Rocklin, California

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The Narrow Door (Proper 16c, August 25, 2013)

Proper 16c, 2013 (August 25)

Holy Cross Lutheran Church

Rev. Todd A. Peperkorn

Luke 13:22–30

sermon08-25-2013.mp3

TITLE: “The Narrow Door”

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen. Our text for today is the Gospel just read from St. Luke chapter thirteen. We focus especially on the words of our Lord, “strive to enter through the narrow door”.

We hard a hard time in our culture with anything that is seen as limiting. I should be able to marry whomever I want (male or female), whenever I want, wherever I want and by whomever I want. There was even a New Mexico Supreme Court case that came out this past week saying in effect you now have a constitutional right to have whomever you want photograph your wedding! Yes, we have a hard time with limitations, and with rejection it seems.

But it doesn’t have to be about hot-button topics like gay marriage. We can talk about something really mundane that demonstrates the point. Let’s talk about food. I don’t know about you, but I hate it, hate it, when someone tells me what I can and cannot eat. It makes me crazy. I am an adult! I can eat whatever I want! We all have our hot-buttons, though. Maybe it’s alcohol. Maybe it’s your free time. I’m quite sure it is something.

We all have these things that push our buttons. So when Jesus says “enter through the narrow door” it shouldn’t surprise us a whole lot that our first reaction is that God isn’t fair. It may seem as though God is being a stickler for details, a pesky, particular God who wants to make sure that everyone does things just so in order to get to heaven.
But that is not the point of the narrow door picture.

The book of Hebrews tries to give us the answer. Hear again these words:

“It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:7–11 ESV)

When we face discipline, when the way seems narrow and hard, it is exactly then that God is forming you, shaping you as His own sons and daughters. He does not discipline you because He hates you . He does it because He loves you.

The doorway to heaven is narrow, as Jesus Himself says. No one may enter this door on their own merits or works or worthiness. Every time you try to gain God’s favor by your own efforts and strength, you smack into the wall and not through the door. And it’s painful, isn’t it?

Let’s be clear about something here, though. The door is narrow, but it is for you. And the point Jesus makes here is not that if you only work really, really hard will you enter heaven. No, no, a thousand times no! The point Jesus is making is that the only way you get through the door is if Jesus Himself leads you there. We could even say that Jesus is Himself the door (John 10:7).

So think of it this way. What Jesus is saying to you today is that you trust in Him, for He is the only way you will be saved. It won’t be because you’re nice or mean. It won’t be because you have a certain kind of friend, or that you know certain things. No, the way that you are saved is through Jesus Christ and Him alone.

The book of Hebrews goes on to put it this way,

“For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.” But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” (Hebrews 12:18–24 ESV)

There is where you are. You are now at Mount Zion and the city of the living God. You are in the heavenly Jerusalem, where angels and archangels and all the company of heaven praise His name, and you with them. You are enrolled in heaven, and you are in the presence of Jesus Himself, whose blood marks you as His own child and heir.

This means so much in how we look at our lives before God. Your life before God is not limited by the narrow door. It is because of this door that you have entered into God’s very presence by His Word and Spirit! And in this door lies freedom, and hope, and comfort, and a place, and an inheritance that never fades away. In this door, in this place lies heaven itself. For where Jesus is, there is the Church, His bride. And you are baptized as His bride, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come through the door marked by His blood. The Passover Lamb is now before you on the altar of God. Come to the Table, for the feast is now ready for you.

Believe it for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

And now the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in true faith to life everlasting. Amen.

Asking for the World (Pentecost 10, Proper 12c, July 28 – 2013)

Pentecost 10, Proper 12c, 2013 (July 28)
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Rocklin, California
Rev. Todd A. Peperkorn
Luke 11:1–11

TITLE: “Asking for the World”

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen. Our text for today is the Gospel just read from St. Luke chapter ten. Let us pray:

O Lord, let Your merciful ears be attentive to the prayers of Your servants, and by Your Word and Spirit teach us how to pray that our petitions may be pleasing before You; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

When we pray, more often than not we ask for too little. God’s grace and mercy, so it seems, is limited not by Him but by us. It is easy to think of God’s mercy and love when we are talking about asking for something up there or out there, but it is much harder to believe when it is to pray for healing for your mother, or forgiveness, or hope, or consolation and comfort. The more concrete we make our prayers, the harder it is for us to get our expectations up too high. After all, nobody wants to be disappointed.

That’s why this story of Abraham negotiating with God is such a strange one. God has spoken to Abraham and told him what is going to happen to the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. He is going down to visit and to judge them on their sin. Certainly this would be a daunting and unpleasant experience for the best of us. Abraham knows that his nephew, Lot, lives there along with his family. What will Abraham do? He does not want to see his nephew die with his family. But what could he do? Would God listen to the likes of him?

Faith, beloved, sometimes means asking the impossible. And so that’s what he does. He actually goes into negotiation with the almighty God for the lives of the people of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Now if you are a good negotiator, what you need perhaps more than anything else is what we’ll call leverage. If you negotiate, you have to have something to negotiate with. Money, a trade in car, whatever it is, negotiating means convincing the other person that what you have is worth what they have, maybe even more.

So what does Abraham use to negotiate with God? What does Abraham have to offer in this bargaining process? What he has is God’s character. Now you have to admit, that is a pretty weird negotiating chip. I mean, doesn’t God know his own character? Surely God knows who He is?

Well, yes He does. So what Abraham does is he dares to hold this character of God up and to pit God’s justice against God’s mercy. Will you destroy the city if there are fifty who are righteous? Surely the God of mercy would not do such a thing. No, I would not, He said. Well, what if there are only 45? 40? 30? 20? What if there are only ten righteous who are left in the city? Will you keep the city for the ten? Yes, God sighs. I will keep the city even if there are only ten righteous.

So here’s the deal on this whole story, which we will also see from Jesus in the Lord’s Prayer. God is merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. Like in the days of Noah, or perhaps even worse, the time is coming for the world’s end. We don’t know exactly when, but we know that it will happen. The reason that God spares the world is not because we deserve it. Our efforts at helping our neighbor are feeble, and we are all full and filthy with sin. No, God spares the world for the sake of those who will be saved. He delays His final judgment because of love. And because of this, you are free to be bold in prayer, and to act without fear before God.

So let’s fast forward to now and to your life in Christ every day. Each day you have troubles, you have fears, you have worries, hurts of body and soul. Every day you know people whom you love that are in great, desperate need. You may not even know what to pray for. But you have been call in holy baptism to a great and wonderful purpose. Hear how St. Paul described it in Colossians:

Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.
(Col. 2:6–7)

God has called you to walk in Christ. You were filled up in Christ when you were baptized, and now Christ fills Himself up in you by Holy Communion. You are in Him and He in you. You are rooted, built up, and established in the Christian faith. What that means is that God’s promises still drip off of your head in the waters that you received, where it was days or weeks or months or years or decades ago.

Walking in Christ means not walking in fear. It means knowing how much God loves you and continues to be with you no matter what. It means, as St. Paul said, abounding in thanksgiving. Thanksgiving, by the way, is the word eucharisto, from which we get the word Eucharist, or the Lord’s Supper.

But what if you are afraid? What if the fires of Sodom seem to be raining down upon you? What if you are too pressed down to ask for help? What if you can hardly walk, because of the burdens that you bear for yourself and others? When that happens, and it happens to all Christians who walk in Him, when that happens, it is then that Christ comes down again and again and again to show you His mercy and love. He does’t just give you marching orders and expect you to carry them out. No, He fills you with Himself. And when that sack is empty, He fills you up again.

This, beloved, is why we call God our Father. This is why His name is holy, and His will is to be done among us. This is why His kingdom comes among us. This is why His will goes out into all the world. This is why He feeds us with our daily bread. This is why He keeps us from temptation, and delivers us from evil. He does all this out of Fatherly divine, goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in us.

Abraham negotiated with God and used God’s own mercy as the bargaining chip. You, too, have that great bargaining tool above all. You have Jesus Christ, the very mercy of God made flesh. God to Him. Pray for the world, for you just might get it.

Believe it for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

And now the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in true faith to life everlasting. Amen.

