When you study Creation and the Garden of Eden, a good question to ask is: “Why did God plant the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil?”

The answer is this: faith in the Triune God is a tried and tested thing.

Do you confess the truth of the Word of God in what you say and do—or not?

Do you bear the weight of the cross God gives you in patient faith—or not?

God taught Adam. Adam taught Eve. Eve was deceived and gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.

The fault wasn’t with God or His Word. The fault was Man’s failure to hear the Word of God and do it.

Today, Jesus says, “Do not be anxious” (Matthew 6:25).

And today, six feet away from everyone else, behind masks and piles of Clorox wipes, we say, “Yes Lord.”

“Do not be anxious,” and we say, “Yeah right.”

Context will help us.

Matthew chapter six is the middle of the Sermon on the Mount. In chapter five, Jesus establishes His authority as a teacher, repeating the phrase, “But I say to you” six times (cf. Matthew 5:22, 28, 32, 34, 39, 44). “You have heard that it was said…but I say to you.”

Jesus speaks with authority, establishing both who He is and what the Law of God is: commands not suggestions—deserving the wrath of God and not a slap-on-the-wrist.

And just so we all know exactly how high the bar has been set, Jesus says, in the last verse of chapter five: “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).

Then, in Matthew chapter six, Jesus shows some of what that looks like.

He says, “When you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you” (Matthew 6:2).

He excludes from perfection the trumpeting of your own achievements. God doesn’t share glory, and we shouldn’t want Him to.

Then Jesus says, “When you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues…that they may be seen by others” (Matthew 6:5).

So we pray in our rooms, door shut, to our Father who sees what is done in secret, will rewards us.

And we pray outside our rooms, doors open, that all the world would one day see God face to face—whether anyone ever sees us or not.

“And when you fast,” Jesus says, “do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others” (Matthew 6:16). So we mix our fasting with joy, that the practice of our faith is not a burden to others.

And, finally, Jesus says, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth” (Matthew 6:19).

It’s all fleeting. It’s all vanity. It’s all for naught.

Buy the new iPad if you want. Or rejoice that you live in the house your grandfather built. And—to you—both of those things will be meaningless in either a thousand years or tomorrow, if that’s when Jesus comes.

There’s nothing wrong with owning a new iPad. There’s nothing wrong with being humbled by and thankful for living in the house your grandfather built. But those are not the treasures Jesus tells us to lay up.

“Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven,” Jesus says. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (cf. Matthew 6:20-21).

Only now do we come to the first verse of today’s Gospel lesson: “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 [mammon]” (Matthew 6:24).

And mammon is the better word.

It’s the word Jesus actually said, for one, and it conveys more than currency, which is the point.

There are two ways: the way of life and the way of death. You can follow both God and mammon as easily as you can follow a road that forks.

It’s either/or. God is neither fooled nor mocked.

So after all of that, Jesus dares to say to us, “Do not be anxious.”

From our perspective, it’s like He doesn’t remember anything He just said.

The command to be perfect followed by commands that are already nigh impossible, and Jesus tacks on, “Do not be anxious”?

Again—as it was in the Garden—the fault’s not in the Word but in our failure to hear the Word rightly.

Telling a child the rules is a completely different thing from telling a child to obey the rules.

Any child can learn the Fourth Commandment, “Honor your father and your mother” (Exodus 20:12). But no child naturally does.

Any child can learn Ephesians 6:1, “Children obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” But no child naturally does.

In whatever vocation God has given you, you must learn the rules—and do them. What an obvious thing!

It’s not enough for the Christian to know he must give to those in need, friend or foe, sharing the bounty God provides.

He must also do it.

It’s not enough for the Christian to know he needs to pray about it, he must also pray about it, humbling himself under the holy name of God, hoping for God’s will to be done and trusting that it is.

It’s not enough for the Christian to think that fasting is okay—if you’re in to that sort of thing. Rather, Christians are in the habit of setting aside the wants of the body for the needs of the soul, storing up treasures in heaven and not on earth.

It’s not enough for the Christian to hear the Word of God. He must also do it.

James writes, “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:22).

And Jesus says, “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock” (Matthew 7:24).

But when Jesus says, “Do not be anxious,” we are, at first, anything but comforted.

Keep reading.

He doesn’t leave us with those words and the demands of the Law. He argues, from least to greatest, so we would be comforted.

“Look 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?…Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But 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?…Therefore, do not be anxious” (cf. Matthew 6:26-31).

“But seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these will be added unto you” (cf. Matthew 6:33).

The wrong way to say that is to say, “God is out there, go find Him.” Or, the popular variants of that, “It’s up to you. Just decide. Just pray about it. Let go and Let God.”

The right way to say that is: “Look at the birds of the air: they do nothing, yet our Father in heaven feeds them. And the lilies, how they grow. They don’t work, yet glorious Solomon was not arrayed like even one. You are worth more than the birds. You are worth more than the fuel for our fires” (cf. Matthew 6:26-31).

“Therefore, do not be anxious.”

“Seek ye first the kingdom of God and HIs righteousness, and all this will be added unto you.”

And to seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness is to call a thing what it is.

It is God who seeks, brings back, binds up, strengthens, and feeds—not you.

You are the poor, miserable sinner who was lost and is now found. Who was dead and buried and found, covered, purchased, won, raised up, and forgiven.

In the Parable of the Buried Treasure, Jesus says: “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field” (Matthew 13:44).

God searched the earth. He found you, precious in the sight of the Lord, made in the image of His Son.

He covered you. Gave all that He had—His Son, His only Son—and in joy—purchased and won you away from sin, death, and satan.

“Do not be anxious,” Jesus says.

It is God who seeks, brings back, binds up, covers, buys, and raises up.

It was you who was lost and is now found.

Do not be anxious.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Trinity 15 Sermon, 2020
Matthew 6:24-34
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

I’m not a doctor, but yesterday I did read most of an article from the CDC’s website. I’ll leave it up to you what lesson you can learn from that, but the recent outbreak shouldn’t surprise us, given the statistics.

And the fear—that’s expected, too.

Infection can damage the respiratory tract, we know that, but I’ve read, now, that it can damage nerves and even skin and eyes.

Extensive contact is necessary for it to spread from person to person, but that doesn’t make us feel more safe.

What is “extensive contact,” anyway?

One cough, one mucosal particle from the nose, that’s all it takes.

Or one dead armadillo.

I’m talking about leprosy, of course.

And some armadillos are naturally infected with the bacteria that cause leprosy in people, so, last week, when I saw a dead armadillo in the road about a mile north of the church, I prepared myself for the inevitable leprosy outbreak.

Okay, no I didn’t. But it’s not a new thing for an entire people to worry about clean and unclean, the spread of disease, and the fear of God.

Who isn’t tired of hearing all this bad news about fear. I’m sure everyone would rather hear all the bad news about politics. And we’re all tired of the bad news about disease.

So hear the Good News of the Gospel:

Jesus is God and Lord.

Faith in Jesus saves.

And the Living God is a God who loves even the poor, miserable, diseased lepers.

With that in mind, recall the Ten Lepers and the Good News of Jesus Christ:

“On the way to Jerusalem [Jesus] was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.’ When he saw them he said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went they were cleansed. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus answered, ‘Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’ And he said to him, ‘Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well’” (Luke 17:11-19).

What’s the lesson here?

If the Bible is merely Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth, if we strip the intent of God to save the world from sin, death, and the fear of satan, and if we reduce the Word of God to morality tales as told by cartoon vegetables, the lesson’s simple: be thankful.

But do you see how that fails?

