Sermon for 02.05.23 “The light of the cross”

Text: 1 Corinthians 2:1–16
Theme: The light of the cross
Other lessons: Isaiah 58:3–9a; Psalm 112:1–9; Matthew 5:13–20

A. In the Name of the Father…Amen.
B. The Epistle lesson serves as our sermon text for this morning.
C. Grace, mercy, and peace be yours from God our heavenly Father through
our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
D. Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, let us pray:
LSB 578:1,4 Thy Strong Word
Thy strong word did cleave the darkness;
At Thy speaking it was done.
For created light we thank Thee,
While Thine ordered seasons run.
Alleluia, alleluia!
Praise to Thee who light dost send!
Alleluia, alleluia!
Alleluia without end! Amen.


A. “From the cross Thy wisdom shining Breaketh forth in conqu’ring might;
From the cross forever beameth All Thy bright redeeming light” (LSB 578:4).
B. Did you catch that?
1. The cross is described as shining, breaking forth, beaming, and bright.
2. That seems a bit odd, does not it?
C. When you hear “Good Friday”, what comes to mind?

1. Darkness?
2. Gloom?
3. Sadness?
D. But the hymn of the day for today says:

1. “No! The cross is bright!
2. The cross enlightens our darkness!
3. The cross is our great epiphany—that we will not be condemned!
4. For Christ was crucified for you!
5. The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
6. “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”
7. The cross is the central truth of our faith that enlightens the human
8. The Light of the Cross Reveals All Matters of Faith and Life!
I. St. Paul says, “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ
and him crucified” (verse 2).
A. This is not to say that he avoided other topics.
1. In 1 Corinthians, Paul discusses many issues:
A. marriage and divorce,
B. the Lord’s Supper and its right practice,
C. lawsuits and conflicts among parishioners,
D. the hope of the resurrection,
E. spiritual gifts
F. and the higher gift of love.
2. To speak “only of Christ crucified” does not mean he avoided other
important issues.
3. Rather, it means that every issue is revealed by the cross.
A. We decide to know nothing but the cross because the cross enlightens
B. Name a topic, and you will see how the cross speaks to it.
1. Sin?
A. The cross shows us the depth of our sin.
B. “Ye who think of sin but lightly Nor suppose the evil great Here may
view its nature rightly, Here its guilt may estimate” (LSB 451:3 Stricken,
Smitten, and Afflicted).
C. Our sin is so great it took the blood of Jesus to cleanse us.
2. What else? How about God’s personality? Does the cross show that?
A. Yes, the cross reveals that God is gracious and merciful, for if God did
1. Romans 8:32 “spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he
not also with him graciously give us all things?”.
B. If God willingly gave up his own Son for our forgiveness, he must really
like forgiving.
C. Yes, the cross proves there is joy in heaven when even one sinner
C. And each of these epiphanies leads to yet another.
1. If we are forgiven in Christ through His blood shed on the cross, then
we have been reconciled to the Father.
2. And if we have been reconciled to God, we have peace with God through
our Lord Jesus Christ.
3. And if we have peace with God because of Christ, we are in direct
opposition to the devil, and the devil no longer has any claim on us.
4. We belong to God!
5. And if we belong to him, we are his heirs, and all things are ours.
6. For how will he not also graciously give us all things?
7. And if we have all things, we must have the resurrection of the body.
8. For if he loved us enough to take on our flesh and to die in that flesh
and to rise in that flesh, then certainly he will also save our flesh when
he comes again in glory!
9. Yes, Christ will raise us up on the Last Day.
10. Transition: You see, the cross is the key to all wisdom, and once you
have it, the Gospel reveals one truth on top of another.
II. So the cross teaches us the Gospel, but it also teaches us about the
Law—that is, it teaches us how to live—and it changes our opinion about the
A. Those who don’t understand the cross view the Law as an enemy–>that the
Law is bad.
1. For them, the Law is a constant reminder that they do not measure up.
A. Therefore, they hate it.
2. And even among Christians, our sinful flesh still kicks and screams and
puts up a fight when the Law is taught.
B. But the new man—standing in the light of the cross—thinks much
1. He delights in the Law because he sees that the Law is cross-shaped.
A. It is about denying ourselves
1. like Jesus did for us
B. It is about taking up our own cross
1. like Jesus did for us
C. and then it is about following him.
D. It is truly all about love
1. we love only because he first loved us!
E. The Law then becomes beautiful because for us it pictures our Jesus.
2. We could also apply this change of perspective to individual
commandments. For instance, the cross makes us think differently about the
Sixth Commandment (on sexual issues).
A. The world thinks the Sixth Commandment is burdensome, but we see the
great freedom and delight.
1. St. Paul tells us that in this commandment we see a picture of Christ
and the Church—a picture of how Christ, the Groom, loved his Bride by
laying down his life for her.
B. Therefore, to love your wife is to imitate Jesus, who gave himself up
for his wife.
1. And viewing it this way, the commandment is not a burden but a great
2. It’s an amazing opportunity to follow Jesus and show your spouse the
love of our Savior.
C. Indeed, every commandment becomes an opportunity to reflect the love of
Christ to others.
1. As Christ says in our Gospel lesson for today:
A. Matthew 5:16 “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see
your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven”.
2. We delight in every commandment because in the fulfillment of each we
see the love of Christ crucified.
3. So yes, the cross reveals everything.
A. When Paul says he decided to know nothing but the cross, he was not
limiting himself to one topic.
B. He was opening every topic and allowing the true Light to enlighten all
C. But perhaps,
III. While the light of the cross speaks to every issue, it especially
speaks to suffering.
A. When we suffer, we often cry out, “Why, Lord?”
B. That question is nearly impossible to answer, but in the cross, we start
to unravel the mystery.
1. This is not to say that the cross gives a specific or satisfying answer
to every situation.
A. Sometimes God hides knowledge from us.
2. The cross does eliminate some wrong answers and begins to offer
A. First, the cross eliminates the wrong answers like the idea that your
suffering happened because God is cruel or because God is callous and
doesn’t care.
1. Those answers cannot be true.
2. For if he did not spare his own Son, he certainly loves you, and he
clearly has your best interests in mind.
3. So, the cross takes away a lot of the bad answers.
B. Second, the cross offers possible alternatives.
1. Perhaps God is using this event to strengthen your faith or to teach you
to pray.
2. Perhaps he’s conforming you into the image of his Son; he’s making you
more like Christ.
3. Perhaps he’s taking away an idol that was ruining your life.
4. Perhaps he’s simply making you long for the next life, for the new world
that is to come, when he will wipe away every tear from your eyes.
C. We cannot answer all such questions specifically, but we can be
confident that whatever the answer is, it is rooted in his love for you.
C. Think about it: had you been there at the cross on Good Friday, it would
have seemed horrible and meaningless.
1. You might have asked:
A. “How can a good God allow this to happen?”
B. The enemy seemed victorious.
2. However, St. Peter proclaims that it was all:
A. Acts 2:23 “according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God”.
B. God knew what evil would try to do, and God used evil’s intentions to
accomplish his own plans.
C. They intended it for evil, but God meant it for good.
D. Likewise, God foreknew your suffering, and though the devil intends to
use suffering to drive a wedge between you and God, God will work all
things—even your suffering—for your good.
1. The cross reveals this!
A. It reveals God’s character—his love—and how he works all things, even
evil things, for our good.
2. Indeed, the cross reveals all things.
A. The cross reveals our sin and God’s grace.
B. The cross gives us a joyous delight in the Gospel, and it can even make
us delight in the Law!

