The first words Jesus says, “Peace be with you” (John 20:19), indicate HIs entire disposition towards us.

All Jesus does—all He did—has been that we would have peace.

Peace from the effects of sin.

Peace from the terrors of hell.

Peace from the fear of death.

And “when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord” (John 20:20).

But consider their gladness.

Consider our closest approximations to their gladness.

In the third act of any action film, when the protagonist is all but defeated, he shows up, suddenly and very much alive, and wins the day. We’re glad when that happens, but the hero wasn’t dead to begin with.

When a soldier returns home from war, his mother is glad—because her son did not die.

When a man’s wife returns from the OR, her husband is glad—because his wife did not die.

And the middle-of-the-night coughs and cries of a child gladdens the hearts of parents who prayed without ceasing for that child—because those coughs and cries mean that there is a child.

But these are not the gladness off the ten disciples.

They’re not glad because Jesus returned to them and did not die.

They’re glad because He who died for them has returned to them very much alive.

He shows them His hands and His side.

He shows by what kind of death He died, what kind of sacrifice and death has reconciled them to God.

He shows them—and they’re glad.

For the Christ, who died, now lives.

And, so that the point can’t possibly be missed, Jesus says to them again: “Peace be with you” (John 20:21).

Jesus came to bring peace—and He speaks peace into their fearful hearts such that they are glad.

That Jesus first says, “Peace be with you” shows us His entire disposition towards us, but that He then says, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you…Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld” (John 20:21-23).

That Jesus says this shows us to what end God works: that all would receive this peace, this gladness, in the forgiveness of sins.

Jesus wants you to have peace.

And He causes His Word to be preached to you that you may have peace, that is, that your sins be forgiven in His name.

Now, it was to the ten disciples that Jesus came that night.

Thomas wasn’t there.

And when Thomas hears of their living and risen Lord, he rejects the idea immediately, saying, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe” (John 20:25).

Perhaps we’re shocked that Thomas responds like this. Certainly, it’s good news he receives, the news, we would think, he and the other disciples had been hoping for if not waiting for.

But remember, this isn’t a story Thomas has been hearing every Sunday at St. Jerusalem Lutheran Church. He didn’t have the benefit of Sunday school to solidify and mature the faith he learned fifty, sixty, or seventy years ago. He isn’t used to the concept of a dead man becoming alive again.

If Jesus is alive, so might have thought Thomas, that might mean that Jesus never died.

So Thomas latches on to two things: His Lord and Christ, Jesus, who was crucified—and—the wounds and stripes by which we are healed.

Perhaps Thomas appreciates the need for patience and deliberation and even disagreement for the sake of argument when everyone else so quickly reverses direction and says and does the same thing.

They were all in hiding. Afraid. And now, so different.

Have they been bewitched, bewildered, or befuddled?

Perhaps Thomas insists upon seeing proof so that the other disciples are not led astray?

Because anything less than or different from the Jesus who was crucified is not their Lord.

Perhaps that was his motivation for insisting on seeing things for himself.

But perhaps Thomas has other and worse motivations.

While we may be shocked that Thomas responds to the good news as he does, and while we may think that we would do differently, consider when your spouse comes home after having fun without you.

Gone for hours—gone for days—and home again and suddenly.

Of course you want to say, “Welcome home! How was it? Tell me everything! Can I get you anything? Look around—I cleaned up the whole house while you were out having fun without me.”

And if that’s not you and your spouse, then it’s you and your sister, you and your brother, you and your friend.

Whenever you perceive you’ve been left behind because you’re not as much fun or just not any fun, of course you want to say all that, but what do you actually say?

Usually nothing, right?

Usually nothing as you stomp around, hoping the proverbial hope that their parade, whatever it was, was rained upon and ruined in every conceivable way.

“That’ll teach you to have fun without me.”

Perhaps Thomas is just like us, or, perhaps we’re just like Thomas—getting our feelings hurt because we’re not included, not in on the plan.

His doubting, to him, could be the only ammunition he has against a Lord who went off and did while he went off and hid.

We think like this, sometimes.

We should rejoice that he who was lost to us—or just gone for a bit—has returned.

Instead, we spurn them for having left in the first place, even if it was for our good.

But do you see how our Lord and Christ responds?

Jesus comes to them again—Thomas, this time, included—and says, again: “Peace be with you” (John 20:26).

Not only do we see God’s disposition here, we see His patience with sinners, with Thomas, with doubters, with you and me.

“Peace be with you.” Even Thomas. And even you.

Then, Jesus said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it into my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe” (John 20:27).

We don’t know if Thomas actually put his hand in Jesus’ side or not, it doesn’t matter.

What matters is that Thomas and the Ten hear the word of God, “Peace be with you.”

What matters is, they believe the word they hear and have exactly that peace which the Lord gives.

What matters is that they take that peace unto all the world, forgiving and retaining sin, so that we would be certain that Jesus, who was crucified, now lives.

What matters is, they preach the grace and peace of God to you all such that you have it—peace.

Peace from the fear of death given to you by a savior who overcame death.

Peace from the terrors of hell given to you by a savior who descended into hell, preaching His victory.

Peace from the effects of sin given to you by a savior who forgives sin and raises the faithful to life.

What matters is they preach the peace of God and you believe it unto life everlasting.

We need that peace.

We need that peace, because modern movies are reluctant to kill their darlings—there’s too much money to be made.

We need that peace, because not every soldier returns home from war alive into the embrace of his doting mother.

We need that peace, because not every wife returns from the operating room alive into the embrace of her doting husband.

We need that peace, because not every child makes it through the night.

We need the peace of God which surpasses all understanding.

And we have it—because Jesus—who was crucified—who died and now lives—we, who believe in Him, have peace, and though we die, though we look Death in the face a hundred times in our life or only once—though we die, yet shall we live, because Jesus says, “Peace be with you.”

And He means it.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Easter 2 (Quasimodo Geniti), 2019
John 20:19-31
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

Today Jesus says something utterly absurd, unreasonable, and illogical, at least to us.

Jesus says, “Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58).

It’s impossible for us to speak this way and be understood. In American English, the closest we come is when we say stuff like, “Before you were, I was (or wasn’t).”

To my knowledge, there’s no acceptable situation where you can say (and still make sense), “Before/after (something), I am.”

“I was” or “I will” makes sense there but not “I am.”

What Jesus says is baffling, because He’s defining Himself as not being bound by space and time.

But since we’ve heard these words all our Christian lives, we hardly attempt to understand the depth of what “I am” means.

For it to be true that Jesus is “I am” even during past events, it must be true that He’s outside time.

This is what it means when we say that God is eternal.

God was never “past tense,” because He always is.

He’s immutable, unchangeable, always the same.

He is.

And that’s remarkable, because at this point in the Gospel of John, Jesus is thirty-ish years old.

And He’s been around literally forever.

“Before Abraham was,” Jesus says, “I am.”

There’s three things that we have to say about that.

First, “I am” is a title for God. The Jews present show how seriously they take God’s name when they pick up stones to throw at Jesus. He just identified Himself as being God, and the Jews freak out.

