The Second Sunday in Advent

Pastor Simek

 The Second Sunday in Advent at Hope, Jerseyville

12/9/18

“The Lord and His Messenger”

Sermon Text: Malachi 3:1-7b

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

What sort of pastor do you think Jesus would have been? I think we should be able to agree that He would have been a good pastor, the perfect and best pastor, but would you want Him as your pastor? Would you like Him as a pastor? What about John the Baptist? I don’t think we would be quite so eager to have John the Baptist as we would be to have Jesus, although I think having Jesus as a pastor would be harder than most would think, but we’ll get to that.

            When thinking about what kind of pastor and preacher John the Baptist would be, I think we can draw from both the Old Testament and the Gospel readings. The Old Testament reading talks about a messenger that will be sent to prepare the way before the Lord, and the Gospel reading identifies John the Baptist as that messenger, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’

This is the job of a pastor. Really, the work of John the Baptist is more like the work of a pastor than the work of Jesus. Jesus is the Lord and Savior. Your pastor is not here to save you. I can’t do that. What I can do is to point you to Jesus,prepare His way to come to you, to do the work that John the Baptist does. So what and how does he do this work?

Well the first words we hear from John are not, “grace, mercy, and peace,” but “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits in keeping with repentance… Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” A real cheery, feel good preacher isn’t he?

He calls the people he has been sent to preach to a “brood of vipers.” He calls them the offspring and children of a venomous, deadly serpent. Their lineage is not of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the Promise as they would claim, but of that snake, the devil, who deceived Adam and Eve and led them into sin and death.

Their roots and origins, and ours, are not from a fruitful tree, but a deadly one. We are born and sprout and grow, not from the tree of life, but of sin and death. Our heritage, our blood, and our ways must change. We must repent, turn from our evil ways, and bear fruit in keeping with repentance. We must break off and break away from our self-righteousness, be cut off and cut away from our greed and selfishness, and be grafted into the vine and the tree that gives life. A total change of who we are to the very core. That is what John the Baptist calls for and the kind of pastor and preacher that John the Baptist shows himself to be.

And before you go off dismissing him as just the messenger, consider what the Old Testament reading and what John says about Jesus. The Old Testament says that the Lord who is to come “is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver.”John describes him with “His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” The message and preaching of John the Baptist to prepare the way for Jesus is really not that different from the message and preaching of Jesus.

So often what we see of Jesus is nothing more than a caricature of him. You know those almost cartoony looking pictures that someone might draw of you at an amusement park where certain features or aspects are emphasized or exaggerated. The final product resembles the real thing enough to be identifiable, but the real thing is much different. Sure, Jesus is love and has care and concern for those who are in need, but He is also a just judge and harvester only keeping the grain that is good and throwing the weeds and the chaff into a fire that is never burned up.

Yes, Jesus is merciful and forgiving, but it is not without sacrifice and blood and gore. He is not a ghost or a spirit who passes through you removing your sin and your impurity without you so much as feeling a thing. He is a refiner’s fire and fullers’ soap. As the refiner’s fire, He is not afraid to turn up the heat and put you to the fire to bring your sinful impurities to light. As the fullers’soap, He is not afraid to put on the pressure, to push and press the soap into a garment in order to draw the dirt and filth to the surface.

And when Jesus turns up the heat and puts on the pressure, “who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?” No one stands before the Lord and endures. No one is able to even stand before His messenger as John the Baptist puts the screws to those who come to hear him. These men come and preach to fill every valley, make every mountain and hill low, straighten out the crooked, and smooth out the rough.They do not come to make God’s Word softer or easier to handle and less harsh for you, but to change you that you are able to hear it and believe it. They sound like great pastors don’t they?

And yet, they are. A refiner does not purify silver to throw it away, and a fuller does not clean a garment in order to roll it into a ball and set it on fire. The messenger does not come to remove all the people and get them out of the way so that the Lord doesn’t have to deal with them. They preach to prepare you not to stand before the Lord when He appears, but in Him.

You may not have a righteous bone in your body, a holy thought in your head, or even one sanctified blood cell in your veins, yet “you,O children of Jacob, are not consumed.” The impurity and the filth and the sin in you is drawn out, refined, pushed out, and washed by the refiner and purifier.

Jesus does not turn up the heat, put on the pressure, and preach the Law in order to kill you,but in order to separate you from your sin leaving you pure, holy, and righteous. And He does not leave you to endure the heat and the weight alone,but when the heat is the highest and the pressure is the greatest, He is endures it on your behalf, that you would be found in Him.

When the full weight of the world and the wrath and punishment of God for your sin squeezed the life out of the sinner, Jesus was the one who was condemned, pronounced guilty, and lost His life as the just and right sentence for your crime. And when the heat of the unquenchable fires of hell burned at their hottest, it was Jesus who had descended into hell for He could endure their heat, overcome their torturous flames, and walk away alive with nothing more than a few scars on His hands, feet, and side.

And enduring the punishment of the cross, of death, and of hell for you, He comes to you again,wipes and washes away all of the impurity and filth of your sin by the water and His Word put upon you in your Baptism so that you would not stand before Him, but in Him as forgiven, pure, and righteous. By cutting Himself off from His Father, He cuts you from your tree of sin and plants you in Himself. He separates you from that brood of vipers, crushes the head of that mother, and makes you a child of God who is fed and nourished in body and soul by the body and blood of Christ given for you. From your stone cold, sinful heart, He raises up a child of Abraham, a child of Promise, a child of everlasting life. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Advent Wednesday 1

12/5/18

“God and I”

Sermon Text: Exodus 20:1-7 and the first three Commandments

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

You shall have no other gods. You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God. Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. The first three commandments deal with our relationship with God, His name, and His Word. They are not so simple that they can be kept by going to church and not saying bad words, but are kept by what we think of God, the way we use His name, and what we do to keep His Word holy.These commandments help us to understand and shape our relationship with God in every aspect of our life.

