“Life and Death” Meditation on Spiritual Struggle

This is my sermon titled Life and Death based on Luke 20:27-40 that I preached at Gethsemane Lutheran in 2013.

 There came to him some Sadducees, those who deny that there is a resurrection, and they asked him a question, saying, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, having a wife but no children, the man must take the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. Now there were seven brothers. The first took a wife, and died without children. And the second and the third took her, and likewise all seven left no children and died. Afterward the woman also died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had her as wife.”

 And Jesus said to them, “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage,  for they cannot die anymore, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection. But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the bush, where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to him.” Then some of the scribes answered, “Teacher, you have spoken well.” For they no longer dared to ask him any question.

Sermon Text- Luke 20:27-40

 “How many angels can you fit on the head of a pin?”

 That was the kind of questions that medieval philosophers liked to ask. Questions, that in reality, meant very little in the realm of what really matters when we are dealing with the big questions of life, death and salvation.

I call those kings of questions distractions and smokescreens, something that takes your attention away from what really matters. Because what really matters in life, death and salvation are questions of the heart, a heart killed by sin but made alive by Jesus Christ.

The Sadducees in our Gospel lesson today from Luke chapter 20 ask Jesus one of these distraction kind of questions. The Sadducees where a branch within the Jewish traditions of religious orders along with the scribes, Pharisees and others. A good comparison is to think of the different orders within the Catholic Church like the Dominicans, Augustinians and Franciscans.

Those in the Sadducee order mostly came from wealthy, prominent families and were greatly influenced by the Greek and Hellenistic philosophical culture and practices around them. It was this philosophical influence that led them towards the kind of question that they asked Jesus based one of the Levitical Laws given by Moses in the Old Testament.

The law stated that if a man died before having an heir through his wife then the next unmarried brother in the family was obligated to marry the widow and have children with her to continue his brother’s family line.

The question that the Sadducees ask based on this is hard to imagine asking if this situation happens seven times with seven brothers and they are all in heaven with the widow. Whose wife is she in heaven? How many angels on the head of a pin…

Even though this question is a little far stretched if we bring it down a bit into normal terms, it becomes a question that many Christians have asked. “Will I still be married in heaven?” “What if I have been remarried?”

 Jesus then teaches and reminds the people both then and now that marriage is an earthly institution only and that Christian marriage at its best is meant to be an earthly picture of Christ and His church and that Godly children may be raised from that marriage for generations to come. In heaven all of God’s people find their completeness in God alone and not in each other.

I’ve always wondered that If I had the opportunity the Sadducees did, to sit down with Jesus in my earthly life and ask Him anything I wanted what would I ask. Because, like everyone else I have a lot of questions! But probably a lot of questions in the grand scheme of things are about things that don’t really matter. But if Jesus was right here next to me I hope that I would use my time to ask him the questions that matter, questions of the heart, like:

  • Can you help me with my guilt and shame?
  • Please forgive me?
  • How can I know you better?
  • How can I know you eternally?

Noticed that Jesus doesn’t stay with the periphery question of 7 brothers and a wife in heaven but he moves deeper with his teaching to topics that evoke these kinds of questions of the heart when he teaches the people:

“God is not God of the dead but of the living.”

 He invokes a reference that would have been obvious to his Jewish listeners at the time of Moses talking to God through the burning bush and God identifies himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. What is interesting is that God does not use the past tense, I was the God of… but the present tense because each of these ancient Fathers of the faith find their earthly life in God and their eternal life in Him and they are with Him, alive with all of the saints in Glory.  Then just a few days from this conversation Jesus would prove that He is God of the living through His resurrection on Easter morn.

 This kind of conversation about life and death can be confusing for us because we are all sitting here: breathing, moving listening. This is being alive to us.

But the Bible talks to us about life and death beyond physical animation. From John 3 when Jesus talks about new life in Him he tells Nicodemus that he must be born again of water and the Holy Spirit, a picture of Holy Baptism. Colossians 2:13 says “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses.”

 Life and Death is something that is greater than physical and bodily life, it has to do with the soul. But also, someone can be moving breathing and walking, alive on the outside and be dead on the inside.

You might remember a movie from the mid-90’s, “Dead Man Walking.” It was the true story of a catholic nun who was ministering to a man on death row. On the day of his execution as the guards were leading him down the cells to the chamber one of the guards would traditionally cry out “dead man walking here, dead man walking.” This was an acknowledgement that even though this man was walking, talking breathing on the outside in the eyes of the law he was already dead and condemned.