God’s name being “I am” comes from the book of Exodus, when God speaks to Moses out of the burning bush, saying: “I have…seen the affliction of my people…and I have come…to deliver them…and to bring them up…[to a land flowing with milk and honey]” (Exodus 3:7-8).

God’s plan is to bring His people out of captivity.

But Moses says to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” (Exodus 3:13).

Moses wants the people to believe this message, the Gospel, so he has to speak with authority greater than his own. It’s not just that “Moses says…” but “Thus says the Lord…”

Moses knew that if God puts His name to it, then it’s a done deal.

Then, thus said the Lord, “I am who I am…Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I am has sent me to you’” (Exodus 3:14).

When Jesus says, “I am,” it’s as if his name tag says, “Hello, my name is God.” So when Jesus says, “Before Abraham was, I am,” He’s identifying Himself as God in the Flesh. Here to help, save, comfort, and redeem us.

Second, and at this point, this is just a reminder, calling Himself “I am” is defining Jesus as eternal.

Always present tense.

If you’re always present tense, if you’re eternal, you never change. God’s immutability means also that He’s unable to be changed. The author of the book of Hebrews says it this way: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).

He is.

Along those lines, our third point, is this:

If Jesus has ever cared for you – if He’s ever desired your salvation – if He’s ever asked His Father to forgive you—if He’s ever said that no one will be able to snatch you from His hand—if Jesus ever loved you—then it’s still true.

Because Jesus doesn’t change. Consider what that means: God’s promise, His Word, is always true.

Have you been baptized? Have your children?

That’s where God’s Word is applied to you, saving you according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, poured out richly through Jesus Christ our savior (cf. Titus 3).

Logically, Holy Baptism doesn’t look like much, but God has put His name on you, marked you as one redeemed by Christ. He claims you there and then as His own.

And as much as we change in our lives, as often as we unfortunately lie and deceive with our words, God remains true to all His promises.

If God puts His name on it, it’s a done deal.

Do you ever eat and drink the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ your Lord?

Reason tastes bread and wine, there’s no bloody, iron aftertaste. But Jesus says, “Take, eat; this is my body…Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:26-28).

God is faithful to His Word and promise. He said it once, and He still means it.

As often as we say one thing and mean another—God speaks—and He is true to His word forever.

What He says once applies always.

“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly…[and] God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6, 8).

Inconceivably, for us to have life eternal requires a dead Messiah who, three days later, lives again. But since that was God’s plan when Jesus was thirty-ish, and God never changes, then that was God’s plan all along. From Revelation, where Jesus is called the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world (cf. Revelation 13:8) and from Genesis chapter three where we’re told that the serpent will strike Jesus’ heel and Jesus will crush the serpent’s head.

And thus says the Lord in Exodus chapter three: “I have…seen the affliction of my people…and I have come…to deliver them” (Exodus 3:7-8).

It was true then. It’s true now. God shows His love for the world in the gift of His only-begotten Son.

God is faithful. He is merciful. He is our comfort and our deliverance. Because He is.

Because “Before Abraham was, I am,” Jesus says.

Utterly inconceivable to our ears and impossible for us to say of ourselves.

But there’s no more comforting a thought than that Jesus knows every trial and tribulation that we’ll face, that he’s already there, in love, destroying evil — that we’re never alone.

That God, even knowing our every sin, is yet merciful and forgiving.

That even when we sin, even when we hurt, even when we’re afraid, or just mad, when we confess our sins, God, who is faithful and just, forgives us sins and cleanses us from all unrighteousness (cf. 1 John 1).

All because He is.

Merciful. Forgiving. Loving. Present.

Eternally. To win us away from death and hell. Tro bring us with Him into eternal life.

He sees our affliction. Hears our cries. Knows our sufferings. And He’s with us every step of the way.

Not only that, He comes to deliver us and bring us up to a land flowing with milk and honey.

When Jesus says, “I am,” we know that He is for us always and we are His forever.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Judica (Lent 5), 2019
John 8:42-58
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

Why does Jesus “give thanks” before He distributes the bread?

And why do we “give thanks” before meals?

The first question is, for some, a difficult question, because if Jesus is God, is He praying and thanking Himself? That would be odd: “Dear Me, thank Me for all that I’ve done for Me.”

But while the second question might seem to have a simple answer, maybe it doesn’t. Christians are to pray. And Jesus “gave thanks” before certain meals, so we should, too.

But this really isn’t an example of understanding something or answering a question.

Like saying the Bible is “Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth” or that the parables of Jesus are “earthly stories with heavenly meaning,” you’ve answered a question without answering a question.

Why does Jesus “give thanks” before He distributes the bread?

Why do we “give thanks” before meals?

If you say, “Because we’re supposed to pray” or “Because Jesus did,” you’re answering a question without actually answering the question.

If you need another example of what I mean, it’s like giving the answer, “I don’t care,” when you’re asked, “Where would you like to eat?” Or “Anything,” when asked “What would you like to watch?”

Jesus gives thanks—He prays—before this meal for the same reason that we do.

He prays—we pray before meals—because Christians are never in crisis-mode.

How many of you routinely—pretty much always—pray before meals? You should.

How many of you have ever had a hurried lunch—where you’ve got a lot to do or there’s a lot going on or you forgot about something important and the only thing you have time to eat is a microwavable pocket of boiling hot lava?

Did you still pray?

If you’re routine is to pray before meals, even when you’re rushed, even when the rest of your day is in crisis-mode, even then, you still pray.

Why?

Consider today’s Gospel lesson:

“A…large crowd was following [Jesus], because they saw the signs that he was doing on the sick. [He] went up on the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples…Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, ‘Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?’ He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. Philip answered him, ‘Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.’ One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, ‘There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?’” (John 6:2-9).

The parallel accounts of this from the synoptics, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, describe the place as “desolate.” We see quite plainly that the crowd’s in great need.

It’s a logistical nightmare to feed fifty people at a moment’s notice today—when we have more food than we know what to do with.

My dad’s taught me to make jokes at the most inopportune times, and so I have the bad habit of asking the new waitress if she has room for fifty people—who are in the parking lot right now and about to come in.

I think it’s a funny joke…I do.

But we treat feeding fifty people on a moment’s notice as a crisis.

Jesus puts his disciples to the test, saying to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” (John 6:5).

And Philip responds with must have been the look of a deer mesmerized by an oncoming semi: “Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little” (John 6:7).

Fifty people are hard to feed without planning.

But several thousand? There’re about five-thousand men (cf. John 6:10), so we can reasonably expect the total to approach ten thousand as there would’ve been wives and children and whole families present.

Where do you buy bread for ten-thousand people?

Philip’s concerned, of course, with how to afford it?

Andrew, Peter’s brother, is distracted, rather, by the sheer impossibility of the need. He says, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?” (John 6:9).

To all of this unbelief, Jesus says, “Have the people sit down” (John 6:10), and what He really says is, “Have the people sit back. Lay down. Recline.”

You would only do this before a meal when you were about to be served. Having them “recline” is telling them to get ready—the first course is on its way.

“Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted” (John 6:11-12).

In the midst of impossible hunger and startling unbelief, Jesus directs the people to relax and be fed from His own hand.