God For Me (Lent 1, 2013)

Todd A. Peperkorn, STM
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Rocklin, CA
Lent 1 – 2013
February 17, 2013 (rev. from 2008)
Luke 4:1-11

2013-02-17-Lent01.mp3

TITLE: “God For Me”

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. Our text for today is from our Gospel lesson just read from St. Luke chapter four.

Johann Gerhard once wrote that the entire life of Christ was one of fighting temptation, and that we, through Holy Baptism, enter into that same battle. Temptation has been the struggle of man since the Fall into sin. All the way back to the Garden, the struggles of the flesh in food, of twisting God’s Word for our own desires, and of worshipping the false god who promises the world but instead gives us hell, these have been our constant companions, the thorns that prick us and will not go away.

This is your life, O Baptized. This is your life, for when you were baptized into His death you were also baptized into His life, and Jesus life was one of constant temptation and struggle against the devil. Every step He took, from His birth, His epiphany and baptism, His ministry of healing the sick and preaching the Gospel, every step was beset with this constant question: Will you go to the cross? The people want Him to provide food for them, to satisfy their basest needs. The Pharisees and scribes want to trick Him with the Word of God, so that He will deny his messianic purpose. And the disciples, His own closest followers, when He speaks of the cross and His impending death, they are aghast. They cannot fathom a God who would become Man and then would die. What kind of a God dies? It’s not possible, and so even His closest friends sought to deter Him from His holy purpose.

But what of you, O Baptized? How often have you forgotten God in favor of satisfying your own flesh? How often have you justified your sinful actions with a misplaced bible passage, or a cover-all like “love” which means do whatever you want? How often have you forgotten the way of the cross, the way of sacrifice for your neighbor, of giving of what you have and trusting that God will provide for you? You know the answer to these questions. The answer is you justify your false actions and forget. You forget who you are all the time. You forget that you are dust, and to dust you shall return (Psalm 103:14). You forget that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). You forget that apart from Christ you are nothing, but in Christ you are kings and queens in the heavenly kingdom.

It is for this, our wretched forgetfulness, our willful disregard for God’s Word that our Lord came into the flesh. It is for this reason that He was baptized to fulfill all righteousness. It is for this reason that He fasted. It is for this reason that He allowed the devil to do His worst. It is for this reason that He lived. It is for this reason that He died the lonely death of the criminal, the greatest sinner, for He took all our sins into Himself.

So what does this mean for you, O sons and daughters of Adam? What this means is everything. The walk of the Christian life is not one of victory to victory. It is a life of sorrow and hardship, where joy is found not in the little battles with sins each day. It is in those battles that to our eyes we lose all the time. The walk of the Christian life is Christ’s life, and that means a life of suffering, rejection and even death. Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”2

But this, dearly beloved, is not a sadness or some sort of gloomy message that only Lutherans can really appreciate. Far from it. Our Lord said, Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit (John 12:24). It is in this suffering, rejection and death that you are most like Christ. Where the world sees weakness, we see strength. Where the devil sees his victory, we see his greatest defeat. Where our sinful nature cries out that we are giving up our very lives, we cry out with joy that we have been given Christ’s life for us.

Our Lord’s temptation in the wilderness is not an example for us to follow, like some sort of formula for beating temptation. His temptation in the wilderness is your defeat of Satan. No matter what may come your way, no matter what the temptation, no matter what the sin or grief or sorrow that you bear, Christ takes it all into Himself. The suffering that you bear ties you to Christ in a way that is mysterious and yet very simple. Your suffering ties you to Him, because He suffered for you.

That is where the Cup of our Lord’s Supper fits in so beautifully with your life as a Christian. The Cup of blessing which we receive from the Lord’s hand is the sure and certain promise for you that our Lord has died and rose again for you, and that the trials you undergo today, the temptations you face every day, that our Lord has given Himself to you in those trials, and where you fail by weakness or sin, that He Himself has paid the price for your forgiveness.

So come, beloved, receive the blessing of the Lord from His own body and blood. Christ has won the victory for you.

Though devils all the world should fill, All eager to devour us,
We tremble not, we fear no ill;They shall not overpow’r us.

 This world’s prince may still Scowl fierce as he will, He can harm us none.

 He’s judged; the deed is done; One little word can fell him. (LSB 656:3)

Believe it for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in true faith, unto life everlasting. Amen.

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