us out and show us where we are at fault, and where it is needed, use people around us to show us. Give us the ears to hear! But we also pray that you would strengthen us in your forgiveness, and loose us from our bondage. Be with us, as you have promised, and never leave us. Amen.

Sunday, 27 August 2017

Pentecost XII (Proper 16 A) [Matthew 16:13-20] (27-Aug-2017)

This sermon was preached at St Matthew's Lutheran Church, Maryborough, 8.15am, and Grace Lutheran Church, Childers, 10.30am.

Click here for PDF version for printing.

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ.

[Jesus] said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Prayer: Dear Lord Jesus, send us your Holy Spirit, to me that I may preach well, and to all of us that we may hear well. Amen.

Our Gospel reading today begins where we read: Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”

This is a very interesting question. First Jesus wants to ask the disciples what people are saying. Jesus calls himself here the Son of Man. This is a title that particular emphasises the fact that Jesus was a true human being. He is a member of the human race, just like us. He was born of the Virgin Mary, and had a true human mother, just like us.

And so what do the disciples say? They say: Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets. What do you think of this answer? These things are just opinions, they’re not a confession of faith. Now what do we know from these opinions about Jesus? Well, first of all, they are all wrong. Jesus is not John the Baptist, he is not Elijah, and he is not Jeremiah or one of the prophets.

But also, all these people that the disciples mention had all died. John the Baptist died, Elijah died, Jeremiah died, and all of the prophets died. John the Baptist had his head cut off by King Herod, Elijah went to heaven in a chariot with horses of fire, and Jeremiah and all the prophets died too. But also, it’s not like these people who died don’t exist anymore. We believe that their souls are with God.

So Jesus is not John the Baptist or one of the prophets who have come back from the dead. Some people might have thought this because the prophets and Jesus were doing similar kinds of things. For example, Elijah raised a boy from the dead, Jesus raised a boy from the dead. John the Baptist went around saying, “Repent and believe the Gospel”, and Jesus went around saying exactly the same thing. King Herod certainly thought that Jesus and John were the same person. But Jesus is not John the Baptist come back from the dead.

Now you may know some people who believe in reincarnation. Reincarnation is where people believe that when a person dies, their ghost or their spirit comes and lives in another person, so that it is the same person who throughout history lives in different bodies. But this is not what the bible teaches. We believe that each person who has ever lived is a unique person, with a unique soul. Maybe the people thought that Jesus was a reincarnation of Elijah, or Jeremiah, or one of the prophets. But Jesus is not simply an empty shell of a body with the ghost of a prophet who has died living in him. A dead Jesus with a spirit of the dead is a false Christ, or an antichrist.

This is what makes Jesus different from the Dalai Lama, for example. The Dalai Lama is a Buddhist leader from Tibet. People believe that all the Dalai Lamas throughout history are the reincarnation of Buddha. It means that the ghost of the dead Buddha, or the dead spirit of Buddha, now lives in the next Dalai Lama, and then in the next one, until today’s Dalai Lama. God creates each of us with our own soul and our own spirit. We are not created as husks and shells who are possessed by ghosts. We read in Job 10: You clothed me with skin and flesh, and knit me together with bones and sinews. You have granted me life and steadfast love, and your care has preserved my spirit. My spirit… not someone else’s spirit who came before me. God preserved their spirits too, but he preserves your individual spirit. Your body and your soul together is you! Jesus also is a true human being, he has a body and a soul like us. We know he has a body, because when he was crucified, nails went through his hands, his feet, a spear went into his side, a crown of thorns was put on his head, and we could keep going on. But also, we read about when Jesus went to the Garden of Gethsemane, before he died, Jesus says: My soul is greatly troubled, even to death. Jesus didn’t just suffer in his body, but he suffered inwardly. He had a body and a soul, and he suffered in body and soul.

So after we hear about Jesus asking the disciples about what everyone else thinks, he then turns the question back on them, and he says: But who do you say that I am? Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Can you see what is amazing about this confession of faith? First, Peter says that Jesus is the Son of the living God. He is not the Son of the god of the dead. That’s what the Ancient Egyptians, and the Tibetans, and all pagans believe. They only have a god of the dead. When you don’t have the living God, all you are able to do really is worship your ancestors, dead people. Now how many funerals have you gone to, where people get up and speak to the dead person in the coffin as if they are still alive? Now, of course, this is not ancestor worship in the complicated, convoluted way that it goes on in some cultures, but the beginnings of it are still there. Many people can’t say that Jesus is with me, but they are happy to say that grandma or grandpa is with me.

So Peter says that Jesus is the son of the living God. The living God came to Moses out of the burning bush, and said, I AM WHO I AM. Jesus even said to the Sadducees: Have you not read what was said to you by God: ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living. So also, Peter says that Jesus is the Son of the living God.

Also, Peter says that Jesus is not the expression of God, or a kind of outflowing from God, or a part of God, or a kind of ambassador of God. He says he is the Son of God. The Son of Man is the Son of God. He is God and man in one person. The Son of the Virgin Mary has God the Father as his Father. This is what we say every week in the creed.

But also, Peter says: You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. “Christ” in English comes from the Greek word, χριστος (Christos). The Hebrew word for Christ is “Messiah”. Christ and Messiah both mean “anointed one”. Jesus is anointed at his baptism by the Holy Spirit from heaven, not possessed by a dead spirit from hell. And being anointed by the Holy Spirit means that he is our heavenly king, our heavenly high priest, and our heavenly prophet. God the Father says at Jesus’ baptism: This is my Son, with whom I am well pleased.

Now what does Jesus think about this confession of faith that Peter makes? He says: Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.

Jesus says: It’s not your father or your family or your flesh and blood who taught you this, but my Father who is in heaven. We see here that when we confess that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, when we are able to confess exactly who Jesus is, then we know that it is not us who came up with the idea. It is not from flesh and blood, it is not from our natural life or from our family, even if we were born into a Christian family. It is not from our human thoughts, or theories, or speculations, or feelings, or mystical experiences. It is not from our hearts and our wills and our minds, because they are all corrupted by sin. This knowledge and this confession of faith, only comes through the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit only comes to us through the Word of God. Remember this the next time we confess the creed—it’s one thing to recite it and speak the words: that’s easy. But to believe these words and confess them as your own confession of faith, that can only come through the Holy Spirit. St Paul says: No one can say Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit. It really is a wonderful thing to gather together and to hear the word of God, and the fact that you believe it, and put your trust in it, and stake your life on it, this is a wonderful miracle of your heavenly Father. This is not your achievement, but the achievement of the Holy Spirit.

Now, Jesus doesn’t stop there. He says to Peter: And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

This is the passage where all of those jokes come about Peter having the keys to heaven at the pearly gates. But this is not what Jesus says here: the keys that are given to Peter here are not to be used at the pearly gates, but on earth. Jesus says: Whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

This is also the passage which the Roman Catholic Church uses to say that the pope is the actually the head of the church here on earth. Now, I don’t say this because I want to bad-mouth Catholics, or be unkind to them. There were times in history where Lutherans and Catholics could be quite nasty to each other. I have many wonderful, dear Catholic friends, and I’m sure you do too, and there are many wonderful Christian people in the Catholic church. In fact, there are many Catholics that are better Christians than many Lutherans! Let’s not be arrogant here, and think we’re better than everyone else. But the Catholic church teaches (and this is almost what makes Catholics “Catholic”) that here in this passage, Jesus founds his church on Peter, and all the popes are carrying on Peter’s position in the church. Even today, where there are so many Christian denominations, and yet where Christians of different denominations are much more friendly with each other that they used to be, the Catholic Church stills sees the solution to church unity as everyone coming together under the pope.

We Lutherans don’t believe this, and we don’t believe that this is what Jesus set up here with Peter. We don’t have a pope, because we believe that Jesus is truly present in the middle of his church on earth, and rules it as its head, and keeps the unity of his church through his word. Where his word is taught in its truth and purity, there the Holy Spirit creates the unity of the church. And the bible is not unclear in such a way that we pastors, or bishops, or even a pope, needs to clarify it for us. The bible is a clear brilliant light from God himself, and every pastor, bishop, or whoever, is accountable to that word. As Psalm 119 says: Your word is…a light to my path. The answer to church unity isn’t about church structures and church politics—it comes about through the pure teaching of the Word of God.

And so what happens here? Jesus says to Peter: You are Peter. The name Peter actually means, “rock”. His old name was Simon—Jesus gives him a new name: Peter, rock. And then Jesus says: And on this rock I will build my church. The church is not built on Peter; Peter is only named after this rock. The rock is the confession of faith revealed from God the Father that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. This is the basis of everything. The church, Christ’s own bride, Christ’s own living body on earth, is founded on this rock, on this foundation stone. And even after Jesus died on the cross, we believe he rose again from the dead on the third day. So Jesus is the living God, and he is also alive again, he is risen from the dead. There is not a single smell of death about him. Even on Easter Sunday, Jesus breathes on his disciples. Now if I breathed over you, it would smell like my decaying breakfast, and gingivitis, and phlegm, and whatever else my breath smells like. But Jesus is alive, he is the Son of the living God, and his breath is sweet, his breath breathes out the Holy Spirit.

This confession of faith is the basis of everything: it’s the basis of our forgiveness, it’s the basis of the promise for eternal life, and it’s the basis for the resurrection from the dead. This confession of faith is the rock. And Jesus says here: and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. That’s how sure and certain the solid foundation of your faith is. You have a living Jesus who forgives you all your sin, and the gates of hell shall never prevail against that solid foundation. The gates of hell have long prevailed against the shaking sand of church politics, and church leaders, but never, never will it prevail against the confession of faith that Jesus is the Christ, because this would mean that the gates of hell would prevail against that very thing that the Holy Spirit inspires and works and creates himself. The Holy Spirit is not a loser, the Holy Spirit is always the winner, because Jesus is always the winner!

Then Jesus says to Peter: And I give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Jesus singles out Peter here, but he also in other places gives these same keys to all the apostles. And Peter, in one sense, is the one apostle who preaches the first Christian sermon on the day of Pentecost. When the Holy Spirit comes down with tongues of fire, it is Peter who first flings the doors of heaven open, so that 3000 people are converted and are baptised. And Jesus gave him these keys. But then all the other apostles do the same thing.

So what do we learn from this? The keys of the kingdom of heaven are Jesus’ gift. He says: I give you the keys. It’s important that anyone who claims to use these keys has had them given to them by Jesus himself. They are a very special thing, and they are not simply to be used as we feel like it. Jesus says: Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Loosing and binding means forgiving sins or not forgiving sins. When people confess and repent of their sins, then we loose these sins from them, and speak the forgiveness of sins. When people are hardened to Jesus and deny that they are sinners and don’t want forgiveness, then we bind these sins back on them. They are not forgiven. This is why in church every week the pastor speaks the forgiveness of sins, not as himself, but on behalf of Jesus Christ and by his command.

But this shows us one more thing about these keys. They are to be used on earth, and what is used on earth is valid in heaven. And they have been given by Jesus, and can only be used in the way Jesus commanded them to be used. There has sometimes been great damage done in the church, when the keys have been used to exclude someone who was not in the wrong. In this situation, we can say that the words of Jesus were not fulfilled, where he says: I give you the keys. Sometimes people have used their own personal keys, which just don’t fit the lock. But in the Small Catechism, Luther writes: I believe that when the called ministers of Christ deals with us by His divine command, in particular when they exclude openly unrepentant sinners from the Christian congregation and absolve those who repent of their sins and want to do better, this is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us himself.

You can see, this church, which Jesus builds on this rock, has the forgiveness of sins in it. This is the only chance you will get, and the final judgment will be only according to how our life has been in this life—have we believed in Jesus and his forgiveness, or not? Jesus wants these keys to be used so that you hear the judgment of forgiveness that God will speak to you on the last day right here, now, in the church, during this lifetime. When we speak the absolution, or the words of the forgiveness of sins, this is God’s words from the day of judgment spoken here in advance. And you can trust in that word and take it home, just like putting in your pocket, and you can be absolutely sure that the gates of hell will not prevail against it.


Dear Jesus, we confess that you are the Christ, the son of the living God, and we thank you that your Father has revealed this from heaven by the Holy Spirit in our hearts. Open the kingdom of heaven for us, that the word of forgiveness we hear in the church even today may be a wonderful rock on which we can build our faith. Amen..