He gives thanks to God, because there’s no such thing as a crisis.

Not only is God responsible for the bread and the fish, the rain and sun it took to grow the grain, and the worms and bugs it took to grow the fish, He also caused that patch of desolation to have grass enough for ten thousand people on that day and at that time, that they might recline more comfortably.

More than that, Andrew’s question “What are they for so many?” could be asked in another way: why would Jesus need that much to feed them all?

In the midst of hunger, Jesus takes a break, a pause, to thank God for the insignificant amount of food they have.

And then, He causes it to be distributed to the multitude such that they eat their fill and twelve baskets full of fragments are collected.

At this, Jesus says, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost” (John 6:12). And in this we see what kind of Lord we have:

For Jesus, there’s no such thing as a crisis.

He prays, thanking God for what we all know looks insignificant.

And He sends His disciples out desiring that none would be lost.

That word—lost—is the same word from John chapter three where Jesus says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish [that is, should not be lost] but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

Jesus sends His disciples to gather the fragments, that none would be lost.

That’s the kind of Lord you have.

Following Him looks, at times, like a crisis.

Hunger, pain, and desolation can be the cross He gives you to bear.

There might not be enough money in the world to fix your problems, and what is all you have for so many problems?

But into this, Jesus comes, speaking and giving peace. He has us sit, recline, relax. He prays, He takes His time. He teaches us to do the same.

And what He gives, insignificant though it may seem, fills us such that our cup runneth over.

We pray before meals for the same reasons—that we may know that God is the Lord, that our Lord is good, and that we will not be lost—no matter how it may look.

Give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good.

Rejoice, Jerusalem. Eat, and be satisfied.

In Jesus’ Name, Amen!

Laetare (Lent 4) Sermon, 2019
John 6:1-15
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

Today’s Gospel lesson, Luke chapter eleven verses fourteen to twenty-eight, occurs immediately after Luke’s account of Jesus teaching the Lord’s Prayer, where “One of [Jesus’s] disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray…’ And [Jesus] said to them, ‘When you pray, say: “Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come…”’” (Luke 11:1-2).

Jesus shows us by example and in teaching us to pray that this is what faith does: faith prays, confessing the faith. Faith speaks.

Specifically, faith confesses that God is holy—hallowed be Thy name. Faith beseeches God for mercy, imploring Him that His kingdom may come upon us also—Thy kingdom come.

That Jesus teaches us to pray, and what He teaches us to pray, also teaches us what faith itself says.

That the demon is mute, that Jesus casts out the demon and the mute man speaks, shows us what unbelief does: unbelief is silent, content with nothing being said, specifically content with no confession of God’s holiness, no request for God’s kingdom to come upon us.

That the demon is mute and that the mute man spoke, teaches us, again, that faith speaks and unbelief is silent.

In today’s Gospel lesson, unbelief is expressed this way. “Some of [the people] said, ‘He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons,’ while others, to test him, kept seeking from him a sign from heaven” (Luke 11:15-16).

Some of the people accuse Jesus of being in league with satan. That is, some of the people accuse God of being unholy.

This is what unbelief does—it speaks something similar but ultimately opposite of what faith and God speaks.

Some of the people keep seeking from Jesus a sign, that they would know that heaven is in their midst. That is, some of the people want not for the kingdom of God but for the kingdom of man to be in their midst.

God’s kingdom comes among us by and according to His Word, and when you want God to be your Burger King, when you must “Have It Your Way,” it’s no longer God’s kingdom but yours.

“Give us a sign from heaven” is a prayer desiring not the inch God may give but the mile your heart and will wants for itself.

So to us Jesus speaks the parable of the Stronger Man: “When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are safe; but when one stronger than he attacks him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his spoil” (Luke 11:21-22).

The strong man is the devil. Unbelievers are under the influence and effort of satan. When you were baptized, the influence and effort of satan was drowned and killed, and the Holy Spirit took up residence.

But your house, so to speak, must be more than swept and in good order, because the devil seeks to re-enter.

The stronger man is the Holy Spirit. Believers are under the care and protection of God. When you were baptized, you were marked as one redeemed by Christ the crucified, and as God fought to win you for His own possession, so He’ll fight to keep you.

But your house must be more than swept and in good order. There are no neutral parties. There’s no such thing as a house between God and the devil.

Either the Holy Spirit resides in you—or not.

Jesus says, “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters” (Luke 11:23).

When you were baptized, you were brought into the Church Militant—the Church on this side of the Resurrection—the Church at war with satan, where the fighting is real, the fatigue is felt, and few are those who find the way to eternal life (cf. Matthew 7:14).

Against you fights the strong man, fully armed.

And though satan is a defeated enemy, what he advertises still sells.

The song “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” is actually a great example of what I mean.

Looking for a soul to steal, the devil jumped up on a hickory stump and said, “Boy let me tell you what…If you’d care to take a dare, I’ll make a bet with you…I bet a fiddle of gold against your soul ‘Cause I think I’m better than you.

The boy said, “My name’s Johnny and it might be a sin, But I’ll take your bet, you’re gonna regret, ‘Cause I’m the best there’s ever been.”

Of course, you know how it plays out.

The devil bowed his head because he knew that he’d been beat, And he laid that golden fiddle on the ground at Johnny’s feet.

Johnny wins. The devil loses.

That’s what Charlie Daniels and the devil want you to think. But, of course, when Johnny dies, he’s going to hell.

The devil’s armor is his false humility.

He only pretends to lose. He got Johnny to acquiesce to sin—and—to think himself victorious. With Johnny, the devil wins.

The devil’s content with false peace. He’s content with silence. He’s content with words and songs and creeds and deeds. He’s even content with not being the only god worshipped.

He only needs an inch to get the mile.

If satan came to you and said, “Sacrifice your friends and family, sacrifice your job and money, sacrifice all your stuff, and I will grant you an everlasting life of poverty,” we’d easily resist.

But he knows how to appeal to us.

He tempts us with what we want, hoping we’ll believe that we can worship “God and…” instead of “God alone.”

When satan comes to you and says, “Keep the twenty, give the five. Sleep in. Eat another course. You don’t have to apologize. You’ve done nothing wrong. You deserve this. I’m proud of you.” we like it.

That’s what we want to hear.

The strong man’s armor—satan’s armor—is his false humility. He’s content to lose as long as he brings you down with him.

But—so that we would hear and believe unto everlasting life—Jesus tells us of the Stronger Man, the Holy Spirit, God Himself.

The Stronger Man attacks and overcomes. The Stronger Man takes away the false humility of the devil and divides his spoil.

The Stronger Man has stronger armor and better weapons—the truly humble sacrifice and death of Jesus Christ.

He doesn’t win by accepting the devil’s challenge—he knows better than Johnny does.

Jesus muzzles the devil by means of His cross and death. Jesus silences all that satan says by speaking to us all the words of eternal life.

That is, Jesus shows us that the Lord’s Prayer is true:

God is holy.

In Christ, the Kingdom of God, the power of God, the finger of God, has come upon us.

To help us, heal us, and have us forever.

Jesus silences satan and sets us free to speak, to pray, to confess—that Jesus is the Christ, the only Son of God, and that we who believe in Him have life in His name.