Our own sinful thoughts, actions and words, our guilt and shame and God’s law already accuses us and tells us that because of sin we are separated from God. That apart from God we are condemned, dead men and dead women walking, talking and breathing but dead inside. Because God alone is life and life eternal apart from Him we can never truly be alive.

Jesus tells us that He is the Resurrection and the Life, not just life eternally but being made alive fully in this life by finding ourselves in Him in faith. To look alive on the outside and be alive on the inside, that is the gift of faith in Jesus, the gift of baptism. Though we were dead in our sins, Jesus has made us alive in Him.

As Christians in our daily life, this is what are struggle with sin and sinful behaviors is all about. Your soul and your very life has been snatched away from the realm of sin, death and the devil. In Christ, you have been made alive spiritually and there is nothing that evil hates more than life. There is a spiritual warfare going on in your life and your spiritual enemies are trying to take your life away from you and kill you. To make you a walking dead person once again.

Think about the hurtful things in your life, that things that you do even saying “I know this isn’t good for me, but…” All of these things do damage to the very life of our souls. But thanks be to God that He gives us the victory through Jesus Christ. In Jesus He gives us the ways of eternal life in your daily life right now.

Death wants you to miss church on Sunday morning but Christ calls you to the gifts of life in His Word and Sacrament found in the fellowship of the Christian church.

Death wants you to fall back into those sinful habits and behaviors that continue to kill you but Christ calls you to look to Him for all things that are needful and to find your hope in Him.

Though we daily struggle with death, Christ is our victory and life is in Him.



“Light is for Dark Places” Christmas Eve Meditation

Light is for dark places.

Drive around the light displays through the fairgrounds at night and see how they light up the darkness.

Drive through the neighborhoods, park your car, turn off the headlights and spend some time enjoying the simple and elaborate displays of light around you how they lighten up the darkness with the bright glow of Christmas.

But come morning the lights are turned off because we don’t need them anymore. The sun has come and dispelled the darkness and lightens the world.

Think of all of the things we use to lighten the holidays:

  • A cup of eggnog cheer
  • Festive garland
  • Glittery ornaments
  • Dazzling lit trees
  • Strategically placed mistletoe

All crying out its Christmas time, time to be of good cheer!

But there is a truth here that we wouldn’t need to add holiday cheer if there was no darkness in the holidays as well. Trying to lighten up the holidays with festivities and lights is an admission of the darkness all around us.

  • Grief and loss of loved ones that is a palpable and very real thing
  • Suffering of those less fortunate who have little to lighten their holidays
  • Present tension of worry and concern over how to provide for today and what is to come tomorrow.
  • The very real darkness of sin that throws shadows in our hearts, on the people we love and between us and the God who loves us.

Yes, light is for dark places and this holiday and all year round we live in a dark place filled with sin and brokenness. But what we use to lighten the holidays are mere brief respites at best and at worse illusions of light that can deceive.

  • Eggnog curdles
  • Lights are missing their bulbs
  • The mistletoe can be scorned
  • And garland is just plastic after all

These things cannot lighten up the darkness that has engulfed our lives, our homes and our world. We must have a light that the darkness cannot overcome.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

John 1:1-8

 This light that John talks about is why we celebrate this evening and every Christmas every year because the light of the world is born on Christmas day!

  • God’s Word that was spoken into the darkness and void, before time or creation ever existed, “Let there be light and there was light and it was good.”
  • This same light that gave life and hope to the sin sick and broken, to those lost in the darkness.
  • This light whom not even a bloody cross or death’s dark embrace or the cold tomb could diminish.
  • This light that was not overcome by the darkness but overcame the darkness with light and rose on Easter morning to give light all of humanity.
  • This light that is the light given to our hearts that the darkness cannot ever take away.

Jesus Christ is the light of the world born on Christmas day and He is our eternal, never-ending light in the darkness.

We can take away the artificial lights, eggnog, garland, mistletoe, ornaments and trees because we don’t need them anymore, the Son has come and He dispels the darkness and lightens our world.

But if we take away Jesus Christ from Christmas all you have left are empty cups, cheap plastic lights and dead trees on the curb.

Keep the light of Jesus Christ in Christmas in your hearts and your homes where it belongs to lighten the world of darkness around you.

  • To remind those who grieve that it is okay to grieve right, but in Christ we do not grieve as those who have no hope.
  • To be with the lowly knowing Christ was born to a poor family in a manger made of straw.
  • To encourage those held down by worry with the provisions of God and the love of His people.
  • To lighten our sin-sick hearts with His forgiveness and Joy.

