Monday, February 29, 2016

​Mark This On Your Body… (A sermon based on Isaiah 44:1–5)

Have any tattoos? Would you be surprised to know that the Bible talks about tattoos? Well, sort of. God, in his grace, has removed the indelible mark of sin in our lives, not with a laser, but by his Son's perfect life and innocent death on the cross. Now, he marks us with his name. We belong to him. Read or listen to (download) this sermon based on Isaiah 44:1-5 and rejoice that you do belong to the Lord!

Mark This On Your Body…

A sermon based on Isaiah 44:1–5

Sunday, February 28, 2016 – Lent 3C 


People are inked all the time. Some tattoos are artistic. Other are offensive. Some are hilarious—there are websites dedicated to pictures of tattoos that are misspelled or have otherwise gone horribly wrong.

If you're bored sometime, just Google "worst tattoos ever" and you'll see some pretty regrettable ones: "I love Zac Efron" is across one man's arm. Another has a ring of spiders circling his left eye. Others have burning giraffes, tributes to the Joker from Batman, a dancing banana, or a six-pack of beer tattooed across a beer belly. Many are truly regrettable. But there they are, indelibly inked on the body for life.

How do you feel about tattoos? Do you have one? If not, would you ever get one? What would it be of? Would it be just a picture? Would it profess your undying love for your favorite actor, athlete, soda, or meat product? J Would you add words? What would they say if you did? (If you would add words, make sure to spell them correctly, okay?)

Well, regardless of how you feel about tattoos, would you be surprised to hear that, in a certain sense, the Bible encourages us to get a tattoo? Isaiah says it is good to be marked with a message that some will think artistic, others will think offensive, and still others will mock and find hilarious. God wants each of us to be marked, "Belonging to the Lord." What comfort we have to know that we are marked as the Lord's, whether we get it inked or not.

Our sermon text for this morning is from Isaiah 44:1-5…


"But now listen, O Jacob, my servant, Israel, whom I have chosen. 2 This is what the Lord says—he who made you, who formed you in the womb, and who will help you: Do not be afraid, O Jacob, my servant, Jeshurun, whom I have chosen. 3 For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants. 4 They will spring up like grass in a meadow, like poplar trees by flowing streams. 5 One will say, 'I belong to the Lord'; another will call himself by the name of Jacob; still another will write on his hand, 'The Lord's,' and will take the name Israel.


What's the most common choice for a tattoo? A butterfly? A cross? I'd bet it's someone's name. But I'm also guessing that those name tattoos are probably some of the most regretted tattoos as well. When the relationship falls apart but the ink remains with the name of the ex-girlfriend or ex-boyfriend you professed your undying love to in ink on your arm, well, that ink just remains as a constant reminder of one's bad decisions—both at the tattoo parlor and in the relationship.

What name would you tattoo on your arm if you had to? And speaking of names, what's in a name? What does your name mean? Do you know? Would it look good as a tattoo? Would you change it if you could?

The Babylonians had a practice of changing someone's name when they took them captive. Just ask Hannaniah (Hah-nuh-nye-uh), Mishael (Mish-ah-ale), and Azariah (A-zuh-rye-uh). Or maybe you know them by their VeggieTale names, Shack, Rack, and Benny? In Daniel 1:7 we're told that the chief of the eunuchs in Babylon changed their names to Shadrach (Shay-drack), Meshach (Mee-shack), and Abednego (Uh-bed-nih-go).

What was the goal of this Babylonian practice? Well, your new name was to help you identify with  your new culture, to assimilate, to forget the old name tattooed on your arm, to forget your old loves, to forget your former home, to forget your former life, and to adapt to the culture around you and become a Babylonian just like them.

For some it worked. They assimilated and joined the ranks, ate the food, and bowed down to the false Gods. But not all of the Judean exiles adopted the motto, "When in Babylon, do as the Babylonians." They didn't eat like them, they didn't behave like them, they didn't worship the false God's like them.

But how do we do? How do we handle the pressure? We too are encouraged to change our name to fit the culture. "Christian? That name is so intolerant. Lutheran? That's even worse with all your dogmas and confessions! Why don't you just call yourself American? And then, when in America, do as the Americans. Be young and beautiful! If you just buy things you don't need, with money you don't have, to impress people you don't even like, then you will be happy. Just become one of us."

The message is hammered into our heads over and over again. From the time we first check our smart phones in the morning until we finally doze off in front of the TV at night, it's been estimated that the average American will encounter more than two thousand advertising images in a day. And these images portray over and over again the message: "Fit in! Live this way! Buy lasting happiness!"

And sadly, too often, we, who call ourselves Christians, buy the lie. We reason, "To stand out in the crowd would be most uncomfortable. And furthermore," we continue, trying to convince ourselves, "I can sell my soul to the American dream and claim its promises of prosperity while, at the same time, professing the name of Jesus." So we just go by another name.

We've all tried it. We've all changed our name from "Christian" to "Fits In" or "One of You," when peer pressure has confronted us. We've all bought the lies of our culture that satan peddles and have sinned against God. And we've all been left disappointed, when those lies don't deliver the happiness and peace they promise. And like a regrettable tattoo, the results can't be undone. It's there indelibly staining our souls.

Jeshurun (Jeh-shuh-roon), the name God calls his people in Isaiah 44, means "straight." But when we try to be straight using the ruler of the culture around us or the measure of satan's lies, we ironically end up being crooked and depraved. We deserve the name, Jacob, which means "deceiver" as we do all we can to manipulate others into giving us what we want so our selfish desires can be met. We deserve to have the name "Sinner" tattooed on our foreheads like a scarlet "A." We deserve to get inked with the title "Damned" across our face and to be marked for hell. And there's nothing we could do, no laser surgery we could perform, that could ever remove those tattoos.