The strong man, the devil, may have gone down to Georgia.

But Jesus sets His face to Jerusalem.

He goes to Calvary—to fight for you—and win.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Oculi (Lent 3) Sermon, 2019
Luke 11:14-28
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

When you have a request, an important request, and you’re ignored, how do you handle it?

When you have a request, and the one to whom you make your request speaks ill of you in your presence, or dismisses you with a word, “Whatever,” how do you react?

When you have a request, and you’re insulted by the one who’s there to help and support you, how do you go on?

Be honest—you don’t handle that so well.

But what if it’s God?

What happens when you make your request known to God, and He ignores you?

Have you ever had an unanswered prayer?

What happens when you make your request known to God, and the response, from the Words of God Himself, speak ill of the desires of your heart? How do you react?

And what happens when you make your request known to God, and you perceive, through the words of Christian friends, insults? How do you go on?

Be honest—you don’t handle that so well, either.

Unbelief responds to God’s Word in various ways, of course, here’s one:

Thus says the Lord, “You shall not kill” (Exodus 20:13).

And right now there’s bill in the Senate that seeks to prevent the wrongful slaughter of…kittens.

The Kittens in Traumatic Testing Ends Now (KITTEN) Act would prevent not research but the destruction of the animals.

Senator Jeff Merkley, a Democrat from Oregon, argues that America “must stop killing kittens.”

Of course. Who’s so diabolical that he’d kill kittens?

But nigh a month ago, the same Senator from Oregon, spoke against the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act that would require doctors to administer life-saving care to human babies who survived a failed abortion attempt.

“Save the Kittens. Kill the Babies. Vote Jeff Merkley.”

Unbelief responds to God’s Word in various ways, inevitably calling good, evil and evil, good.

We are stewards of God’s Creation and should treat animals humanely, but if your house is on fire, I will let every animal die if it means that I could rescue you—and that’s true for animals I like and animals I don’t like—and people I like and people I don’t like.

When our requests are ignored, when we’re spoken ill of, when we’re insulted, we hate it. And like as not we’ll respond in kind.

When God ignores us, when God’s Word says what we don’t want it to (or when it requires more than a passing glance to understand), or when our Christian friends say true but hurtful things to us—we abandon ship.

The Canaanite woman in today’s Gospel lesson is one of two examples in the New Testament where Jesus Himself praises another’s faith.

He says, today, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire” (Matthew 15:28).

She makes her request known—and suffers for it.

But she relies not on her self, not even on her faith, but on God. And she prevails.

“Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon” (Matthew 15:23).

We don’t know exactly what “severely oppressed” means, but the daughter suffers terribly, because of demonic powers, and this mother begs the Messiah for help.

She knows who Jesus is. She calls Him “Son of David.” “But he did not answer her a word” (Matthew 15:23).

When you’re ignored, how patiently do you wait?

Do you tisk or harumph or sigh? Do you loudly set your empty glass on the table’s edge so that next time she’s sure to see it?

This Canaanite woman begs on behalf of her demon oppressed daughter, and Jesus straight up ignores her.

Faith calls out after Jesus, after His disciples, after the One who can help.

“And his disciples came and begged him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she is crying out after us.’ He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel’” (Matthew 15:23-24).

You can make the distinction that Jesus came to the Jews first and sent His disciples to the Gentiles.

You can make the observation that both people praised for their faith by Jesus are Gentiles.

Or you can jump to St. Paul’s definition of Israel (cf. Romans 11:26), which means all Christians.

Regardless of how we understand what Jesus says now, what He says shuns the Canaanite woman.

He speaks to them—but not to her.

When you’re just as easily dismissed as this woman, how hard do you stomp, how quickly do you slam the door?

But faith endures. “She came and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’ And he answered, ‘It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs’” (Matthew 15:25-26).

The word for “dogs” in Greek is a diminutive, so we can say that Jesus calls this woman a “little dog,” but that doesn’t improve matters.

Any time you make a comparison between a woman and a dog, no matter the dog, it’s an insult.

When you make your request known and are insulted for it, how do you react?

Faith endures these things, choosing to see God’s love in the midst of frustration and anger and pain.

Faith catches God in His Words—and holds Him to what He’s said—what He’s promised.

“You call me a dog? You say I can’t have the children’s bread? Yes, Lord. But no master stops the dogs from eating the crumbs that the children drop. Don’t treat me like one of the children, I’m not one of the children.

You call me a dog—treat me like one of the dogs.

I’m satisfied with the crumbs.

Don’t do anything for me. Heal my daughter.

I know you to be God With Us.

I know you to be the Christ, the Son of David.

I know you to be merciful.

So all of this, all of what you give me, is so that I would more fully rely on You.

Ignore me.

Insult me.

Disagree with the desires of my heart.

Call me a dog, and tell me that I’m not worthy of what you are and have.

Give me a cross to bear—I’ll bear it.

I’ll never stop asking for it to be removed—but—and—I’ll never stop confessing You to be merciful.

I agree! Yes, Lord!

Now can I have my crumbs?

The crumbs that the dogs eat?

Now can I have my daily bread?

The bread that we need for each day, for which You, Yourself, have taught us to pray?

Unbelief responds to God’s Word in various ways, inevitably calling good, evil and evil, good.

Faith receives from God all that He gives.

Faith makes its requests known.

Faith trusts that all God does He does for our good.

Faith clings to our merciful God—who bears His cross to Jerusalem—to passion and death—to grave and hell—and back—to save us all.

So bear your cross patiently. In faith. Trusting that it is for your good.

Pray that it be removed. But even if it’s not, pray that our Lord would have mercy on you. Pray that he would help you. Pray that He will raise you up on the Last Day.

Pray that He will say to you what He said to the Canaanite woman: “Great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire” (Matthew 15:28).

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Reminiscere (Lent 2) Sermon, 2019
Matthew 15:21-28
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

The last verse of Matthew chapter three reads: “And behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased’” (Matthew 3:17).

“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” (Matthew 4:1).

That is to say, God the Father led Jesus the Son into the wilderness by God the Holy Spirit to be tempted by the devil.

The temptation of Christ is a Trinitarian act.

Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record the temptation of Jesus this way, and I think that’s a bit of trouble for us, because temptation is bad—we’d do away with temptation altogether, if we could, “God tempts no one” (James 1:13)—and—here, God leads Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He leads Jesus into a place of demonic temptation. He leads Jesus into temptation—in chapter four—and then, in chapter six, Jesus teaches us to pray, “And lead us not into temptation…” (Matthew 6:13).

Now here’s a problem.

Jesus teaches us to pray that our Father would lead us not into temptation right after our Father, with the Holy Spirit, drives His beloved Son, with whom He is well pleased, into the wilderness in order to be tempted by the devil.

Is this a pious hypocrisy? Does our Father in heaven lead Jesus into temptation so that we’ll do as God says but not as God does?

The temptation of Jesus has always been fascinating to me. Somewhere I picked up this image of the Holy Spirit beating the bushes around Jesus, chasing Him into the wilderness, towards the devil. That’s how Mark records it: “The Spirit immediately drove [Jesus] into the wilderness” (Mark 1:12).