If you reduce the Gospel to “Be thankful,” are you comforted?

It’s not the Gospel if it tells you how to be, what you must do.

It is the Gospel if it tells you who you are by faith in Jesus Christ, what God has done to win you away from sin, death, and the fear of satan.

We are to be thankful.

These verses from St. Luke’s account of the Gospel are also appointed for Thanksgiving Day, so yes, we are to give thanks, but that’s only part of what goes on here.

What’s the lesson?

A lesson could be made out of what Jesus says: “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well” (Luke 17:19), because faith doesn’t always make you well.

Prayer doesn’t always yield, in an apparent way, that for which you ask.

Or have you not prayed for anything you didn’t get?

It’s an important distinction for us to make, to know that Jesus literally says, “Rise and go your way; your faith has saved you” (Luke 17:19, The UBS Greek New Testament).

The word isn’t θεραπεύω as in therapeutic or therapy that might make you well. The word is σώζω as in soteriology and salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone.

That’s a big difference.

Faith may not make you well, temporally speaking. 

But faith that trusts in Jesus for salvation saves always, whether it’s small like a mustard seed, immature, O you of little faith, or brand new.

If faith makes you well, there are a lot of sick Christians who must now doubt their faith.

But if faith that trusts in Jesus saves, then we are comforted in the midst of any affliction.

We can abound, of course. It’s easy to rejoice when everyone’s healthy, your team is winning, and you just cashed a check.

But the peace that Jesus gives teaches us, even, to be brought low and yet rejoice in our Lord Jesus Christ (cf. Philippians 4:12). To thank God for our daily bread, even in the midst of what talking-heads call “unprecedented times.”

Faith in Jesus Christ saves, that may well be the lesson, but briefly, I’d like to share this with you as well.

All ten were lepers.

All ten “stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us’” (Luke 17:13)

All ten were cleansed.

But only “one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice” (Luke 17:15).

What does this mean?

All ten were lepers.

Desiring not the death of the sinner but that he turn from his evil ways and live, leprosy was the cross God gave to these men, that they would draw near to Him.

That’s what God is doing every moment of every day since Creation—calling you to repentance and teaching you to rely on Him.

All ten called out, and God, in the flesh, literally drew near to them.

But only one believed that God breathed into him the breath of life. Only one turned back, praising God, worshiping Jesus, giving Him thanks.

Only one recognized Jesus as the High Priest He is, who would offer the sacrifice of His own Body and Blood on the tree of the cross to justify the world.

Only one trusted in Jesus for salvation.

Only one saw the cross he bore in his flesh as a call to repentance and faith. Only one received his daily bread of renewed health in faith that looks to God for all good things.

With only that one did Jesus dwell.

To only that one did God draw near.

To that one alone did Jesus say, “Your faith has saved you” (cf. Luke 17:19).

So what does this mean?

God has given us all a cross to bear.

Great and small. Acute and chronic. Colorful and bland. The size and shape and individual weight of each cross is different, yet we’re all the same.

God is patient, desiring that all should reach repentance (cf. 2 Peter 3:9).

“Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you” (James 4:8).

Hear the Word of God, believe it, and He will raise you unto life everlasting.

Rejoice in the Good News of the Gospel, the power of God for salvation to all who believe in the Lord, and you will know how to abound and how to be brought low, how to do all things.

Rejoice in this Good News:

Jesus is God and Lord.

He speaks life into existence, doing all things well.

He knit you into existence, that you would live with Him forever.

Jesus is God and Lord.

That’s the Good News.

And faith in Jesus Christ saves.

Not your struggles, not your works, not your effort or your prayers, but “[Jesus] himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24).

I see it every year, around the eleventh of September, the claim that everyone who dies tragically is somehow an angel or otherwise with God.

It’s not true.

Whether your life is a Tragedy or a Comedy, it makes no difference, you were purchased and won from sin, death, and satan in the History of Jesus Christ.

Faith in Jesus Christ alone saves.

That’s the Good News.

And the Living God is a God who loves the leper, the infant, and the poor, miserable sinner.

He gives us all a cross to bear, out of love, that we would  draw near to Him and bear it faithfully.

He gives us His Son, that we would cast our cares upon Him. He draws near to us, removes our burdens, comforts us with Absolution, and speaks peace into our hearts.

May we all hear this Good News, recognize Jesus for who He is, and follow Him like the one, Samaritan ex-leper who returned, praising God, worshipping Jesus, and giving thanks.

That’s the lesson.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Trinity 14 Sermon, 2020
Luke 17:11-19
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

Does Jesus ever lie?

Of course not.

But when Jesus says, “Do this, and you will live” (Luke 10:28), does He mean what He says? If the lawyer “does this,” if he loves God and neighbor, will he inherit eternal life—is that what Jesus means?

Actually, yes.

What Jesus says is, of course, true. Keep the Law in its totality, and you will live eternally.

But St. Paul writes, and this is also true, that “If a law had been given that could give life, righteousness would indeed be by the law” (cf. Galatians 3:21).

That is to say, there’s no law given that can give us life.

It’s impossible for us to keep the Law unto eternal life, and yet—we’re commanded to do so.

“Do this, and you will live” is law and promise.

The Law is good.

It’s God’s word, God’s will.

The dynamic in Lutheranism of Law and Gospel sometimes—and inadvertently—teaches us to pit the Word of God against itself.

Law, bad.

Gospel, good.

Law, damnation.

Gospel, salvation.

Law, death.

Gospel, life.

But Jesus says, “Do this, and you will live.”

That’s law, a command, a perfect summary of the Ten Commandments. Do this law, and this promise is added: “…you will live.”

The Law is good. It promises salvation—just like the gospel does, but it requires unattainable perfection.

That doesn’t mean the Law is bad—that means we are no longer very good, as God created us.

St. Paul makes it clear—there’s no law that can give us life. He writes that “the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe” (Galatians 3:22).

So—the Law is good. The Law promises salvation.

But not to anyone who does not keep it perfectly, which is to say, not to you.

Jesus says what He does, because the lawyer’s putting Jesus to the test, desiring to justify himself.

He doesn’t desire to justify God, which is right.

He doesn’t desire to be justified by God, which is necessary.

He desires to justify himself, which is impossible.

The Law does promise life and salvation. Jesus says so.

But—and we all know this—salvation by the Law is impossible.

The parable of the Good Samaritan answers two questions specifically: 1) Can the Law save?

It answers this question practically, with a clear—no.

The second question is: who is the Good Samaritan? And the answer to that is also clear.

Thus says the Lord: “‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, “Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.” Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among robbers?’ He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘You go, and do likewise'” (Luke 10:30-37).

Can the Law save you?

Clearly, no.

You are the man, beaten and left for dead. The priest and Levite, servants of the Law, pass you by.

They offer no help to one who is dead in sin, because the Law offers no help to one who is dead in sin.

But something unexpectedly good has come out of Nazareth—the plan of God from before the foundation of the world—the truly Good Samaritan—Jesus the Christ.

He applies the medicine of immortality to the one who is dead in his trespasses and sins, which is to say—you.

He gives water and bread and wine, simple things to which God has attached the promise of life eternal.

He brings you to the inn, the Church, He pays for your care, and provides an inn-keeping Pastor for you, that the medicine may be applied as needed.

And He promises to return. To settle accounts.

To make things right.

The Law cannot save you, but the Good Samaritan, Jesus the Christ, can and does.

That seems to answer the second question, right.

Jesus is the Good Samaritan who finds the beaten, half-dead man, binding up his wounds, whether that man’s in the parable or in the pew.