A. I’ve always enjoyed riddles and puzzles.
1. However, some can be frustrating.
2. At times, a puzzle can stump you, and you think:
A. “If only I knew one more piece of information, perhaps everything else
would fall into place.”
3. For example: consider a Sudoku puzzle.
A. “If only I knew one more number in a particular box, perhaps I could get
all the rest of the numbers.”
B. Oftentimes, I’ll get impatient and simply guess which can be disastrous,
or worse yet, look at the answer key!
B. Well, the key to understanding all the riddles of faith and life is the
1. The cross of Christ enlightens our darkness.
2. The message of the cross sheds light on all the important questions:
A. What is God like?
B. How bad is sin?
C. Can I ever be good in God’s eyes?
D. Does suffering have meaning?
E. What does a righteous life look like?
F. What is marriage?
G. What is fatherhood?
H. What are God’s higher gifts?
I. What is love?
3. The list could go on and on.
A. Every significant question of faith and life is revealed when we fix our
eyes on Jesus Christ and him crucified.
B. We need the Spirit to reveal God’s mind to us, and he does so by the
light of the cross, as Paul tells us in our text for this morning (1
Corinthians 2:2, 10).
C. We are never to move beyond the cross, as if the cross is just one of
many topics.
1. Rather, allow the cross to speak to all topics; let it illuminate all
A. First, let it illuminate your sin.
1. When the cross reveals the depth of sin, don’t scurry away like a
cockroach, but let that light expose you, that you might confess and be
B. Second, let the cross illuminate God’s personality.
1. Can you see his face in the light of the cross?
2. He’s smiling, for he delights in forgiving you.
C. Third, let the cross illuminate the Law, for Christ is the fulfillment
of the Law, and the Law is so very good!
D. And finally, let the cross shine light on your pain and suffering.
1. It is the cross that will give you the endurance and patience you need
to withstand your trials with faith.
E. Yes, all these topics and more are revealed by the cross.
F. So it is with good reason that Paul says:
1. 1 Corinthians 2:2 “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus
Christ and him crucified”. Amen.
D. Please rise and let us pray:

D LSB 578: 6 Thy Strong Word
God the Father, light-creator,
To Thee laud and honor be.
To Thee, Light of Light begotten,
Praise be sung eternally.
Holy Spirit, light-revealer,
Glory, glory be to Thee.
Mortals, angels, now and ever
Praise the holy Trinity! Amen.
Text: © 1969 Concordia Publishing House. Used by permission: LSB Hymn
License no. 110000247
E. The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, guard your hearts
and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