It is not just about making sure you are a Christian, but about fearing, loving, and trusting in God above all things. God is not meant to be a part of our life, an hour or two of our time on Sunday, but He is to be the prime and most important factor,person, and relationship that we have when we consider what we do, say, and think. God and His will should always come first.

In the same way,the second commandment is not about saying bad words, but using God’s name and using it appropriately. It is not about using or not using those four letter words we try to keep our children from learning. It specifically relates to using God’s name, which assumes that we do use it. Use God’s name. Not carelessly or thoughtlessly, or with any evil intention or purpose, but use it and all of its power for good: for God’s good, for your good, and for the good of your neighbor.

And the third commandment isn’t just about being in church, but it is about the gift of God’s Word to us. It is about our relationship with His Word on Sunday, and Monday,and Tuesday, and every day of the week. Use God’s name and use God’s Word. Make it a part of who you are and what you do. Make it a habit that you read God’s Word and call upon His name every day so that He influences you in what you think, say, and do. Let your God, His Name, and His Word change your heart,kill your Old Adam, and create in you a new man who has a right relationship with God.

That is the gift of the first three commandments. You shall have no other gods. You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God. Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Did you hear that beautiful Gospel? You have a God who has made Himself known to you. He has shown Himself and revealed Himself not just in creation and the laws of nature, but in His mercy.

He has revealed Himself to you in a way that no other God has or ever can. He has revealed Himself to you in His Son who points to the Father, your Father, who for the sake of the death and resurrection of His Son has made His relationship with you right. And He wants you to know that. He wants you to know Him and all the right He has done for you to wipe away your wrong. You have a God that you can fear, love, and trust above all things because He has shown that He will take care of all things for you through His Son.

So talk to Him,know Him as He has made Himself known, in His name and in His Word. He has given you His Son, made His relationship with you right, made you His own child that you can call upon His name in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks. The name of the Almighty God, the maker of heaven and earth wants you to talk to Him, to make your requests be known to Him and has promised to hear you and answer you to give you the best thing for you for the sake of His Son.

The fact that we know all this and can say all this is proof of just how good our God is. That He has revealed this all to us through the Scriptures. He has given us an ever living Word that continues to talk to us, to give to us an eternal truth that holds meaning for us yesterday, today, and every day. And He continues to come to us on the Sabbath day, in His Word every day, and in His Sacraments, to bear witness that He has made our relationship right.

He has done it and continues to do it. He has forgiven you and continues to forgive you for the sake of the crucified and risen Son. He continues to be you God, to be here for you and to hear you when you use His name, and speak back to you in His Word even when you have neglected Him, His name, and His Word. Still, He meets us here and says, “I forgive you. I love you. You are mine.” In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

The First and Second Commandments

The First and Second Commandments

The first and second commandments begin the first table of God’s Law and focus on our relationship to God. Jesus summarizes them both, as well as the third commandment, as loving the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind (Matt. 22:37).  The first commandment is also the beginning and basis for all of the other commandments. This is easiest to see when we look at how the meaning of each commandment begins with “We should fear and love God so that…” which is intended it remind us of the first commandment and its meaning.

The second commandment continues to bring us back to the first as it is a command to not “misuse” the Lord’s name. This implies that we are to use it, for that is the reason God gave it to us in the first place and because Jesus encourages us to use it as we pray “in his name.” While misusing God’s name is prohibited by the commandment, it does encourage us to use it properly by “calling upon it in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks.” God encourages us to pray to him and to trust that our prayers are heard and answered for the sake of the Son and his sacrifice, reminding us always that even if our prayer is not answered the way we would like, we can always praise and give thanks to him for our salvation.

The First Commandment

What is the First Commandment?

You shall have no other gods.

What does this mean?

We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.

The Second Commandment

What is the Second Commandment?

You shall not misuse the name of the Lord you God.

What does this mean?

We should fear and love God so that we do not curse, swear, use satanic arts, lie, or deceive by His name, but call upon it in every trouble,pray, praise, and give thanks.

Luther’s Small Catechism

Luther’s Small Catechism

From 1526-1528, about ten years after the beginning of the Reformation and the posting of the 95 Theses, Luther and others visited churches throughout his area, called the Saxon Visitation. Luther found that both pastors and people alike lacked basic knowledge and understanding of many of the most foundational elements of this Christian faith, especially that of the Ten Commandments, the Apostles Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer. To help these churches, Luther wrote the Small Catechism as a guide for pastors and people alike to learn the very most basic elements of the faith and what they mean.

Luther’s intention for the Small Catechism was that it would be taught to all people, not just the young, and would be taught “year after year.” As it includes the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith in six chief parts: the Ten Commandments, the Apostles Creed, the Lord’s Prayer,Baptism, Confession, and the Sacrament of the Altar, it is not something to be learned in our youth or at one time in our life and put down and left alone,but learned by heart so that it is continually on our heart, mind, and tongue.Much of this is included in Luther’s Preface to the Small Catechism as well as a  very stern and harsh warning to those who would refuse to learn the catechism or who would not seek or desire the Sacrament at least four times a year.

