There’s a distinction to make between the one and the nine. Obviously, we want to be the one and not the nine, but there’s a great difference between the two.

Now, there are a lot of distinctions to make in today’s Gospel lesson, but there’s only one that really matters.

Consider all the distinctions to be made in today’s Gospel lesson:

Jesus has set His face toward Jerusalem, and He goes, uncomplaining forth and in our place, as the sacrifice for sin.

But just as He is on His way to Jerusalem, some would be on the way to Mount Gerizim.

Some are Galileans. And some, Samaritans.

For those who followed Jesus, those are important distinctions. Jews worshiped in Jerusalem, as was right. And those half-breed Samaritans foolishly and falsely worshiped on Mount Gerizim.

They made those distinctions.

Jesus is going along between Samaria and Galilee—here, not choosing a side—because He goes to Jerusalem to be crucified for all.

And there are more distinctions.

There are lepers and—what do you call “not lepers”? Normal people? How rude, right?

There are those who call Jesus “Master” and those who don’t.

There are priests and—what do you call “not priests”? Normal people? How fitting, right?

There are the cleansed and the unclean.

The healed and the sick.

And we read these distinctions with gladness, thanking God that He has made us different from other men.

We thank God that we’re not so foolish as to think that worship must occur at Jerusalem or Gerizim.

No—we’re more likely to think that our last name gives us super powers. The right last names have that quirk everywhere.

We thank God we’re not lepers—how terrible that would be.

But we’re even more glad we’ve not recently tested positive for something as bad for our reputation as COVID.

Because there are COVID positive people and then there are normal people. Now is that rude or fitting?

We thank God that we call Jesus Master.

But we don’t think about that any further lest we realize there are false gods we at least occasionally bow down to. 

It’s Thanksgiving—so I’m trying to retain my normal cheerfulness. But—it’s Thanksgiving, which means everyone’s on edge.

Will the turkey be dry this year?

Did you use the right recipe?

Did mom really say that? Did grandpa?

How many false gods will we tiptoe around this year?

Is it fitting to think that Thanksgiving is about family? Perhaps the nine think so.

Or is it fitting to think that Thanksgiving is and ought to be about God, our very reason to be thankful.

Indeed, the one does.

Or—to avoid all the nonsense—are you following the suggested commands of our glorious overlords, the CDC and having a Thanksgiving-for-One sponsored by HotPocket.

Some thank God they’re priests.

Most thank God they’re not.

80% of the people are happy with that. Or 20%.

It varies.

We don’t argue about being cleansed, I don’t think, and we should thank God for that.

But there are people who meet your expectations—and people who don’t—and that’s about the same.

We don’t argue about who is healed and who isn’t, thanks be to God!

But we take note when yours are and ours aren’t.

I’m not saying that every one of you makes every one of these distinctions, but the shallowness of American Christianity has taught us to think of our day and age as golden, an improvement over those judgmental Jews and Gentiles.

But really, these same distinctions are made among us every day.

And—none of these distinctions are what Jesus commends.

“One of [the lepers], 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 [saved you]’” (Luke 17:15-19).

And this is the type of faith that saves—

This is the distinction between the one and the nine—

The distinction Jesus wants you to know and believe and live—

There are those who worship God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

There are those who call upon His name in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks.

And there are those who don’t.

There isn’t a Jerusalem or a Gerizim, but there are idolized churches and churches to be scorned.

There isn’t a Samaria and a Galilee, but there is a Home team to root for and an Away team to despise.

And if a sports analogy doesn’t work there for you—there are schools to which you can send your kids and schools to which you should not.

Don’t read into that, I’m just saying that it’s true.

People take sides.

There aren’t really lepers anymore. Now they’re called homeless or addict or Democrat (or Republican—it depends on your family, I guess). They live together, scorned by man, and we love to hate them.

Plenty of Christians call Jesus Master.

So, that’s the same.

But plenty of look-alike Christians do, too.

So, that’s the same.

Cleansed or not—healed or not—priest or not—the distinction Jesus cares about is the broken and contrite heart that renders the sacrifice of thanksgiving to God.

The one ex-leper turned back and praised God with a loud voice. There are those who unabashedly sing the straight truth of God—and there are those who don’t.

The one ex-leper fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving Him thanks.

Posture matters.

Reverence in the presence of God matters.

He humbled himself physically, because he humbled himself period, giving Him thanks.

That the ex-leper is a Samaritan should shock us.

He’s on the wrong side of our distinctions. He’s the half-breed, homeless, addict, Democratic-Republican who worships in the wrong place. He’s not from here, not part of the community, he’s strange and doesn’t belong.

We would hate this guy for who he is.

And we would hate him even more for getting it right.

“Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” (Luke 17:18). Jesus didn’t say that because He was shocked. He said that because we’re shocked that faith can be found in people we don’t like.

That’s the point!

The distinction that matters is the contrite heart that renders the sacrifice of thanksgiving and calls on the name of the Lord.

I keep hearing about how bad a year 2020 has been.

Hearing about the ex-leper who seemed to immediately get everything he wanted from God might grate against our ears.

But Jesus healing the lepers doesn’t teach us to wait for our leprosy to be healed.

Your leprosy—mental, emotional, physical, whatever—may not be healed this side of the resurrection.

This miracle—and all the miracles—rather, shows us who fights for us.

And it is the Living God who fights for you.

When I point out that the distinction that matters is faith which trusts in Jesus—and thanks Him—that might grate against our ears, too.

“Thank Him? For this year?”

You think this year’s been bad?

Imagine if God withdrew His protection.

Considering all we know—we might reminisce next year about how great we had it this year.

You think you’re innocent of taking God’s love for granted?

How many of you are at all anxious about today?

Why? Does God love you less than He did?

No.

In fact, He stands immovable in love.