F. In the Name of the Father…Amen.


[reaching out} What Makes an Engaging Witness, as Defined by Gen Z

What does it look like to be comfortable in the act of talking about one’s Christian faith in an era where skepticism is high and evangelism is unpopular? The following article provides insight into how Generation Z (ages 10-25) see this topic, which we will see has applicability across all age groups.
“What characteristics do Gen Z name when thinking of someone who is an engaging witness? The majority of teens (especially non-Christians) says SOMEONE WHO LISTENS WITHOUT JUDGMENT seems like a person who’s comfortable sharing their faith. This is telling in light of past Barna findings<> which showed that a number of Gen Z who had interacted with church or Christianity said CHURCH WAS NOT A SAFE SPACE TO EXPRESS DOUBT. Gen Z teens desire conversation partners who are open to difficult topics.
U.S. Christian teens also perceive comfort in someone who is confident in sharing their opinion or good at asking questions, while non-Christians look to THOSE WHO DON’T FORCE A CONCLUSION, OR WHO DEMONSTRATE INTEREST IN OTHER PEOPLE’S STORIES. Together, these characteristics cast an image of Gen Z’s ideal evangelist—perhaps a person they hope to become or encounter.
Non-Christian teens prefer to see FAITH IN ACTION, NOT IN CONVERSATION. While the data above help establish how both Christians and non-Christians define an evangelist who is at ease, how exactly do non-Christian teens want to be approached when it comes time to talk about personal beliefs? According to non-Christian Gen Z, THE MOST APPEALING EVANGELISM OCCURS WHEN CHRISTIANS LIVE OUT THEIR FAITH, not when they explain it.
On the other hand, non-Christians very much dislike when Christians quote scripture or texts from the Bible as evidence for Christianity, when the person wants to pray for the non-Christian as part of the conversation and when they are asked to give the reasoning behind their own lifestyle choices or beliefs.
Overall, Christian Gen Z teens do not seem to live in a “Christian bubble.” They exhibit awareness of and even agreement with how their non-Christian peers think and feel about evangelization. They want to have low-stakes conversations for the benefit of their friendships.” Let us use these insights as we reach to young people, and people of all ages.
From another source: 82% of people would come to church if a friend invited them. Only 2% of Christians invite friends.<…> So if everyone in our church invited their closest friend who is not a member of our church, we would DOUBLE THE ATTENDANCE ON SUNDAY MORNING. They know you, they trust you, so please invite them. Their eternal destiny might depend on it.
Finally, we are launching the Connect to Disciple workshop series on January 4, to equip us to more effectively carry out The Great Commission of reaching the lost with Christ. We hope you can join us. Excerpts from <> Faith & Christianity<>
in Millennials & Generations<>, Nov. 10, 2021
To God be the Glory
Board of Evangelism

Fourth Sunday After Epiphany 1-29-23

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Tribute to Ursula Pennington 2023 01 28

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Sermon for 01.29.23 “The Lord’s Do and Done”


Text: Micah 6:1–8
Theme: The Lord’s “Do” and “Done”
Other Lessons: Psalm 15; 1 Corinthians 1:18–31; Matthew 5:1–12

A. In the Name of the Father…Amen.
B. The Old Testament lesson serves as our sermon text for this morning.
C. Grace, mercy, and peace be yours from God our heavenly Father through
our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
D. Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, let us pray:
LSB 788:1-3 Forgive Us, Lord, for Shallow Thankfulness
Forgive us, Lord, for shallow thankfulness,
For dull content with warmth and sheltered care,
For songs of praise for food and harvest press,
While of Your richer gifts we’re unaware:

Teach us to thank You, Lord, for love and grace,
For life and vision, for a purpose clear,
For Christ Your Son, and for each human face
That shows Your message ever new and near.

Forgive us, Lord, for selfish thanks and praise,
For words that speak at variance with deeds;
Forgive our thanks for walking pleasant ways
Unmindful of a broken brother’s needs:


A. In the classic comic strip Calvin and Hobbes, Calvin gives a card to his
mom for Mother’s Day.
1. The card reads as follows:
A. “I was going to buy you a card with hearts of pink and red, but then I
thought I’d rather spend the money on me instead.
B. It’s awfully hard to buy things when one’s allowance is so small, so I
guess you’re pretty lucky you got anything at all.
C. Happy Mother’s Day.
D. There, I said it.
E. Now I’m done.
F. So how about getting out of bed and making breakfast for your son?”
B. Oh, the conflict of the card’s message with the spirit of Mother’s Day!
1. Calvin’s calloused misunderstanding in our day and age is on full
display in his poem when he says, “There, I said it. Now I’m done.”
2. Calvin falsely believes that doing something for Mom on Mother’s Day is
an obligation, a duty he’s stuck with . . .
A. so the quicker this is over with,
B. the easier this can get done,
C. the cheaper the way it is to be done with the duty and move on to other
things, the better.
3. His heart certainly isn’t in it.
A. Just do it.
B. Get it over with.
C. He’s forgotten all about what Mom has done for him and missed entirely
the delight of thanking her.
C. This illustration may make us laugh, but this is often happens in our
relationship with the Lord and with each other.
D. This is a mistake Israel was making with the Lord, and one we also often
make with God.
1. Israel (as well as us) often ask God:
A. What have you done for me lately?
B. There is the wrong question!
C. Instead, Israel (along with us) should be asking:
1. What is it, Lord, that You want me to do for You today?
2. For God does command us to do for him.
3. We’re obligated.
4. But in our text for this morning, God through the prophet Micah reminds
us again what he has done for us.
5. That ought to give us a whole different perspective on why we are to do
for God.
6. We learn that even the Lord’s “Do” Is All about What the Lord Has “Done.”
I. We fall into Israel’s sin when we think what we do for the Lord is just
something we have to get done.
A. The Lord has an indictment against Israel (verses 1–3).
1. They have wearied him:
A. with scant measures,
B. wicked scales,
C. violence,
D. lies,
E. and idolatries like that of former kings Omri and Ahab
F. Micah 6:10-12, 16
(10) Are there still wicked treasures in the house of the wicked, along
with deceitful and abominable measuring standards?
(11) Will I tolerate those who maintain deceptive standards and who use
deceitful weights in their business?
(12) Her rich people are filled with violence, and her inhabitants tell
lies—their tongues speak deceitfully!
(16) You keep Omri’s statutes and observe the customs of the house of
Ahab. Because you live according to their advice, I’ll make you desolate
and turn your inhabitants into an object of scorn. Therefore you will bear
the shame of my people.”
2. They reluctantly offer God sacrifices (verses 6–7).
A. Verses 6-7
(6) How am I to present myself in the LORD’s presence and bow in the
presence of the High God? Should I present myself with burnt offerings,
with year-old calves?
(7) Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, or with endless
rivers of oil? Am I to give my firstborn to pay for my rebellion, the fruit
of my body in exchange for my soul?
B. They might even be willing to give him their firstborn, as the pagans
did to Baal.
1. Is that not what happens now in our day and age?
A. Abortion (a matter of choice)
B. Euthanasia (a matter of choice)
3. But these are all worthless to the Lord because Israel sees him as a God
who must be appeased, one who must be pacified in order to be happy with us.
B. We fall into the same sin:
1. When we treat the worship service as a box to be checked.
A. 10:30 in the morning on a Sunday?
1. I have to go to church!
A. “Having to be here” is the language that of duty, obligation.
B. “Wanting to be here” is the language of fulfilling a need in one’s life.
B. Church becomes more like that of a job.
1. Instead it should be a joy!
2. When we hang Christian décor in our house to appear pious.
A. A painting of Jesus knocking on the door.
B. A cross on your front door.
1. Are they just pieces of art or they something more?
3. Witness/outreach
A. We have a message that the people need to hear!
1. The message is easy to share as long as you don’t have to do anything.
2. The message is easy to share as long as someone else does the work.
3. The message is easy as long as it is someone else’s idea
B. The Israelites had a message to share as well.
1. But they refused to share it, thinking that it was theirs exclusively.
2. The message of God’s love was and is for all, whether Jew or Gentile!
C. Illustration: Unclear on the Concept
1. Brad and Brittney were sending their children to a Lutheran preschool.
A. Near the end of the year, they approached the pastor and asked him if he
would be willing to do their wedding.
B. He offered to visit them in their home to talk about God’s design for
their relationship, and the forgiveness and grace that is found in Christ.
2. When the pastor arrived at their home, he sat down at their dining room
A. Hanging on the wall above their table was a giant wall hanging that said:
B. “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. Joshua 24:15.”
C. When the pastor asked them if they had a Bible, they said no.
3. The pastor gently said:
A. “I see you have this sign above your table from the Bible.
B. And yet, you don’t have a Bible in your home, and you have three
children, and you’re not married.
C. What do you think God would rather have you do?
D. Have a Bible and get married and come to worship, or have a wall hanging
in your house with a Bible passage on it?”
E. The couple admitted that the wall hanging was at odds with their
F. Praise be to God that through gentle and patient instruction, they
repented, got married, took membership classes, and now are regular members
at the same congregation where they sent their children to preschool.
4. God doesn’t look for token gestures but for lives in accordance with
his will, as the prophet Micah says (Micah 6:8).
5. When we make demands of God, rather than humbly following him.
A. Give me faith, Lord, and I’ll always trust in You.
B. Give me strength, Lord, and I’ll always do what You ask.
C. Give me peace, Lord, and I’ll always follow You, regardless of the
II. The Lord certainly does indeed tell us that we must “do” for him.
A. Micah speaks as the voice of conscience to the Every­man: “[The Lord]
has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you?”
(verse 8a).
1. Yes, the Lord requires. We must “do” for him.
2. Mother’s Day, Lord’s Day, every day:
A. we must do what is good.
B. It is the right thing to do.
B. And what is the good we must do?
1. Not offerings that we invent and give grudgingly.
2. What does the text for today say?
A. “But to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your
God” (verse 8b).
3. All this never comes from checking boxes and doing just to get done or
to get by.
4. All this comes from a heart that loves.
A. Love for God
B. Love for one another
C. Justice, kindness, walking humbly with our God means sincerity of
worship and love for our neighbors.
1. Justice: standing up for someone who is being persecuted for the faith.
2. Kindness: Helping an elderly person take their groceries and put them in
the car.
3. Walking humbly with our God:
A. Reading and studying His Word at home and at church on a regular basis.
B. Spending time in prayer.
C. Worshiping the Lord, sing His praises, hear His Word, receive the
D. Doing all this not because “I have to” but because “I want to”.
III. But what the Lord commands us to do is a delight when we remember what
he has done for us.
A. Micah reminds of God’s acts of love and righteous­ness (verses 4–5):
1. Rescue from Egypt and slavery.
2. Giving faithful leaders:
A. Moses,
B. Aaron,
C. Miriam.
3. Deliverance from Balak’s evil schemes.
B. These are all foreshadow what God has done for us and for the whole
world: sending Jesus.
1. Jesus came not to compel us to do what we’re required to do.
2. Jesus came to do, to get done for us:
A. the justice,
B. the loving kindness,
C. the humble walking with God,
D. the good we couldn’t do.
E. He did it by:
1. living and loving,
2. by suffering,
3. dying,
4. rising,
5. ascending.
3. Why then articulate what God has done for us?
A. This is how God changes hearts.
B. The Law forces and compels us to do.
C. Righteousness and grace free us to do.
C. When you remember all what God has done for you:
1. You delight to do justice to his other children.
2. You love being kind to brothers and sisters in the faith—and to those
not yet of faith.
3. You love walking humbly with him!