And then go home and celebrate with eggnog and cheer, garland and mistletoe, lights and tree if you like, but do it all in honor and celebration of the light of Christmas who is Jesus Christ born for us this day!


“Praise the Lord!” Meditation on Christian Worship

Everybody loves to get a compliment! Everybody likes to get some praise once in a while. We all like to hear things like: “good job,” “ ataboy!” “proud of you,” “keep up the good work!” It’s good to be praised like this, it let’s us know that we are on the right track and all of the hard work and time put in is appreciated.

We take this human idea of compliments and praise and apply them to our relationship with God as well, especially when we like what God is doing and how things are working out in our lives. When we praise God, sometimes it’s like we are saying “good job God,” “ataboy God!” “proud of you God,” “keep up the good work God!”

When we think about praising God more often than not we think about Sunday morning service, when we come to church to thank God for all of the blessings he has given to us. But our Bible passage from the book of Hebrews reminds us to continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God.” That’s more than on Sunday mornings, it is all day, every day, in every circumstance, offer up praise to God.

Sometimes we take this Biblical encouragement to heart by adding “Praise the Lord!” to our everyday vocabulary. They will say things like:

“I got that parking spot, praise the Lord!”

         “I got that raise that I needed, praise the Lord!”

         “I actually got good news from the doctor, praise the Lord!”

         “I paid all of my bills this month, praise the Lord!”

The difficulty happens when life isn’t going so well and things aren’t working out right. Do we say:

“I didn’t get that raise that I needed, praise the Lord!”

         “I didn’t get good news from the doctor, praise the Lord!”

         “I didn’t pay all of my bills this month and I’m falling behind, praise the Lord!”

 That kind of thing sounds phony and insincere. Like we are trying to be perfect, plastic, happy people living in a perfect, plastic happy world. But we know that is not our world, or how we live, or even how God works with us.

So, how do we follow this Biblical encouragement to offer “constant sacrifice of praise” to God and what does that look like? Going back to our Scripture lesson today God’s word tells us more about what praise is all about. 

Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge His Name.”

In this passage, we have a really good, biblical definition of praise. Praise is the fruit of our lips that acknowledge His, or God’s name. The Bible often uses this illustration of our lips bearing fruit and that fruit is produced in our hearts. Many times it is done in a negative sense talking about our sinful and broken hearts producing sinful and broken things that come out of our mouths. But it also occurs in a positive sense with a heart that God has reached out to in His Word and creates faith in, this heart that God is working in produces good fruit on the person’s lips, that is acknowledging the Name of God. When we acknowledge the name of God we are confessing who God is, how he has revealed himself in His Word and who He is to us.

 So, when we offer a constant sacrifice of praise it is our heart touched by God confessing through our lips who he is.

We offer a constant sacrifice of praise when we confess:

  • God is the Lord and maker of Heaven and Earth and yet He still knows my name.
  • God loves me so much that He sent His one and only son, Jesus Christ to die upon the cross for me so that I wouldn’t have to die eternally.
  • God is my Heavenly Father and He has made me His heavenly child both now and eternally.

Notice that in all of this praise to God we never focused on our own feelings or our own situation that is happening around us. That is because praise to God first and foremost doesn’t have to do with us but with who God is. God is still God no matter where I am or what is happening in my life.

Because praise is about God I can say “Praise the Lord!” when times are good and things are going well because my heart in faith confesses through my lips that God is the source of all good things and blessings in my life.

But I can also say, “Praise the Lord!” when times are rough and I’m hurt or scared or lost, because my heart in faith confesses through my lips that God is my Rock and strength, comfort and hope in every time of trouble. It is like the Psalmist said in the Old Testament “My eyes look up to the hills, from where does my help come from. It comes from the Lord the maker of Heaven and Earth.” (Psalm 121:1)

In any and every circumstance in my life I can offer a constant sacrifice of praise to God because God is still God no matter where I am or what is happening in my life. Praise the Lord!

But before we finish today I want to take a quick look at vs. 16 in our Bible passage“Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.”  This passage reminds us that doing good and caring for the people around us is also part of our praise to God. Just like praise, helping other people is always easier when we are happy and life is going well but when we aren’t doing well and life is hard it becomes a lot harder. You know how trouble and hardship end up being, they get so big and so in your face that many times its hard to see anything else. It’s like not being able to see the forest for the huge tree in front of you. But even when we are going through difficult times God still calls us to look to the needs of our neighbors, family and friends because they also are going through difficult times as well. And this helps us a little bit to get past that thing in our own life and to see where the people around me also need care and love. Those same people that we then try to care for in their time of need are also called by God to care for us in our time of need.  This is done so that no one is left alone and we are all cared for in the family of Christ and together we can say “Praise the Lord!”


