The war in heaven was won on the cross

And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.

War broke out in heaven. The archangel Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, lucifer. The fallen fought back. It sounds spectacular in a world that looks so ordinary. There’s no shortage of conflict down here, but it comes without awe. Might be why so many think religion is stories for children to learn how to behave while the adults handle the important things in the other room. The thing is, we never wanted it this way.

The might of armored seraphs with fiery swords, the tramp of soldiers marching feet, the electricity you can feel. It makes it easier to stand. To fight. We call ourselves Christian soldiers, marching to war while we imagine legions of angels back us up and cheer.

But our vision plays itself out in the mundane. It looks like keyboard warriors pounding bitter replies in the name of truth while battling secret vices. And losing far more than they win. It looks like parents willing children to receive God’s gifts while trying not to sound so full of doubt themselves. It looks like an institution complaining the world won’t join them even while it circles the wagons against them and preaches so that we, inside, imagine we’d have no problems left if it weren’t for them out there. But hey come join us too. We need pledges. Conflict plays itself out in politic and debate, tragedy, and sin. It’s hard to feel inspired. Doubt, fear, and shame rule our days. So we go see movies about heroes and imagine, if only for a second, our own battle cry is enough to win the war. Then we go home to the ordinary and wish we could do more than play pretend.

The ones who haven’t given up altogether tell themselves the spiritual battles are fought out of sight. The truth is, they never were. The first was fought in a garden, where the serpent whispered to Eve about a tree she both hated and coveted. Then he earned his name. Satan. It means accuser. He used a weapon more powerful than sword and shield. He told the truth. Satan stood before the throne of God and twisted God’s truth, given as life, into a weapon of death. “They sinned. I don’t care if they’re mine or not. I just want you to do to them as you have done to me. Punish them.” Satan smirked as he stood beside God, begging to torment Job, but remember his goal was not to hurt him, but to make him sin. “Curse God and die”, he whispered through Job’s own wife. He was so eager to bet his maker because it just didn’t seem like a fair fight.

His name doesn’t mean evil. It means accuser. He doesn’t have to do the evil. He just has to tell the truth about us. We do evil just fine without him. St. Michael ground his teeth. He was the archangel, the fiercest warrior in all creation, but what could he do? If he gathered his angels to fight, it would be against those who destroy God’s kingdom. Us, who he loved with God. He was bound by the simple truth. We sinned. We acted for ourselves. Not God. Not our neighbor. Us. The temptations we fall into over and over, these are the spiritual battles we fight. They aren’t hidden, just ignored. Because it’s depressing. It doesn’t seem like a fair fight.

But even as Michael waited, even as satan stood before God accusing, the angels still sang songs of hope. Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord, God of Sabaoth. Heaven and earth are full of His glory. There was a reckoning. It was promised to Eve even as she sat in the darkness of defeat. There will come a child, born of a woman, who will crush the serpent’s head. Satan will bruise his heel, but the Christ will crush his head.

The nail was driven into his heel when He hung upon the cross. And satan thought he won. The promised Child bowed his head. He gave up His spirit. Then all hell broke loose. It was never a fair fight. The benches were emptied. The angel army cried, “Go!” Angels who waited with clenched teeth since the fall rose up to do battle. Michael drove a spear tipped with a cross through the heart of the devil. War in heaven was fought so powerfully that the earth shook and the sun was blotted from the sky. As satan fell like lightning from heaven, he fell through the curtain, ripping it from top to bottom. The war in heaven was won on the cross. The spiritual war was never hidden. You can see it won right there. The devil’s weapon, truth, was turned against him. Your sins are forgiven. satan has nothing left to accuse you with. The doors to hell were kicked open, as Christ descended there to preach the truth that saves to the spirits in prison. The war in heaven was won at Calvary.

After the cross, satan was cast from heaven, conquered by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of truth. Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!” Today, he prowls about this world like a roaring lion, seeking those he would devour. But still, his aim is not to wield pain, but to deceive. To whisper. Curse the God who forgave you. This is what the war looks like today. Ordinary. It looks like keyboard warriors and hypocrite parents, circled wagons and struggling institutions. Sinners casting blame in a world full of conflict but short of awe. And the blood of the lamb that gives victory. Given here. Today. For you.

So today we fight. Satan would turn our eyes from the blood of the lamb. Focus us on each other. Hear his temptations. “Call the world your enemy. Ignore the God who died for them. Call each other the problem. Ignore the sin in yourself. Whatever you do, don’t look to the Spiritual war won in plain sight. Don’t look to the cross.” He’s desperate. Because here, all his power comes undone.

The cross is the power that drove satan from heaven. Forgiveness, won there for sinners, for you, shuts his mouth. He cannot accuse you anymore. So fight. Not in an imaginary battle, but in plain sight. Right here. In the face of the fear and shame and guilt, he would whisper to you, lay claim to each sin. Remind him of the ones you did he forgot about. “I a poor miserable sinner confess all my sins and iniquities.” Then make the sign of the cross and remind him Christ died for you. This is the might behind St. Michael’s spear. Satan lost. Christ won. And you fight with the angels on his side. This is the hope that puts a lump in the throat of Christian soldiers who limp more than march. Christ has won the war. St. Michael doesn’t show you how ordinary the war is, but how extraordinary the cross is. And that cross is for you. It knocked satan from heaven and gave preachers the power to trample over the demon hoard with absolving words of peace. In the stead and by the command of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, I forgive you this and all your sins.

The war in heaven was won on the cross

stewardship isn’t about what’s wrong, but what’s right.

Luke 15:1-10

And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’

It’s Loyalty Sunday. Which is a nicer way of saying Stewardship Sunday. I don’t know why it’s called that. I wonder if someone changed the name because the word stewardship makes people nervous. I’m not too fond of it either. It always seems like thinly veiled language for “give us your money, please”. It’s not just that it’s in poor taste. I’m fine with that. Some of you even like country music. Poor taste isn’t the issue. It’s worse. It’s that when we talk about stewardship, we always start with what’s wrong, not what’s right. That makes everything darker. That leaves out hope. That leaves out Jesus. We can’t do that.

When we start with what’s wrong, the list ain’t small. That’s exactly why we start with Jesus. The God who seeks the lost. Who dines with sinners. Who makes His home with the folks who caused everything that’s wrong. Who saves the folks who couldn’t save themselves. That’s us. We’re Christian. Christ comes before anything else. Even in stewardship. Otherwise, we’d be Time-talent-treasurians or some other garbage. When you forget Jesus is the good shepherd, the only thing left to turn to for help is…well…us. Or more accurately our idols. And they’re still idols, even if you stamp a cross on them.