A. Illustration: A Common Argument
1. You don’t always need to tell people what they’ve done wrong to make
them feel guilty.
2. Oftentimes their conscience will do the heavy lifting, especially if you
articulate all the good things you’ve done for them in the past.
B. This is a common argument between spouses:
1. A husband and a wife get into some war of words when suddenly one says
to the other:
2. “You know, this past week I’ve made breakfast every morning for the
3. I’ve made most of the dinners too.
4. I also went to parent-teacher conferences by myself.
5. I cleaned the kitchen after the kids went to bed.
6. I shoveled snow out of the driveway.
7. I folded all those clothes that were in the dryer.”
C. This articulation of good things is designed to make the other spouse
feel guilty for not being similarly good.
1. It’s an indictment against his or her inaction.
2. While this type of spousal argument has questionable motives, it is
similar to the unblemished words of God—like God through the prophet Micah
3. “O my people, what have I done to you? . . . O my people, remember . . .
the righteous acts of the Lord” (Micah 6:3, 5).
4. God is pointing to his own goodness and letting the conscience of this
people of Israel do the heavy lifting.
D. There! Jesus did it! It’s done! And so it’s done for you and me too.
1. Just as Calvin’s mom loved him not for the card,
2. just as God loved Israel not for the sacrifices of calves or oil,
3. God has done it and loved us not for anything we do, but so that we can
do with love and delight in what is good for him and for neighbor . . . and
that we can walk with him. Amen.
E. Let us pray:
LSB 788:4-6 Forgive Us, Lord, for Shallow Thankfulness
Teach us, O Lord, true thankfulness divine,
That gives as Christ gave, never counting cost,
That knows no barrier of “yours” and “mine,”
Assured that only what’s withheld is lost.

Forgive us, Lord, for feast that knows not fast,
For joy in things that meanwhile starve the soul,
For walls and wars that hide Your mercies vast
And blur our vision of the Kingdom goal:

Open our eyes to see Your love’s intent,
To know with minds and hearts its depth and height;
May thankfulness be days in service spent,
Reflection of Christ’s life and love and light.
Text: © 1965, renewed 1993 The Hymn Society, admin. Hope Publishing Co.
Used by permission: LSB Hymn License no. 110000247
F. The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, guard your hearts
and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
G. In the Name of the Father…Amen.


Sermon for 01.22.23 “Alien invaders”

Text: Isaiah 9:1–4
Theme: Alien invaders
Other Lessons: Psalm 27:1–9 (10–14); 1 Corinthians 1:10–18; Matthew 4:12–25

A. In the Name of the Father…Amen.
B. The Old Testament lesson serves as our sermon text for this morning.
C. Grace, mercy, and peace be yours from God our heavenly Father through
our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
D. Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, let us pray:
LSB 839:1 O Christ, Our True and Only Light
O Christ, our true and only light,
Enlighten those who sit in night;
Let those afar now hear Your voice
And in Your fold with us rejoice.
Text: Public domain