And we know that if we remain crooked and if we're not straight with God, if we're marked by our sin, we can't get into his heaven. And there is nothing we can do about it. So we need another way!


And thank God that he offers one….

"But now listen, O Jacob, my servant, Israel, whom I have chosen. 2 This is what the Lord says—he who made you, who formed you in the womb, and who will help you: Do not be afraid, O Jacob, my servant, Jeshurun, whom I have chosen…"

God made you. God formed you in the womb. And God promises that he will help you. How? Starting in chapter 40 of his book, Isaiah gave comfort to God's people again and again: "Comfort, comfort My people, says your God." (40:1) "Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, God is doing a new thing." (43:18–19) God was stirring Cyrus to get Israel out of Babylon.

But that wasn't all he was doing! He was also raising up the Suffering Servant to get the sin out of Israel. The whole plan was summarized in Isaiah 52:7: "How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, 'Your God is King.'"

Of course, Isaiah was referring to the coming Savior, Jesus, who would pay for their sins. By his perfect life in their place, by his innocent death to pay for their sins, he removed the permanent tattoo of "Sin" that marked their souls. And here in Isaiah 44 he encourages them to get that message inked: "write on [your] hand" not "belonging to Babylon," "belonging to sin," "belonging to death and hell," but "belonging to Yahweh." "Write on [your] hand, 'The Lord's,' and… take the name "Israel."

And tattoos—God putting his mark on bodies—is nothing new. In Genesis 4:15, God marked Cain. In Genesis 17, he gave Abraham and his offspring the mark of circumcision. Deuteronomy 6:8 describes people tying God's words on their hands and binding them on their foreheads. In his vision, the prophet Ezekiel saw the Lord command a man to use a writing kit to put his mark on the foreheads of the faithful.

And it all pointed to the most awesome story ever told in human skin. Isaiah describes this body, saying, "His appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man, and His form marred beyond human likeness… Like one from whom men hide their faces He was despised, and we esteemed Him not… We all, like sheep, have gone astray. And the LORD has laid upon Him the iniquity of us all." (Isaiah 52:14; 53:3, 6). One spear, three nails, and a crown of thorns left their marks on Jesus more than any tattoo. Even in his resurrected and glorified state, the marks remained so he could offer to Thomas, "Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe." (John 20:27) These scars were the marks of his loyal love, of his free forgiveness, of his everlasting grace—to you and to me.

And because of these marks on Jesus' body, we get a new name! Jacob, the deceiver, is named, Jeshurun (Jeh-shuh-roon), the straight! Because, by Jesus perfect life in our place, by his innocent death which paid for our sins, he removed the permanent tattoo of "Sin" that marked our souls. Now, we are declared to be straight in line with God's Word and Gods' will. We are declared to be straight with Gods' law, sinless and holy in every way! We are declared to be Christians—little Christs!—as sinless and holy as he.

Because the Lord has poured out his Holy Spirit as, "Water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground," even on us Gentiles, now we get a new name marked on us, tattooed on our souls: "One will say, 'I belong to the Lord'; another will call himself by the name of Jacob; still another will write on his hand, 'The Lord's,' and will take the name Israel."

Paul describes that tattoo in Galatians 6:17: "I bear on my body the marks of Jesus." Now, our eyes are marked with kindness and with compassion. Our minds are marked with toughness and with truth. Our hands are marked with helpfulness and with humility. And our mouths are marked with Jesus and with joy.

We have one word marked on us: leyahweh (Le-Yah-weigh)—in English, "Belonging to the Lord." It's not marked with ink on our arm or ankle or back, like a tattoo. But it's marked with water on our heads and on our hearts. Remember those words spoken at your baptism? "Receive the sign of the cross on your head and on your heart to mark you as a redeemed child of Christ."

And so, just because we live in Babylon does not mean we will live like the Babylonians. Just because we live in America, doesn't mean we live like Americans. Your life and mine tell another story. They tell it in our skin, in the way we act, in the way we live, in the way we love. To some it will be beautiful, even artistic. Others will find it horribly offensive. We will find it, not hilarious, but joyful, as we live to display our Savior by the mark of our lives. So whether you get it inked on your skin, or just show it in your life, you are indelibly marked with a new name: "Belonging to the Lord." In thanks to Jesus, and in his name, amen


In Him,
Pastor Rob Guenther

Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church
47585 Ciechanski Road, Kenai, AK 99611

Listen to sermons online:
Watch services online:

Have you been blessed by our ministry at Grace? Consider supporting us with your generous gifts. Give securely online with a check or credit or debit card here:

Monday, February 22, 2016

He Only Has Eyes for You! (A sermon based on Isaiah 43:1-7)

"I only have eyes for you." Isn't that a nice thing to hear your sweetheart say to you? How much better it is to hear God say that to you. How much better still to have God show you his love in Jesus. He loves you so much, that he would gladly offer other lives--most notably Jesus' life!--in exchange for yours! Now, because he only has eyes for us, we will get to live with him forever in heaven! Read or listen to (download) this sermon based on Isaiah 43:1-7 and rejoice that...

He Only Has Eyes for You!

A sermon based on Isaiah 43:1-7

Sunday, February 21, 2016 – Lent 2C


It was written in 1934 but was made popular in 1959 by group called the Flamingos. It's been rerecorded by Art Garfunkel, Frank Sinatra, and Carly Simon. And it seems like the song has only grown in popularity: "I Only have Eyes for You!" is a love song written to tell of a man's undying devotion to his love

"Are the stars out tonight? I don't know if it's cloudy or bright 'Cause I only have eyes for you, dear. The moon may be high But I can't see a thing in the sky 'Cause I only have eyes for you. I don't know if we're in a garden Or on a crowded avenue. You are here, so am I Maybe millions of people go by But they all disappear from view And I only have eyes for you."