I’ve only been embarrassed of being Lutheran once. That actually says a lot for as many dumb jokes we make about potlucks. Lutherans don’t actually have the market cornered on “liking food”. Just saying. The only time I’ve ever been truly embarrassed to be a Lutheran, I sat and listened to a Missouri Synod preacher start a sermon like this:

He just looked around the room. Slowly. Seriously. Then he started snapping his fingers. He didn’t say anything at first. Just staring. Snapping. Letting the tension build. Then he said something along the lines of “every time I snap my fingers, someone dies without knowing Jesus. And we could have done something about it.” Apparently it was a big push to raise money. I figured it would have been more cost-effective to just have him stop snapping his fingers, but what do I know. I’m not in charge of anything.

I’m not trying to be flippant. I’m trying a little, actually. Snap your finger all you want. There is no amount of time, talent, or treasures that can buy salvation. Only Jesus can give that. And there is nothing you can do wrong to stop the Good Shepherd from seeking the lost either. The good shepherd is Jesus, not you. I was embarrassed because he lied. He manipulated people. Used their guilt and fear. Most of all because he turned Jesus from the Good Shepherd who seeks the lost into a secret knowledge we use to save people from hell. It made for a moderately successful fundraising tool. I guess. There’s a reason the wealthiest religions all threaten hell if people don’t give enough. There’s a reason it’s so easy to start stewardship talks based on what’s wrong. There aren’t enough people in church. Or volunteers. Or programs. Or funds. All of these are good, but fear, love, and trust in them above the God they point to…there’s a name for that. Idolatry. But without Jesus, that’s all we have. So most of the time stewardship is tactless complaining about what’s wrong in order to make you step up we can fix it. So, you know, you can be part of the 99 who need no repentance. Wait, that’s not right…

This is what happens when we don’t start with Jesus. With what’s right. If we did, we’d see the truth. This place is already a treasure. Not because of the walls or the programs, or any of the other things we brag about. This place is a treasure because there are sinners here. That’s what the Lord thinks is so valuable that He leaves behind heaven itself just to seek. Us. The sinners. The lost sheep. Jesus sees us sinners as the treasure worth seeking. You are what’s truly valuable here, because Jesus is the good shepherd who loves you enough to seek you out. The reason this place is special is because this is where He’s doing it.

Don’t start with what’s wrong. Start with what’s right. Jesus. Who conquered sin and death without your help, and who seeks the lost, even when it’s you. He sees us as worth dying for. Worth seeking. Worth pursuing.
Jesus is the good shepherd. Not you. But He has sought you. He has put your idolatry on His shoulders and carried that cross to Golgotha and there He died for you. Your sins are forgiven. Your idolatry. Your fear. Your ego. Jesus died for you. And that Jesus is here for you. Today. This is where He promised to deliver, through the Holy Spirit, the gifts He won. He is present in the word. The cup. The font. There is more joy in heaven over this. One sinner drowned with Jesus and raised with Jesus in the font. One sinner carried from death to life on the shoulders of the Good Shepherd. Forgiven. Saved. Alive in the Lord. To carry you to the resurrection even as He carried your sins to the tomb.

God is here. Sharing a meal with sinners. God is here for you. To wipe away tears. So this place is a treasure, and you get to be a part of it. You get to receive Jesus here. You get to sing with the angels and all the saints in heaven here. Whatever is wrong, and I’m not saying that there isn’t anything wrong, Jesus is here for you to forgive, comfort, and save. That’s righter. Do you think there’s anything you could do to keep the Good shepherd from His sheep? Do you think so much of yourself? Rejoice. God’s got this stuff under control. The gift is that He wants you to be a part of it.

Start there, and you’ll understand stewardship. The angels singing over the sinner Jesus brings to repentance. That’s stewardship. They were living in their vocation and serving as God gave them. It didn’t add any to the kingdom, but it never needed to. It just pointed to what the king has done and found joy. Jesus is the good shepherd. He’s got it under control. The angels just got to rejoice.

It’s the same down here. God’s got everything under control. You get to be a part of it. It can’t add any to the kingdom, but it never needed to. We just get to point to it, as God has given us to do and find joy. We get to rejoice and live in our vocations. That’s stewardship. Some of you make sure it looks so beautiful here that you can walk in and be reminded that God is actually here in a meaningful way. Some of you give to make sure the pastors don’t starve or have to work second jobs and have to tell someone laying on their deathbed, sorry, I’ve got work my real job today. All of us sing along with the angels today and help teach the next generation it’s ok to sing hymns in church that point to the Shepherd. There are a million little things you do here and I thank God for you. Each act is part of the angels’ song. The rejoicing in heaven.

It’s all a gift. We know what’s out there. The sinners burdened by their flesh, by the devil, by the world, and by death. We know where to point them. We know what’s in here. Peace. Jesus, the Good Shepherd. So we do what we’ve been given. We do stewardship. Not because we make this place better, but because we see Jesus here, we hear his cry, “Rejoice with me, for I have found the lost.” So we do. We point at that in our vocations. The king is here for sinners. For you and for me. To forgive us and save us. In your time, your energy, your gifts, your hymns, and your prayers, you point to what the king is doing here for sinners, and all of heaven points along. Rejoice.

stewardship isn’t about what’s wrong, but what’s right.

Healing is the whole point of the sabbath.

And Jesus responded to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” But they remained silent. Then he took him and healed him and sent him away.

Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath day or not? Healing is sort of the whole point of the sabbath, but sin makes you so blind that you see the day as an obligation. Maybe you’re not hung up on the “do no work” thing like the pharisees. But still, Old Adam always sees worship as a burden, not a gift. The Pharisees made hard work of not working. They were genuinely challenged by the question of pulling their kids out of wells on the sabbath. Knowing he’s down there, can you honestly rest? Is that stress and pain and fear somehow better than caring for who you’ve been given to love? Today orthodox Jews walk to temple instead of drive. It takes a special kind of sinner to make rest that much work. We scoff, but we’ve made worship such a burden that we act like we deserve extra credit just for putting on pants to receive forgiveness, life, and salvation from the God who died to win it and deliveres it to you through a miracle. Sin makes you stupid. It changes how you see the world. It blinds you to how things are supposed to be and focuses you on yourself until you think you’ve got it all figured out, but anyone looking at you sees this disconnect. You’re walking around with rocks instead of driving. Is that really rest? You say you love God and trust Him with your eternal soul, but there are weeks where you literally prefer waffles. What’s wild, though, isn’t just the excuses we have. It’s how normal it all seems while we make them.