A. The class was Russian History and the university professor stood up in
front of his class on the first day of the new semester and began to teach.
1. He started the class with something that wasn’t unique to Russia at all
but universally true.
2. The professor said, “Students, whenever you’re studying history, there
is at least one universal truth you have to remember.
3. That truth is this: Geography Matters.
4. Russia is, geographically speaking, the largest country in the world,
and it spans eleven time zones.
5. Any attempt to understand Russian history must account for its
geographic realities.”
6. And thus the class on Russian history began.
B. The university professor was right.
1. It is a universal truth that geography matters, and you don’t have to
look at the massive country of Russia to see it play out.
2. You can look at the much smaller country of Israel and observe the same
3. Geographically, Israel is roughly 780 times smaller than Russia, but its
geography is no less important.
C. When Isaiah speaks a prophetic word of liberty and hope in Isaiah
chapter 9, it’s a prophetic word that’s shaped by geography.
1. Specifically, Isaiah speaks of the land of Zebulun and the land of
2. He says, “But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the
former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of
Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea,
the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations” (verse 1).
1. Geography—and Israel’s sins!—made Zebulun and Naphtali dark in the gloom
of alien invaders.
A. But what land, exactly, are we talking about?
B. We’re talking about a portion of the Promised Land—the land promised to
Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
1. The story of how the Israelites came to possess this Promised Land is
told in the Book of Joshua.
2. After God delivered the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, he guided them
to the borders of the Promised Land by Moses’ hand.
3. After Moses died, Joshua was appointed the leader of Israel and led the
Israelites across the Jordan River and into the Promised Land and conquered
4. The nitty-gritty, action-packed details of the conquest are found in
Joshua chapters 1–12.
5. But in Joshua chapter 13, the book’s rapid-paced storytelling gives way
to some of the more sleep-inducing passages in Scripture as each of the
twelve tribes of Israel is allotted its portion of the land.
6. Zebulun is one of those tribes, as is Naphtali, and they were allotted
neighboring lands in the northern part of Israel.
7. Think of Zebulun and Naphtali like Minnesota and Wisconsin.
8. They’re both in the north and they share a border.
C. Zebulun and Naphtali are beautiful and fertile areas, but their location
in the northern part of Israel makes them vulnerable to alien invaders.
1. The invaders I am speaking of ones from another country.
2. A foreign country coming along with their conquering armies carrying out
military incursions.
3. For you see, when foreign countries invade the land of Israel, they
almost always come from the north because that’s the easiest way to get
into Israel.
4. The Sea of Galilee and the Jordan River which flows south from it form a
natural barrier along Israel’s eastern edge.
5. The Mediterranean Sea forms a natural barrier to the west.
6. Thus, foreign invaders who are looking to go south to Jerusalem or even
to Egypt are funneled first through the land of Zebulun and Naphtali.
7. You see? Geography does matter!
8. Thanks to the geography of Israel, the tribal lands of Zebulun and
Naphtali are perpetually on the front lines of war and bloodshed.
D. In fact, at the time of Isaiah’s prophecy, foreign invaders known as the
Assyrians are in the process of conquering Zebulun and Naphtali.
1. Within a few years, the entire Northern Kingdom of Israel will be
completely overthrown.
2. The people of Israel (Northern Kingdom) will be taken away into
3. The remaining Southern Kingdom of Judah will be brought to its knees
before God’s miraculous intervention.
E. Zebulun and Naphtali then are rightly identified by Isaiah as a land
upon which the Lord brought contempt.
1. They were a constantly conquered people.
2. They were a people that were burdened, beaten, and battered.
3. They were a land of darkness and shadow.
4. They were in such a bad spot that just a few verses earlier Isaiah
called them a land with “no dawn” that suffers “the gloom of anguish”
(Isaiah 8:20, 22).
F. And remember, God had brought these alien invaders upon the land only
because Israel had abandoned him, fallen into idolatry and all kinds of
1. So Zebulun and Naphtali were a land of contempt filled with people who
sit and walk and dwell in the darkness of deeds deemed damning by God.
2. But a different kind of alien invader, Jesus Christ, would be the great
light to bring them glory.
A. It is to these hopeless people that Isaiah speaks a word of hope.
1. Isaiah speaks of a stunning reversal of fortunes.
2. God intends to make this “land of contempt” glorious.
3. But how?
4. How will this land go from contemptuous to glorious?
5. The change has to come from entirely outside them.
6. That is, something foreign, something alien.
7. God will bring upon them another alien invader.
B. Except this time it isn’t a nation that will infiltrate the land of
Zebulun and Naphtali.
1. This time it will be just one man.
2. And he doesn’t come to them from out of the north like all the other
alien invaders.
3. This man comes from heaven itself.
4. This man is God’s eternal Son, Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.
C. This is a different kind of alien invasion.
1. Jesus takes no hostages,
2. he plunders no grain,
3. he exacts no taxes,
4. and he sheds no blood except his own.
5. Instead, Jesus teaches, and he preaches in Matthew 4:17,
A. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
D. It is this man—and the good news on his lips—who is a great light upon
this land of darkness, because the Lord isn’t interested in holding this
land in contempt.
1. He isn’t looking to extract from Zebulun and Naphtali their greatest
2. He’s looking to redeem their greatest resource— namely, the people
E. The more Jesus preaches, the more Jesus teaches, the more Jesus serves,
the brighter the light shines.
1. In our Gospel lesson for this morning, Matthew says,
A. “So [Jesus’] fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all
the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed
by demons, those having seizures, and paralytics, and he healed them”
(Matthew 4:24).
B. People are flowing into Zebulun and Naphtali, not to conquer them but to
be rescued by one in the midst of them.
F. As the light of Jesus Christ increases, the true source of darkness is
1. The greatest threat to the people of Zebulun and Naphtali was never
alien invaders from the north.
2. The greatest threat to the people of Zebulun and Naphtali isn’t alien to
them at all.
3. The greatest threat to the people of Zebulun and Naphtali is:
A. their own sin,
B. the specter of death,
C. and the schemes of the devil.
4. These are the things that held Zebulun and Naphtali in perpetual
5. These were the real forces of oppression in their lives.
6. And these are the oppressors from whom Jesus will rescue them.
3. The same light, entirely alien, from outside of us, Jesus, invades your
A. Jesus, like any alien invader, makes a claim upon this people.
1. He’s claiming to be their Lord, and he’s directing them to acknowledge
his Father as King.
2. But they will not be won over by oppression, because his is a kingdom of
3. They will not be won over by threats, because his is a kingdom of grace.
4. They will not be won over by extortion, because his is a kingdom of
5. They will not be won over by fear, because his is a kingdom of love.
B. And it is God’s love that will break the yoke of their burden.
1. It is God’s love that will break the rod of their oppressor.
2. It is God’s love that will drive Jesus south out of Zebulun and Naphtali
to the city of Jerusalem in order to die on the cross.
3. And when Jesus dies on the cross, Zebulun and Naphtali will experience
darkness and gloom once more, as darkness covers the whole land when Jesus
dies for them.
C. But the darkness doesn’t linger.
1. It disappears.
2. And in three days’ time, it will give way forever to the resurrected Son
of God.
3. So now the light that first shone in Galilee among the people of Zebulun
and Naphtali is invading the world.
D. You and I don’t share the geographical particulars with Zebulun and
1. The darkness that engulfed Zebulun and Naphtali doesn’t care about
geography, because it isn’t an alien darkness.
2. Our darkness is a local, homegrown darkness.
3. Our darkness, like their darkness, is that of our own sinful flesh.
E. Illustration: The deep darkness of sin.
1. We are quite simply “in the dark.”
A. Our sinful condition is far more critical than being without physical
B. It cannot be penetrated by spotlights or laser beams.
C. It is the darkness that Jesus describes when He says:
1. Matthew 6:23 “If then the light within you is darkness, how great is
that darkness!”
2. The only fitting comparison to our sinful condition is what astronomers
have called a “black hole.”
A. Their theory (and science has proven this to be true) is this:
1. Deep in space there are collapsed stars so dense and with such strong
gravitational pull that they literally swallow up everything:
A. Planets
B. Moons
C. Stars
B. They all disappear into this dark abyss, that even light cannot escape.
C. Such a “black hole” is right here, as the Lord says, within each one of
1. It is the black hole of our sin.
2. It is the darkness of death itself.
3. Pointing to the heart of our problem, the psalmist cries out:
A. Psalm 107:10-11
(10) Some sat in darkness and in the shadow of death, prisoners in
affliction and in irons,
(11) for they had rebelled against the words of God, and spurned the
counsel of the Most High.
F. For that darkness, Isaiah tells us all to look to Zebulun and Naphtali
for hope, because there a great light has shone.
1. This light is Jesus Christ and his ministry, and it is a ministry for
all people of all times and all geographical places.
2. This light is for you.
3. It invades your life.
4. The salvation first seen in Galilee is now coming for you.
5. Indeed, it’s already here.
6. Jesus Christ is here, for you.
7. He expels your darkness.
8. He forgives your sins.
9. He casts out the devil.
10. He promises to raise the dead,
11. He does all the with the effect of increased joy.
G. Jesus Christ is the alien invasion we all need.
1. It’s a glorious invasion of grace.
2. Totally alien.
3. Totally from the outside.
H. In the Person of Jesus, God’s Salvation Comes from Outside of Us.