Awwww! Pretty romantic, huh? You could do worse, guys, than to be able to tell your sweetheart that when she's around, nothing else matters, no one else matters, because you only have eyes for her!

Well, today as sappy as it may seem, God pulls you to his side, looks into your eyes and tells you, "I only have eyes for you." And if it's a wonderful thing to have your sweetheart say those things to you, it's eternally better to have your God tell you that and show that love to you. Today as our "Singing with the Exiles" series continues, we'll celebrate that God says to us as he said to those exiles, "I only have eyes for you." Our text is from Isaiah 43:1-7…


But now, this is what the Lord says—he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: "Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. 2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. 3 For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior; I give Egypt for your ransom, Cush and Seba in your stead. 4 Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you, I will give men in exchange for you, and people in exchange for your life. 5 Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bring your children from the east and gather you from the west. 6 I will say to the north, 'Give them up!' and to the south, 'Do not hold them back.' Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth—7 everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made."


In verse 4 where the NIV reads, "Since you are precious and honored in my sight," the Hebrew is literally, "you are precious and honored in my eyes." And it's sort of interesting that God tells us about his eyes in Isaiah 43, because in the previous chapter he was talking about the eyes of his people. And he didn't mince words or pull any punches. This is what he said…

"Look, you blind, and see! Who is blind but my servant… the messenger I send? Who is blind like the one committed to me, blind like the servant of the Lord? You have seen many things, but have paid no attention…"

The eyes of Israel were closed. They refused to look to him and dismissed the blessings of the past and ignored God's promises for future. They rejected the Lord and served their own sinful appetites. And when thing went south as a result they looked to any hero they could find except the Lord. It was as if they put blinders on themselves. They were blind to the Lord, to his commands, and to his love. And so he would bring punishment. He would send the Babylonians to attack and lead them into captivity. Isaiah goes on…

"Was it not the Lord, against whom we have sinned? For they would not follow his ways; they did not obey his law. So he poured out on them his burning anger, the violence of war. It enveloped them in flames, yet they did not understand; it consumed them, but they did not take it to heart."

God had given Israel plenty to see—the miraculous displays of power in the presence of their captor Pharaoh, on the banks of the Red Sea, and at the top of Mount Carmel. There's lots of evidence that was apparent for all to see to accuse the Israelites of choosing to be foolishly blind to the Lord. Were we on the jury, we'd convict them for sure!

But what if you sat on the jury that presides over your own life? Hasn't God given you enough to see? Are you blind too? You might want to object, but the evidence is too overwhelming!! We've seen the promises of God in his Word time and time again. We've got an entire book of his promises that sits on our nightstands often without receiving a glance. Too often we choose to be too blind to open its pages and see its truth because we might not like the changes it calls for. We have so many opportunities to see the comfort our Lord would bring us from the pulpit and in Bible class, but we chose not to attend or ignore the words before us and don't see what he has done. It's like getting a love letter from your sweetheart and tossing it aside unread. How we must break God's heart!

If we are honest with ourselves, we're forced to admit that we, too, choose to be blind to our God. If we are real with ourselves, we have to understand that the exile that God brought down on Israel should be our future, too. We, too, should be removed from our homes and from our lives of comfort and experience the burning anger of God. For being blind to him, we deserve the flames of hell.

But… "But…" says Isaiah as the first word of chapter 43. Though God poured out on them his burning anger… "But now, this is what the Lord says…" We are blind, but… God sees. He sees, and in spite of what he sees, he loves. He only has eyes for you. Though we don't always put a high value on God, he put the highest value on us.

But now, this is what the Lord says—he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: "Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.

Often times, the value of something is based on ownership. You can buy a pair of basketball shoes for about $50. If you want a nice pair of Nike Air Jordan's the price jumps up to about $150. But if you want a pair of shoes that Michael Jordan himself owned and wore on the court, the price skyrockets. A pair of shoes that Michel Jordan wore in the NBA finals in 1997 was auctioned off a few years ago for $104,765. Value is often based on ownership.

And for us, that's good news since God tells us that we are his. Because he made us and called us and redeemed us, we are his. He says in 1 Corinthians 6(:19-20), "Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God… You are not your own; you were bought at a price." And you know what that price was! He says in 1 Peter 1(:18-19), "For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed… but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect."

You see, another aspect of ownership is how much someone is willing to pay for something, right? The value of your home is kind of a meaningless number unless someone wants to pay for it, right? When Becky and I moved here, our home in Raleigh didn't sell for months. That's when we learned first-hand that it's not that important how much the home is worth according to the appraisal if no one will buy! That number won't put food on the table. What will, is a check in your hand. What matters is what others are willing to pay. Real value is shown when someone is willing to cut the check.

And you know that God was willing to cut the check to save his people. They were his chosen people and he was going to keep the promises he'd made to them. They would be restored. They would return to Jerusalem. And he would pay the price. God would "bring (his) sons from afar and (his) daughters from the ends of the earth—everyone who is called by my name." And the price to set them free… would be human lives: "Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you, I will give men in exchange for you, and people in exchange for your life."

God would topple an empire to put his servant, Cyrus, in power, so that the people would be returned. God traded the lives of the pagan Babylonians for the lives of his faithful people, the remnant, those who were his. He gave men—human lives—in exchange for Israel.