Just watch. Everyone sits down to a dinner worse than any uncomfortable Thanksgiving I’ve ever had. It’s awkward to the point it’s funny. The pharisees are so proud of doing nothing they stick a suffering man in front of Jesus and would honestly rather see him ignored than helped. Lord, save us from the same. Sure, the healer is there, but they’re more uncomfortable with Jesus helping a man in need on a day set aside for the unclean to become clean than they are with the status quo. So they just sit there watching. Waiting to be offended.

And this poor guy is so disfigured by disease, so uncomfortable, so afraid to say anything to draw attention to what everyone is already thinking about, that he becomes nothing more than what he would give anything not to be. A counterpoint to how good the pharisees look. He sits there knowing he doesn’t belong, but he can’t do or say anything to change it. He has dropsy, a disease where fluid pockets build up inside you to make you look like a monster. He’s there as the ice sculpture centerpiece that reminds everyone what kind of party they’re at.

Jesus breaks the awkward silence. “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” Or He tried to, but they remained silent. Everyone hates ice breakers. Then He took him and healed him and sent him away. Everybody gets what they desire. The man who can’t utter a single petition through all his shame is healed. The pharisees get nothing, just like they wanted. And Jesus gets to save a sinner in need and preach to those who do not yet believe. He’s done the same thing every single sabbath since.

God calls us to remember the sabbath day by keeping it holy. He doesn’t want you to have a vacation from work. He wants you to have time so He can spend it with you. For you. For every illness, every sin, and every shame. For every time we just want to crawl into a hole and pull the whole thing on top of us just to disappear and not be the centerpiece everyone talks about. He wants to be near sinners to help, forgive, comfort, and save. He shows up for the man everyone’s staring at and for the one suffering in silence that nobody noticed. He wants the feast to be full of the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and even the pharisees who only want to trap Him. The sabbath day is not about behaving like Jesus. It’s about being near Him. It’s about Him wanting to be near us.

Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy. This means we should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear it and learn it. This means that God actually wants to make you holy so badly He sets aside a day to get it done. He actually wants to show up to be with you. With me. With sinners who prefer waffles. What’s wild is how normal He makes it seem while He rips open tombs and makes the unclean clean. How normal He makes this service look to us, even while He does the most incredible things here.

He norms the man that sin made a monster. The man with dropsy becomes a face in the crowd, hearing the word and holding fast to it in faith. A saint brought out of the great tribulation, clothed in white robes, washed in the blood of the lamb. Jesus got that man from ashamed and wishing he was dead to living and singing hymns in heaven with just a word. It’s finished. That’s all it took. Because everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. But this isn’t about you. It’s about Jesus for you. The exalted one was humbled on the cross. The humbled man, suffering the pain of disease and the shame of everyone’s stares is exalted. Brought from disease to salvation when Jesus spoke for him on that cross. That Jesus is here to speak words to you.

You aren’t made holy by where you sit. It’s not by how you behave or what you do or don’t do. You’re made holy by Jesus. He died for you. Bore your sins and your sicknesses on a cross and left them dead in the tomb. Then rose to be present for you in word and sacrament. Truly present. We don’t talk about God here. We hear Him. Receive Him. God shows up in, with, and under bread and wine for you to eat and drink. He’s actually here, because the sabbath day is for healing. Where else would He be? He made this day just to be with you. To confront what’s wrong, not so that we learn how to call it normal and excuse it, but so that we find help for it in a God who defies all pretense and heals whether people like it or not. Take. Eat. Your sins are forgiven you. You are not what people look at. You are not the excuses you make for the thing you’re too blind to even call a problem. You are not unclean. You are child of God. You are holy, because God shows up today to make you that way. Because today isn’t made holy by us. You can’t clean something with a filthy rag. Even one full of all your righteous deeds. Only something holy can give holiness. So the Holy One of Israel shows up here to make you holy. Take, eat. Your Sabbath rest is here for you. Amen.

Healing is the whole point of the sabbath.

hope is dangerous stuff

Luke 12:49-56

You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?

The fire cast on the earth was the cross. The fire called down against Jesus purified us from all sin. Sin was left hanging there, burnt to nothing, while we go free. The baptism Jesus distresses over: same thing. From His pierced side came forth blood and water. This was the baptism by fire John prophesied. The Lord was eager to get it done. Distressed until it was finished. But it is. He said so Himself. The peace doesn’t come from us all getting along down here. Peace comes through the division of that cross. The Father was set against the Son. The Father poured out wrath over sin against Jesus. Now it’s finished. It changed things. Your sins are forgiven. The dead rise from the grave. There’s hope now.

But hope is dangerous stuff. It changes how you see the world. It dares you to lift up your head. To stand tall where others would fall. To speak when others are quiet. True, raw, hope sets you apart. It makes you different from a world that can’t by it’s own reason or strength dare to expect what the resurrection of Jesus promises. And too often being different is more than enough reason to be apart. Hope is dangerous stuff.

It almost doesn’t seem fair. We want Jesus to bring togetherness but He promises the opposite. “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division” Look left. Look right. Thew pews aren’t full. People are missing. Each empty seat is a story. Blame anyone you want. Them. Yourselves. Some pastor. Me. The culture. The devil. It doesn’t matter. It’s still an empty seat. There’s a soul in your life that’s not here.

And I don’t know how to fix that. I’m sorry. I wish I did. I know what doesn’t seem to work, though. Usually the temptation is to downplay the hope until we don’t seem so different anymore. Stop talking about the whole Jesus thing. Pretend sin doesn’t bother you. Pretend hope doesn’t change how we see things. Pretend nothing different happens in the church. Disguise it so it looks like the rest of the world. Then be quiet when others are quiet. Try to forget the hope until you don’t see much reason to show up here either, except for someone’s expectation of you or a chance to socialize. It’s sad that so many have done just that, but it’s still easier than the division though. Otherwise, the only option we think of on our own is to argue the pews full. Convince people to believe by your reason or strength in something you couldn’t by your own reason or strength believe yourself. Ignore that part where it was the Holy Spirit who calls us to faith. Because after all, we’re right.

But hope is more than just being right. You’re right about knowing what time it is. You’re right in knowing it’ll be hot outside. You’re even right in thinking daylight savings time is stupid. If you disagree, you’re wrong. Being right changes a little, but not everything. Hope does. It changes everything. Hope is what fills the pews. Hope given by the Holy Spirit is what calls, gathers, enlightens, and keeps us. Hope is what divides us.