“Who Am I?” Meditation on Christian Identity

Who am I?

that is a basic fundamental question that every human being has to work through, what is my identity.

As adults, that question may come close to the heart with the other one “what do you want to do when you grow up?” when we wonder have we actually found the answer to that question.

Many times we define ourselves through employment:

–       I am a pastor, a teacher, an engineer, a technician, a consultant, a student, a firefighter, a retiree or unemployed.

We also define ourselves through the roles we fill:

–       I am a father, mother, son and daughter, grandparent, aunt…

And we define ourselves by our physical attributes:

–       tall, skinny, heavy, short, lean, muscular, petite…

Sometimes there are circumstances that try to define us:

–       cancer, illness, trauma, violence, hurt, but they are not who we are

and our beliefs define us as well:

–         moral, Christian, patriot , believer

as well as our family of origin and locale:

–       us citizen, irish, Italian, german, portugese.

But in all of those things there is so much about who we are that changes as we walk through life. Career paths change, needs of children are different as they become adults, we lose and gain weight, events happen that reshape our understanding of ourselves and our place in this world. And when those life changes occur and throughout our lives the change is hard and we wonder sometimes if we knew ourselves at all.

And while so many would agree that flexibility in facing the changes in life is key to making it through is there anything solid for us to stand upon, a sure footing where in the myriad changes and chances of life we can find a place that doesn’t change, a place to call our own, to be ourselves. An identity that I can be sure of not matter what changes around me, in me, on me or by me that will never change?

Believe it or not, this question of identity is the main point of our Gospel lesson today from Matthew where we have the picture of Jesus being baptized by John the Baptist. As John was baptizing many in the waters of the Jordan river for repentance of their sins and bringing them into the kingdom of God Jesus Christ comes to be baptized as well. For John, this made no sense at all. This was Jesus Christ, the son of the living God, the Savior of the World, if anyone was in the kingdom of God it was Jesus because was the kingdom of God. So why, would Jesus want John to baptize Him? John even says, no Jesus, you’ve got it all wrong, I need to be baptized by you!!! Then Jesus responds with this almost cryptic-feeling answer:

“Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”

Jesus, at that moment in time was revealing Himself not as God from on high filled with power and might, the very word of God that created the Heavens and the Earth, but as the babe born in the manger, the suffering sacrifice, the sinless one who would bear the sins of the world upon the cross.

His identity as our savior that would lead to the cross and the empty tomb was marked in that baptism, this is who He was and through his works upon the cross we too would be given an identity as well, not one that is defined by the world around us but by God and his love for us. Our identity leads us to walk in the footsteps of Jesus. He leads us through the waters of baptism so that we can be given a new name- the name of beloved son and daughter of God with whom He is well pleased because of Jesus. He leads to bear our own crosses for His sake and He leads us to rise with Him through the empty tomb of Easter to the glory of a new life in Heaven. Because this is where Jesus identity as our savior was named so our identity as the ones to be saved start and are promised here in the waters of baptism.

Just as Jesus’ identity never changes, he is from eternity the son of God and the our Savior he brings each Christian into himself so that we too can have an identity that will never change no matter what happens in this life.

When St. Paul writes:

 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

he is telling us that our true identity, the solid footing and a place to call our own is found only in Jesus Christ and his eternal nature and this is all done in our baptisms. By God’s promise and power when we are baptized we are connected to Jesus, made part of His family which is God’s family and we are given a name and identity that never changes or can be taken away.

You are named “a baptized child of God” and called His own. For the sake of Christ, God’s only Son, when we are baptized into Jesus Christ, God calls us his children, and gives to us eternity with Jesus.The wonderful news of this message is that when God calls you His own in your baptism, it is a fixed point in time that never changes or can be taken away from you no matter whatever changes in your life:

You are a baptized child of God no matter if you are a

a pastor, a teacher, an engineer, a technician, a consultant, a retiree, umemployed

or a:

a father, mother, son and daughter, grandparent, aunt…

or if you are:

–       tall, skinny, heavy, short, lean, muscular, petite…

or if

–       cancer, illness, trauma, violence, hurt, and even death happens

In any and all circumstances you are a baptized child of God, it is your identity, your security, your hope and your eternity. And it is the fixed point from which the rest of your life can flow, a life that can be lived not in fear of the changes of the world or in fear of losing our identity and who we are but a life of Joy knowing always who we are and who we belong to and where we are going eternally.

I am a baptized child of God.

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