And he does it for you and me as well. In many ways he trades lives for us to bless us and protect us. Just think of the battles fought, the blood shed, the lives given so that we can enjoy the freedoms and prosperity that we do today! But, of course, none of those cost nearly as much as what he paid for your forgiveness—to bring you back to him.

For that, God exchanged the life of Jesus for yours. He valued you so much, he had his eyes fixed so much on you that he was willing to take his eyes off of Jesus. He wanted you to be in his family so badly that he was willing to sacrifice his only Son—his perfect Son—that we might be called his sons and daughters, that we might be gathered from the places we've been scattered to be a part of his family. "Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth…"

And this was no prisoner exchange where it's dictated by the superiors and the parties involved have no say. Jesus was a willing participant. His love for you was so great, he only had eyes for you, that he set his eyes on the path that would win you peace. He kept his eyes free from greed or lust. He kept his eyes fixed on God's commands. And he lived a perfect life in your place.

Jesus' love for you was so great, he only had eyes for you, that he was willing to surrender to the flames of God's wrath, willing to unfairly carry the burdens of ours sins. Though we were blind to him, he fixed his eyes on the cross, and willingly endured the punishment and pain, that he might give us his peace.

And it wasn't just his eyes he gave. He gave his back to be ripped apart instead of ours. He gave his hands and his feet nailed to the cross instead of us. He gave his head to have a thorn of crowns beat into it that we might get a crown of life. He gave his blood, "the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect," to redeem us. He gave his soul as he endured hell on the cross so that we will never have to. He gave his life for us that we might live.

Make no mistake: He only has eyes for you! So now we're his beloved. He only has eyes for us. And that gives us immense value. That's all that matters. It doesn't matter what others see. It doesn't even matter what we see. What matters is what God sees. And he says, "You are precious and honored in my [eyes]… I love you…" And that gives us values!

When you look in the mirror, do you sometimes see a loser? Do you see a kid that's scared that everyone else will see through the act? Do you see a grownup who's afraid that others will see through the veneer? Do you see a worthless sinner, a rebel, one who deserves to be damned? That's not what he sees. He sees perfect, sinless saints. He sees, "a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to [him]."(1 Peter 2:9)

And what's more, now that he's risen and ascended into heaven, he keeps his eyes on you! He keeps on loving you, protecting you, and providing for you. He promises that his love will never leave you nor will he ever leave you as he promises, "Surely I will be with you always to the very end of the age." (Matthew 28:19) And because he is with you, the promise that he makes through Isaiah will certainly come true in your life:

"When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior."

He's the Holy One of Israel and your Holy One, too. He's the defender of Israel and your Shield and Fortress. You have value in his eyes and salvation in his blood! You have peace here on earth and everlasting, unending incomparable joy in heaven when you finally cash in the reward that's through him. Because he values you, he gives you the most valuable thing—a place with him forever. When life is hard, when troubles arise, when trials mount, don't ever forget your Savior. And don't ever forget his promises. He loves you. You're his. He only has eyes for you. In his name, dear friends, amen.

In Him,
Pastor Rob Guenther

Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church
47585 Ciechanski Road, Kenai, AK 99611

Listen to sermons online:
Watch services online:

Have you been blessed by our ministry at Grace? Consider supporting us with your generous gifts. Give securely online with a check or credit or debit card here:

Monday, February 15, 2016

​Listen Up, You Maggots! (A sermon based on Isaiah 41:14-16)

"Listen up, you maggots!" shouted the drill sergeant at the new recruits in order to humble them and put them in their place. "Do not be afraid, O worm," says God to us to comfort us and lift us up. Though we are nothing but worms and maggots in God's sight because of our sin, yet through Christ, humbling himself to become a worm like us, we are lifted up. We are made victorious through Jesus! Read or listen to (download) this sermon based on Isaiah 41:14-16 and rejoice that we are no longer worms, but God's dearly loved children!

Listen Up, You Maggots!

A sermon based on Isaiah 41:14-16

Sunday, February 14, 2016 – Lent 1C


If you could become any animal in the world, which one would you choose? Maybe, like Isaiah, you would soar on wings like an eagle. Or, like Amos, you'd love the lion with the strength and beauty of the king of the jungle. Or maybe, like Elisha, you boast in the bear maiming and mauling any obstacle in your path.

But how many of you would choose to become… a worm? How about a maggot? A leech? No? No takers? I don't blame you. Worms have no arms, no legs, and no eyes! They're small and overlooked and seem to have no personality.

People will pull over to the side of the road to take a picture of a bear, a caribou, or a moose, but no one ever stops their car and says, "Hey everyone, look at that worm!" Even People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals never have a "Save the Worms" campaign picketing against the senseless skewing of the poor animals before we feed them to the fish!

Can you imagine the worm being any team's mascot—the Louisville Leaches, the Michigan Maggots, or the Washington Worms? I don't think so.

Yet, our text for this morning calls God's people a worm or a maggot. In a sense, God's Word calls us worms or maggots. He tells us, "Listen up, you maggots!" like the drill sergeant humbling the new recruits and putting them in their proper place. But he tells us "Listen up, you maggots!" as he comforts us lowly sinners, "Do not be afraid, O worm." And he reminds us of his grace.

Our text for this morning is from Isaiah 41:14-16…


14 Do not be afraid, O worm Jacob, O little Israel, for I myself will help you," declares the Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel. 15 "See, I will make you into a threshing sledge, new and sharp, with many teeth. You will thresh the mountains and crush them, and reduce the hills to chaff. 16 You will winnow them, the wind will pick them up, and a gale will blow them away. But you will rejoice in the Lord and glory in the Holy One of Israel.


Why does God call the exilic community in Babylon a worm? Didn't he understand that calling someone a worm isn't the way to win friends? It won't boost their self-esteem. It won't encourage people to get up and get going if you call them lowly worms.