Drove Him. Herded Him.

The temptation of Jesus is strange to us if we think that God would never or could never do such a thing as lead us into temptation.

 And the Lord’s Prayer, in its simplicity, seems to say as much, so clearly, that we have no problem moving right along.

But here’s what’s going on in the temptation of Jesus: He’s showing us how he delivers us from evil—by beating down satan under his own feet—so that satan is even beat down under our feet.

Here’s what I mean, and I know I’ve brought this up before, but this is really important: when Jesus teaches us to pray, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:13), He’s not teaching us to ask God never to put us in a position to be tempted.

To do that, to ask God to prevent us from ever being in a position to be tempted is to ask God to prevent us from ever being able to put our faith into action.

Consider the times you’ve witnessed of Christ to your friends or family. When your friends, your children come into town over the weekend, and you say, “I always go to church. We—leave at 9:30.”

Are you not tempted in those moments to say, “I usually go to church, but…”

To pray, “Dear Father, never give me the opportunity to confess you before men,” is to pray “out of” and not “in” the name of Jesus.

If you look at it all together, it’s not a lack of temptation that we’re to pray for but a deliverance from evil. And that’s what Jesus has us pray next: “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:13).

It’s as if Jesus says—it’s as if He means us to pray—“Lead us not only into temptation but most especially deliver us from the evil one.”

That’s honest. That’s true.

We face temptation every day. Every visit from family and friends.

Don’t raise your hands, but this Easter—who plans on having family over? Who expects company? Who’s already thinking about the BBQ, the drinks, the Cadbury Crème Eggs, or those frightening pictures of children with gigantic, man-sized rabbits?

Now, who plans on hearing the Word of God and receiving the forgiveness of sins on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, at the Easter Sunrise service (7am), and again at the Resurrection of our Lord (10am)?

Will it be “I always go to church” or “I usually go to church”?

Especially when you are tempted, pray that God deliver you from the evil of agreeing with that temptation.

That Jesus is driven into the wilderness in order to be tempted by the devil shows us what He’s fighting for, what’s at stake.

What standing does the devil have?

Where does he stand with you?

In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus beats down satan under His feet. Hear again how Jesus responds:

“’If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’ But [Jesus] answered, ‘It is written, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by ever word that comes from the mouth of God”’” (Matthew 4:3-4).

“’If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “He will command his angels concerning you,” and “On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.”’ Jesus said to him, ‘Again it is written, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test”’” (Matthew 4:5-7).

“’All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve”’” (Matthew 4:9-10).

There is no more perfect rebuttal, retort, or refutation of satan’s use of scripture than the pure word of God.

The devil has no standing with you, he can accuse all he wants, but he’s potsherd dry, his teeth are broken, his strength is cut off.

Jesus is led into temptation, and He delivers defeat to satan.

So that when we’re led into temptation, we can remind satan of how our Lord and Savior, our God, our Christ has already delivered us from every evil.

“Dear Father in heaven, lead us not only into temptation, but most especially, remind us of our deliverance for Christ’s sake. Deliver us from evil.”

“Then, the devil left [Jesus], and behold, angels came and were ministering to him” (Matthew 4:11).

The devil leaves.

Angels minister to our Lord.

Because now is not the hour for the Son of Man to be glorified. That hour is yet to come, when the Son of God is lifted high for all the world to see—that all the world would be saved.

Today, this Lent, and every day, bind yourself to Jesus the Christ. He endures temptation, cross, passion, and death that you would be spared the wrath of God against sin.

That’s true.

Believe what’s true, and you will be saved.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Invocavit Sermon, 2019
Matthew 4:1-11
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

Sexagesima Sermon, 2019
Matthew 13:1-12
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

Thus says the Lord: “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I send it” (Isaiah 55:10-11).

But, we have to add that Jesus says: “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them…Hear then the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and down not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path” (Matthew 13:18-19).

I don’t intend to pit the Word of God against itself. I only want to begin by observing that the birds come and devour the seed, that the evil one, satan, comes and snatches away what’s been sown in the heart of a man, and to ask whether or not that’s the purpose for which God intends His Word?

We can confidently answer, “Certainly not.”

Today, it’s our task to set these two truths, both of the Word of God, to set them next to each other, to confess them both, make sense of them both, to confess the reality that, on the one hand, God sends His Word to accomplish the task for which He purposes. He never fails to do so. And, on the other hand, the devil devours certain seeds of the Word, snatching it from the heart of certain men.

Jesus says, “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprung up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear” (Matthew 13:3-9).

Jesus’ parables use familiar images to reveal what’s otherwise unknowable, the truth of the Kingdom of God.

We know how seeds work.

We know that birds eat seeds. We know that seeds planted where feet often fall don’t produce fruit. We know that weeds and thorns growing in the midst of seeds choke out life.

And—we know the joy of a bountiful harvest.

But the Kingdom of God must be revealed because, by earthly standards, it’s ludicrous, illogical, and even scandalous.

We would never understand it if were not revealed to us.

No sower sows his garden on the pavement or gravel of his driveway. No sower looks weeds and thorns in the eye only to plant his tomatoes there in their midst. No sower intends to feed the birds with what should feed his family.

Human sowers take great care to plant in the right places.

We don’t sow seed in the ludicrous, illogical, and scandalous ways this Sower sows the Word.

And that’s the most wonderful news.

I think we call this parable “The Parable of the Sower” only because that’s what Jesus calls it. He says, in explanation of the parable, “Hear then the parable of the sower” (Matthew 13:18).

It’s rare that Jesus names a parable. It’s rare that He explains them. One reason He names and explains this one is so that we get it right.

If Jesus didn’t name this one and explain it, we’d be tempted to call it the Parable of the Different Types of Soil. We’d be tempted to live our lives identifying each other by the type of soil we are, cataloging and categorizing each other, making spiritual inventory lists of soils, and teaching and reading “How To” manuals that look at the methods for how to get the congregation from Point A to Point B, spiritually speaking.

If Jesus didn’t name this one and explain it, I know we’d be tempted to understand this parable that way, the wrong way, because we’re already tempted to understand it that way.

We already try to explain it that way.

We emphasize not the quality of the Sower, we emphasize the soil. We observe in Christians who attend church sporadically, if at all, the fleshly thorns and worldly cares and riches that are all too obvious.

We know what should be done to bad soil to cultivate it into good soil, and so we offer, from on high, our own guidance, our hard-earned wisdom, our methods, many and various, to make a man’s life better—to move him from path and rocks and thorns to good soil.

But that misses the point entirely.

We’re all the types of soil all the time.

When is your heart hardened against God’s Word? We’ll all agree that Christians must pray. But will we all agree that Christians must fast? Jesus doesn’t teach us that if we pray, we’re to pray a certain way. He teaches us that when we pray, we’re to pray a certain way. Likewise, Jesus doesn’t teach us that if we fast, we’re to fast a certain way. He teaches that when we fast, we’re to fast a certain way.

Christian discipleship includes as a meet, right, and salutary discipline prayer, alms giving, and fasting (cf. Matthew 6).