A. There is a darkness that has nothing to do with the absence of light
1. Rodney could tell you about such darkness.
2. He was wearing a yellow gown, an N95 face mask, and a face shield.
3. He was holding the hand of his younger brother Warren (sixty years old),
who had Down syndrome and was dying of COVID-19.
4. Though neither attended church, Warren would occasionally listen to the
Lutheran Church radio broadcast in town.
5. Thus the Lutheran pastor was called to help them in their darkness.
B. The pastor arrived in a hurry.
1. It was a Wednesday night, and there was much still to do.
2. The pastor talked with them about Baptism.
3. Warren hadn’t been baptized.
4. After reading passages that testify to God’s promises of grace and life
in Baptism, he baptized Warren in the hospital bed.
5. A quick prayer was said and the pastor turned to leave.
6. As the pastor reached the door, Rodney spoke up, asking. “Pastor, do you
have time to baptize me too?”
7. The pastor happily obliged.
C. The light of Christ invaded that dark room on that dark, cold Wednesday
night (Isaiah 9:1–2).
1. Three days later, the pastor gave Warren a Christian burial, in the
certain hope of God, who raises the dead.
D. Jesus Christ is the alien invasion we all need.
1. It’s a glorious invasion of grace.
2. Totally alien.
3. Totally from outside.
E. In the Person of Jesus, God’s Salvation Comes from Outside of Us.
F. To him be praise now and forever. Amen.
G. Let us pray:
LSB 849:1 Praise the One Who Breaks the Darkness
Let us praise the Word Incarnate,
Christ, who suffered in our place.
Jesus died and rose victorious
That we may know God by grace.
Let us sing for joy and gladness,
Seeing what our God has done;
Let us praise the true Redeemer,
Praise the One who makes us one.
Text: © 1987 Hope Publishing Co. Used by permission: LSB Hymn License no.
H. The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, guard your hearts
and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
I. In the Name of the Father…Amen.