We miss that because we’ve made the whole thing about us instead of about God. How can we be so inoffensive nobody will mind coming here? How can we be so convincing everyone will yield to the right answers we’ve memorized? Where is God in any of that?

Honestly I’m not sure we want Him there. He calls Himself the stumbling block. The rock of offense. The one who brings division, setting families against each other. We think we can smooth things over. Make up for Jesus’ bad attitude. Sorry Jesus, it can’t be that black and white. It can’t be that offensive. You need to relax.

Because if this is the buy in, who would go? A building that’s only filled with more to be upset about doesn’t help, even if you stick a cross on top of it. There’s enough division in this world already. In all of it, the problem comes when we look more at the division than the hope that divides. Somewhere down the line we forgot why we believe this stuff. It’s not for a chance to find more division.

It’s not that we want to see families divided. It’s not because we love the concept of us and them. Christians and unbelievers. Elect and condemned. Or at least it shouldn’t be. Don’t you dare reduce a human soul into a foil for your faith. A soul Jesus was willing to bleed for but you’re not willing to tell the truth to because you want to get along. Take a soul Jesus died for and reduce it into a set of values or beliefs. Into a political party or ideology. Into a past or a sin or a conflict. see only something to argue with. To prove wrong. Then go to war and win, no matter the cost.

This is not why the Lord bore the cross. The Lord did not come intent on dividing families. He came to save sinners. This is not about division. It’s about hope. And the world needs more of that. Not less.

There is a dividing line drawn in sand. It’s not drawn from keep others out. It’s drawn to keep you in. God wants to save sinners. You. Me. Everyone. He did not just bear the cross for some, but for all. Cults separate you from your safety net. Your family. Your friends. This isn’t that. You can tell the difference. Are others allowed in? Are you allowed to question it? Yes, bring em. Yes, kick the tires. This building can withstand sinners being in it. It was built for them. These truths stand against hell, they can handle questions from YouTube atheists. If you don’t know the answer, ask. We’re here to help. To point to that hope that changes everything. And that hope can endure. That hope can call sinners out of the grave. That hope can gather a church across all the divisions we find in this life. It can bring light to darkness, and it can make holy the unclean. It’s faith. Trust. And it’s God given. For you. For all. Here. Now. The Holy Spirit is at work to call, gather, enlighten and sanctify the whole Christian church on earth and keep it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers. There’s room for more. Christianity isn’t about peace on earth, which isn’t peace so much as it’s just quiet. It’s about peace in Christ. It’s hope. This is not about what to say to win an argument or smooth over division. This is about where God has promised to be. God is not far off. He’s here. And more, He’s for you.

Why do you not know how to interpret the present time? Not the end being near. But God being here. That’s why you’re here. Yes, it brings a new outlook. An ideology. A morality. But that which brings dead men life is not the law. It’s the gospel. Jesus died on the cross for you. For all. The fire was cast on earth to purify sinners. The baptism of water flows from the side of God to make holy thieves and you and me and all. God’s word does what it says, and joined to water, it saves. Christ is risen. This is not secret knowledge, but a hymn of hope. A promise made present. Look at what the Lord lays before you. This is His body. This is His blood. The time is now. The Lord is here. And He came for the sinners. We don’t draw lines to keep others out. Jesus draws them to keep you in. The hope is too important. It matters too much. Don’t forsake it to pretend you still walk in death just to avoid a fight with someone you love. Rejoice. The same Holy Spirit who preached that hope which changed everything to you is at work to preach it to all. Don’t reduce hope to an argument. Rejoice. The Lord is risen from the dead in a truth that shapes reality even as The Spirit proclaims it. Hope. Lift up your head. Stand tall and sing. Kneel and eat and drink.

Because Hope changes the way we see things. It changes how you see what happens today. The Lord’s supper isn’t something to dread, but something to run to. Hope changes how we see the bread and wine God speaks His word over. This is His body and blood for you. This is forgiveness for everything that divides us. This is communion that unites us across time and space, even life and death. This is Jesus given for you. This is peace. Not just on earth, but in heaven too.

hope is dangerous stuff

God’s kingdom comes for anxious hearts

Luke 12:22–34

“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

Jesus says do not be anxious, but all I really took from the whole thing is that the grass still gets thrown into the fire whether or not God clothes it. Here one day. Gone the next. So you can tell me “Don’t be anxious”, but I really don’t have an off switch for it. I know worrying won’t fix it. It won’t add a single hour to my life. But that doesn’t mean I can just empty my brain. You can say “Don’t think about being poor. Or sick. Or lonely. Or ashamed.” Here’s the thing: just telling someone “Don’t be anxious” doesn’t work any better than just telling them “Don’t have cancer”. Great idea. Should have thought of that. Any tips how?

If you’re not gonna tell me, it doesn’t help. It leaves us feeling alone. Singled out. Apart from God. Looking at peaceful sunsets in the middle of our own private storms wondering why it’s so nice over there and so…not here. Sometimes I feel like I’m the only one with anxiety. I know it’s not true. Rationally, I understand that if anxiety were so easy to talk about I guess it probably wouldn’t be anxiety. And if your only advice to me is to “not worry”…that makes it worse, not better. I don’t know how to do that.

Because there’s a chasm between what is and what we wish would be. We’ve tried to make Christianity the bridge. The way to get from here to there. The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. That must mean if there’s a God He should give me everything I want would be so I can finally stop being so anxious. If God wanted me to stop worrying about paying bills, I can think of a solution with some zeroes behind it. It sounds spoiled when I say it out loud, but when anxiety drives us to pray, the only result we’re actually satisfied with is to take away the thing we’re anxious about. Make me not sick. Make me not poor. Make me not alone. Make me not doubt. Then I won’t worry. It makes me understand spoiled a little better. It’s not greed. It’s fear. It’s tunnel vision. I can’t see anything but what I’m afraid of.

That fear clouds what we see and how we think. It takes “Seek His kingdom, and these things will be added to you” as cause and effect. God will give you the stuff you really want if only you seek his kingdom enough to satisfy Him first. Seek the kingdom of God…you know…as a means to an end. God if I love you enough will you give me what I really love? How many vegetables do I need to eat before I get desert?

This is darker than childish. It turns Christianity into a measurement of stuff. God is real because the sparrows eat. God is real because the grass grows. So I guess if I was really Christian, wouldn’t I have what I need? Where is God? Because this isn’t working. He promises ‘enough’, but we have different ideas about what enough is. The grass still gets thrown into the fire. If that’s the measure of how much there’s a God and how much He loves me, don’t tell me not to be anxious. The Lord is my shepherd, but there’s plenty of want down here. Not just I want season tickets. Kids laid up in hospitals. Hunger. Homelessness. Oppression. Do not be anxious? How?