Jesus is the Good Samaritan who found you by the side of the road, dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, who applied the water of Holy Baptism to you and fed you with simple temporal, bread and wine, and eternal things, His Body and Blood, for the forgiveness of your sins.

Jesus is the Good Samaritan.

That’s the first part of the answer to our second question, but Jesus has a bit more to say.

The Law is good.

It’s true, primarily, the Law shows us our sin.

It’s true that, hearing the gospel, we hear the words, “Do this and you will live,” and we know we can’t “Do this…” perfectly.

We hear Jesus say, “You go, and do likewise,” and we say, “Yes Lord, but I’m the one who needs the help.”

And I don’t mean that falsely.

It’s the prayer of faith that flees to God for refuge and strength: “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner!”

But here is where you must realize the help that God has provided.

He sent His Son, the Good Samaritan, to seek and find you, to bind you up, to feed and clothe you, to help you in time of need, to give you life when all you had was death.

What is there that cannot be endured if life is waiting for you, come what may?

I’m not saying that’s easy. But I am saying that’s true.

You—the Christian—need to hear this parable as God’s plan for your salvation.

You were lost and dead.

Christ finds you and gives you life.

That’s the way of it.

But you—the Christian—also need to hear this parable as an exhortation to live and practice the Christian faith.

First, Jesus is the Good Samaritan.

And then, once you realize how you have been saved and by whom, then, you are free to be the Good Samaritan that your neighbor needs.

Saved, now, not by works of the Law but through faith in Jesus Christ (cf. Galatians 2:16), you bind up the wounds of the sick, poor, and dying, and you bring them to the same inn where God serves and saves you.

And now, you—the Christian—recognize the Law for the good and godly guide it is.

Do this, and you will live—not because you can save yourself—you’ve been carried by Christ to Church and washed and fed. He keeps you.

Jesus says, “You go, and do likewise” (Luke 10:37) so your neighbor, left for dead on the side of the road, in need of help the world cannot provide, would rejoice, with you, in the truly Good Samaritan.

Like the lawyer, you can’t justify yourself.

But the Lord our God is just.

He sent His Son into our flesh to bear our sin and be our savior.

He justifies sinners and sends them out to serve.

Believe this, and you will live.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Trinity 13 Sermon, 2020
Luke 10:23-37
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

“They brought to [Jesus] a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged him to lay his hand on him” (Mark 7:32).

You can’t do that today—or, you shouldn’t, because it’s not politically correct to assert that there’s something wrong with being deaf—or blind or mute or pro-choice or homosexual.

To assert that ears hear, eyes see, and tongues confess, offends people whose ears, eyes, and tongues don’t hear, see, and confess.

And to assert that what God says is true offends people who are inconvenienced by it.

Maybe you know someone who’s deaf—or blind or mute. Maybe you know someone who’s had an abortion or foolishly and blasphemously thinks women should be able to choose. Maybe you’ve voted for someone who supports what are called women’s rights (unless they’re unborn-and-therefore-non-voting women).

Maybe you don’t like some of the things that God says or the Church teaches.

To assert—therefore—that there’s something wrong with your identity—who you are, what you think, and even the way you live your life—that’s offensive.

Jesus doesn’t care.

The good friends of the deaf man don’t care.

They bring the deaf man to Jesus, because they know ears are meant to hear and tongues, confess.

It may be very offensive to tell the truth, but lies certainly don’t help.

Lies might make you feel good, and the truth might hurt your feelings; but if your feelings are wrong, they need to be burned with fire, ground to powder, scattered on the water, and drunk (cf. Exodus 32:19-20).

That’s what God thinks of our false gods.

Now, recently, I baptized a baby. I was told by a hospital worker that it wasn’t needed, that there was nothing medically wrong with the child.

It was, to this person, as though the Lord sees as man sees, judging on the outer appearance and not the heart (cf. 1 Samuel 16:7).

It’s offensive to assert that a newborn child has inherited sin from mom and dad and commits his own sin and is therefore at enmity with God.

It’s offensive to assert that there’s something wrong with the deaf man.

But only sinners go to heaven.

I don’t say that to shock—I say that, because there’s more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than the ninety-nine who break the heart of God by claiming they need no repentance (cf. Luke 15:7, 10).

Only forgiven sinners go to heaven.

Taking [the deaf man] aside from the crowd privately, [Jesus] put his fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue.

And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, ‘Ephphatha,’ that is, ‘Be opened.’ And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly” (Mark 7:33-35).

It wasn’t this man’s sin that caused him to be deaf, though temporal consequences do sometimes follow certain sins.

“It wasn’t that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (cf. John 9:3).

And the work of God is this: “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh” (2 Corinthians 4:8-11).

This is the work of God: The deaf hear. The blind see. The meek obtain fresh joy in the Lord, and the poor exult in God (cf. Isaiah 29:18-19).

“This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent” (John 6:29).

Miracles are interesting.

Who hasn’t prayed for a miracle.

But miracles are never the goal, the end, the point.

So the once-deaf man’s ears were opened.

So his tongue was released.

In the end, he still died and was buried.

The widow’s son at Nain, the little girl, and Lazarus—Jesus miraculously raised them all from the dead, but in the end, they were yet dead and buried.

Miracles are supernatural wonders, marvelous to behold—but, though they may last for the rest of your life, they will still end.

Saint Peter, who stood on the mountain and saw our Lord’s transfiguration and heard the voice from God the Father, he still considered that testimony less sure than what every Christian here today has and hears: the prophetic Word of God, the Bible.

Saint Peter writes: “For when [Jesus] received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,’ we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. [But] we have the prophetic word [which is] more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place” (2 Peter 1:17-19).

He had the miracles, the mountaintop, and the mighty works of God, but he preferred the prophetic Word.

Miracles aren’t the point; rather, they point to Jesus the Christ, our God and Lord.

Miracles identify who Jesus is.

After Jesus opened the ears of the deaf man, “[He] charged them to tell no one. But the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, ‘He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak’” (Mark 7:36-37).

When God created the world, “[He] saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31).

God is good. And He does all things well.

This is the work of God: when the deaf hear and the mute confess, when He does good things and those, things, well, our eyes are opened and tongues released, and we speak the straight, doxological truth of God’s Word: truly, this is the Son of God.

We didn’t need to see it happen.

We don’t see it happen.

But we hear and believe.

God defines what is meet, right, and salutary, and that definition might offend us or hurt our feelings.

Good.

The friends of the once-deaf man have it right.

Jesus does all things well.

He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.

He doesn’t promise to remove every hardship, He doesn’t promise to provide a life of ease, and the miracles He did perform seem to be with us no longer.

Who hasn’t prayed for a miracle?

But we have something better.

Thus says the Lord: “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh” (2 Corinthians 4:8-11).

We have something better.

He gives us life in His name.

This is the work of God: He who sighed and breathed His last for us upon the cross has opened our ears to believe in Him and has released our tongues to confess that Jesus is Lord and Christ.

So we hear and believe and rejoice.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Trinity 12, 2020
Mark 7:31-37
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

Jesus says, “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:14).

The most obvious way that a man exalts himself is to boast like the Pharisee in the Temple. “I fast twice a week. I give tithes of all that I get.” Such shallow attempts to make oneself righteous must be denounced, even ridiculed.

“For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20).

Because— “We know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified” (Galatians 2:16).

“Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?” (Galatians 3:2).

“For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them’” (Galatians 3:10).

The problem with the Pharisee wasn’t his fasting or tithing, Christians are to fast and tithe.