Protecting you from worse. And giving you His best, His only-begotten.

What stands between the one and the nine is Jesus the Christ.

The nine get what they want and get out, and we’re always tempted to do the same.

The one gets what he wants—but his entire life is put on hold for one moment.

And in that one moment, he realizes that the Lord gives and the Lord takes away.

God kills. And God makes alive.

And this God stands between you and sin, death, and satan and says to all evil, “Thus far shall you come and no farther.”

There will never be a better year, a better day, than this one, because the Lord made it and used it to call you to Himself.

Praise to the Lord, who has fearfully, wondrously, made you, / Health has bestowed and, when heedlessly falling, has stayed you. / What need or grief / Ever has failed of relief? / Wings of His mercy did shade you.

Happy Thanksgiving.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Thanksgiving Day, 2020
Luke 17:11-19
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

When driving, if you see a sign that informs you that the exit you need is in one mile—or, if you hear, “In one mile, turn right,” what does that mean? 

It means slow down, right? Your turn’s coming up.

Pretty simple.

But on my way to an appointment with the eye doctor, I heard, “In one mile, turn right.” And what did I do?

I heard the announcement. I wanted to listen.

I wanted to do as I knew I should.

But—when the cry went up, “Turn right,” it was too late. Like so many, I had received the warning, but I did not heed it with care. I was distracted from the way.

In a car, this is no big deal. You slow down, turn around, and make the correct turn. Or—you can do what I did and slam on your breaks and make the turn at the last possible moment.

If you never want to ride with me—I’ll understand.

But the point is, we see and hear the warning—we want to heed it—and we get distracted.

Repent!

I’m not talking about you missing the exit on the way to the doctor, the restaurant, or the shop.

I’m talking about the doctors and nurses, the business owners and employees, and the consumers who are on the Way but may miss the Exit.

Or, to say it this way: live as though you believe Jesus who says, “Behold, I am coming soon” (Revelation 22:12).

In a car, when someone tells you the turn is coming, you drive very strangely: you sit forward, open you eyes, turn the radio down (all the better to see with), and look back and forth.

Jesus says, “The kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five were foolish, and five wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (Matthew 25:1-13).

Are you ready to meet Jesus?

Because the hour is coming.

The bridegroom is on His way.

We know he’s on his way.

We don’t know when exactly He’ll arrive.

We simply have to be ready. Prepared.

And all of them fall asleep.

Preparedness is not perfection but faithfulness.

It is enough that they are awoken and alerted by a cry.

But after the cry—it’s too late.

Are you familiar with the phrase “it’s all over but the shoutin’”?

I knew the phrase growing up—and I discovered it again in one of my favorite Southern authors. It means the conclusion is known—but mom and dad or whoever just have to shout about it.

Today, I mean that when the cry goes up, it’s no longer possible to prepare. Now, the only thing that’s left is the “shoutin’”—the wedding feast, the shut door, and the judgment.

Because it’s impossible to share oil.

It’s impossible for your faith to win another to Christ.

Don’t make the mistake of comparing this parable to the golden rule, thinking that the wise should have shared with the foolish.

But this parable isn’t a comparison to the golden rule, it’s an allegory for end time equipment.

It’s not that the wise should share with the foolish; but that the foolish should not be so.

The weaker brother argument doesn’t work here.

What separates wise from foolish is hearing and heeding the warning to be ready for the bridegroom.

“For those who were ready went in with Him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut” (cf. Matthew 25:10).

The wise enter in, the foolish are left without, and the door is shut in such a way and by such a one that it is not reopened.

When the cry went up, it was all over but the shoutin’.

And the shoutin’ is what Jesus says to the foolish who know the right words but apart from and without faith that trusted them: ”’Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you’” (Matthew 25:11-12).

He doesn’t say, “I didn’t know you” or “I didn’t want to know you.” He doesn’t say, “I never knew you” or “Never wanted to.”

They were included. They heard. They knew.

But they did not prepare. They were not ready.

So many parables seem to contrast obvious differences: sheep and goat. Lost and found. Good soil and bad. But here—the contrast isn’t in appearances.

They all look like church-going Christians.

They’re all virgins, that is, they know the Bridegroom.

The Word of God is the lamp for their feet (Psalm 119:105).

They’re in the right place at the right time—initially.

You can’t always look around and tell, because you can’t look around and see the heart that God will judge.

Jesus says, “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (Matthew 25:13).

Because when the cry goes up, it’s all over but the shoutin’.

The difference between wise and foolish, the oil necessary for the watch, is faith that submits to Christ:

Vigilance, not a passive watching and waiting, but  active and responsible service.

I don’t mean good works get you to heaven.

I mean faith is active in love.

The faithful and wise servants who hear God’s Word and do it need not worry about when Jesus returns.

But we learn in this parable that the required oil, the faith necessary for salvation, can’t be purchased or borrowed or stolen.

God gives it freely in the proclamation of His Word, but there is an end to His patience.

God gives the faith required for salvation freely.

What Jesus earned on the Cross—forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation—God gives to us by means.

But there is an end to His patience.

He commands that we be ready, because He is coming soon.

He commands that we watch. That our faith be active in love, sharing with others what we have first received.

Because when the cry goes up, it’s all over but the shoutin’.

Your exit is coming.

No U-Turns. No round-the-blocks or “I’ll just take the next one.”

“Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (Matthew 25:13).

And I’ll add this—and this is glorious.

Though judgment and the finality of the End can weigh heavily on us and sometimes seem like a drag, this is how the greatest hymn ever written has us sing it:

“Zion hears the watchmen singing, / And all her heart with joy is springing; / She wakes, she rises from her gloom.”

The church hears her pastor’s call for repentance and faith, and her heart, with joy, wakes from the gloom of sinful complacency and repents.

Of course she repents! She knows what’s coming.

“For her Lord comes down all-glorious, / The strong in grace, in truth victorious; / Her star is ris’n, her light is come.”

Jesus says, “Behold, I am coming soon” (Revelation 22:12).

“Now come, Thou Blessèd One, / Lord Jesus, God’s own Son, / Hail! Hosanna! / We enter all / The wedding hall / To eat the Supper at Thy call” (“Wake, Awake, For Night is Flying,” LSB 516:2).

We rejoice in all that we have now—thanks be to God.

And—Come Lord Jesus—we rejoice that we are prepared to eat the Supper at His call.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Last Sunday of the Church Year, 2020
Matthew 25:1-13
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

I’ve been in a courtroom only a handful of times, and it was never very interesting—no spontaneous applause, no hilarious banter between country judge and city attorney, no climactic “It was him!” shouted from the witness stand.

Mostly, it was boring, almost-unintelligible back-and-forths about how to file paperwork correctly.

Far from that picture is the one painted by Jesus in today’s Gospel lesson.

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats” (Matthew 25:31-32).

Do our judges think of themselves as separating sheep from goats? I wonder—when it’s up to the judge alone—what those few moments are like after he’s made his decision but before he’s proclaimed it to all the world.

When he knows the verdict—but he must wait for it.

Today, that’s the difference we need to understand, the distinction that must be made.

As a judge knows the verdict before it’s read out loud, salvation is a question asked and answered before even one sheep is separated from the many goats.

There’s a lot going on here.

Jesus says, “He will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:33-34).

The sheep on His right are blessed by God the Father. They’re called to inherit was was prepared—for them—from the foundation of the world.

Which is great—and we don’t have a problem confessing salvation by grace or a judgment by works.

Our problem is the waiting. The daily grind.

The doctor’s appointments.

I made the joke recently that all the overreacting about COVID was a ploy by doctors’ offices to get people to be happy to wait in the lobby again.

Would you be happier if you could wait inside?

Don’t you look forward to waiting inside again for your doctor’s appointment? “Oh, this is nice!”

Or—rather—do you look forward to having no need of the earthly healing arts?

We believe in and confess the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.

So why doesn’t God just hurry it up already?

Maybe He, too, wants you to be happy to wait in the lobby, so to speak?

My point is, the waiting isn’t necessary for God.

“With the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years [is] as one day” (2 Peter 3:8).

He waits if He wants to. For Him, it is when He says it is. So, the waiting is for us.

For the Last Day and the Final Victory, that we have to wait at all emphasizes the “not yet” part of our “now and not yet.”

We have these things now: forgiveness, eternal life, and salvation. We have them because the Holy Spirit has given them to us. And we have them truly.

“But—“ that voice will say, “Do we really?”

“Do you feel like you have them?”

“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face” (1 Corinthians 13:12). We have those things now and truly. And—we must also say that we do not have them now like we will have them then.

The waiting is a race of endurance, a test of faith.

That the waiting seems prolonged, though, that goes against our common wisdom, doesn’t it?

Does anyone actually prefer to rip the Band-Aid off slowly, drawing it out, one hair at a time, one fleck of scab at a time?

Potential bad news aside, does anyone actually prefer the waiting room and lobby to the exam room?

There’s nothing worse for anyone than being told by an important person, “I need to talk to you…tomorrow.”

The prophet Tom Petty was right: the waiting is the hardest part.

There’s a lot going on here, but—so far—that’s just our side of the argument.

So, thus says the Lord: The waiting is for us.

Not a single one of us enjoyed waiting inside the lobby at the doctor’s office, but all that changed when our freedom to sit inside and wait was taken from us.

None of us like waiting for the Lord to fulfill His promises. But there are imposters of the faith among us.

We don’t know who they are. God does.

We can’t see them. God does.

We may not even care. God does.

So learn the lesson. Obey the rule.

God sees the general lack of contentment in your life: the comparisons, the gripes, the lists, the not-so-subtle suggestions.

For the sake of those who are still on the fence about this whole “salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone” thing, He waits because He wants to.

And the waiting is for us.

He could take it all away, and when He does, we notice. He’s drawing us to Himself.

So learn the lesson. Obey the rule.

“The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

And more than that—He waits because verdicts, by their very nature, are public.

You’re wrong if you think victory is enough.

It must also be proclaimed.

Made manifest.

Revealed to all.

Thus says the Lord, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies” (Psalm 23:5).

But why would I want to eat in front of them?

Everyone knows this.

Victory isn’t enough. You have to show the losers.

It has to be published in the paper, with pictures.

The winning team must parade through town.

It has to be posted to Facebook—or it’s not real.

That’s what Judgment Day is.

We know the verdict. We have it and live it every day.

The verdict was known from before the foundation of the world. It was promised and prophesied the full four-thousand years before Christ. It was fulfilled finally, in Christ, at His crucifixion, death, resurrection, and ascension to the Father.

We’re not the Judge, but we know the verdict.

We’re waiting for the verdict to be enforced.

It’s true now. We know.

Thus says the Lord: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:34).

Enter into eternal life (cf. Matthew 25:46), for you loved Jesus, the Christ, the Son of the Living God.

You saw Him hungry and fed Him, naked and clothed Him, sick and you visited Him.

We know the verdict.

We’re just waiting for it to be enforced.

Which means now, right now, is the worst we’ll ever have it, the worst we’ll ever endure.

We have the victory—but it hasn’t been shown to the losers.

Learn the lesson. Obey the rule.

In love for all who’ve lost, our Lord delays, desiring that all should reach repentance.

There’s time.

For your son, your daughter, your friend.

There’s time.

For my dad, your neighbor, your wife, your husband.

There’s time.

But not much.

That day will come like a thief, and all our works will be exposed (cf. 2 Peter 3:10).

This, then, is the lesson. And this, the rule.

Learn contentment. Practice the faith. Grow in maturity as Lutherans. Rejoice in God’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom (cf. Luke 12:32).

Wait patiently—in your car, in the lobby, and wherever else God wills it.

He desires that all should reach repentance.

You know the verdict: “There is salvation in no one else [but Jesus], for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

Wait for it.

He is coming soon.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Second to Last Sunday, 2020
Matthew 25:31-46
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

“With what shall I come before the Lord? Shall I come with burnt offerings or year old calves? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (cf. Micah 6:6-8).

“Yeah pastor, ” someone might say, “but that’s in the Old Testament. Now—with the New Testament—we’re saved by grace and not by works. We don’t have to do anything, we just have to believe.”

You haven’t said that, but that is something that gets said. “Yeah, but that’s in the Old Testament…” means, “Stop making me feel bad. I don’t want to believe that. I don’t want to do that. So I’m not gonna.”

Understood rightly, the Old Testament teaches Law and Gospel perfectly, but what do you say to someone who rejects the teaching of half the Bible?

Let’s humor him.

Okay, you might say, how about this, from St. Paul:

“It is my prayer that your love may abound more and more…so that you may approve what is excellent [and not mediocre], and so be pure and blameless [and not grudge-holding revilers of the Truth], filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:9-11).

In a lot of ways, that’s the same as “Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.”

See—even the New Testament has it.

But even to that, someone might say, “Yeah, but St. Paul was a bigot.”

Have you heard that before?

That’s what they say, the ones God gave up to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies, because they exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshiped and served the creation rather than the Creator (Romans 1:24-25).

St. Paul’s a bigot, they say, because he says such true things as “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet” (Timothy 2:12).

The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod is full of bigots, then, because we ordain men as pastors.

This is how the world sees it.

Pick a dictionary. Bigot is defined as simply as: “a person who is obstinately or unreasonably attached to a belief.”

Every faithful Lutheran is obstinately and unreasonably attached to the Gospel.

Are you prepared to bear the cross of the label bigot?

First, they came for the Old Testament.

And then they came for what St. Paul wrote.

The world came for Jesus 2,000 years ago, nothing will stop it from coming after His Word today.

To Timothy, to all pastors, and for the Church, St. Paul writes:

“For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2 Timothy 4:3-5).

And to His disciples, Jesus says, “I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me. But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you” (John 16:1-4).

With that in mind, for those who are being saved, today’s Gospel lesson comforts us greatly when Jesus says, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants” (Matthew 18:23).

To those who are perishing, nothing will be more terrifying than the judgment of God.

And, to those who are being saved, to the faithful who do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God, nothing will be more satisfying than the judgment of God.

God desires to settle accounts.

To me, that is every reason to keep the faith, every reason to persist in the truth.

None of this is for naught, in vain, or without backing.

The time and hour is coming when being called a “bigot” will be par for the Christian course.

I’m saying this to you to keep you from falling away.

So that you will heed the truth and not the myth.

Your name is written in the Book of Life, and God desires to settle accounts, so, you won’t be lost to Him.

Blessed are you—for you will be satisfied.

And—attached to all this—there’s the parable of the unforgiving servant.

This, too, comforts greatly, because it shows the manner by which God has already settled our account.

“How often should we forgive our brother?” St. Peter asks. “Seven times?”

And Jesus says, “Always.” That’s not exactly what He says, but that’s exactly what He says.

Always forgive, because the blood of Christ always avails for you before God.

This is—simultaneously—how we are comforted in the midst of all sadness—and—how we are to live bearing the cross God gives us.

The man owed his master an impossible debt.

The penalty—for him and everyone under him—was prison, hell, and eternal death.

The man implored his master, saying “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything” (Matthew 18:26), and, in my mind, I always paraphrase that as “Have mercy, and I’ll pay you everything” but that’s not mercy.

The man thinks he can pay the debt.

He asks for more time to do so.

The master knows better.

He doesn’t want to let the man try (and fail) to pay off the impossible debt. Rather, “Out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt” (Matthew 18:27).

That’s mercy.

When we pray that petition, “Forgive us our trespasses,” the words of Jesus in Matthew chapter six are, “forgive us our debts” (Matthew 6:12).

Ours was an impossible debt.

The only way we know to operate is to work it off over time. Give us enough time, and we can accomplish anything, pay off any debt.

There can be a lot of practical sense to that, but that  fails utterly before God.

So that we would be saved, out of pity for us, God released us and forgave the debt.

But consider what that means.

The debt, impossible as it sounds, was somehow real.

It didn’t vanish. It wasn’t erased. Rather, the Master swallowed it, took it upon Himself.

All sin, all debt, is outweighed in the balance by the Holy, precious blood and the innocent suffering and death of God’s beloved Son, Jesus Christ.

He settled accounts. That’s mercy.

What follows is a negative example: the one forgiven refuses to forgive, and so the whole debt falls upon him, crushing him.

“Have you never read in the Scriptures, ‘The stone that the builders rejected as become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?” (Matthew 21:42).

And, “And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him” (Matthew 21:44).

“So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother your from your heart” (Matthew 18:35).

That’s justice. He settles accounts.

To forgive another person, then, is to believe that God has forgiven you.

Jesus teaches us to pray: “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12).

Old Testament, New Testament, St. Paul, and Jesus—this is what God wants us to believe and how God wants us to live.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Third to Last Sunday (Trinity 22), 2020
Matthew 18:21-35
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

Today, Jesus comforts the paralytic—and us all—by saying, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven” (Matthew 9:2).

He shows us the perfect will of God: to comfort each of us—take heart, He says—and to forgive our sins.

That’s why His name is Jesus: He will save His people from their sins (cf. Matthew 1:21).

But this detail might make us uncomfortable: Jesus doesn’t heal the man first, He forgives him.

“Behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said” something that didn’t immediately produce measurable results (cf. Matthew 9:2).

It produced results—his sins were forgiven—but that’s not the kind of results people like and can measure.

His sins were forgiven—but he was still a paralytic.

As good as the forgiveness of sins is and must be, we still prefer measurable results.

Jesus forgives the man. That’s good, but we can’t see that, we can’t scan it, we can’t count it, so it feels cheap.

Hearing this, “Behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, ‘This man is blaspheming.’ But Jesus, knowing their thoughts [and ours], said, ‘Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, “Your sins are forgiven,” or to say, “Rise and walk”?’” (Matthew 9:3-5).

Today, it’s easier to say “Your sins are forgiven” than it is to say “Rise and walk” because people can fake being Christian, but you can’t fake walking.

Jesus does the more difficult of the two to prove that He can do the more important.

And the forgiveness of sins is more important than the healing of the body because healing without forgiveness will turn to ashes in your mouth, but forgiveness—even apart from earthly healing—still has the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting to look forward to.

That’s why Jesus forgives the man before He heals him, to make this point:

God would rather you be forgiven and suffer as a paralytic than leap like a deer and go to hell.

In the Church, you have to be content with some “unmeasurables.” 

You have to disassociate numbers and faithfulness.

Attendance and success.

See, we don’t like that, because we prioritize felt needs. Honestly, we’d rather have both. We’d rather Jesus tack on the forgiveness of sins to a spectacular and miraculous healing.

We feel that would be more impressive.

Maybe you agree with me, and maybe you don’t, but here are some observations.

If you describe church—in any way—as “It would be great if…” you’re missing the point.

“It’d be great if there were more people.”

Not if they don’t vote like you.

“It’d be great if pastor picked hymns I like.”

There are no hymns that literally everyone likes, and every time I pick a hymn you like—that’s also a hymn someone else doesn’t like.

Ultimately, “It’d be great if…” fails to recognize what we have every week.

The Body and Blood of God for the forgiveness of our sins.

Is that not great?

It’s true that where two or three are gathered there He is among us, but we’d rather it not.

Have we so cheapened the forgiveness of sins and the truly miraculous that we’re no longer content to hear God’s Word, believe it unto eternal life, and rejoice together—whether there’s five or fifty?

This is exactly why Jesus forgives the man’s sins first.

Prioritize forgiveness.

And realize that the perfect will of God does include the healing of the body.

You may just have to wait.

Jesus knows what’s in man (cf. John 2:24-25). He knows how the paralytic feels, what he’s thought.

In varying degrees, we all know what it is to be paralyzed, trapped, and restricted.

Some are trapped in their minds.

Some, their bodies.

Some, right now, their homes.

It’s careless and callous to think that God can’t or doesn’t want to care for these people—for us.

But it’s foolish to think that a healed body is what would solve our problems.

Jesus knows what’s in man. He knows how the paralytic feels, what he’s thought.

He knows what it is to be trapped, stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. He was nailed to the cross in grief and shame—but for our pardon and peace.

The crucified, dead, buried, and raised body of Christ solves all our problems.

Forgiveness is most important.

Jesus forgives the man first to train our hurting bodies to rely on Him for what is most important.

But take heart.

As Christians, we know to prioritize forgiveness, but it’s not a “choose only one” kind of scenario.

There is—for every Christian—only a finite amount of time between forgiveness and perfect restoration.

Jesus does heal the man.

“‘[So] that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’—he then said to the paralytic—‘Rise, pick up your bed and go home.’ And he rose and went home” (Matthew 9:6-7).

In the Apostles’ Creed, we confess that we believe in the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.

But we don’t wait for those things as though we are without them.

We have the forgiveness of sins here and now.

“When the crowds saw [what had happened], they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men” (Matthew 9:8).

All your sins are forgiven in Christ.

And—you have the responsibility, you’ve promised God, that you will forgive the sins of those who’ve sinned against you.

Every time you pray the Lord’s Prayer, you promise God that you will forgive others.

The Fifth Petition: Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

What you have, you share with others.

What’s been given to you, you don’t withhold.

Forgive—as you have been forgiven.

We have the promise of the resurrection here and now: “We were buried therefore with [Jesus] by baptism into death, in order that, just as [He] was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too [will] walk in newness of life” (cf. Romans 6:4).

We will be raised. We aren’t unsure about it.

And—we have the medicine of immortality, the Body and Blood of Jesus.

Some of my favorite words in the liturgy are in the Dismissal: “The body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ strengthen and preserve you in body and soul to life everlasting. Depart in peace.”

This is what we believe, but we don’t wait for these things as though we are without them.

Jesus forgives the man’s sins first on purpose—to check our priorities, to teach us to rely on Him, and to cause us to rejoice in sins forgiven.

For this body and life—and for our life in the world to come—God has given us what we need.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Trinity 19 Sermon, 2020
Matthew 9:1-8
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

“When the Pharisees heard that [Jesus] had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” (Matthew 22:34-36).

This man doesn’t necessarily have Scripture in mind as the answer to his question. Though well trained in the Torah—the words, commands, and promises of God—he would also be well trained in the various, man-made traditions which can be good or bad, beneficial or harmful, precise or imprecise—but always subject to the Word of God.

In Judaism, there are commandments requiring hand washing, which may not be a surprise, but upon waking, you are to wash your hands and say a prayer that thanks God for allowing you to wake up, which isn’t a bad idea.

But—the Modeh Ani prayer is one that’s prayed while washing your hands and before you’ve walked the length of four cubits, about six feet.

So unless your sink is less than six feet from your pillow, you need to set out a bowl of water the night before.

When you wake up, you must wash your hands and say a prayer. You can’t walk more than six feet before doing so. And you can’t just splash some water, you have to be careful to do it the right way. You can’t dip your fingers in first or the water becomes unclean.

And you can’t touch anything beforehand: eyes, nose, mouth, clothing, food—nothing.

Just water—and your fingers can’t go first.

If you follow this commandment, even if you wake up in the middle of the night, you still have to get up and wash your hands.

Some allow you to skip the hand washing if you know you’ll fall back asleep—but not everyone is so lenient.

If you read about things like this, inevitably you’ll come across a comment about how much clearer the Law is now that a person has read this article or book.

That’s what it is to live under the Law, without the Gospel. To think that you are doing salvation. To think that somehow, even in the smallest way, salvation depends on you.

In today’s Gospel lesson, the lawyer could have expected this type of discussion—which of the man-made commandments are greatest?—but Jesus responds with the Word of God.

He’s very clear: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40).

He doesn’t respond with trivial minutia.

He responds with the very words God gave to Moses to teach the people.

Here’s a contemporary Christian example. I’ve heard this question many times: “What’s the most important thing in the life of a Christian?” Or it might be asked this way: “What does God really want me to do with my life?”

A common answer is: “Most important is having a personal relationship with Jesus.” 

But that’s actually a very imprecise way of speaking.

For one, everyone, believer or not, already has an extremely personal relationship with Jesus: He created the world you live in, with you in mind, He knit you together in your mother’s womb, He became flesh like yours, He was lifted up, hands and feet nailed to the Cross, for all the world to see.

He “was [put to death] for our trespasses and He was raised for our justification” (cf. Romans 4:25).

Everyone has that relationship with Jesus.

So the difference between believer and the unbeliever isn’t having a personal relationship with Jesus or not but faith that fears, loves, and trusts in God above all things.

Faith that is active in love toward God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—and neighbor.

Faith that is the gift of God.

Faith that comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ.

That’s God’s will for your life—salvation by grace, through faith, in Christ alone—and then—love, to God and neighbor.

The phrase “personal relationship” is how some men have chosen to speak, but those aren’t the words God has revealed.

We’re more comfortable, we’re more familiar with fads and bumper sticker theology than we are with the sound words of Jesus.

It should not be!

You put God to the test when you do not hold His Word sacred and gladly hear and learn it. Even when God’s Word contradicts you, or your family, or what you really, really like, you should still hear and learn it, believe it, rejoice in it, and do it.

But in further response to the lawyer’s test, Jesus asks a question. He says: “‘What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is He?’ They said to him, ‘The Son of David.’ He said to them, ‘How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying, “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet’”? If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?’ And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions” (Matthew 22:42-46).

Jesus’ question doesn’t force us to deal with the minutia of man-made laws.

He quotes a psalm and so requires us to know and hear the Word of God.

He asks probably the most important question: Who is the Christ?

And if He’s David’s son, less than David in a way, how could He also be David’s Lord, and thus, greater than David? This seems to contradict.

The Pharisees don’t have an answer, because when they read the Word of God they see themselves, not Jesus.

But on the road to Emmaus, thus says the Lord through St. Luke, “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, [Jesus] interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). 

Jesus says, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me” (John 5:39).

Jesus is the wonderful mystery the Scriptures reveal.

Jesus is God, begotten of His Father before all worlds, Who with the Father and the Holy Spirit is worshiped and glorified. And Jesus is true man, born of the Virgin, descended from David.

He is the Christ—David’s Lord and David’s son.

But the quoted psalm speaks to so much more than Jesus’ lineage and divinity.

“The Lord, said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet’” (cf. Matthew 22:44; Psalm 110:1).

Prior to the incarnation, Jesus has no flesh. But He still exists. We see types of Him throughout the Old Testament: He’s the animal slaughtered for Adam and Eve’s clothing; He’s the ram that God provided in Isaac’s place; He’s the scapegoat on the Day of Atonement and the goat given to slaughter.

Jesus is the Word spoken at creation and the fourth man in the furnace with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

King Nebuchadnezzar says that the fourth man’s appearance is “like a son of the gods” (Daniel 3:25).

He was closer than he knew.

Prior to His incarnation, Jesus wasn’t humbled in human form. He sat at God’s right hand until the proper time, when His Father put His enemies under His feet.

Jesus became flesh like yours and was lifted up, His hands and feet nailed to the Cross for all the world to see, and, with all the world, literally under His feet, He died for them.

For you—and all at enmity with God.

But that verse from Psalm 110 speaks even more.

“When Christ…offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet” (Hebrews 10:12-13).

Forty days after His resurrection, Jesus ascended into Heaven. And there He sits at the right hand of His Father until the time comes again to judge all flesh.

Then, His enemies will be put under His feet like dust, while His friends are placed at His side.

All of that from one Psalm—from one verse.

From one question Jesus asked one lawyer.

But He asked—so that we would know:

Faith clings to God who justifies the ungodly (cf. Romans 4:5), who saves those who were His enemies.

That’s how we love our neighbors, even our enemies. To be Christ-like doesn’t mean to be popular, or liked, or safe, or even nice.

To be Christ-like means to be good.

To put even those who hate you under your care and provision, as Christ put you under His feet as He received into His flesh the due penalty for our sin.

Love, pray, and serve your neighbor and your enemies: those you love and those who hate and persecute you.

Faith clings to Christ who lays down his life for His friends and dies for the ungodly—desiring to save them all.

That faith, then, serves the neighbor—whoever he is.

This is God’s will for your life:

Salvation by grace, through faith, in Jesus Christ alone.

And love—to God and neighbor.

In other words: ”Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. And—love your neighbor as yourself” (cf. Matthew 22:37, 39).

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Trinity 18 Sermon, 2020
Matthew 22:34-46
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

I’d like to look specifically at the first half of today’s Gospel lesson—where Jesus heals the man with dropsy, which is, today, called edema.

At the heart of today’s Gospel lesson is the proper understanding of the Third Commandment: Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Or you might remember the older translation: Thou shalt sanctify the holy-day.

So what’s the holy-day? Or the Sabbath?

How do we sanctify it? And how different is that from remembering it and keeping it holy?

“Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?” (Luke 14:3). Or—perhaps we should ask it this way—“At what point does working on Sunday become despising the Sabbath?”

Legalism does not provide the answer.

There isn’t a list. There isn’t a step-count threshold not to be stepped past, or some golden circle that lets you know when you’re in or out.

That would be legalism.

That would be modern-day Judaism.

This came up in Sunday School not long ago, but the modern, Jewish understanding of the Sabbath is this: you are to do no work. You may not socialize. You may not carry your children in public.

It’s considered work to turn the oven on, so meals are served cold. It’s considered work to turn the lights on, so you sit in the dark or by a window. You can’t carry anything—books from the library, groceries from the store, your own children from the park. That’s work.

So—let’s sum up—on the Sabbath—sit there, in the dark, do nothing, eat cold or room temperature food, talk to nobody, and—enjoy it. That’s the Sabbath.

Nobody’s gonna do that, which is failure enough, but here’s where legalism truly fails. Since no one wants to do any of that, exceptions are made.

You can set everything up with an electric timer.

It’s not considered work to open the oven and close it, only to turn it on.

That’s a bit of a hassle, though, because not everyone knows how to set an electric timer.

So, you could have a non-Jew turn your oven on for you, carry your kids, whatever you need.

He would be called a “Shabbat goy,” a non-Jew Sabbath worker, but that has its own hassle, because it breaks the Sabbath to pay someone on the Sabbath to do work on the Sabbath.

It would all have to be pre-arranged, pre-paid.

So to get around the hassle of their understanding of God, in Manhattan—and in other cities—certain Jews have installed what’s called an eruv.

An eruv is an unbroken wire, suspended off the ground like a power line. In Manhattan, it’s eighteen miles long, it’s checked every Thursday, and costs $100,000 a year to maintain.

But if you live within this magical circuit, you get to treat the inside of it as a private space, like your own home—where you can use a cane or a walker, carry your house keys, tissues, medication.

Otherwise, doing any of that breaks the Sabbath.

That’s legalism.

Excuses for self. Judgment for everyone else.

So…“‘Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?’ [The lawyers and Pharisees] remained silent” (cf. Luke 14:3-4).

The Pharisees were watching Jesus because it was the Sabbath, and no work was to be done on the Sabbath.

St. Luke writes, in chapters four, six, and thirteen, all prior to today’s Gospel lesson, that Jesus heals on the Sabbath, so the Pharisees know to watch Him carefully.

They want to say you can’t do work on the Sabbath.

But they also want to eat hot food.

They don’t want to agree with Jesus about anything.

But they would want to be healed.

“Then [Jesus] took [the man with dropsy] and healed him and sent him away. And he said to them, ‘Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?’ And they could not reply to these things” (Luke 14:4-6).

The Pharisees and lawyers couldn’t respond to these things, because Jesus summarizes the Law. From Deuteronomy chapter twenty-two, thus says the Lord: “You shall not see your brother’s donkey or his ox fallen down by the way and ignore them. You shall help him to lift them up again” (Deuteronomy 22:4).

But even before that, thus says the Lord: “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18).

They could not reply to these things, because they knew neither the Scriptures nor the power of God (cf. Mark 12:24).

Sanctify the Sabbath day. Remember it and keep it holy.

Pharisees and lawyers know the commandments. That is, they know how to find them, what page they’re on, maybe even how they’re numbered, but they can’t answer, in any way, What does this mean?

Jesus says, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27), “For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:8).

The Sabbath isn’t about doing work or not doing work. Jesus does work on the Sabbath and quotes the Scriptures and the power of God that teaches us to help our neighbor and to love him as ourself.

Rather, the Sabbath is about who we are, who God is, what we need, and what God provides.

We don’t define the Third Commandment in terms of “Thou shalt always go to church and never enjoy Sundays at all ever or thou shalt burn in hell.”

But we do define the Third Commandment in terms of fearing and loving God so that we do not despise preaching and God’s Word but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.

To despise preaching is not simply to disagree with what is preached. Disagreement alone doesn’t mean you despise preaching.

To despise preaching is a matter of the heart, to harden your heart against what God says.

If you ignore the advice of your oncologist or the police officer in riot gear, you do so at your own risk.

It doesn’t matter what I say.

It doesn’t matter what you say.

It matters what “Thus says the Lord…”

Have you hardened your heart against the Word of God? Do you know it well enough to have hardened your heart against it? Do you ask what God says and do you demand to know?

Asking it that way, the Sabbath isn’t about working or not working, it’s about the heart—what you need and what God gives and whether or not you know it.

To despise God’s Word is to fain tearing from off His throne, Christ Jesus God’s beloved Son (cf. LSB 655:1).

God has given us our reason and our senses, true. But they are to be put in place and kept in check. The Word of God is the only rule and norm of faith and practice.

To hold the Word of God and its proclamation as sacred is to recognize it as the set apart thing it is.

No other book contains the Word of God.

No other God desires to save apart from works done by us in righteousness.

There is no other righteousness but Jesus Christ, our God and Lord, who died to sin and lives to God, our righteousness.

These are matters of the heart. Matters of faith.

If you have to work on Sunday, work on Sunday, but don’t presume to tell us that you don’t need what God provides or that always working on Sunday doesn’t also invite the temptation to believe that your life is in your hands. Don’t presume to tell us that what you need is not what God gives—here and now, every week.

God desires to forgive the world.

In Christ, He has forgiven it.

He will, one day, require of you your soul, and you don’t know what day that’ll be.

So hear the Word of God and its proclamation.

Hold it sacred.

Hear and have the forgiveness of sins—preached, poured out, and given and shed for you.

Gladly hear and learn it.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind.

And love your neighbor as yourself.

This is the Word of the Lord.

Thanks be to God.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Trinity 17, 2020
Luke 14:1-11
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

After the Fall, Man’s response to sin is fleeting—a half measure.

When the serpent deceived Eve, and she ate—when Adam listened to the voice of his wife, and he ate: “The eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths” (cf. Genesis 3:7).

Fig leaves don’t last, and neither do Man’s attempts to cover sin.

Then, God intervenes.

He speaks to the serpent, promising to crush its head. He speaks to the woman and to the man, informing them of what life will be like now that sin had entered the world. And then: “The Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them” (Genesis 3:21). Animal skins last, but notice—God didn’t make them out of nothing, like He did the rest of Creation. He made them garments—of skins—from skins—from one of the animals.

This first bloodshed and first sacrifice foreshadows the day when the Seed of the woman crushes the serpent’s head as He sheds His blood and covers the sin and wretchedness of Man—not in a fleeting way and not a half measure but once and for all.

Man would make the bad thing go away.

Out of sight is out of mind, but that’s not peace.

God forgives the iniquity and remembers the sin no more (cf. Isaiah 43:25), and what God does lasts.

In the 1928 folk song, “Big Rock Candy Mountain,” the hobo’s idea of paradise is a great example of Man’s attempt to ignore sin without having it forgiven.

“In the Big Rock Candy Mountains / All the cops have wooden legs / And the bulldogs all have rubber teeth / And the hens lay soft-boiled eggs…

“In the Big Rock Candy Mountains, / The jails are made of tin / And you can walk right out again, / As soon as you are in / There ain’t no short-handled shovels, / No axes, saws or picks, / I’ma goin’ to stay / Where you sleep all day, / Where they hung the jerk / That invented work / In the Big Rock Candy Mountains.”

That’s the hobo’s idea of paradise, but he aims too low.

Paradise wouldn’t have cops, because no one would want to break the law—ever.

That sounds great as it is, but imagine not wanting to speed while driving. Imagine not being in a rush or pressed for time. Imagine rejoicing in what is—not would was or might be if…

Bulldogs wouldn’t have to have rubber teeth, because we would have no fear of animals, and they would have no fear or dread of us.

Paradise wouldn’t have jails.

We won’t want to sin against God and get away with it—we’ll serve God gladly and rejoice in the Lord always.

The hobo aims too low—just like Adam and Eve.

But that’s all that Man understands—temporal solutions to everlasting problems.

Now, I say all of that so I can say this:

In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus raises the only son of a widow and gave him back to his mother.

In 2016, this was the Gospel lesson appointed for the day after my brother died—and so—it’s important for me, the other son of my mother, to do with this miracle as I ought for all of the miracles, to teach what Jesus is saying—as well as what He’s not.

What Jesus is promising—as well as what He’s not.

Miracles are not promises for what to expect in your daily life.

What mother doesn’t want to see and hear and feel her child again?

But this miracle is not a promise that Jesus will stop our funeral processions on the way.

Experience has taught us this.

But a mother’s grief is ignorant of the world and knows only her child.

You need to know—the grieving mother needs to know—that this miracle isn’t wonderful because God gave this one son back to this one mother.

This miracle is wonderful because God has power over death—Jesus is the Christ, the promised Seed, who will be bruised—and in being bruised, He will crush the head of that ancient serpent, the devil.

Man is always looking for a temporal solution to everlasting problems.

Receiving her boy back to her is still a temporal solution. He might die again. He did die again—maybe even before her.

We know Jesus knew this woman. “He knows all people and needs no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knows what is in man” (cf. John 2:24-25).

“When the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, ‘Do not weep’” (Luke 7:13).

He’s not saying, “Stop crying, you ridiculous, emotional woman.”

I’ve heard people say, at funerals, “You’ll get over it. It’s okay. Give it time.” Jesus isn’t saying that.

He’s saying, “I will wipe away every tear from your eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore” (cf. Revelation 21:4).

Not because of temporal solutions thought up by man, but because of eternal solutions put in place and proclaimed by God.

The comfort of this miracle is that “[Jesus] came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, ‘Young man, I say to you, arise.’ And the dead man sat up and began to speak” (Luke 7:14-15).

With simple words, “Young man, I say to you, arise,” Jesus makes the enemy, Death, look foolish, not fearsome.

That’s your God.

“He’s by our side upon the plain / With His good gifts and Spirit. / And take they our life, Goods, fame, child, and wife, / Though these all be gone, / Our vict’ry has been won; / The Kingdom ours remaineth” (LSB 656:4).

One little word fells the devil and calls forth life where there was just death.

That’s your God.

He touched the bier.

The coffin.

The casket.

The death shroud.

The tomb.

Our phrase is to say that He wasn’t afraid to get His hands dirty, but it’s more than that.

Jesus says, “No one takes [my life] from me. I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father” (cf. John 10:18).

For this charge and responsibility, for this task and time, for this purpose Jesus has come to this hour (cf. John 12:27).

To stop the procession of death where it is.

To say to death, “Thus far have you gone, but no further.”

That’s your God.

Who laid down His life on the cross—and took it up again on the Third Day.

That’s Your God, the Seed of the Woman, the Child of Eve, the Lord, who crushed the head of the serpent, and with His blood and sacrifice covers the sin and wretchedness of Man—not in a fleeting way, not as a half measure, but once and for all.

In Christ, God forgives the iniquity and remembers the sin no more.

In Christ, Death is swallowed up by death, and on the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ.

Mother and child included.

This is most certainly true.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Trinity 16 Sermon, 2020
Luke 7:11-17
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

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