The other side of the coin is just as dark. Don’t care about this life. Think about going to heaven one day. That’s terrible. Really. It is. You can say don’t care about this life, but the whole passage shows us how much God cares about it. He cares enough to feed the sparrows, enough to make lilies beautiful, and enough to put you here because He actually wants you here.

Religion isn’t a race out of the world God put you in. He cares that you’re a part of. This isn’t just a race to heaven if God cares enough to feed the sparrows here. He wants you here or you wouldn’t be here. He loves the grass, even though it burns. Saying you care less about the world God says He cares more about leaves you calling love meaningless and sin victimless. He cares about what happens down here so much He gave us commands on how to treat each other so we’d hurt less, and gives us each other to love. Racing out of this world means racing away from God’s gifts and racing away from each other. That’s bad.

In all of it we have the wrong idea about Christianity as a sunset on a private beach or Jesus holding perfectly clean lambs in a field that doesn’t smell like livestock live there. It doesn’t mesh with the anxiety that keeps us up at night. Hey kid, I know you don’t want to live anymore because list of things wrong could be a book and the list of things right fits in a tweet, but rub some Jesus on it and walk it off. Then everything will get better.

It takes a special kind of focus to take ‘do not be anxious’ and make it it’s own work to be anxious about. It’s almost cute until we end up so stressed over what’s going wrong that we shut down, strike out against those we love, and even come to hate God for leaving us hanging. Which I think is the real issue.

We have painted a picture of a God that doesn’t exist, and have come to hate Him for it. We came up with the idea that Christians are above problems in this world, and when we aren’t, we blame the God who never promised we would be. The grass is thrown into the fire.

You are not above the fray in this world. You are not so special you won’t hurt. I’m sorry. It’s just not real, and it was never promised. Your anxiety won’t extend your life. It might shorten it, but even without it, your days are numbered. This is not that promise you wish it was. Praying hard enough won’t keep you out of suffering anymore than being good or having money will.

This thing we call sin, it brings with it suffering. We don’t just talk about it to heap guilt on top of your anxiety, but to tell the truth. It hurts down here. If we can’t admit to that, the whole religion is a lie. Christianity is more than pretending there’s no such thing as pain for good Christians. It hurts down here. God help us.

But that’s the faith. He does. Your religion isn’t pretending to be above the world, but hearing that God isn’t either. Seek first the kingdom of God. It’s not far away. It’s not stuck in heaven. It’s not for the well behaved. It’s not only for the ones who endure long enough to die old enough that people say “he had a good long life” at your funeral.

Seek first the kingdom of God. It’s not hidden. The kingdom is wherever the king is. And God enters this fallen world for you. This is our hope. This is what our faith really is. God joins us in the pit to pull us out of it. He says don’t be anxious, then comes into our world to be anxious Himself. Christ prays through tears and sweats blood over what’s coming. But He still bears it for you. For me. For us. The kingdom of God has come near you.

Your religion isn’t happy lyrics over a sunset. It isn’t a perfect day with a perfect family and a white Jesus holding clean lambs that don’t smell like a petting zoo. It’s uglier. It’s Jesus dead on the cross for you. Terrified. Ashamed, alone. Hurting. He looks like what’s going on everywhere else. Sin. suffering. fear. death. The grass thrown into the fire. But Jesus goes there too, just for you. As ugly as the picture is, the for you makes it beautiful.

It looks like everything we’re anxious about heaped up on that cross where God Himself bore it for us. He who knew no sin became sin for us that we might be the righteousness of God. Jesus grabbed everything wrong and rode it into the tomb, then rose again. Christ is risen. Not to abandon us again down here, but to rule this world in a way only the victor over sin and the grave can.

He works beauty in a world that still burns. He works love in a world that still has sinners in it. He promises not to retreat, but to help. To comfort. To save. And to endure with us each day that we would see it as a gift, not because there’s an absence of evil, but because there’s a presence of good. Seek first the kingdom of God. See it where the king has promised to be. Here. For you. You will not be held above the fire, but you will be brought through it.

Day by day, God continues to pour out mercy here, even in the face of everything wrong. He’s not as afraid of it as we are. None of it could keep Him in the tomb, so it can’t defeat you either. So day after day He pours out new mercies until at last the time comes when He delivers us finally from evil. So do not be anxious. Steel yourselves. Not on your strength, but in the promises of God. These enemies are not bigger than He is, and He is not above bearing them for you.

Know that even today the kingdom is here. The kingdom of God certainly comes by itself without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that it may come to us also. God’s kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity. Look to where God works faith by the Spirit.

God is here. He makes Himself truly present in promise, and more, in body and blood so that on your worst day you can carry anxiety to the God who joins you to bring you through it and promises You have peace whether you want to dwell on it or not.

This is not the God who abandons us. He grabs hold of hands that work through neighbors and commands angels that surround the helpless. Ours is the God who provides not just what the grass needs before it’s thrown into the fire, but the path through the fire, through death itself, and back out again.

The Lord is your shepherd, and carried by Him there’s nothing we won’t be brought through. We shall not want, not for idols, but for mercy, for life, for peace. Do not be anxious. That doesn’t come by thinking less about your fears, but by hearing more about Your God. He’s present here for you to bring you through. When anxiety builds, look to the God who bore all evil on the cross for you. Look to the sacrament here for you. Be at peace. Not in the bad going away, but in the good coming to save you.

God’s kingdom comes for anxious hearts

prayer is about comfort

If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

The devil only has like 3 or 4 tricks. That says more about us than it does about him, though. We keep falling for them. One of his favorites is to take God’s gifts and trick us into thinking they’re burdens.

Listen to how Christians talk about prayer. Not unbelievers. Not pagans. Christians. You can hear his whispers. “Prayer is how you get stuff from God.” “I trust in the power of prayer.” “I need your prayers right now”. It’s wonderful that people turn to the things God gives. It’s heartbreaking to see God’s gifts treated like curses.

Listen. You can hear the difference. Do we talk about prayer like a child calling to a father he trusts in the middle of the night? Or like a way to annoy God by banging on His door until He gives us what we want? Are we knocking because we want to be closer to our God who takes care of us? Or because we think we figured out a magic spell to get what we want? This is where the devil turns gifts to burdens. Never-mind it makes God look like the bad guy who has to be won over.

This is the quiet fear the devil plants. If you don’t hold up your end of the deal by praying enough or really meaning it, your God who claims to love you will leave you in the lurch. We don’t like to talk about it, but ignoring that fear only lets it settle in. It dares to think your neighbor actually cares more about you than the God who died on the cross for you because you can get strangers on facebook to pray for you, but the God who could fix it in less than a second doesn’t seem like He’s paying attention. It dares to think we need that many people to pray or God won’t help. Almost as if He sits in heaven and only helps the popular kids who get enough likes and shares on a prayer chain. Never-mind the scriptures say there’s more rejoicing in heaven over one singular voice who repents than 99 who need no repentance.

These fears based on lies hit puberty and get all awkward in the idea that we are prayer warriors or some other nonsense thing that isn’t in the bible. But if we’re warriors, that means we have to fight someone. And since Christ conquered the devil at calvary, who’s left to fight but God? The idea that prayer is our burden means not only do we have to know better than God, but we also have to care more. If we don’t pray, He won’t help.

In all of it the devil would paint a picture of a stupid and selfish God who stands as the bad guy our heroic prayers must conquer. It would lead us to see God the same way satan does. See how evil these paths always look in the end? See the devil paint a picture of our God the opposite of who He is.

Then be honest, really honest, about what drives us to treat prayer this way. We’re afraid. We’re sinners. It’s why prayer can be so stressful. Not just that we know we don’t do it enough, but that the really important ones leave us naming everything that’s wrong, everything easier to ignore, and waiting for God to speak back even though we know He isn’t going to. It’s why that kind of prayer doesn’t make us feel better until we see the results.

We’ve made prayer about stuff, not God. So until we get what we’ve been pounding on the door for, it feels like sending a text and getting left on read while everything that keeps us awake at night breaths down our neck. Tell me this isn’t the evil one at work. Tell me you really think that’s what God wants for His children.

The devil only has like 3 or 4 tricks. It says more about God than it does about satan that Jesus would shape our prayer to silence the devil’s whispers. He speaks against the lies of the devil. “Pray like this. Father.”

There’s a reason the prayer starts the way it does. Our Father who art in heaven. With these words God tenderly invites us to believe that He is our true Father and that we are His true children, so that with all boldness and confidence we may ask Him as dear children ask their dear father.

Prayer is a gift. You should pray. When you’re afraid and when you’re grateful. Because it’s not about how you feel. It’s about who your God is. He’s your Father in heaven who loves you like a dear child. Prayer is not about stuff. Prayer is about comfort.

You have a Father in heaven who loves you. He hasn’t forgotten you. He hasn’t forsaken you. He isn’t waiting for you to do something right or say enough magic spells before He’ll help you. I can prove it. Look at the cross.

This is love. This is God remembering you, not according to your sin, your idolatry, your fear, or whether or not you said enough prayers. This is Him remembering you in mercy. This is Him forgiving your sins and conquering the devil and winning for you the kingdom. The Father sent the Son who taught us to pray, then died for you before you could ever whisper a single prayer. He answered before you asked.

This cross is Him rescuing you from all evil. He died there to it all so that you would live. He is risen to prove that even if all the things we think we need when we pray are ripped from us, He’ll just give them back. Christ is risen, and you will rise too. Free from pain, sickness, want, and death. Free from the lies of the evil one. Free to live. And you have that same freedom today. You have a Father in heaven. I’m not a better father for giving my kids everything they ask for as long as they’re annoying enough. So why would God be a better God for treating prayer that way? He saves sinners in love. He does what is good for us, whether or not we understand it or like it. So we don’t measure what we understand or like. We measure His love. Look at the cross. He loves you that much. He has already rescued us, but loves us so much He gives us the gift of prayer to comfort us along the way.

Prayer is about comfort because it’s about God, not stuff. That’s why it starts with Father. Him, not stuff. Him, not us. Father. From there, we are reminded who our God is in the face of what’s wrong. Each petition that follows it paints a picture of the God who has this stuff under control. Do you think you could make God’s name less holy if you tried? Do you think God’s will needs your permission or prayer to be done? These things will be even without your prayers, but the gift is that He shows us how He will bring them about in us also. Pray. And not just for yourself. Pray for your neighbors in need.

Pray for the sick the same way you stub your toe on the table, just maybe without the dirty words. You might have forgotten your little toe until you stub it, but right then, it’s your whole world. You might feel unimportant or overlooked here, but we are the body of Christ. If you hurt, we hurt. And if you have need, we’re worried enough to want to see you better. The gift is we can all look to the same source for help. The God who saves sinners. Your Father who art in heaven. Who’s holy name and righteous will are given to you and done for you that you would be given daily bread, forgiveness of your debts, and deliverance from evil. That you would be given the cross of Christ to measure whether these things work rather than stuff to make idols out of. Look to that cross and see Your Father’s answer to your prayers. His son speaks to everything you need and everything He’d win for you. It is finished. Before you knocked, the doors were already opened.

prayer is about comfort

the whispers don’t change, but neither does the gospel

Everywhere I go, I still hear the same little whispers in the church. Different voices. Same concern. “Pastor, when I was growing up the Sunday School had so many more children.” “Pastor, I remember when the church was full on Christmas.” “Pastor, there’s way more gray hair than not in here. What’s going to happen in 20 years when we’re all gone?”

I’ve heard those whispers for years. I still hate them. I heard them in the fields of rural Nebraska. Downtown San Antonio couldn’t look more different, but some things sound the same wherever you go. Especially fear.

It’s fear that whispers these questions. It’s fear that makes the same mistakes over and over when it comes to our kids. Control them and treat church like a bad thing they are forced to endure because we say so even though we can’t come up with compelling reasons why. Or try to trick them into thinking church is fun because secretly we think it isn’t. Let them bat around a beach ball during something we’d never call “worship” except for the fact that we want them to like it enough to stick around in a few years. Look at the empty pews that have you so afraid. Neither of those things worked on us. Neither work on them. But the fear makes us forget.

We know this stuff is important. Somewhere we just lost the words to explain why. So we go through the motions because we used to go through the motions. We carry around worry even though we know better than to talk about it. That would let on to the kids that we’re afraid. Which means we’re not in control, and we’re not having all the fun we’re desperate to convey. Worry that whispers about our future shows just how little we can control our kids and make them stick around, and how foolish we really think trying to trick them is. You know what’s great though? They agree. We’re doing it wrong.

I’ve had the privilege of helping out with Higher Things for a few years now. I’ll tell you a comforting secret. We have the same worries. I sat, probably blocking the fire exit, in an over-capacity classroom listening to the executive director of Higher Things teach a breakaway explaining Gen Z. She’s a smart cookie. So I went to steal stuff from her to teach you. It was aimed at parents. The kids outnumbered us 4 to 1. She laid out the statistics. It was sobering. The kids nodded along to the rising trends of depression, anxiety, and loneliness. They laughed when the adults tried to get their heads around slang that doesn’t translate well to speaking outloud. Then the Executive Director, a public school Spanish teacher, broke the rules. She told the kids she was worried. She confessed there were times she wished she could have shared more, but was afraid to lose her job. That she wished there was more she could do for and say to transgender students. And I only heard the same whispers again.

She said she needed a pastor for the next part. I shouldn’t have sat in the fire lane. Goodman. Stand up. Preach a one minute sermon on the text on the board. I asked the kids to reread the text because I wasn’t listening to it. I hate those whispers so much I was half out of my seat already. First things first. Her conscience. “In the stead and by the command of my Lord and savior Jesus Christ, I forgive you this and all your sins.” Of course we all should do more. Of course we’re sinners. That’s why God gives us the church in the first place. We’re afraid together, and it’s wonderful, because God drags us along together. Forgives us together. Sustains us together. We have a place for that fear now. We have God given words to answer it.

She likes to say she’s not a theologian, but she’s brilliant. The kids read the text she picked, and I knew what she was driving at all along.

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16)

She had all the same fears everyone else does. The same ones I harbor too. She knew exactly where to look for hope. The light set on the hill. Not in your heart. Jesus, the light of the world, hanging on the cross set on a hill called Calvary. He died there for us.

This is what Higher things does. Jesus for sinners. Hope for the hopeless. We answer the whispers. We speak to the fear and remember the words that explain why this stuff is important? It’s the gospel. We just give it to kids.

She tells me “Stand up. Preach a one minute sermon.” Fine. The church doesn’t stand on your shoulders. It stands on God’s. The light set on the hill cannot be hidden. It can’t. There, God was crucified for you and for me and for all the world. It’s His church where He gives His gifts. The church is built on Him, not us. Remember the ancient church that hid in catacombs afraid to speak what we believe too. If this was our church we would have died out thousands of years ago. But this is God’s church. He fills it with sinners struggling with depression and anxiety and sin and loneliness. He dies for them. Rises for them. Forgives them. That’s us. Gen Z and every other generation. We were sinners in the ancient church and we’re sinners today, but the light still shone on the hill for us all. Until someone sins in such a profound way that Christ is put back in the tomb, relax. Your sins are forgiven you, and the light will continue to shine, and it will even shine through you. Who do you think you are that you can take from Jesus someone He loves by being afraid? Your fear is not as powerful as you think, and your God already conquered darkness and death. Look to the hill and see the light. That’s what we gather around. Hope. And there’s plenty to go around. Hope rooted in Christ and not our works. That against everything wrong in the world, Christ has died and for everyone struggling in fear and darkness He is risen. Do not be afraid.

Then we went to church for the third time that day, and the kids were louder than the adults again. They have the same fears we do, but they hear the gospel and they sing it back. These kids don’t hold the church up anymore than we do. The church holds them. They heard the promise and believe it. So they sang. My heart still almost stops when I hear them. We live stream it. You can listen on the internet, but it’s not as loud through your phone. This is what the church sounds like. This is what the church is. I watched 900 Christians who happened to be teenagers hear the word of God, receive His body and blood, cling to His promises, and sing them back. This isn’t a bunch of kids who are at a church service against their will so they can go play lazer tag later. Those kids sit quietly and roll their eyes. I didn’t see any of those kids. I only heard the church. Our kids sang.

I hate the whispers. They assume a lie that comes right from the devil. It’s not our job to keep the Church going one more generation. It’s God’s job. I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. He’s doing a pretty good job.

the whispers don’t change, but neither does the gospel

holy people are covered in blood.

Exodus 24:3-11 “And Moses took the blood and threw it on the people and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.”

Moses came and told the people all the words of the LORD and all the rules. And they answered with one voice. Concordia.. all the people. Together. In unity. Harmony. They heard the word. They said, “We will be obedient.” Riiiiiight. Keep reading sometime. The people keep the unity. They complain together. They sin together. They rebel together. Concordia. All the people. Together. In unity. It goes poorly each time. Sin breaks stuff.

Concord isn’t just all of us getting along. watch a riot. See everyone answer with one voice. Watch it all burn. We can all get along down some pretty dark roads. Until we can’t anymore.

But still the cry of the church is too often this. Unity means Getting along. looking the same. Dress like us. Behave like us. Be like us. I mean, not what we do secretly. Not what we say about each other when we’re not in the room. But pretend like we pretend. Because disunity is being different than us. Looking different. Having done…different. So conform. Behave. Fit in. And we’ll leave the last part behind varying degrees of implication. Fit in, or get out.

But being the same doesn’t save. Even when all of Israel sins together, they only end up driving themselves farther apart. Sin breaks stuff. It’s why blood has to cover it. The sin that breaks us open spills blood. The Lord would just rather it be His own than ours. He teaches us about it. Gives Moses His word and command about it. Sacrifice this way to teach about me. Point to me. Find shelter in me. Give grace from me. Moses followed the sacrifice. Blood on the alter. Blood on the people. And it’s offensive. Don’t overcomplicate it.

Now the blood goes in your mouth. We behold God. The peace of the Lord be with you always. Not in a generic let’s all get along way. In a “hey look, this thing I’m holding, it’s the body of Jesus this is where the peace comes from” kind of way. Jesus said, Eat the bread of life which is my flesh and live forever. And the Jews quarreled among themselves at His words. Because that’s offensive too. Don’t philosophize it.

Look up at this thing. This dead Jesus on the cross. It’s offensive. God died for the things you’re too ashamed to admit to in mixed company. Too afraid to own without excuses and blame to spread around. This is where sin broke open God that His blood would be spilled for you. Look at it. It’s everything we dress up and hide. It’s everything awful we see in the ones we hate but ignore in the ones we like. It’s brought to the surface and it’s hung on a cross. Sin. That’s what we really look like. Death. Moses covered the people in blood. In death from a sacrifice. And all the pretending stopped. This is who they really are. Death. But now not their death. Jesus’ death. Not their blood. The blood of the lamb, which takes away the sin of the world. Not our cross. Jesus’ cross for you. And it’s offensive. And we love it. Because it’s what we look like. Dead with Jesus. Alive with Jesus. Holy with Jesus, washed in His blood.

Concordia. All together, covered in blood. Because the unity comes from here. Not our works but His blood for you. For us. His cross for you. For us. Jesus bore it not for those who agreed, not for those who obeyed. But for the sinners who can see the blood that covers us and finally realize that we are the same. We are the sinners Jesus died for. We are forgiven. We’re the church. We disappear under the blood of the lamb. We’re us, with all our baggage and differences, but we are the same. Sinners covered in blood. Forgiven. Holy. Worthy of love.

There is unity here. Concordia here. Jesus here. This is what unites us. His blood. Not _your faith_ in Jesus. _Jesus_ for you. For us. Jesus who does the things He promises, who sends the Holy Spirit to call, gather, enlighten, sanctify, and keep the whole Christian church on earth in the one true faith.

The church cannot and will not stand on an insistence we conform, because it’s never been about looking like each other. It’s about looking like Him. The church can be full of different kinds of sinners, all covered in blood. All made holy. All worthy of love right here. Concordia. Together. In Jesus. In eating and drinking His body and blood given for you for the forgiveness of sins. Given for you, that you would be bound together with other sinners and all called holy together because God dwells here for you to make you that way. Given for you, that you would find unity with each other by being made together with God. Given for you, that you would have life that nothing we build in this world can give. It’s the most mysterious powerful thing I know. And it’s offensive. But don’t overcomplicate it. Eat it and drink it. This is Jesus for you. For us. Concordia. All the people. Together. In unity. Forgiven. Holy. Worthy of love by Him who made us to be that way. Concordia.

holy people are covered in blood.

“The kingdom of God has come near to you.”

Luke 10:1-20

“The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me”

We see the harvest. We see the need for laborers. So pray. God will send. Hey. I’m the new guy. The sent guy. Except, when I look at this, for the life of me, all I can think about is what the 72 didn’t have. No money. No clothes. No shoes.

Maybe it’s because I have a lot of junk. Really, it’s because it’s hard to imagine life that close to the brink. Church that close to the brink. I want extra. Because I see the wolves. The pitfalls. The problems. I see all the challenges and I know myself and my sin well enough to be worried. So anything that helps stand against them? I should have a couple of those.

The thing is, it’s that worry that injects something toxic in this little word we use called missions. Somewhere it stopped being about getting other people help and started being about making sure we survive. Making sure the institution survives. Making sure the building survives and the voters meetings are staffed. Because we’re very worried about our institutions. We fear, love, and trust our institutions. We have the same problem with them as I have with my junk. As much as I have, all I can see is what I don’t.

And missions becomes the measurement of health in a church. So count people. Volunteers. Money. Programs. Technology. Kids. And usually we’re convinced we need more. It leads to a kind of desperation that’s hard to be anything but selfish. It’s hard to think about my neighbor’s daily bread when I’m starving. It’s hard to think about the wellbeing of the so-called lost when you think the so-called found are about to go under. We paint a picture of a church on the brink of extinction, complain about it, then act shocked nobody else wants to join us.

I see the wolves too. Inside and out. I see sinners who devour what gets in their way. Who snap at each other and build grudges like castles to live in. I see sinners so worried that they don’t have enough they lose sight of what they’ve become: they became the wolves who only care about having more. More to devour.

This is who Christ sends the 72 out to. It wasn’t different then. Same fears. Same selfishness. Same idolatry. Same sin. He’s still sending. And we’re still more focused on what we don’t have than what we do. Jesus sent 72 sinners to give His gifts to other sinners so that we would be more than an institution. Say peace be to this house…and it is. Say to them, the kingdom of God has come near to you. And it does. He who hears you hears me. And you do. We spend so much time with the trappings we miss the point. The kingdom of God has come near. The voice of Jesus is speaking through clergy. Forget the trappings we want to measure. Those matter so little you can even go without them. They’re not bad, but God doesn’t need them as much as you think He does. So stop looking at those. God would have you hear something today.

Your sins are forgiven you. Your God is not far from you. Your institutions don’t have to save you because your God already has. He set aside money and possessions. He set aside glory and honor. He took up want and sin and bore it on the cross for you. He won for you your salvation there. He delivers it here.

Jesus didn’t send the 72 because He was too busy. It wasn’t because He wanted to be farther from the people, but closer to them. Look. Listen. See. Taste. Your God is not far away. In word, in sacrament, He brings that gift to you. He that went to the cross for you sends His servants to bring You to Him. Gives them simple words to speak that do the very things they say. It’s the sign of a healthy church.

God speaks to you here. Through sinners. So hard to stomach the thought we dress them up. But the words are what matter. In the stead and by the command of my Lord and savior Jesus Christ, I forgive you this and all your sins. I have no power to do that, but God does, and sends me to tell you with His own voice. All the authority of my little sister telling me to come in for dinner. That’s not her voice. It’s the voice of mom. Disregard it at your own peril. But its a gift. It’s dinner o’clock. Hear the invitation. There is peace here for you. The kingdom of God has come to this place for you. Jesus is here. For you.

The church was never called to growth. Just faithfulness. God handles the rest. He’s pretty good at it. Doesn’t even need money sacks or clothing or sandals. Doesn’t need programs or money or volunteers or kids. It’s not that they’re bad, in fact they can all be used for good. If you saw my feet you’d agree. If you tried San Antonio without air conditioning you’d know. The thing is, the measurement of the church is simpler. Is God here or not? Because if He isn’t, the institution doesn’t matter. Burn it. If He is, then it doesn’t stand on us, but on Him. So relax. He’ll make sure there’s enough. He’ll work good. It will never look like enough to us, but then again it wasn’t for the 72, but they tread on scorpions and serpents all the same, and we walk across the failed plots of the evil one on our way to the altar where God feeds us with what matters. It’s easy to miss for the fear and the want. So what we do here, we do to make it evident. The music. The vestments. The decor. The giant dead Jesus we hang on the wall. We point to what matters. Because it’s too easy to miss.

Christ sends the 72 as sheep among wolves. To bring the Kingdom of God. To give the peace not measured in stuff, but in the blood of the lamb of God who takes away sin of the world. Christ, who gave Himself in body and blood to be devoured by sinners to actually bring peace.

So stop talking about missions, because they always turn into a conversation about what this church doesn’t have. Look at what it does. There’s Jesus here. His kingdom has come near you. His peace is with you. Really here. Really for you when everything else falls apart. For when everything else is devoured. Christ will feed you too. Missions is more than trying to invite people to a restaurant with no food so they can hear about what a cheeseburger sounds like. We’re here to eat. There’s food for you.

And this is real healing. We’ll abide in a land of not enough. Because Christ speaks peace to us here. And that’s enough.

“The kingdom of God has come near to you.”