June 17, 2018 Pentecost 4 Mark 4:26-34 J.D.Roekle
He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. 27 Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. 28 All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. 29 As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”
30 Again he said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground. 32 Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade.”
33 With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand. 34 He did not say anything to them without using a parable. But when he was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything.
How Does God’s Garden Grow?
Dear Friends in Christ,
How does your garden grow? If you are a gardener, by now you probably have your seeds, seedlings, or plants in the ground. How is it going, or how is it growing? Are you seeing the seeds pop out of the ground yet, or are you seeing visible growth on the plants?
Of course, there’s another way to think about the question ‘how does your garden grow’. How is it even possible for a seed or plants to grow and even produce vegetables? Of course, a plant needs fertile soil, water, and sun in order to grow.
God has a garden too. In our text, Mark calls it ‘the kingdom of God.’ The kingdom of God is different than the garden in our backyard. The kingdom of God isn’t visible. It is within you. Inside the hearts of people. So how does God’s garden grow? Since we can’t visibly see it, we can’t really answer that so much from the standpoint of results. We can, however, see the evidence of its growth. The words before us today help us to understand how it is possible for God’s garden to grow. God uses a powerful tool to make it grow. He uses his Almighty Word. Because it is God himself who is making his garden grow, the results are incredible.
The Lord teaches us some powerful truths about his garden or his kingdom by speaking in parables. The first parable went like this: “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”
A seed doesn’t look like much. But it truly is a marvelous thing. You put it in the ground and cover it with soil and after a few days it begins growing. The soil, the sun and water are all important to the health of the growing seed. But what is it that makes the seemingly dead seed grow? The power is found in the seed itself, isn’t it?!
Jesus is here comparing the seed to the Word of God. At face value, it may not look like much. The Bible may not look any different than any other book. And yet it has power beyond comprehension.
Why are you here today? The Word of God draws you here. Think about how that is true from the start. Your heart was dead to God at birth. There was no inclination in you that would have drawn you to God. In fact it was just the opposite. You are born with a desire to oppose God and genuinely hate him.
Enter in God’s Word into your life and heart through the water of Holy Baptism. It is there that your sinful, selfish, hostile to God nature was drowned. And it is there that a new self arose in you. One that loves God and wants to please him. How was that possible? The seed of the Word of God was planted in your heart and it took root and began growing.
Now you know that your sinful nature wasn’t wiped out. You continue to do things wrong. You continue to act out against God at times. Your thoughts and words aren’t always pure.
Because that is the case, we need to remember that the Old Adam in us should be drowned by daily contrition and repentance. That means a daily examination of your heart to see what evil lies there. It means being honest with yourself and realizing that you have not and cannot live up to God’s standards. It also means turning away from that sin and turning toward God to receive his loving pardon once again.
God planted faith in us through the seed of the Word. It is through that same Word that he makes his garden, his kingdom grow in your heart. What happens when you neglect your garden? When you fail to water or weed it? The good plants soon die out. So it is with God’s garden. God is never a neglectful gardener. We are the ones who are neglectful. We are the ones to fail to listen to God’s Word which alone can make us grow. We sometimes need to have a break from things. From work, from school, or even perhaps from family. Don’t ever let Satan convince you that you need a break from God’s Word. That’s like being convinced that we need a break from air.
How does God’s garden grow? Through his powerful Word. God’s Word is so powerful that it has worked wonders in your heart. But it hasn’t worked in your heart alone. It is so powerful that it has created a bountiful garden, a vast kingdom.
Jesus pictures that vast kingdom in the second parable of our text: “It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade.”
The mustard plant in Israel can grow to heights of up to ten to fifteen feet. It can grow to be twice as big as average humans. So big in fact that even birds can “camp out” in its shade. This is quite incredible when you realize that the mustard plant comes from such a tiny seed. The seed is often about 2 millimeters in diameter. Stack two pennies on top of each other, and the thickness of those 2 pennies is about 2 millimeters.
Now think about God’s garden, the kingdom of God. When Jesus ascended into heaven, the kingdom of God didn’t appear to be too much. After all there wasn’t much to see. There was no plot of land allotted to God’s kingdom. There was no army defending it. In fact, there was really no way of seeing who all was a part of the kingdom. Jesus’ followers had largely scattered and even went underground due to persecutions.
That’s what the kingdom of God looked like to human eyes. But take a look through God’s eyes. Those earlier followers that scattered and went underground spread the message of Jesus Christ all around to at least three continents: Asia, Africa and Europe.
Today, the kingdom of God has found its way to virtually every corner of the globe; to practically every country on the face of the earth. Think about that a moment. The mighty Roman Empire that ruled most of the civilized world in Jesus’ day is only a memory. And yet the kingdom of God continues to flourish. And it will flourish until Jesus returns and makes his kingdom visible as he destroys the earth and creates a new heaven and a new earth for his kingdom where multitudes will forever praise him.
And it all started with a tiny seed. The seed of the Word of God. The Gospel that worked its way into countless people. The same Gospel that has seen its way into your heart and mine.
God’s garden, his kingdom, is still growing, and he uses you and me to do that. And the tool that he gives us is the same one he has used throughout the ages. The seed. The Word of God.
Do you ever find yourself doubting the power of God’s Word by putting limitations on it? Do you every find yourself saying something like, “If I could speak more fluently maybe I could convince my neighbor to come to church.” First of all, we should be concerned with bringing our neighbor into God’s kingdom. Secondly, no matter how eloquently a person might speak, he cannot bring anyone into God’s kingdom. It is our job to plant the seed. To use the powerful Word of God. The Word alone make God’s garden grow. Don’t doubt its power. Use it as you talk to those around you concerning the thing which matters most: the needs of their soul.
Are you looking forward to later in the summer when you are able to harvest your garden or when your neighbor who gives you produce harvests his? As your mind takes you to that garden, consider God’s. How does God’s garden grow? Through the Word of Christ alone. God’s garden grows as the message of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection works on hearts. As you soak in the summer’s sun, soak in that Word which brings your heart all that it needs to flourish as your faith in Christ grows. And then use the Word to plant seeds in the hearts of others who need it, so that God’s garden will grow there too. Amen.
May 20, 2018 [Pentecost/Confirmation] John 14:25-27 J.D.Roekle
“All this I have spoken while still with you. 26 But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
The Counselor Has Been Sent for You
Dear Friends in Christ,
We just celebrated the season of Easter. For seven consecutive Sundays (Mondays) of the church year we mark and celebrate a great miracle. We celebrate the rising from the dead of our dear Savior, Jesus Christ. You should know that God does not do miracles randomly without purpose. There was great significance of Jesus’ resurrection for us. First of all, the fact that Jesus rose bodily from the grave proves that he is who he claimed to be. He is God’s one and only Son. Since that is true, it also means that the purpose for which he came to earth – to redeem us from our sins – was accomplished. Jesus is our Redeemer. And finally, because Jesus rose bodily from the grave, it also assures us that he will raise us from the dead too, so that we will be in heaven forever with Jesus – both body and soul. The grave cannot contain us just as it couldn’t contain Jesus.
Today is also a celebration of miracles. Today is Pentecost. Today is the day when the Holy Spirit, who Jesus promised, visited the apostles in an astonishing way. The Spirit’s presence was felt as a rushing wind entered the room where the apostles were. Evidence of the Spirit was visible by the flames of fire that rested on top of each of them. The Spirit’s work on each of the apostles was evident as the disciples were able to speak in languages they had never spoken before. If you have ever studied a foreign language, you know it normally takes years and years to master it. The apostles had mastered it instantly so that they could spread the message about what Jesus had accomplished through his life, death and resurrection to people of various nations and languages.
As we mark these miracles today, we also mark the miracles in this building. I’m talking about you. I’m talking about each of you who have come to faith in Jesus as your Savior. In so doing, the Spirit has miraculously convicted your hearts of the sin that is there and the Spirit has miraculously created faith in Jesus who forgives that sin. You have gone from death to life. Instead of being an enemy of God, you are now his ally.
And this miracle can only take place by the power of the Holy Spirit. You cannot be a child of God apart from the Spirit’s work. Having said that, you need to now realize that the Spirit isn’t done with you. It isn’t as if he simply brings you to faith and then leaves you alone. No, just as Jesus promised the Holy Spirit and delivered that Holy Spirit to his disciples at Pentecost, Jesus also promises that the Holy Spirit or Counselor has been sent for you. Let’s consider what that all means for you.
When we use the term ‘counselor’, we may be thinking of different people. We have counselors at schools. They may help guide students with the classes they take, or they may help students with problems. Lawyers are often times called counselors. They consult with clients on what is best for them. There are counselors for people who have addictions of various kinds. Then there are counselors for any number of emotional or psychological or situational problems.
Our world knows well what counselors are. That helps us to understand what work the Holy Spirit does when he is referred to as our Counselor. All counselors advocate for us. They help us. And they do that in various ways. One way in which counselors advocate for us is by teaching or informing us. A lawyer teaches or informs his client about the rule of law. A grief counselor helps her clients understand how they can cope with grief.
The Holy Spirit has been your Counselor since you first came to faith at Baptism. He not only started that spark of faith, but he also nurtured it. Just think about how important that has been to you. If you were baptized as a baby, you weren’t even able to say the name Jesus yet. The Holy Spirit used other people such as parents, pastors, teachers in Sunday School and Lutheran schools in order to teach you about God and his Word. And as the Word itself was being spoken and taught to you, you have been in the Holy Spirit’s classroom.
No matter where you are in life, the Holy Spirit isn’t done with you yet. “You’re never too old to learn” is a truth that especially applies to God’s Word. The Holy Spirit will continue to teach you. He will continue to remind you of what you have already learned about your Savior Jesus, and he will continue to work to expand your knowledge. The whole while he is doing that, he is also strengthening your trust in him.
The Holy Spirit as your Counselor is your teacher. But that’s only the half of it. He does so much more while he is teaching you. He also comforts you.
That certainly is a role of most counselors. Counselors comfort people with the message that they are there to help. But no matter how good the counselor is, the counselor’s ability to help is limited. The ability to comfort those they serve, then, is also limited.
That’s what makes the Holy Spirit as our Counselor so special. Think back to the MasterCard commercials a few years back. Most popular toy for toddler $500; most popular stuffed animal for toddler, $350; most popular picture book for toddler, $60. Watching the toddler play with a cardboard box instead: priceless. We can pay counselors to help bring us comfort with certain problems. However, the comfort the Holy Spirit provides us is priceless.
It is priceless because of what the Holy Spirit delivers. He delivers peace to our hearts. He delivers the same peace that Jesus delivered to his disciples: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
Jesus spoke these words in the Upper Room in Jerusalem, where he also established the Lord’s Supper with the twelve. It was here that he was preparing his disciples for what would happen later that day and the next, as well as the days following. He would suffer and die, but he would also rise from the grave and ascend into heaven. In telling them that he was leaving them in peace, he was relating to them the whole reason he came to earth.
Let’s think about how different Jesus’ peace is than that of the world. The world has us thinking that we can find peace within ourselves. We just need the right tools to reach it. But inside of us is exactly what is causing the problem. We are born in sin and acting out on that sin is inescapable. The answer can’t reside inside of us.
Realizing that, the world turns to find peace outside themselves. Only they turn to things that are only temporary or that only serve to cover up the real problem for a short time. They turn to such things a drugs or alcohol in order to mask the pain they are going through. But those things never bring peace.
That’s what makes Jesus’ peace so valuable. Since the root of all our problems is really sin, Jesus’ peace is the only peace that truly lasts. That’s because Jesus has eliminated the problem itself. He eliminated the thing that causes our souls nightmares. He eliminated the power that sin, death, and hell have over us. Jesus took our place and suffered the death we should have suffered. Jesus took our place and suffered hell so that we will never have to. Now the only thing awaiting us after we die are the glories of heaven. Perfection with Jesus himself!
Are you ever troubled with something that you’ve done wrong? The Counselor, the Holy Spirit is there to comfort you with the forgiveness of sins Jesus has won for you. Are you afraid of the future? The Counselor, the Holy Spirit is there to comfort you that your future is safe and secure in God’s hands. You have no reason to be troubled. You have no reason to be afraid.
Sound too good to be true? It IS true! The closer you remain connected to the Word of God, the more opportunity the Counselor, the Holy Spirit has in order to work on your heart. Never has the Word of God been so accessible than now. Use it. Read it. Learn it better. Take it to heart. The Holy Spirit works through that Word because the Holy Spirit, the Counselor, has been sent for you! Amen.
April 29, 2018 [Easter 5] Acts 8:26-40 J.D.Roekle
Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” 27 So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians. This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, 28 and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the book of Isaiah the prophet. 29 The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.”
30 Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked.
31 “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.
32 The eunuch was reading this passage of Scripture:
“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter,
and as a lamb before the shearer is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
33 In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.
Who can speak of his descendants?
For his life was taken from the earth.”
34 The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” 35 Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.
36 As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. Why shouldn’t I be baptized?” 38 And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. 39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. 40 Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.
Every Soul is Precious to God
Dear Friends in Christ,
The Germans captured more than 20,000 U.S. soldiers during the Battle of the Bulge. Of that number, 1292 of these men were non-commissioned officers who wound up in a prison camp in Ziegenhain, Germany. One day after their arrival in Ziegenhain, the commandant of the prison camp ordered all Jewish POWs in that group of 1292 to present themselves the next morning. Upon hearing that, the highest ranking officer of the American POWs, a man by the name of Master Sergeant Roddie Edmonds, ordered all 1292 men to present themselves the next morning. Seeing all 1292 POWs the next morning, the commandant approached Master Sgt. Edmonds and said: “You can’t all be Jews.” At the risk of his own life, Edmonds replied: “We are all Jews.” Edmonds certainly could have just given up the 200 or so men who were Jews, but to him, every American POW was precious. In the end, they all ended up surviving.
How precious are you to God? Do we really even need to ask the question? Because who we are by nature wars against our faith, we need to be constantly reminded. Each week we gather for worship, we are reminded of how precious each of us are to God. And this is important because it only takes a bad event in our lives to get us to forget or at the very least doubt this truth. But in order for us to have the truth that every soul is precious to God cemented in our minds, let’s see how this truth plays out in this account from Acts.
Much of the time when you hear this account of Philip and the Ethiopian man, the emphasis may often be on Philip and what the Lord led him to do. Certainly that is a very valid emphasis. But today, while we may be talking about Philip too, our emphasis is really going to be on the Ethiopian man. We want to see how God clearly is telling us that every soul is precious to him.
The man from Ethiopia was clearly not a Jew by birth. He was from Africa. But somewhere along the way, he apparently began to follow Judaism. In fact, we are told that he was going back to Ethiopia after having worshipped up in Jerusalem. While we don’t know how much he knew about Jesus, he clearly didn’t know that Jesus was the Messiah, the Savior.
Because this man’s soul was precious to God, He went out of his way to make sure he learned about Jesus. He went out of his way by sending Philip. This is pretty remarkable especially when you consider what Philip had been doing.
You may remember that Philip was one of the 7 men who were appointed as deacons in Jerusalem, who were to help with the distribution of food of the Christian widows. Apparently, that responsibility had run its course because at the time the Spirit redirects Philip here, we find Philip in an unnamed city in the region of Samaria. He is working there as an evangelist. He was already working on the Gentiles. And he was having some good success. The Holy Spirit had reached the hearts of many men and women there.
Now, God redirects Philip’s attention. Why? For the sake of a single man. For the sake of one individual. One soul. One precious soul. And we see the careful attention the Lord is giving this one precious soul. It was an angel of the Lord who sent Philip in his general direction. It was the Holy Spirit who specifically commanded Philip: “Go to that chariot and stay near it.” It was God who made the writing of his prophet Isaiah available to this Ethiopian man who came from an area where the Old Testament Scriptures were likely not as obtainable. And it was God who had made sure that Philip was trained in such a way so that he could help this man understand that Isaiah was talking about Jesus. God did all this for one precious soul. Is there any doubt that every soul is precious to him!
Who is your Philip? Who was it that first taught you about the love of God in Christ? Who was it that brought you to the waters of baptism? Who was it that took the time to explain Scripture to you? Who was it that told you that the suffering servant that the prophet Isaiah is talking about was your Savior who willing suffered and died for you to win salvation and forgiveness for you?
Maybe it was a whole series of Philips that your Lord has sent to you. Whoever it is, thank God for that person or persons. Whoever it is, it should remind you of how precious you are to God. He sent his resources specifically to you. He sent a person or people specifically for your benefit, in order to bring you the love of God that we find in Christ Jesus our Savior.
That leads us to a thought that should come naturally to us by faith. Since God has found me to be so precious to him, who does God want to reach out to with the Gospel? Of course, we will immediately want to think of those who don’t know Jesus or who may have heard about Jesus but don’t understand what he’s all about. We always want to be prepared to give an answer for the hope that we have in Christ.
In respect to this, we most often point you to look for people outside the church who are not currently churched anywhere. There is a huge mission field out there. Look for those individuals. If you know someone in that situation, find a way to reach out to them with the Good News of Jesus.
But there is another segment of people I’d like you to focus on too. Focus your attention on people who have fallen away from church or are in the process of falling away. You may think to yourself: that’s the work of the elders. True. That is the work they are specifically tasked with. But you also can play a part in this. You too can assist.
When people are falling away from church, many of them are like this Ethiopian man. They may not understand any longer the significance of Jesus. And so, they need to be reminded. They need be reminded that Jesus is the suffering servant who humbled himself even to the point of death, yes, even death on a cross. They need to be reminded of how important Jesus is for them each day of their lives. When they are led to those Scriptural truths once again, it is the Holy Spirit that takes over and moves them to act on their faith. To come and worship their Savior once again.
While the elders do this work on behalf of the church, they are unable to reach everyone. There are some who won’t answer the elders’ letters or phone calls. That’s where you come in. You do know some of these individuals. You do communicate with some of them. Let the Lord remind you how important it is that you talk to them about Jesus by reminding you that each soul is precious to him. Each soul is so precious that God would sacrifice his own Son to die for each soul.
Many of those who have been falling away from church are much like evangelism prospects. What they need is to be connected or reconnected to the vine. They need to reconnect with Jesus. He is the one who gives life. He is the one who makes our lives flourish by producing fruit in connection with our faith.
Every soul is precious to God. May the Ethiopian man be a reminder to you of that truth. May you be reminded of how God has singled you out by sending individuals to you to care for your soul. With that truth in mind, may you be moved to care for other precious souls. Amen.