In his preface, Luther also says, “Therefore, I beg you all for God’s sake, my dear sirs and brethren, who are pastors or preachers, to devote yourselves heartily to your office (1 Tim. 4:13). Have pity on the people who are entrusted to you (Acts 20:28) and help us teach the catechism to the people.” In an effort to fulfill Luther’s desperate plea, we will undertake to recite the whole Small Catechism every two years, focusing on different portions each month, in an effort to learn it by heart and always have it on our hearts, minds, and tongues.

The First Sunday in Advent

Pastor Simek

 The First Sunday in Advent at Hope, Jerseyville

12/2/18

“Fulfilling Promises”

Sermon Text: Jeremiah 33:14-16

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

Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord.” We heard a similar message last week as we prepared for The End.Your day is coming. The day of the Lord is coming. Advent means to “come to”and so the theme of Advent and the theme of the end of the Church Year tie together which is why we ended the Church Year last week with the same hymn we began the Church Year with this week, “Lo!He comes.” That is the Lord’s promise to us, both in the Old Testament and in the New and is His promise for us today, that the Lord will come, and…

THE LORD FULFILLS HIS PROMISE

 (I. The days are coming but are not yet.)

(II. The day has come and our days are certain.)

I.

            God still has promises for us, for yesterday, for today, and for the future. It is similar to the promises he had to the people in the days of Jeremiah, yet also a little different because for them, the focus of the promises of God were almost all in the future. “The days are coming… In those days and at that time… In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will dwell securely.”These are all promises for their future, and so they had to wait.

            They had been waiting. The people of Israel, and even before Israel, had been waiting. The Hebrews had been waiting for those days, for the coming of the Lord, for thousands of years. And even after Jeremiah’s prophecy, still they had to wait another 600 years before the day of the Lord would come when God’s people would see their King coming to them, riding on a colt into Jerusalem. Yet even when that was done, it was still only the beginning of a new kind of waiting. It was the beginning of our kind of waiting.

            For us, we still wait. The day of the Lord has come, but the day of the Lord is still yet to come. The Lord has fulfilled His promise and given us a Savior, but we do not live securely only in fear of more sin, evil, and death. God still has more promises to fulfill for us, promises of the end, promises that have been yet are still to be fulfilled in Christ. So we must wait.

            Wait. Be patient. It could be here today, it could be here in 600 years, it may not come for thousands more years.We have to wait. Have you ever told a child to wait? Tried to make them sit still, patiently waiting for something? How long did it last? Maybe a minute if you’re lucky and it’s a good day. How long would you last? How long could you sit, patiently waiting, before seeking something to do and looking for something else? How long can you wait? (Extended pause)

            How long before you look at your watch, pick up your phone, turn on the T.V. or radio? How long before we turn from the promises of God for our future and turn away, seeking what the world is doing? What’s happening out there? What’s the newest fad or trend? What’s the latest in medicine or technology? How much longer until our favorite show comes on? What are the most recent news, events, and scores? How far are people straying from the Truth? How far can I go and how long can I go without God’s Word before it’s too late and I have to return?

How long, O Lord, will you wait before you come because I am done waiting for you.I am done with this life. I am done with this misery. I am done with the pain and suffering. I am done with the evils of sin. I am done with death. Lord, if you don’t come now, or soon, I am done with you.

II.

            Patience and waiting is hard.Sitting on a couch or in a chair with nothing to do, nothing to see, nothing to hear or read is hard, not just for a child but for all of us. We need something to do. And God has given us something to do. He has given us not a distraction from Him, not something to take our mind of the waiting, not something that is going to lead us away from Him, but He has given us good, God-pleasing work to do. He has given us our vocations, our jobs and callings in life, to work for the good of our neighbor. Which is good news, that we are not just here to sit idly by as we wait for Him to come.

            But the even better news, is that we don’t have to wait. Those days, those coming days have come and continue to come. Christ has come. The Lord has come. Our Savior and righteousness has come. He came to Judah, to the city of Jerusalem riding on a donkey. Our King came in the name of the Lord to do the work of the Lord. Jesus came, crowned with thorns to die on the cross for you, to rise from the dead for you, to ascend into heaven for you, to come to you today. The Lord comes, in fact, the Lord is here, with us now, and will be here in His body and blood with us, for us, in just a few moments.

The day that came nearly 2,000 years ago is here today and will come again when we see our King. And that day, and this day, and the coming day, is the Lord’s and His day and His work is certain. His cross, His death, His resurrection and ascension, His forgiveness certainly comes to you today in His body and blood.You need not wait or be impatient for the Lord for He comes. He comes to forgive you of your impatience. He comes to forgive you for turning to the world that pulls you from Him. He comes to turn you back to Him, back to His word and back to His promises that He is your righteousness.

Jesus is the fulfillment of every promise of God. Jesus is the day that has come,that is here, and that will come. Jesus is the one who is called “The Lord is our righteousness.” He is our righteous King who comes to save us, to answer the call of Hosanna, save us now. He is the one who comes then, now, and in the future in the name of the Lord to save you. So wait for Him without waiting because His promise and His day is for you today. “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

The Last Sunday of the Church Year

Pastor Simek

The Last Sunday of the Church Year at Hope, Jerseyville

11/25/18

“The End and Forever”

Sermon Text: Mark 13:24-37

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

I’m not sure my sermon last week did it justice. Jesus told His disciples that every stone of the temple would be torn down so that not one stone would be left standing upon another. I told you that as it was true of the temple, so, one day, it will be true of this church, that it will be torn down and not one stone or brick will be left standing upon another. In fact, one day, the Last Day, every brick and every stone of every building will be torn down so that not one will be left standing upon another, but even that degree of destruction is mild compared to the picture Jesus gives us of the Last Day.

He says, “In those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.” Every aspect of creation, not just Man’s creations, but all of God’s creation will be shaken and destroyed, the visible and the invisible, and all of the powers and forces which hold this fragile existence in place will be destroyed.

There will not be one aspect in all of God’s creation that can or will escape God’s coming Judgment, least of all you. In fact, you and all of mankind will be the center and focus of God’s Judgment at The End when, “He will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.” The Judgment is judgment upon all of creation, but especially and specifically of people, the living and the dead, especially and specifically you. You cannot and you will not escape, so hear the words and warning of Jesus to you and to all: “Stay awake.

We do not know the day nor the hour that Judgment will come, so be ready, every day and every hour, for our Lord to return. “Be on guard, keep awake… lest he come suddenly and find you asleep.” Do not assume that you will have another chance, another opportunity, another year to do something that you missed. Do not assume that if you miss Christmas Eve service that there is always Christmas Day, because the hour may come and the end be upon us. Do not suppose that you can miss church this week because you can just make it up next Sunday, because next Sunday may not come. Do not live in your sin against God even for just another day longer, lest God come and catch you in your sin. Do not resolve to make amends and reconcile with your family after the New Year; do not determine to love your neighbor as yourself when the calendar year changes because the Master of the house could return and catch you in your grudge and your selfishness and what defense will you have? “Well God, you see, I was waiting for tomorrow.”

Be on guard. Keep awake. Do not put off until tomorrow what God has given you for today. Do not assume you will have another chance to repent and believe the Gospel. The time for repentance is now. The time for faith is now for the Lord your God is near, at the very gates even as we may hear next Sunday that the gates of Jerusalem are opened to Him as He comes riding on a colt to shouts of Hosanna, or we may not, for our Lord may come with His Judgment for you. May He not find you complacent and asleep. Stay awake, be ready, for it could be at any moment.

And in that hour when heaven and earth pass away, when all of God’s creation is shaken and destroyed, the one thing that will remain is His Word and His Judgment. For “heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” His Word and Final Judgment of you is forever. It will never pass away. Your fate will be sealed with a word: guilty or not guilty, saint or sinner, heaven or hell, forever.

But who could live like this? Who can live every moment in fear of the coming Judgment? How can we be expected at every moment of every day to be ready? I certainly can’t and I certainly don’t. I don’t have to because I know the judgment that will come upon me. I know my Judgment and yours because it has already been spoken, and it is spoken time and time again. It was spoken by Pilate when he said of Jesus, “I find no guilt in this man… Nothing deserving death has been done by him… I have found in him no guilt.” And it was spoken by a Roman centurion who saw the death of Jesus and praised God saying, “Certainly this man was righteous!”

And it was and is spoken by God that I and you have been baptized with the Baptism of Jesus. Just as the Father said of Him, He has said to you, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” And again, even this day, Christ has spoken to you and said, “I forgive you of all of your sins,” and He will speak to you again in a few moments to say, “This is My body, this is My blood which is given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins. Depart in peace.”

Those judgments which have already and continue to be spoken to you shall not pass away. Even when all of heaven and earth passes away, they shall remain your ticket into eternal life. Hold on to these words and this Judgment for they are yours forever. They are for you, for your comfort, for every hour and every day. Stay awake and be on guard that you would not lose them or let them slip from your hands, your heart, or your mind. “Build yourselves up in your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit; keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.

For the Son of Man is coming and He is near and every eye shall see Him come, descending in clouds with great power and glory, and every knee shall bow and every soul shall be judged some to eternal life and some to eternal torment, and you shall be judged. You will hear this Judgment which shall not pass away but is spoken into eternity: “Come, My faithful servant, for you have been forgiven and you are mine. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Marriage and Children

Pastor Simek

 The Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost at Hope, Jerseyville

10/7/18 

“Marriage and Children”

Sermon Text: Mark 10:2-16

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

Marriage, divorce, and children. Those are the topics of the Gospel reading for today. They are topics you’ve probably heard me talk or preach about before and you are going to hear it again today because with these readings we are given there is just simply no way around it. Marriage, divorce, and children can seem like hobby horse topics of the church that we repeat over and over again, harping on them without ever stopping, but the Bible deals with them a lot because they are topics that are so prevalent, for them thousands of years ago and for us today. It’s not that divorce is any worse than another sin, but it is one that continues to be pushed to be made more and more acceptable so it needs to be address more and more frequently.

And yes, divorce is a sin. That is what Jesus tells the Pharisees who try to test him. “‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” Ever. Period. The end. No more discussion.

That is God’s perfect plan for marriage and children: one man and one woman, the two becoming one flesh in the consummation of their marriage that they would be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and have babies. A family, together, joined and united as one unit, flesh of their flesh, bone of their bones, blood of their blood. “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” Zero exceptions.

It is not natural or good that your flesh would be severed, your bones disjointed or cut off, your blood spilled and one becomes two. Not ever, not once, even when death us do part, it is not natural or good. It is not what God has designed for flesh and bones and blood and marriage.

So then why does Moses allow for a certificate of divorce? “Because of your hardness of heart,” because of your sin, because of its infection and disease. So sometimes a foot or limb may need to be amputated in order to save the body. Remove the flesh eating bacteria before it consumes the whole body. But even when such a thing is necessary, even when divorce is necessary in order to save a spouse from life-threatening abuse, it is still not good that the one body, the one marriage, become two.

Never, under any circumstances, ever, is divorce or amputation good. Necessary? Perhaps. But good? No. And if you are going to tell me that, “You just don’t understand. My situation and circumstances are so unique like nothing anyone has ever experienced or been through ever before in the thousands of years of marriages,” I am going to be a little skeptical. I’m not saying it’s not hard and trying and difficult and you may be entitled to complain and you or your spouse may need to be smacked upside the head with the full weight of the Law of God. But divorce is always and only a result of sin.

So rather than trying to excuse it and say that we are in so unique of a situation that surely God would say it’s okay for me, confess. If you’ve had a divorce, necessary or not, if you need a divorce, if or when you get a divorce it is not okay so stop trying to justify it. Stop trying to justify yourself and your actions because of some other outside force or influence or event and confess that you are guilty and receive God’s full forgiveness.

And this goes for all of you. So if you’ve zoned out and started to ignore me because I’m going on and on about marriage and divorce and you are or are not married or divorced, start paying attention again now. Stop trying to justify yourself and your actions because of some other outside force or influence or event and confess you are guilty. Confess your hardness of heart. Don’t say, “Well I stole because I was hungry and since I was hungry and couldn’t afford it then it must be okay.” Don’t say, “Well I cheated on my taxes because the government is so corrupt and the system is broken so it’s okay.” Don’t say, “Well I was unfaithful to my spouse because they were unfaithful to me, so we’re even,” or “I’m not married so it doesn’t matter if I lust or just think about doing that.” Don’t say, “Well I know I disobeyed my parents, but they are just being too hard and unfair on me. They just don’t understand what I’m going through, so it’s not really wrong.” Saying these things is just as much self-justification and works righteousness, is just as much sin, as saying there is something you can do to get into heaven or that you don’t need Jesus as though you are good enough because you can divorce your actions from the sins that they are.

If you try to justify yourself, and excuse your behavior because you are just so special and unique, the exception to the rule, you are writing Jesus a certificate of divorce and separate yourself and cut yourself off from him. You are being faithful to you, not to him, so maybe He should be the one to divorce you. He has every reason and right to. If he doesn’t cut you off and separate himself from you it will kill him. If he has any desire to preserve himself, you have got to go.

But of course he doesn’t. Even when it would be better for him to get rid of you for your selfishness, your abuse of him and his mercy and grace, your pompous self-righteous attitude, still he holds on to you as a dear beloved child, taking you in his arms, laying his hands upon you and blessing you.

Just as the disciples were trying to keep the children from Jesus, rebuking them, cutting them off from Jesus, trying to do what is best for Jesus, Jesus is the one who becomes indignant, so angry that he loses his dignity, at those who would suggest cutting off his children. To Jesus, losing you, even in your unfaithfulness, is completely unacceptable even though he knows you will kill him, even though he knows that he will have to die for you, he holds you tight.

And he loses his dignity again as he hangs naked upon the cross for you because to him, it is better that his blood be shed than for one to become two. To Jesus, it is better that he should die, that his soul would be divorced from his body than for you to be divorced from him. And so he stretches out his arms upon the cross to embrace you, bless you, give to you his body and blood that the two would become one, you together with Christ forever, not unto death but through it.

It’s not because your sins doesn’t count or doesn’t matter. It’s not because your sin isn’t really sin. It’s because in the death of Jesus, you remain united to him and divorced from your sin. As his blood leaves his body, as His soul is separated from his corpse, your sin is separated and divorced from you. You are no longer attached to it. The sin and the sinner severed, the one become two because Christ, your bridegroom, is faithful to you. Your sins are forgiven because Jesus is willing to sacrifice everything for you and give his life for you that you might have eternal life, that you would be a child of God, that the kingdom of God would belong to you forever. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Questions and Answers

Pastor Simek

 The Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost at Hope, Jerseyville

9/23/18 

“Questions and Answers”

Sermon Text: Mark 9:30-37

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

So, I understand that I’m weird. I know that I am a kind of a nerd. I get that not everyone would consider spending hours reading the Bible and talking theology a good time, and that’s fine. But, can we at least agree that going on a road trip with Jesus as he opens up the Scriptures and teaches us how it all points to his death and resurrection would be an incredible opportunity? Or maybe just an evening or over the course of dinner to have Jesus explain to you how his death and resurrection is for your salvation and delivers you from eternal death into eternal life would be pretty awesome. And if you had the chance, if you were to go on a road trip with Jesus or have him over for the evening or for dinner, what questions would you ask him? Would they be intricate theological questions like, “Can you explain the Trinity to me?” Or would they be more practical questions like, “Why or how could you let this happen?” How do you think Jesus would respond to your questions? Do you think he would give you a straight forward answer or show you the bigger picture of how this thing led to another and another for your good? Or do you think he would give you some other confusing, convoluted answer that would go over your head? Do you think he would rebuke you and tell you how ridiculous your question is? I think he would probably answer you in a way that pointed you to the cross because…

CHRIST COMES TO SERVE YOU.

(I. We are afraid to question Jesus.)

(II. Jesus uses questions to point to the grace of God.)

I.

He does not come to make you feel dumb or bad about yourself. He does not come to make you feel inferior or insignificant. He does not come to put you in your place and show you how little you are and how little you know, and I know this because of the way he answers and settles the ridiculous discussion of the disciples while they were traveling with him.

The disciples got the road trip with Jesus as they travelled through Galilee from the Mount of Transfiguration to Capernaum. They got probably about a ten hour road trip with Jesus, just them and their teacher, as he told them that “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.” A truly unique experience, probably better than any Bible study or Seminary course we could ever imagine, and this wasn’t the first time Jesus had told them about these things, “But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him.

They still didn’t get it. And what is perhaps just as bad is that they were afraid to ask him. They were afraid to tell Jesus, “I don’t get it.” So as they travel with Jesus, as he lays out his death and resurrection for them, instead of discussing what he meant and questioning him and learning everything they could, “they… argued with one another about who was the greatest.” As Jesus is explaining God’s plan of salvation for all of mankind, they are arguing about who is the greatest disciple.

Can you imagine travelling and talking with your children for ten hours, teaching them the most important and valuable life lessons and advice you can give to them, and when you finally get home you realize they have spent the whole time arguing with one another over who is the favorite kid because they didn’t understand what you were talking about? I can only imagine the temptation to be disappointed in them. Wouldn’t it be better that they ask you, that they pick your brain and question everything, until they finally understand? Good question or bad questions, a question that drives you further and deeper or a question that you have to take one or two or three steps back to answer, a question is better than not understanding.

As a pastor, as one who is trying to teach you the things that Jesus says and does for you, a question can be, and often is, one of the most encouraging things because it tells me you care, you’re interested, you want to learn, and you’re actually thinking about the things we are talking, reading, and preaching about. I want so much more that you ask a question rather than that you not know or understand. A good question or bad question, one that takes us deeper into thought and consideration or one that we have to take four or five steps back to answer, to clear up the assumptions of your understanding that I make when I preach and teach, I don’t care, just ask the question.

I am not here to confuse you, belittle you, talk down to you, or scoff at you for how little you know. I am here to teach you, to minister to you, and to care for you that you might believe in Jesus, the one whose word I teach. If I am speaking, preaching, and teaching over your head, if I am assuming you know thing that you do not know and so none of what I am saying makes sense, it is not your fault, it is mine. There is nothing wrong with you if you don’t get it. I’m not going to embarrass you or laugh at you behind your back because you don’t understand something. It is not your job to be some great theologian that can understand and toy with the most in-depth theological topics, questions, and concepts of today or yesterday. It is my job to teach them to you in a way that you can understand, both those that are difficult and those that are sometimes assumed to be basic, standard material.

If you have a hard question about the genus maiestaticum or apotelesmaticum, ask it. If you have an easy question about whether which person of the Trinity is which, ask it. Even if it means repeating myself again and again, even if it means going back to the Small Catechism and the basic tenants of the faith, ask the question. If you don’t understand infant baptism or closed communion, or why I wear all these different vestments, ask the question. I can’t know what you don’t know unless you tell me what you don’t know. And I can’t teach you and explain to you the things you don’t know unless I know the things that need teaching and explaining.

II.

Doing these things is one of the greatest joys of being a pastor for me. I love to preach. I love to teach. I just need the opportunity. Don’t keep silent. Don’t be embarrassed. Let me do the thing that I love most about being a pastor. Let me tell you about Jesus, his cross, his death, his resurrection, and how and why every little thing we do, teach, preach, and confess points to the saving work of Christ for us.

That is what Jesus does for his disciples. When their argument is completely outrageous and off topic, when, and I think we can all agree on this, their question and discussion is so absurd and completely contrary to what Jesus is trying to teach them, still Jesus uses it as an opportunity to show them the grace of God. He does not embarrass them or rebuke them and get mad or disappointed with them, but teaches them.

Who is the greatest? The last of all and servant of all who is crucified for all. Even in, arguably, the worst question the disciples could possibly raise, Jesus points them back to what he has been teaching them all along, that “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.” Never grudging or growing wary of the hardness of our hearts, the thickness of our skulls, or our simplicity or misunderstanding, only giving us these words of comfort that he was crucified for you, forgives you of all of your sins, overcomes all of your mortal simplicity raising from the grave, giving you eternal life with him as his child received for his sake and in his name. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Deadly Serious

Pastor Simek

 The Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost at Hope, Jerseyville

9/16/18 

“Deadly Serious”

Sermon Text: Mark 9:14-29

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

There are some days when worship is a very light-hearted, joyous affair. Most of the Easter season is this way. Other times, worship is much more somber and serious, like most of Lent and especially Good Friday. Today, the weight of the Gospel reading makes for a weighty, heavy, serious worship service, especially for me as the father of a son. Today, we hear of a boy possessed by a demon, a boy who cannot speak, who has seizures that cause him to convulse violently, foam at the mouth and grind his teeth. Today, we hear about a boy who has been thrown into fire to burn him up and into water to drown him. Today, we hear about a boy who has been near death time and time again and about his father who is so distraught and desperate over the state of his son that his life and his faith are shattered into pieces so that he has given up hope on a cure, and his prayer is for something, anything, that might make things a little better. This reading, these events, are heavy, weighty, somber, and serious, deadly serious. And of course this is not just a recounting of history, but a narrative and lesson for us today concerning our lives. Today, we hear that…

OUR SERIOUS SIN IS DRIVEN OUT BY AN EVEN MORE SERIOUS SAVIOR

(I. Sin is deadly serious.)

(II. Our Savior is deadly serious.)

I.

And make no mistake, our sin is serious. Our sin is every bit as serious as the demon that possesses this boy and seeks to destroy him. Sin is not merely some character flaw. It is not an endearing or charming trait, or some sort of acceptable vice that a person indulges in. We ought not say, “Oh well there goes Stan stumbling down the street drunk again, you know how he is.” Or, “Well when you talk to Frank you just have to understand that he is going to cuss like a sailor, you know, that’s just him.” Or, “Well, ya, I know Brett is a mean, arrogant, jerk, but he is smart and usually right you know.” Or, “Well, Ryan is kind of a chauvinistic pig and he’ll make all sorts of demeaning, derogatory comments about women, but he sure can build a nice house.” Or, “Well, Andy might tell you a dirty joke every time you see him, but he just has such a great sense of humor.”

Because you certainly wouldn’t say, “Oh that boy, he’s so cute with his little demon possession and all. Did you hear about the last time it threw him into the fire? It left the most amazing, beautiful burn scar on his face. It’s just so cute.” No. Every sin, small or large, is enough to condemn you into the lake of fire. In fact, Luther says that a sin is truly mortal and condemning when it is thought to be venial or insignificant. The most dangerous sin, the sin that will get you thrown into the hell of fire and drown in the waters of the abyss is the sin for which you feel no need for repentance.

There is no Gospel “but” or answer to unrepentance. If the answer to a character flaw or trait is “but that’s just how I am, what am I going to do,” then the answer is not “but Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins.” When sin is taken lightly, downplayed and dismissed, then it is most dangerous. When our guard is down and we are playing with the fire of unrepentance or excuse and self-justification, that is when we are most likely to go head first into the fires of hell. When we hold onto something, some vice, some flaw, some behavior or characteristic we refuse to accept might be sinful, instead of holding on to Christ our savior, that is when we drown into the depths of the abyss. Sin, any sin, all sin is deadly serious. Sin kills you not only in this temporal life, but sin can and will kill you for all of eternity. Just as the demon of this boy seeks to destroy him, your sin seeks to destroy you.

And just as the boy could not get rid of the demon, nor could the father free his son of his possession, not even the disciples could cast this demon out, so you cannot rid yourself of your sin. You cannot let go of those vice, flaws, and character traits that would drag you down into the fiery depths of hell. No amount of grit, will power, and determination, no amount of your own work will ever be enough to escape the power of sin.

II.

So what hope then do we have? How is this demon cast out? Of course it is by and in Christ alone. It can be cast out by nothing but prayer. Sin is answered not in ourselves in any way, but by prayer, by looking to one outside ourselves, by lifting our eyes upon the cross and crying out for mercy and forgiveness. Confess your shortcomings, even your doubt and your broken faith, “I believe; help my unbelief!” And Christ will, does, and has answered. What you cannot do, God does for you in Christ and is received by faith in him for, “All things are possible for one who believes.

And Christ answers his faithful and commands the demon to come out. Christ answers your confession, works in you repentance and faith and commands your sin to come out of you with these words, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I forgive you all of your sins,” and they are gone, cast out, and forgiven. For with these words, God puts you to death. He puts your old Adam to death, that which is in you, which is by nature sinful and unclean, those personality traits, flaws, vices, and excuses which feel so ingrained in you as though they define who you are. Jesus says they are forgiven. Not so that you can return to them or enjoy them without fear, but they are dead like the corpse of a boy whose life and old Adam has been ripped from him and cast out. They are dead like the lifeless body of Jesus hanging on the cross for you. And there is no sin, no matter how big or small, whether mortal or venial, no matter how serious, weighty, heavy, and burdensome that can live through the death of Jesus for you. Your Old Adam, your sin, your flaws and vices, those parts of you that you may seek to excuse or overlook, Christ doesn’t excuse but kills as he kills you.

But you, you are not dead, the boy is not dead, Jesus is not dead. Christ, crucified for your forgiveness, and the casting out, and killing of your old Adam, is risen from the dead. Lent will always end with Easter. Repentance is always met with forgiveness. Serious devastating, crushing, deadly sin is met by an even more serious, devastating, crushing, dead and risen Christ. Christ is risen, and our risen savior raises the dead boy up to live and raises you up a new man to live to all eternity. In Him there is forgiveness delivered to you. In Him there is life, risen from death for you. In Him there is salvation for all eternity for you. In the name of Jesus. Amen.

The Whole Armor of God

Pastor Simek

 The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost at Hope, Jerseyville

9/2/18

“The Whole Armor of God”

Sermon Text: Ephesians 6:10-20

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

I give thanks to God that I have never been in a physical war. I can barely imagine being overseas in battle in World War I or II, in the trenches facing death everyday with bombs and cannons going off and bullets whizzing by your head. Or being in Vietnam where the enemy and death could have been behind any bush or tree. Or being in the Middle East where any car could be a threat, any person a suicide bomber, any step on a land mine and its all over. Thanks be to God for the peace that this nation does have.

But just because we are not in a physical war, in the trenches, the forest, or the desert, does not mean we are not at war, in battle, fighting and wrestling with and against those who seek to take our life. I, you, each one of us are in a fight for our life every day. It is a fight not against bullets or bombs, “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” This is a battle and a war that is even greater than any war fought between nations. This is a war and a battle with consequences that last not just for a generation or an era, but for all of eternity. The stakes of this war are not just your life, but your eternal life. The results of this war last forever and are never overturned or changed.

Yet so often, we do not take this spiritual war as seriously as a physical war. Soldiers are trained for weeks, months, even years to prepare them for battle. They are taught strategies for fighting their enemies, they study the history of war and the defining battles that have been won and lost. They are trained, mentally and physically, to be the strongest, best soldiers on the field. They are forced to run, do push-ups, pull-ups, and sit-ups to get their bodies into shape and their minds able to overcome the obstacles when their bodies tell them no. They are taught how to use their equipment, clean a gun, even blindfolded, and use some of the most cutting edge technology that money can buy.

And they never stop. Even after graduating basic training, they continue to work out to keep their minds and bodies sharp so that they can perform the task set before them. They continue to clean and keep up their equipment. They continue to learn about and study their enemies. They do all of it because they know half a step, or half a second sooner could be the difference between getting out of the way of a bullet or getting hit. They do it because one piece of sand or dirt can be the difference between defeating the enemy or their gun jamming and their life being over.

And if we train this way, and discipline ourselves, our bodies and minds for a war against flesh and blood, how much more should we train ourselves, discipline ourselves, our bodies and minds for a war against an enemy that is greater than flesh and blood and with consequences greater than life and death, but eternal life and eternal death, everlasting joy or everlasting suffering.

And make no mistake, you are in this war “against rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” Some of us may know it. Some of us may feel it. We may feel the draining, exhausting fighting as we fight cancer, sickness, and disease, or facing addiction and temptation, facing the overwhelming difficulty of this life. The devil will and does attack us in obvious ways we can easily identify, in a full-frontal attack.

But his best strategies and the wars and battles he is just as likely to win are those where he sets up a false front and flanks us, or those where he sneaks up behind us, plants his trojan horse, and rises up to defeat us even before we know we are under attack. So if you think you’re ok, if you think you’re not at war or in battle, if you are comfortable and content, not worried, thinking you have everything under control and that war and death stuff is for someone else and not me, at least not right now, be careful, you may have already lost or you might be a lot closer to losing your eternal life than you think. Because if you are a Christian, if you do have faith, if you are at peace with God, you are most certainly at war with the devil.

And he doesn’t care if he defeats you with a decisive blow and cuts out your heart and passion for God, or if he defeats you with a death of a thousand cuts, slowly draining your lifeblood without you ever realize it. All he cares is that he gets you. And make no mistake, if you are not careful, he will. He is stronger than you, smarter than you, greater than you in every way. As Luther says in his most famous hymn, “With might of ours can naught be done, soon were our loss effected.” Our might does not and cannot stand in a fight with the devil. We can do nothing by our own power and strength, but soon we would lose our war. We, you need help.

And we, you, have been given help. Actually, not just help, but victory. “For us fights the valiant One, Whom God Himself elected. Ask ye, Who is this? Jesus Christ it is, of Sabaoth Lord.” He fights for us, on our behalf, in our place. He gives to us what is necessary to stand in war and endure against the attacks of the devil. He is and He gives to us the whole armor of God. He gives to us “the belt of truth… the breastplate of righteousness… the shoes… of the readiness given by the gospel of peace… the shield of faith… the helmet of salvation… and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”

He gives us this armor in many and various ways, again and again that we might always be ready for whatever attack the devil might launch, that we might never be caught unaware, that we would never realize we are under attack until its too late and the battle has already been lost. “Put on the whole armor of God,” as He delivers it to you in Word and Sacrament. Put on the armor of God as you hear that the victory of Christ crucified and risen from the dead is for you. Put on the armor of God as you hear the words of Jesus, “Your sins are forgiven.” Put on the armor of God as you hear the Scriptures spoken and repeated and read through our liturgy, our hymnody, our readings from the Old and New Testaments. Put on the armor of God as you hear the Word of God applied in Law and Gospel to you through the sermon. Put on the armor of God as you eat and drink the body and blood of Christ, your valiant one, the commander and chief of all of the armies of heaven whom he orders to fight for you and defend you from the evil one.

But don’t stop there. Put on every piece of armor, receive God’s Word and his gifts every way that he gives them to you. Put on the armor of God as we gather together and study Scripture together in Bible class. Put on the armor of God as you have your own personal or family devotions, even if they are as simple as reading a few verses of Scripture, confessing the creed, and saying the Lord’s Prayer. Put on the armor of God and pray. Rise! To arms! With prayer employ you! Don’t miss once piece of the full armor of God.

You wouldn’t go into battle without a helmet, a bulletproof vest or full blown body armor. You wouldn’t step into the ranks without a gun or sword. Do not go into battle against the devil unprepared or unaware. For every time you miss one of these things, you are missing a piece of armor. If you miss service, miss Bible class, neglect devotions and daily prayers, you go into battle vulnerable and ill-equipped. You put yourself at risk, put not just your life, but your eternal life at risk and on the line with a gaping hole in your defense.

Put on the whole armor of God, all of the pieces that God gives you in many and various ways, often and much, to protect you, to clothe you with the victory of His Son for he alone can, and does, stand and preserve you in your every day of battle. No matter how subtle or obvious the devil scowls fierce as he will, that he would be able to harm you none. “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.” In the Name of Jesus. Amen.