But when we harden our hearts to even some of God’s Word, satan comes and snatches it away.

We may rejoice to receive the Absolution, but we must include in our confession even sins we’ve forgotten.

We must recognize that the Christian life is a constant struggle between God cultivating bad soil into good (God is the Sower—His Word is the seed) and good soil bearing fruit—some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty.

If we emphasize ourselves and focus on which type of soil we are or should be, we fail to confess exactly how God makes believers out of bad soil. We fail to put the emphasis on the right syllable of God’s Word.

It’s the parable of the Sower.

So, observe the specific—ludicrous, illogical, and even scandalous—qualities of God, the Sower.

He sows from an unimaginable bounty, without the fear of running out. Understanding the seed to be the Word of God, we should understand God, the Sower, to be causing His Word to be preached in such a way as to reap a harvest from everywhere, from all nations, tribes, languages, and people.

We should understand the Sower and the Word of God in this way: that God wholeheartedly desires you, your salvation, your everlasting rest and peace.

And to make that happen, He sends His Word as rain and snow, going out from His mouth, through His many and various mouthpieces. “It shall not return to [Him] empty, but it shall accomplish that which [He purposes], and shall succeed in the thing for which [He sends] it” (cf. Isaiah 55:10-11).

So, let’s deal, now, with the fact that God never fails in causing His Word to be preached to all nations, and Jesus tells us that satan devours some of the seed, snatching it away from the hearts of certain men.

This must be said.

Jesus speaks in parables “because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand” (Matthew 13:13).

If you harden your heart to God’s Word, satan will snatch the Word away before it can create in you a clean heart.

If you fail to confess your sins, the fleshly thorns and worldly cares of this life will choke out any chance you have to bear fruit for your neighbor’s good and to God’s glory.

If you fail to grow and mature in faith, to gladly hear the Word of God, preached and taught, you’ll wither when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the Word.

And then you’ll be angry at others because you don’t know the things you should know.

If we emphasize the soil over the Sower, we’ll fear judgment, we’ll scorn God’s Word, because we’re aware of our sins, our rocks, our thorns.

But he who has ears, let him hear of the Sower who causes His Word to be preached from an endless supply.

Hear of the Sower who’s sent you His Holy Spirit, who writes the preached Word into your hearts, that you would receive it with joy and serve God and neighbor with gladness that confesses thorns and rocks for what they are—sin—and receiving the Absolution unto everlasting life.

Hear of the Sower who uses all things, even wicked satan and evil, for the good of those who love God. Satan means it for evil, but God means it for good. The birds who snatch the seed away deposit it eventually elsewhere, if you follow me, though they don’t intend to do so.

The snare the devil sets for us has himself ensnared.

 Do you see how Jesus bears this attack for us? He carried His cross along the packed path and planted it in the hard and rocky soil of Golgotha. A crown of thorns was placed upon His head. Satan and his demons hellishly hounded and devoured Him. Yet, through His dying and rising again, our Lord and Christ, Jesus, destroys these enemies of ours. Jesus is Himself the Seed which, cast out by His Father, died, was put into the earth, to bring forth to new life and produce much.

Jesus is the Word of God, the Sower, which doesn’t return void but yields a harvest a hundredfold.

This is the Parable of the Sower—who went out to sow—that you would be see, and hear, and understand these Words unto life everlasting.

In Jesus’ Name, Amen!

The Transfiguration of our Lord, 2019
Matthew 17:1-9; 2 Peter 1:16-21
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

The disciple Peter is what all of the disciples would look like if they were reduced to one person.

They all, together, get it wrong.

But Peter, as the one, gets it wrong the most.

The worst.

In Matthew chapter sixteen, the chapter immediately before today’s Gospel lesson, Peter makes this wonderful confession of who Jesus is, he says, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16).

Immediately after that, however, Jesus foretells his death and resurrection, and Peter rebukes Jesus: “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you” (Matthew 16:22).

Rebuking Jesus and denying to Him the cross, the salvation of the world, causes our Lord to call Peter by yet another name when He says, “Get [thee] behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (Matthew 16:23).

For Peter and all of the disciples, that must have been a low point.

But then, in Matthew chapter twenty-six, there’s, perhaps, a lower one.

Jesus predicts Peter and the other disciples’ denial of Him, saying, “You will all fall away because of me this night” (Matthew 26:31).

But Peter answered Him, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away” (Matthew 26:33). And he adds, “‘Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!’ And all the disciples said the same” (Matthew 26:35).

The sheepish disciples, of course, scatter, when their shepherd is struck. And Peter denies Jesus three times, as Jesus predicted.

For them all, this must have been a low point.

Today, we have in our minds the account of the Transfiguration—both a mountaintop experience for Peter and another low point.

In the presence of the seemingly unveiled Son of God, “Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah’” (Matthew 16:4).

Now, to say it simply, Peter has no problem with Jesus being the Christ.

He has no problem with glory on the mountaintop.

Peter’s problem is with suffering. With death. And so Peter stands not only as the twelve disciples reduced to one but as all Christians, all of us, reduced to one.

We don’t have a problem with mountaintop experiences; American Christianity chases after them.

In a lot of places, experience seems to validate the faith of a person, and the more strange, dangerous, or inexplicable the experience, the greater the faith.

If a child, encouraged by his family, makes up a story (or even gives the true account of a dream) about going to heaven, what it’s like there, that it’s for real, you can be sure that boy will be on the news, publish a book, and sell his story for a major motion picture.

Exactly that happened, because those are the stories we like to hear.

But if another child sings a hymn—not a 7/11 song, where the same seven words are repeated eleven times, but an actual hymn of the church—if a child sings a hymn, recites a prayer from memory, or sings the Liturgy, that’s not a story that sells.

There’s nothing fantastical about that.

That—ironically—doesn’t grab our attention with the allure of theophany the way books and movies do.

The popularity of such things shows us that, like Peter, we don’t have a problem with mountaintop experiences, or glory, or Jesus being the Christ.

Rather, we—like Peter—have a problem with suffering. With death. With the gospel truth that a faithful life is lived under the weight of a cross that God designed, cut, and gave specifically to you to bear.

Peter confesses Jesus to be the Christ. (Good.)

The Christ Himself confesses “he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Matthew 16:21).

That doesn’t look like what we want faithfulness to look like, so Peter, standing in for us all, rebukes Jesus.

But to rebuke Jesus for going to the cross, to attempt to hinder Jesus from His mission, is satanic.

Peter, again, standing in for us, can’t understand death, specifically Jesus’ death, as the sacrifice and victory that it is.

He has pretty words: “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away…Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you” (Matthew 26:33, 35).

But Peter doesn’t have to die with Jesus—he still denies him (and three times!).

Today, Peter rejoices to see the Christ in glory.

Whatever his motivation, whatever his intent, he desires to prolong his mountaintop experience saying, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah” (Matthew 17:4).

The center of Peter’s world is what he can see.

The center of the disciples’ world is what they can see.

The center of our world is what we can see.

Peter sees Jesus in glory, and wants to partake of it.

So do James and John, the disciples who are with him.

So would we!

But the center of the gospel is not what we see but what we hear:

The voice from heaven. The voice from God our Heavenly Father: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him” (Matthew 17:5).

He says this while Peter is still speaking.

God the Father interrupts Peter—gently—but clearly so as to identify all that Peter, the disciples, and we need for life.

“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”

Of course we need to know who God is: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Spirit, sent by the Father and the Son, reveals the Word of God to us, the Son of God to us. And the Son reveals to us the Father, who is merciful.

And of course we need to listen to all of what Jesus says. Of course we do.

But perhaps, most especially, we should listen to what, in Matthew’s account of the gospel, Jesus says in the immediate context of His Father’s imperative.

Just before and just after today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus predicts His passion, death, and resurrection.

Before the Transfiguration, Jesus says that “he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Matthew 16:21).

The response to this was Peter’s rebuke.

After the Transfiguration, Jesus says “‘The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day.’ And they were greatly distressed” (Matthew 17:22-23).

…Because they don’t listen to Jesus.

The key, the center of our comfort today, is in verse nine. “As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, ‘Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead’” (Matthew 17:9).

Peter’s life—the life of a disciple of Jesus, the Christ—your life as a Christian—none of it makes sense apart from the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.

Apart from that, we can’t understand suffering, let alone endure it with patience and faith.

Apart from that, we can’t understand death, let alone die well and teach our loved ones to do the same, with patience and faith.

Apart from the resurrection of the body, we can’t even understand glory, because ever trophy on this side of things will fade away. And on the other side of things, there is only immortality and the imperishable dress God bestows on you.

Only with the resurrection in mind can we—do we—endure suffering and death with patience and faith.

Only with the knowledge and certain hope that Jesus is coming soon, that there’s a place prepared for you, that where He is and as He is you will be also, only with that knowledge and certain hope can we endure suffering and death with patience and faith.

And not only that, we also come to desire for ourselves what God desires for us:

To hear Jesus.

Out of either the perceived need or just the want of the experience, every one of us desires the miraculous, the mountaintop, something like the Transfiguration.

But—after Jesus’ resurrection—this is how Peter spoke of such things: “we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,’we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain.[But] we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention…knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation.For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:16-21).

That is, the words of Jesus are better than any mountaintop or miracle.

Hear them.

Though discipleship may, will, and does include suffering and death—the crucifixion, death, and resurrection of Jesus shows us how the story ends.

Shows us how the Christian’s story—your story—will end: with the same words Jesus spoke to Peter and to the disciples: “Rise, and have no fear” (Matthew 16:7).

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Epiphany 4 Sermon, 2019
Jonah 1; Romans 8:18-23; Matthew 8:23-27
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

There’s no such thing as a crisis in the Church.

“Crisis” can be defined as “a time of intense difficulty, trouble, or danger,” and, right away, you can tell I have some ‘splaining to do.

If you look at a chart of the use of the word “crisis” before 1860, you would see that it was used infrequently.

Around 1860, usage of the word “crisis” jumped. Why? The American Civil War.

And if you look again from between 1900 to 1950, usage of the word “crisis” increases again and sharply. Why? War, the Great Depression, and war, again.

And then, from 1950 to the early 2000’s, you might be surprised to learn, usage of the word “crisis” increased again, this time dramatically.

From 2008 to 20016 there seems to be a drop in usage of the word, but in 2016—it skyrockets.

Now, I’m not saying that we manufacture crises that don’t actually exist.

And we haven’t changed the definition.

But it does seem that the threshold for what constitutes “intense difficulty, trouble, or danger” has been somewhat lowered if not completely abolished.

In the 19th century, it took families fighting each other to the death for the word “crisis” to be employed.

And in the 20th century, we can’t be surprised that two world wars, the Great Depression, and the use and proliferation of nuclear weapons caused an uptick in usage of the word “crisis.”

But is it really a crisis when Johnny and Suzie aren’t talking to each other? I mean, they still text and send snaps, so is it really a crisis that they’re not speaking?

The real crisis today is when people actually try to talk to each other.

“Honey, we need to talk.”

“Oh, no…”

“Son, put down your phone, I need to say something.”

“It’s not mine. I mean, what’d you find? I mean, what’s wrong?”

It’s not a crisis if the plot to Avengers: Endgame is ruined for you, or if the conclusion to Game of Thrones is ruined for you, or that Fuller House will conclude after its fifth season.

Now, I know that I’m picking soft examples of this.

But the word “crisis” should be reserved for times of intense difficulty, trouble, or danger, and Christians should remember that there’s no such thing as a crisis in the Church.

And that’s not because the Time of the Church is a time of complete and perfect ease.

I’m not saying that’s the way it is—I’m saying that’s the way it will be—and, scowl fierce as he will, there’s nothing the devil can do about it.

The readings today provide us the opportunity to observe, remember, and confess the gospel, the power of God unto salvation for all who believe.

The Gospel in Jonah isn’t that the storm quieted down, because your storm, the storm of your life may not quiet down.

The storm of your life, in whatever form it takes, may rage against you all your days. It may swamp the boat, take you hostage, and claim your life, but that doesn’t stop the Gospel from saving you.

Not at all.

This is the Gospel in Jonah: that one man would be lifted up and cast into the deep, into death, that the many, who looked to him and lifted him up, would be preserved in the midst of the storm.

This is the Gospel, foreshadowed in Jonah: that Jesus the Christ was lifted up into the sinner’s place and cast into death that all those whose sin caused Him to be lifted up would look on Him and be saved, whatever the storm.

See—this Gospel doesn’t mean that there’s never a time of difficulty, trouble, or danger. But it does mean that there’s no time when whatever difficulty, trouble, or danger is too much for you—and the God who fights for you.

The Gospel in Romans chapter eight adds this nuance:

In the midst of the storm, we are all groaning, calling out to God for an end to suffering and evil—and with us, creation groans as well: “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hopethat the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.And not only the creation, but we ourselves” (Romans 8:19-23).

That this is true, we can’t and don’t deny.

What this looks like, is a great question.

I’m not saying that corn and tomatoes cry out to God, but it is only with great toil, much sweat, and burdensome labor that plants yield up their fruit, and that’s not how it should be.

That’s not the “very good” of God’s creation.

In its own way, Creation lets us know that all is not well. It is waiting for the same thing we are.

St. Paul adds this as well: “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us…[for we ourselves] groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:18, 23).

We await the redemption of our bodies.

There’s no such thing as a crisis in the Church, not because life is easy but because it will be forever.

There’s no such thing as a crisis in the Church, not because our bodies remain healthy and strong all our days, but because our bodies will be redeemed and raised to perfect, blessed, and everlasting life.

Which brings us, finally, to the Gospel in today’s Gospel lesson.

“And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him.And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves” (Matthew 8:23-24).

But Jesus was asleep, because He came to seek and save the lost, to die for the sins of the world, to be lifted up in the sinner’s place and cast into death that we who look upon Him would be saved.

A storm, fierce though it may be, won’t change that.

But “[the disciples] went and woke him, saying, ‘Save us, Lord; we are perishing.’And [Jesus] said to them, ‘Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?’ Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm.And the men marveled, saying, ‘What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?’” (Matthew 8:25-27).

And now we know the answer.

What sort of man is He?

Jesus, truly man, truly God, is the sort to save us from the word “crisis.”

There’s no such thing as a crisis in the Church, because no difficulty, trouble, or danger separated Jesus from the cross.

So no difficulty, trouble, or danger can possibly separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The next time a crisis creeps up on you, the next time you hear the word used, take heart, be of good cheer, do not be afraid.

You need the Gospel, the power of God unto salvation for all who believe.

Nothing can separate you from that.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

The Third Sunday After the Epiphany, 2019
Matthew 8:1-13
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

The Old Testament and Gospel lessons give us an interesting comparison.

Naaman, the leper, expected the man of God to put on a show, saying: “Behold, I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call upon the name of the Lord his God, and wave his hand over the place and cure the leper” (2 Kings 5:11).

He was disappointed that only a messenger of the man of God arrived, telling him to wash in a dirty river. He said, “‘Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?’ So he turned and went away in a rage” (2 Kings 5:12).

Naaman’s servants prevailed upon him to hear and believe the words of the messenger of the man of God who did actually say, “Wash and be clean” (cf. 2 Kings 5:10, 13).

So “So [Naaman] went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God, and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean” (2 Kings 5:14).

Then, Naaman said, “Behold, I know that there is no God in all the earth but in Israel” (2 Kings 5:15).

This is interesting because we often share in Naaman’s frustrations.

He wanted the miraculous show and had to humble himself to wash in a dirty river.

We, sometimes, want the miraculous show, the so-called “spirit-filled” still, small voice.

We’re disappointed with what is common and average. We want that special feeling or at least the look of worldly success, a reason to boast.

But—for Naaman and for us all—God wants none of that for you.

He gives you the opposite, in fact, on purpose, to test your faith.

You want God Himself? He sends a servant.

You want visible miracles, hand waving, and the Almighty God working wonders? He gives you water, bread, wine, the sign of the cross, and the spoken words of Jesus Christ.

You want the rivers of Damascus.

He gives you the River Jordan, or Girard and Virden tap water.

God works not according to smoke and mirrors, not in our feelings, not even in our memories of golden days and years and the worldly look of success.

God works according to His Word proclaimed, in water and bread and wine included in and combined with His Word. That’s how God works…

…Until the leper in today’s Gospel lesson.

In Matthew chapter eight, “Behold, a leper came to [Jesus] and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.’ And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, ‘I will; be clean.’ And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. And Jesus said to him, ‘See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a proof to them’” (Matthew 8:2-4).

Right after saying that God doesn’t do the whole “special show” thing, Jesus seems to do exactly that, a special miraculous show for this leper.

Jesus “stretched out his hand and touched him” (Matthew 8:3). He indicated the will of God to cleanse the leper by saying, “I will…” (Matthew 8:3). And He spoke cleansed flesh into existence by saying, “…Be clean” (Matthew 8:3).

He put on a show.

A small one, but—in comparison to Naaman—a show.

Here’s the difference, and we know this by inference:

Naaman wanted the show. He didn’t get one.

The leper before Jesus knew Him to be a merciful God. He doesn’t say “Lord, if you will…” (Matthew 8:2) because he doubts that Jesus wants to cleanse him or is able to.

No.

He says, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean” (Matthew 8:2), because faith asks God for everything—even the desires of our heart—and—simultaneously, as in the prayer that Jesus teaches—faith appends “Thy will be done” (Matthew 6:10) to whatever we ask, trusting and knowing that God wants and does only what’s best for us, even if it doesn’t feel like it, even if it’s not what we most want for ourselves.

God is merciful. And Jesus, in verse four, says to the now ex-leper, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a proof to them” (Matthew 8:4).

Jesus says this so that the man knows that he is loved by God. There is no ulterior motive 

to the miracle. God loves him. Desires him to be clean. Tell no one so that you know that God did this out of love—and not a desire for fame or prestige.

And that may be an odd thought for us.

God can endure a lack of prestige and fame. In fact, God endures slander.

Jesus endures slander.

The Church endures slander.

Pastors endure slander.

Christians endure slander.

And we still have church on Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays, and any other days the people of God gather in His name.

We have the words of eternal life.

If you don’t like that—if you disagree—if the gospel scandalizes you because I say you have sin to confess and you, like so many others, say, “Whatever…”, if you don’t like that—I’ll be here next week saying the same thing—and it should and will be that way in every church because that’s what the words of Christ declare.

And only now do we get to the most marvelous example of them all—the centurion.

“When [Jesus] had entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, appealing to him, ‘Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly’” (Matthew 8:5-6).

And—contrary to Naaman—what does Jesus do?

He offers immediately to go and do as the man requests, saying, “I will come and heal him” (Matthew 8:7).

“But the centurion replied, ‘Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, “Go,” and he goes, and to another, “Come,” and he comes, and to my servant, “Do this,” and he does it’” (Matthew 8:8-9).

The centurion could’ve seen the show, the pomp. He could’ve been part of the prestige, the talk of the town, but he cares only for his servant, saying, “I’m not worthy to have you come under my roof. Speak but a word, and my servant will be healed” (cf. Matthew 8:8).

And Jesus marvels at the centurion’s faith.

“He marveled and said to those who followed him, ‘Truly…with no one in Israel have I found such faith. …Many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness…[where there will be] weeping and gnashing of teeth’” (Matthew 8:11-12).

“And to the centurion Jesus said, ‘Go; let it be done for you as you have believed.’ And the servant was healed at that very moment” (Matthew 8:13).

It’s important, of course, that Jesus finds no equal in all Israel to this Gentile centurion’s faith.

That’s good news. Salvation is to all.

But it’s important, also, to note again that Jesus marvels at the centurion’s faith.

Only twice in the New Testament does Jesus marvel.

He marvels here, in Matthew chapter eight, at the faith of centurion (and in the parallel account recorded in Luke chapter seven).

Jesus marvels at faith.

And—He marvels at unbelief.

In Mark chapter six, when Jesus is teaching at the synagogue in Nazareth, they take offense at Him, “And he marveled because of their unbelief” (Mark 6:6).

He who has ears to hear, let him hear:

Jesus marvels at faith to show us what’s acceptable to Him.

If He had before Him all the kings and presidents of the world, the celebrities and mansions and gold of the world—if Jesus had all that before Him—and alongside was the newly-baptized, scarred but content face of a Down Syndrome baby who survived the attempted abortion—it is the baptized child of God that is acceptable to Him—and not the wanted wealth of the world.

Jesus marvels at faith—big or small—that trusts in Him for salvation, showing us what is acceptable to Him.

But Jesus also marvels at unbelief.

Not because it’s acceptable, but because it makes no sense to reject the gospel.

You have a loving God, who recognizes unregenerate man’s condition as eternally terminal, and sends His Son into our flesh to bear our sin and be our savior.

Jesus, the Son of God, has come to seek and save us all.

So “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith’” (Romans 1:16-17).

…In the Word of God that accomplishes exactly what God sends it out to do.

His will.

The forgiveness of sins.

The resurrection of the body.

And the life everlasting.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!