The problem wasn’t his strength of will to resist adultery or extortion. It’s not a problem that he didn’t take advantage of his neighbors or give in to greed.

God commands all of that.

The problem was, the Pharisee thought he was righteous enough from how hard he worked, that his simplicity was enough to earn God’s favor, and that whatever failings he had were insignificant compared to other people, so—therefore—he was the one to be loved by God.

In fact—the Pharisee was living what the Bible calls the good life. Quoting Psalm 34, St. Peter writes: 

“Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil” (1 Peter 3:10–12).

In avoiding evil and doing good, giving away his material possessions, and training his flesh for hardship, the Pharisee enjoyed a life of peace and health.

There’s no real or lasting pleasure in sin, even for sinners. If you don’t believe me, pick a rock star who lived long enough to have a biography written about himself, and read his biography.

Debauchery does not lead to happiness.

The good life is not found in what the world counts as pleasure.

Even Oprah—who denies that Jesus Christ is Lord—knows, deep down, that to be happy you must make other people happy. She knows you must give your life and your stuff to others.

If you get to choose what sort of an unbeliever to be: either the Pharisee who lived in poverty and service to others but was heading to Hell, or the Tax-Collector who lived in luxury and sought to maximize pleasure at every turn but was also headed to Hell—if you must choose between the two—pick the Pharisee.

Blesséd, in a sense, is the man who doesn’t know what a hangover feels like, who’s never had to worry if the girl was pregnant, or if he had aids. Blesséd is the man who’s never been beaten up in the back alley of some bar, or arrested, or vomited on himself.

Blesséd is he—but, of course—that’s not true blessedness. True blessedness isn’t simply the good life promised by the Law. True blessedness is the righteousness bestowed by Christ on sinners.

If you get to pick what sort of a man to be, either the Pharisee, greatly honored in the community with a steady job, or the Tax Collector, hated by all, pick the Tax Collector who prayed, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Luke 18:13).

He went down to his house justified.

He confessed His sins before the mercy seat.

He trusted in God to cover him and to receive him by grace, to forgive him. And God did and does.

That’s what the Temple was for and that’s why the Temple veil is destroyed at the death of Christ (cf. Mark 15:38).

Nothing separates us from the love of God and His mercy. It’s open to women and Gentiles, to tax collectors, prostitutes, and pimps. It’s open, even, to Pharisees and life-long Lutherans.

The Church has deliberately chosen the Tax Collector as her model of prayer. His actions in the parable are precisely why we bow our heads and close our eyes and fold our hands in prayer.

Years ago, Lutheran confirmands were taught to beat their breast when they confessed sin or received the Sacrament.

Mea culpa. Mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa.

My fault. My fault. My own most grievous fault.

We come before God as sinners in need of mercy.

We want to go home justified.

We don’t trust in ourselves or our works.

If we are righteous, it’s not our righteousness but the righteousness of Christ that’s been bestowed on us as a gift through His Word.

We want to be the tax collector in his penitence and piety not in any of his previous perversion.

That he goes home justified means more than that he was let off the hook for all the bad stuff.

More than that, he went home changed, the new man.

In an outward way, we expect that he began from that point forward to look like the Pharisee. To fast, training his body. And to tithe, training his heart and providing for the poor. Resisting evil. And doing good.

Luke records this parable in chapter 18, and in chapter 19 he tells us about another tax collector convert: Zacchaeus, that wee little man who climbed a sycamore tree. When Jesus came to his house, Zacchaeus receive him joyfully, and, in the freedom of the Gospel, pledged to give half of all his goods to the poor and to restore ill-gotten gains fourfold.

Jesus said to Him “Today salvation has come to this house” (Luke 19:9).

Yes, because Jesus is there.

And yes, because Zacchaeus loved Him.

The Gospel changes both tax collectors.

It delivers not only the outward peace and satisfaction of the good life, but it also gives an abundant life, a life lived with God, by His Law, in repentance and faith, in service to neighbor, and with joy.

Lutherans confess: “When a person is born anew by God’s Spirit, liberated from the Law…and led by Christ’s Spirit, he lives according to God’s unchangeable will revealed in the Law. Since he is born anew, he does everything from a free, cheerful spirit” (FC SD VI.17).

That’s what is true. That’s what we believe. But there’s a caveat. On this side of glory, we struggle.

Lutherans also confess: “Believers are not completely renewed in this world. The old Adam clings to them right up to the grave. Therefore, the struggle between the spirit and the flesh remains in them. They delight in God’s Law according to the inner man, but the law in their members struggles against the law in their mind. Therefore, they are never without the Law. Nevertheless, they are not under, but in the Law. They live and walk in the Law of the Lord, and yet do nothing in the Law because of force” (FC SD VI.17).

The Law does little good for the unrepentant.

The Pharisee’s obedience only gave him a good life here on earth.

But the Law does great good for the Baptized. We confess: “This doctrine of the Law is needed by believers in order that they may not make up a holiness and devotion of their own. Using God’s Spirit as an excuse, they must not set up a self-chosen worship, without God’s Word and command” (FC SD VI.20).

Lest we make up our own standards and turn ourselves into libertine hedonists, Christians-in-name-only, inventing an entirely new and perverse form of self-worship and self-righteousness that brags in the un-faith of not doing works, loving God and neighbor, lest we follow our heart and lose our faith, God gives us His Law.

But it’s also true that our good works, done in faith, become pleasing to God as they obey the actual Law in an outward way. We are not under the law. We are under grace, forgiven, free from the curse and condemnation of the law through faith in Christ.

Our good works, though imperfect and impure, are pleasing to God through Christ. We act in God-pleasing ways—not because of the compulsion of the law but because of the renewal of the Holy Spirit—without coercion and from a willing heart, as baptized, justified, and saved Christians.

Yes, there’s a war in your members.

Your struggle and sin.

But you fight the Old Adam as a son, not a slave.

You fight as one redeemed by Christ the crucified, not as a worrier.

You fight as one to whom the victory has been given, not the one who would earn the victory himself.

You fight as one who goes down to his house justified, prepared to live in this world and the world to come.

 Yes, we struggle.

But we struggle as one who has conquered by faith in Jesus Christ.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Trinity 11 Sermon, 2020
Luke 18:9-14
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

”When [Jesus] drew near and saw [Jerusalem], he wept over it…” (Luke 19:41).

But when Jesus weeps, we more readily remember Lazarus, who died, and the shortest verse of the Bible, “Jesus wept” (John 11:35).

Today, Jesus weeps, but it’s not the same.

He weeps because of death, that’s the same, but today Jesus weeps for those who had the word of God and abandoned it.

Over Lazarus, Jesus wept, knowing that he would be raised, on the Last Day, to life eternal.

But over Jerusalem, Jesus wept, knowing that city and those dwelling in it would reject the Christ, the Son of the Living God.

It sounds most unLutheran to say it, but this is true: not everyone who’s baptized will be saved. Hitler was baptized. And Stalin. And Judas. Caiaphas and all the Sadducees were circumcised. It’s possible they were believers at some point, but we must say it’s also possible to deny the faith, to turn away, either in a conscious choice for power and evil, or by the slow descent into sin and an unrepentant, irreverent approach to faith.

An unbeliever cannot choose to believe in God.

And a believer can choose to reject God.

Just because every Christian currently has the 10 Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Apostles’ Creed memorized, doesn’t mean that every Christian is currently in the club, so to speak.

Confirmed Christians have vowed to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from the faith.

We vainly think, “I would die for God, for the Truth. I would never deny the Lord or burn incense to Caesar…”

“Just don’t ask me to give up the desires of my heart. Don’t expect me to be slightly inconvenienced.”

Because Jesus never wants us to be inconvenienced, right? He wants everyone to get everything they want, right? Jesus doesn’t want anyone to suffer.

But see, he does.

Look at stanza five of the Christmas hymn, “O Jesus Christ, Thy Manger Is” (LSB 372).

“The Lord prepared thee for all earthly sadness.”

Did you know that God prepared you for all earthly sadness? Do you know what that looks like?

It’s a cross-shaped sadness that God gives each Christian to bear—that you would bear it faithfully.

“The angel host can never boast of greater glory, greater bliss, or gladness.”

We incorrectly think of angels as something to aspire to, but they can’t bear a cross in patient, quietness like you can.

Jesus does want us to suffer the cross God gives us, as we follow Him.

His grace is sufficient for us.

And St. Paul writes: “we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance character, and character hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3-5).

Jesus would rather see us inconvenienced and faithful than “convenienced” and unfaithful.

If Jesus drew near to our city, he would weep over it, too, saying: “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation” (Luke 19:42-44).

Jesus speaks these words first to Jerusalem.

In fewer than forty years from the day Jesus speaks these words, Rome wars against Jerusalem, walls are torn to the ground, and men, women, and children are dashed to pieces against the stones.

It was hell on earth.

On this Sunday, the Tenth Sunday after Trinity, the account of the Destruction of Jerusalem has historically been read so that Christians don’t make a name for themselves and rebuild Babel.

The Destruction of Jerusalem was hell on earth.

But the hell in hell is worse.

So, while Jesus speaks these words first to Jerusalem, they fall on our ears, too.

We don’t know the time of our visitation, and yet we’re complacent with all manner of sin.

If somebody sins against us, if we’re inconvenienced, or made to feel the slightest bit uneasy, we get grouchy and kick and stomp until somebody pays us attention.

That’s human nature, and it’s true for everyone.

But when your sin is mentioned by name, how quickly does it become no big deal? Or how quickly do you play the 8th Commandment, Pharisee, All Law, and That’s-How-We’ve-Always-Done-It cards?

That’s human nature, and it’s true for everyone.

When it’s your sin, you cover it up.

But when someone sins against you, you paint the town with their blood. You gossip and slander and lie.

You make assumptions.

Why ask questions when you can just assume?

That’s human nature, and it’s true for everyone. Repent.

Now is the time of your visitation. The great day of the Lord is coming, and every knee will bow.

Jerusalem was a warning that we should heed.

Had Jesus found a house of prayer instead of a den or robbers, He wouldn’t have had to drive anyone out. But, as “[Jesus] entered the temple [He] began to drive out those who sold, saying to them, ‘It is written, “My house shall be a house of prayer,” but you have made it a den of robbers’”  (Luke 19:45-46).

When considering what is Christ-like, remember that He made a whip of cords and drove the people out of the temple with the sheep and oxen (cf. John 2:13-17).

But it’s not just the buying and selling of animals for sacrifice that requires Jesus to do and say these things.

If that were the case, Jesus’ words would be pointless for us.

No one, that I know of, tries to sell animals—for sacrifice—before, during, or after church.

Harvesting beef is one thing, animal sacrifice another.

If the congregation and her Christians are more concerned with making money, preserving a building, and selfishly being seen, then they’re not concerned with God, Forgiveness, Jesus, Heaven, Grace, and Peace.

What Jerusalem needed is what we, ourselves, so often need but don’t want to hear—though we would never say we don’t want to hear it: Jesus’ words.

Because ”[Jesus] was teaching daily in the temple. The chief priests and the scribes and the principal men of the people were seeking to destroy him, but they did not find anything they could do, for all the people were hanging on his words” (Luke 19:47-48).

You can’t defeat the Word of God. You can disagree with it, ignore it, or refuse to preach it.

You can teach as commandments the doctrines of men and plug your ears to the Gospel, but the Word of the Lord endures forever.

The Words of Christ endure forever.

And teach. And Save. Forever.

We know what Jerusalem forgot.

We know what makes for peace:

Jesus, the Word. Jesus, the Christ, the Crucified.

A stumbling block to Jews, because God died a real death and rose again.

And foolishness to Gentiles, because we worship one God alone—not a pantheon or stadium full.

“Even were a Greek disposed to love Zeus—not honor, admire, or beseech, but love—he could never love Zeus alone, without rousing envy among Poseidon, Apollo, and the rest. And he did not want to do so” (cf. Tony Esolen on Facebook. August, 14, 2020).

If you consider all beliefs held by all the peoples of all times and places, it is perfectly unique to Christianity to love one God alone—who lives and dies for you and lives again.

The Jews and Greeks thought one dead Savior couldn’t help them. They miss the point.

But we know the things that make for peace.

The death of Christ, His shed blood, and the proclamation of the Gospel bleach the stain of our sins away.

We know the things that make for peace. The flood of water poured upon us in Holy Baptism, that inoculation against the devil. Less a membership card and more a war that’s already been fought and won for us.

We are the army when David fought Goliath. We simply receive the victory and rejoice in it.

We know the things that make for peace. The Body and Blood of Jesus Christ given and shed for the forgiveness of our sins.

If you are what you eat, Christians literally eat and drink peace with God and with each other.

Our cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow us all the days of our lives, and we shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, the Lord is with us.

We know what Jerusalem forgot: God’s house is a house of prayer. And Jesus teaches us to pray:

God is our Heavenly Father.

We give thanks for all He gives us.

We ask, boldly, for all we need.

We pray for forgiveness.

We pray His will be done and evil defeated.

We pray—knowing our Father in heaven hears our prayers and gives us all that we need for this body and life.

We pray in Jesus’ name, because “there is salvation in no one else…there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

Jesus wept, because so many who knew that forgot it.

But we remember, and at that, there is joy in heaven.

The chief priests and scribes and the principal men of the people—they still exist today. Who feign would tear from off Thy throne, Christ Jesus Thy beloved Son.

But the Word of the Lord endures forever.

We hang on to that Word, we cling to it.

We believe. We trust. We wait for Jesus and hope in Him.

And weeping is turned to joy.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Trinity 10 Sermon, 2020
Luke 19:41-48
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

Today, Jesus commends an unrighteous manager for his shrewdness, that is, for his profound judgment.

The dishonest manager wasted his master’s possessions, but it’s not his dishonesty or wastefulness that’s commended—the rich man, the master, took away his management.

Too weak to dig and ashamed to beg, he uses his vocation to secure his future.

He knows the rich man will find out.

He trusts that the rich man will be merciful.

It surprises us, and it almost seems wrong, that “The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness” (Luke 16:8).

To understand this parable, we should understand these verses: The unrighteous manager says, “I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses” (Luke 16:4).

And Jesus, in explanation of the parable, says, “For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light” (Luke 16:8).

Everything the unrighteous manager does he does to secure his future. That’s his motivation—being taken care of when he’s no longer a steward.

Jesus’ explanation helps us understand how we need to hear this:

The manager was a son of this world. Not a son of light—that part’s not commendable. But he sought, with all his ability, what was most important to him.

So—what if the sons of light were as shrewd regarding eternal things as the sons of this world are regarding temporal things.

How shrewd are we when we deal with stuff?

To what length will you go to get a better deal?

We walk onto a car lot knowing we won’t pay the sticker price.

We clip coupons. We shop online.

We social distance. Wear masks. And spray everything that doesn’t breathe with disinfectant.

We wipe down the can of Lysol with a Clorox wipe.

We go to great lengths to care about our stuff.

These are simple examples of the commended temporal shrewdness.

And—we should emulate this shrewdness—in the things eternal.

What if the sons of light were as shrewd regarding eternal things?

This is why no church should close.

This is why no church should ask a non-mask-wearing saint to come back face-covered or stay home.

If what God offers here—freely and for all—matters more than your feelings, emotions, and other false gods, you’ll be here every Sunday.

There are people who don’t go to church because they can’t cope with the many and various personalities in a congregation. Yours and mine included.

They can’t cope with being told no.

They can’t cope with finding out their golden idol is a golden idol, and they don’t want to drink that water.

Either the forgiveness of sins, everlasting life, and salvation is most important and you act like it is or it’s more important for you not to sit next to someone who disagrees with you about raising godly children, which make of car to buy, or who should be president.

The unrighteous manager thought he was going to lose his daily bread. He was going to starve and die.

Every conversation, then, became an opportunity to further secure his future.

You’re not that different.

You’re a steward of a few possessions that God has entrusted to you for a set amount of time, the length of which you are unaware, but we all know the end is coming.

You will lose everything, because, when you die, you don’t get to take anything with you—though some try.

Have you heard the story of Lonnie Holloway?

He was buried in the drivers seat of his 1973 Pontiac Catalina with a $100 in his pocket, his rifles and handguns next to him. He left the house to his dog.

That’s an extreme example, but living to preserve our stuff, we go to great lengths, practicing strange and pagan burial rituals in an attempt to ease our conscience or preserve what we think important.

Imagine going to such lengths to learn and confess the faith or to express concerns toward eternal things?

Every conversation would be about how to live, and live eternally.

Everyone and all their children would come to Sunday school—not only because they should, but because they’d enjoy learning or because they’d enjoy hearing the truth simply and faithfully taught.

All possessions would be employed for the purposes of God’s kingdom.

You wouldn’t need a better car, so long as it got you to church.

You wouldn’t need a tv at all, because you’d read the Bible to learn what to think.

As a Christian, you live in the world, but you are not of the world. You have a different responsibility, a different worldview, and a different heart.

And either that’s true and you live like it is.

Or that’s not true.

Listen to how Jesus explains this:

“Make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings” (Luke 16:9).

Generally, Lutherans are afraid to speak this way.

Jesus teaches how you are to live, what you are to do.

And thus says the Lord, there are eternal ramifications for those who ignore this warning about earthly wealth, unrighteousness, and mammon.

That makes us uneasy, because we all like stuff.

But stuff isn’t the problem.

Comparing your stuff to the stuff of others is the problem.

The heart that beats for the accumulation of earthly stuff, that’s the problem.

With shrewdness, live and think for things eternal.

Consider the lengths to which God has gone to save the world.

He promised that the Son of Eve would crush the ancient serpent’s head.

He promised that upon that Son would be put the chastisement that brings us peace.

He promised the resurrection and the life of the world to come.

And He delivered.

He delivered His Son into the hands of sinful men, and in so doing He delivered the world from sin, death, and satan.

He delivered you—safely into this world He delivered you—and by Holy Baptism, He delivered you safely into the world to come.

By our own reason and strength, we’ve done nothing.

But the Holy Spirit has called us by the Gospel, enlightened us with His gifts, sanctified, and kept us in the true faith.

With shrewdness, live and think for things eternal.

Commend yourself to the God who commends such shrewdness.

Use your vocation to secure your future—temporal and eternal.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

The Ninth Sunday after Trinity, 2020
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt
Luke 16:1-9 (10-13)

There’s not a lot of Gospel-sounding words in today’s Gospel lesson, but I’m going to do my best.

First, though…

Would anyone like to eat some rat poison?

Not a lot, mind you, just a little.

What if we feed rat poison to the whole world?

They would eat and be satisfied. That’s good, right?

We could water it down. Surely, we’ll build up an immunity to it by ingesting it carefully and in small quantities. A little dab’ll do ya, right?

Advertise it as all-natural, non-GMO, vegan rat poison, since that’s the thing to do.

Or sweeten it—no one would ever guess at the bait and switch.

Of course we’ll charge a pretty penny for it, and imagine all the good we could do with the money.

Guys, I’m tellin’ ya, this is worth a shot.

You may not know it, but I just described every tent-revivalist and false prophet and nearly every science textbook that exists.

Some rat poisons are made of 99.995% inert ingredients. That means 99.995% of some rat poisons do nothing. They probably taste and look great.

But it’s not the 99.995% that kills you. Or the rat.

It’s the .005% poison and false doctrine that does the killing.

A science textbook that’s 99% observational science and 1% “We evolved from nothing when something eventually happened to the nothing” is rat poison.

A biology textbook that’s 99% observational science and 1% “Gender is a fluid, social construct” is rat poison.

In the Church, teaching that is 99% true and 1% false is rat poison, no matter how much you love the 99% or the person speaking.

False doctrine satanic, blasphemous rat poison.

If I serve up 100 of the best chocolate chip cookies, and I say, “Only one of them is laced with enough rat poison to kill you.” None of those cookies will be eaten.

But, in American Christianity, if your shepherd calls your attention to theological rat poison, the response isn’t “Ew. Gross. Let me eat somewhere else and better” but rather, “I’m sure he means well, and he’s done a lot of good in the world. Who are you to judge?”

I’m not talking about accidental theological rat poison  that’s soon enough repented of. In the manuscript of last week’s sermon, I forgot the word “not,” so it read something like “God wants us to hurt people.”

This happens when your describe God as immoral instead of immortal or when you’re reading the Christmas story and call Joseph just a man instead of a just man. I’m not talking about that kind of rat poison.

Or the incidental stuff that’s dropped as soon as it’s noticed. In the Altar Guild Manual that CPH sells, it says specifically that plastic cups should never be used. It’s easy to read a CPH published, Commission on Worship approved statement like that and change what you do.

But I’m not talking about that kind of rat poison. I’m talking about persistent adherence to false doctrine, teaching in word and deed that is contrary to Christ.

Like publishing the Altar Guild Manual and selling plastic cups.

It’s my God-given responsibility to say true things and, teaching the truth of the Word of God, to warn you of the wolves dressed as sheep.

Jesus says, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (Matthew 7:15).

He says, “Beware the leaven of the Pharisees” meaning, “Beware…of the teaching of the Pharisees” (cf. Matthew 16:11-12).

We don’t ignore them completely. Jesus says, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice” (cf. Matthew 23, esp. vv. 1-2).

“You will recognize them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:16), Jesus says.

By their teaching and works. By what they say and do.

You will hear and see and judge—according to the Word of God—whether “Thus says the Lord” or not.

And if you find .005% poison in what is otherwise a fine meal, do what you would do in all other cases.

If one pill in a hundred will kill you, you’d call the doctor or the pharmacy, you’d ask a question, you’d confirm and have the bottle refilled.

If one cookie in a hundred will kill you, you’d easily refrain from eating those and happily eat what you know for certain is meet, right, and salutary.

The doctor may be supremely popular, incredibly kind, or, as they say in Boston, “Wicked smaht.” But he, the pharmacist, or whoever, can still make mistakes.

And unfortunately does.

Has anyone here been given the wrong prescription?

As soon as you realize it, you take action.

You don’t keep taking it.

You don’t gamble with your life—and you shouldn’t.

Not with pills. Or cookies. Or false doctrine.

This is my paraphrase, but St. Paul says in the book of Acts: “I will not shrink from declaring to you the whole council of God. Pay careful attention to yourselves. God has obtained the Church with His own blood, but fierce wolves come in among you and seek you out. From among your own selves arise men speaking twisted things, to draw you away” (paraphrase, cf. Acts 20:27-30).

If only 99% of the sermon is faithful, biblical teaching, you need to sit down with me and show me the 1%.

And I need to listen and correct it.

If 99% of what Billy Graham said is faithful, biblical teaching—that’s great—insofar as he taught the truth when he taught the truth.

But when and where he didn’t teach the truth, be honest about it and move on.

Billy Graham said this about Baptism: “Baptism is a conclusive act of obedience and witness to the world that we are Christ’s.”

Be honest. That’s the .005%. That’s false doctrine. That’s as far from what Scripture teaches as you can get.

That teaches that faith must pre-exist Baptism, which is contrary to the Word of God.

That teaches that Baptism is a work we do rather than a work God does, which is contrary to the Word of God.

That teaches that Baptism is worthless in terms of salvation which is contrary to the Word of God.

St. Peter writes, “Baptism now saves you” (1 Peter 3:21).

St. Paul writes, “[God] saved us, not because of [obedient] works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior” (cf. Titus 3:5-6).

Baptism is one of the means by which God saves us.

That’s what the Bible teaches.

And any teacher that teaches otherwise and remains in that false teaching is a false prophet.

We recognize them by their fruits, their teaching, what they say and do.

This last week, I attended a conference in Wisconsin. One of the sessions I attended identified false doctrine as a form of persecution.

Not so pastors sit in self-pity, but so we all recognize who we’re up against.

I heard it, immediately recognized it as true, but I also realized that I couldn’t have articulated it that way myself. I rejoice to learn.

False doctrine is persecution.

When doctrine is attacked, it’s the devil’s work.

He does not want to let God speak.

Consider all the times when what you know to be true according to God’s Word is attacked in front of you.

It’s no longer socially acceptable to assert the truth of the Word of God over and against homosexuality, divorce, premarital sex, or pornography—and I don’t mean the pornography that everyone hates, I mean most daytime tv shows designed for children, I mean that kind of godless pornography.

 Christians won’t condemn what is clearly condemned in the Word of God without first listing all the exceptions to the rule.

We don’t want to offend.

But the Gospel is offensive—if you believe it.

Church is a rather uncomfortable place—if what we say is happening is actually happening.

This is the Gospel: in the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, all sin is forgiven. And all who call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.

For you to benefit from that, you have to call yourself a sinner, first. You have to agree that there’s a right and a wrong and that you are by nature sinful, unclean, and in the wrong.

That’s offensive because it’s so alien, so strange to us who are definitely used to justifying self.

But there is peace for you if you confess that you cannot save yourself, that God saves you, not by conclusive acts of obedience or outward expressions of an inward grace but by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.

Church is, for a time, a rather uncomfortable place, because you—a sinner—are in the presence of God.

Have you ever listened to the words of the hymn “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence”?

“Let all mortal flesh keep silence / And with fear and trembling stand; / Ponder nothing earthly minded, / For with blessing in His hand / Christ our God to earth descending / Comes our homage to demand” (LSB 621:1).

Coram Deo, in the presence of God, if you’re not humbled by the fact that God’s Body and Blood is truly present—you’re probably already dead and this is Weekend at Bernie’s.

Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness’” (Matthew 7:21-23).

There’s not a lot of Gospel-sounding words in today’s Gospel lesson. I’d say about 99.995% of them are Law.

But .005% can do a lot.

Not everyone who publicly, loudly, and successfully-in-the-eyes-of-everyone-else says “Lord, Lord…” will enter the kingdom of heaven.

Not everyone who pontificates and prophesies with passion will enter the kingdom of heaven.

But you will.

Because you hear the Word of God and do it.

Even when you don’t want to or no one does.

Even when it hurts, or is scandalous to the world, drawing its ire.

You recognize good fruit and rejoice in it.

With blessing in His hand, Christ our God to earth descends, come at last to save all Man.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Trinity 8 Sermon, 2020
Matthew 7:15-23
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

In the feeding of the five-thousand, there were five loaves, two fish, and twelve baskets full of pieces.

Five is Moses’ number—like the Pentateuch.

Two calls to mind the tablets, inscribed with the Ten Commandments by the finger of God that Moses brought down from the mountain.

And twelve is the tribes of Israel.

The feeding of the five-thousand in Mark chapter six was for the Jews.

As St. Paul writes: “[The Gospel is] the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the [Gentile]” (Romans 1:16).

But the feeding of the four-thousand in Mark chapter eight, today’s Gospel lesson, is for you.

Four calls to mind the four winds, the four cardinal directions, the four corners of a map—all of which stand for the entire world.

Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are the four evangelists for this reason: Jesus says, “[As you are going,] make disciples of all nations, baptizing them and teaching them” (cf. Matthew 28:19).

Four accounts of the one gospel proclaim the reconciliation of God to the world redeemed in Christ.

And there were seven loaves—a perfect number.

The people ate and were satisfied such that there were seven baskets full of pieces left over—again, a perfect number. That’s what seven is—perfect and complete.

In six, literal, natural, evening-and-morning, twenty-four hour days did our Lord create the world and all that’s in it. But He rested on the seventh—not because He needed it but because we do, and so, seven is the number for full and complete things, like a week.

A week full of work is not yet complete until it also includes rest and hope. 

That’s true for a week and the life of a Christian. Both work without faith and faith without works is dead.

In feeding the people, Jesus gave thanks and blessed the fish. All that we have is a gift from God—and all that God gives is a blessing, for our good.

Against our flesh we make that confession.

And against the false-god of fallible autonomous human reason, we receive this miracle as God intended it.

Miracles show God’s power and command over nature, His transcendence.

But they also show His mercy, His compassion.

In feeding the hungry, we see that God’s heart is turned to you and all the world, and what He gives doesn’t merely address the problem—it solves it.

They ate and were satisfied with baskets leftover.

“Cast your cares upon the Lord and He will sustain you” (cf. Psalm 55:22), we pray in the Psalms.

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden,” Jesus says, “and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

That’s what we learn from the feeding of the four-thousand, and that is most certainly true.

But—woe to that pastor who fails to tell you that the Christian life is more complicated and more difficult than that.

The Gospel according to St. Mark is always doing a combination of at least three things: 1. Proclaiming Jesus as the Son of God, telling us who Jesus is. 2. Calling sinners to repentance and faith, saying what Jesus says. And 3. Teaching us to take up our cross and follow Jesus, showing us what our lives will look like.

Christian preaching must proclaim Jesus as the Son of God or it’s worthless and unchristian.

Christian preaching must call sinners to repentance and exhort them to a living faith or it’s worthless and unchristian.

And Christian preaching must prepare the saints of God for the tribulation that is being wrought right now.

Cooped up for months, surrounded by constant fear-mongering, with physical death—always nearby-enough to sink our spirits anyway—now, seemingly closer still, how well-prepared are you to take up your cross and follow Jesus?

The pandemic has been good for us, because it’s shattered the illusion that we’re guaranteed a pain-free life. Christianity in general, and Lutheranism specifically, is no longer some box you check by rote memory on a form. It’s the faith you live out at home—at church—and everywhere else—or it’s not.

On every page in the Gospel according to St. Mark, we find the cross.

After the feeding of the four-thousand, St. Mark records that the Pharisees demand a sign.

Of course they do. Jesus has just fed the five-thousand, walked on water, healed the sick, taught with authority, healed a Gentile woman’s daughter, healed a deaf man, and fed the four-thousand.

But the Pharisees seek a sign.

They don’t know who Jesus is or care for what He has to say, but the disciples are no better.

They forget to bring bread with them, having only one loaf. “And [having only one loaf] they began discussing with one another the fact that they had no bread” (Mark 8:16).

Jesus rebukes them for their lack of faith.

“Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember?” (Mark 8:17-18).

At the feeding of the five-thousand there were five loaves and twelve baskets full.

At the feeding of the four-thousand there were seven loaves and seven baskets full.

“Do you not yet understand?” (Mark 8:21).

Jesus, next, heals a blind man and we’ll come right back to that.

Peter, then, confesses Jesus as the Christ—which is great—but then he ruins it by rebuking Jesus for teaching the gospel, that “the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again” (Mark 8:31).

Jesus teaches the Gospel—and Peter rebukes Him.

So consider now the blind man that Jesus healed.

“[Jesus] took the blind man…and when he had spit on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, ‘Do you see anything?’ And he looked up and said, ‘I see men, but they look like trees, walking.’ Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly” (cf. Mark 8:23-25).

That’s not a failed first attempt. That’s two miracles.

St. Mark is always doing a combination of at least three things, one of which is teaching us to take up our cross and follow Jesus.

And in the context of miracles, Pharisees, disciples who don’t get it, and Jesus foretelling His own death and resurrection, we need to know what that might look like.

And, having compassion on us all, Jesus heals the blind man, twice.

He sees men as trees walking.

He sees men carrying their cross, following Jesus.

He sees men struggling to understand or deal with who Jesus is and what He says. But he sees those men following Jesus, walking. They do not depart from Him.

Ten verses after the man sees men as trees walking, Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it” (cf. Mark 8:34-38).

It’s three times in the book of Acts that the cross is called a tree.

St. Paul writes in Galatians: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’” (Galatians 3:13).

And it’s St. Peter, of course, who writes that, “[Christ] himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24).

The tree is known by its fruit, and Christian trees walk, following Jesus.

So take up your cross, and take heart.

Jesus says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

But He adds to that: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:29-30).

Jesus’ burden wasn’t light for Him, but He carried it and completed it out of love. The light burden He gives you to bear is not His heavy burden but the benefit of Him having carried it.

Cast your cares upon the Lord, and He will sustain you. Go to Him, all who labor and are heavy laden, and He will give you rest.

Behold, the Son of Man takes your burdens away and lays on you the benefit of His work: forgiveness, eternal life, and salvation.

Take His yoke upon you, and learn from Him, for He is gentle and lowly in heart. Follow Him, and you will find rest for your souls.

Work the week, but know that it’s not complete without rest and hope.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Trinity 7 Sermon, 2020
Mark 8:1-9
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

It’s not that we disagree when Jesus says, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20).

We agree, sure. That’s the easy part.

Agreeing with Jesus is important, but, Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). Hearing is easy. Doing is harder.

So, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you’ll never enter heaven.

And the Pharisees are men “set apart.”

That’s what “Pharisee” means: “one who is set apart.”

They didn’t commit crimes. They paid their taxes on time, every year, pandemic or not.

They gave a tenth of everything they owned to support the work of the church and to help the poor.

They didn’t commit adultery or steal.

They weren’t violent.

They lived clean, decent lives.

We cast the Pharisees in caricature, singing, “because they’re not fair you see”—and the Sadducees with them—“because they’re so sad you see.”

The scribes and Pharisees did think themselves righteous—and they are wrong—but looking at their lives, we can understand why they thought that.

If our nation were filled with men like the scribes and Pharisees, in some ways it would be a more pleasant place to live.

Judging by appearances, the scribes and Pharisees were righteous men.

And Jesus says, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20).

Righteousness that saves must exceed that of the Pharisees.

In a way, that’s not good news, because—outwardly—the scribes and Pharisees were the most righteous men around.

In today’s Gospel lesson—which seems devoid of any Gospel, what with Jesus telling us what to do and all that—Jesus preaches the Law in such a way as to break and hinder all the false-righteousness of the Pharisees and us.

He says, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire” (Matthew 5:21-22).

A Pharisee considers himself without sin, righteous, and needing no repentance. When a Pharisee sits in the pew on Sunday morning, he thanks God that he’s not like other people and wonders how they all got it so wrong.

But Jesus teaches the Law in simple terms that condemn us all. Unless you’re going to say you’ve never been angry, never called someone a fool, never invoked a curse, never—even momentarily—hated your brother in your heart—you are a murderer under Jesus’ teaching.

Murder, Jesus says, is manifested hatred. So heartfelt hatred, which leads to murder, must be excluded.

Jesus says, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness” (Matthew 23:27).

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is teaching His disciples for the first time, and He needs to show them what true righteousness is.

In terms of salvation, the Pharisees aren’t righteous at all, because their righteousness is whitewashed, puffed up, and perfumed. It hides death.

When Jesus says, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees…” He doesn’t mean that righteousness is on a sliding scale and you have to worry about doing enough.

That’s not it.

God wants you to hear and do. Labor and hope.

Hope with certainty that the Lord and His Work saves.

Labor with compassion that you would help your neighbor and not hurt him.

True righteousness is an either/or. A yes or no.

And you can be certain which one you are.

Either your God is the Lord and you’ll enter into Paradise, or your god is not the Lord and you won’t.

Do you believe in God the Father Almighty? And in Jesus Christ His Son? Do you believe in the Holy Spirit? Do you renounce the devil and all his works and all his ways? If so, you can be certain that God has redeemed you, a lost and condemned creature.

He has declared you righteous by faith in Jesus the Christ.

If your righteousness is false, if you fear, love, and trust  the man-made process and not the God who made man, if you carry your sin for the world to see how uniquely individualistic you are, if you try to forgive yourself, you’ll never run out of accusations, you’ll never run out of anger, and you’ll never get out of the prison of hell.

But—if the blood of Christ avails for you before God—and it most certainly does—then the accuser and all accusations are silenced, and—though you’ve murdered, been angry, and cursed—the Christ, whom you crucified, intercedes for you, praying: “Father, forgive them.”

In the Apostles’ Creed, we confess that Jesus descended into hell, a marvelously comforting doctrine.

He ran that victory lap to tell the devil you won’t be showing up.

The self-righteous scribes and Pharisees will be there.

But not you.

Your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees because you have been claimed by the mercy of God. The Lord is your righteousness, who lived and died and lives again, who calls you by name, and is coming soon.

Faith that hears the Word of God and does it exceeds the false-righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees.

We want to find a way to compliment our unbelieving and non-practicing friends and family. We want to find their whitewashed works. We want to say that they’re good people, doing good works, serving their neighbor.

But St. Paul writes: “Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23).

And in Hebrews, it is written that “without faith it is impossible to please [God], for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6).

It’s either/or. Yes or no.

The one who rejects Jesus in thought, word, and/or deed, rejects the righteousness that comes by faith, the righteousness required for entry into the kingdom of heaven.

Your righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees.

So, believe in Jesus and live as one who does.

Hear His Word and do it.

Confess your sins—your anger, your hatred, your cursing. Jesus calls all of those murder.

Confess them—flee from them—overcome those particular sins, even.

Because sins cannot and do not rule over a Christian.

Of course we agree with Jesus. That’s the easy part.

But do we understand Him?

The Lord is our righteousness.

We will enter into the kingdom.

So yes—we do.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Trinity 6 Sermon, 2020
Matthew 5:20-26
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt