The Third Wednesday in Lent

Pastor Simek

 The Third Wednesday in Lent at Hope, Jerseyville

3/20/19

“Firstfruits”

Sermon Text: Leviticus 23:15-43

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

The Feast of Weeks, a week of weeks after the Sabbath following the Passover, seven weeks or forty-nine days, plus one, the Sabbath, is fifty days after Passover. Like the Feast of Booths, the Feast of Weeks had both an agricultural and historical significant. While the Feast of Booths was at the end of the harvest season, the Feast of Weeks was at the beginning of the harvest season and was a giving of the firstfruits of the harvest. It was a thanksgiving for the harvest that was to come and showed a trust in God to provide the remaining harvest of the year.

The giving of firstfruits wasn’t just limited to grain though. All firstfruits were to be dedicated to the Lord: the firstfruits of the harvest and the firstfruits of the womb. So the firstborn of a lamb or a cow or a woman was to be dedicated to the Lord.

The Feast of Weeks was also connected to the giving of the Ten Commandment. That was the historical commemoration and significance celebrated at the Feast of Weeks for it was said that fifty days after the Israelites escaped Egypt at the Passover, God gave the Ten Commandments to Moses on Mount Sinai. It was the giving of the first covenant or testament to the people of God. So while they saw the Passover as their physical freedom from slavery in Egypt, they saw the Ten Commandments as their spiritual freedom from immorality and idolatry, for now God had told them how to live without sin. So as much as the Feast of Weeks marked the beginning of the harvest and giving of the firstfruits, it marked the freedom of the people of Israel.

Though perhaps that was a bit short-lived because after receiving the Ten Commandments, Moses came down from Mount Sinai to find God’s people worshipping a golden calf. Still, the people were slaves to their sin, and we too, find ourselves slaves to sin and under the Law. We find ourselves breaking God’s first covenant, His old testament, and so God brings forth something new, the New Testament.

That while sin entered into the world through one man, Adam, the first man created by God, it is through another man, the firstborn of Mary, the only begotten Son of God, which comes the free gift of God, the forgiveness of sins. And when the time came, the firstborn of Mary was taken to the temple and dedicated to the Lord. And when Simeon saw Jesus, the Christ-child, he sang of the salvation of all people as promised to Adam and Eve and fulfilled in Jesus.

So Jesus, the first and only Son of God, even being the first Son before Adam, Jesus truly set the people free at Passover, that night in which we was betrayed, the day He was crucified on the cross to free you of your sin. And fifty days later, at Pentecost, when all Jews were gathered together in Jerusalem, a new harvest began as the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles and they spoke in tongues that all would know of the mighty works of God accomplished in Christ.

This new harvest was one of the New Testament, the new covenant in the blood of Christ in which all of your sins are forgiven, a covenant not of death, but of life. And so Christ is the firstborn, the firstfruits, of the living and of the dead, the first to be raised up to everlasting life, the first of many. For just as Christ was raised from the dead, so too shall you be raised to everlasting life, the fruit of the new harvest, the fruit which comes from the cross of Christ, the fruit of all of God’s work for you. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

The Second Sunday in Lent

Pastor Simek

 The Second Sunday in Lent at Hope, Jerseyville

3/17/19

“Truth”

Sermon Text: Jeremiah 26:8-15

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

            Jeremiah was either incredibly brave or incredibly dumb. In Jeremiah 26, the chapter of our Old Testament reading, Jeremiah stands in the biggest city in Judah, in the middle of Jerusalem, in the court of the Lord’s temple, and tells the people that unless they change and start listening to God and His prophets, the temple, the city, and the land of God will be desolate, empty, and a curse for all the nations of the earth. He is threatening the most important and powerful people in the whole country to their face, in the most public and important place they have. That doesn’t even mention the fact that he is foretelling the destruction of God’s temple in God’s temple and that if he is wrong or if God didn’t actually tell him to do this, he will most likely be struck dead on the spot by God. In spite of all this, Jeremiah still speaks.

            He makes a bold confession of the truth of God in a place that will likely kill him for saying it. And Jeremiah isn’t the only prophet God calls to make a bold confession of the truth. You probably know about Jonah, the prophet swallowed by a whale or big fish who went to Nineveh to foretell the destruction of the city even though he thought it would get him killed. It worked out for him, the people repented, and God relented of the disaster. It did not work out so well for Jeremiah as the people did not repent, but called for his death, threw him into prison, and then did try to kill him.

            But regardless of the outcome, whether the people repent and believe or not, what remains the same is God’s call to these prophets to boldly speak the truth no matter the cost. What remains the same for us, today, is God’s call for us to continue to boldly speak the truth of God.

            And that truth of God which He gives us to proclaim is not always sunshine and rainbows. The truth of God is both the Law and the Gospel. The truth of God includes calling a sin a sin, calling sinners to repentance, foretelling death and desolation for those outside of Christ. The call of the prophets, the call of the church, my Call, is not to make the way to heaven easier or more acceptable to the culture, but it is to make the culture and the people acceptable to God by always proclaim the truth, and sometimes, that truth hurts.

            It hurts because the truth is that our culture, this world, and we are not good. In fact, it is in serious, grave, deadly danger. We are on the brink of desolation and destruction because of our sin. We need to know that. We need to know the stakes, the price that we will pay if we do not listen to God’s Word. You need to know that if you don’t shape up, turn and repent right now and devote yourself to the things of God rather than the things of men you are on the verge of hell.

            And I don’t care if it hurts your feelings to hear. In fact, I pray that it does. I pray that it cuts you to your core, insults you, attacks you and offends you in the very innermost fibers of your being because it means that God’s Word and His Law is doing exactly what it is meant to do: kill you. And if it means that you hate me for saying it, or you want to kick me out, or your never coming back to this church again, or you want to kill me or Jeremiah for it, then so be it, but that is what God has given us to proclaim.

            And it is that same message that we, as the church, are given to proclaim in today’s culture that is so hostile to it. It may not make us popular or well liked. It may create hard feelings and make people angry with us for speaking the truth and that is unfortunate, but it also might make them repent. That was Jeremiah’s goal and that is ours too: to speak God’s love to them, His truth to them, even if it might hurt them or get us hurt or hated. Because the most loving thing we can do, the thing we are called to do, the greatest way we can serve our neighbor is not by telling them that everything is fine when it’s not, but by telling them to come and fix their eyes on Jesus, their savior and yours.

And in order to know, see, confess, and believe in a savior, we must first confess that we need saving. Sin leads to death. Sin must be punished. Sin against God will be met with the full wrath of God. And that wrath, that punishment, and that death will be yours unless you repent, mend your ways, obey the voice of the Lord and He shall relent from this disaster upon you and instead put it on His Son. Jesus becomes desolate, abandoned, and alone instead of the house of Jerusalem, God’s people. Jesus is struck down, crucified, and destroyed in your place. He has saved you from this disaster and restored you to peace.

That is why four chapters later in Jeremiah, from chapter 30 through 33, Jeremiah speaks and promises restoration and peace. He foretells that although Jerusalem is being destroyed and exiled now, although we are separated from God now, we shall be restored, brought back, and returned to peace. So through the cross of Christ our punishment is taken now and we are made acceptable to God, restored, brought back, and returned to peace with Him.

That is the truth of God which we proclaim, the Law and the Gospel. God has called you a sinner, called you to repentance, called you to faith in the Gospel, called you and all believers to everlasting life with Him. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.                            

The Second Wednesday in Lent

Pastor Simek

 The Second Wednesday in Lent at Hope, Jerseyville

3/13/19

“Dwelling Place”

Sermon Text: Leviticus 23:33-43

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

The Feast of Booths, of Tents, of shabby little shacks or make-shift shelters that barely stand up on their own. It was a Feast of Ingathering, at the end of the harvest when all the grain had been gathered in then all of the people of Israel gathered in around Jerusalem to gather and stand before the Lord. It was one of three times of the year when Israelites were commanded to come to Jerusalem and present themselves before the Lord and so it was one of the highest and holiest days for all the Jews.

It was a feast that remember the booths or tents, those temporary shelters that they lived in for forty years in the wilderness when God had brought them out of the land of Egypt. It was a time to remember the way that they lived during those forty years, that God had preserved them, giving them bread from heaven even as He had just given them their full harvest, making their pitiful tents stand for not just a matter of days, but for forty years while they camped in the wilderness.

But it was not just the people of Israel who camped in tents for forty years. They did not need to come to Jerusalem to remember and reenact that. They needed to be in Jerusalem to camp around the temple, the way they camped around dwelling of the Lord in the wilderness, the way that pillar of cloud by day and pillar of fire by night never left the people. For those forty years, God camped, dwelt in a tent, a temporary, make-shift dwelling among His people. So every year they returned and camped around Him, remember that God dwelt among His people.

But a tent is not the only temporary, make-shift shelter in which God chooses to dwell, and a temple in Jerusalem is not the only place fit for the seat of God. For at Christmas we celebrate God dwelling with man in the flesh. Actually, in just a few weeks, the Christian Church celebrates The Annunciation of Our Lord on March 25. On that day, we celebrate the angel announcing to the Virgin Mary of the Christ-child in her womb. On that day, we celebrate God enthroned in the flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary.

Then, at Christmas, the child is born, God in the flesh, in a temporal, mortal body, dwelling with man. Yet this mortal body was only temporary for it was destined to die, to be crucified upon a cross, to be planted and buried in a tomb that it might rise again in glory so that just as Christ was raised from the dead, so too will you be raised from death and the grave, your mortal body putting on immortality.

That is the way it is meant to be. Man is not meant, is not created, to die, but to live. God does not create Man to be apart from Him, but to be a part of Him. We see it in the Garden of Eden as God walks in the Garden in the cool of the day searching for Adam and Eve. It is their sin which separates them from God as it is our sin which separates us from Him and makes our bodies mortal. Yet God seeks out Man. God desires Man. God desires to dwell with Man and so He does, in a tent, a temple, and in the flesh to die.

And in His death, God again dwells with Man. His body and His blood here with you. His Holy Spirit sanctifying and dwelling in you as His own temple. Yet again, that temple is only temporary until your body dies and is planted and buried in the ground awaiting its resurrection. And on that day when your mortal body is raised immortal and all things are made permanent, so then God’s dwelling place with man will be permanent. He shall dwell in the midst of His people forever. For as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. God with Man. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

The First Sunday in Lent at Hope

Pastor Simek

 The First Sunday in Lent at Hope, Jerseyville

3/10/19

“Salvation Made Simple”

Sermon Text: Deuteronomy 26:1-11

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raise him from the dead, you will be saved.” Salvation is just that easy. Confess with your mouth. Believe in your heart. You will be saved. It’s simple. Almost unbelievably simple, but it’s true nevertheless. The work has been done. The hard part, it is finished. Salvation is for you.

I imagine the Israelites thought much the same when they finally settled into the Promised Land. Having been saved from slavery and delivered into the Promised Land, life was simple. God gives them a glimpse of how simple in our Old Testament reading even before they entered the Promised Land. “When you come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you… take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from your land that the Lord you God is giving you… and you shall go to the place that the Lord your God will choose… And you shall make response before the Lord your God… And you shall rejoice in all the good that the Lord your God has given to you.

God tells them: I’m giving you land, and when you get there that land will produce a harvest, and from the harvest from the land I gave you, you will come to the place where I tell you and you will repeat everything I did for you, you will confess with your mouth and believe in your heart all of the work I did for you, and you will rejoice.

God gives the land. God produces the harvest. God puts the fruits of the harvest in the hands of the people. God shows the people where to go. God tells them what to say, what to confess, and what to believe, and God gives them salvation. The hard part is finished. Salvation is theirs.

God makes salvation so easy, so simple, and so straight forward for us and for them, what could possibly go wrong? How can we mess this up? But we do. We do because we forget. We stop confessing and forget what it took to get there. That’s what happened to Israel. They stopped confessing that Abraham, the “wandering Aramean was my father.” The forgot their time in Egypt where they went from only a few and became a great nation. They forgot their slavery in Egypt, even asked Jesus why He calls them slaves for they have never been slaves to anyone. They forgot the mighty works of God to rescue them, the plagues, crossing the Red Sea on dry ground, the mana from heaven, the water from a rock, the serpent lifted up on the pole, the pillar of cloud and of fire, crossing the Jordan River on dry ground to enter the Promised Land flowing with milk and honey. They forgot how they got there and wandered from the faith.

So during this forty day Lenten season, “Come, let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” Do not forget the difficulty, the hard part of your salvation just because God has made it so simple and easy for us today lest we forget what we believe, teach, and confess all together. Do not let “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved,” be an excuse to do nothing else and forget everything else God has done for you. Don’t let this one verse of the Bible erase the rest of it, but confess and believe every verse.

And this isn’t as a law or a command or a condemnation any more than saying confess and believe. Confession and faith comes from God. Faith comes by hear the Word of God. Confession and faith flows from every verse of the Bible, and the Bible isn’t here to tell you how bad of a person you are and condemn you, but is here to spell out your salvation. The Bible is for your comfort and your peace. All of the work of God in all of Scripture is for your comfort and peace written down so that you do not forget it but so that you would be able to confess it, believe it, and be saved.

So God commands the Israelites to make a sacrifice of the first fruits when they enter the Promised Land not as a law, not as a message of judgment and condemnation if they don’t, but as an invitation to remember what God has done for them. God did call Abraham, give him Isaac, his son, Jacob, his grandson, and Joseph, his great-grandson, who would bring them to Egypt where God made them a great nation. And when they were humiliated and enslaved, God brought forth mighty and wonderous deeds as had never been seen before in all the earth to save them, to rescue them from the bondage of their slavery, to deliver them into the Promised Land.

But He didn’t just do that for them. That was for you. Your father was a wandering Aramean by faith. You were enslaved in Egypt and rescued through Moses by faith. You were delivered into the Promised Land by the mighty and miraculous works of God by faith, and God’s not done working for you yet.

God became flesh for you. God became like you, even faced temptation as you do. For forty days, Jesus was tempted in the desert to forget who He was and what God had done, but He continues to fix His eyes on the Word. He does not say “but I confess and I believe.” He points back to God and His Word. He quotes, three times, from Deuteronomy of all books. So He fights of temptation for you, and yet He is not done.

He continues in His ministry and His journey toward Jerusalem. There He does the hard part that makes your salvation so simple. There He is flogged and beaten, crowned with thorns, and humiliated. There He is nailed to a cross, crucified, sheds His blood, lays down His life, and dies for you, to save you. If you thought the ten plagues in Egypt were something to behold, if you thought that was amazing, God dies for you. That is something that had never happened before and will never happen again. That is what it took to save  you.

But He is still not done. Still God comes to you to put that 2000 year old cross on you and He does it right here, at the font, the lecturn, the pulpit, and the altar. Here is where God works and delivers that salvation. Here is where He gives you the words to confess with your mouth. Here is where He gives you the faith to believe in your heart. Here is where God saves you. It is that simple.

It’s not a rule or a law, a command or a condemnation. This is the work of God, His mercy and his grace for you to hear, see, touch, and taste. Here God makes what was so hard for Him, what cost Him His life, easy for us. So look at the cross. Look at the font. Look at the altar. Not because if you don’t you are damned to hell forever, but because that is where God puts before you, for you to remember, the salvation which He has accomplished for you. It really is just that simple and that easy. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Ash Wednesday at Hope

Pastor Simek

 Ash Wednesday at Hope, Jerseyville

3/6/19

“Repentant Preparation”

Sermon Text: Joel 2:12-19

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

For about the first year that my family was here, a wise and beloved member would tell me, just about every time he saw my son, Joel, that we were “livin’ in the days of Joel.” It made me smile every time because it was cute and personal, but then it made me a little sad because he was also right. We are living in the days of Joel.

The book of the Prophet Joel is a short one, only three chapters, and is known for prophesying a plague of locusts and calling people to repentance. A plague of locusts today seems a bit farfetched, but the idea behind it is not. The plague of locusts in Judah and Jerusalem then wasn’t simply a natural phenomenon, but was the coming of the judgment day of the Lord and his punishment of the people for their unfaithfulness. So Joel’s prophecy then still holds true today, that the judgment of the Lord is coming and when it comes it will punish and destroy the unfaithful.

So if you know that this day is coming, how do you prepare for it? If you knew you had forty days left to live, the Lenten season and no longer, now until Easter, and then you would die and the day of God’s judgment would be upon you, how would you prepare? If you had forty days left to live, how would you spend them? I think the inclination for most would be to check off a sort of bucket list, a list of things you want to do before you kick the bucket and die. And there is nothing wrong with a bucket list, but what is on yours? Is your bucket list made up of things that are going to prepare you for the day of God’s judgment? Or is your bucket list your way of living up the last moments of your life, trying to see the best that this world has to offer? With the last forty days of your life, would you try to get the most out of this life or the most out of the life to come?

For many, I think the desire would be to do or see all the things on earth that they have not done or seen: travel the world, go skydiving, eat the best food made by the best chef in all of the world, or maybe just spend time with family, do the little things with them so that they will remember you even when you are gone. And while these things may not be bad, I’m not sure that they will prepare you to die and prepare you for the plague of locusts, the judgment day of the Lord.

Joel, the prophet, has a suggestion for us, for the way that we spend our remaining days, for the way that we spend our days of Lent. He tells us how we should prepare for this plague, for God’s coming judgment. “’Yet even now,’ declares the Lord, ‘return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.’ Return to the Lord your God.” Live not for this life, for this here and now, but for the life to come. “Blow the trumpet in Zion; consecrate a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people. Consecrate the congregation; assemble the elders; gather the children, even nursing infants. Let the bridegroom leave his room and the bride her chamber.” Go to church, everyone, no matter what you have going on in your life.

For the next forty days, prepare yourself for the coming judgment of the Lord, because in forty days it will be here. I pray that you live longer than that, but regardless, in forty days, the judgment day of the Lord will be before us, so prepare yourself for that. For the next forty days, prepare yourself to see Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God, God Himself hanging upon the cross to His death for you. And do it not by giving up coffee or Facebook or chocolate, do it by going to church. Do it by rending your hearts, not your garments. Prepare for the day of God’s judgment through repentance and faith.

For the Lord your God “is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster. Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him, a grain offering and a drink offering for the Lord your God?” Who knows? Maybe, just maybe, God is calling you not to make the most of this life or to be a better person tomorrow than you are today because you are not drinking coffee anymore, but calling you to continued repentance and faith. Maybe God is working in you to create and sustain your faith by His Word and Sacraments.

But there is no maybe about it. He is. He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. He is preparing you to see His Son hanging upon the cross in your place, as a blessing for you in faith. And He is leaving behind and sending to you a grain offering and a drink offering, grain, wine, and oil. He is leaving behind and giving to you a bit of bread and some wine for you. He is giving you His body and blood for your forgiveness, for your salvation, for your eternal life.

He is the one who prepares you for God’s day of judgment by taking that judgment upon Himself for you so that when that day comes, when the locusts infest the land, when all of the earth is destroyed, you will not die, but live. So live, come, repent and believe, eat, drink, and be satisfied. Be prepared for the coming day of God’s judgment that it will be a blessing to you, forgiveness for you, eternal life for you, salvation for you. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

The Transfiguration of Our Lord at Hope

Pastor Simek 

 The Transfiguration of Our Lord at Hope, Jerseyville 

3/3/19  

“Mountain Tops” 

Sermon Text: Deuteronomy 34:1-12 

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

Other than Jesus, probably the most important human in all of Scripture is Moses. In the whole Bible, I think only Joseph is depicted in such a Christ-like manner as Moses, but even then Joseph doesn’t have the same authority as Moses. Even the Bible itself holds Moses in high regard as it says that “there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, none like him for all the signs and the wonders that the Lord sent him to do in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land, and for all the mighty power and all the great deeds of terror that Moses did in the sight of all Israel.” 

No one since Moses knew God face to face like Moses, spoke with Him in the burning bush and throughout his life up until his death. No one since Moses performed the miracles that God performed through Moses. No one delivered God’s people from slavery, parted the Red Sea that they could walk through on dry ground, and cared for and provided for them as they journeyed through the wilderness of Sin, bringing daily bread from heaven, and delivered them to the Promised Land, to the edge of the Jordan River, like Moses did. No human in all of history is as great as Moses, except for Jesus alone. 

But for as great as Moses was, he still never got to enter the land that God had promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Because of his sin, because he struck a rock with his staff rather than speaking to the rock as God had told him, because he disobeyed God, he never got to cross the Jordan River and posses the land that God had given his forefathers. God lets him see it. He shows Moses the Promised Land from the top of Mount Nebo. God gives Moses a vision of the promise which lies before him, and then Moses dies and is buried in an unmarked grave in an unknown location because of sin. 

And if Moses is denied what he desires, what he has worked his life for, because of this one little sin, how much more so ought that be true for you. You are certainly not like Moses. You do not know God as Moses did. You have not performed such mighty and wonderous deeds as Moses, delivering a nation from slavery to freedom. You have not been recorded in the pages of Holy Scripture to be read and studied for all time. You have not written five of the most important books of the Bible outside of the Gospels. You are not so great as Moses so you ought to expect to be denied entrance into the Promised Land for every one of your littlest sins and acts of disobedience. 

For every time you have broken one of those Ten Commandments that God gave to Moses, you have made yourself unworthy. For even one time that you have stolen or failed to improve and protect the income of your neighbor, or for even one time that you have lied, gossiped, hurt some ones reputation or spoken or thought ill of someone, you are deserving to die outside of the Promised Land, outside of salvation, outside of the grace, mercy, and peace of God. You are unworthy to even have a glimpse from a distance like God gave to Moses because you are no Moses. No one is like Moses. No one is as good as Moses, except Jesus. 

Jesus knew God more intimately than Moses because Jesus is God. He is the Son of God who revealed His Father more intimately and in more detail than even Moses was given. Jesus embodied what Moses could only point to and look at from afar. Moses was given bread from heaven, but Jesus is the bread from heaven, the bread of life. Moses struck a rock for water, but Jesus is the rock and foundation of our faith from which flows living water that if one drinks they will never thirst again. Moses put to death the firstborn of all Egypt, but Jesus raised up the firstborn son of a widow, the daughter of Jairus, and his own friend Lazarus. Moses was taken up a mountain prior to his death in order to see, from afar, the Promised Land, but when Jesus ascended a mountain before His death, He was the vision of promise and salvation as he became dazzling white. 

All of the work of Moses, pointed to the person and work of Jesus, that Jesus would deliver God’s people from slavery through their baptismal waters, care and provide for them during their journey through the wilderness of sin, until finally not just bringing them to the Promised Land, but delivering them into it by His glory, by His blood shed on the cross. Moses could not get himself into the Promised Land because of his sin, but Jesus did bring him into the Promised Land in his death that Moses would have eternal life in Him, so that he would appear with Jesus and Elijah in glory on that Mount of Transfiguration. 

And as Jesus had done it for Moses, so He has done it for you. He has delivered you from slavery and sin through your baptismal waters, provides daily bread to care and protect you throughout this life, brings you to the top of  your own mountain, up these few steps, as you approach this altar and behold that same transfigured body and blood of Jesus in, with, and under this bread and wine, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins, for your eternal life, and for your salvation. And on this mountain, in this Supper, you are given a foretaste of the feast to come, a glimpse of the Promised Land, your own mountain top experience every week.  

And God will continue to be here for you throughout your life until your death when your Baptism is fulfilled, the promises of God are delivered in their fullness to you as you cross the Jordan river and are brought into the Promised Land, the New Jerusalem, the land flowing with milk and honey where you shall live and reign to all eternity. In the Name of Jesus. Amen. 

The Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany

Pastor Simek

 The Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany at Hope, Jerseyville

2/24/19

“Bad and Good”

Sermon Text: Genesis 45:3-15

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

What good is moldy bread? What can you do with a rotten egg? Is there anything good that can come from something moldy, rotten, or even dead? What about chunky milk? Now that certainly sounds disgusting, but I really like deep fried cheese curds. Something good can come of that. So how bad does something have to be before it is beyond the point of being turned into something good? I know of recipes that call for day-old or even stale bread, but I have never heard of anyone using moldy bread for a meal. When does it reach that point of no return? Is a situation or a person every beyond the point of redemption?

Joseph’s brothers certainly put that to the test. You probably remember Joseph from Sunday School or maybe you’ve seen the play “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” that the high school will be performing in March. If you don’t know the end of the story already, I suppose today should have come with some sort of spoiler alert because our Old Testament reading puts us near the end of these events. And, by the way, these are historical events. This is not like many plays that are fiction and just a creation of some writer’s imagination. Joseph and his brothers and his father, Jacob, are real, historical people. And when Joseph is seventeen, he really gets under the skin of his brothers. He is already dad’s favorite, which is why he is given his famous coat, but he also rubs it in their faces, telling

them about his dreams where his brothers and even his father and their mother are bowing down before him. He pushes his brothers so far and they hate him so much that when they see an opportunity they plan to kill him. Well then they decide not to kill him, but just leave him for dead, at least until they see an opportunity to profit off of him and sell him into slavery for the price of a common slave assuming he will die a slave. And when they return home, they tell their father that his favorite son is dead. Though they didn’t shed his blood, they did essentially kill him.

There are few relationships that can be broken so badly as brothers who come together to kill one of their own or even just sell him into slavery. Joseph is dead to them. It is over. If there is something that can go beyond the point of no return or a situation that would be beyond redemption, it is hard to think of one that fits better than Joseph and his brothers except maybe our own relationship with God.

We have sold God into slavery. We have ended our relationship with him, broke it off and left him for dead. We are the ones who sold God, the Son, to the Jews for the price of a common slave knowing that He would be put to death. We have betrayed Him and His Word. We have abandoned God’s commandments and turned to ourselves and our own sin. We didn’t want to hear anymore about bowing down before God, just as Joseph’s brothers didn’t want to hear about bowing down before him, so we got rid of Him. We don’t want to be obedient to Him and His word. We want him to be quiet so we can do what we want and we will kill him if that’s what it takes. The only problem is, as we end it, break it off, and separate ourselves from God, He is not the one who dies, but we are. We are dead in our trespasses and sins. We are the slaves to our sin. We are the moldy bread and the rotten egg. We are the decaying corpse in the pit that if left

to itself will only get worse. We sin and lead ourselves into more sin until our sin becomes so dark, so rotten and stinky that we dare not air it out, not even to ask someone to take it away from us. We think our sin so great, our situation so broken, that it is past the point of no return and beyond redemption just as Joseph’s brothers thought their relationship was with Joseph.

But with God there is no bread so moldy, no egg so rotten, no relationship so broken, no sinner so terrible and awful and dead, that He cannot bring life and good. He shows it in Joseph. Joseph is sold into slavery then rises to power as a slave. He is then thrown into prison and rises to power in prison. He is in the pit of the deepest darkest hole, the prison with the most vile of all criminals of Egypt, yet he rises to the right hand of Pharaoh where he is reunited with his brothers, hugging them, kissing them, and weeping in joy with them. Though Joseph never really did die.

Jesus, though, He did die. He was murdered by us and our sin as we sold Him into slavery. We went further than Joseph’s brothers could bring themselves to go. And from His death upon the cross, Jesus descended into hell. He went into the deepest darkest hole, the prison with the most vile and awful of all criminals and sinner in all the world of all time. He descended into the depths of hell and rose again to life. He took the worst, most awful, terrible thing, the greatest power and sting of sin, he took death, and brought forth life. He didn’t change the sin, He just used it to bring about good. Moldy bread is always gross, but God is able to turn it into the bread of life. Chunky milk is still disgusting even if that is where cheese comes from. Joseph being sold into slavery for his death by his brothers is and will always be, without question, an awful, wretched, sinful thing to do, even if God used it to bring about good, providing a home for Israel for hundreds of years. Your sin against God and your neighbor is still sinful and is still evil even if God uses it to bring you or them to faith. A

tornado or hurricane is always bad. The 9/11 attacks and Pearl Harbor will always be bad, even if God used them to bring about good. Death is always bad, even if a person is sick or suffering, even if a person passes into their eternal life with Christ in peace, their death is bad and we still mourn and weep for them, but we do so as those who look upon the worst of the power of sin and evil and have hope in the resurrection and life of Christ.

We have a God in Christ who is able to take even the worst of all things, even our worst, darkest, ugliest, smelliest, most rotten sins and forgive them, wipe them away, and cover them in His blood and righteousness. There is no sin that cannot be forgiven in faith. There is no point of no return. There is no one who is beyond redemption. Not me, or you, or even the brothers of Joseph. In Christ there is hope for all and for all who believe there is the promise of eternal good in the face of extreme evil. In Him you are saved from all evil. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

The Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany

Pastor Simek

 The Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany at Hope, Jerseyville

2/17/19

“Then and Now”

Sermon Text: Jeremiah 17:5-8

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

Yours is the kingdom of God… you shall be satisfied… you shall laugh… Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven.” These are the wonderful gifts and promises that God has for His children: the forgiveness of sin, eternal life and salvation, that even when you die, yet you shall live for just as Christ is risen from the dead so shall we rise and live and reign for all eternity.

There is nothing that can compare to that future glory that is promised to us in Christ. It is hardly imaginable, too great for words. Even when the Bible does try to describe the future glory that awaits us, it can only speak in analogy and imagery because the beauty and awe and wonder of our eternal life in heaven is too great for even the Holy Spirit to describe to us in words we can understand. There is no doubt and no minimizing how great our reward will be in heaven.

And while I am not trying to do that, not doubting or downplaying what is to come, it sure would be nice to see a little of that here don’t you think. So often Christianity or religion in general is only about some future promise of life after death. Is that all Christianity is? Sometimes it seems like it doesn’t it?

In the very same breath that Jesus tells us of our future kingdom, satisfaction, and laughter, He tells us that now we are the poor, the hungry, the weeping, those hated, excluded, reviled, and spurned. These “Blessed are you…” statements in Luke mimic those Beatitudes in Matthew’s Gospel as both tell of the future blessings of those in Christ while at the same time describing the miserable state of them, of us, right now. We are told that we as Christians must bear our burdens and pick up and carry our cross. “For so their fathers did to the prophets…” they will do to you. So as they did to Christ who came before you, they will do to you also. We as Christians can expect and count on difficulties in this life, both those that the average person endures and even more because we are Christians.

Meanwhile, those without Christ seem to have it pretty nice. In these “woes” of our reading from Luke, as Jesus describes unbelievers there is something almost appealing about them. I wouldn’t mind being rich and full, laughing and having people speak well of me. That doesn’t sound so bad. And when we look at those without faith, it can even lead us to envy or covet what they have.

They are not restricted by the Law. They don’t have to worry about having a guilty conscience. There is no one telling them what they are doing is wrong. They seem truly free: free to do what they want to and with whomever they want without anyone telling them it’s wrong. They can make up their own rules or live by no rules at all. They are not bound to monogamy or selflessness. They are free to love themselves and not worry about anyone else or the consequences of their actions.

They can be rich and fat and happy, living an indulgent life of whatever they want. That sounds good. But the thing is, that only lasts as long as you are rich and fat and happy. This life of glory only lasts as long as the glory. When you hit a bump in the road, when things get tough, when not everything is going right and there is any actual need or crisis, none of that means anything or does any good.

Where does a person turn when they cannot turn to God? When prayer is not an option, what is left? People have stopped saying “I will pray for you” and instead “send positive thoughts and vibes your way.” What does that even mean? It means they have nothing but what their minds and imaginations have created. There is no back-up plan. There is no Plan “B” when life doesn’t go your way. There is nothing and no one to fall back on.

Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the Lord. He is like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see any good come. He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land.” Can you picture the plant in the desert, in the parched places of the wilderness, in the salt land? What hope does a plant have without water but only salt that will draw what little water that remains away from the plant? What hope does a man have, in this life, when hard times hit, without Christ? Nothing.

But with Christ, “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.” Like a tree planted by a stream, whether in the hottest heat or the driest drought has nothing to fear as it has a continual supply of life giving water. So the one with Christ, in the hottest heat, the driest drought, the hardest times that life can throw at him, has no fear nor anxiety for he as a continual supply of the source of life.

The promises of God for you in Christ are not just for the life that is to come, but they are words and promises of comfort to you right now. That there is nothing that life can throw at you or do to you that would take the peace and comfort of God from you. Christ has been crucified for you to bring you the peace and comfort of God. Is there anything in all this world and all this life that is more powerful than that? Is there any force greater or any higher authority or plea to the Father more commanding than the body and blood of His own Son given and shed for you?

No. God is for you. Christ is for you. His body and His blood is for you. His death is for you. His resurrection is for you. And if God is for us and with us then what can concern us? What is the worst thing that could happen to you? You lose your friends? What a friend we have in Jesus, in His body, in the Church, and our brothers and sisters in Christ who will be here for you even when everyone else has forsaken you. You lose your job, your income, your house, your food, and all the material things of this world? Still you have the shelter of God who cares for the birds of the air and the flowers of the field and how much more does He care for you, His beloved child. You lose your family: a parent, child, husband or wife, what then do you have left? As Luther famously says in his hymn “A Mighty Fortress” “take they our life, Goods, fame, child, and wife, though these all be gone, Our vict’ry has been won; The Kingdom ours remaineth.” Still God is with you. Whether you have or have not in this life, right now, today, and tomorrow, you will always have God, your creator, your savior and redeemer, and your sanctifier beside you. Or would it be greater to lose your own life than those you love? Well then we are right back where we began, spending the rest of all of eternity with God in indescribably glory and majesty.

So whether you live or you die, God is with you. Whether you have or you have not, you always have God. Whether life is good, bad, or ugly, Christ has been through it for you and is going through it with you. Right now and in that day to come “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord.” Blessed are you now and forever. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany

Pastor Simek

 The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany at Hope, Jerseyville

2/10/19

“Holy Atonement”

Sermon Text: Isaiah 6:1-13

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

What makes your best friend your best friend? What are the key, foundational building blocks of a strong, long-lasting relationship? Is it having something in common: common experiences and interests, or common values and priorities? Or is it their loyalty and faithfulness, that you can always count on them and trust them?

Whatever it is and whatever your relationship is built on, what would happen if those building blocks were taken away? Would you still be friends? If you grew up together and shared everything together, but then you both moved away and your interests and experiences, your values and priorities changed, would your friendship last?

Or if it’s built on trust, loyalty, and faithfulness, what happens if they betray you, abuse your trust so that they are no longer trusty worthy, loyal, of faithful to you, but only to themselves? They ignored you except when they needed something for themselves, but they never did anything for you. Instead, they hurt you, talked bad about you if they ever talked about you at all, and they hurt the people you care about. Is there a point when that person is no longer a friend? If that is your child, is there a point where you just throw up your hands and let them be and do what they want because they just keep hurting you? Is there a line that they could cross where you would just be done with them?

Do you think you have crossed that line with God? If a friend treated you the same way you treat God, do you think they would still be your friend? Or if you treated your dad the same way you treat God, would your dad still claim you as his child? Is there any reason we should have any sort of relationship with God?

We don’t really have much in common with God. We were created in His image and likeness. We started out similar, but then Mankind fell, we sinned, we lost the image and likeness of God, and now we all fall short of His glory.

He is the “Holy, holy, holy… Lord of hosts.” He is thrice holy, three times holy, the perfect Triune God who never does anything wrong and never makes a mistake. He is the Lord God Almighty, the maker of heaven and earth. He is eternal, without beginning or end. He is omniscient, all-knowing. He is omnipresent, all-present. He is omnipotent, all-powerful. He is immutable, never-changing. He is the Lord God of Sabaoth, the heavenly host, which means He is the commander of the heavenly army of angels as they battle the devil and his army of demons. Does that sound like you? Is that what your average day looks like? We are not like God.

And our interests are not the same either, and our loyalty and faithfulness does not lie with Him, but with ourselves. While He is interested in being with us, we are only interested in ourselves. We do not keep the Ten Commandments even though it hurts Him when we break them. We hurt or harm our neighbor in his body. We hate and get angry with our neighbor. We don’t help and support him in every physical need. And we do not lead a sexually pure and decent life in what we say and do, much less in what we think. And the relationship between husband and wife is not always of love and honor, but suffers from the same unfaithfulness and lack of loyalty as our relationship with God does.

We hurt God and the people He cares about. We betray Him, don’t listen to Him, actually do the exact thing He tells us not to do. We serve ourselves first, and then maybe we ask Him for something we need. We limit our relationship with Him to when we need something from Him, plus an hour on Sunday morning. But the rest of our week, the rest of our life, that’s ours.

Even for a parent, that is probably stretching, testing, and straining that relationship. If a child has walked away from their parent, abandoned them, had nothing to do with them, turned their back on them, done everything wrong and done everything the parent told them not to do, even the most loving parents would likely be tempted to walk away.

So God ought to walk away. He ought to remove us from Him, leave us to lie in waste and desolation for we are a people of unclean lips and we dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips. He ought to forsake us and leave us to be burned for we have forsaken Him. He ought to do as Peter says and “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.

But instead, He tells Peter, “Do not be afraid.” He doesn’t send Isaiah, this unclean man, away, but an angel comes and touches his unclean lips with a burning coal from the altar. And from that altar, from the place of sacrifice, from the sacrifice made on the cross, Isaiah’s guilt is taken away and his sin atoned for.

Because even though we may not be like God, we may have nothing in common with Him, we may have lost that image and likeness He gave us, yet He becomes like us. He becomes one of us. God becomes man, takes on human flesh, shares with us every experience common to us. He shares in our temptation. He shares in our weakness. He shares with us the needs of this mortal flesh, of being hungry, tired, and thirsty, of being hurt and in pain. He takes on our fallen image and likeness.

He even takes on our sin, our unfaithfulness, our disloyalty, our abandonment of God and is abandoned and forsaken by God when He was in His hour of greatest need as He hung upon the cross. He takes on everything we have ever done to hurt and offend God and takes our guilt away. He atones, makes amends, and pays for everything that we have done wrong to mend, heal, and make right our relationship with God.

He sends us no angel or burning coal, but the very body and blood of Jesus, the Son, the second person of the Holy Triune God. And His body and blood that was given and shed for you on the cross is taken from the altar, taken from the place of sacrifice, and put upon your lips and “your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” You are forgiven. You are at peace with God. You have a peaceful and right relationship with Him that He is your heavenly Father and you are His dear child.

And He shall never leave you nor forsake you but will continue to speak His Word and be present in His Sacraments that your ears might hear and your eyes might see His work for you. For how long? “How long, O Lord?” Until the very end. Until the cities are uninhabited, the houses are without people, and the whole land is desolate. Until there is not one believer, but all people on earth have forsaken God, God will be present. To the very end of this life, God is with you, yet that is only your beginning.

When this life ends, your eternal life in Christ begins with Him in His kingdom. Then, you shall be like Isaiah who sees the Lord sitting upon His throne, high and lifted up, and your voice will be added to the voices of those seraphim and cherubim. You will sing with the band of the apostles, the fellowship of the prophets, the martyrs of God’s kingdom, the holy church throughout the world, all the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, “Holy, holy, holy.” In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

The Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

Pastor Simek

The Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany at Hope, Jerseyville

2/3/19

“A Word of Authority”

Sermon Text: Luke 4:31-44

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

A good mentor is an invaluable thing. You can’t put a price on having someone take you under their wing, teach you the best of what they know, and continue to be there and support you as you follow in their footsteps, striving to be as good as they are. I feel like I have a number of great mentor pastors: one I look up to as a preacher, another as a teacher, several in terms of personal and pastoral care, and another I turn to in crisis. I learn and try to take the best from all of them and from the best of my seminary professors. They have all molded, shaped, and formed me into the pastor I am and continue to do so. Perhaps you have people like that in your life as well, people you look up to and try to imitate. Really, you almost have to. Very few people, if any, are great on their own without someone to mentor them or inspire and influence them. Without others, we likely would not amount to much.

For me, as a pastor, this is doubly so. What I do as a pastor, I do not do on my own. I do not preach by my own authority, I do not baptize or celebrate the Sacrament of my own accord, and I do not forgive sins by my own righteousness. I do these things as a called and ordained servant of the Word and by His authority, in the stead and by the command of Christ. And thanks be to God for that because if we really look at our power and authority as humans, we have very little.

We only have power and authority over those things which are below us: our children, (at least until they grow up,) our employees or trainees and those below us in the pecking order at work, dogs, cats, and animals (as God gives us dominion over them at creation), other inanimate objects (we can decide what we wear each day and maybe what or how much we eat), but that is about it.

We don’t really have power and authority over the earth, certainly not the weather, otherwise temperatures this week would have been drastically different. And we might have authority over certain people, but certainly not control, especially not over children. Really, we only have limited control over ourselves. We don’t chose when we do and do not get sick or have a fever or how high that fever gets.

We even have limited control and will-power over our actions and we find ourselves over-eating or eating things we shouldn’t because they taste good. And so we do things that we know we shouldn’t because we think they will make us happy. We really don’t want to sin. We don’t want to covet, but we still think it would be nice to have just a little more. We don’t want to lie or bend the truth, but maybe we bend the truth for self-preservation, so we don’t get in trouble. We don’t want to get angry with other people, but I can only tolerate so much, my patience only goes so far. I don’t want to yell at my mother and dishonor her, but how many times is she going to do that thing that I hate that really gets on my nerves.

And I immediately regret it. I get bloated when I over-eat. I give thanks for the things I have. I come clean and tell the truth. I apologize for yelling and getting angry, but I can’t help it. I do the very thing I hate because I have no control.

I have no control over myself and my sin, and I certainly have no control over death. We can’t decide who lives and who dies. We don’t get to choose when a person passes away or how it happens. That is out of our control. And we have no control over the devil. We can’t limit his power and the temptations he puts before us. We don’t get to tell him that he can only go this far and no farther. We cannot keep him from leading us into false belief and other great shame and vice. And we have no power and authority over hell and who is condemned and who is saved. We are not in control.

But Jesus is a different story. Jesus has no great mentor or teacher, but he comes preaching and teaching as one with authority. He doesn’t quote Moses or the Prophets, calling on their authority and the authority of the Torah. He is the authority. He is the Word. He is the Scriptures and all the Scriptures testify to Him. He doesn’t forgive in the stead or by the command of someone else, but He does it because of who He is.

He rebukes the fever of Simon’s mother-in-law and it immediately goes away. He is the one who lays hands on the sick and diseased and heals them. He is the one who rebukes the demons and commands them to leave and they obey. He even is the one who those very same demons confess to be “the Holy One of God,” and “the Son of God.”

He is the one who has power and authority over sin, death, hell, and the devil. He is the one who lets Himself be nailed to the cross to die. He is the one who descends into hell not out of obedience to hell, but in order to proclaim His victory and show that hell itself cannot hold Him. He is the one who rises from the dead, overcomes all the power of sin, death, hell, and the devil, and proclaims His victory on earth for forty days before ascending into heaven to sit on His throne of victory and power at the right hand of God.

And He is the one who comes to you today. He is the one whose word you hear that forgives you all of your sins. It is His body and His blood which is given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins for you to eat and drink and be in communion with Him. He is the King of glory, the everlasting Son, who upholds earth and heaven, who is with you. He is the one who fights for you and with you throughout all your days and burdens, through every sickness, disease, and assault of the devil. He is the one who has claimed you as His own so that even though you have no power over your sin, death, and eternal fate, He commands them on your behalf. He wipes away your sin with His blood. He dies your death that it may not hurt you. He rises from the dead to give eternal life to you and all believers, and there is no one with greater power or authority to say otherwise. It is by Christ’s authority, all authority in heaven and on earth, and by His power, and by His work that you are saved. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.