Reaching Out

Life Can Begin Again

A real-life scenario: you are meeting with fellow Christians in the ruins of a bombed-out church in Frankfurt, Germany, on May 10, 1945, three days after World War II ended in Europe. As people straggle in to the partially-bombed structure, you see great pain, despair, guilt, and need – the need of food and water to sustain life, and an even greater need for inspiration and hope – that life still has meaning and that there is a purpose to each day beyond the current devastating circumstances.
You know that everyone present has lost loved ones – either family members pressed into service in Hitler’s Third Reich army, or victims of the massive carpet bombing of cities conducted by the Allies. Many have not heard from their loved ones for several months and do not know if they are even alive.
What would you say to these poor, suffering souls whose lives have been swept up into a massive caldron of devastation and carnage over which they had no control? This is the situation that faced Helmut Thielicke, a German Lutheran pastor and theologian who was interrogated and harassed multiple times by the Gestapo, but able to escape their clutches by the grace of God.
Thielicke’s response was to describe how Christ came and stood among “a great multitude of people from all Judea and Jerusalem”, who came to hear him, to be healed of their diseases, and to become freed of unclean spirits.
He described how Christ came to them as if He were one of them; He stood the test of misery. At the same time, however, they saw in Him something else – the fact that the power of guilt and suffering could not touch Him, and that mysteriously, these powers retreat as He comes by. Then He began to speak, and He said something completely unexpected:
“Blessed are you poor, for yours in the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.” Luke 6:17-21
Thielicke continued: “God is always present in the midst of judgment and personal, vocational, and family catastrophe. He is the seeking God, the God who is seeking to bring us home, our Savior, the restoring God. God is always positive, even in the very worst of the judgments and terrors that He must permit to come upon us.
That’s how the beatitudes are to be understood: a hand stretched out to us in the midst of suffering, a hand that makes it clear that God still has a design for us, and that He wants to lead us to goals so lovely that we shall weep for joy.
God never merely stops with our past, though He does not let us get away with anything and puts His finger upon our sorest wounds. He is always the Lord who is concerned about our future, paving the way to save us and guide us to His goals. He is a God who communicates that LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN, IN SPITE OF OUR CIRCUMSTANCES.” *
So let us go forth with the joy and hope of the Lord, helping others see that through Christ, life can begin again in spite of our circumstances.
* “Life Can Begin Again” by Helmut Thielicke To God be the glory

3rd Sunday After Epiphany 2023 01 22

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Reaching Out

Hearing the Voice of Our Lord

When someone claims to hear from God, we typically think of Joseph Smith, Muhammad, or other cult leaders. They probably heard from a spirit, but it was not the Holy Spirit. We know all claims that contradict scripture are false because ”All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness…” II Timothy 3:16

The Word of God speaks about the Holy Spirit at work in believers:

* “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth…” John 16:12
* “Today if you hear God’s voice speaking to you, do not harden your hearts against Him, as the people of Israel did when they rebelled against Him in the desert.” Hebrews 3:15
So to hear the voice of the Lord, start with the Word of God. When we seek the Lord in His Word with total humility, the Holy Spirit will illumine and ultimately transform our minds. (Writing insights into a diary is also helpful.) The closer we get to Him, the more we can hear His voice. You want to hear the audible voice of God? Terrific – just listen to your pastor, or someone else (or yourself) reading the Bible out loud.
Prophesy foretells things to come, and more importantly, declares truths through the inspiration of God’s Holy Spirit. This is speaking the Word of God into someone’s life, just as the Holy Spirit speaks His Truth into our lives when we are in the Word. That’s what Luther did with the large and small catechisms, and what good pastors do – led by the Holy Spirit, they speak His Word into our lives.
In Ephesians 6:18, the apostle Paul admonished the believers to ”pray(ing) always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit”. As prayer is not just asking for stuff, this means being aware of what the Holy Spirit is communicating to us and watching for divine appointments the Lord has for us with people He brings across our path.
Several years ago, I was driving on a dark rainy night through a forested area southwest of Pine Bluff. I had a sudden realization that I couldn’t stop if a deer bolted out of the forest, and an impulse to slow down. I slowed down, and several seconds later the biggest doe I have ever seen passed right in front of my car. I was surprised I didn’t hit it, and believe it was the Holy Spirit who warned me, probably saving my life.
Life in the Spirit is the greatest adventure of all time, as the Lord calls us to be salt and light to the world. So let us start each day with the Lord, become in tune with the Holy Spirit, and reach out to others with the love and truth of Christ, for time is short, we are not guaranteed tomorrow, and eternity is forever.

To God be the glory


Second Sunday after the Epiphany 2023

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