But God used the picture of a worm to describe the situation they were in. They were exiled in Babylon, living under the boot of their captors. They were weak and weary. They were deaf and blind. They were childless, widowed, and divorced. And this was all because of their sin. They were stubborn rebels from birth. So God called them what they were: Worms. Maggots.

It was because of their sin that they deserved to be treated by God with such disrespect. They were nothing but maggots because of their sin, and fit only to become worm food. And they knew it.


Now, what should we think of ourselves when we are captive, not to Babylonians, but to sin? What should we think when we are so far away, not from Israel, but from God? When we don't "act justly and love mercy and walk humbly with [our] God" (Micah 6:8)? When we feel no compassion for the lost and take no delight in the Word, neglect prayer, harbor lustful thoughts, and pant for the praises of people? What are we when we're deceptive, mean-spirited, petty, and vindictive? Well, we're not bears… or eagles… or lions. Listen up, you maggots, that's all we are. We're worms.

And you know what we deserve for our sin. We deserve the threshing sledge—a big, heavy board with sharp teeth covering the bottom. It was used to break the grain apart to separate the wheat from the chaff. But it was also used to execute enemies in a war. The threshing sledge would be run across their backs. As lowly worms in the dirt, we deserve to have the threshing sledge run over us. And we deserve worse. We maggots deserve to join the rotting carcasses in the garbage heap of hell.


"Whoa there, Pastor!" you might object, "Don't you understand that calling us maggots and worms isn't the way to win our friendship? Don't you get that telling us we deserve threshing sledges and hell won't boost our self-esteem? Don't you get that it won't encourage us to get up and get going if you call us lowly worms?"

Well, that doesn't matter. Because thinking highly of ourselves has nothing to do with God's Word. Rather he wants us to own up to who we are without him. He want us to cry out with Isaiah, "I am a man of unclean lips"; with Job, "I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes"; and with Paul, "What a wretched man I am, who will deliver me from this body of death!?"

This is what the season of Lent is all about. It's acknowledging who we are in God's sight by our sin—disgusting maggots, dirty worms, who are unclean in thought, word, and deed. Lent is when we confess these sins, grieve over them, and repent before God. You see, its' only worms who are lying in the dirt, wriggling around in the mud, that cry out to be picked up and lifted out of it!


And when we do humble ourselves—literally get low to the humus or dirt—admitting to be the maggots that we are, then God has a word of comfort for us. So listen up, you maggots! Hear the Word of the Lord in Isaiah 41:14, "'Do not be afraid, O worm Jacob, O little Israel, for I myself will help you,' declares the Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel."

The Lord is not some football coach trying to rally his team to "win one for the Gipper." Nor is He some talk-show host who wants us to feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Our God is not some sentimental grandpa who helps those who help themselves. No. He is "your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel."

The word "redeemer" appears here in Isaiah 40–55 for the first time and will come eighteen more times in this section. A redeemer is your next-of-kin-relative who buys back your inheritance, frees you from slavery, and pays off your debt. Whatever has gone bad, your redeemer will make good.

So how did God redeem us? How did he help us? By becoming a worm like us! Would anyone here seriously volunteer to become a maggot? Would you take on the flesh of a leech to save other leeches? Yet, in the fullness of time, God humbled himself. He came low to the dirt—to this earth. He became our next-of-kin-relative, literally!—taking on human flesh. And the gap between God and human is much greater than the gap between us and a leech!

And as "the Holy One of Israel" he lived a perfectly sinless life. He was not a maggot because of his sin, but because of ours. He never got dirty with pride or greed or lust. He always loved, always served, always did what was right—for us.

And then He took another step. He became dirty, despised, and dismissed. And then he took another step. He was tortured, not with a threshing sledge, but with a scourge. And then he took another step. And he went to the cross.

And there, from that cross, he quoted Psalm 22:1 when he cried, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabacthani?" And knowing Psalm 22 is Messianic then, we can't help but think of Psalm 22:6, "I am a worm and not a man." Here is Jesus, the God

man, nailed to a tree, his body bent and broken, tortured and twisted. Here is Jesus, a bloody mess. Here is Jesus, mocked, ridiculed, and abandoned. Here is Jesus, the worm, Jesus, the maggot.

Now listen up, you maggots! He did it all for you! He did it to take your sin away. And it's gone! He did it to lift you up out of the dirt and the mud. And he has! And by the power of his Word, he's made you into something new: "See, I am making you into a threshing sledge, new and sharp, with many teeth. You will thresh the mountains and crush them, and reduce the hills to chaff. You shall winnow them, and the wind shall carry them away, and the tempest shall scatter them."

Leeches are lifted up! Worms become winners! Maggots move mountains! The once lowly and despised are now victorious over every enemy—over satan, over sin, over death—and crush them underfoot! Our Lenten sackcloth and ashes are not the last word. But, in Jesus, we receive a robe of righteousness.

So listen up, you maggots! We're worms no more! We're not even bears, or lions, or eagles! We're victorious, sinless, saints! And we no longer wallow in the dirt and in the mud of sin, but "rejoice in the Lord and glory in the Holy One of Israel," and live for him in thanks every day of our lives! In Jesus name, dear friends, amen.

In Him,
Pastor Rob Guenther

Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church
47585 Ciechanski Road, Kenai, AK 99611

Listen to sermons online:
Watch services online:

Have you been blessed by our ministry at Grace? Consider supporting us with your generous gifts. Give securely online with a check or credit or debit card here:

Monday, February 8, 2016

The Big Unveiling (A sermon based on 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2)

What's the biggest present you've ever received? Was it pretty exciting to unwrap it and see what lay hidden? Today we see Jesus revealed most clearly as the God-man, the divine Son of God, who shined in his glory on the Mount of Transfiguration. But we really see his greater glory on another mountain -- the Mount of Crucifixion. There we've had the veil removed from our faces and the blindfold removed from the eyes of our hearts and minds. Now we know who Jesus really is and what he came to do. And now, having seen the glory of his forgiving love, we can reflect that glory to others and do what we can to remove the blindfold from their eyes too. Read or listen to (download) this sermon based on 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2 and rejoice that you've seen Jesus' glory! 

 The Big Unveiling

A sermon based on 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2

Sunday, February 7, 2016 – Transfiguration Sunday


There was no mistake that this was the biggest present he'd ever received from his parents. He saw it sitting in the driveway. But what kind of car was it? He couldn't tell because of the drop cloth that covered it entirely. He couldn't even see the bottom of the tires. He couldn't wait to see it. But his uncle had helped his parents pay for it and he wanted to see his nephew's reaction, so his parents said he had to wait for him to arrive.

Finally, his uncle pulled up to the curb and it was time for the big unveiling! He grabbed a corner of the drop cloth and gave it one quick, hard, tug! And for the first time he saw his brand new car! What an exciting day it was! What a happy 16th birthday!

For the last couple of weeks, we've been getting glimpses of Jesus glory—at his baptism, at the wedding in Cana, as the prophet who fulfills prophecy, as the epitome of love. But this morning we heard the account of his transfiguration, when he let his glory shine through most clearly, when the veil that hid it was briefly removed; ripped away for the big unveiling.

And in that glimpse of his glory, we rejoice that Jesus' glory is unveiled to us. And in thanks for that wonderful revelation, we are now eager to let Jesus' glory be unveiled through us. Our text for this morning, this Transfiguration Sunday, is taken from 2 Corinthians 3:12—4:2…


12 Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. 13 We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from gazing at it while the radiance was fading away. 14 But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. 15 Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. 16 But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

4:1 Therefore, since through God's mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. 2 Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God. 

I.     Jesus Glory is Unveiled to Us 

Perhaps instead of covering the car, the parents of that 16-year-old in our introduction could have saved a little money and used a lot less cloth if they had just blindfolded their son. Then they could just pull the blindfold off to reveal the car instead of pull an entire drop cloth off of the car.

In a sense, that's the way Paul describes each person by nature. They're blindfolded. They can't see the truth of the Gospel. It's foolishness. It's offensive. And by nature, every person is blind to the truths of the Gospel. We were blind. But we weren't blind in our eyes, but in our minds. They were made dull. We were blind in our hearts, covered by a veil—by a blindfold that kept us in unbelief.

Some people read the Bible and never understand it. Some think that Jesus was a great teacher who taught us how to live to earn favor with God. Others read of Jesus' resurrection and say that he lives on, but only in our thoughts and in our and hearts. Others read Jesus' saying, "This is my body," and "This is my blood," and respond, "This cannot be." Some read the Bible and see great literature, but miss the plan of salvation. Some read the Bible and see myths and fairy tales. Everyone, on their own, thinks that they can or must do something to earn God's favor. They all read the same Bible, but without the Holy Spirit, they're in the dark. They just don't get it. It's like trying to drive a car with a blindfold on. And you know how well that would end—in death.

But that's not the way we are anymore. "In Christ [it is] taken away… Whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away." You and I have seen the full glory of the Lord! Not just the glory of his miracles, for those were only temporary. The people he miraculously fed were hungry again. The people he raised to life died again. We have seen the full glory of the Lord! Not just the glory of transfiguration when he shined like the sun on the mountain. For that glory soon faded. But we have seen his full glory—the glory of the cross! We have seen how he lived a perfect life in our place! We have seen how he suffered hell on the cross to pay for our sin! We have seen how he rose again to give us the proof that we are right with God! The veil has been lifted for us! The drop cloth has been torn away! The blindfold has been removed! We have seen the full glory of God!

…You know, our nation no longer faces the problem of a large percentage of our citizens being illiterate. Now, through our education system, almost everyone knows how to read. But we have a high percentage of alliterate people. That is, people know how to read, but they don't! Very few Americans read more than 5 books a year. I hope that you're not in that category. You have had the blindfold removed. You know what the Bible is all about. You know that it's all about Jesus. But that knowledge doesn't do you much good if you don't read the Bible regularly.

Can you imagine if Bartemaus, the blind man whose sight Jesus restored, were to say to Jesus, "Thanks, Jesus. I really appreciate what you did, but… you know, all this 'seeing' is pretty crazy. I think I'm just going to go back to not seeing and walk around with my eyes shut all the time. Thanks though for the thought. I appreciate it."

Don't be like that! God has given you spiritual sight to see how all of your sins are forgiven by Jesus! He has given you eyes to see how you are at peace with God! Now use your spiritual sight to keep looking at all the wonderful things God has done for you! Enjoy your new spiritual sight as you look into his word to find Jesus in every book of the Bible! The blindfold has been lifted. The veil has been removed!

Now keep looking into his Word where you see how you've been forgiven even for neglecting your spiritual sight! Look into his Word through which the Holy Spirit will continue to work in you! And as you do, you will find freedom! For, "where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom." There you will find freedom from sin, freedom from fear, and freedom from the selfishness that would otherwise take over our lives! There—in the Gospel and the forgiveness that Jesus won for us—we find freedom to serve God in thanks as we reflect the glory that he has shown to us… 

II.    Jesus Glory is Unveiled Through Us 

Moses was kind of like a glow-in-the-dark star. When he saw the glory of God, he sort of absorbed it a bit. Then when he came down from the mountain, he would reflect some of that glory, emanating from his own face. He was too bright to look at, so rather than have every Israelite buy a pair of dark sunglasses, Moses wore a veil that kept the glory hidden—sort of like a welding helmet, but in reverse.

Well, in a certain way, we're like that too. We have seen the glory of God in Christ—in the forgiveness that he won for us. And now, we're a lot like the moon: We reflect the light of the Son! My goal is no longer to bring glory to myself as it once was, but my new goal is to bring glory to the One who saved me. My goal is to do all I can to reflect his glory—the glory of the cross—to others.

Paul put it this way: "We… with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory…" And how does this happen? "By setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God."

We are very much like the moon. We reflect the Son. The glory isn't ours. It's his. But we reflect it in our lives to others. As the moon gives light to the earth when you can't see the sun, so too when others can't see the Son of God because their hearts and minds are veiled, they can still see us as we reflect his love and remove the veil for others!

Jesus put it this way in Matthew 5:14-16, "You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven."

So let your light shine, dear brothers and sisters! Actively look for ways to serve others. Look for opportunities to serve your family, your neighbors, your coworkers, and your friends. Do not just what's expected of you in your position, but surprise others by your willingness to go above and beyond. Surprise your spouse. Surprise your kids. Surprise your parents. Surprise your boss. Surprise your employees. Surprise the stranger you meet at the store by how thoughtful and loving and kind you are! And as you do, you'll be reflecting the glory of Jesus. You'll shine brighter and brighter with his love.

And as you do that, you'll find more opportunities to share Jesus' love and the full glory of his redemption won at the cross with others. You'll be able to pull of the blindfold and lift the veil for them. You'll be able to set forth the truth plainly that they too might see.

The drop cloth has been ripped off for us. The blind fold has been removed. Jesus has been unveiled to us. Now, Jesus is unveiled through us as we let our light shine before others that they may see our good works, as we share the message of his love and grace. Now, with the freedom that only the Gospel of Jesus can give, shine on, dear friends, shine on! In Jesus' name, amen! 

In Him,
Pastor Rob Guenther

Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church
47585 Ciechanski Road, Kenai, AK 99611

Listen to sermons online:
Watch services online:

Have you been blessed by our ministry at Grace? Consider supporting us with your generous gifts. Give securely online with a check or credit or debit card here:

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Jesus is Revealed… as Love (A sermon based on 1 Corinthians 12:27-13:13)

Love is all you need. Really? Well, it depends on what you mean by love. Our love fails miserably. And for our loveless thoughts, words, and actions we deserve hell. But God shows us real love in Christ, who lived and died for us and lives for us still. Now, because of that great love he showed in laying down his life for us we love him in return. And we're eager to show that love in action as we show love to each other. Read or listen to (download) this sermon based on 1 Corinthians 12:27-13:13 and rejoice that Jesus is revealed as love!

Jesus is Revealed… as Love

A sermon based on 1 Corinthians 12:27-13:13

Sunday, January 31, 2016 – Epiphany 4C


July 7, 1967 the Beatles released the single to their already popular hit, "All You Need Is Love." Written for a live television show which was broadcast in 26 countries and viewed by 350 million people, John Lennon wanted to send a message to the world. That message was simple: "Love is all anyone needs."

But what do you think? Were they right? Well, it depends. It depends on what you mean by love. "I love bacon." "I love my wife and kids." "I love the color blue." "I love God." But hopefully I mean something entirely different in each of the four ways I just used the word "love."

If John Lennon meant "a fuzzy feeling you get around someone else," that love just won't cut it. If he meant a self-sacrificing love that we have for each other and that we demonstrate in our actions, he would be closer to right, but still, as imperfect as that love of ours is, it won't cut it either. But, if John Lennon meant the love of Christ that he has for us sinners—a love so great that it took him to the cross to pay for our loveless actions—then he was right on. All any of us need is that love.

This morning we'll take a look at this Biblical concept of love—a love in action. We'll see how Jesus is revealed as love. He's revealed as love to us unloving sinners. He's revealed as love through us forgiven believers.

I.             To Us Unloving Sinners


Out of Corinth, a city of commerce, culture and crudity, God called for himself a congregation of believers. And this congregation often reflected the wealthy and talented, but brawling city in which they lived. Though they were blessed with every spiritual gift (1:7) they weren't without their share of problems, even fighting over who had the greatest spiritual gifts. So, the apostle Paul set out to straighten things up. And he sat down to write.

In Chapter 12 of his first letter to these Corinthians, he took up the topic of spiritual gifts. With the analogy of the human body he reminded the Corinthians that they all needed each other no matter what their individual gifts were. They were a unit, a whole, many parts that all served the same body. He ends chapter 12 with these words…

27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. 28 And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 31 But eagerly desire the greater gifts. And now I will show you the most excellent way.

The Corinthians loved to boast about their gifts. But Paul reminded them where those gifts had come from. God had "appointed" them all no matter what their gift or position might be. And how they were abusing those gifts! To them, "different" meant "not as good as" when they were comparing the gifts of others with their own. It was an attitude that sought to use their gifts for their own glory, rather than for God's glory. It was an attitude Paul pointed out when he showed them how they ought to be acting…

Eagerly desire the greater gifts. And now I will show you the most excellent way. 13:1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. 


If the Corinthians wanted to be great, they should have been using their gifts to love others. Boasting about their gifts to gain honor or glory for themselves, or using their gifts to serve themselves alone, was about as fitting to the church as a clanging symbol out of rhythm is to a symphony. If they knew everything there was to know, but in selfishness kept it to themselves, if they gave all they had away to the poor, but did it only so they would look or feel good, it was worthless. You see every act done for selfish reasons, is a sin. And for such selfish use of the gifts that God had given them they deserved to have those gifts stripped away. They deserved hell. But instead, they received God's love. They received it in Christ.


And friends, we're not really all that different from those Corinthians, are we? Look at all the blessings God has showered on us. Look at all the gifts he's given you. This room is not without its share of talents and abilities. You are all incredibly gifted by God—each in your own unique way!

But, how do we use those gifts? Too often we use them selfishly. We easily say, "I love God. I love Jesus for what he's done for me." But love—real love—is not just a luke-warm "I'm sort of glad he did what he did for me." No. It's an action. Listen to the way Paul defines love with action words.

4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8 Love never fails.

A pastor once suggested to me that these verses served as a great mirror. Hold them up to see how loving you've been. Take the word "love" and replace it with your name.  "Rob is patient." No, not really. "Rob is kind." Sometimes, but not always to everyone. "Rob does not envy. He's happy with the gifts God's given." Well… no. "Rob does not boast, is not proud." Well, he's being humbled here pretty quickly. "Rob is not rude. Rob is not self-seeking." Failed, again and again. I think you get the picture, right? No need to go on. And I know that since each of you are a sinner too, you would all have the same trouble comparing how your life really is to what God wants your life to look like—perfectly loving toward everyone in every way.

You see, we, like the Corinthians, too often use the gifts God's given us to bring glory to ourselves, rather than to God. We use our gifts to love "me first," not others. We aren't always patient or kind. We do envy and boast. We are rude and certainly self-seeking. We get angry when we shouldn't and we keep track of who's hurt us and how much. We don't rejoice in the truth and love to hear God's Word. We do fail.  

And for such selfish use of the gifts that God has given us, for such lovelessness, we deserve to have our gifts stripped away. We deserve hell. But, we don't get what we deserve. Instead, we receive God's love. We receive it in Christ.  That same pastor who suggested I use these verses as a mirror, then suggested I also use them to see Christ. Read verses 4 to 8 again, this time replacing "love" with "Jesus." You'll see how much Jesus loves you.

Jesus is patient with us even when we reject him like those in Nazareth (cf. Luke 4:28-29). He is always kind giving us way more than we deserve. He was not self-seeking as we have been, but selfless, giving his life on a cross and suffering hell in our place. He keeps no record of our wrongs, but takes them away, assuring us of his forgiveness by giving us his very body and blood to eat and drink! And Jesus will continue to care for us and protect us because his love, unlike ours, will never fail. No matter what we do, no matter how bad we've been, he will always love us.

Now, by his love, we, who once delighted in evil, rejoice in the truth of Jesus, revealed in his perfect love for us. Now, we, who once used our gifts only for selfish gain, use our gifts to express our gratitude and love for God by loving others. Having had Jesus reveal himself as perfect love to us unloving sinners, we can't help but be his instruments of sharing that love as he reveals himself as perfect love to others through us forgiven believers…


II.            Through Us Forgiven Believers


Paul wrote to the Corinthians, "13:1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. 

…where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. 12 Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. 13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love."

Some of Corinthians boasted in what they thought were the better gifts—in having the ability to prophesy about the future, in the ability to speak in tongues, in languages they never learned, in having the most wisdom and knowledge. Others were envious of those who had these gifts when they didn't. But all of those gifts were incomplete without love.

There were no better gifts, no worse gifts, just different gifts. But none of them amounted to anything unless they were coupled with love. They were incomplete. And they would eventually become obsolete in heaven. But not love. Love would never be obsolete. And love completed the rest of the gifts. They could put away such childish, selfish use of their gifts and use them with maturity, in serving others.

You see, it didn't matter if they were a foot or an eye or a hand. It didn't matter if they were an armpit, a toenail, or ear hair in the body. Whatever gifts they had been given they could use to serve God out of love for him. They could use those gifts, no longer for personal gain, but out of thanks to Jesus for the perfect love he had shown to them, they could use their gifts to love each other. As the apostle John put it, "This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth." (1 John 3:16,18)

In thanks to Jesus, for his perfect love, they could be patient, kind, content, humble, and polite. They could be selfless, calm, forgiving and honest. They could be trusting and hopeful. They could persevere unfailing to the end.


And the same is true of us. Recognizing how great is the love the Father has lavished on us! (1 John 3:1) and how perfect the love that Jesus has shown to us, laying down his very life for us, we can't help but reflect that love toward others.

And it doesn't matter what gifts you have—whether you can work miracles or you're a natural teacher or leader. It doesn't matter if you have gifts of administration or the ability to speak in other languages. It doesn't matter if your gifts are none of these. No matter what your ability or position, you have been appointed by God to be in this place at this time. And you've been given the gifts you have to serve others in love.

Recognizing Jesus' perfect love for us, we can't help but love others, not with some shallow emotion, but with loving actions and in truth. We will be patient, kind, content, humble, and polite. We will be selfless, calm, forgiving and honest. We will be trusting and hopeful. We will persevere unfailing to the end. "We love because he first loved us." (1 John 4:19) And through us, forgiven believers, Jesus will be revealed as perfect love to others.

Maybe John Lennon was on to something. All we need is love—Jesus' love shown to us unloving sinners, which leads to Jesus love being shown through us forgiven believers. "This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete." (1 John 4:10-12) All you need is love. In Jesus' name, dear friends, amen.

In Him,
Pastor Rob Guenther

Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church
47585 Ciechanski Road, Kenai, AK 99611

Listen to sermons online:
Watch services online:

Have you been blessed by our ministry at Grace? Consider supporting us with your generous gifts. Give securely online with a check or credit or debit card here: