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  • Nearly There

    See the Weekly Bulletin Nearly There Mark 10:23-31 + Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and ...

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    Nearly There
    Mark 10:23-31

    + Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

    The text for our meditation is from our Gospel lesson, specifically where Mark records, [T]he disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

    Nearly there. We are nearly to the culmination of this particular discourse in Mark’s Gospel account. It may have started only in the previous chapter, but so much has happened in that short amount of time. Since Jesus’s transfiguration, we have seen Him heal a boy with an unclean spirit, even as the boy’s father begs with Jesus, “I believe; help my unbelief!” We heard the dunderheaded disciples ask among themselves who the greatest was immediately after Jesus had told them, for the second time, that “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him.” We’ve heard the disciples complain to Jesus that some dude is casting out demons in His Name, and that since he’s not one of them, he should be stopped; Jesus makes short work of those complaints, telling them that “no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. For the one who is not against us is for us.”  

    We were uncomfortable as Jesus told us how sin is so serious, that if a body part causes us to sin, we ought to remove it; we were made to be even more uncomfortable as our Lord and Savior delivered some tough love to His hearers regarding divorce. Then, when His disciples wanted to dismiss approaching children as an annoyance, we saw Jesus rebuke them, and instead gather them into His arms and bless them. And just last week, we heard about a rich young man who walked away, sadly, from the Messiah because he wanted to do something to earn his salvation, and Jesus gave him a commandment that he couldn’t and wouldn’t be able to fulfill.

    The theme in our texts over these past few weeks has been, essentially, the same. It’s been the same because, in case you didn’t notice, the disciples are portrayed as … well, they’re a little dense. They don’t get it, and neither do most of the people around them. They don’t understand what Jesus has been saying all this time, so they need to hear it time and time again: Salvation does not come to you by what you do because you are a lousy, rotten, no-good, stinkin’ sinner, and the best of your works are worthless toward your salvation. Over these last weeks, Jesus has been systematically tearing down the walls of self-righteousness and self-assurance that His hearers had built up around them, and now He’s got them where He wants them.

    Immediately after the rich young man slinks away, Mark paints this dramatic picture: Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” This saying apparently throws the disciples for a loop, as Mark tells us how amazed they were that Jesus would say this. So Jesus reemphasizes His point – not just making mention of those who have wealth, who certainly have their own trials and temptations, but now speaking of everybody, He says, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” Our response to this likely echoes what the disciples ask. See, they perceive what Jesus has done, how the cats have now been fully painted into the corner. There’s no wiggle-room here, no possible out, and so they ask Him in there utter astonishment, “Then who can be saved?”

    Because this is what the sinful human being does. Not only do we try to weasel our way out of being in trouble, out of confessing our sins, but we also try to flip our sin on its head and call it righteousness. The sinful human being tries to save itself, to redeem itself, to show that it’s not so bad and thus not meriting eternal condemnation, but instead, deserving praise! Accolades! Honor! All because we haughtily and foolishly say with the rich young man, “All these commandments I’ve kept; I haven’t done anything wrong since my youth!”

    Jesus puts an end to that nonsense tout-de-suite. To the rich young man, He gives a command that is impossible for anyone to keep: sell all that he has, give the earnings from those sales to the poor, and follow Him. Let me ask: let’s say, hypothetically, somehow the rich young man were able and willing to do this very thing. Do you think that, had the young man done this, he would have been saved for that reason? OF COURSE NOT. Sure, part of the rich young man’s problem was his attachment to his earthly goods, those temporal blessings and gifts that God had given into his possession. However, there was a bigger problem, a deeper issue that cannot and will not be solved simply by selling all that one has, giving the money to the poor, and supposedly devoting one’s life to God.

    This deeper issue here – one which we all have to deal with, by the way – is the desire, the need of the sinful flesh to try and self-justify, to stand before God and say, “I’m good, and I deserve salvation! It’s what I have earned by my good deeds!” It’s this mentality, this false theology, that has spawned every man-made religion across the globe – whether in Islam, Buddhism, Wicca, or whatever, it’s always you and what you do to get in good with God or Allah or Shiva or whoever. You’re working your way into the deity’s good graces. You’re doing something to earn nirvana or enlightenment or heaven. Indeed, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

    The disciples ask of Jesus, “Then who can be saved?” They are, surprisingly, exactly right in their exclamation. They’re feeling the squeeze, recognizing that there’s no way out. Essentially, Jesus responds: “EXACTLY. THAT’S the point!” He says, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.”

    Once again, this point is made, and it’s repeated here in this sermon because, like the disciples, it’s a message that we need to hear over and over again! We need to hear it because our sinful flesh wants to reject it! “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” He is the only One who can save, to do for us what is impossible for us to do for ourselves!

    And we’re nearly there; in the context of our reading, we are nearly to the point where God will do the impossible. A little later in this same chapter, Jesus tells His disciples what must happen to Him in order to make it so everyone can be saved: “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.” THAT is how God does this impossible! THAT is how sinners, wretched and miserable as we are, can be saved! Jesus is condemned, delivered to unbelievers, mocked, beaten, spat upon, flogged, crucified, and killed – all while He is, at the same time, truly God and yet made to become the embodiment of sin. THAT, my friends, is how God does the impossible!

    Because of this impossible work that Jesus accomplished perfectly, flawlessly, those who believe that this was done for them will have it done to them as they believe. At the end of Mark’s Gospel, Jesus makes a point of saying, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” Am I a sinner? Are you? Are our best works, our most righteous deeds, as Isaiah puts it, like a polluted garment, a filthy rag? Yes we are, and yes they are. We cannot save ourselves, but thanks to Jesus’s sacrifice on our behalf, we are given the promise of sins forgiven and the seal of life everlasting. He is coming soon, my friends. We are nearly there.

    + In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.

  • Maybe?

    See the Weekly Bulletin Maybe? Amos 5:6-15 + Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, ...

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    Amos 5:6-15

    + Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

    The text for our meditation is from our Old Testament lesson, specifically where Amos writes, “Seek good, and not evil that you may live; and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you, as you have said. Hate evil, and love good, and establish justice in the gate; it may be that the Lord, the God of hosts, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.” Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

    “Maybe.” There are few words as frustrating as the lukewarm, so-so, wishy-washy “maybe.” Will you be home for dinner? Maybe. Did you have anything to do with the broken vase? Maybe. Would you like to go out on a date with me? Maybe. When all we want is a clear “Yes” or “No,” maybe can be absolutely infuriating

    “Maybe” can also be downright terrifying. Maybe we’ll have enough money to make payroll. Maybe we’ll work through this rough patch in our marriage. Maybe my loved one will pull through this and live. Uncertainty of this caliber can be torturous. We don’t want to hear maybe. We want certainty, confidence, and assurance – usually that things will work out in our favor  – which is part of the reason why that phrase at the tail-end of our Old Testament text is so unsettling – “it may be that the Lord, the God of hosts, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.”

    But before we talk about that, we need to remember the context of this text. Amos, from the southern kingdom of Judah, has been called by YHWH his God to prophesy to the northern kingdom of Israel, a place that was a paradise for some, but a deathtrap for many others. We see why elsewhere in Amos’s prophecy, as he calls the Israelites to task for their deplorable treatment of their neighbor, especially their neighbor who was in need – the poor, the slave, the weak. He’s prophesying against those who have [sold] the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals—those who trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth and turn aside the way of the afflicted. These are a people who wouldn’t bat an eye when a man and his father [would] go in to the same girl, so that [God’s] holy name is profaned; they lay themselves down beside every altar on garments taken in pledge, and in the house of their God they drink the wine of those who have been fined.

    Where did this appalling behavior come from? These are supposed to be the chosen people! This is supposed to be the nation from whom the Messiah of the world was going to come; how could they treat their neighbor so shamefully? Their behavior was worse than that of the surrounding pagan peoples! Well, the conduct of the rich against the poor was intrinsically tied to their abandonment of true worship of the true God in the northern kingdom. They would worship YHWH, but they would also worship the gods of the peoples surrounding them – Baal, Molech, Asherah, and the like. These gods didn’t say anything like, “You shall not murder” or “You shall not commit adultery.” They didn’t require that their worshippers treat their neighbor as they would like to be treated; instead, they were advocates for egocentrism. Get yours while the getting is good, and to hell with anyone else. These spiritually adulterous people were not living as the people of the one true God ought to live – either in their service (or lack thereof) or in their worship. Their foul living necessitated the sending of prophets, including Amos, to declare to the people that they must repent of their wicked ways, and turn back to serving the one true God, to return to loving their neighbor … or else.

    So Amos, like the other prophets, pleads with the people to do just that! “Seek the Lord and live,” begs the prophet from Tekoa, “lest he break out like fire in the house of Joseph, and it devour, with none to quench it for Bethel, O you who turn justice to wormwood and cast down righteousness to the earth!” Amos is pleading because YHWH is pleading. As God would later speak through the later prophet Ezekiel, “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?” So also YHWH pleads with Israel through Amos, Seek good, and not evil that you may live; and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you, as you have said. Hate evil, and love good, and establish justice in the gate; it may be that the Lord, the God of hosts, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.

    So what kind of “maybe” is this? Is this a hopeful “maybe,” a maybe where someone can read a “yes, it will be so” into the subtext? Or is this a maybe of hopelessness, a maybe that says, “It might happen, but I wouldn’t count on it”? Which one is it? Well, here in this text, I would argue it’s the latter – remember, the people to whom Amos is speaking are stiff-necked. These are the people who look to the likes of Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, for peace and comfort – the same Amaziah who will later say to Amos, “O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, and eat bread there, and prophesy there, but never again prophesy at Bethel ….” These are a people who love their sin and hate being called out on it. These are a people who confess their God with their lips, but their hearts are far from Him. This is a people who have become indistinguishable from the heathens and pagans around them; they were unbelievers. Tragically, their unbelief, their rejection of YHWH’s warnings and pleadings and exhortations, would result in a reckoning and reaping of horrific proportions a few decades later. Israel had, to put it in Pauline terms, made a shipwreck of the faith that YHWH their God had given them, and in 722 BC, they pay the price for their spiritual adultery as Shalmaneser V, king of Assyria, captures Samaria and deports the population of the northern kingdom, scattering them to the four winds. It was a day of darkness, and not of light, a Day of YHWH, as He executed judgment on sin and sinners.

    The “maybe” Amos spoke to Israel was not a “maybe” that God would turn back His wrath. It wasn’t a “maybe” that God would hold back a bit. This “maybe” is a reminder that there is no guarantee of YHWH voiding of His judgment, even if faithless Israel should repent. Any compassion He shows is not the result of Israel’s repentance forcing His hand; no, He shows His compassion to whomever He wills, as He told Moses centuries before, “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.”

    The beautiful reality is that, in a way, Amos’s “maybe” was YHWH being gracious to the remnant of Joseph. After the southern kingdom would likewise be destroyed, the people wouldn’t be completely cut off. Of His mercy, He allowed a portion of His people to survive and be the people from whom the Messiah would come. This is a marvelous reminder for us as well. We are sinners, too – no better than faithless Israel, and certainly meriting God’s righteous indignation and wrath. But there is no “maybe” for us, as we have been given God’s promise that His wrath has been satisfied, that the penalty for our sin was taken by Another. Because of Christ, because of the sacrifice that He made on a far more agonizing Day of YHWH, because of the punishment and pain that He endured in bearing our sins – indeed, in becoming sin, He secured for you and me the promise of eternal life and the pledge of sins forgiven, of atonement made. We need not fear the final Day of YHWH, for we know what awaits us on the other side!

    For those to whom the Holy Spirit has given faith in the waters of Holy Baptism, there is no such thing as “maybe.” In His high priestly prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed to His Father, “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand.” While we are sinners, worthy of condemnation, we can rest safely in the pierced hands of our Savior. He has given us a promise, and He is faithful to bring the work that He started to completion. No, there is no maybe for those who fear and trust the one true God; those who trust in the promises that are given in Christ, there is simply and only, “Amen. Let it be so.


  • The Elephant in the Room

    See the Weekly Bulletin The Elephant in the Room Mark 10:2-16 + Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from o ...

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    The Elephant in the Room
    Mark 10:2-16

    + Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

    The text for our meditation is from our Gospel reading, specifically where Mark records Jesus’s words, “Because of your hardness of heart [Moses] wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”’ Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

    The Pharisees have approached Jesus to trap Him in His words. To do so, they ask Him a question that was  ... uncomfortable – uncomfortable then, uncomfortable now. Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife? Unimpressed by their attempted trap, Jesus flips on them. He asks, What did Moses command you? Now, such a question ought to have been a warning to those stiff-necked Pharisees that, unless they were there, they should really tread lightly, but that’s not what they do. Instead, these teachers of the Law boastfully reply, Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.

    Again, Jesus is less than impressed. He replies, "Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” Jesus is saying, “You – y’all standing in front of Me right now, and the whole of humanity throughout history – because of your hard-heartedness, Moses begrudgingly acquiesced. He allowed it; that doesn’t make divorce a good thing. Quite to the contrary, it is never a good thing. A man and a woman who are joined together in the bonds of holy matrimony are supposed to cleave to each other, not separate. Therefore, anyone who does so … sins!”

    Now apparently, the disciples take some exception to this teaching. You can imagine their sheepishness as they ask Jesus about it; Mark doesn’t even record their words, only that they asked the question. But there’s no wiggle-room in their Rabbi’s reply: Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery. This is a hard text – not because its meaning is obscure or seemingly incoherent to our broken minds. This is a hard text because its message is crystal clear: divorce is sinful, regardless of the circumstances.

    Such a black-and-white declaration coming from our Lord and Savior hits us like a wrecking ball, and not surprisingly, it hurts. It hurts to hear Jesus say this because we know people … we love people who have gone through a divorce. We know how agonizing the process was, and we don’t want to make matters worse. We don’t want to make them feel bad about an already painful situation … so we gloss over it. We ignore it. We excuse it. We cite the divorce rate statistic as if it doing so makes it okay. “That’s life,” we say. “It happens,” we say. “It’s better that they be apart,” we say. We seek all different ways to tip-toe around the hard, cold fact of what Jesus says here in our text: divorce … is … sin. It is contrary to God’s will and purposes for human relationships. It hurts everyone involved – friends, family, (ex) spouses, and especially the children. It is sin because our marriages are meant to reflect Jesus’s relationship with His Bride, the Church, and thanks be to God that Jesus will never leave HIS Bride!

    But why the squeamishness? This is, after all, God’s Word, from Jesus’s own lips, so why are we so afraid to address the elephant in the room? What’s the real reason why pastors are sweating bullets if they dare preach on this text? Why is it that those who do will inevitably catch flak for doing so? Because this is what we do as humans, and I think it’s the real reason why this text makes us so uncomfortable. As fallen human beings, we are experts in mental gymnastics. We explain away and excuse sin. “It’s not wrong, it’s just what happens,” we tell ourselves, and we launch into a defense of why it’s not that bad. After all, we had our reasons! We had pure motives … righteous intentions! THEY just took it the wrong way!

    We do exactly what the Pharisees were doing: trying to find the loophole, trying to weasel our way out. This is what we do. We are professional manipulators, distorters of truth, twisters of reality. Like an animal caught in a trap, we are willing to go to any length to free ourselves from confessing our sin and guilt and shame. Our reaction to Jesus’s words regarding divorce is a litmus test, looking at how we really feel about sin. We want it to be okay. We don’t want to face the reality of sin – our own, or our neighbor’s. We’d rather look for a reason to explain away why we did what we did. But there is no wiggle-room. Jesus gives no berth to skirt around the issue. He calls it what it is, in no uncertain terms: it is sin. It is a raw, throbbing, painful reminder of the brokenness of our world. In this case, God has given us this wonderful gift … a lifelong relationship between a servant-leader and the one who helps and supports him, eliminating loneliness, providing support and satisfaction and direction … and in our sin, we allow it to be torn apart.

    That’s hard to hear, but this is what Jesus does by using His good and perfect Law. He paints the cats into the corner, if you will; He wants to get you to the point where you realize it’s pointless to try and wiggle away. He wants you broken over your sin … so that He can pick you up and start rebuilding. The message of this text is the same as it has been over the last few weeks: we are all sinners. None of us is great … but Jesus is. This entire discourse is intended to point us to the reason why Jesus had to come in the first place: to save us truly hopeless sinners. It’s not surprising that, later in this same chapter, Jesus foretells of His death for the third and final time, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.” All done … to save you … and me … from the right punishment for our sin – yes, including the sin of divorce, and the sin of cohabitation, and sex before marriage, and homosexuality, and abuse  and stealing and gossip and pride and greed and hate and all other manner of wickedness that proceeds from the heart of mortal man. We are sinners, and these are our sins. And the amazing, wonderful news is that it is all forgiven … it is all atoned for … by Jesus’s work on the cross. His righteousness is given to you. No longer does our Father see a manipulator, or adulterer, or hatemonger – He sees His Son, Who has clothed us in His righteousness.

    I know this has probably hit a nerve, that some of you may be quite upset with me. And I get it – the Church, in general, has not done the best job of denouncing divorce in recent years, nor has She done a good job of upholding marriage, and helping husband and wife work through their struggles. And yes, I know that there are situations where divorce is all but inevitable, like instances of abuse or desertion. But we must call a thing what it is. God’s Word is clear: divorce is not a good thing. It is sin. But it is also clear that the broken and contrite heart of a divorcee will not be despised by our merciful and loving God. It is clear that this sin, like all others, is covered by the Blood of the Lamb, who takes away the sin of the world. It is clear that Jesus died for divorcees, as well. In Him, regardless of the sin we commit and confess, we are forgiven. I won’t apologize if you have felt the bitter sting of God’s Law convicting you of your sin. It’s a good thing – it has to hurt if it’s going to heal, so confess it! We are sinners, and we are not excused from our sin … no – far, far better than that, we are forgiven our sins in Christ!

    + In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. + Amen.

  • To the Pain ... and More

    See the Weekly Bulletin To the Pain ... and More Mark 9:38-50 + Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from o ...

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    To the Pain ... and More
    Mark 9:38-50

    + Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

    The text for our meditation is from our Gospel reading, specifically where Jesus tells His disciples, “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire.” Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

    I’ve probably referenced the movie before, but for those of you who have seen The Princess Bride, you will remember a scene toward the end of the movie where Cary Elwes’s character Westley is in the process of rescuing Princess Buttercup from the evil prince that’s trying to marry her. Problem is, he’s unable to move, as he’s still recovering from being “almost dead.” This makes for a bit of suspense when the evil prince charges into the room and draws his sword, challenging Westley to a fight “to the death.” Instead of cowering in terror, Westley, still lying on the bed and unable to move, confidently retorts, “No! To the pain!” Unfamiliar with the phrase, the prince asks him what he means by “to the pain.” Westley explains, “To the pain means the first thing you’ll lose are your feet below the ankles, then your hands at the wrists. Next your nose. The next thing you’ll lose is your left eye, followed by your right!” The prince impatiently quips, “And then my ears! I understand, let’s get on with it!” Westley roars, “WRONG! Your ears you keep, and I’ll tell you why: so that every shriek of every child at seeing your hideousness will be yours to cherish. Every babe that weeps at your approach, every woman who cries out, ‘Dear God, what is that thing?!’ will echo in your perfect ears. THAT is what to the pain means; it means I leave you in anguish, wallowing in freakish misery forever.”

    I thought of this scene quite a bit as I read through our Gospel reading—perhaps a bit odd of a thing to think about, but you can probably see why. Jesus’s words about the temptations to sin seem as gruesome, if not more so, than Westley’s description of “To the pain!” Hear Jesus’s words again:

    “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’”

    That’s pretty graphic, and we might be tempted to think that this was an exaggeration, that Jesus couldn’t possibly have meant that! If He meant it, then that would mean that sin is pretty serious. If He meant it, then we’re in some serious trouble here. After all, Paul tells us in his letter to the Roman Christians that “the wages of sin is death.” Make no mistake, Paul wasn’t speaking in hyperbole. Jesus wasn’t joking. Sin is that serious. It’s serious enough that, if one of your body parts leads you into sinning, that body part should be removed! That man or woman who’s not your spouse that you were gazing at lustfully? That’s an eyeball. The gossip that you spread last Tuesday? Say good-bye to your tongue. The mental gymnastics you do to make yourself look innocent? Well, I guess it’s time for a lobotomy. The hate you feel toward someone, hoping that they would die and burn in hell forever? Better find a cardiologist who’s willing to remove your heart without putting a new one in. Yes, sin is that serious, and when we look at our lives and the sins we commit, our thoughts, words, and deeds in what we’ve done and left undone, it wouldn’t take long before we had no body parts left to remove. We are, all of us, so wholly corrupted, so completely tainted with sin, that there’s not a body part that would remain!

    Over the past few weeks, as we’ve been going through Mark, Jesus’s words have been pointing us to our wholly corrupted nature and thus our truly despondent situation. The truth is, we cannot keep ourselves from sinning, much less keep the perfect mandates and requirements of God’s perfect Law. Any breaking of the law, regardless of the type or scope, is an iniquity which is rightly damning; as we heard a few weeks ago from James, “whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.” By ourselves, we are abjectly without hope, without redemption, without salvation. We deserve to be, as Westley described, left in “anguish, wallowing in freakish misery forever.”

    That’s what we deserve. But before you run off to IU or St. E to ask for a bone-saw or a rib-splitter, stop and think. Yes, it is what you and I deserve, but we no longer have that punishment spoken over us. Why not? Because Someone took it for us. Someone did fight to the pain for us—Isaiah wrote that “His appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and His form beyond that of the children of mankind.” He was made to wallow in misery, but more than that, He was put to death, an agonizing, prolonged, horrific death on a cross. No sacrificed body parts of ours could ever atone for the evil that we commit on a daily basis. Only the death of a sinless one, taking sin into and upon Himself, could do this.

    This is the truth of it. We deserve to be maimed and put to death; but Jesus was marred and killed in our place! We deserve the freakish misery described in The Princess Bride, and worse, but Jesus takes it for you and gives you His righteousness instead! It was done for you; it was done for me. We look at what He did, and we are confronted by, not only the just penalty for our sin, but also the love of a God who cared so much for us, that He was willing to endure this -- the pain, the sorrow, the sin, and the death. How can we help but marvel and ask, “What wondrous love is this, o my soul?”

    The Princess Bride does have a happily ever after, but it does not compare with the one that awaits us! It doesn’t always seem that way -- the world is still broken, our loved ones still die, and we still sin -- but we have the promise from Jesus Himself that He will return to set everything aright! He proved it when He Himself rose from the grave and gave His Word that the same would happen to His children on the Last Day! So we wait, we pray, we live a life of repentance and forgiveness! He who fought to the pain and fought to the death for us is faithful, and His promise will be kept!

    + In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. + Amen.

  • The Greatest of All

    See the Weekly Bulletin The Greatest of All Mark 9:30-37 At this point in the Gospel of Mark, there’s a dramatic change in ...

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    The Greatest of All
    Mark 9:30-37

    At this point in the Gospel of Mark, there’s a dramatic change in focus.  In fact, all the Gospels have this change of focus.  The beginning of the Gospels all focus on the teachings and signs that point to Jesus as the promised Messiah.  These signs and teachings fulfill all the promises that were spoken through the prophets in the Old Testament.  They are witnesses to the multitudes that Jesus is, in fact and truth, the promised Messiah sent from God.

    There comes a point, however, when there is a change in the focus as Jesus begins to prepare His disciples for Good Friday. Over the past few Sundays, we’ve heard that Jesus began to seek solitude so that He could teach His disciples in more private settings.  He spent more time in Gentile territory in order to get away from the crowds.  He still performed the signs and He still proclaimed the Gospel, but His main focus was on preparing the disciples for His upcoming suffering, death, and resurrection. 

    That’s why Jesus went to the areas of Tyre and Sidon, Caesarea Philippi, and the Decapolis.  That’s why today’s reading from Mark begins with the words, “They went on from there and passed through Galilee. And he did not want anyone to know, for he was teaching his disciples” (Mark 9:30–31).

    All four Gospel accounts make it very clear that Jesus prepared His disciples for Good Friday by regularly teaching them about His upcoming passion, the very heart of the Gospel promise.  As we read, He was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise” (Mark 9:31).

    But while Jesus was being very clear, the disciples were just not catching on.  As we read, … they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him (Mark 9:32).  But before we’re too hard on the disciples, remember that no one had ever done this before.  There are accounts in the Old Testament of prophets raising people from the dead.  They had seen Jesus raise people from the dead, but no one had ever come back from the dead by his own power.

    This was totally outside the disciples’ experience and they had experienced a lot.  But we can’t say they didn’t want to understand Jesus, they simply did not have the mental, emotional, or spiritual tools that are needed to understand what Jesus said.  And we, before being made alive in Christ, are no different.

    How much they misunderstood is highlighted by the argument they had among themselves about who was the greatest in the kingdom.  Maybe it was because Jesus only took three of them for the transfiguration, but bottom line it was their own selfishness and pride that was exposed.

    Just think about that.  Jesus was teaching them about the single greatest event in the entire history of the world: salvation for all people secured by His death on the cross.  And they’re arguing about who will take over when He’s gone.  How filled with shame they must have been when Jesus asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” (Mark 9:33).  Jesus used this moment of shame as an opportunity not to punish, but to teach them and us what it means to be a leader in His church.  He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all” (Mark 9:35) .

    You see, in God’s family, the leader serves.  The one who is the highest makes himself the lowest.  The leader in God’s family sacrifices not to get power, but to serve others.

    Then to emphasize His point, He took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me” (Mark 9:36–37).

    So, Jesus lovingly connected the child to Himself and then connected both Himself and the child to our Father in Heaven. That is, to receive or to willingly and lovingly provide for all a child needs is to receive God the Father Almighty.

    The Greek word translated as child implies a child whose age would be somewhere between pre-school and second grade.  At that age children can feed themselves, get dressed, understand simple sentences, and so on, but we are still talking about an age when children need a lot of help just to survive.  This child can do a few things for himself, but for the most part, this child on his own is pretty much helpless. 

    From the time that Adam and Eve sinned until now, people have wanted power and control, at a minimum, over their own lives.  If we look at our other readings for today, we see that each speaks about the problems we have because we always want people to serve us.  In the Old Testament lesson, people want to kill Jeremiah.  In our epistle, James considers the reasons people fight. 

    We’re no different. Our culture praises people who are determined by whatever standard to be the best ... the most beautiful, the strongest, the richest.  Google “List of most powerful people” and you get over 500 million options.  Sooner or later, we all fall to this temptation because the temptation never, on this side of heaven, goes away.  It’s the reason Cain killed Abel, and it’s the reason gunman terrorize our schools.  That means that the things Jesus teaches His disciples are certainly relevant for us today.

    Jesus continued to show service to His disciples and us beginning that very evening.  He served you and me by allowing a band of soldiers to arrest Him so that He could endure a day of torture and shame as He took your sin and mine upon Himself and carried it to a cross and His death.  He served you and me by enduring God’s holy wrath against our sin while He hung on that cross.  He served you and me after His friends laid Him in a tomb by rising from the dead and proclaiming His victory over sin, death, and the power of the Devil.

    Jesus said that the greatest is the servant of all.  And so, He is the greatest because He served the entire world by offering Himself as the payment for all of our sins.  And Jesus still serves us as the Holy Spirit offers us forgiveness through the Gospel … the Gospel we hear in the Absolution and in the preaching of His Word … the Gospel combined with the water of Holy Baptism … the Gospel combined with bread and wine as Jesus Himself enters us one at a time with His forgiveness.

    Jesus, who is the greatest, now serves us who are helpless … helplessly trapped in sin and facing eternal death.  We, who are great in greed, receive the mercy of a Savior who willingly and joyfully serves.  Now that Jesus has served us with the ultimate service, He is able to work through us to serve others.  He gives us the power to share His service with the people in our lives.

    Finally, it is the will of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ to serve us with new, holy bodies that will rise from the dead just as He rose.  On that day of resurrection, we will, in His presence, serve one another in perfect holiness and with such pure joy that the question, “Who is the greatest?” will never need to be asked.

    In His Name, Amen.

  • The Faith That Saves

    See the Weekly Bulletin The Faith That Saves Mark 9:14-29 The words that explain who the “they” in our lesson are beg ...

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    The Faith That Saves
    Mark 9:14-29

    The words that explain who the “they” in our lesson are begin: And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them (Mark 9:2–3). That means that Jesus, along with Peter, James, and John, were just getting back from their time on the Mt. of Transfiguration as our lesson begins. The disciples at the foot of the mountain were the nine apostles who didn’t go with Jesus and were waiting for Him and the others to return. It was while they were waiting that a father brought his son who was being tormented by an evil spirit looking for Jesus to do what He had done for so many others, that is, cast it out.

    Now, if a father came to you with that request, you’d no doubt be more than a little confused, perhaps even dumbstruck. On the other hand, these particular disciples should have been able to help this father and his son. The difference as we read in Mark 3 is Jesus had appointed the twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach and have authority to cast out demons (Mark 3:14–15).  Jesus has not given you or me that authority, at least not in the same measure He gave it to them. And yet, even though the nine had this authority, they still were unable to help the boy.

    There were also spies, if you will, who were waiting for Jesus to show up. You see, by this time in His ministry, the Pharisees and Scribes always had a few of their people keeping an eye on Jesus. When the disciples failed to drive the demon out of the boy, a few of those spies began to argue with the disciples, and that’s when Jesus, Peter, James, and John show up. Jesus asked what the problem was and the father answers, Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able (Mark 9:17–18).

    Jesus makes His disappointment with His apostles very clear: "O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me” (Mark 9:19). The problem is, Jesus had given them all they needed to help this boy, but they didn’t trust His promise.

    When they brought the boy to Jesus, the demon’s response reminds us that every demon knows who Jesus is. When the evil spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. Why? The demon knew, and in a strange way, had faith in Jesus; faith that Jesus was the One who would bring about his eternal punishment.

    The father also had a kind of faith. It’s the kind that shows itself when we think, “I’ve tried everything else, I might as well try Jesus.” Remember his words, "… But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us” (Mark 9:22). The father had enough faith to bring his son to Jesus, but it was the faith of desperation, not of hope or confidence.

    Jesus’s rebuke of the boy’s father is gentler than that of His disciples, but it is still a rebuke as He says, "If you can! All things are possible for one who believes” (Mark 9:23). This father had believed in the past, and everything he had believed in before had failed. He seems to be preparing himself for the inevitable disappointment once again.

    The lack of faith seen in the disciples and the father represent the two possibilities for the faith that comes by human power. The disciples had faith in past success. The father had faith in past failures. The disciples had driven out demons in the past, but now they couldn’t. Like many who have had success, they begin to believe that success is the result of their own skill and ability. The disciples had begun to rely on what they think is their own power instead of power of God’s Word and promise. Like many who experience God’s blessing, with time they began to forget about the giver of the blessing. The father had, in the past, found no one was able to heal his son. When he asked for help, the disappointments of the past came through. He said, “But if you can do anything ….” The world had disappointed him so many times that he expected disappointment once again.

    The struggles that the disciples and the father had with faith remind us that the war with satan, the world, and our own flesh never ends. Alone or together they work to convince us that we are responsible for our faith … that our relationship with Jesus depends on us. A lie which Paul says, "… itching ears want to hear."

    The idea that any part of salvation, including our faith, depends on us usually produces one of two reactions … self-deception or despair. Despair asks questions like: “Is my faith really strong enough?” or “Do I even really believe?” Self-deception, on the other hand, simply refuses to think about all these problems and is content to go merrily along in ignorance.

    The truth is, if our faith really did depend on us, we would never have faith. As Paul reminds us in Ephesians 2, we were dead in our trespasses and sins. And dead people don’t do anything including working faith in our hearts. To the Romans, Paul wrote, The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God …. And so, not only is it impossible for anyone to produce faith within themselves, but the person without faith is hostile to God, and that’s true whether we know it or not.

    The only way out of this is for the Holy Spirit to put our old sinful nature to death. When Jesus drove the unclean spirit out of the boy, He said, “You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” And after crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, “He is dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose” (Mark 9:25–27). The corpse-like appearance of the boy reminds us that the Old Adam within us must die. Then, just as Jesus took the boy by the hand and raised him, so the Holy Spirit brings forth new life within us.

    The faith that the Holy Spirit creates is saving faith in Jesus alone … the same Jesus who drove the demon from the boy in today’s reading. Just as Jesus was the only solution for the demon-possessed boy, so also Jesus is the only solution for you and me. Jesus doesn’t ask us to pay the debt for sin that we owe. Instead, He pays the price for us. Jesus alone overcame sin with His suffering and death and then conquered death by rising from the grave, and since that day, Jesus has freely offered the cure for sin to all mankind through His Word and Sacraments.

    That brings us to the post rebuke prayer of the father: I believe; help my unbelief! (Mark 9:24) When Christians pray this prayer, we confess that our faith is weak and we can do nothing to maintain it, let alone strengthen it. We are crying out to God in helplessness and begging Him to keep us in the one, true faith until He comes to take us home to be with Him in heaven forever.

    You see, it is the work of the Holy Spirit to create in us saving faith, the faith that holds to or trusts God’s grace alone, the faith that holds to or trusts in the One who alone is the way, the truth, and the life.

    The faith that comes from within us will fail. The faith that comes from the world will fail. It is through the faith that comes from God the Holy Spirit alone that we receive freely from our Heavenly Father: forgiveness, life, and the fullness of our salvation, all because of the life and death of Jesus, His only begotten Son and our only Savior for sin.

    In His Name, Amen

  • 2KR

    See the Weekly Bulletin 2KR James 2:1-10, 14-18 + Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Sa ...

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    James 2:1-10, 14-18

    + Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

    The text for our meditation is from our epistle lesson, where James writes, What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

    If you were squirming in your seat a little right then as I was reading that passage, it’s not that surprising. The epistle of James, in general, is a tough nut to crack, especially as Lutherans who have been steeped, raised and fed on Pauline theology. We’re more used to those great words from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians: For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. That’s what we’re used to hearing, and the apparent contrast between these two words from Scripture is grating, perhaps even cringe-worthy or laughable. One might even be tempted to think that these words … contradict.

    Well, if they do contradict, then we’re in a bit of trouble here! We would have only a few options. We could be like the higher critics of Scripture, who say that the books of Scripture are uninspired, simply written by mortal man, so of course there are going to be contradictions! … Well, no, we believe in the inerrancy of the Scriptures, that each word is inspired – God-breathed – so frankly, that option is off the table. Maybe we can do what the ancient Ebionites did, and scrap all of Paul’s words! That would make the apparent contradictions go away, right? Pfth…asking a Lutheran to give up Pauline theology is like asking a fish to give up swimming. We can’t lose a word of Paul’s letters! They are vital for the Christian faith! Well, okay, maybe we can jettison James, like Luther wanted to – yes, Luther did not like James, calling it an “epistle of straw” and wanting it taken out of the canon! That would certainly remove any apparent disagreement, but tempting as that may be, consider the words you heard and spoke in response to the reading from James’s epistle: “This is the Word of the Lord; thanks be to God.” Like it or not, Luther’s distaste for this epistle does not invalidate its standing as part of the canon of Scripture! We cannot lose this letter, either! It is the Word of God! So, what are we to do?

    There’s another path altogether that we must take. These words … do not contradict, but of course, the question becomes … how are they in agreement? How do we hold texts like Ephesians 2, with its talk of salvation by grace through faith, and James 2, which boldly proclaims that faith without works is dead, to both be true? Oddly enough, Luther gives us the answer, in a sermon he preached in 1518 called, “The Two Kinds of Righteousness.” I won’t read the entire thing, but I will read a snippet. Hear his words:

    “There are two kinds of Christian righteousness, just as man’s sin is of two kinds. The first is alien righteousness – that is, the righteousness of another, instilled from without. This is the righteousness of Christ by which he justifies through faith … Through faith in Christ, therefore, Christ’s righteousness becomes our righteousness and all that he has becomes ours; rather, he himself becomes ours. … Therefore this alien righteousness, instilled in us without our works by grace alone—while the Father, to be sure, inwardly draws us to Christ—is set opposite original sin, likewise alien, which we acquire without our works by birth alone.

    “The second kind of righteousness is our proper righteousness, not because we alone work it, but because we work with that first and alien righteousness. This is that manner of life spent profitably in good works – in the first place, in slaying the flesh and crucifying the desires with respect to the self, of which we read in Gal. 5, “And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” In the second place, this righteousness consists in love to one’s neighbor, and in the third place, in meekness and fear towards God. … This righteousness is the product of the righteousness of the first type – actually,.its fruit and consequence.”

    Today, we call this doctrine, not surprisingly, “two kinds of righteousness,” or 2KR for short. As Luther said, we Christians are righteous twice. First, in our relationship with God, we are righteous entirely without works. It is something we simply receive, passively, purely by God’s grace for the sake of Christ. It is His gift to us, not earned, but given. When the Father sees us, He sees only His perfect and righteous Son, Jesus. This is the reality we see in Ephesians 2, Titus 3, basically the entirety of Paul’s letters to the Romans and Galatians – we are justified, saved, solely by God’s grace. He does it all, and we cannot do anything to earn it! By His grace, your sins are forgiven for the sake of Christ and you are declared righteous! This is our vertical righteousness, if you will, because it flows down from God to us, and it is one-way only!

    However, we are also righteous in our relationship with the rest of this world – with our neighbor, in our vocation and service to others. This is what Luther calls our “proper” righteousness. We call it our horizontal righteousness, because it flows out from us to the rest of creation, and this righteousness … is entirely active! We don’t just sit back and allow our neighbor to suffer in wanton squalor; we are called by God to do something about it! We are called to serve them, just as Christ has served us! We love because He first loved us! We don’t do it to earn our salvation – that’s already been accomplished! Rather, we do it because our neighbor needs our service! We cannot sit by and be passive; we simply must act!

    Apparently, those who James calls his “brothers” were failing in this regard; thus, his reason for writing them! They weren’t serving their neighbor faithfully; instead, they were showing partiality, favor, to some and not others. This is likely only one of their collective transgressions, but James is pointing out to these Christians – who had supposedly heard and believed the Gospel – that they were living as though they were not Christians at all! It is true that after baptism, we still sin – we are saints, redeemed by God, and yet are still sinners – but from the sounds of James’s writing, these “brothers” were undisturbed by their sin. Their actions did not reflect the faith which they supposedly held.

    What James is writing here is not a prescription to be saved (as some of our heterodox Christian brothers and sisters may believe). Hear it more as a warning! So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. If you are saying “I believe that Jesus’s crucifixion has atoned for all my sin” and yet you go about happily engaging in blatantly sinful behavior, be warned! You may be making a shipwreck of your faith, and your faith may be … dead! As Paul writes, Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? The Christian doesn’t stop sinning, but neither does he take joy in his sin! He hates it! He despises it! Is this you? Do you despise your sin … or revel in it? Do you beat your own chest and say, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner,” or do you say, “Father, thank You for not making me like those sinners there?” If the latter, be warned – your faith may be dead.

    Now some of you may live in terror because you do not see yourself doing good works. Perhaps you are thinking more along the lines of what Matthew wrote of certain Christians when they ask Jesus on the Last Day, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?” Let me assure you: if you’re worried about it, you have faith, and since you have faith, you can be sure that there are works being done through you, whether you see them or not! Those who have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb cannot help but serve their neighbor! It is God’s grace flowing down into you, and out through you, as you serve your neighbor. It is just something that we do as Christians – not in and of ourselves, but by the Spirit of the Living God Who dwells within us! While we may not see it, we will trust in the many promises given to us by our crucified and resurrected Lord Jesus, including that promise that He will say to those He has saved, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

    If you’re like me, you have no delusions of grandeur. I do my best to serve my neighbor, but I know that I fail miserably on a daily basis. I’m sure you do, too. But that is the Christian life – it’s lived in this tension of Law and Gospel, of two kinds of righteousness, of our state as Christians being simultaneously saint and sinner. We serve our neighbor, we fail to do so perfectly, we remember that we are claimed and redeemed to God by Christ Jesus, and we get up the next day to try again! We will do this until our Lord Jesus calls us to rest, or until the blessed Day when He returns! So take heart, my brothers and sisters – while we may not serve our neighbor perfectly, our perfect Lord Jesus has served you perfectly! Because of Him, you are forgiven; now go and serve!

    + In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.

  • The Traitor Within

    See the Weekly Bulletin The Traitor Within Mark 7:14-23 In 1977, George Lucas released the first Star Wars movie. In the Star War ...

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    The Traitor Within
    Mark 7:14-23

    In 1977, George Lucas released the first Star Wars movie. In the Star War series, one of the plot devices was something called “The Force.” People who were strong in “The Force” were basically wizards. They could anticipate other people’s actions, move objects with their minds, control other people’s thoughts, and so on. Using “The Force” required a great deal of training and skill.

    Proper control of “The Force” depended a lot on feelings. The trainers were constantly telling the learners to search their feelings … trust their feelings … feel, don’t think … trust your instincts etc. Eventually, the main character learned to trust his feelings … control “The Force” … win the day … and become a hero.

    Now all this trusting in instincts and feelings certainly makes for popular movies. Unfortunately, there are people who believe that trusting your feelings and instincts can work in real life; that if you just listen to your heart, it will lead you in the way you should go.

    Jesus, however, teaches the exact opposite. He says, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (Mark 7:20–23).

    It’s in the book of Judges that we find accounts of some of the darkest, most immoral days of Israel. Cruelty, obscenity, and hardness of heart all reach their deepest depths in this book. The book of Judges ends with these words of judgment, “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25). Some of the ugliest, most horrible things described in the Bible were considered “right” at that time because people judged by what was right in their own eyes. And that is just another way of saying that they were following their hearts.

    If we take a few moments to think about it, common sense will tell you it really is dangerous to trust our feelings as a guide to ultimate truth in this life. I mean, do you feel the same way about everything every day? If your feelings can change on any given day, does that mean that truth changes as quickly?

    What about other peoples’ feelings? If you interview a hundred people on any given topic, the odds are better than pretty good that you’ll get at least four or five different opinions. If you interview those same hundred people a year later, many of them won’t agree with the answer they gave the year before. If that’s true, and I believe you know it is, do you really want to stake your eternal life on a feeling that you have … a feeling that more than likely will change over time?

    This idea is a real problem, not just in the world today, but also in the church. Many in the church base their ideas of right and wrong on God’s Word looked at through a lens of human feelings we think of as wisdom. They don’t ask, “Is this the right thing to do?” Instead, they ask, “Is this right for me?” “Does this make me happy?” Hey, we all know God wants you to be happy, so you should focus on what makes you feel good … at least today.

    On the other hand, never looking to be popular, Jesus says, “… evil things come from within ….” In the book of Genesis, we read, “… For the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth,” and in Jeremiah, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). And yet, human wisdom would have you believe that there’s a little good in everyone, or people are basically good. Perhaps that is true when we compare ourselves with each other, but the Scriptures teach and life confirms that mankind is evil to the core. This is one of those teaching that frightens me, because I also have to fight against it every day, and I’d be lying if I said I won every battle.

    The truth is, while we live in this sin-filled world, we carry around inside of us a traitor that is the old Adam, our sinful nature. As long as we breathe, Jesus says that deep down in our hearts there is nothing good, only the source of all the evil we still find in our lives. Jesus, who loved you and me enough to die for us, says that we can’t trust our hearts for truth or justice or even good, that our hearts have been corrupted by the traitor within.

    But the worst thing about the rot of sin within us is that we can’t do anything about it. Every righteous deed we try to do … every pure thought we try to have is polluted by the evil that is within us. We simply cannot help ourselves because our own heart betrays us and works tirelessly to separate us from the love of God in Christ. As Paul says, and I know can only echo, “What a wretched man I am.” What hope do we have against such a traitor? We would be lost forever unless delivered from sin, death, and everlasting condemnation by a salvation that comes from outside of us. And so, we pray: God have mercy on us, your sinful children.

    But, my friends, take heart for God in His grace and mercy has already answered our prayer by sending His Son Jesus into the world to take on our human flesh. Jesus, the Son of God, conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary was without the sin of Adam, that is He was born with a clean heart. He experienced all the temptations we experience, yet He never sinned. In fact, what He did was add to His perfect life all the sin of all our hearts and He carried them to the cross. Hanging on the cross, Jesus paid the price that God’s justice demanded for all sin, that is the blood of one without sin. And we know that He paid the price in full because the grave could not hold Him. His resurrection from the dead proves that God is now ready to create, as we pray in Divine worship 3, a clean heart within each of us.

    But to create a clean heart God must first put our old sinful hearts to death. As the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to ask, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” And, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). And again, “If we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him” (Romans 6:8). The Holy Spirit puts to death our hearts of sin and creates a new and clean heart within us; that is, a heart of faith that trusts God’s Word of Forgiveness.

    And yet we still live in a sinful world. We still have a sinful nature. Temptations still attack us from inside and out. We still often lend a hand to satan in our own defeats. That’s when our new hearts convict us with the Law, just like they should, and drive us back to the cross for mercy and forgiveness.

    There we again and again confess our sins, and confidently, through God’s Word of absolution, receive forgiveness for them all. This is how God keeps our new hearts clean until He brings us out of this world of sin to be with Him in the joys of paradise forever.

    Each and every one of us was born with a heart that loved sin and hated God, a heart that could not be trusted to guide us in the truth. Mercifully through our baptisms, God has given us new hearts – hearts that, even when battling the traitor within, hold to Christ and through Him are credited with fearing, loving and trusting our gracious and merciful God above all things.

    In Jesus’s Name, Amen.

  • Idol Walls

    See the Weekly Bulletin Idol Walls Mark 7:1-13 + Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Sav ...

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    Idol Walls
    Mark 7:1-13

    + Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

    The text for our meditation is from our Gospel text, specifically where Jesus tells the Pharisees and those with them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” Here ends our text; dear Christian friends …

    Contrary to what you may have seen in Indiana Jones, sometimes the most exciting thing an archaeologist can find on a dig is a wall. That may not seem all that exciting to you or me, but discovering a wall is a pretty big deal! You may have found the outskirts of a city or the inner structure of a house or a palace. If you find graffiti, writing, or other artwork, you could be looking at a temple. It could be a treasury, a tomb, or an armory that you would have just started to uncover. See? Walls can be pretty exciting! And you see them everywhere in archaeology, for good reason: in the ancient world, walls meant everything. They meant security; if you needed something to be protected, you built a wall around it – sometimes, multiple walls, if you had something of high value, like a king or a treasury. The idea was, the more obstacles and distance you could put between what you’re trying to protect and those outside who are trying to get in, the better.

    It makes sense, doesn’t it? Apparently, this concept extended beyond security and defense, because the ancient Jews had done the same thing – theologically speaking. They had built walls around what was one of the most important aspects of Jewish life: the Law of God. Only, we’re not talking strictly about the Ten Commandments. There was a belief among the Jews of Jesus’s time that, in addition to the written Torah that was given to Moses on Mt. Sinai, God also gave him what was referred to as the oral Torah, rules and laws that were never written down, but were passed down by word of mouth from generation to generation. These rules and laws, while not written down until well after Jesus’s death, resurrection, and ascension, were nevertheless binding on all Jews as authoritative, on the same level as the written Torah. The traditions of the elders that the Pharisees speak of in our Gospel lesson come from this tradition.

    Mark tells us that these same Pharisees come out to see Jesus, along with some of the scribes, and they notice something: some of Jesus’s disciples are not following these rules and laws. Specifically, they are eating with hands that haven’t been washed – the general rule of thumb was that one would have to scrub their forearms (from the elbow to the knuckles) with water to wash away any uncleanness before eating, lest you ingest anything unclean. Some of Jesus’s disciples … have not done this. The Pharisees and scribes see this behavior, and they ask Jesus about it. “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” From our perspective, it seems a bit odd to make a federal case of this; obviously, they didn’t know about germs and were thus not concerned about hygiene, certainly not the way we tend to be. So, what was their beef?

    Well, the issue comes from a historic sense of caution and even fear, and this is where the walls-within-walls idea comes into play. The Pharisees and scribes knew that their ancestors had transgressed God’s law, and God had punished them for it throughout their history. It seems they were concerned that they were going to transgress God’s law once again, and that God would, once again, punish them for it as He had before. So they put up walls, rules, and regulations for daily life that wouldn’t permit you to get anywhere close to transgressing God’s law. For example, to protect the Second Commandment, against using God’s Name in vain, the people stopped saying it altogether. Instead of speaking God’s name “Yahweh,” even when reading the Scriptures, they would instead say “Adonai,” for fear of misusing the holy Name. They did this for all the commandments, in relation to both the written and oral Torah. They tried to build up these walls around the commandment to keep themselves from crossing that line, because if you keep the rule, you keep the commandment, and if you keep the commandment, you’re safe. More than that, you’re saved.

    Which, of course, misses the point of the law entirely, as Jesus points out. In regard to the question they pose, He doesn’t even dignify it with an answer. Instead, in the typical snarky fashion found in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus calls them out on their hypocrisy: Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men. They had turned their striving after the perfect keeping the law … into a god. Their walls of protection around the law – indeed, their keeping of the law itself … had become an idol.

    This is what every other religion in the world does – you get to God by toeing the line and being good enough, and yes, even we Lutherans are not impervious to this sinful inclination. Lest we be tempted to nod in agreement, thinking, “Yeah, You tell ‘em, Jesus!” … we need to remember that this is something that we all do. In his Large Catechism, Luther explains regarding the First Commandment, that having a god is having something that you fear, love, and trust in the most. In spite of the theology which we confess, it is all too easy to allow anything to become a god in our lives, and fearing, loving, and trusting our ability to keep God’s law for our salvation is a temptation we all know. Worse, like the Pharisees, we set up silly, arbitrary rules and regulations for ourselves, lowering the impossibly high standard that the Ten Commandments require of us, and when we keep those rules, then we feel really good about ourselves, and think we’re good with God because of it. “I don’t drink, smoke, gamble, get tattoos and piercings. I give to the homeless, work hard at my job, help the little old lady up the street – man, I’m sittin’ pretty good with the Almighty!”

    Like the Pharisees and scribes, we miss the point entirely. The law has three uses – curb, mirror, and guide. It cannot save us; in fact, in terms of salvation, it can only kill us. The traditions that the people of Israel followed, the rules and laws that we set up for ourselves, cannot save us! The true Law of God shows us how we are to treat our neighbor … how we are to love our God … and how miserably and epically we fail in our efforts! No matter how many walls we put up to stop ourselves from breaking the commandments, we will blast through them – happily, joyfully, because we are sinners. If our salvation depends upon our keeping of the commandments, then we’re all doomed and damned … and that’s the point!

    If it were possible for Man to keep these commandments perfectly, the Father would have had no need to send the Son … but He did! Yes, we would be damned if our salvation depended on our effort, but thanks be to God that Jesus was damned for us! The only One Who ever actually kept the commandments perfectly … died the death that we deserve! That’s Jesus’s whole point as He’s speaking with the Pharisees; by focusing on the law of God, not to mention the worthless traditions of the elders, they had lost sight of that which is infinitely more valuable: the promises of God.

    For them, it was the promise that the Messiah would come – indeed, that He had come, and was standing before them. For us, it’s that the Messiah has come. It’s the promise that, because of His sacrifice on the cross, putting sin to death in Himself, we stand justified before our heavenly Father. It’s the promise that, in the same way that He left, He will come back, and restore this broken world! THAT’S where our focus should be – not on walls and laws, as if they could save us, but on the cross of Christ Jesus, where our sins (including our idolatry) is removed from us as far as the east is from the west! That is the ONLY place where we can place any hope of being justified before Almighty God!

    We don’t need walls, my friends. They don’t do us any good anyway; we cannot save ourselves by means of our keeping of laws and rules and regulations. Worse still, when we think we can, we make those walls into idols, when the real remedy is … so simple! Instead of trusting in the traditions of the elders, in the rules we make up for ourselves … we simply trust in God’s promise! Jesus’s sacrifice wipes you clean of your sin! Because of Him, the Father shows His grace to you! When Jesus returns, you will be with Him forever! No walls can separate you from THOSE promises!

    + In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.

  • It's All About the Sacrifice

    See the Weekly Bulletin It’s All About the Sacrifice John 6:51-69 Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night when He was betrayed, ...

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    It’s All About the Sacrifice
    John 6:51-69

    Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night when He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is My body, which is given for you.  This do in remembrance of Me.”  In the same way also He took the cup after supper, and when He had given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you; this cup is the New Testament in My blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.  This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”

    These words are very familiar to us.  They’re words of promise that, when used according to Christ’s command, unite His body and blood in, with, and under the bread and wine of Holy Communion.  We’re used to the idea that in this sacrament we literally eat Christ’s body and drink His blood, that this is a Means of Grace, that is, one of the ways the Lord has promised to deliver forgiveness of sins.

    The thing is, while we know these words, at that time Jesus spoke them, He hadn’t yet instituted His Holy Supper.  In fact, what these people knew were the words from the Torah in the book of Leviticus where we read: If any one of the house of Israel or of the strangers who sojourn among them eats any blood, I will set my face against that person who eats blood and will cut him off from among his people.  For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life.  Therefore I have said to the people of Israel, No person among you shall eat blood, neither shall any stranger who sojourns among you eat blood.

    So, when Jesus says, Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.  It sounds to them as though Jesus is promoting a teaching not just contrary to God’s Word, but defying God with what sounds like some kind of cannibalism.  So, what does this mean?

    To better understand what Jesus is saying, we need to go back three weeks to the beginning of John 6 where we hear about Jesus and the five loaves.  The main point of that lesson and, really, this chapter is as Jesus said, The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.  Each week since, Jesus has expanded on that teaching until we come to today.

    Now if we consider today’s reading in isolation, honestly it will always be a mystery.  On the other hand, if we look at the whole chapter, we come across (for example) these words from last week's Gospel reading: Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”  It’s with this definition that we learn when Jesus speaks, again in this pre-communion sermon, about eating and drinking,  He’s talking about coming to Him and believing in Him.  That is, Jesus is speaking about the work of the Holy Spirit who “… has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.”

    Believing Scriptures means we believe that Jesus lived and died in our place; that He has saved us from the punishment we deserve and gives us eternal life.  It means we believe that Jesus is not just a man teaching at Capernaum, but that He is our God and Savior, which is exactly what Jesus preached.

    You see, at that time and place, bread was such a critical part of every meal that the word bread was often used to mean all the food on your plate.  We still talk about getting together to break bread, understanding that there will be more than bread on the menu.  So, when Jesus says that He is the living bread that came down from heaven, He’s saying that just as our bodies get all they need for life from what we eat, so our souls gets all they need for eternal life from Him.

    From there Jesus goes on to teach about the mystery of our salvation, that is, what makes this living Bread from Heaven so valuable.  You see, while Jesus is the Bread of Life, His value is not found in His title, but in the sacrifice of Himself for the sins of the world.  And so, it is as the Holy Spirit brings us to faith that we begin to see and believe that Jesus doesn’t just give life, He is life.  That He alone is our salvation.

    It’s in the last section of Jesus’s sermon that He begins to expand on the idea that He will give His flesh for the life of the world.  Jesus said to them, Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.  Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.  For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.  Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. 

    Three times Jesus speaks about eating His flesh and drinking His blood.  Again, He says that His flesh is real food and His blood is real drink.  And finally, He says this eating and drinking is eternal life.

    So Jesus began to paint a picture of the price He’ll pay for our salvation.  Again, when Jesus speaks of eating His flesh, He is telling that pre-Maundy Thursday crowd that He will sacrifice His body and offer His blood for them and that they are to believe in Him because of that sacrifice.  He’s teaching that this eating and drinking both point to the same thing, that is, the sacrifice of Himself on the cross for the sins of the world.  He’s teaching that all who believe in Him will take part in a blessed resurrection into eternal life.

    But, this teaching runs counter to everything anyone has ever experienced in life, which is why Jesus said earlier that no one can come to Me unless the Father who sent me draws him.  Without God’s miracle of conversion, we simply cannot believe Jesus’s words. 

    Look at how those who rejected Jesus that day respond.  The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”  They also said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?”  Finally, many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.  That is, they rejected Jesus, His message, and His gift of salvation. 

    My friends, the body and blood of Jesus are still stumbling blocks for many today, but it is there that God reveals His true essence as He takes on human flesh and pours out His blood on the cross as the payment demanded for sin, all sin.  It’s there that we see an expression of the innermost being of God … that is, we see pure love.  Still, there are many who bear the name Christian who are offended and reject this teaching about Christ’s body and blood, but that too is nothing new.

    Jesus asked the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” 

    All four Gospels tell us that, as time went on, Jesus’s followers became fewer and fewer.  At the end, one of the Twelve betrayed Him and the rest deserted Him.  Finally, He was forsaken by His heavenly Father, leaving Jesus to take our sin and its punishment completely alone.  That’s the price Jesus paid for you and for me.

    Jesus’s hanging on the cross as His life’s blood is poured out is what has freed us from sin and eternal death.  Those who eat His body and drink His blood - that is, those who believe in this crucified Lord and Savior, will join Him in His resurrection on the Last Day.  Until then, as He will later teach, He has left us a Holy Meal and a place at His table where believers can literally eat and drink His body and blood for the strengthening of our faith and the forgiveness of all our sins. 

    In His Name, Amen.

  • Bread for the Journey

    See the Weekly Bulletin Bread for the Journey 1 Kings 19:1-8 + Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from ou ...

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    Bread for the Journey
    1 Kings 19:1-8

    + Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

    The text for our meditation is from the Old Testament, specifically where we hear of Elijah beg of God, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” And he lay down and slept under a broom tree. And behold, an angel touched him and said to him, “Arise and eat.” And he looked, and behold, there was at his head a cake baked on hot stones and a jar of water. And he ate and drank and lay down again. And the angel of the Lord came again a second time and touched him and said, “Arise and eat, for the journey is too great for you.” Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

    How did it come … to this? How did Elijah get to this point in his life, where he’s asking, begging his God YHWH to take his life? It doesn’t make much sense. Yes, Jezebel had made a threat against him, but it wasn’t like he hadn’t been threatened before. Elijah had practically lived most of his life in the valley of the shadow of death! But Jezebel’s threat, in the wake of the prophet’s victory over and execution of the 450 prophets of Ba’al on Mt. Carmel seems to have been the last straw. Something about her threat seems to have shaken Elijah to his very core, and now, he wants to die – not by her evil hand, but by the hand of YHWH. He cries out in despair, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” Is he confessing his own sin and weakness? Is he lamenting his cowardice, as many people believe? Is he bemoaning is own faithlessness, not trusting his God to protect him from that wicked woman? It’s certainly possible; Elijah is a fallen, sinful human creature just like us. But is there more to this?

    Elijah is first introduced in chapter 17, and there he is described as a “Tishbite.” Our English translation goes on to say that he was from “Tishbe in Gilead,” but the word there isn’t the name of a place; it’s a description of a people. A better translation would be that Elijah was a Tishbite “from among the sojourners in Gilead.” It seems that the author of 1 Kings is wanting you, the reader, the hearer to know that, from his introduction, Elijah is known as a displaced person living among a displaced people. That seems to be the story of his life, in fact! Elijah didn’t have a place to call home; he was always on the run from someone. He starts by hiding out near the brook Cherith, then running clear up to Sidon to hide out with the widow of Zarephath. Now we’re here, and again, Elijah is on the run, fleeing from Jezebel, running way down south to Beersheeba, where he leaves his servant, and keeps on running into the wilderness. Still sojourning. Still journeying. Still passing through life and land. That’s the context of Elijah’s prayer, his cry for God to kill him. Even after all God had done through and for him, after all God’s steadfast faithfulness, evil still seemed to have the upper hand, and it didn’t seem like things were going to improve any time soon. So he cries out as he does, begging the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to end his misery, his running, his sojourning.

    The sojourning life is no picnic; while bands like Metallica may take pride in being a “rover, wanderer, nomad, vagabond – call me what you will,” there’s nothing pleasant or romantic about journeying through life without having a place where you belong; without having a place to lay your head and rest. There is no joy in being hounded by enemies from without and from within as you run for your life. It’s a miserable existence to be constantly journeying, yet never reaching home … isn’t it?

    As strangers in a strange land, we aren’t unsympathetic with Elijah’s plight. Knowing what we do about the broken nature of our fallen universe, knowing what we do about our own sinful nature, knowing as we do that man is by nature spiritually blind, dead, and an enemy of God and God’s people, we find ourselves constantly in a state of warfare, from without and from within. Look me in the eye and tell me honestly that you have never echoed Elijah’s cry. “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” While I’m not proud of it, I can say that I have had those moments. Life is hard, yet in our insanity and stupidity, we often think we can go it alone. We can’t. The journey is long, the path is difficult, and we haven’t got anything to make it alone. We, Will. Not. Make it, left to ourselves.

    Elijah certainly would not have made it. That’s why, in His mercy, his God YHWH provided for Elijah all that he needed to get where he needed to be. An angel of the Lord arrives with food and drink to revitalize the undoubtedly exhausted prophet. He partakes, but lies down again, and again, the angel comes, with more sustenance in tow, telling Elijah, “Arise and eat, for the journey is too great for you.” Far from giving Elijah what he desired in his prayer – his death – God does what He has always done for His beloved creation: He provides. He provides for Elijah in body and spirit, to strengthen him for what lies ahead – not promising reprieve, nor the nearness of journey’s end, but we are told that Elijah went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mount of God, and carried on with the work he was given to do.

    That should sound very familiar. You hear something like it in one of our post-Communion collects: “We give thanks to You, Almighty God, that You have refreshed through this salutary, this helpful, this wonderful gift, and we ask You that, of Your mercy, You would strengthen us through the same, that same gift, in faith toward You and in fervent love toward one another.” Yes, the Lord our God provides for our daily need – we confess it in the First Article of the Apostles Creed, as we believe that God provides for us food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all that we have. More than this, however, is how God has provided for us an everlasting food that will not spoil or rot away, a food that lasts to eternity and strengthens us for this life’s journey.

    Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” Christ’s very body and blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins, in, under, and with bread and wine, that is food which sustains you through the valley of the shadow of death to life everlasting! It’s the only food that provides this blessed assurance that you are literally tasting heaven, literally partaking of Jesus’s eternal life, here in this veil of tears, and there in eternity!

    This food, this faith which God has so graciously given to us, sustains us. It is enough; YHWH’s grace and mercy is sufficient for us. It’s food for our sojourning, and strength for the journey! Like Elijah, we may be strangers here in this strange land, but we are not alone, and YHWH our God has given us all that we need for this journey, now and into eternity!

    + In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.

  • The Story Continues

    See the Weekly Bulletin The Story Continues John 6:22-35 With today’s reading, John picks up the account of the feeding of ...

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    The Story Continues
    John 6:22-35

    With today’s reading, John picks up the account of the feeding of 5000 where Mark concludes. John tells us that the next day the crowd Jesus had been with realize neither He nor His disciples were there, and that only one boat had left, and Jesus wasn’t in it. Next, we learn that when some other boats come along, they get in and go to Capernaum to look for Jesus. Then we read, “When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, ‘Rabbi, when did you come here?’” (John 6:25) Which seems like a fairly innocent question.

    But Jesus sees the heart. He understood the motive and answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal” (John 6:26–27). Jesus knew that they did not understand that He came to give eternal life, not just a free meal.

    The Q and A session they have with Jesus shows that they just don’t get it. In fact, they ask a question that shows not just a lack of understanding, but their unbelief. “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” (John 6:30-31)

    It’s almost mind numbing. Jesus has been healing the sick, curing the lame, causing the deaf to hear and the blind to see. He’s been casting out demons and raising the dead. These very people had eaten bread and fish multiplied from His hand just yesterday … and they ask for a sign. My friends, our sinful nature is never satisfied. You and I will always ask for and look for more signs.

    Not much has changed down through the centuries. We might not believe in Jesus for free food, but have you listened to any T.V. lately? Here are just a few of the quotes I found online: “Obedience to God is the pathway to the life you really want to live” (Joyce Meyer), “… God wants all Christians prosperous” (Benny Hinn), or “Poverty is caused by sin and disobeying the word of God” (John Hagee). These are but three of the popular T.V. preachers who teach that worldly wealth and success is the reward for those who obey God.

    These very popular people teach that if you do your part, God will give you what you want. The Bible, on the other hand, teaches that we can do nothing. But, God, in His grace, freely gives us, not what we want, but what we need. These teachers make promises for life here and now, and when their promises fail, they blame your weak faith. God, on the other hand, makes eternal promises, and His promises never fail.

    If these teachers mislead and their promises fail so often, why are they all so wealthy? Why do they fly in private planes and ride in limousines? Why do they live in mansions? It’s simple, these preachers of their own ideas are wealthy because the sinful nature is never satisfied with the simplicity of God’s perfect gifts. Adam and Eve were not satisfied, the Israelites in our Old Testament reading were not satisfied, and the people in today’s Gospel lesson were not satisfied. The Scriptures are full of people who were not satisfied with God’s promise to them.

    What about you? God has promised to care for you and provide all you need. He has promised eternal salvation through His Son Jesus Christ. He has opened up rivers of forgiveness in word, water, bread, and wine. So, are God’s promises enough for you? Lord, forgive us, but I know there are times that I want more and so do you.

    Think about it. We all know and freely confess that we deserve to suffer the eternal flames of hell. And yet, God sent His Son to take hell into Himself as He hung on a cross. God mercifully credits His own righteousness to you. You and I have eternal life for one reason: the perfect life, suffering, and death of Jesus Christ! The sign we were given to confirm that truth is the bodily resurrection of that very same Jesus Christ!

    Still, faithful pastors hear things like: “Can you do something to make your message a little more relevant? Maybe a little more upbeat? You see … the eternal Father sent His Son to suffer our punishment on the cross so that we can have eternal life, and yet many aren’t satisfied! We want what we want instead of what God wants to give us!

    Make no mistake that satan is more than happy to provide a wide variety of “preachers” who will show you a wide variety of ways to heaven, to give you exactly what you want. Why? When we get what we want, it draws us away from what we need, that is, the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. And so, those who preach lies rake in millions while those who preach the truth often find themselves struggling to provide for their families. People are willing to give a lot of money to liars because those lies make them feel good about themselves. It is as the Holy Spirit inspired St. Paul to write, “The time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Timothy 4:3–4).

    But Jesus continued, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven” (John 6:32). Reminding them that the manna came from God, Moses was simply God’s servant. And then, “For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” (John 6:33). According to Jesus, He Himself is the bread who comes down from heaven. That is, just as God sent manna to give earthly life to the people of Israel, He sent His Son to give eternal life to all people through His perfect life and sacrificial death. And so, Jesus is telling them that He is the bread of God who gives life to the world.

    The crowds, still thinking about their stomachs, say, “Sir, give us this bread always” (John 6:34) and Jesus replies, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35). Clearly, Jesus is speaking about a different kind of bread for a different kind of life. You see, when it comes to the things of this world, Jesus says things like, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Matthew 8:20). But when it comes to the things eternal, He says, “whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”

    These are words that, on this side of heaven, we will never truly understand; but by the working of the Holy Spirit, we can believe. By the gift of faith, created and nurtured through the word of God alone, be that spoken or combined with earthly elements, we can believe the promises God speaks and Jesus fulfills.

    God, in His infinite knowledge and perfect wisdom, has given us, not what we want, but exactly what He knows we need … both here in time and for all eternity. As we read from His word in Romans, “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:31–32)


  • Take Heart

    See the Weekly Bulletin Take Heart Mark 6:45-56 Jesus said, Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. It ...

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    Take Heart
    Mark 6:45-56

    Jesus said, Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. It was, I don’t know, about five years ago thatI was listening to an interview with Dr. James Voelz, one of our seminary professors, who was in the process of writing a new commentary on the Gospel of Mark at the time. He said that one of the major themes of Mark’s gospel is that, with one major exception, all of creation knows exactly who Jesus is. The major exception, he said, is the human race.

    God the Father announced the identity of Jesus at His baptism and again at the transfiguration. The demons in Mark are terrified because they know exactly who Jesus is as He casts them out. All sorts of diseases and harmful conditions know who Jesus is as He heals them. Death knows who Jesus is as He raises the daughter of Jairus. The wind and the waves on the Sea of Galilee know who Jesus is as He calms them with a word. And still, even His own disciples … the ones who witnessed these things … even they don’t have a clue who Jesus is. In Mark’s gospel it’s not until the centurion in chapter 15 who witnessed the death of Jesus on the cross that a human being finally says, Truly this man was the Son of God!

    Today’s reading began with Jesus making His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side. Interestingly, the word Jesus uses can also be translated as compelled or forced. It’s as though Jesus is anxious about something and really wants to get His disciples out of there.

    But why? Well, to understand that we need to remember our reading from last week. Jesus had just finished providing bread and fish for 5,000 plus and certainly, in a subsistence culture where only the privileged few were regularly ‘satisfied’ after a meal, this was more than just an impressive miracle as you can tell by the people’s reaction. I mean, you don’t hear about the people wanting to make Jesus their king after healings or casting out demons or even raising the dead.

    The problem, of course, is that Jesus didn’t come to be an earthly king, but as He said, The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. Jesus recognized the temptation for His disciples and moved quickly and decisively to get them out before they, like the crowds, were tempted to see Him as just a “bread king.” So, Jesus puts them in the boat with instructions to go to the other side. Then He dismissed the crowds and finally He went up into the mountains to pray.

    As Jesus was praying, His disciples struggled to get across the Sea of Galilee. Unfortunately, the wind was against them. Now, this wasn’t like the time that they were caught in a storm while Jesus slept in the back of the boat. That time they were terrified. This time, they’re frustrated. In spite of all their experience on the sea, at some point they stopped making progress. They were, in a very real sense, stuck in the middle of the lake no matter how hard they worked.

    Mark tells us that the disciples struggled on the lake while Jesus prayed on the mountain until the fourth watch of the night, the one just before sunrise. That is, the disciples had pretty much been on the lake all night, and Jesus had pretty much been praying all night. Jesus finished praying and looked down onto the lake from the mountain and saw that the disciples were still out on the lake. So, He walked down the mountain to the shore, walked across the shore to the water, and He just kept right on walking … on the surface of the water. Again, we see that the water knows who Jesus is and at His will obeys and supports His weight.

    The disciples on the other hand, think Jesus is a ghost. Their frustration with the wind turns into fear as they see a figure about to walk by them on the water until Jesus identified Himself saying, Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid. Now the phrase, it is I, is actually a form of the very name of God that Moses heard from the burning bush: God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And so, Jesus basically told the disciples not to be afraid because He is the God who spoke to Moses from the burning bush.

    Then Jesus got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased. Again, we see that the wind knows it is serving Jesus. Still, the disciples don’t get it as Mark goes on to say, They were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.

    These disciples had not only witnessed healings, resurrections, exorcisms, control of the weather, food production for large crowds, walking on the water, but if you recall from a couple o f weeks ago, they also … went out and preached that people should repent. They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them and yet still God’s word tells us that their hearts were hardened.

    My friends, in the Scriptures the boat has long been a symbol of the church. The turmoil of the sea often represents the evil that attacks the church. When the disciples were in the boat by themselves, the more they struggled, the more everything stayed the same. The church is no different. We can work our hardest, but if Jesus is not the focus of our church, we’re stuck and the church is a shipwreck waiting to happen.

    The terror of the disciples reminds us of the terror people still have when they first meet Jesus not knowing who He is. Now, to be sure, if you were raised in the church, there’s not a time you don’t remember Jesus, but the Scriptures make it very clear that before we come to know and believe in Jesus as our Lord, we by nature wrongly believe He is our enemy, and so He frightens us.

    Then the disciples heard His words, Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid. They learned from His words that the figure coming toward them on the water was not their enemy but their teacher and friend. So it is in us. As the Holy Spirit works through the Word of God, faith is created just like we read in the book of Romans: Faith comes from hearing, and hearing (comes) through the word of Christ. You see, it’s as the Holy Spirit works faith in our hearts through the Gospel that we come to know and believe in Jesus as our Savior.

    Jesus doesn’t come to drive us to the depths of despair with His judgment. Jesus is our friend; a friend who took the punishment earned by all mankind upon Himself. And with His blood, Jesus paid for that sin and so purchased salvation for all sinners. And Jesus still uses water to bring that salvation, but now it is through the waters of our baptism. There, He freely offers to all the gifts of forgiveness, peace, and eternal life.

    The account of Jesus walking on the water and the stilling of wind proclaim Him to be the Son of God. The hard hearts of the disciples reveal that we cannot by our own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ or come to Him. He must come to us, and He does. Through the Means of Grace, offered to you and to all, He comes with forgiveness and healing in His hands.

    When Jesus entered the boat, everything became peaceful. That is, the church can only know peace when Jesus and His word are found within her. Without Jesus, the church is a shipwreck waiting to happen. With Jesus, the church is safe and sound. May God grant that you, who by grace through faith have come to know His Son, would in the midst of your daily lives and struggles remember Jesus’s words and take heart, because He is always with you.

    In His Name, Amen.

  • Prost!

    See the Weekly Bulletin Prost! Mark 6:30-44 + Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior ...

    See the Weekly Bulletin

    Mark 6:30-44

    + Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

    The text for our meditation is from our Gospel lesson, specifically where Mark records, And taking the five loaves and the two fish, [Jesus] looked up to heaven and said a blessing and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people. And he divided the two fish among them all. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men. Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

    There are many here who are of German ancestry, but even those who don’t have German blood in their veins have likely heard an infamous toast often sung auf Deutsche. It’s very popular at gatherings like Oktoberfest, and it goes like this: Ein Prosit! Ein Prosit! Der Gemütlichkeit! Ein Prosit! Ein Prosit! Der Gemütlichkeit! Roughly translated, it means, “A toast! A toast! To cheer and good times!” I say “roughly translated” because one word in there, in particular, does not translate well into English: Gemütlichkeit. This is a word that has many deep and rich connotations that cannot be adequately summed up in a single word in English. Yes, it has connotations of jocularity, but it also has overtones of friendliness, warmth, belonging, hospitality, and leaving your troubles behind you at the door, as you come to feast on rich foods and drink good drinks with your family, friends, and community. This is Gemütlichkeit, and I think it’s a word that should become part of the vernacular here in the States, especially in the Church!

    You may find that odd, given the usual context in which the word is used, but it seems obvious to me that this spirit of Gemütlichkeit fits well into our Lutheran theology and practice, and I’d argue that the concept is biblical. You do see it in Scripture, and I’d argue that you see it here, in our Gospel text. We’re looking at one of the best known miracles of Jesus: the infamous feeding of the 5000, with little more than a snack: five loaves of bread, and two fish. Truly, it is an astonishing miracle, but like most miracles our Lord performed, the action in and of itself isn’t really meant to be the focus. Instead, there is a deeper, fuller, and richer meaning behind it, a more profound and real reality. Let’s look at the text and try, in our broken and sinful human nature, to find it.

    So, after returning from doing the work He had sent them to do, the disciples withdraw with Jesus at His command to a desolate place – you can read that as a desert place. Jesus wants His disciples to rest, away from the crowds, after the work that they had done – casting out demons, healing the sick, and proclaiming that people should repent of their sins. So they withdraw across the lake. Though they try to escape the crowds, the crowds follow them. Indeed, they run on ahead of them, to beat them to where Jesus and the disciples would land. Once Jesus sees them, sees their longing, Mark tells us that He has “compassion” on them – that’s probably the best English translation but it doesn’t really do the word justice; in the original Greek, the word denotes more of a “gut-wrenching anguish” on behalf of another person. Jesus sees these people in their lostness, their shepherdless-ness, and the seat of His affections, His inmost being, is moved to the point that, instead of taking the time to rest, He teaches these sheep without a shepherd. You start to see the spirit of Gemütlichkeit showing itself.

    Now, Jesus is still presumably teaching, when the disciples approach Him, concerned about the late hour, and ask Him to send the people away so that they can go somewhere (not in this isolated area) and get some food. Instead, Jesus commands them to provide these shepherdless sheep with sustenance. Obviously caught off-guard, and intimidated by the physically and financially daunting task that’s been set before them, they ask, in essence, how they are to accomplish this monumental assignment. Jesus asks what supplies are on hand; the disciples check it out, and report back: all that they have is five loaves of bread … and two fish – as if that was supposed to help the situation. Nevertheless, Jesus takes what they give Him. He blesses and gives thanks for it, and somehow, in a miraculous and inexplicable way, provides enough of that same food to completely satisfy the hunger of each and every person present, with a copious amount of leftovers – 12 full baskets, in fact. Logically, it doesn’t make any sense. The first law of thermodynamics dictates that matter cannot be created nor destroyed, but here we see this Jewish rabbi in the desolate countryside of 1st Century Judea, doing precisely that. This is an incredible event, but what is happening behind the scenes? Incredible as this miracle is, once again, it’s pointing beyond itself to a greater, more incredible reality.

    Some have thought that this miracle is indistinguishable from the institution of the Lord’s Supper – after all, some of the verbiage is quite similar ... Jesus taking loaves of bread, giving thanks, and giving it to His people. Well, not quite. This miracle certainly isn’t the institution of the Lord’s Supper, and the effect of partaking of that miraculous bread isn’t the same as when the disciples (or us, for that matter) receive Jesus’s true body in, under, and with the bread, but I will say that the two are nevertheless related; they are both pointing forward to the new creation, to the marriage feast of the Lamb in His Kingdom which has no end.

    That is the summation of Jesus’s mission – to renew and restore all things, to make all things new, and to gather all His flock to Himself, but here we get a glimpse, a foretaste, of that new creation, of that feast, of that holy Gemütlichkeit. What we see here, and what really sets the eschatological tone for this miracle, is how Jesus is fulfilling what Isaiah had written: On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples, a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. According to Isaiah, YHWH Himself was going to host this incredible feast, presenting it before His people … and here in Mark, we see YHWH incarnate, hosting a sumptuous, satisfying feast, providing for His people in a way that echoes what He had done centuries before with manna in the wilderness. All this imagery of feasting and being in community with one another and with God, all point to the eschaton, the new creation when Christ returns and ushers us into the ultimate feast, to be with Him and one another for all eternity!

    As those ancient Judeans had a foretaste of this feast while they ate bread in the presence of Jesus, YHWH incarnate, so do we have a foretaste of this feast whenever Christ Himself provides us with His true Body and Blood in, under, and with bread and wine. However, we know that whatever feasting, hospitality, belonging – whatever Gemütlichkeit we are able to have here in this broken world is incomplete, unfinished, so we wait. We wait – eagerly – for the return of our Shepherd-King, when we will finally see what true Gemütlichkeit looks like: belonging in and to Christ and one another, partaking of that marriage feast which our Good Shepherd will spread before us, and singing His praises forever and ever in the new creation. Prost!

    + In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.

  • Not Wanted Here ... But Needed

    See the Weekly Bulletin Not Wanted Here ... But Needed Amos 7:7-15 + Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and f ...

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    Not Wanted Here ... But Needed
    Amos 7:7-15

    + Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

    The text for our meditation is from our Old Testament lesson, especially where Amos records the words of Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, “O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, and eat bread there, and prophesy there, but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king's sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom.” Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

    Amos begins his prophetic work with the words, YHWH roars from Zion and utters his voice from Jerusalem; the pastures of the shepherds mourn, and the top of Carmel withers. After a few words of condemnation against the nations, he moves to his longest and most scathing word of rebuke against the worst nation mentioned: Israel. He calls them to task for their corrupt and faithless living, Amos calls those same miserable sinners to repentance, ultimately pleading with the Israelites to Seek the LORD and live.

    Apparently, it doesn’t work, because the shepherd-turned-prophet from Tekoa then presents his hearers with two visions that he has received from YHWH, neither of which is terribly comforting. The first is a vision of locusts that descend upon the land of Israel and consume everything, including the young crop recently planted. The second is like the first, with an unquenchable fire so intense that it consumes everything, even the waters of the deep. In both cases, Amos demonstrates his love for God’s people and His covenant with them as he intercedes on behalf of Israel, begging with YHWH, “O Lord God, please forgive, please cease! How can Jacob stand? He is so small!” In both cases, YHWH relents, saying “It shall not be.”

    THEN … we come to our text, and we have the third vision God gives to Amos. YHWH holding a plumb line against a wall, and the wall is Israel, and it is not plumb. It’s certainly not as dramatic as the previous two, but YHWH’s response to this un-plumb wall, the faithlessness of Israel, is certainly chilling: Behold, I am setting a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel; I will never again pass by them – that is, forgive them – the high places of Isaac shall be made desolate, and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste, and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword. And for his part, Amos … is silent. He no longer attempts to intercede on Israel’s behalf. The opportunity for them to repent, to turn from their exceedingly wicked ways was over. The way is shut, the clock has struck midnight, and now it is only a matter of time before YHWH deals the killing blow.

    Wow. If you’re taken aback by this, it’s not surprising. Here we do not see what we often think of when we think of our gracious and merciful Triune God. This hardly seems like the “Jesus so meek and mild” we so often imagine. This is no bleating lamb, but rather the roaring Lion of Zion, the righteous judge, punishing the sin and the sinners who love to wallow in their transgression. The time for mercy toward those faithless people is over, and it is terrifying.

    It’s no surprise, then, that, as our text moves into the single instance of narrative writing in the book of Amos. Here, we have Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, who is less than pleased with what Amos has been preaching. See, Bethel was the center of worship in the northern kingdom of Israel, but more than that, it was the epicenter of all the unfaithfulness and the downright diabolical behavior of the people of the north. There, the people worshipped YHWH … in addition to other deities they had adopted from the surrounding culture. These syncretistic worshippers allowed their worship of false gods to affect their conduct, resulting in the trampling of the poor while the crème de la crème indulged in gluttony, slavery, adultery, and all-around hedonism. What’s worse, they felt their affluence was a sign of YHWH’s (or perhaps Molech’s or Ba’al’s) pleasure with them. In any case, the idea that YHWH was a lion, roaring from Zion against them, was far from their thoughts!

    This is reflected in how Amaziah misrepresents to King Jeroboam what Amos actually said, and sneers at Amos, “O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, and eat bread there, and prophesy there, but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king's sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom.” In other words, “Listen, Amos, we do things different here; there’s no need for you to trouble yourself with what we do here in Israel. Go back to Judah; make your living by prophesying there. There, you’ll be welcome! But this? This is my turf, the temple and sanctuary of King Jeroboam! Get outta here!”

    It’s not an apples-to-apples comparison, but obviously there are parallels between Amos’s presence in the northern kingdom of Israel and where we find ourselves as Christians living in the world. Here, we find ourselves as strangers in a strange land, a land that tolerates any and every message but the message of Christ and Him crucified for the forgiveness of sins. Hedonism is still a thing – it’s a rampant infection, really. Egocentrism and narcissism are a plague upon our land. Idolatry certainly still exists – not only with actual false deities, but with more subtle and dangerous apparitions like the love of money or the worship of movie and sports stars. When we bring God’s Law and His Gospel – as both are needed in our proclamation – like Amaziah, people will reject the word we bear, saying “Go elsewhere with that tripe; you do you, and I’ll do me!”

    Those who are of this world … reject the Christ. They reject the forgiveness that is found in His life-saving cross. They forgo the life that is found in His shed blood. They treat with contempt the very idea of life everlasting for all those who hold onto the promises given in baptism. They reject the Christ, and they certainly reject His prophets and all others who bear His message. It’s not surprising that church attendance, across our synod, across denominations here in our country, and, indeed, across the entirety of Western Civilization, is down. They do not want our Jesus. They do not want to be told their sins are forgiven; they want to be told YOLO, you only live once. They want to be told what their itching ears long to hear, that God will love them even if they carry on, full-steam, diving headlong into unrepentant sin – indeed, in the joyous indulgence thereof!

    But we would do well to remember that we, ourselves, were there once. All mankind is born spiritually blind, dead, and an enemy of God, and that includes us. We are no better than every other lousy, rotten, no-good stinkin’ sinner that has ever lived or ever will live. We have all been there, and of ourselves, as we confessed mere moments ago, “we cannot free ourselves from our sinful condition.” It is only by the grace of God, by His favorable attitude and disposition toward us miserable sinners that any of us can – rightly – declare that we are saved from the consequence of our sin on account of Jesus the Christ and His redemptive work. Certainly, as believers who have been forgiven much, we want to spread the full Word, the Law and the Gospel, to all people so that they may stand side-by-side with us and all believers on the Last Day as we enter into the presence of Christ the King.

    Will it always go well? No; it is entirely possible that we end up like John the Baptist, whose strong word of rebuke and call of repentance to King Herod earned him nothing but prison time and a rather grim death sentence. But frankly, that matters little. Our call is to proclaim God’s Word to all people – including those who refuse to hear it! We are called as Christians to spread the Gospel near and far, regardless of the reaction people have to it.

    Make no mistake, it is a holy and terrifying thing to bring the Word of God before an unbelieving world. Amos knew it. John the Baptist knew it. But as those who have been washed in the blood of the Lamb of God, it’s what we are called to do: to speak the truth of the Law that kills, so that the healing balm of the Gospel may make alive again. May we all be so bold, to speak God’s Word to a world that doesn’t want it, but nevertheless needs it.

    + In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.

  • A Very Important Difference

    See the Weekly Bulletin A Very Important Difference Mark 6:1-13 (focus 1-6) One of Christianity’s most basic confessions ab ...

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    A Very Important Difference
    Mark 6:1-13 (focus 1-6)

    One of Christianity’s most basic confessions about God is the fact that He is omnipotent (all-powerful). To the best of my knowledge, no Christian Church body denies that truth. Even the youngest of our children make this confession as they sing, “My God is so great, so strong and so mighty, there’s nothing my God cannot do,” a basic teaching that no faithful Christian would ever question or doubt.

    And yet, as we read our Gospel lesson for this morning, we’re faced with a rather stark contradiction. [Jesus] could do no mighty work among his hometown people, except lay His hands on a couple of sick people and heal them. What? Jesus could do no mighty work? Now that’s a problem! According to Mark, our all-powerful God was left powerless. The almighty One … does not look so almighty. So, what does this mean?!

    Well, let’s think about this for a minute. Our lesson clearly says that Jesus could do no mighty works in the presence of the hometown folks who doubted Him. But does that mean Jesus didn’t possess the skills, the abilities, the resources - the power - to work powerful things among them? Or could it mean that Jesus (because of God’s specific plan) was not permitted to work these powerful signs among them? You see, there is a difference—a very important difference!

    Remember Jesus’s lesson for the bleeding woman last week … it was not just touching me that made you well, it was believing that I am who the miracle says I am which made you well? You see, you can have all the skills, abilities, and resources in the world, but if you’re not permitted to use them, that is if you’re stopped from doing your work, those resources don’t do anybody any good. The truth is, if someone refuses to receive, you can be made powerless to give no matter how much power you truly possess and are willing to share.

    So it’s true that Jesus could not do any mighty works in His hometown, but the reason is not found in Him. The reason, again, was that they refused to believe He was who the miracle said He was; that is, the people there doubted Him.

    Remember the words, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.” These people heard the very Word of God, both Law and Gospel, proclaimed by God with the authority of God and they not only rejected it, they were offended by it. And that really hasn’t changed.

    “Who does this guy think He is? What right does He have to judge me!” They, with mere human strength, prevented Jesus, the almighty Son of God, from working His powerful life-saving, life-giving gifts of repentance, forgiveness, and salvation. And so do we.

    Now, could Jesus, as almighty and all-powerful God, have simply spoken a word and made them change their minds?  In effect, take away their free will? Absolutely! I mean, He raised the dead with a word. Certainly He can make us change our minds. But if He did that, He would no longer be a loving and gracious God. He would no longer be the God He has revealed Himself to be. He would instead be a forceful, tyrannical God; a puppet master pulling His strings. “You will serve, honor, love, and obey Me, whether you like it or not!”

    You know, it really is sad that this same faithlessness seen in Jesus’s hometown crowd is still seen today. People still deny and prevent Jesus from working all the time. Many complain about all the trials and tribulations they endure and then ignore the very Means of Grace which God offers to comfort and strengthen us during those very trials and tribulations.  Countless Christian parents keep their children from Christ’s life-giving power in baptism because while the words sound nice … all they see is water.

    Christians across the world this very day will share crackers and juice and call it communion and then openly teach against Scripture that Jesus isn’t physically present, but only figuratively present with His body and blood to remind us about the forgiveness of sins.

    But why? I don’t need to be reminded that Jesus paid for my sin, I need to be forgiven.  Scriptures clearly teach Jesus saying He gives us His body and blood for the forgiveness of our sin. But apparently, those enlightened Christians even while seeing what He says know what Jesus “really” meant. And so, well-meaning Christians stop Christ from giving them the life-giving gifts of His Body and Blood. I truly don’t understand such blatant indifference within the Church at large. And this is just looking at things inside the Church. We also prevent the truth of God’s love being shared in our daily lives as well.

    We certainly don’t like to admit it or even think about it, but we routinely deny and prevent Christ from working His gifts of life and salvation for any number of reasons or no reason at all. We stay away from church because we’re not in the mood, the weather, the time, the hymns, the sermons … the whatever.

    How many times have you stopped yourself from opening your mouth and proclaiming God’s love to those in your life who you know need to hear it? I know that you all know someone who isn’t here today who needs to hear again about God’s love and mercy for them, or maybe just need the shoulder of a fellow believer to lean on.  But, have you reached out to them? What’s stopping you from speaking the truth of Christ in your own circle?

    Lord, forgive us, but surely we’re not surprised that He marveled at the unbelief of the people during His days on earth. No doubt He still does. And if we stop and think about it, it really is sad because through all these things that happen in our lives, our almighty God is calling to us and reaching out for us so that He might work and speak with us, and also work and speak with others through us. He is calling to teach us and to teach others through us; to feed and nourish us and to feed and nourish others through us, all with the gift of Christ.

    And more often than not, our response is to muzzle Him and stop Him from working the life-giving, life-saving gifts He so desperately wants to give to all who are born of sin; gifts of grace, mercy, repentance, forgiveness, peace, and everlasting salvation.

    My friends, It is finished, your place in heaven has been and is secure in Christ alone and because of Christ alone. The powers of sin and death were left behind in the tomb by the almighty power of Christ’s all-redeeming life, death, and resurrection. Last week we were reminded there is nothing to fear. This week there is no reason to doubt, no matter how dark this world or your circumstances in this world may seem. Our all mighty God has declared it to be so, and so it is. That is your baptismal reality.

    My prayer is that through the eyes and ears of saving faith, which God has freely given to you as His gift, a gift which enables you to recognize, repent, receive and give thanks for the mighty and powerful workings of God through His Word and Sacraments, that here on His altar you see not just the earthly means God has chosen to use, but the true giver of these gifts, that is, Jesus - your all-powerful, loving, and gracious Lord and Savior; the very Son of God who willingly and freely laid down His life for you and the forgiveness of all your sins.

    In His Name, Amen.

  • When Jesus Calls

    See the Weekly Bulletin When Jesus Calls Mark 5:21-43 The Gospel reading we just heard is the record of one miracle set inside an ...

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    When Jesus Calls
    Mark 5:21-43

    The Gospel reading we just heard is the record of one miracle set inside another.  Jairus came to Jesus on behalf of his daughter who was very ill.  Then, while Jesus was on His way to heal the daughter, He encountered a woman who suffered from a bleeding disorder.  And even though this woman only came to Him for physical healing, Jesus knew she needed more.

    This, from a human perspective, is the problem.  Should Jesus stay and help the woman or continue on with Jairus?  If He stays, Jairus’s daughter may die before Jesus can heal her.  On the other hand, the bleeding woman has needs that go far beyond physical healing, and Jesus might not see her again.

    But Jesus, of course is not bound by human limits or perspective.  He took time to heal and teach the woman even though it meant that the girl would die and then He who is life goes and speaks words that even death must obey and gives her back to her parents.

    I imagine that when Jesus stopped and turned around in the middle of the crowd, no one was more surprised than the woman who had touched His garment and was healed.  Certainly, according to Mark, she wanted her healing to go unnoticed.  She would just touch His garment and be gone.  But Jesus did something unexpected, He turned and asked, “Who touched my garments?” and a few verses later we learn, … the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him and told him the whole truth.  You see, this woman was afraid she had done something wrong and was about to be punished.

    The truth is, the nature of her bleeding was such that it left her as permanently unclean as a person with leprosy.  The law, as you can read for yourself at Leviticus 15:25, is clear.  She was unclean and had exposed others to her uncleanness.  Just being there defiled all the others, and when Jesus called for her, she no doubt rightly expected to be punished for violating their ritual cleanliness.  Jesus, however, simply said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed of your disease.”

    You see Jesus understood that if He had just let her go on her way, she would still have been carrying the guilt of her sins.  Not just the stealing of Jesus’s power, if you will, but the guilt for all her sins.  Physically, she would have been just fine, but for eternity she would have gained nothing. 

    My friends, every one of us has known the fear that this woman had.  Deep down inside, we know we don’t measure up.  We know that we need help, and we know that that help can only come from God.  At the same time, we know that God has every right to either reject or punish us for our sin.  We find ourselves in the fearful situation of needing help from the one who terrifies us.  We find ourselves in the situation where we want God to help us when we think we need Him, but we also want Him to stay at arm’s length the rest of the time.  That really is the definition of fear.

    To be sure, that fear began in Eden as we heard Adam say, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.”  Adam and Eve sinned, and ever since, whether we admit it or not, the presence of God has terrified those created in His image.

    Since that day, humanity has labored under the false idea that now we must somehow earn our way back into God’s favor, somehow fix what our first parents broke.  That’s why so many people believe that religion is all about becoming a better person, about getting right with God.  But anyone who has honestly tried to get right with God, if they’re honest with you, will have to admit that they couldn’t pull it off.  So, God terrifies them.  For the unbeliever, human wisdom promises nothing but a painless non-existence after death.  For the misguided believer, death is full of terror because no one can assure them that they have been good enough to go to heaven.

    The sad thing about all of these terrified people is that their idea of religion is all wrong.  True religion is not about you living a righteous life for God.  True religion is about God taking on human flesh and living a righteous life for you.  It’s not about you getting right with God.  It’s about God dying on a cross so that He can give His righteousness to you.  It is not about you paying for your sin.  It is about God paying the debt of sin for you with His own holy and precious blood.  True religion is not about a God who demands and takes, it’s about a God who offers and gives.  As St. Paul writes, God shows his love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

    Remember, in our lesson Jesus didn’t allow the woman to leave with just her physical healing.  He wanted to heal her in body, mind, and spirit.  So He turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my garments?”  Why?  Well, He asked that question for the same reason He asked Adam where he was in Eden.  Just as He knew exactly where Adam was, certainly Jesus knew who had touched Him.  In Eden, He asked in order to call Adam to Himself.  In the same way, He asked, “Who touched my garments?” in order to call the woman to Himself.  If God knows all things, He knew exactly who had touched His garments and He left her no place to hide, leaving her trembling and full of fear as she approached Him.

    It’s then that Jesus gently and lovingly speaks, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed of your disease.”  You see, Jesus didn’t just heal her disease, but first spoke of her faith which brings His peace, a fruit of being forgiven.  The woman didn’t seek Jesus for healing of spirit or mind.  In fact, once her body was healed, she tried to fade into the crowd and just disappear.  But we can see she did receive those as well because when Jesus calls to her, she comes and is assured and comforted.

    The second miracle in today’s Gospel highlights that very point because Jairus’s daughter did indeed die.  And certainly all would agree that, being dead, she could do nothing to help herself.  Still, when Jesus calls to her, she comes from death to life.  You see, it’s easier for Jesus to wake a person from death than it is for one of us to waken someone from sleep in the morning.

    Jesus is still calling to those who are sick and hurting, still speaking His words of peace and healing; words that even the apostles did not immediately understand, but that the Holy Spirit brought to their memory and opened their minds to.  We hear His words when we hear the reading of the Holy Scriptures as the Holy Spirit said through the apostle Paul, “You are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:19–20).

    Our Gospel reading told us of a woman who was afraid when Jesus called to her, fearing He would exposed her as the sinner she was.  In the same way, your sinful nature is afraid when God, through the Gospel, calls to you.  But as we were just reminded, she had no reason to fear, and by the continued outpouring of God’s grace, neither do you.  Jesus wants only to give you a peace and healing that will last not just for a moment or a day or even a lifetime, but for all eternity.

    Jesus offered His life as the payment for all sin.  And now offers you salvation freely through His Word and Sacraments.  Don’t be afraid, only believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved (Acts 16:31).

    In His Name, Amen

  • The Greater Storm

    See the Weekly Bulletin The Greater Storm Mark 4:35-41 + Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord ...

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    The Greater Storm
    Mark 4:35-41

    + Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

    The text for our meditation is from our Gospel lesson, specifically where Mark records, And [Jesus] awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” Here ends our text; dear Christian friends.

    It would be very easy, as I’m sure many pastors have done before, to use this Gospel pericope to remind you of how God will see you through the trials – the storms, if you will – of life, plentiful as they are. It’s not that this is a wrong idea; God does, indeed, promise to bear with you through the storms of life, promising that He will never leave you nor forsake you, but this is not the overall point of the text. No, to find the fuller meaning, we must look in a bit of an unlikely place.

    On the surface, our Old Testament lesson for today does seem to jive with our Gospel text, especially with the theme that God is in control of all things, and far be it from me to question the lectio continuum. That said, in my humble opinion, the story of Jonah is a better fit, because the parallels are staggering. Indulge me for a moment, if you’ve never considered the parallels between these two texts. We all know how Jonah was called by God to be a prophet to the people of Nineveh, the capital city of Assyria, an enemy nation. We all know how Jonah, for whatever reason, did not want to do it, but instead ran in the opposite direction, chartering a ship to take him far away to Tarshish. Well, the Creator of all things does not take lightly when His chosen prophets rebuff His call, so a brief reading from the prophet of Jonah:

    But the Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up. Then the mariners were afraid, and each cried out to his god. And they hurled the cargo that was in the ship into the sea to lighten it for them. But Jonah had gone down into the inner part of the ship and had lain down and was fast asleep. So the captain came and said to him, “What do you mean, you sleeper? Arise, call out to your god! Perhaps the god will give a thought to us, that we may not perish.”

    And they said to one another, “Come, let us cast lots, that we may know on whose account this evil has come upon us.” So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah. Then they said to him, “Tell us on whose account this evil has come upon us. What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?” And he said to them, “I am a Hebrew, and I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” Then the men were exceedingly afraid and said to him, “What is this that you have done!” For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them.

    Then they said to him, “What shall we do to you, that the sea may quiet down for us?” For the sea grew more and more tempestuous. He said to them, “Pick me up and hurl me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you, for I know it is because of me that this great tempest has come upon you.” Nevertheless, the men rowed hard to get back to dry land, but they could not, for the sea grew more and more tempestuous against them. Therefore they called out to the Lord, “O Lord, let us not perish for this man's life, and lay not on us innocent blood, for you, O Lord, have done as it pleased you.” So they picked up Jonah and hurled him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging. Then the men feared the Lord exceedingly, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows.

    This is followed by the more infamous part of the story, with Jonah being swallowed by a God-appointed whale/fish and staying there for three days and three nights before being hurled (literally) back onto dry land, at which time Jonah proceeds to do what God had told him to do: go to Nineveh and preach. And the story continues from there.

    Let’s see … a great wind and storm … people on a boat in the midst of said storm … a protagonist who is also on the boat but sleeping … questions raised over the apparent indifference of said protagonist as he sleeps … how the sea is eventually calmed. The parallels, as I’ve said, are impressive. However, the meaning of our Gospel text is not derived from the parallels, but rather the differences.

    In Jonah’s story, the reluctant prophet tells the pagan sailors that he must be thrown overboard into the sea in order to quell and still the cacophony, to quench the anger of the one true God. Jesus simply stands and, in a stronger word of rebuke than is often piously translated, muzzles the pure chaos of this hurricane-like storm, almost in passing. It’s almost as if He’s got more important things to worry about – which probably explains the disappointment in and apparent annoyance with His followers when He asks them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”

    See, unlike Jonah, whose storm seemed to define his narrative as God rebuked him through natural means, Jesus has no need of such rebuke. Indeed, this storm that He and His disciples had crashing around them in their dinky fishing boat is not the focus. As the King of kings and Lord of lords, a roaring, menacing violent storm as is described in Mark was as nothing but an irritation. Does He Who created the wind and the waves have any fear of them? Of course not; He’s still in control of them, as He is with all things! No, there is a much larger, more deadly squall that Jesus has come to deal with.

    This greater storm began spinning with the calamitous decision of Adam and Eve to rebel against God’s single law. It took form over all creation as it descended from the perfect and good order God had originally created into the chaos and brokenness that now impacts the entire cosmos. It’s likely that this greater storm of sin, death, and the devil was more on Jesus’s mind as they crossed the Sea of Galilee to Gerasa. This greater storm would require that, like Jonah, Jesus be sacrificed to the chaos and cacophony in order to save those who don’t even know Him or, really, love Him. He does it to save the world and all that is in it. And in the same way that the seas and winds backed down, obeying with no protest or grumble, so sin, death, and the devil shrink away and are silent before the Creator of all things – we actually see this literally happen throughout Mark’s Gospel account as Jesus forgives people their sins, commands the devils to release those they are oppressing, and certainly in His victory over death in His glorious resurrection, as well as the promise that this victory will be delivered to all who hold fast to His promises, at His return!

    So, yes, it is no secret that, in the “storms of life,” Jesus has given you His promise to bear with you, to suffer alongside you while you are in the midst of it. Storms will come – financial, medical, familial, what have you, and you can be sure that Jesus will be there with you in the heart of it. However, that doesn’t mean that He will bring you through it and everything will be okay in the temporal sense. Indeed, ultimately, a day will come when you and I will likely enter into a most violent storm, the one spinning in the valley of the shadow of death, and we will not come out of it alive. But that’s okay. Why? Because we hold fast to the promise that, while the temporal storms faced here may claim our life, goods, fame, child or wife, though these all be gone, the victory has been won! The kingdom ours remaineth! The Day is fast approaching when the Lord of creation will return and will tell sin, death, and the devil, once and for all, to sit down and shut up, and they will have no choice but to obey.

    “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” My dear friends, this is Jesus of Nazareth, Who is the Christ. This is the Second Person of the Holy Trinity – true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the virgin Mary. He is our Savior, the King of kings and Lord of lords, and all storms will be silent before Him.

    + In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.

  • The Seed Thing

    See the Weekly Bulletin The Seed Thing Mark 4:26-34 + Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord an ...

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    The Seed Thing
    Mark 4:26-34

    + Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

    The text for our meditation is from our Gospel lesson, specifically where Mark records Jesus’s parable, The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come. Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

    A farmer goes out and scatters some seed. He goes to bed that night, knowing he’s done what he was called to do. He rises and he sleeps, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. Sure, he waters it. He probably spent some time preparing the ground beforehand in order to receive the seed. He makes sure there’s no fungi or parasites that may harm the seed, he adds fertilizer, BUT HE DOES NOT MAKE IT GROW. The earth does that, of itself. That seed does its thing, and eventually it grows into a healthy plant (hopefully).

    That’s the gist of the first parable Jesus tells in our text today. The second one, while not identical, is similar in purpose. That mustard plant has humble beginnings, starting as the smallest of seeds, and the speed of its growth is unimpressive – it’s very slow, even causing one to question whether it is growing at all anyway. If a first-time farmer is intentionally planting mustard, he’s likely sitting on pins and needles, waiting and waiting for that plant to grow. However, while he may not perceive it, that seed is growing, and once it reaches maturity, that former speck of a mustard seed has become one of the largest plants in the entire garden – large enough, strong enough, substantial enough for birds of all stripes to rest and nest in its shade. There’s no way the famer could have known this, but it happened – whether he knew it, understood it, was able to see it, or was able to do anything about it, the seed was doing its seed thing.

    Seeds have that tendency. They do what they do. You may not see what’s happening. You may not think anything is happening. You may think the seed is a dud, empty and dead, and that it’s not going to amount to anything. But frankly, the seed doesn’t care what you think about its growth, or how you perceive what’s happening. That seed is going to do its seed thing. So it is with the kingdom of God … or, at least, that’s what Jesus seems to think.

    But we don’t seem to understand that. I think I can speak for myself and every other person here when I say that I like to think that I’m in complete control. Nature, however, puts that hubris in check; in much the same way that we cannot will a seed into growing, or force the sun to shine, or the rain to fall, we cannot force any growth in the kingdom of God. And that really bugs us.

    It’s hard to blame those who feel this way when there’s all this negativity floating around in whispers and outbursts – how church attendance is down, how our cash flow isn’t where it needs to be, how we need more volunteers for committees and  teaching Sunday school and helping with the youth. True as those statements may be, and while we should step up and do whatever is in our power to help, are we really so arrogant as to think that our actions are needed to help God with His work? Does the Creator of the universe need our help? No, my friends, He doesn’t. He invites us to participate in what He is doing, but He doesn’t need our help. God is doing His God-thing, and He is doing it the same way that He has for the past few millennia: bringing sinners to repentance and forgiveness through the faithful use of His Word and Sacrament. It may not be new or innovative. It may not be the latest program sure to increase church attendance. It’s not a sure-fire way to make our kids want to come to church or go to Sunday school. But it is the Word of God, and it comes with a promise, courtesy of the prophet Isaiah, “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My Word be that goes out from My mouth; it shall not return to Me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”

    That’s right. Even if you don’t see it, even if you don’t understand it, even when it seems like nothing is happening and you’re just banging your head against the wall, God is doing His thing, of Himself, working through the means that He has established. He is, often in spite of us, growing His kingdom. He is faithful, even if we are not. Paul sums it up nicely in his first letter to the Corinthians when he wrote, I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. We don’t see all ends; God does, and we trust that, as He has promised, His Word will never return to Him void.

    I learned this lesson the hard way a few years ago. I met a young man while I was working food service at Aspirus Wausau Hospital. For the sake of anonymity, let’s call him “John.” John was three years younger than I – still in high school, in fact, when I first met him. I saw a lot of myself in him, so naturally we became fast friends, but what really helped our friendship grow was his interest in Christianity.

    See, he’d never grown up in a church of any kind, and he was very interested in what we Christians believe. Over the next few years while I worked there, I’d give him rides home, and on the way, we would have these deep theological conversations, especially revolving around the topic of creation. He was fascinated, and sometimes when we would actually get to his home, we’d just sit in the car and talk about God and who Jesus is. I even bought him a Bible for Christmas one year, which he received most gratefully. It eventually got to the point where I invited him to go to church with me and my family, and wonder of wonders, he took me up on the offer. Multiple times. I walked him through the liturgy, he started to speak the Lord’s Prayer with us, he listened to the sermons, and I may be misremembering, but I think he may have gone up with my family to communion to receive a blessing from my pastor.

    Then the time came that I had to leave that job at Aspirus in order to go to Seminary. Before I left, I invited John out to Mickey’s Billiards in Schofield for a last round of pool – because that’s what you do in small-town Wisconsin when you aren’t old enough to drink: play pool or go bowling. The first few games were pleasant enough, but somehow the conversation turned to the Church’s position on homosexuality. I told him as gently and lovingly as I could that, while we believe all people are loved by God, homosexual behavior is nevertheless sinful in the sight of God, as is any sexual behavior outside the confines of marriage between one man and one woman for life. The conversation quickly unraveled, with him asking how I had the temerity to say that gay people, or anyone, for that matter, who doesn’t believe in Jesus as the Messiah, could be damned eternally to hell by a loving God. I was thrown for a loop; I felt quite unprepared to answer him, but in retrospect, I doubt any words of mine could have quelled his anger. We parted, and I felt wretched. I felt that all my work of witnessing to John, all the times we had prayed, all the conversations we’d had, was all for naught. I felt that I had let John, not to mention God, down. I felt like a failure, and even questioned whether or not I was qualified to become a pastor, if I couldn’t even get this one friend to be saved.

    Spoiler alert: I did still go to Seminary in St. Louis, but I was still beating myself up over my inability to convert one of my friends. During new student orientation, though, I had the opportunity to speak with one of my future professors, Dr. Leopoldo Sanchez, about this situation and the guilt that I was feeling. His answer was exactly what I needed to hear. He said something to the effect of, “The Holy Spirit moves when and where He wills. We cannot, in our limited, broken, sinful nature, knowledge, and sight, see all ends, nor is it our responsibility to ‘make’ that person believe. We do what we can, but only God causes the growth. Who knows? The seed you’ve sown today, though you may not see any growth, may grow stronger than you ever imagined in the future. Soli Deo Gloria.”

    We don’t need to find the silver bullet (as if one existed). We don’t need to innovate our “worship experience,” never mind that that attitude misplaces us at the center of worship instead of God. We don’t need to get the people pumped up to the same emotional high they can get at a ball game. All we are called to do is to simply do our Christian thing – we listen, we witness, we pray, we labor, we raise, we teach, we preach, all in the Name of Christ, and Him crucified. We remember that, for His sake, we are forgiven all our sins, that eternal salvation is ours, that we are to be faithful in the spread of this outstanding Gospel. We don’t need to see what the seed is doing; we simply watch, in awe and wonder, as the seed, the Word of God, does His thing.

    + In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.

  • How to Be Rich toward God

    See the Weekly Bulletin How to Be Rich toward God Luke 12:13-21 In our lesson, a man asks Jesus to command his brother to divide ...

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    How to Be Rich toward God
    Luke 12:13-21

    In our lesson, a man asks Jesus to command his brother to divide the family inheritance with him.  Jesus ignores the argument and instead uses this situation to teach a vital lesson on the subject of greed.  “Watch out!  Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

    Jesus goes on to tell the story of a wealthy farmer.  His fields produce abundant crops.  He loves his work and everything he does seems to turn to gold!  We don’t know what opportunities he had to develop his spiritual life, but apparently, he considered getting “more” a more valuable use of his time and energy.  A pattern that to this day is all too easy to fall into.

    Eventually, the farmer decides to tear down his barns and build bigger ones to hold all his grain and goods!  Bursting with satisfaction, he says in effect: “I’ve got tons of money in the bank and my future is secure; now … I think I’ll just kick back eat, drink, and be merry!”

    But that very night God said, “You fool!”  No doubt at his funeral, people were saying: “He was a genius, a shrewd business man, a wise investor!”  But God called him a fool - not because he was doing anything evil, but because of his greed.

    And that leaves the obvious question: What good did his barn full of grain do him?  He invested all his time and energy into storing up earthly riches, while investing nothing in what mattered the most, and in the end, he stood before God a fool.  Jesus concludes, “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself, but is not rich toward God.”

    So what’s important … is that we be rich toward God!  But, what does this mean?  It’s really not complicated; it simply means to invest our lives in our relationship with God!  We spend so much time and money investing in education, work, friends, families, and entertainment, but are we rich toward God?  A disciple, that is one who is always learning to trust Jesus, needs to learn to invest his or her life in serving God by meeting the needs of others.

    One way for us to be rich toward God is to give faithfully and generously.  We need to ask ourselves: “What is God asking me to give?”  To be sure, 10% was the amount given in both the Old and New Testaments, but in Christ we’re no longer bound to that Law.

    So, as Christians, what amount of our incomes should we give that shows our gratitude to God for Who He is and what He’s done for us through His Son?  We’re not commanded to tithe, but, just as Jesus encouraged the Pharisees to continue their tithing, we are encouraged to use the tithe as a guide for our giving. 

    In the end, the amount we give means nothing when compared to our attitudes and motives for giving.  We honor God even if we give less than the tithe when we give our gifts cheerfully and from faith.  When God has your heart, the things of life, even money, begin to find their proper place in our lives.

    But still, we must learn, and so we turn to the Scriptures to teach us what it means to be rich toward God.  For example, in Exodus 23:19 we read: “Bring the best of the firstfruits of your soil to the house of the Lord your God.”  That is, we are to give first to what is first in our lives.

    Remember, we are sinners and our greediness can lead us to spend until we have nothing left for the work of our God.  It’s a little thing, but set aside the money you want to give to extend God’s kingdom first.  It really will make a difference.

    So, how much should we budget for Church?  Again, the tithe is a good goal, but as Jesus said, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be expected.”  That is, the more you make, the more you are expected to give!

    That means, beware of the temptation to think, “I give my tithe, so I‘m good!”  Not necessarily.  Ten percent isn’t the goal.  The goal is by God’s grace to give generously!  Usually when we get a raise, our first thought is, “Now I can get this or do that, when it should be now I can give a little more for the work of God’s kingdom!

    Remember, God’s Word does not teach that you shouldn’t invest or prepare for emergencies and retirement and so on.  It does not teach that we can’t have luxuries, but it does teach that those who can afford luxuries are also “… to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.”

    We need to keep a balance.  God gives the good things in this life as gifts for us to enjoy and to be generous in our giving.  You see, we are also rich toward God when we give cheerfully, as Paul writes to the Corinthians, “… for God loves a cheerful giver.”  The Church should never make people feel guilty about giving.  We give joyfully by God’s grace, and grace never threatens or condemns.

    Consider the following story: Two brothers shared a field and a mill, and each night they evenly divided the grain they had ground together during the day.  One brother lived alone; the other had a wife and large family.  The single brother started thinking, “It isn’t really fair that we divide the grain evenly, because I only have myself to care for and my brother has children to feed.”  So each night he secretly took some of his grain to his brother’s granary to see that he was never without.

    The married brother also said to himself: “It isn’t really fair that we divide the grain evenly, because I have children to provide for me in my old age, but my brother has no one.  What will he do when he is old?”  So every night he secretly took some of his grain to his brother’s granary.  As a result, both of them always found their supply of grain mysteriously replenished each morning.

    You see, as we cheerfully and generously give the first fruits of our labor to God, we are, by His grace, being rich toward God.  So, how much should we give?  The bottom line is, God is pleased when we offer our gifts from loving and thankful hearts.  Today the tithe acts as a biblical benchmark and, if needed, an encouragement for us to grow in the spiritual discipline of giving.

    Very few of us give as generously as we should; I know I don’t.  But then, very few of us obey God in any area like we should: Bible study, prayer, loving others – I don’t do any of those as well as God demands, and yet God still loves me.  Even if you never give a penny, God will not love you any less.  Christ died for all our sins, including our lack of generous giving!  But if you don’t give even a penny, and we all can give that, at least ask yourself why not?  Why don’t you feel the need to share in God’s work here at St. James?

    You see, it’s through Word and Sacraments that we grow as disciples and we do come to understand more and more of what God has done for us in Christ, until we are led by the Holy Spirit to respond by sharing the resources that God has given to us to help meet the needs of others. 

    My friends, God will transform our selfish hearts into hearts filled with a desire to share if we have the courage to let Him.  In doing so, we also are growing in the grace of becoming rich toward Him who sacrificed His Son for you.

    In His Name, Amen.

  • A Tip or a Tithe?

    See the Weekly Bulletin A Tip or a Tithe? Genesis 28:10-22 + Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our ...

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    A Tip or a Tithe?
    Genesis 28:10-22

    + Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

    The text for our meditation for this first stewardship education Sunday is from Genesis 28:10-22, specifically where Moses records, “Then Jacob made a vow, saying, ‘If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father’s house, then the Lord will be my God and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God’s house, and of all that You give me I will give You a tenth.’” Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

    A couple invited some of their close friends to go with them to a popular restaurant.  Both the food and service were great. When they had finished their meal and conversation, the host wrote out the tip on the credit card slip. As they left, the waiter gave them a warm and friendly smile implying that the tip was good and generous. This scene is played out in restaurants all across our country. The standard tip seems to be hovering around 20 percent or more.

    As the couple who paid for the dinner was filling out their offering envelopes, it dawned on them that they paid a waiter for an hour or two of service four times what they were giving God in their weekly envelope. They gave the waiter the tithe and more, but to God they gave leftovers. There lies an irony that we make such a limited and poor response to God for all His goodness, mercy, grace, and love shown throughout our lifetimes and certainly into eternity. This may be why a wise person once said, “Surely there is something wrong with our standard of values, when we compare what we spend for incidentals or amusements and what we return to almighty God.”

    A tip or a tithe? For Jacob there was no hesitation about what his response to God’s abiding presence would be. Jacob’s story is not about a saint so holy that he awakes to find himself in the presence of God because of his good actions. It is the story of a scoundrel who awakes with a startling sense of wonder as he realizes that God had visited him in his dreams in spite of all the mistakes he had made.

    Jacob was in a jam because the choices he had made turned out to be selfish, calculating, and dishonest. His conniving had caught up with him. He had deceived his aged father, cheated his brother Esau, and was running for his life to escape the consequences. It is on the first night of his flight into the wilderness that he finds himself pursued not by Esau but by the grace of God. He has a vision of a ladder to heaven with angels ascending and descending. The Lord stood beside him and said, “Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go…” In amazement Jacob murmurs, “Surely the Lord is in this place; and I did not know it.”

    Jacob’s situation is symbolic of the human condition threefold: a wrong relationship with things of this world, a wrong relationship with people through deceit and dishonest dealing, and a wrong relationship with God by not acknowledging His presence and via our disobedience. Yet, because of his vision, Jacob begins to see all that he is and has are gifts from God. He promises to use the stone which was the pillow for his head as the foundation for a pillar in the building up of God’s house. Then he says, “… and of all that You give me I will give full tenth to you.”

    We usually think of the tithe as a form of legalism no longer part of our lives as Christians – perhaps something that is only emphasized by Baptists or the likes of televangelists. The general assumption is that the tithe is an expression of archaic demand, something you do or else. Instead of a threatening ultimatum upon a fearful people or a capricious requirement for impoverished nomads, the tithe was part of a plan for salvation and security for a precarious, fragile nation. It set Israel apart from the barbarous and callous cultures that sought to engulf and destroy them in the land of promise. It was a gift from, rather than an extraction of, gifts. Douglas Johnson in his insightful work The Tithe: Challenge or Legalism? insists: “that the tithe of the Old Testament is a testimony to the interconnectedness of people and God. It incorporates a cycle of giving and receiving and using. It signifies a relationship that can’t be content with using a strict formula from the past. The tithe, like the message of the Old Testament is a living witness of God.” Tithing therefore is not driven by legalistic compulsion, but rather arises as the spiritual response of a thankful soul.

    I realize that for many this topic is about as welcome as a snowstorm in June. The biblical concept of the tithe is often understood as an ancient, archaic, legalistic intrusion into our lives, which is compulsory and restrictive, painful to ponder, and inappropriate for pastors to preach upon. Hearing about it hits home. We are like the farmer who was asked if he had 200 cows would he give 20 to God? “Yes, of course!” he said. “If you had 100 cows would you give ten to God?” I most certainly would,” was his response. “If you had ten cows would you give one to God?” “Now that’s not fair,” he said, “You know I have only ten cows!”

    Our faith does not deny that economics has a place in the human condition. By the same token, it was Martin Luther who said that a religion that gives nothing, costs nothing, and suffers nothing is worth nothing. Tithing places before us a standard by which we may center our lives in gratitude to God. It has nothing to do with raising a budget or supporting a program. It has everything to do with making a spiritual response to God. Jacob’s story is timeless and relevant because it describes how this impoverished soul chose to respond.

    Tithing is not a barter with God. It’s not a financial contract assuring an increase in profits if you participate. It’s not a mathematical formula for assuring the presence of God, or a clever device for lining the coffers of the church. Tithing is essentially, fundamentally a testimony of faith in the creativity and goodness of God.

    Studies actually verify that the more money we make, the smaller percentage we give to the church. In other words, the biggest percentage givers to our church are those who have the smallest incomes. I don’t say that to embarrass anyone. It’s a fact. The biggest percentage givers in our church are not the big-salaried people with fine jobs, as you may have guessed, but the average member. In some instances you would be thrilled to know what some of our retired people are giving, and others who are on limited incomes.

    Does your giving resemble a tip or a tithe? In the context of your own relation to God in Christ, you must decide. This is my prediction: if you do decide to accept the tithe as a standard, you will be starting a grand adventure in faith. When the tithe is practiced, a desire for even greater generosity fills you for God doesn’t just have the tithe; He now has the tither as well. Furthermore, you will be amazed by how happy you are living on the other nine-tenths.

    Therefore, as I use God’s word for my guide. I find that the principle is valid as a starting point in my faith journey. In giving a proportion, using the tenth as a guide, I can be spiritually comfortable knowing that I have not robbed God. Moreover, I have been emotionally comfortable knowing that, no matter how large a budget our church may have, my share of the burden is simply God’s share of my income. Finally, I have been physically comfortable, knowing from experience that our household gets along better on the nine-tenths of our blessings than we ever could with one-tenth more without God’s benediction.

    Our giving expresses our gratitude for Who God is and what He has done for us especially through His Son, Jesus. How blessed we are to have a God Who loves us and watches over us. In spite of all our blessings, we give less than we should, but God forgives us. He is patient with us, and He keeps moving us along our journeys as God’s stewards. I am asking you to prayerfully consider giving a tithe next Sunday, June 10. If you are already tithing or giving above the tithe then that Sunday will be no different, but for many it can be the start of something new and exciting in your journey as God’s steward. It is my prayer that God will give you the strength to take a leap of faith in your giving and start giving God your first and best, not out of obligation, but in thanks for what Christ has done for us all.

    + In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.

  • It's the Same for Us

    See the Weekly Bulletin It's the Same for Us John 3:1-17 Not all Pharisees were jerks.  Actually, there were many honest ...

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    It's the Same for Us
    John 3:1-17

    Not all Pharisees were jerks.  Actually, there were many honest Pharisees.  Nicodemus, for example, when he heard about this young rabbi from Galilee had genuine curiosity.  During the crowded festivals, Jesus and many other visitors usually slept out by the Mount of Olives.  It was on one of those nights that Nicodemus saw his chance to visit with Jesus.

    Nicodemus came to Jesus with a great deal of respect.  He wasn’t quite ready to believe that Jesus was the Messiah, but He was ready to admit that He was no ordinary prophet.  And even as an ordinary prophet, Jesus’s words would have been considered God’s words.  And so it is, because the Holy Spirit worked through the apostle John to record this conversation, all today have the opportunity to learn about the work that each person of the Trinity has in our salvation.  

    The Father loves us so much that He sends His Son into our world.  The Son saves us by living and dying in our place so that the Father might now offer forgiveness, life, and salvation to you and to all.  The Holy Spirit creates and maintains the faith God put in you on the day of your baptism, and that gift alone receives and holds onto the gifts that the Son offers to us.  The Holy Spirit delivers these gifts through the Means of Grace that is the Word of God – as we hear it and read it – or as it comes to us in the water of Baptism – and in the very body and blood of Christ as we eat the bread and drink the wine of the Holy Supper.

    As Jesus began answering Nicodemus’s questions, He actually worked His way from the end of the process of salvation back to the beginning.  He began with the Holy Spirit’s activity of establishing faith in us.  We call this conversion.  The Holy Spirit converts people from spiritual death to spiritual life.  Jesus said this process of conversion is a spiritual birth.  After Nicodemus introduced himself, Jesus replied, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”  Later, after Nicodemus asked for more explanation, Jesus started over and added more details saying, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.  That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”  So the spiritual birth of conversion is like a physical birth.

    Ask any mom or anyone who has assisted or witnessed the birth of a baby, “Who does all the work?”  The baby endures quite a bit as he or she travels through the birth canal, but the baby does not provide the work.  The work comes from mom.  The baby experiences the work, but provides none of it.  It is mom who does the work of giving birth.  The experiences of the birth are passive ones.

    The same is true for our spiritual birth.  Although a great deal is happening to us during this life changing process, we do absolutely nothing to make it happen.  We do not decide to follow Jesus.  We do not give ourselves to God.  Just as Mom does all the work of physical birth, so God through Mother Church does all the work of spiritual birth.  We do nothing.  When Jesus answered, “… That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit,” He was telling Nicodemus it is the Holy Spirit who brings the Christian into the spiritual world with a spiritual birth.

    That means your faith is a miracle of God, which is why we can and do infant baptisms.  In fact, if you think about it, the miracle might be greater in adults since the Holy Spirit must work to undo a lifetime of false belief before He can work the true faith in them.  A baby, on the other hand, is a blank slate.  But why does God go through all the effort to produce this faith in us?

    Well, faith receives the work that God has done for us.  The first thing Jesus told Nicodemus about Himself was that He had descended from heaven.  The first benefit Jesus revealed to Nicodemus: the knowledge that Jesus is both God and man means that He is the kingdom of God.  The benefit of conversion becomes even clearer when Jesus moved on to tell of the work He would do as God and man: “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”  Here is the chief benefit of the faith - Whoever believes has eternal life.

    And what is it we believe?  Well, we believe that Jesus was lifted up on the cross just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness.  That by His suffering and death, Jesus earned eternal life for us.  And now Jesus offers that life as a gift to all and we receive by faith, the gift that the Holy Spirit worked in us in our spiritual birth.

    Jesus tells Nicodemus that we are saved by faith in Him alone.  Nicodemus can try to keep the laws of Moses until the effort itself kills him.  It’s the same for us.  Because God’s standard is perfection, it only takes one sin to condemn us forever.  And still, we sin every day and cannot stop ourselves.  How blessed we are to know and believe that by faith in Christ alone do we receive all the benefits of Christ’s cross, that is forgiveness, life, and salvation.

    And what is the Father’s roll in all this?  He is the one who loves, gives, and sends.  “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

    God who is love sent His Son into our world to be our substitute - to be lifted up on the cross so that the world might be saved through him.  With these words Jesus is teaching that the kingdom of God does not come to Nicodemus because he is a descendant of Abraham, but comes because the Holy Spirit gives him the same faith as Abraham.

    That faith was indeed created with Nicodemus’s heart, as we see by his actions.  We read in John 19: “Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus, and Pilate gave him permission.  So he came and took away his body.  Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight.  So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews.  Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid.  So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.”

    One can only imagine the joy of Nicodemus when he learned that the body he had laid in Joseph’s tomb was no longer there - that Jesus, his savior, had risen from the dead.  What joy he must have felt knowing through the Spirit’s gift of faith that he would live forever within God’s kingdom.  What a joy it is for us who also have been born of that same Spirit, that the day will come when we shall join Nicodemus around the throne of God in the eternal joy of everlasting life

    In Jesus’s Name.  Amen

  • The Day of Pentecost

    See the Weekly Bulletin Sermon for May 20, 2018 – The Day of Pentecost Acts 2:1-21 + Grace to you, and peace, from God our ...

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    Sermon for May 20, 2018 – The Day of Pentecost
    Acts 2:1-21

    + Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

    The text for our meditation this Pentecost weekend is from the book of Acts, specifically where Luke writes, “And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? … we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” Here ends our text; dear Christian friends.

    Where is the focus in this text? Where do your ears prick up? What point in this story catches your imagination? It’s a little unfair to ask this question because we are only, honestly, getting a snippet of the narrative. Our text is coming at the tail-end of a fifty-day period. During those 50 days, Jesus appeared to His disciples on several occasions; only thing is, He was dead. No question, He was dead, and yet He appeared to His disciples, on more than one occasion, very much alive. He did this for forty days, ten days prior to our second reading, and then He visibly, physically, ascended back to His rightful place at the right hand of the Father, but not before reminding His disciples of the promise He had given them, the promise for another Helper, the promise we read about in our Gospel text:

    “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.” Jesus repeats this promise at His ascension, telling the disciples to remain in Jerusalem until it happens. And they do. They wait, for ten days, and now here we are. On the same day as the Festival of Weeks, Shavuot. This lesser-known feast (at least from a Gentiles perspective) celebrates several things at once. It marks 50 days from the Passover Sabbath, while also commemorating the giving of the Torah to Moses on Mount Sinai. Religious significance abounds in this festival, but also cultural: this is also a harvest celebration, specifically the early harvest celebration. With this, came the idea that if the early harvest is good, the later harvest will be even better! This is a HUGE celebration in Jerusalem, with Jews from all nations coming to the holy city to celebrate – Parthians, Medes, Elamites, Mesopotamians, Cappadocians, Pontics, Asians, Phrygians, Pamphylians, Egyptians, Libyans, Romans, Cretans, Arabians, and Judeans. Virtually from every corner of the known world, where the fear of the God of Israel had come to the people, the people had come to celebrate. And it just so happened that it was on THIS day, THIS Shavuot, that we have our reading from Luke’s pen.

    “When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.” This is incredible, make no mistake. It’s so incredible, that entire denominations have endeavored to recreate this day every day. It’s hard to blame them. But is that the focus? The sound like a mighty rushing wind, the tongues as of fire, the speaking in foreign languages? Is that what Luke is wanting to draw your attention to?

    Well, let’s continue on, and we’ll likely reach the answer. These disciples, filled with the gift of the Holy Spirit, speaking in languages that they have never used and yet are talking with the ease of native speakers, they’re speaking in the languages of all of those gathered in Jerusalem, and as these disciples give testimony, “we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” Miraculous? Yes. Absolutely. Not since before the fall of the Tower of Babel had human beings understood one another with such ease! Each of the hearers hears, listens, to the proclamations of these men, singing the praises of God in the languages their mothers had taught them. Is that where you get caught up? Is that what is so astounding? Is that where you, with all these Jews from all the world over ask in amazement and perplexity, “What does this mean?”

    The entire narrative is so overwhelming, it’s easy to get caught up in the details. It’s easy to get caught up in the what and the who, the mystery and the fantastical. It’s easy to see these things and long for those golden days. But is that the purpose of this text?

    No. The focus of this is not upon the bizarre and wild yet true story that we read here. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit is an amazing fulfillment of Christ’s promises to His disciples, but it’s the message the Holy Spirit gives them to speak that should be the focus – after all, the work of the Holy Spirit is NOT to draw attention to Himself, but to point toward Christ, the Son of the Living God.

    It’s not the amazing wonder that the disciples are using foreign tongues they’d never used before to proclaim the glories of God; it’s the message those tongues are speaking, the praise of God, the proclamation of His Law and His Gospel, to cut sinners to the heart, to kill them with the conviction of the law, and to make them alive again in Christ, which is precisely what Peter proclaims to all those who are within earshot, including those who think the disciples have gotten into the new wine. The focus here should not be the messenger, nor even the vehicle of the message. The focus is on the message – namely, the story of sin and redemption through Jesus of Nazareth, Who is called the Christ. Jesus said as much about the Holy Spirit Who gives utterance when He said, “… when [the Spirit] comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.”

    It’s easy to get caught up. It’s easy to get tangled in the signs of the times, with the wonders in the heavens above, and signs on the earth below. It’s easy to dwell upon numbers, and figures, how that church is losing members, yet how that one over there seems to be growing. It’s easy to decry and bemoan the state of our culture, the division, but that’s not where our focus must be. Acknowledgment of where we’re at is a good thing, but as Pastor French told the children last week, if we take our focus off of Jesus, it’s very easy to get lost.

    The focus of our mission now is the same as it was on the Day of Pentecost, at that miraculous outpouring of the Holy Spirit. We are not called to miraculously speak in tongues, but we are called to proclaim Christ and Him crucified to all people, to translate His message of Law and Gospel into ways the people can understand. We are not called to prophesy to dry bones to come alive, but we are called to speak the truth in love, to call sinners out of darkness into the marvelous light of salvation found only in Christ, to call them from the death they love to find life in Jesus, whom they likely hate. We are called to faithfulness … in all that we are, trusting that the Holy Spirit is still doing today through us what He did in Jerusalem ten days after Jesus ascended, and trusting that the message that He brings to us and through us is true! It’s the message we bear that is our focus, keeping our eyes on Jesus, even in the miraculous found on Pentecost. It worked for the disciples, and it certainly works today, because the Holy Spirit works through His people today as He did then.

    It’s fitting, then, that the Holy Spirit was poured out at the early harvest festival. If that early harvest was good, the later harvest would be GREAT. Yes, my friends, the Spirit is still working, still sowing seeds in the field, and if the early harvest at the first Pentecost was as great as we see it being, how INCREDIBLE will the Last Harvest be! He still works, still brings sinners to Jesus, through the utterances that He gives us, proclaiming in the tongues that we are given … the mighty works of God!

    + In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.

  • Christ Prays for You!

    See the Weekly Bulletin Christ Prays for You! John 17:11b-19 Given how things are shaking out for Christians in this world nowada ...

    See the Weekly Bulletin

    Christ Prays for You!
    John 17:11b-19

    Given how things are shaking out for Christians in this world nowadays, the thought of wanting to separate ourselves from all the craziness and perversion and corruption and hatred and hypocrisy and persecution makes perfect sense.  There are plenty of times that I have thought the Amish may be onto something when it comes to interacting with the rest of this fallen world.  And yet, it is against that very separation that our Lord prays.  “I do not ask you [heavenly Father] to take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.  Let them be in the world, but not of the world.”

    Now the immediate context tells us that Jesus prayed this “high priestly prayer” on Maundy Thursday just hours before He was betrayed to death.  Jesus was obviously praying for His apostles; the same men who, in just a few hours, would abandon and forsake Him as they attempted to create as much separation between Him and them as they could to save themselves.  But then, can you imagine how those disciples would’ve felt seeing their hope of life eternal being beaten and humiliated and finally nailed to a tree to be forsaken and cursed by God?  They’d obviously wanted nothing to do with that, which brings up a good question: Was the prayer of Jesus ineffective?

    Now I ask this question because this is the point where most people experience their moments of doubt.  No doubt we all think we know what Jesus means when He prays this petition, but what does Jesus NOT mean?  This is where doubt and anger and unbelief, like yeast, make their way into our faith.  This is where the devil finds a chink in our armor and begins to exploit and infiltrate and wear down.  Why?  Because bad things happen to believers.

    Evil people do seem to get ahead while good people seem to get the short end of the stick.  Life just isn’t fair.  That’s the conventional wisdom, and Scripture seems to reinforce that fact time and time again.  If you are faithful, if you are good and God-pleasing in the exercise of your faith, you can consider yourself a marked person.  The devil, the world, and your own sinful flesh will seek to destroy you.  They will never stop working to bring an end to your contentment and peace.  That is, as we hold to Christ, we will experience hardship and pain and sorrow in our lives.

    Now, to be sure, much of the pain and sorrow we experience and complain about in our cushy, contemporary setting isn’t necessarily a result of our being “good Christians,” but simply a result of our being children of Adam.  And this is where satan does some of his best work, that is blurring of the lines between the reality our fallen nature and living a life of faith in a fallen world.

    Christians aren’t the only ones who get cancer or lose their job, their savings, or those they love.  Christians aren’t the only ones who experience bankruptcy or hunger or sickness or pain or sorrow or hurt feelings.  And yet, when these crosses happen, we often cry out to God as if He’s not keeping up His end of the bargain; as though we deserve a free pass from things uncomfortable or unpleasant.  “I try to live as a faithful witness and repent when I fail.  I’ve prayed again and again, ‘Lord deliver me from this evil,” and nothing happens.  Why should I pray if you’re not going to do what I want?!”

    See how easy it can be to confuse the symptoms of sin with the reality of life in a fallen world.  When we experience pain and sorrow in our daily life, we’re tempted to understand that as we did something wrong.  We’re tempted to find the assurance of our faith by how things are going for us in life instead of holding to the death and resurrection Christ.  And it’s not because of a weakness of faith, but the strength of our sinful human nature that when times of testing come into our lives, without thought, we sometimes begin to panic and start reaching out for anything that might give us the assurance that we need.  The truth is, that’s a perfect time for satan to try and get us to take our eyes off of the cross, and our feet off the path that leads to it.  And, make no mistake, satan is always looking for opportunities to draw us away or to separate us from the only assurance of our acceptance in God’s sight and our only source of lasting comfort and peace.  My friends, it is by God’s grace and the working of the Holy Spirit alone that we don’t give in and follow the path that leads away and would separates us from Christ and His cross forever.

    That’s why Jesus prays, “Keep them in Your name.”  Remember, Jesus knows better than you do what it is that you need.  He knows how to give you the peace and assurance and hope and confidence that you so desperately crave. Dear children of God, it is my joy and privilege to tell you again that God’s Word gives these gifts to you and His Word is certain and true.  Think about your baptism into Christ.  That is your justification.  That is where spirit gave birth to spirit and God Himself made you His own.  It is where He is giving you His Son’s victory over sin, death, and the devil.  Look at the altar—the very table of your Savior.  It is there He feeds and nourishes you with His own life-giving body and blood as God works a miraculous divine communion.

    Now just let that sink in a bit.  God comes to us to forgive and commune (or be as one) with us.  It was and is the sin of humanity that separates and creates enmity.  Adam and Eve turned away from God, and because of our sinfulness, we’re still trying to run and hide from the one and only source of forgiveness, life, and true peace.  Still, the words of Jesus, “… how often I have longed to gather your children together like a hen, but you were not willing” … ring true.  That’s why Jesus comes to us.  He comes to bring us into communion with Himself, to restore what sin destroyed.  He comes to give us His life and with it the promise that all this will one day come to an end, and all who believe will be together with Him who is pure love.

    The world we live in is coming apart.  Things are bad and they will only get worse.  But take heart, for you belong to the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, the Lamb who made you His own through the water and the word of your baptism, the Lamb who speaks words of forgiveness to you, the Lamb who is nourishing you with His life-giving Body and Blood, the Lamb who is the Prince of the peace that surpasses human understanding.

    Your Lord prays for you in the midst of His trial and tribulation, but He doesn’t pray that you never experience pain and sorrow while living your faith in a Christ-hating world.  He doesn’t pray that you never bear crosses.  But, Christ does pray that we bear our crosses faithfully, using them to show a childlike trust in Him no matter what life throws at us.  He prays for you, so that when you do experience those pains and sorrows that come with your crosses, you will by grace through faith hold even tighter to Him and His promise of grace and mercy.  Yes, even now, Christ prays for you.  And if God is for you, who can be against you?

    May the truth of God’s love for you be your deep-seeded peace as He guards and keeps your hearts and minds in Christ our Lord and merciful Savior. 

    In His Name Amen.

  • Lessons of Ascension

    See the Weekly Bulletin Lessons of Ascension Acts 1:1-11 There’s a lot to be learned about the Ascension of our Lord from o ...

    See the Weekly Bulletin

    Lessons of Ascension
    Acts 1:1-11

    There’s a lot to be learned about the Ascension of our Lord from our reading in Acts as well as our Gospel reading this evening.  Luke, who wrote both, tells us Christ’s ascension took place near Bethany.  He also tells us that the Ascension happened forty days after the Resurrection.  He records what the eye witnesses saw at the Ascension, that Jesus was lifted up and a cloud took him out of their sight.  Luke tells us a lot, but there are also things that Luke doesn’t tell us.

    For example, many people just assume that once the cloud hid Jesus from sight that Jesus just kept going up and up until He reached heaven and so, is now far, far away.  They assume that Jesus is watching over us from wherever He is.  Some think that from that far-off “command center,” Jesus gets involved with the important things that happen in this world, but for the most part, He has bigger, more important things to watch over than you or me.

    But when we read these inspired words of Luke carefully, we realize that Luke only tells what the disciples saw.  Jesus rose from the surface of the earth far enough for a cloud to literally “receive” Him.  After that, Luke says nothing.  Maybe the cloud hid a door in the sky that goes from time into eternity.  I mean, if all we knew about the Ascension was from Luke’s account, then the imagination is the limit once He’s “received by the cloud from their sight.”  But if we want to know what happened, then we need look elsewhere in the Scriptures.

    In our Epistle reading Paul tells of the great works of God “that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.”  With words we learn a few more things about the Ascension of our Lord.

    First of all, Paul wants us to understand that the Ascension is not just Christ moving in time and space, but it’s also a recognition of authority.  When we hear that Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father, what does that mean? If we think about it from an earthly perspective, for example, the Queen of England sits on the throne in London, but that doesn’t mean she sits there 24/7.  It means that she reigns as Queen over all the United Kingdom and has the right to sit on that throne by virtue of her office.  Likewise, Jesus seated at the right hand of the Father doesn’t mean He just sits there, it means that He reigns with His Father over all things.  It means that Jesus, whose flesh never saw decay, has taken humanity into the Holy Trinity.

    Another thing that Paul teaches us is that Jesus is the One who fills all things.  That is, Jesus is everywhere, and not just as God, He is everywhere as God and man.  That’s a teaching that’s technically known as the “genus idiomaticum” or what the catechism calls the communication of attributes from Christ divine to His human nature.  That is because Christ is one person who is both God and man.  Everything He is and does, He is and does as both God and man.

    So, when we think about Christ’s Ascension, we shouldn’t think, up, up, and away, but more up, up, and out!  Jesus’s Ascension does not mean He is gone.  It means He’s always with us as both God and man. The truth is, Jesus is closer to each of us now than He would be if we could see Him with our physical eyes.

    We’ve already seen this at work during the forty days Jesus appeared to His disciples after He rose from the dead.  He left the tomb without moving the stone.  He spoke with two of His disciples and then simply disappeared after He broke bread with them.  Twice He suddenly showed up in a locked room in the middle of His disciples.  He came and went, or more accurately appeared and disappeared, at will.  That was how Jesus taught them and us that even though they couldn’t see Him, He was always with them.

    Jesus also made promises to His Church that He would not be able to keep if it weren’t for the communication of attributes.  Today we heard that Jesus ascended into heaven, but elsewhere Jesus made the promise, “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age,” and “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”  Then there’s the promise that Jesus makes in the sacrament itself when He said, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me,” and “This cup that is poured out for you is the new testament in my blood.”  How can Jesus make all of these promises to be with us if He is sitting on His throne in heaven?

    If Jesus were just a man, these verses would make no sense.  But because Jesus is both God and man, He can fulfill these passages simply by being who He is.  The very body that carries the prints of the thorns, the marks of the nails, and the puncture wound of the spear is with us even though we can’t see Him.  In a way that we cannot understand, all of God’s forgiveness, all His love, all His comfort is always with each and every one of us in the crucified, risen, and ascended body of Jesus Christ.

    I feel bad for those who reject the teaching of the exalted Christ’s communion of attributes between His divine and human natures. That one wrong turn, if you will, means they believe the bread and wine of the sacrament only represent the body and blood of Christ; that there is no forgiveness, only a symbol of forgiveness in His words.  It means they believe there’s no love from Christ in the sacrament, only a representation of His love.  It means they believe there’s no comfort in the cup, only a symbol of the comfort of Christ.  The truth is, when this teaching of Holy Scriptures is rejected, there is no real Gospel, there’s only a symbol of the Gospel.

    But Christ has ascended to fill all things.  He is still, and will always be, Immanuel, God with us.  He’s with us through His love, His forgiveness, His comfort, His salvation, and the eternal life He offers to all.  The good news is that the day is coming when we shall see Him as He is.  As we read, “This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”  And as the Holy Spirit inspired St. Paul to write to the Corinthians, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.  Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.”

    Until that day, we rest in the assurance that we are never alone.  Christ our Lord, true God and true man, is always with us.  The world will do all it can to separate us from Him.  It will discourage us.  It will attack us.  It will persecute us.  Jesus Himself warned us, “In the world you will have trouble.”  But then He adds, “But take heart!  I have overcome the world.”  And He did that for you.

    In His Name, Amen

  • Circle

    See the Weekly Bulletin Circle John 15:9-17 + Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior ...

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    John 15:9-17

    + Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

    The text for our meditation is from our Gospel lesson, where John writes, If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. … This is My commandment: that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

    It seems a bit odd to consider this text today, as we bask in the victorious glow of the Eastertide. Odd, but nonetheless fitting, and by the end of this sermon, I think you’ll agree. It’s odd because of the context of our reading. We are not post-resurrection, celebrating Jesus’s incredible victory over sin, death, and the devil. Rather, we’re back. We’re back in the upper room, on the same night on which our Lord was betrayed into the hands of evil men. This is the night … before His death by crucifixion.

    Jesus has just washed the disciples’ feet … when suddenly, the mood in the room shifts. Jesus is more somber, more serious, reflecting His troubled spirit as He declares, I tell you the truth, one of you will betray Me. The shifting glances, the nervous and trembling voices as the disciples each ask, Is it I, Lord? causes thick tension in the air. Of course, as he receives the bread into his hand, Judas also receives the devil into his heart, and he rushes off to do what he was going to do. Once the traitor is gone, Jesus uses what little time remains to prepare His disciples for what’s coming. He tells Peter how he will thrice deny his Teacher. He reminds His disciples that no one comes to the Father except through the Son. He promises to send another Helper after He has gone away from them. Then, He gives them, as He said, a new commandment: love one another as I have loved you. Just a few minutes remaining with His disciples, and He drops LAW on them.

    What … was Jesus thinking? Doesn’t He know that telling the people what they should and should not do is verboten in Lutheran preaching? It violates the Law/Gospel balance! Wouldn’t it have been better if He had stopped, in the middle of the sermon of His life, to tell His friends about His incredible love for them – so great a love, that He would, in mere hours, die for them? Why does He go that extra step into the murky waters of exhortation to Christian living?

    But that’s where He goes, and we mustn’t get so caught up in this word “commandment” that we end up missing the forest for the trees. Jesus isn’t just talking about His ministry in parts here; He’s talking about it as a whole, reminding His disciples of all that He has taught, said, and done, and focusing it down to a singularity of divine truth. The truth His Father had given Him to proclaim, the same truth that He was now giving His friends, the truth that He knew He was about to live out and embody.

    As He was telling the disciples of the love that He wanted them to have for one another, He knew that Judas was probably already before the Sanhedrin, collecting his 30 pieces of silver, and that soon, he would set off with a mob to come out after his former Rabbi with clubs and chains. Time was short; there were mere moments left. What would you tell your loved ones … if you knew you only had a few minutes left, and that death was a-knocking? With all His faithful, close friends gathered around Him, Jesus decides to focus His final words upon love. His Father’s love for Him, His love for all His friends, and their love for Him and one another.

    I won’t lie, it would have been much easier if Jesus had stopped there. It would have been much easier if Jesus had simply talked about the love shown in His salvific sacrifice. If Jesus had simply said, “I love you, I forgive you, it doesn’t make a difference – do what you want! I’ve forgiven all your sin! Hate one another, if you want; My blood covers it all!” that would have made things much simpler. At least then, His message would be consistent with my life, and I’d be willing to bet, with yours, as well.

    I’d like to think that I’m a loving person, that I care for all people, but frequently, I find that the opposite is the case. I’m not all that loving. I act in frequently selfish, self-serving, incurvatus, ways. I can put on a good show, no doubt, but in my heart, and I’d guess with you as well, it’s about me. I’m a lousy, rotten, no-good, stinkin’ sinner, and that’s what lousy, rotten no-good, stinkin’ sinners do: they focus upon themselves.

    The cold, hard fact is that love is what we are commanded to give, what we’re commanded to do, but it is something that we, as sinners, are unable to give. So, the question is, how are we to love … as we have been loved? Our text provides the answer.

    Here, as in other places in John’s writings, we discover that love is not only the command, but also the key to the fulfillment OF that command! As the Father has loved Me, so have I loved you. Abide – remain – in My love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in His love. If you obey My commands, you abide in My love, and if you abide in My love, you will keep My commands. The circle is complete. It was started by God, and it is brought to completion in God. Within this circle of love is the overwhelming reality of God’s divine love for us – love that radiates from the Father, to the Son, love that permeates His disciples and manifests itself in fruit-producing obedience … the new obedience.

    This is what you find with those who remain in Jesus’s love. It’s not your choice, as Jesus so clearly states. You did not choose me, He says, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide. We didn’t choose to love God – as if we could, since prior to His intercession, we were spiritual blind, dead, and enemies of God; instead, He chose to love us. While we were yet sinners, in the greatest expression of love ever seen in this world, Christ died for us. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, killed that we may live. We are able to love because God loved us so much, that He brought us into that circle. We love Him … we love one another… because He first loved us.

    Greater love has no one than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. And that is EXACTLY what Jesus was about to do for His friends – those who were there, gathered in the upper room, and for His friends, His beloved, throughout time and space, including those gathered in this sanctuary, here today, He would lay down His life. Out of love. For them. For us.

    Jesus has shown us the ultimate expression of love, and through His obedience, by His laying down His life, so that He can take it up again, as He did three days later. By His love, by His Holy Spirit, we likewise obey the command to love – to love God, and love one another. So, yes, this text is fitting, even in the blessed season of Easter, for in the end, it is all about love.

    + In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.

  • Already Clean

    See the Weekly Bulletin Already Clean John 15:1-8 Today's Gospel again takes us back to the night Jesus was betrayed.  H ...

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    Already Clean
    John 15:1-8

    Today's Gospel again takes us back to the night Jesus was betrayed.  He has already instituted the Sacrament of the Altar and is again teaching as He and His disciples make their way to Gethsemane.

    On the way He tells a parable that compares all who believe in Him to branches on a grape vine.  Jesus is the vine.  His Father is the vinedresser.  Just as a branch gets its sustenance from the vine, so also, He taught, we get our sustenance from Him.  Just as a branch dies when separated from the vine, so also we die spiritually when separated from Christ.  The point of course is that we are totally dependent on Jesus for everything and as we live in Jesus our heavenly Father, our vinedresser or gardener, prunes those made clean by His Word.

    When Martin Luther wrote about today's Gospel, he wondered what kind of conversation you would have with the vinedresser if you were the vine.  Luther Writes: “Imagine that you are a vine and you see  the vinedresser coming along and chopping about [your] roots with his mattock or his hoe and cutting the wood from [your] branches with his clipper or his pruning hook, [you] would be prompted by what [you] saw and felt to say: "Ah, what are you doing? Now I must wither and decay, for you are removing the soil from my roots and are belaboring my branches with those iron teeth. You are tearing and pinching me everywhere, and I will have to stand in the ground bare and seared. You are treating me more cruelly than one treats any tree or plant." But the vinedresser would reply: "You are a fool and do not understand. For even if I do cut a branch from you, it is a totally useless branch; it takes away your strength and your sap. Then the other branches, which should bear fruit, must suffer. Therefore away with it! This is for your own good." You say: "But I do not understand it, and I have a different feeling about it." The vinedresser declares: "But I understand it well. I am doing this for your welfare, to keep the foreign and wild branches from sucking out the strength and the sap of the others. Now you will be able to yield more and better fruit and to produce good wine." The same thing is true when the vinedresser applies manure to the stock of the vine; this, too, he does for the benefit of the vine even though the vine might complain again and say: "What, pray (tell), is this for? Is it not enough that you are hacking and cutting me to pieces? Now with this filthy cow manure, which is intolerable in the barn and elsewhere, you are defiling my tender branches, which yield such delicious juice! Must I stand for this too?"

    Luther continues with these words: That is how Christ interprets the suffering which He and His Christians are to endure on earth. This is to be an investment and a help rather than affliction and harm. Its purpose is to enable them to bear all the better fruit and all the more, in order that we may learn to impress this on ourselves as He impresses it on Himself. As though He were saying: "After all, this is the truth, and I cannot interpret it otherwise. I share the fate of the vine in every respect. The Jews will throw manure at Me and will hack away at Me. They will shamefully revile and blaspheme Me, will torture, scourge, crucify, and kill Me in the most disgraceful manner, so that all the world will suppose that I must finally perish and be destroyed. But the fertilizing and pruning I suffer will yield a richer fruit: that is, through My cross and death I shall come to My glory, begin My reign, and be acknowledged and believed throughout the world. Later on you will have the same experience. You, too, must be fertilized and cultivated in this way. The Father, who makes Me the Vine and you the branches, will not permit this Vine to lie unfertilized and unpruned. Otherwise it would degenerate into a wild and unfruitful vine which would finally perish entirely. But when it is well cultivated, fertilized, pruned, and stripped of its superfluous leaves, it develops its full strength and yields wine that is not only abundant but also good and delicious." [Luther's Works, John 15:2]

    One of the best examples or foreshadowing’s is found in the Old Testament lessons from the patriarchs – or the twelve sons of Jacob who grew into the twelve tribes of Israel.  Eleven of the brothers all hated the one brother Joseph and eventually sold him into slavery to a caravan of Ishmaelites heading to Egypt.  God however used the experiences of Joseph as a slave to prune and prepare him for the work He had prepared for him to do. 

    Eventually Joseph became the second most powerful man in Egypt and God then used Joseph to bring the Children of Israel out of Canaan into Egypt saving them from the physical and spiritual famine in the land.  And then God used Egypt as an incubator where the Israelites, His Children, would grow into a great nation.

    The reality of that shadow is seen in the good God worked out of the evil endured by His only begotten Son Jesus who He called out of Egypt for all people. And what does this blind and sinful world do when it comes face to face with the Son of God?  As you well know, because of the sin we all bear we all had a hand in subjecting the Holy Son of God to a “so called” trial and there condemned Him to die on a cross. Sinful men used a crown of thorns to mock, rods to bruise, whips to shred, a spear to pierce, and nails to attach the body of God to a cross and there He was left to die.  Truly it is pure evil that hangs pure love on the cross of Calvary.

    God however used the blood of Christ to accomplish His goal that was and is to bring sinful mankind back to Himself, to restore the relationship that had be shattered by that first sin.  The world in its wisdom thought it had defeated God, but God in His wisdom used Good Friday to pay for sin, overcome death and defeat the devil.  The world thought it had destroyed the Son of God, but God used His Sons destruction for our forgiveness and then raised Him from the dead for our justification. God the Father took the world’s most intense hate and used it to serve His love for you and me, to bring us back into His kingdom. My friends we live in a fallen, world - a world that hates Christ and so hates you. But take heart our God who never changes, continues to change the world's hate into blessings for His people.

    Today's Gospel reading offers comfort when we’re feeling the weight of the world.  It reminds us that our God will use these times of sorrow for our good, that they are only a pruning for those who are already clean, that is all who are baptized in His name.  Know and believe that your pruning will lead to fruitfulness and the strengthening of your faith that you might hold ever tighter to His promises and share His gifts with all who come to know you in both word and deed.

    All of us begin life as a branch separated from the vine … ready for the fire. Mercifully through the water and Word of our baptisms that fire is quenched as God the Holy Spirit, grafts us into His Son bringing us to life by giving us His life.  When Jesus tells us to abide in Him, He is simply telling us to live our baptism and to feast on the spiritual food that is His body and blood given and shed for you.  He’s telling you that He is all you will ever need to be with Him in heaven … forever.

    In His Name, Amen.

  • No Other Name But Jesus

    See the Weekly Bulletin No Other Name But Jesus Acts 4:1-12      The text for our meditation today is the Fir ...

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    No Other Name But Jesus
    Acts 4:1-12

         The text for our meditation today is the First Lesson, from Acts, Chapter 4.  Especially we hear these words of Peter, “There is salvation is no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men, by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

         These are very controversial words to many people in our world - and even to many in our own country, these days. How dare Christians be so narrow and exclusive in their views, they say, as to claim that Jesus is the only way to salvation.  Don’t they know that the greatest virtue today is the celebration of diversity, differences of opinion - and the acceptance and approval of others, no matter what they think or do or believe? This seem to be the view of so many, today.

         Someone asked recently in a Bible study a very good question. What do you say, when people won’t accept the clear words of Scripture and openly challenge them? That happens so often. People seem to hear only the rules and regulations of the Bible, and they don’t like them.

         Maybe you saw in the news, this week, that a U.S. Senator directly challenged a nominee for office in our country, because he had once said that though he cared for all people and respected their right to their views, he still believed, as a Christian, that certain sexual behaviors were wrong, were perverse. The Senator then said, in effect, to him, that he was not qualified to serve in the government if he thought that any people in our country were perverse. You just can’t judge and say that! (Notice, though, that the Senator was judging, himself, as he spoke.)

         Contrast this Senator’s ideas with what the Scriptures say. Paul, in his own day, calls his own generation “a crooked and perverse generation” (Philippians 2:15), because of the reality of sin and evil in the world, (ever since the fall into sin, actually); and using the picture image of this Good Shepherd Sunday, Isaiah says that we all, like sheep, have gone astray. (Isaiah 53: 6) We are all sinners, who have done wrong; and we need to know and admit that.

         Our text for today gives us some help in how to respond to these challenges, for those early Christians faced the same sort of problems, and even worse, at times. Peter and John were in the temple in Jerusalem, taking with people and “preaching in Jesus the resurrection from dead.” (Acts 4:2)

         A crowd had gathered, because by a miracle of God, a man who was crippled all of his life and had never been able to walk, was suddenly healed. People wanted to see how this man could be “walking and leaping and praising God.” (Acts 3:8) And Peter and John took the opportunity they had to tell the people about Jesus.

         Suddenly, religious authorities and temple guards came and shut Peter and John down and arrested them and took them into custody. The next day, the authorities began to question them about how the crippled man was healed.

         Peter and John took the opportunity given to them, again. They could have said nothing or said nothing controversial; but they spoke boldly. They knew that Jesus had died and then had risen from the dead. They took no credit for themselves for the healing, the good deed done. They can only point to Jesus and say, “Let it be known....that by the name of Jesus Christ of Him, this man is standing before you well.” (Acts 4:10)

         They knew that what Jesus said in our Gospel lesson for today was really true. “I am the Good Shepherd”, (John 10:14) He said. There are lots of sheep, but only one Shepherd for them all, He says. (John 10:16) And he is that one Good Shepherd.

         Jesus also contrasts Himself with “hired hands” - people who say that they care about the sheep, but ultimately can’t help them and die and leave them alone - to try to do what they can for themselves, on their on. (John 10:12) Think about all the world religions and teachings - lots of ideas, some of them with bits of good - but no one can really live up to these ideas, no matter how hard we try - and Buddha and Mohammad and Joseph Smith and on you go with other names  - are dead and gone and can’t help and did nothing ultimately to save, to rescue other people.

         Yet we sheep do need help, as weakened as we are by our sins and failures. Our church choir director, Amanda, whose family raises sheep, was telling the choir on Thursday that sheep just don’t know how to care for themselves or for each other, or how to protect themselves, or do much at all for themselves. They are lost, on their own. That’s why Jesus and the Scriptures call all of us humans “sheep”. We are spiritually lost, on our own. We can’t rescue ourselves. We need a Savior.

         And that’s why Peter has to say, very bluntly, in our text, that Jesus is the Messiah, the promised One, and yet “you crucified Him”. (Acts 4:10) And quoting the Old Testament, Peter says, “this is the Stone that was rejected by you....which has become the Cornerstone.” (Acts 4:11) People had to be confronted and to know their sins, so that they could know their need for the Savior, and to appreciate Him.

         And Jesus did care for and love His sheep, including us, in spite of our failings, and He did exactly what He had promised, in our Gospel lesson.

    “I am the Good Shepherd, Who lays down His life for the sheep, and I take it up again.” (John 10:11, 17-18)

         What we sheep could never do, Jesus did for us - dying on the cross, willingly, to pay for our sins and the sins of the whole world, and rising from the dead, taking up His life again, to show us that we are saved and have new and eternal life, simply by listening to His voice and trusting in Him. And even that saving faith is a gift from the Good Shepherd. Peter and John were arrested, but we still read that “many of those who had heard the Word (about Jesus as Savior, from them) believed.” (Acts 4:4) They believed by the working of the Holy Spirit, through the Word of God.

         And when you really think about it, the last words of Peter in our text are not narrow and exclusive, but are amazingly Good News for everyone in the world.  Listen again. “There is salvation in no one else.” (Acts 4:12) That means that there is salvation, and it is completed and available for anyone and everyone in Jesus Christ, And it is available now!

           “For there is no other name under heaven, given among men, by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) These are actually very comforting words. They mean that we don’t have to keep looking for or waiting for a Savior to come. We don’t have to try this or that religion or idea or try to work out things by our own goodness or efforts. We have everything we need, all we need - in Jesus Christ. And He has already come, in love, just for us sheep, to save us.

         Remember that Jesus prayed from the cross, as He laid down His life for His sheep, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

    (Luke 23:34) That’s the essence of our being sheep. Too often, we don’t know what we are doing or what to do about situations in our lives. And it is especially true of those who don’t yet know Jesus as Savior and as the Center of life. They are lost and confused, on their own, and really need forgiveness and hope and new life and salvation that come through no other name but Jesus.

         Even as baptized believers, we continually need that reassurance in Jesus, too, as we tend to be wandering sheep, ourselves, at times, and need to hear the Law of God calling us to repentance, too. We hear in our Epistle for today, “Whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and He knows everything.” (1 John 3:20). He knows exactly why He gave all those rules and commands in the first place, for our own good; but He also knows His own Son, Jesus, Who has done His saving work for us and will forgive us, as we humbly return to and trust Him, by His grace, and will give us strength to try to do better.

         And now, humbly and lovingly, as forgiven sinners, we try, as we have opportunity, to share Jesus Christ with other sinners, even though they can sometimes be very resistant.

         Martin Luther once said that all we really are as Christians is to be beggars who have found bread in Christ and now want to help other beggars find that bread - but it is the Bread of Life, eternal life, in Jesus, that we have received freely from Jesus, and that everyone desperately needs, whether they know it or not. And so we keep trying to share both Law and Gospel, the bad news of our sins, but the Good News of our Savior.

         “For there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven, given among men, by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) No other Name, but Jesus.

  • Killing the Lord of Life

    See the Weekly Bulletin Killing the Lord of Life Luke 24:36-49 The appearances of Christ after His resurrection are so packed wit ...

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    Killing the Lord of Life
    Luke 24:36-49

    The appearances of Christ after His resurrection are so packed with meaning.  You not only have the obvious teaching that Jesus rose from the dead, but you also have teachings that focus on the life of the Church.  Last week we not only learned that Jesus rose from the dead, but we also learned that Jesus established the office of the Holy Ministry and gave it the authority to forgive sins.  Today’s reading again shows us that Jesus rose from the dead, and it also teaches us how to interpret the Bible and what His Church is to proclaim.

    Today Jesus is again showing Himself to the disciples.  Again, Jesus invited the disciples to examine the wounds of the crucifixion saying: Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?  See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself.  Touch me and see.  For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have (Luke 24:38–39).  A verse later He asks for something to eat.  You see, Jesus really wants the disciples to understand that they’re not just seeing things, that He is with them, the real flesh and blood Jesus, risen from the dead. (just like He told them.)

    After Jesus had reinforced the reality of His resurrection, He began to teach His disciples a very important principle for the proper understanding of the Scriptures.  Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (Luke 24:44).  And so He teaches that the only way to know Him is to look to those to whom God had revealed Him in the Old Testament.  That is, the entire Old Testament is about Him.

    He then gave the disciples the precise meaning of the Scriptures as He opened their minds: and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Luke 24:45–47).  Now when Jesus says: Thus it is written, He’s saying that this is what the inerrant, infallible Word of God, the Bible, says.  Since Jesus is the Christ, He Himself accomplished the suffering and the rising from the dead.  He also continued to proclaim repentance and the forgiveness of sins until He ascended into heaven.

    In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus passes the responsibility of that proclamation on to His disciples.  And each generation since has passed that responsibility on to the next, down to our own generation today.  This is the mission statement that Jesus gave to the church … proclaim repentance and the forgiveness of sins in My name until I return.  Christ opening their minds and giving these instructions guaranteed that when the apostles wrote the books of the New Testament, those books would, without error, proclaim repentance and the forgiveness of sins in the name of Christ.

    But what does it mean to proclaim repentance?  The Augsburg Confession says, “Repentance consists of two parts.  One part is contrition (or sorrow) … through the knowledge of sin.  The other part is faith that believes that, for Christ’s sake, sins are forgiven.” (AC: I, art. xii, par. 3–5).  So step one in the proclaiming of repentance is preaching the law so that the punishment you deserve for your sin becomes very clear and real to you.  The second step is to point you to Christ and His sacrifice that saves you from the fires of hell that are the punishment we all deserve.

    And what does it mean to proclaim forgiveness?  Again in Augsburg we read: Even though you are guilty and deserve punishment here on earth and forever in hell, God, for Christ’s sake, declares you righteous.  By His death, Christ made satisfaction for our sins (AC: I, art. iv, par. 2).  So the proclaiming of forgiveness begins with the gospel or the good news of Jesus paying for our sins on the cross.  Through that gospel the Holy Spirit works faith in you so that we receive all the blessings of the gospel which begins with forgiveness.

    In our reading from Acts, the Holy Spirit had just worked through Peter to heal a lame man.  After Peter healed the lame man, they went into the temple area.  The man who had been lame was jumping for joy, which of course drew the attention of the crowds.  As the crowd gathered, Peter began by pointing to their sin: The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him.  But you denied the Holy and Righteous One and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead.  To this we are witnesses (Acts 3:13–15).  Clearly Peter flat out told the crowd that they were guilty of crucifying Jesus, who was not only innocent, but is the very Son of God.

    Now listen to his proclamation of forgiveness: Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago (Acts 3:19–21).  Notice how Peter points to Jesus as he describes forgiveness with the words, that your sins may be blotted out.

    The interesting thing about Peter’s sermon is that not everyone who heard his sermon actually participated in the plan to kill Jesus.  But then, when you study Peter’s other sermons, you find that he regularly accused his hearers of killing Jesus even if they weren’t in Jerusalem on Good Friday.  It doesn’t take long to realize that when Peter accuses people of killing Jesus, he’s not just talking about the people who were there on Good Friday, he’s talking about the sin of the world that led to God’s wrath being poured out on Jesus that Good Friday.  That means Peter is here and now accusing us, you and me, of killing the Lord of Life with our sins.

    So, with what sins have you crucified your Lord?  Have you believed gossip without checking the facts?  Do you steadfastly defend your own opinion rather than steadfastly defending all the teachings revealed in God Word?  Are you foolish or arrogant enough to believe that you don’t need to join your fellow Christians in Bible study?

    Honestly who is number first in your life, you or God?  If you said God, you deceive yourself and the truth is not in you.  And that should scare you.  Do you really understand that only the repentant will go to heaven?  Have you truly repented for your sin?  Are you sure?  The good news is true repentance like true faith come not from you, but from God.  As we read in Acts 11 … So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.  That is, rejoice for your salvation from beginning to end is a work of God.

    It’s true that the proclamation of the forgiveness of sin begins in fear, but it ends with the peace that surpasses human understanding because it comes from knowing that you are forgiven.  Jesus has instructed His Church to proclaim repentance and the forgiveness of sin in His name.  That means, anything that doesn’t speak to repentance and forgiveness in Christ does not belong in Christian worship.  And so, together, our order of worship, our preaching and teaching, and our hymns all serve to assure you that you and all who repent are, by grace through faith, God’s precious and forgiven children.

    In His Name, Amen.

  • Wrong Emphasis

    See the Weekly Bulletin Wrong Emphasis John 20:19-31 + Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord a ...

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    Wrong Emphasis
    John 20:19-31

    + Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

    The text for our meditation is from our Gospel lesson, specifically where John writes, Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

    It’s tempting, as many have done before, to use this day and this text to harangue and scoff at the disbelief and lack of faith exhibited by Thomas. It’s tempting to use this time to emphasize how we are no better, but that at one point, we were no better – being spiritually blind, dead, and enemies of God before He called us out of darkness into His marvelous light. But that’s not what we’re going to do today. Though those things may be correct, I think we should focus on a different emphasis in this text, and I think Jesus, Thomas, and certainly John would agree.

    After the entire episode, starting with that first Easter evening when the disciples barricaded themselves in, to the eighth day afterward when Jesus appears to Thomas and tells him to stop disbelieving, but be believing, Thomas makes his great confession, My Lord and my God! I think it’s safe to say that Jesus is speaking to all His disciples, who exhibited no more faith than Thomas prior to Jesus’s miraculous appearance among them, when He responds to this profession of faith and adoration by saying, Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.

    This is a beautiful promise from the resurrected Christ that, although He would not be with His Bride on earth for much longer, the gifts and merits of His salvific work would likewise flow to all the spiritual progeny of the apostles. John records these words, and then in a 4th-wall break that would get even Ferris Bueler’s attention, he writes how Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name. THAT is the purpose of John’s Gospel – indeed, that is the purpose of all of Scripture: to point you, the reader, to JESUS.

    The focus here is not Thomas, though we can certainly learn from his example. The focus is Thomas’s focus. The focus is his great profession when he says, My Lord and my God! The disciples had seen some pretty incredible things as they followed Jesus around for three years. However, nothing compared to this: a Man, Who had undoubtedly died, Who still bore the wounds of His execution in a way that should have kept Him dead, had risen from the dead. Not that this resurrection from the dead was so extraordinary that no one had seen it before – not long prior to this, the disciples had seen Jesus raise their friend Lazarus from the dead – but the fact that He had told them beforehand that it would happen, and now, here He stood, in the flesh (pun definitely intended). This does not just happen! This requires the work of God, to taste the bitterness of death and to spit it back out in defiance!

    And John writes all this, as do the other Gospel writers, the writers of the Epistles, the prophets, scribes, and other writers of the ancient Tanakh, in order that you, the reader, the hearer, may come to believe in Jesus who is called the Christ, and all the promises given by Him and through Him!

    Ours is not a blind faith – we don’t believe just because someone said something long ago, and no one ever questioned it. No, John speaks in our epistle lesson as well, That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us—that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.

    We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, those who saw Jesus Himself, and who would not deny His death, His resurrection, or that these things demonstrated His divinity, and whose joy and privilege it is to proclaim this good news to others, even as they were being killed for it! Ours is a world in which seeing is believing – in that way, things haven’t changed much over the last two millennia. However, these words have endured over that time, and the veracity of those words have overcome barriers of language and culture, even down to this day! It endures because it is the truth – yes, contrary to the skepticism and nihilism of our culture, the objective truth … the eternal truth … does exist!

    The truth is this: in first-century Judea, Jesus of Nazareth died upon a cross to take the punishment for sin that humanity collectively deserves. Because of His actions, we are no longer bound to the sins in which we once walked, nor will we suffer the punishment thereof! What’s more, to demonstrate His divinity and, consequently, that His sacrifice was sufficient, He rose from the dead three days later! Crazy as it sounds to those out there, to us who believe, it is the power of God! Jesus’s resurrection turned His disciples from sniveling cowards afraid of death … into loud and proud proclaimers of His resurrection, regardless of the punishment that would come from such preaching!

    We have read these words in John’s Gospel, and thanks to the work of the Holy Spirit, we DO believe them! We see the miracles Jesus performs today when He yanks a child of darkness and washes him in the cleansing deluge of Holy Baptism! With Thomas, we are able to touch the very Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus in the Supper! We hear His Word proclaimed, and His absolution announced, declaring to weak sinners like us – those who believe yet long for help with our unbelief – that we ARE forgiven! These things keep, seal, and strengthen us in the faith and belief which the Holy Spirit first gave us, in spite of the deplorable state of our culture!

    We do declare with Thomas and John, with Peter and Andrew, with all of the apostles and those who saw the resurrected Lord, with angels, and archangels, and all the company of heaven, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God! We know that God’s Word does not return to Him in vain – even in the craziness of our modern world, it still accomplishes the purposes for which it is sent, even if we don’t see it! Thus, with Thomas, we say, My Lord and my God! And we know that to be true!

    + In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.

  • Just As He Told You

      See the Weekly Bulletin Just As He Told You Mark 16:1-8 Most faithful translations of the Bible have a strange note rig ...


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    Just As He Told You
    Mark 16:1-8

    Most faithful translations of the Bible have a strange note right after today’s reading that says something like: Some of the earliest manuscripts do not include verses 9–20. And there is a lot of evidence that Mark stops at verse 8. Some commentators think that Mark’s account of the resurrection was so bland that scribes later added notes to the text to help explain the ending. A generation or so later, other scribes took these notes to be part of the text.

    You can understand why they might have thought that when you consider the short version of Mark’s resurrection account. A few women purchased some spices after sunset on Saturday. The next morning they’re on the way to the tomb wondering who would roll away the stone, when they discovered the stone was already rolled away. When they looked for Jesus’s body, they see an angel who tells them that Jesus has risen and is not there. These women run from the tomb in fear saying nothing to anyone. And that’s it.

    At least in the other Gospels, the disciples see Jesus. They talk with Him. They eat with Him. They see His wounds. The other Gospels record the words of Jesus for us to consider. I can understand a scribe wanting the reader of Mark to get the rest of the story. When you hear Mark’s short ending, you hear the announcement of the resurrection from the angel in the empty tomb. And while it is true that Mark doesn’t give us a whole lot, he does give us something very important. Listen again: “Entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. And he said to them, ‘Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’” … Did you hear that? … Just as He told you. The angel finished his message by reminding the women that Jesus keeps His promises; that Jesus was doing just what He said He would do. All four Gospel writers record Jesus promising to rise from the dead. The disciples heard these promises.  They didn’t understand them, but they did hear them.

    It wasn’t until after Jesus actually suffered, died, and rose that the disciples could begin to understand what Jesus had been telling them. This angel is, if you will, shaking them out of their understandable resurrection stupor by saying in effect, “Guys, He told you He would be handed over to sinners to be killed and on the third day He would rise. He has kept His promise, so you really need to think back on His other promises and expect Him to fulfill those as well.”

    This just as He said to the women at the tomb is in effect Jesus’s answer to Satan’s question to Eve in the garden: “Did God really say …?” But even with the question answered, Satan won’t give up.  To this day, satan wants us to believe that it doesn’t always turn out the way God says it will. He wants us to doubt God’s promises and to stop listening to God’s Word. Satan, in effect, whispers in our ears: “Look around.  This is not just as He told you.” But the truth is … this sinful world is just the way we have been told it will be. And yet, Satan, the world, and our own sinful flesh still try to lead us away from the truth, away from our salvation.

    So, don’t be surprised if you have a hard time believing all of God’s promises. Don’t be afraid when doubts arise in your mind. These are but signs that God is with you as the struggle for your soul continues. (And while the struggle may continue today, we do celebrate that the battle is over. The victory for your soul has been won.)

    The disciples also struggled with the truth of the gospel and they talked to Jesus face-to-face! He personally taught them for three years. Still, they were terrified when He died and shocked when He rose. The promises that Jesus made to you and me may seem too good to be true, but the resurrection of Jesus assures that He can and will keep them all. As we read in 2 Corinthians: “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are all ‘Yes’ in Christ.”

    And Jesus has made some amazing promises. In John 6 we read, “This is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” Or in the Upper Room at John 14, “In My Father’s house are many rooms; if that were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”

    With these words and others, Jesus promised that the day will come when the universe as we know it will come to an end.  On that day He will return to judge the living and the dead. He has promised to take you and me and all believers to be with Him forever. But Jesus’s promises aren’t just for the hereafter; they’re also for the here and now. As we see at the end of Matthew’s Gospel when Jesus promised, “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

    Jesus also promised that in these last days He will come to us in a special or sacramental way so that we might know He is with us. In, with, and under the bread and the wine of His Supper, Christ’s very body and blood are offered to us for our forgiveness and strengthening each time we come to His table, even as we are proclaiming His death until He comes.

    And yet, while a true means of forgiveness, the Holy Supper is not the only way God promises His forgiveness. Listen to another promise that He made to His disciples. “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld” (John 20). These words give the authority to forgive sins to all who believe, that is, as you forgive one another, Jesus also forgives.  Truly, His gifts are for all.

    Listen to another promise Jesus made, this time about His Word.  He said, “If you hold to my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” His Word is living and active, and when you hear the words of the prophets and apostles from the Holy Scriptures, God sends His Holy Spirit to create or sustain faith in you through those words.  And the Holy Spirit reminds us through St. Paul, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing (comes) through the word of Christ.”

    Jesus has even gone so far as to make us God’s children as we read in John, “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God” (John 1). And that happens as we “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:18–20).

    Yes, Jesus has made some amazing promises to you.  Promises you’d have no reason to believe except for one thing … He promised to rise from the dead, and He did. The words of the angel remind and assure us again this Easter morning that our risen Savior, Jesus Christ, will keep all of His promises just as He told you.

    In His Name, Amen.

  • Hindsight

    See the Weekly Bulletin Hindsight Isaiah 52-53 + Grace to you, and peace, from God, our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Sa ...

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    Isaiah 52-53

    + Grace to you, and peace, from God, our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

    Awake, awake, put on your strength, O Zion; put on your beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city; for there shall no more come into you the uncircumcised and the unclean. Shake yourself from the dust and arise; be seated, O Jerusalem; loose the bonds from your neck, O captive daughter of Zion. For thus says the Lord: “You were sold for nothing, and you shall be redeemed without money.” …

    Behold, my servant shall act wisely; he shall be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted. As many were astonished at you—his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind—so shall he sprinkle many nations. Kings shall shut their mouths because of him, for that which has not been told them they see, and that which they have not heard they understand.

    Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

    Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

    He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.

    Yet … it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.

    Hindsight is 20/20. That’s what we say. We compare Isaiah’s prophecy here with the events we just heard in John’s Gospel. There is no doubt in our minds WHO it is that Isaiah is talking about here. We don’t wonder who this suffering servant of YHWH is; we KNOW.

    Isaiah says of the suffering servant, his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind. John speaks of One Who is flogged, Whom soldiers strike with their fists, and Who has a thorny crown pressed onto His head until the blood flows. His bloodied purple robe, His open wounds, His bruised and swollen body no doubt made it difficult to ascertain if He was really human or not.

    Isaiah writes how the servant of YHWH is oppressed and afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. John writes of One Who, at a moment when He could have spoken and given the answer that would have freed Him, didn’t say a word. Even after the prefect’s prompting, all He would say is, You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin. He doesn’t even try to talk the prefect out of giving the sinful crowd what they want: His life. Instead, He silently … and obediently … submits.

    According to Isaiah, the servant of YHWH would be pierced for our transgressions. John describes One who was pierced through with nails to secure Him to the beams of a cross, and how He would, after death, be pierced with a spear to ensure that He was truly dead. There are numerous other examples – too many to address here and now. But when you follow the evidence, it’s plain to see just Who this suffering servant of YHWH is. His Name is Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph and Mary.

    But here’s the thing: the Roman Empire crucified countless people – criminals, enemy soldiers, innocent people who were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. So many… suffered a death similar to this. Why was THIS crucifixion, THIS innocent Man, any different from the countless others? Why is His death any different? Isaiah provides the answer.

    [H]e was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. This Jesus, Whom John the Baptist declared to be the Lamb of God, Who takes away the sin of the world, is dying for a specific purpose. OUR transgressions … OUR iniquities … OUR sins … and those of every human being who has ever lived or ever will live is taken up by the Lamb of God. Only God could bear the full brunt of that summation of sin, and THAT is the true agony, the hell that Jesus had to endure. GOD … was made to bear sin – more than that, to become sin – that sin would die with Him.

    Yes, as His lifeblood drains, as His breath becomes more ragged and sparse, as the cross does exactly what it was designed to do – extinguish human life – our sin … dies with Him. John wrote, When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. He gave up His spirit, and the great salvific work was accomplished. God died, that we, His creatures … would live. Sin … is now atoned for. The blood-price demanded, the life-sacrifice necessary for even the slightest of slights … the impossibly high cost that we could never hope to pay, even if we had eternity to do so … is paid. Your sins … my sins … the sins of all people from all time … are covered.

    THIS is why it is “Good Friday.” It is a somber day, when we recall how YHWH’s suffering servant did, in fact, suffer TREMENDOUSLY … for you … and for me. It is a day of darkness, as the Son of God gives up His spirit. It is a tragic day, as the One Who’s very Name means “salvation” is crushed and put to grief to secure salvation for us. It is a day … sad beyond words, as the love of our Creator is put on full display, when the Father wouldn’t spare His only-begotten Son to bear OUR sins … into the grave.

    On this solemn day, Jesus does what we could never even hope to do: He justifies. He removes the curse first placed on all Mankind when Adam and Eve sinned. That’s gone. It’s paid for. Because of His sacrifice, many ARE accounted righteous, precisely because He has borne their iniquities. We were sold into sin for nothing. Now … we are redeemed without money, but rather with the holy, innocent, bitter sufferings and death, with the sacrifice of that precious, holy Body and Blood.

    In the deafening silence, as the curtain is torn asunder, as the earth quakes and the rocks split, as creation is undone with Body of the lifeless God … we wait … for the coming dawn … for the first-fruit of the promise…

    + Amen. +

  • Love Gives and Serves

    See the Weekly Bulletin Love Gives and Serves John 13:1–5, 13–17 The word Maundy, from Maundy Thursday comes from the ...

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    Love Gives and Serves
    John 13:1–5, 13–17

    The word Maundy, from Maundy Thursday comes from the Latin word mandatum, which means command or commandment. This word has historically been applied to the words Christ spoke on the night before His death, “A new commandment I give you, love one another; as I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.” John also gives us a definition of love in his first Epistle where he writes, “This is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.”

    But the God who is love is also eternal which means His love is eternal. And love by definition is patient and kind and it protects, that is, love gives and serves. It was this eternal love that moved God to create and give the world to our first parents, Adam and Eve. In Psalm 136 we read, “[He] who by his understanding made the heavens …. Who spread out the earth upon the waters …. Who gives food to every creature. His love endures forever. “

    This is the God of heaven and earth serving His creation. And this love that endures forever is Christ, the very embodiment of that love.  And so, Christ is literally God’s love in the flesh. Remember, God intended us to be like him when He created us in His image. My friends, this Maundy Thursday commandment is really God calling us back to our original condition, back to what He created us to be.

    But, the truth is, what Christ commands from us He will have to perform for us and in us, because we are by nature the opposite of what He intended us to be. By nature, we love only ourselves. By nature, we’re like the black holes in space where the magnetic force is so strong that even light can’t escape. As Luther said, “We are curved in on ourselves, and, try as hard as we will, we cannot be otherwise. It is impossible for us to get outside ourselves to look upward toward God and outward toward our neighbor to love and serve him. We sin against the First Commandment. We want to be God. We grasp at equality with God just like Adam and Eve did.”

    Clearly, we have all inherited their sin, which means we’re no different than they were. The same selfish, self-indulgent spirit all too often can be seen in our lives. We behave as if we’re the center of the universe and everyone else should love and serve us. We thanklessly accept all sorts of earthly privileges and honor and continue to demand more. We use people; we try to manipulate and control them for our own benefit. All of this and much more is true of every man, woman, and child born into this sin-cursed world. A holy and just God would have every reason to separate Himself from us forever. Truly, death and condemnation are what we deserve. You see, for sinners like us to change, we would have to die and be born again, become a new person with a new mind and a new spirit.

    That a pure and holy God would want to be born and live among such self-seeking, self-serving sinners staggers the imagination. Yet, He who is love, loves us even more. He loved sinners of all times and places enough to send His only begotten son, not just to live, but also to die in our place so that we, by grace through faith, might be born again, become a new creation born of water and the spirit into a new life of love and service.

    That’s why Christ came down from heaven … to serve and to give His life for us all.  What man covets, Christ laid aside, taking God’s cup of wrath into Himself that He might offer us a cup that is overflowing with goodness and mercy.

    In Luke 17 Jesus says, “Suppose one of you had a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Would he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? Would he not rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink …’? Would he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’”

    For selfish sinners who want to be loved and honored, those are tough words to swallow. They highlight the very thing about God’s kingdom that natural man can neither understand nor accept. In one way, it is the “offense of the cross” because it forces the question: “Who can possibly be like that?” The answer to that is found in our text where we read, “… After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.” A little later Jesus will say to His disciples, “I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him.”

    So, according to Jesus, a full and rich life is found not in being served, but in serving and giving to others. That’s how God is by nature.  That’s how He created us to be and why He and only He can change our hearts to care about living the life of service we’re called to, the life we will live when we are finally at home with Him.

    Out text began, “Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour had come that He should depart from this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.” A short time later Jesus says, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” The hour’s approaching when Jesus will do just that. The defining event in the history of mankind is less than twenty-four hours away. And it will test the faith of all who see it.

    To prepare His disciples for this Passover miracle our Lord does something so mysterious that it requires a miracle just to believe it. Matthew’s account goes like this: “And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body.’ Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.’” This is the God of love, giving and serving us His very body and blood. You see, what Christ is doing in the Upper Room is preparing His disciples for the unimaginable act of love that He is about to show; and they, at that time, simply won’t understand as He allows sinners to nail Him to a cross and so give(s) His life (as) a ransom for many.

    As your faith holds to this truth, we have God’s promise that not even death can remove from you the love that payed for your sin. Does that mean life will be smooth sailing until we reach those pearly gates? No.  In fact, Jesus still reminds us: “In this world you will have trouble; but take heart! I have overcome the world.” May the blessed gift of Himself that He offers to us again this night keep you strong as we hold to the truth that in Him … so have you.  

    In His Name, Amen.

  • The Grain Must Die

    See the Weekly Bulletin The Grain Must Die John 12:20-43 + Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lo ...

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    The Grain Must Die
    John 12:20-43

    + Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

    The text for meditation this Palm Sunday weekend is from our Gospel text, especially where Jesus says, The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 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. Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

    On Palm Sunday, we often hear how Jesus enters into Jerusalem, humble and riding on a donkey, yet being hailed as a conquering hero, triumphant and worthy of praise. We often hear how the people cry out, Hosanna! Blessed is He Who comes in the Name of the Lord! as they lay their cloaks and palm branches before the King’s procession. What we usually see on Palm Sunday is how Jesus’s triumphal entry is the fulfillment of Zechariah’s prophecy, with the people essentially proclaiming Jesus to be the Messiah, and certainly welcoming Him in a befitting way. It is a high point of Jesus’s ministry, to be sure! That’s what we normally hear … and since that’s not quite what we’ve seen in our lessons today, it’s understandable if you’re perplexed, if you think that our readings seem less Palm Sunday-esque and more like something you’d find later in Holy Week. However, from the way John describes it, this is, in fact, what happens on that original Palm Sunday.

    By the time of our text, Jesus has entered Jerusalem with the acclaim of crowds, lauding Him after hearing of the miracle He performed by raising Lazarus from the dead. They literally cannot stop talking about it! It’s causing so much uproar, in fact, that even Greek-speaking Gentiles are amazed and desiring to see Him. They inquire of Philip, to see if it would be possible for these goyim to see the Rabbi. Instead of taking the time to indulge the request of these Greeks, Jesus doesn’t even dignify their desire when Philip and Andrew finally come around to talk with Him about it. To be frank, Jesus has more pressing issues that He needs to discuss with these two disciples: what lies before Him over the next few days.

    The hour has come, Jesus says, for the Son of Man to be glorified. Undoubtedly from the perspective of Philip and Andrew, that time had already come! After those years of ministry, of teaching and healing, Jesus had finally arrived! The crowds of Jerusalem had CHEERED as they welcomed Him in! It was no accident that they had strewn their cloaks and palm branches in Jesus’s path. It was no coincidence that they cried, with the words of the psalmist, Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! This was a joyous celebration, though the disciples at this point didn’t quite understand why! So what did Jesus mean when He said, The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified?

    It makes no sense from the perspective of the disciples, but Jesus knows of what He speaks. What lies before Him is, according to human standards, the impossibly difficult way in which He will save this world. Jesus continues to speak: [U]nless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. On the heels of celebration – indeed, immediately after talking about the Son of Man being glorified, Jesus begins talking about death. Caught off-guard, the disciples are likely bewildered that Jesus is even talking about this, in light of the jovial atmosphere permeating Zion’s walls. Party-to-dirge in a few seconds, this is quite the turn!

    But Jesus knows. He knows how, even as He was being hailed as the one coming in the Lord’s Name, the Pharisees’ hearts were being frustrated, moving ever closer to the infamous plot for His life. He knows that the true glory for which He was incarnated is at hand. He knows how the crowds – which this day indeed praised Him as the One coming in God’s Name – would only days later call for His death, shouting out to Pilate, Crucify Him! The very people who welcomed Him as a King this day would demand that He die like a criminal, with arguably the most excruciating method of execution ever conceived by man. He can see that, in spite of the brightness and joy of this day, ominous clouds are on the horizon, and they’re fast approaching.

    Knowing all of this as He does, the incredible thing is that Jesus stays. He sticks around. When it would have been easy to lay low, to skip town and wait for things to cool off before continuing with His ministry, He stays. The reason He stays is simply beyond His hearers at this point. Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself. Yes, this incredible holy, righteous grain of wheat must die. He must go into the ground, buried by the very earth He created. But through His death will come the deposition of the rulers of this world – namely, sin, death, and the devil. Through His death, the sins of Man will be killed – indeed, without His death, as Paul says in letter to the Ephesians, we would still be dead in the trespasses and sins in which [we] once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air… Without that righteous, holy, beautiful kernel of wheat falling into the earth and dying, we would have no hope whatsoever! There would be no fruit borne other than sin and death! Our eyes would have remained blind, our hearts would have remained hardened, and we would still be in the arrogance and ignorance of our transgressions, rightly meriting a fate worse than death!

    That’s where we would be, but that’s not where we are. Jesus was, in fact, lifted up, and now draws all people to Himself. That kernel of wheat did, in fact, die, and was buried; what’s more, that blessed kernel DID bear fruit! He bore the fruit of forgiveness of sins!  The fruit of justification before God, in spite of our sin! The fruit of the resurrection from the dead, with Jesus as the firstfruit! The fruit of Word and Sacrament, which will always exist and will always deliver to God’s people those same fruits of forgiveness and life everlasting for the sake of Jesus! This is how the Son of Man is glorified – by giving Himself as the sacrifice, once for all, that sin may finally and at long last be fully and forever atoned for! And we are the inheritors of this incredible fruit, as His Church, as His people!

    As we anticipate with Jesus the costly salvation and tragic beauty found up on Golgotha, we remember this is the reason why Jesus came in the first place. He IS the King. He IS, rightly, welcomed into Jerusalem as the hero about to conquer sin and the devil in His great salvific work. More than this, we eagerly anticipate His return. We anticipate the return of our King in a great and wondrous appearing that will shame the majesty and grandeur of that first Palm Sunday, when He comes to finally defeat death, the last enemy, and bear in the bountiful harvest cultivated in the death of that first holy Grain.

    + In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.

  • Death to Resurrection: The Wilderness to the Promised Land

    See the Weekly Bulletin Death to Resurrection: The Wilderness to the Promised Land Joshua 3:1-6 and Matthew 3:13; 4:1-2 It’ ...

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    Death to Resurrection: The Wilderness to the Promised Land
    Joshua 3:1-6 and Matthew 3:13; 4:1-2

    It’s one thing to travel across the wilderness to arrive at a destination, and quite another to wander around aimlessly in the wilderness for forty years. The Israelites did both. As they left Egypt and made their way to Mount Sinai, the plan was to go from there over to the Promised Land of Canaan. And they did head out that way, but when they sent twelve men to spy out the land to see what their new homeland looked like and what it would take to occupy it, things took a dramatic turn.

    When the spies returned, they spoke highly of the land, but ten of them were also terrified of the people who were living there. Yes, Canaan was a land flowing with milk and honey, but the inhabitants were giants and war-like. The ten spies spoke with fear, and their fear spread throughout the entire community of Israel. God’s people were afraid. And in their fear, they refused to go forward.

    It was because of this act of disobedience, the people’s lack of trust in the Lord who had brought them out of Egypt, that the Israelites became wanderers in the wilderness for the next forty years. None who were twenty years old and older would ever live in the land of Canaan with the exceptions of Caleb and Joshua and their households, the two spies who proclaimed their trust in the Lord to give His people the land. All of the rest would die in the wilderness; only their children would enter Canaan.

    Again, it’s one thing to travel across the wilderness to arrive at a destination and quite another to wander around the wilderness for forty years. The wilderness between Egypt and Canaan was a land of suffering and death, a place where they were sentenced to suffer because of their sin, a land that would claim their lives one by one until all had perished. To make this reality even worse, they had seen with their own eyes the Promised Land on the near horizon.  They could see it and yet they turned their backs on this blessing and walked away.

    Sin is what exiles us from God. Sin is what separates us from life. Sin is what sends us into the wilderness of suffering and death. Sin. There is no escaping it. Lord knows we have tried. When the Israelites tried to go into Canaan without God, all of their fears were realized and they were left to wander in the wilderness to face suffering and certain death.

    We’re no different, it’s a personal and internal battle to be sure, but we do also attempt to conquer sin with our own strength, and just like the Israelites we also fail and find ourselves wandering with no direction or purpose. My friends, it’s sin that keeps us from entering the land that’s flowing with milk and honey.

    The Promised Land, the place where the Lord provides, is a place where the Hebrews would live in houses they did not build and eat from vineyards and orchards they did not plant. The land of Canaan is a land flowing with milk and honey where there is want for nothing. It’s a land of plenty and perfection, God’s “Promised Land.” And remember, this land is not only where the Lord provides abundantly, but it’s also a place where the Lord will dwell with His people.

    And that of course is the point and the truth behind this earthly promised land. This Promised Land of the Lord’s provision and presence for Israel points us to another promised land. Canaan reminds us of another place of plenty and perfection— a place we know as heaven.

    Truly, there is no want in the heavenly courts. Truly, it is the place where the Lord dwells and where His people live in His presence in heavenly mansions which have been or are being prepared right now. But until they are all prepared … there is sin. There is the wilderness. Which leaves us with the question: How does one exit the land of suffering and death and enter into the land of joy and life?

    As the Word of God reveals, the journey out of the wilderness and into the promised land begins by passing through the waters. For the people of Israel, the way was through the Jordan River, but it’s not a journey they travel alone. It’s not a journey they take to once again make themselves acceptable to God. It’s not a journey they plan out, work out, or carry out. This journey is brought about by God.

    And when the feet of those carrying the ark touch the waters of the Jordan, the waters part and the path stands dry and wide as about 2 million people follow the Lord into the Promised Land. The Lord prepares the way, the Lord leads the way; the presence of the Lord goes before Joshua and the people … and just like that, the exile is over; they are home.

    The biblical record of the return to the promised land is a lesson of Salvation. Our Lord and God, our Savior, Jesus Christ goes before us. Jesus goes down into the waters of the Jordan to be baptized by John. The Sinless One from God needs no cleansing, but we do.  So, why is His baptism important?

    By His baptism, we learn that Christ fulfilled all righteousness, that is in a way only God can work and we can never truly understand, our sins were taken up and placed upon this “Holy One of God.” And in an act of perfect obedience, Jesus takes our sins, not into the Promised Land, but back out into the wilderness. He goes through the waters out into the wilderness to meet with satan and begins undoing what Adam and Eve had done.

    And because Christ carries our sins, well, just like that, we don’t! The wilderness of sin, the place of suffering and death, is no longer our dwelling place. The path has been cleared. The way to the promised land is open before us, but it still passes through the waters. Now, all waters have been sanctified and instituted by Christ as a blessed flood that when combined with the Word of God washes away sin and so grants forgiveness, life, and salvation.

    God makes us His children – that is those who have been renewed and restored to His presence. We have passed through the wilderness and through the waters, into the promised land of everlasting life!

    But remember our Lenten lesson. The journey from the wilderness of sin to heaven is not one we make alone, not one we plan out, not one we work out, and not one we carry out—it is the journey Christ first made to prepare the way.

    He has gone through the waters to prepare them for our baptism into the kingdom, and He has now gone ahead of us to prepare a place that we have not built with our own hands and a great feast that we have not prepared. He has gone to the right hand of the Father to prepare a place for each of us, and one day He will come back to take us to be with Him that we also may be where He is.

    In Jesus’s name. Amen.

  • Look at Me!

    See the Weekly Bulletin Look at Me! Mark 10:35-45 If you’re a fan of Greek mythology, you no doubt remember the legend of N ...

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    Look at Me!
    Mark 10:35-45

    If you’re a fan of Greek mythology, you no doubt remember the legend of Narcissus.  He was supposedly the son of the river god.  A seer had told his mother that her son must never see his reflection if he was to mature into manhood, and so everything that reflected an image was removed from the home.  One day, however, Narcissus found a spring that formed a pool filled with crystal-clear water.  As he stooped down to take a drink from the pool, he saw his reflection on the surface of the pool.  He fell desperately in love with himself, and trying to embrace himself, he fell into the water and drowned.

    Now we don’t hear much talk about the legend of Narcissus these days, but we do still use his name to describe those who are hopelessly self-centered and self-absorbed.  In fact, narcissism is now identified and catalogued as an official personality disorder by the American medical profession.  And we do, of course, still use it in a general sense to describe one of the notable maladies of our 21st century American culture.  Ours, I’m sure you know, is in many ways a narcissistic culture.  We live in an age of entitlement.  In fact, just about 10 years ago there was book written on the subject.  It was titled, The Narcissism Epidemic … Living in an Age of Entitlement.  Here are just a few of the examples the authors give to show how our culture has turned in on itself.

    They write, “On a reality TV show, a girl planning her Sweet Sixteen party wants a major road blocked off so a marching band can precede her grand entrance on a red carpet.  (They add) … ordinary people hire fake paparazzi to follow them around to make them look famous.  High school students physically attack classmates and post YouTube videos of the beatings to get attention.”

    None of us of course should be surprised by any of this … we are, after-all, living it.  And God did tell us through the apostle Paul, as He revealed: in the last days there will come times of difficulty.  For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.

    Does that mean Jesus is coming soon?  Maybe; maybe not.  What we do know is that the problem of self-centeredness is nothing new to our culture or really to humanity.  Looking at today, I suppose we could argue how far the problem reaches, but, as Solomon wrote, there is “nothing new under the sun.”

    So let’s consider the contrast that’s set before us in our Gospel lesson.  It’s a James and John versus Jesus situation: selfish ambition versus self-sacrifice; wanting to be a lord over others versus being Lord of all, and yet, desiring only to serve.  These are two completely different ways of looking at and living life; two opposite ways of thinking when it comes to how we deal with others.

    James and John, by asking for the seats of honor in Jesus’s kingdom, reveal the core of our fallen nature … that is, selfishness.  But before we point the proverbial finger of pride, or, fail to see ourselves in James and John, it’s important to recognize that they aren’t in any way unique in their ambition.  In fact, we’re told the other disciples were “indignant” when they learned that James and John had asked for those seats of honor.  Why do you think that was?  Were the rest of the disciples angry with the two brothers because they should have never asked Jesus such a selfish question?  Or, were they angry because they were afraid that James and John may have “cut in line,” if you will?

    Remember, Jesus’s way of thinking is always counter to our way of thinking.  We see success and fulfillment in life by the things we surround ourselves with and in the power we hold.  Jesus says we gain our lives, that is, we find significance, purpose, and meaning in our lives by giving them away.

    We think greatness is seen by the number of people who serve us.  Jesus says greatness is seen in our service to others even as He came into the world not to be served, but to serve and give His life as a ransom.

    We try in many and various ways to learn to love ourselves, as if that’s a noble goal.  Jesus, however, sets us free to love others in a world that needs the compassion and care He offers to all through us, His hands and feet. 

    James and John, who wanted the seats of honor when Jesus came in His glory, and all of us gathered here this morning for that matter, see Jesus’s anguish in regard to drinking the cup of suffering that lay before Him.

    This One who was rich, yet for our sakes became poor that we through His poverty might be made rich. We struggle to truly understand the humility of His servant heart laid open for all to see in the suffering and shame of His passion.  The truth is, when God in His mercy finally brings us to see just how much we love ourselves more than Him, we will, like Peter, have no course but to beg God to have mercy on our miserable souls.  It’s in that state of internal turmoil that, by faith, we come to see that we really don’t deserve any seat in Christ’s kingdom, let alone the highest. It’s then that Jesus says, “Look at Me!”  See My body and My blood set before you at this altar!  Look at the fount!  There I gave you new life and made you an heir of My kingdom!  Look at Me!  On the cross I became what I was not to make you what you are not!  I took your sin and gave you My righteousness!  The Father turned His back on Me so that He need never turn His back on you!  Look at Me!

    The mythical figure Narcissus saw his reflection, fell in love with himself, and then died in his own embrace.  Most Americans today have probably never heard or don’t remember the legend of Narcissus.  But still, we are all too familiar with the heart that is described by his name.

    In was into just such a world that Christ came to serve, to bear our sins, and to suffer the punishment for our guilt!  And though we all at one time, as it were, hid our faces from Him; He still sought us and claimed us as His own in our baptisms and seated us in His kingdom.

    It is into this world of ours, a world that we don’t really understand, a world that to this day seeks to pull us away from Christ, that Christ continues to serve you and all His children by setting us free from ourselves.  This is so that, by grace, we might point others to Him as we live and love them with the love He shows and life He gives to us.

    In Jesus’s name.  Amen.

  • Tree to Tree: The Tree of Life to the Cross

    See the Weekly Bulletin Tree to Tree: The Tree of Life to the Cross Genesis 2:15-17; 3:22-24 & John 3:14-17 + Grace to you, a ...

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    Tree to Tree: The Tree of Life to the Cross
    Genesis 2:15-17; 3:22-24 & John 3:14-17

    + Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

    Man begins his journey in this world in a garden. Adam and Eve are established in the Garden of Eden, surrounded by various other God-created creatures and God-created vegetation. Among the many plants and trees, all perfectly and wonderfully made, are two special trees: the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. We are told that both trees were in the middle of the garden, perhaps side by side.

    There at the foot of one tree, Adam and Eve worship as they show their love for God by being obedient to His command to not eat from it—the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. There at the foot of the other tree, they receive the gift of life immortal, life everlasting. Two important trees, as man and woman seek to live and walk in the presence of their Lord and their God.

    And then … sin. The time comes that Adam and Eve disobey God, by eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They cave to the whispers, when the ancient serpent, the evil one, entices them. “You will not surely die,” whispers Satan. “You can be like God.” And they listen. They eat; they disobey. The worm of sin burrows into their hearts. In truth, all of creation becomes infected with the parasite of sin, and this sin separates us from God, and leads us to death.

    We are separated from God by this dividing wall of hostility; we are cast out from the beautiful garden. We are removed from the presence of the other tree, the tree of life. The cherubim and the flaming sword guard the path back to this tree, lest man eat from it and live forever. Man has been cast out – exiled from the garden, but also exiled from life itself. God knows that if man eats of this tree of life as a sinner that the life bestowed by its fruit will be a fate worse than death, because to live forever as sin continues to ravage you, both body and soul, is a curse too terrible to behold. Sin must first be dealt with—atoned for, washed away—before life everlasting is a blessing and joy.

    But how does one first deal with sin? The fact that man is a sinner forbids him from being part of the solution. Sin-filled man is the problem, and he is unable to do anything that would solve the problem. Man is stumbling blindly, bumbling helplessly through this journey of life. He cannot, even by accident, address the problem of sin. So, life eludes him; a restored relationship with God is an impossibility. A return to what God intended for man from the beginning is beyond man’s reach.

    Beyond man’s reach, but not beyond the reach of God! Just as man was overcome by a tree, so also must the Son of Man by a tree overcome. The issue, the problem, the devastating disaster of sin requires another tree. Jesus, God’s Son, comes into our flesh and blood that He might crush the ancient serpent and pay the price demanded by sin. Christ Jesus comes into our flesh because of the kind of price demanded: blood. Only blood can pay the price and wash away sin. Only the blood of the Lamb—the Lamb who has no blemish or spot, who is a perfect sacrifice, a holy and precious offering—only the blood of the Lamb is required . . . and a tree.

    The Son of Man must be lifted up upon a tree just as the bronze serpent was lifted up by Moses in the wilderness. The tree of the cross—an instrument of torture, suffering, and death—is the tree upon which Jesus is lifted up. On the cross, Jesus suffers and dies. On the cross, His holy and precious blood is shed. On the cross, Jesus lays down His life that our lives might be restored. A perfect sacrifice brings salvation and restoration to the crown of God’s creation. God so loved the world.

    Thus, Jesus turns an instrument of death into a tree of life. His death brings us life, life eternal. Our exile from the presence of God has been ended. Our exile from the tree of life is over. Christ Jesus has taken the sins of all the world to the tree and been lifted up for all to see, and from there, He draws all men to Himself. The cross reunites us with our God as the gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation are bestowed. No longer do we wander aimlessly, blindly in search of a solution to sin. Now, we gather at the foot of the cross, we gather at the new tree of life and gaze upon the One who became sin for us that we might be saved.

    Tree to tree. The tree of life to the tree of the cross—another life-giving tree. A journey from life to death and back to life. We have been restored to life and reunited with our God. Now, each day, as we continue our journey through this life as the children of God, we focus our eyes upon that which the apostle John describes in the Book of Revelation: “The angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.”

    This is the life that has been restored to us: life everlasting, life in the world to come, the new heavens and the new earth. It is life in the presence of the Lamb, life that is ours in Christ Jesus. A return from exile, a return to our God by way of a tree.

    + In Jesus’s name. + Amen.

  • Appearances to the Contrary

    See the Weekly Bulletin Appearances to the Contrary John 3:14-21 + Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and fro ...

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    Appearances to the Contrary
    John 3:14-21

    + Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

    The text for our meditation is an amalgamation of our Old Testament and Gospel texts, but we’ll focus more heavily on John’s Gospel account, especially where he writes, [A]s Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.. Here ends our text; dear Christian friends.

    If you don’t know the backstory of this more obscure pericope from the book of Numbers, the nation of Israel had been wandering the wilderness for years. They’re sick of the quail and manna – it sustains them, yes, but there’s no variety. They’re sick and tired of being sick and tired. They are, in Moses’s own words, impatient. Never minding the inherent contradiction in their complaint – Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food – these people are speaking against God and Moses.

    Such insolence, such ingratitude, such arrogance – here, the people have a theophany, a visible manifestation of YHWH, the Creator in their midst as the pillar of cloud and fire … and the people are groaning, complaining about how much better life would be without their God and their leader! Talk about biting the hand that feeds! So God shows them what life would be like without Him, by sending fiery serpents into their midst. These snakes start biting the people, and they start dying. Recognizing their transgression (and, undoubtedly, regretting it), the people cry out to Moses to intercede on their behalf before YHWH, to remove the serpents from among them. Moses does so, but instead of removing the snakes, God orders Moses to give the people the remedy: make a fiery serpent, a serpent of bronze, and set it on a pole.

    This is the remedy – no miraculous removal of the serpents as the people wanted, no anti-venom to counteract the poison, no simple removal of the poison from the people’s bloodstreams. No, these things – which certainly would have been easy enough for YHWH to have accomplished by His mere Word – are not the means by which He would save His people from the just discipline He had bestowed upon them. A metal snake … up on a pole, and the promise that all who look upon it will live. THAT is how people would be saved. I can imagine, as I’m sure you can as well, the incredulity the people likely felt at this proposed remedy, as they lay dying, with deadly poisons pumping through their veins. “What do you mean, ‘That’s all I’ve got to do?! How in the world is this supposed to counteract the poisons?! It makes no sense! How can a metal snake on a pole do that?! How can these things be?!”

    Well, that’s the thing. Normally, a bronze snake would be just that – a bronze snake. But God used the form of the very thing that was killing His people, elevated in their midst so that all could see, and worked through those means to restore His people to life. Yup, all one had to do was look upon that elevated fiery serpent and they would be cured. They would be saved. Incredulous? You bet. But it did what God said it would do. Though it makes no logical sense, YHWH’s promise held true, and all who gazed upon that God-approved image … who believed the YHWH’s promise spoken by Moses … survived the lethal consequence of their rebellion.

    Fast forward about one-and-a-half millennia, and we find echoes of that story in our Gospel lesson. Jesus is speaking with Nicodemus, a Pharisee who nevertheless recognized Jesus as something extraordinary. Prior to our reading,  you hear him telling Jesus as much, saying things like He’s a great teacher sent from God, and that He wouldn’t be able to do such miracles and things were God not with Him. Jesus responds to this flattery with a similarly incredulous claim: unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God. A logically ridiculous notion, Nicodemus asks how someone can be born again – unpleasant as the thought is, if taken literally! But no, Jesus clarifies, He’s not talking about physically being born again; instead He says, Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. Here, Nicodemus actually asks the question likely raised by the ancient Israelites centuries prior with regard to God’s slithering cure: How can these things be?

    Now we come to our text, which acts as the crux between these two incredible life-giving prescriptions. Jesus brings up this very text from Exodus in His conversation with Nicodemus. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. “This is Me,” Jesus is saying, “Moses is talking about Me.” Moses formed a snake to be the remedy for the poison of snakes. That snake was put on a pole, suspended between heaven and earth for all to see, and all that looked upon it, those who believed in the promise YHWH had given, would be cured of the deadly toxins flowing in their blood. In order to remove the scourge of sin and death, the Son of Man must become sin … and die. He must also be lifted up, suspended between heaven and earth, not on a pole, but on the simple yet cruel torture machine known as a cross. All who look upon Him … those who listen to and believe His Word, may have eternal life.

    Though Jesus, at this point in John’s Gospel, is still a long way from turning His face toward Jerusalem and the cross – make no mistake, He knows what’s coming. He knows the way by which He will make everlasting life available for all people. He knows the travail, temptation, trial, torture, tribulation, and termination that awaits Him. And yet, the Lamb of God goes uncomplaining forth. He presses onward, toward the atonement He will make through His broken Body and shed Blood.

    Why would He do this? Why would the Son of Man offer Himself as a bloodied, holy sacrifice on behalf all of the complaining whining sinners who, by their base nature, hate Him? The answer is found in those illustrious words which we all have, undoubtedly, heard at least once in our lives, For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. God is doing it because He loves the whole world. He’s doing it because, in spite of our wretched, miserable, sinful and spiteful lives, He loves us. So much so, in fact, that He held nothing back, wagering His only-begotten Son to see this mission accomplished. He doesn’t want to destroy anyone. He didn’t send Jesus into the world to condemn it, but rather to save it through His work.

    This is a faith thing, my friends. This is what true belief looks like. Unreasonable, illogical, or unfair as it may seem, looking upon the bronze snake did, in fact, heal those Israelites of the snake venom. Being born again of simple water and a proclaimed Word of God does, in fact, justify you before Almighty God. You might think, “Well, I don’t feel like I’m saved. I don’t feel like I’m worthy of eternal life. I’m still a lousy, rotten, no-good, stinkin’ sinner; it doesn’t look like my sins are removed from me as far as the east is from the west!” Well, that’s the point. They’re removed from you, from outside of you, because God is doing it to you. The bronze snake didn’t seem like it would heal you, but it did. Jesus has healed you … has made atonement for you … has forgiven you, even though it doesn’t feel like it. All appearances to the contrary, you are fully justified before God, and you can trust in His promise to give you eternal life for the sake of Jesus and His sacrifice.

    + In His holy and precious Name. + Amen.

  • Out of Egypt: Through the Water

    See the Weekly Bulletin Out of Egypt: Through the Water Exodus 14:13–31; Mark 1:9–13 Slavery—bondage—serv ...

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    Out of Egypt: Through the Water
    Exodus 14:13–31; Mark 1:9–13

    Slavery—bondage—servitude. Brutal taskmasters—heavy burdens—daily despair and hopelessness. This was the land of Egypt for the Israelites. Four hundred years earlier, Egypt was a place of refuge, a place of rescue. It was a place that promised food in the midst of famine, a land that gave the Hebrews a home at a time when things were becoming desperate. But that had all changed. A pharaoh had ascended to the throne who didn’t know or care about the great deeds and works of Joseph. To him, the Hebrew people were a source of cheap labor. Now they were enslaved to carry out the building projects of the pharaoh. Now slavery, bondage, and servitude, brutal taskmasters, and heavy burdens were their lot, and they literally groaned under this reality.

    It didn’t matter that the Israelites had willingly journeyed to the land of Egypt and been blessed in this journey with overflowing grain and had been settled in the beautiful land of Goshen. What had once been a good and gracious land became a place of enslavement. What had once been a place a refuge became a place of pain and sorrow. What had once been a place of life became a place of death, a land of exile where their baby boys were thrown into the Nile River.

    The people were in need of a leader. They were in need of a savior. They needed a leader to rise from their midst, a leader who would gather them together. One who would remind them of who they were and who their God was … and who they were in relationship to this God. They needed one who would bring them out of this terrible land of slavery and death. They needed someone who could and who would stand up to Pharaoh. The person God sent was Moses.

    We could spend time talking about Moses and his abilities, or lack of them. We could talk of his training, his education, or his reluctance. We could consider his temper or his lack of desire to carry out the task. We could speak at great length about all these things; but God prepared Moses for the task and then sent him to rescue His people. One stubborn pharaoh and ten plagues later, Moses and the Israelites finally leave town after four hundred years. Moses and the Israelites are headed back to the land that was promised by God to His people since the days of Abraham.

    There are, however, two obstacles between them and their freedom. Two obstacles stand in the way of their return from exile: a large army and a big body of water. Two obstacles with the Israelites right in the middle. Pharaoh and his army are coming up fast from behind and the Red Sea looms large ahead. They are stuck between the proverbial “rock and a hard place,” but God has a plan, a way, a means by which He will save His people.

    The Lord tells Moses to raise his staff over the waters of the Red Sea, and miraculously the waters part and the people of Israel pass through the waters on dry ground. As the people pass through the waters, they begin their return from exile and are rescued from the land of slavery and death. And then, to tie up all the loose ends and to deliver a message, the waters collapse on the advancing Egyptian army. Pharaoh and his army are destroyed in the waters. That evil is washed away. In the words of Moses, God says to His people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.”

    You see, there is life and death in those waters. The same waters that destroy evil pharaoh and his army save the people of God. The Egyptians are drowned and the Israelites walk away saved. The waters that killed also preserved life. And this will not be the last time the Lord uses water to both destroy the enemy and give life to His people. This will not be the last time the Lord uses water to bring His people back from exile.

    A land of bondage, a land of slavery to sin and death—slaves of Satan, enemies of God. The enemies—sin, death, and satan—still seek to enslave God’s people. Indeed, these enemies have their successes as we groan under the burden of death. People need, we need to escape the grip of death, but we cannot. And so, we need a Savior, a Deliverer to rise from our midst. A Savior who will gather us up and bring us out of this land of exile. We need a Savior who will reunite and restore us to God. We need One who will stand up to satan and his demonic power. God’s solution was to send His only begotten Son, Jesus.

    We could spend a lot of time speaking about Jesus and His abilities. We could speak of His power, of His lineage, of His sacrifice, of His love and mercy, but it’s enough to say that, in Jesus, God became flesh to dwell among us and with His blood rescued us from our land of exile. Remember Jesus went down into the waters of the Jordan to be baptized by John—not to be washed clean of sin.  If that were the case, we would still be eternally condemned. No, Jesus went into the waters of the Jordan as the Lamb of God and came out as our sin-bearer who took upon Himself the sin of the world, a role confirmed by His anointing with the Holy Spirit and the voice of His Father declaring He was pleased with His Son.

    You see, as we pray in Luther’s Baptismal Prayer: … Through the Baptism in the Jordan of Your beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, You sanctified and instituted all waters to be a blessed flood and a lavish washing away of sin.

    We are brought to the baptismal font, whereby the water and the Word the old Adam within us is drowned as all sin is washed away. In those waters we are born again, a new creation, a forgiven child of God born through those sacramental waters into the promised land of eternal life in our Father’s land. Returned from exile, returned from a land of slavery to sin and death, through the waters into the arms of our loving and merciful God.

    In Jesus’s name. Amen.

  • Only Two Options

    See the Weekly Bulletin Only Two Options John 2:13-22 In reading this morning’s Gospel lesson, we're left with an uncom ...

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    Only Two Options
    John 2:13-22

    In reading this morning’s Gospel lesson, we're left with an uncomfortable fact - Jesus got angry; angry enough to cause a public uproar in the temple. It’s often taught that Jesus’s anger was different than ours, that when He grabbed that whip and chased everyone out of the temple, He wasn’t sinning. Jesus was rightly showing a righteous anger at sinful people doing sinful things. 

    And while that’s true, it’s also where our thinking usually goes off the tracks.  And that because it’s here that our sinful ears filter this information through our sinful hearts and minds, which, in turn, opens the door to excusing our anger as righteous and God-pleasing while the anger of others is usually sinful.  They give into temptation and get angry over … whatever, and fuss until they get their way or leave the church.  But we’re different … or are we?  To be sure, we’ll confess that there have been times when we have sinned in our anger.  But, as often as not we consider our anger, over whatever, as righteous and even necessary.  Why? … because it’s ours.

    That’s been my struggle this past week.  No matter what I say about sinful anger versus righteous anger, we are sinners and will always in our heart of hearts believe that our anger is righteous, when the truth is it’s not. Our anger is a result of focusing on our desire to be in control, and not on God and His means of grace.  Now you may be thinking that’s not always true, and you’re right.  There are times when our anger starts out justified, but that’s a very slippery slope.  You and I both know that even when our anger is justified, our sinful nature still has a way of turning it into sinful slander, gossip, and hatred.  That’s how our sinful nature works.  It’s always about us. 

    The thing is, this text isn’t about our anger … righteous or not.  This text is about God’s righteous anger over sin, all sin.  That’s why we consider this text during Lent.  Yes, Jesus got angry…but it was over the right things: the desecrating and profaning of God and of His House and the forgiveness offered there. And you know what? … our Lord and God still gets angry over the profaning and taking for granted His means of grace and mercy and forgiveness offered from His House. 

    And that’s what makes us uncomfortable with these words.  We often ignore the fact that God gets angry with sin because God is love and anger doesn’t fit into our picture of what love is.  It never ceases to amaze me how often Jesus is portrayed as always smiling and playing with children under a rainbow.  This is the Jesus we want to talk about and share with others.  No offense.  No pain.  No cross.  Just happiness.

    Now … the God of the Old Testament … well, He was an angry God.  He used smoke and fire, floods, and mountain-shaking earthquakes.  The Old Testament God punished sin with things like famine, plagues, slavery, war, death, and destruction.  But that’s the God of the Old Testament.  That’s all in the past.  That God has been replaced with Jesus and Jesus, we tell ourselves, is only about love and forgiveness.

    But have you looked around the world we live in?  We’re still surrounded by pain and suffering, heartache and fighting; we still see the death and disease.  We can’t hide from it.  We can’t separate ourselves from it.  We can’t deny it.  It’s not only all around us; it’s in us, in every fiber of our being.  The fact that we struggle, and hurt, and grieve, and get angry all bear witness to the sin within us.  It all bears witness to the truth that we still need the mercy, grace, and forgiveness God so patiently and lovingly offers to sinners every single day. I mean, how often do we take His gifts for granted?  How often do we arrogantly take God’s patience as His approval?

     And that’s the key to understanding God and anger.  God allows what we call bad things to happen to us in this life, and these bad things are proof that God is angry with sin.  He does not approve of or condone sin, no matter how much we justify or ignore it.  But that does not mean God is punishing us for a specific sin when bad things happen to us. Remember God doesn’t punish sin on this side of eternity.  That’s not to say that there aren’t consequences for our sin, but suffering consequences is different than suffering punishment. 

    Just look at Moses.  Moses deliberately disobeyed God when God told him to command the rock to produce water for the cranky Israelites.  Moses was so fed up at that point with the Israelites that he disobeyed God and instead, in his anger, struck the rock with his staff.  This sinful, angry display by Moses angered God.  Moses confessed his sinful disobedience, and God lovingly forgave Moses, restoring him to full sonship and salvation.  Moses, however, still suffered the consequences of his action and was not allowed to enter the Promised Land.

    So God does indeed punish sin, but He saved it for and poured it out on His Son who lived and died in the place of each and every one of us. What angers God is that even though all sin has been paid for with the blood of His Son, still there are many who turn from, or worse, mock His gifts. Those who are full of self-confidence choose a different path; really an easy path; the no crosses involved path.  And while it’s not until a final unrepentant breath is exhaled, God, to be fair and just, will punish the sin of unbelief in all who have rejected His mercy. God desires the death of no man, but we can only know Him as Merciful Savior or Judge; there are only two options.

    But remember, we’re also guilty of forsaking God’s gifts of mercy. We who know and rejoice that every single sin in our life has been paid for in full because of His love for us: Don’t we also continue to feed our sinful natures? Don’t we still hide the things we’re ashamed of? Do you really think you’re somehow in and of yourself different than the unrepentant? The only difference between us is that the seed of God’s word has taken root in our heats, so that by God’s working, we, by grace through faith, now trust His Word of forgiveness. But be honest and recognize that daily we take God’s gift of grace and misuse it just like we do all His gifts.

    And yet the sun still rises and with it His mercy is still freely offered to all. That, dear children of God, is pure grace.  That is the unconditional love that is God.  That’s what we see in the temple today.  Jesus laid down the law because He loved those merchants and money changers and He wanted them to change. Notice how Jesus makes their sin known and how He felt, but there is no punishment for them … why? Well that’s because Jesus came to bear their sin and take their punishment as well.

     You see, the motivation for Jesus’s angry outburst was His love for them.  He disciplined them because He cared for them, and He gave them their sign when He pointed them to His death and resurrection, which is the only thing that can bring repentance from sin-filled hearts.  My friends, Christ our Merciful Savior’s anger still has purpose, a life giving and life-saving purpose, a purpose born of love for all who are born of sin.

    In His Name, Amen.

  • Mountain to Mountain: Mount Moriah to Mount Zion

    See the Weekly Bulletin Mountain to Mountain: Mount Moriah to Mount Zion Genesis 22:1-14 and John 3:14-18 + Grace to you, and pea ...

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    Mountain to Mountain: Mount Moriah to Mount Zion
    Genesis 22:1-14 and John 3:14-18

    + Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father,
    and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

    Self-disclosure: I share many of the tastes of my wife’s family, especially in their love of the movie, “The Sound of Music.” The music alone is enough to fall in love with it, let alone the plot, but one of the more standout features is the cinematography, especially the wide, sweeping panoramas of the Austrian Alps. There’s a reason why those shots are so powerful; mountains are majestic. They inspire us. They have symbolic meaning for us—as in, “Climb every mountain.” Mountains are amazing geological structures, but do they also cause us terror and dread? Maybe the early pioneers, as they forged their way west, saw mountains as obstacles and were overwhelmed by what stood in the way of their journey. Did they view them with trepidation? I don’t know, but I think it’s safe to say that Abraham in our text must have experienced feelings of dread when Mount Moriah came into view.

    The Lord came to Abraham and instructed him to take his son – his only son, mind you – to Mount Moriah and offer him up, to sacrifice him on an altar on that mountain. Abraham loaded the donkey with wood, and he headed for the region of Moriah. We can only imagine what that journey must have been like! Abraham knew what lay ahead, but Isaac was clueless. What do you talk about? How do you act? When you know that the death of your child—your only child, by your own hands—lies in your path, how do you say the things that need to be said without giving away the intent of your journey? Well, after three days, Abraham lifted up his eyes and there it was—Mount Moriah. The time had come.

    Sin requires sacrifice. Payment must be made to satisfy the debt.  Sin has exiled man from God; the only way to return from this exile is to pay what is demanded, and the price … is blood. So, to satisfy the payment demanded, Abraham prepares to offer up his only son.

    Isaac bears the wood upon which he will be sacrificed up the mount, and he wonders and asks, “Where is the lamb for sacrifice?” He knows there must be blood shed to atone for sin. He knows the ritual. He knows, and he wants to know where the sacrifice is. Abraham’s heart must have been ripped from his chest at the question. How do you answer? What do you say? Abraham responds in faith, even though the tears are, undoubtedly, pushing at his eyes. “God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.”

    Abraham has faith. He trusts. He knows the Lord will provide the lamb for sacrifice, but is the lamb Isaac? He doesn’t know, and you imagine that his feet are dragging, and his heart is heavy in a way none of us can understand. Is the sacrifice Isaac? Abraham builds the altar … he arranges the wood … he places his only son upon the wood … he raises the knife to deal the killing blow . . . and the Lord stays his hand! The Lord provides a sacrifice, a ram caught in the thicket. And thus it is said, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.”

    So powerful is this account, so intense the drama, so shocking the faith, so amazing the rescue that the Hebrew people will later build the temple on this very hill. This very hill, this mountain is where God dwells with His people. This mountain is Mount Zion! The Hebrew people revere this account of Abraham and Isaac so highly that it has its own title and place in their faith. They call it the Aqedah, the Hebrew word for “binding.” Isaac is the only “bound,” tied-down sacrifice in the Old Testament. All other sacrifices are first killed and then placed upon the altar as their blood is poured and sprinkled. Isaac is the only bound sacrifice, the only living sacrifice in the Old Testament. In the rest of the Bible, there is only one other.

    “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.” On this mountain, the sacrifice of the only-begotten Son of God will be provided. He, too, is a bound sacrifice as He is nailed to the tree to suffer and die. Sin – our sin – has exiled us from God. Blood is required for payment, and on the mountain of the Lord, He provides. That sacrifice takes place on another mountain, Calvary. Here, Jesus carries the wood for His sacrifice – a cross. And from that tree on that mountain, the blood of the Lamb of God is brought to Mount Zion. Jesus Christ brings His own blood onto Mount Zion, into the temple, through the curtain, and into the Most Holy Place. The temple curtain is ripped in two, and the blood of the Lamb is poured out on the Mercy Seat. The Lord provides the final sacrifice for the sins of the world.

    Abraham makes a three-day journey to Mount Moriah prior to the sacrifice of his son. Jesus makes a three-day journey, as well, but it follows His sacrifice. For three days, He lies in the tomb. For three days, the grave holds Him. But on that third day, Jesus is lifted up to new life, a glorious resurrection. God provided His Son, His only Son, as the sacrifice required for sin, and all who believe in Him shall not perish, for God provides the forgiveness of sins, everlasting life, on this mountain.

    Mount Moriah to Mount Zion—a return from exile. We who have been exiled from the presence of God by our sin have been restored to His presence, returned to look upon His face. We are reunited on this mountain, where God provides His only Son, and where He provides the bloody payment for sin. On this mountain, as the curtain is ripped in two, the gates of heaven are thrown open to those who believe and call upon His name. On this mountain, make no mistake, the Lord provides.

    + In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.

  • Follow

    See the Weekly Bulletin Follow Mark 8:27-38 + Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior ...

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    Mark 8:27-38

    + Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

    The text for our meditation is from our Gospel lesson, specifically where Mark records Jesus’s words, If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it. Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

    Have you ever heard the story of the 26 Martyrs of Japan? If you didn’t know, a few years after Martin Luther died, the first recorded Christian missionaries – Jesuit priests, specifically – stepped foot on Japanese soil on August 15, 1549 at the port of Kagoshima. Initially, for a variety of reasons, the Japanese leaders – the daimyo lords and the overarching shogun – were quite receptive, cordial, and welcoming to the foreign missionaries. However, as decades passed, the Japanese leadership, becoming increasingly wary of colonialism and Western influences, became more hostile to the foreign ancient faith and those who represented it. This increasing tension reached a boiling point in late 1596, with the wreck of the San Filipe, a Spanish galleon, at the port of Urado. While the crew was being interviewed, the Pilot Major mistakenly gave the impression that the only reason the Spanish and Portuguese sent missionaries to foreign lands was to convert the people in order to make them more pliable for invasions by conquistadors. Not surprisingly, this did not sit well with the daimyo or the shogun, Toyotomi Hideyoshi himself. Hideyoshi gave orders that all foreign missionaries be rounded up, and in the end, in February of 1597, 26 Catholics – 6 Franciscan friars, 3 Japanese Jesuits, and 17 Japanese laymen, including 3 young boys – were marched from Kyoto to Nagasaki (yes, the same Nagasaki), and were crucified there on a hill. After that, Christianity was all but outlawed in the land of Japan, not to be seen again for centuries except in the underground.

    Is this what you imagine when you hear Jesus’s words in the Gospel text today? If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. That’s understandable, and certainly it is a beautiful (albeit gory and sorrowful) testimony to their faith in Christ their Lord. However, there’s a different meaning behind all of this, a deeper meaning that is, oddly enough, plain as day. Let’s allow the surrounding context to inform the simple and deep meaning behind Jesus’s words.

    Immediately prior to our Gospel text, we have a curious anecdote, telling how a blind beggar from Bethsaida is, initially, only partially healed when Jesus spits on his eyes and lays His hands upon him. The man says, “I see people, but they look like trees, walking.” Jesus then lays His hands on the man’s eyes again, and only thereafter is the man’s vision fully restored. This is curious because it almost sounds like Jesus may have made a mistake, or that He may not have had the power to deal with this man’s blindness – both are utterly absurd notions! No, no, in that story, we see a physical illustration of the point Jesus makes in our text: at that moment, the disciples were only seeing in part. They didn’t see perfectly Who Jesus is and what His mission was.

    It’s no wonder, then, that Jesus asks the disciples, on the way to Caesarea Philippi, Who do people say that I am? The disciples give their varied answers, essentially saying that no one knows, really. This prompts Jesus to ask who they think He is. Peter answers correctly, declaring Jesus to be the Christ, the Messiah, David’s heir. He’s right, of course, but they still don’t see with clarity what that actually means. That’s why Jesus charges them with silence; He doesn’t want them spreading misinformation, a wrong gospel about Him. That’s also why we have Jesus explaining to them immediately thereafter what must happen to Him: His suffering and rejection, His death, and His resurrection three days later. That is what the Messiah must do, Who He is. He is the sacrificial Lamb of God, Who takes away the sin of the world.

    Well, Peter’s not having any of this! He rebukes, tries to censure Jesus, but in turn, Jesus censures him. Why? Because Peter does not see clearly; his mind is on the temporal, the here-and-now. Even though Jesus has used exceedingly plain and simple terms, Peter simply cannot comprehend what the Messiah is actually called to do. This is why Jesus calls the crowd to Himself; they need to know that Peter’s perception, his vision of the Messiah and what it means to follow Him, is flat-out wrong.

    To follow the Messiah is not an easy way. It’s no cake-walk. The one who desires to follow Jesus must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow the Christ. Are we talking about what happened on the outskirts of Nagasaki those four centuries ago? Are we talking about what currently goes on in the Middle East, when ISIS at the height of power would tie beaten Christians to crosses built of iron pipes? Is Jesus talking about martyrdom as a requirement for following Him? Well, no, not exactly like that. For the average American Christian, odds are martyrdom of this caliber is not the norm. More often than not, we are not called upon to make that ultimate sacrifice and testimony – though, certainly, we should all be willing to do so. No, the plainer and more universal meaning is what Jesus is getting at.

    The one who denies himself is the one who denies his own ability to save himself. He rejects his own attempts to “be good,” to place any trust in the works of his hands to count for anything toward salvation. Jesus is declaring to those within earshot that self-justification is NO justification. If it were that easy, if Man were capable of saving himself, then the Messiah would not have been necessary! But the Messiah has come, and has come with a purpose: to be rejected, to suffer, to die, and to rise! And it was exceedingly necessary!

    THIS is denying one’s self. THIS is taking up one’s own cross: to trust, not in one’s own efforts, but in the sacrifice, the work and offering Jesus Himself made. It is to cling to the promises found atop Golgotha, the atonement made in the broken body of the God-Man, the love that poured out with His blood as it flowed down the vertical beam of the cross. It is the willingness to say, “Yes, I am a lousy, rotten, no-good, stinkin’ sinner, who deserves nothing but death and condemnation, but I trust that, contrary to all logic and reason, I am forgiven in Christ Jesus. I trust that His sacrifice, and the grace of the Father because of that sacrifice, is enough to atone for my sins.” It is the Spirit working in you to say this, in spite of the world calling you a fool for believing it.

    Will you face ridicule for this trust and belief? If you haven’t already, odds are you probably will at some point in your life. Is it a blow to your pride, to be entirely reliant upon another to make satisfaction for all your sin, when you’ve been taught all your life to pick yourself up by your bootstraps and do it yourself? Undoubtedly, it’s humbling, even humiliating. Are you going to be called upon to make the ultimate sacrifice, testimony, and witness to the love and power of Christ, which is made perfect in our weakness? I have no idea; it’s certainly possible, but that’s up to God alone to bestow such an honor. It was true of the apostles, of countless Roman subjects, of the 26 martyrs of Nagasaki, and of the countless other saints who have gone before us. What they shared with all Christians is the trust in this salvific work of the Messiah They are the ones who see clearly, who follow closely the Savior through death, and who follow Him into the life of the world to come.

    + In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.

  • Garden to Garden: Eden to Heaven

    See the Weekly Bulletin Garden to Garden: Eden to Heaven Genesis 3 and Revelation 22 A beautiful place, a perfect paradise! ...

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    Garden to Garden: Eden to Heaven
    Genesis 3 and Revelation 22

    A beautiful place, a perfect paradise! The heavens and the earth all created by God’s word alone. All the living creatures that crawl on the ground, that swim in the waters, and that fly in the air, created by His word. Man created with loving hands and His breath to give us life. Created in His own image He made them, male and female. And it was good! Not just good it was perfect.

    God placed man, the crown of His creation, in a beautiful garden called Eden. It had to be beautiful because it was perfect. There was no need to labor and till the ground because it produced all that man needed in abundance. There was no need to worry about the weather because the world was perfect and everything work according to God’s design. There was no need to worry about anything because everything was exactly the way God intended for it to be.

    But without a doubt the best reality of all was the relationship God had with our first parents Adam and Eve. God and humanity were united together in perfect unity. It was an amazing relationship. God walked hand in hand, talked face to face, lived in perfect communion with His creatures. A beautiful, perfect place with God and man united in a beautiful and perfect relationship. The unimaginably beautiful Garden of Eden, the place where God and all of humanity lived together in perfect harmony …. That’s how it was in the beginning.

    But Adam and Eve wanted more than to know God, they wanted to be like God. The old, evil foe had tempted Adam and Eve to question their relationship with their Creator by casting doubt on His integrity. Satan was able to convince them that God was keeping something from them, holding back the ability to be like Him. They believed satan and disobeyed the one command God had given them and ate the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and they tasted death.

    The amazing relationship they had with God was severed—a divide a wall built of sin if you will, now separated them. Adam and Eve sinned and were driven out from the Garden of Eden and their return was forbidden by the flaming sword of the cherubim. They were exiled from a perfect place of light and beauty and thrown into the darkness and their return was forbidden, their access to the tree of life was cut off.

    Created in God’s image as the crown of His creation with His own hands from the dust of the ground to live eternally were now sentenced to be returned to the dust from which they came in shame and disgrace. We were created to live forever in the presence of God but because of the disobedience of our first parents we are living in exile in a land of darkness and death far from the face of God with its light and grace. How tragic for Adam and Eve. How tragic for you and me!

    Exiled like Adam and Eve from the beautiful Garden; exiled from standing in the presence and before the face of God and driven out into the darkness of a broken and sin-filled world with broken and sin-filled hearts. Sin drives man from God and sin exiles us from the courts of heaven.

    To be sure, if we become perfectly obedient to God’s Word, if we resist all temptation to sin and walk in absolute purity, if we are found to be righteous in God’s sight by the works of our hands, then and only then—would we be able to return to the Garden. Its gates would be thrown open, and we would be received with great rejoicing. Once again the Garden would be our dwelling place and God would be our constant companion and we would walk together once more in the cool of the day and all we have to do is be perfect.

    But the truth we live with is that we are not perfect and our sin is ever before us. And that means we simply cannot return from this exile by our own reason or strength. We cannot enter into the presence of God by the works of our hands. We are helpless and hopeless, wandering in the darkness. We hang our heads unable to look our Creator in the face, unable to come into His glory, unable to look Him in the eye.

    And no matter how much we may want to we simply cannot return on our own. The journey is too difficult, too demanding, it’s just too much for a sinner. We need help, no we need more than help, we need to be saved which means we need a Savior. We need One who will bring us back into the presence of our God. One who will carry us back to the Garden.

    A Redeemer, a Messiah, the Christ—that’s what God promised Adam and Eve as they were driven from Eden. God told them that the darkness would be overcome by the One who would do battle with the evil serpent. He told them the Seed of the woman would crush the head of satan even as He suffered the pains of the flesh that lead to His death.

    The Promised One would overcome the temptations of sin and would fight the ultimate battle on a cross. The burden He would carry to the cross would be our sin. The sacrifice He would offer would be His blood and it would be offered for all because of the love and mercy of our God.

    On Good Friday Jesus did suffer what we deserve. He did carry what we could not bear. And with His resurrection He accomplished in our place a return from the exile of sin and death. The blood of Jesus has made us clean. And because of that Jesus declares: Today you will be with Me in paradise.

    And so, it has come to pass. We have been redeemed and restored by our Savior, Jesus Christ. He has fought the good fight in our place and overcome all that kept us from the Garden. From paradise lost to paradise restored, the gates of heaven stand open before you and all who believe.

    To be sure, the day will come when we walk through those gates and see the Lamb on His throne. There in the garden of gardens we will see the waters of life flowing around the tree of life. Then we shall bask in the Light that is Christ and live in the fullness of His presence forever.

    In His Name, Amen.

  • Lived in Your Shoes

    See the Weekly Bulletin Lived in Your Shoes Mark 1:9-15 Today’s reading from Mark covers a lot in just a few verses.  ...

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    Lived in Your Shoes
    Mark 1:9-15

    Today’s reading from Mark covers a lot in just a few verses.  Matthew records the baptism and temptation of Jesus in 16 verses, Luke in 14 verses, and Mark covers in just 5 verses.  And while Mark gives us just the facts, if you will, still there are details about Jesus’s ministry that are found only in Mark.

    Now in general, these days we hear the account of Jesus’s baptism on the First Sunday after the Epiphany and we hear about His temptation on the First Sunday in Lent.  That means the church has put several weeks between the reading of these two accounts and we don’t always realize or see the connection that exist between them. 

    Mark’s compact style of writing doesn’t really allow for that.  And so this morning/evening we heard about both and realize that one moment the Holy Spirit was descending on Jesus and the very next moment that same Holy Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert to confront the devil.  This was before He did any teaching or miracles or had called any disciples.

    We read, The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. The Greek could also be translated as, The Spirit immediately threw him out into the wilderness. Mark gives us the impression that Jesus was still wet from His baptism as He confronted satan.  It’s like the Holy Spirit descends on Jesus and He goes, as only God can go, and begins the work of earning our salvation, beginning if you will where Adam and Eve failed.

    The point is this was an intentional confrontation with satan.  The involvement of the Holy Spirit shows that Jesus time in the desert wasn’t some random encounter between enemies.  This battle was God’s intent for the beginning of Jesus’s public ministry.

    Now Mark doesn’t record many details about the actual temptations.  He does tell us that it lasted forty days and that Jesus was with the wild animals. And that phrase reminded me of an Old Testament sacrifice that was also driven out into the wilderness. That is the sacrificing of the scapegoat. And as you may recall, the scapegoat was the central figure in the ceremony for the Day of Atonement. 

    In Leviticus 16 we read about the Day of Atonement: Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins. And he shall put them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is in readiness. The goat shall bear all their iniquities on itself to a remote area, and he shall let the goat go free in the wilderness.

     The idea was that the goat, an “innocent” animal, did not volunteer for the role of scape goat but was given that role by others.  That goat did not suffer or bear the burden of its own sins but it bore the sins of the people of Israel.  Aaron, the high priest, according to God’s command confessed the sins of the nation over the goat.  And in doing so he transferred the sins of the people onto the goat.  After that a special shepherd led the scapegoat out into the desert in the midst of wild animals. And so the goat with all the sins of Israel went out into the wilderness never to be seen again.  And the sins of the people went with it.

    Of course, once the special shepherd set the scapegoat free, no one really knew what happened to that goat.  The most likely outcome is that wild animals ate it.  It’s also possible that a shepherd from another country who knew nothing about the traditions of Israel might find it and take it home to his own flocks.  No one really knew.  The point is: although the symbolism of the scapegoat was that the sins of Israel were gone never to be seen or heard from again, no one really knew for sure what happened to the goat. 

    And so a scapegoat had to be sent out into the desert year after year. It’s greater role however was that of a shadow pointing to the One who is the fulfillment of all God’s promises. As we read in Hebrews 10: For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near.  Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.  That is the scapegoat was a shadow pointing to the reality that is found in Jesus the incarnate Son of God.

    Our Lord Jesus Christ is as John the Baptist declared the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  But even though He carried the sin of the world, He personally was without sin.  He endured and resisted every temptation satan put in His path. Again we read in Hebrews: For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 

    Jesus endured and overcame the temptations of satan.  He not only endured the three temptations in the wilderness, but for three years as He made His way to the cross, He was as we read … tempted in every way, just as we are, yet He did not sin.

    You see, just as by Adam and Eve’s one sin Eden was lost, if satan could have gotten Jesus to sin just once, His death on the cross would have meant no more than the death of the two thieves next to Him. But Jesus didn’t sin, not in thought, word, or deed. And so with carrying our sin He went to the cross and the grave where He left it when He rose on Easter morning.

    And with Jesus, we don’t have to worry that our sin might somehow come back to find us because on the cross Jesus the sinless one drank the cup of God’s wrath for us. Taking our punishment in His flesh and paying for our sin with His blood Jesus overcame death destroying the power of the old evil foe.  In Christ our sin cannot threaten us; in Christ satan has no power over us. 

    The Holy Spirit made His presence known when Jesus came up out of the water from His baptism.  That same Holy Spirit drove Jesus into the desert to begin His battle with satan that would end on the cross in victory for you and me and all who are born of sin, just as God promised.

    It’s important for us to know that as our substitute Jesus did endure all the hardships we endure.  He doesn’t just know where we leave our shoes but He has lived in our shoes, He has experienced life as you know it.  He was tempted just as you and I are tempted.  He experienced our pain, our sorrow, our frustrations ….  He experienced it all yet for you and me.  He never once sinned in thought, word, or deed.

    As we read in 2 Corinthians 5: For our sake God made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.  You see, just as the High Priest placed the sin of Israel on the scapegoat, God the Father put the sin of the world on Jesus so that now by grace through the faith created and sustained by the Means of Grace credits Christ righteousness to you.  The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.

    In His Name, Amen.

  • Heart to Heart: Sackcloth and Ashes to Robes of Righteousness

    See the Weekly Bulletin Heart to Heart: Sackcloth and Ashes to Robes of Righteousness Joel 2:12-29 + Grace to you, and peace, fro ...

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    Heart to Heart: Sackcloth and Ashes to Robes of Righteousness
    Joel 2:12-29

    + Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

    The text for our meditation this Ash Wednesday is from the prophet Joel, where he speaks, “Yet even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love… Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

    There’s a story of a vain emperor who loves clothes, wearing nothing but the finest apparel and suits. More than ruling his realm and caring for his people, the emperor would change clothes almost hourly, and his tailors were only too willing to oblige. Not surprisingly, the king’s proclivity for fashion drew two con-artists posing as tailors, saying they could make the finest suit the emperor would ever own, made of fabric so light, it is almost invisible to the eye. In fact, the only way one couldn’t see the clothes would be if one were too stupid, foolish, or undeserving of their position to see them.

    This offer is too good for the emperor to pass up, thinking he can use the suit as a test to see which of his advisors are foolish or otherwise unfit for their positions. Unfortunately, he ends up the fool; conned by the two faux-tailors, the emperor dons the “new suit” and leads a procession through the town for all to see his marvelous new duds. The townsfolk are all shocked to see their emperor, stark naked, but no one wishes to say anything for fear of looking stupid. It takes a small child, who could care less about such trivialities, to call a thing what it is, by declaring that the emperor is wearing no clothes. Realizing he has been duped, the emperor can only grimly carry on for the rest of the processional, in his nakedness and shame.

    Why did the emperor feel ashamed? Certainly, he was ashamed of being so foolish as to believe the con-men, but adding insult to injury, he was naked. That original shame felt by humanity, a shame which we feel the desire to cover up with clothing. Adam and Eve’s first clothes were hardly fashionable – fig leaves sown together, but they covered their nakedness and, undoubtedly, thought those clothes could fool the very God Who created them. Now fast-forward to our day, and you quickly find how we take pride in the clothes we wear. Some things don’t change; like Adam and Eve, we believe we can deceive God and He will not take note of our shame. We want to be responsible and cover up our sin. It does not work. Our clothes, whatever the brand, are used to cover up our nakedness, but they cannot cover the shame of sin that we attempt, in vain, to cover.

    If the desires of our hearts were laid bare for all to see, we would indeed be ashamed. Evil thoughts, sexual desires, selfish wants, impure motives, jealousy, anger, envy, drunkenness, strife, idolatry; need I continue? This is the condition of our hearts, and we seek to hide it. Yet, man is incapable of hiding the truth from God. We may fool those around us, and we may be fooled by those around us, but the Lord God sees the condition of all hearts. He knows we are guilty, and that we are guilty of it all.

    As Adam was formed from the dust, when his life was no more, when he died because of sin, he returned to that dust, and now his body is dust. Paul writes in his letter to the Romans, The wages of sin is death. We die because of sin, and this is what we remember during Ash Wednesday. We are born sinners, and our journey leads us back to the dust of death. Any attempts to cover up our sin, every effort to pay up always results in the same destination: the grave. We are dust, and to dust we shall return.

    In this sorry spiritual state of affairs, the prophet Joel speaks. The people of Israel have wandered away from their God. They have been unfaithful in word and deed. They have sought other gods and played the harlot. So the Lord will turn them over to disaster. They will be oppressed and downtrodden. They will suffer want and weep in their distress. Joel calls out, “Rend your hearts and not your garments.” The ancient tradition was to express terrible anxiety and distress by tearing your garments, displaying your state of sorrow. But the rending of garments will only reveal the problem: a corrupt and sinful heart. A torn garment shows the problem, a torn heart begins to heal the problem.

    Rend your hearts and not your garments! Put on sackcloth and ashes. Repent! Return to the Lord! David tells us in Psalm 51, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.” That is why we have gathered here this day to put on ashes, to repent. We know our sin, and it is ever before us. We know the sorry condition of our blackened hearts, and that we, of our own strength and power, cannot return from our sin-stained exile. We cannot return to the presence of the Lord our God. The ashes remind us of our sin, of the condition of our hearts. But ashes in the sign of the cross … remind us of a gracious and merciful God.

    Yes, an instrument of torture and death is the means by which God has cleansed our hearts and exchanged our garments. The cross—the place where Jesus is raised up in our place. The cross—the place where Jesus is stripped of His robe and all of our sin is revealed as He hangs naked in our stead. For He who knew no sin became sin for us. We attempt to cover our sin, but Jesus reveals it so that it might be washed away by His blood. Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrow.

    What do we get in this felicitous exchange? Listen to the words of St. John as he describes those who are gathered around the throne of the Lamb in His kingdom, and you’ll get the answer:

    After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.

    A great multitude who wave palm branches as they worship their Savior. Note that they are clothed in white robes. These are no fig leaves they wear; they are not adorned in filthy rags. They are clothed in white robes, robes that have been cleansed, washed in the blood of the Lamb. Their garments of sackcloth have been exchanged for robes of righteousness.

    The sackcloth and ashes are gone. It is the blood of Jesus that washes away sin, His blood that washes our robes and makes them white. Jesus takes our sackcloth and ashes, and clothes us in righteousness – HIS righteousness. Now, when the Father sees us, He no longer sees our shame, nor our nakedness. He sees His Son, so drenched and thoroughly cleansed by His blood are our robes! Our hearts are restored! The exile is over! The journey is finished with the coming of that blessed Day! We are returned to the presence of our God, and we rejoice in the robes the Bridegroom has provided for His Bride.

    + In Jesus’s holy, precious, and mighty Name. + Amen.

  • Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet

    See the Weekly Bulletin Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet Mark 9:2-9 + Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and fr ...

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    Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet
    Mark 9:2-9

    + Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

    The text for our meditation this Transfiguration weekend is, unsurprisingly, our Gospel lesson, specifically where Mark records, And Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” For he did not know what to say, for they were terrified. And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

    If your family is anything like mine, family gatherings revolved around bigger events – certain holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, events like that. Every Thanksgiving, for example, a majority of my mom’s family would gather at her sister’s house for food, football, sharing of memories, and of course, the obligatory family pictures. As a little kid, I didn’t appreciate them as much as I do now – like any child, I would fidget and squirm, preferring the fun of playing with my cousins than sitting still for a picture. Those of you with children certainly know the struggle that comes with having an energetic kid sit still for a picture. Now imagine having a gaggle of them sit in a coordinated way, according to the various family clans, all radiating out from the central figures, the familial patriarchs and matriarchs. I know it’s probably a circus to deal with, but I also know, as do you, how worth it the struggle is, as you look back at these photos, years later, and remember with fondness those times.

    Those pictures are snapshots of time, a gathering of the different generations of your heritage, your family, who you are based on who and where you’ve come from and the people who have had an influence in your life. These are important to consider, as my dad is often wont to remind me, “Never forget who you are and where you’ve come from.”

    With words, Mark paints us a similar portrait on the Mount of Transfiguration, only it is hardly a static portrait with kids sitting perfectly still for the microsecond necessary for the picture to be taken. No, the portrait that Mark paints for us is dynamic and alive. You see the select few apostles – Peter, James, and John – who have been brought up this mountain to witness an incredible moment. You also have, incredibly, two powerhouse figures of ancient Israel – Moses and Elijah –making an appearance, albeit in a mysterious, unknowable way, since the two of them had long since been removed from this earth.

    Speaking of appearance, we come to the central figure in the portrait, the One commanding all the attention: Jesus Himself. Only … He doesn’t quite look the way that the disciples were used to seeing Him. They were, more likely, used to Him looking like an average Joe (or Jacob), perhaps with a sense of something extraordinary about Him, something one couldn’t quite put one’s finger on, but one knew when one is in His presence. No, here, on this mountain, Jesus isn’t just the teacher that they knew and loved. There, the disciples got to see Jesus in a raw display of His glory.

    To say that this was a sight to behold is an incredible understatement, on par with Peter’s response to this extraordinary event, Rabbi, it is good that we are here! We are getting a rare glimpse at Jesus’s divine nature, the unadulterated majesty, holiness, and grandeur that is the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. It’s almost an aside that Moses and Elijah are there. Their presence is certainly impressive, puzzling, and wondrous, but certainly not the focus. The focus here, as always, is Jesus, and Who He really is.

    That’s what we see here in this family snapshot that Mark describes: the family is there, and they’re important, but of more importance is the central figure, Jesus. Peter’s desire to make three tents – one for Him, one for Moses, and one for Elijah – indicates Peter’s ignorance of Who Jesus really is in spite of the magnificence he has just been made privy to. This is undoubtedly one of the reasons why the cloud envelops the disciples and they hear the voice of the Father say, This is My beloved Son; listen to Him. The focus of this monumental moment, of this dynamic snapshot, is Jesus.

    Awe-inspiring as this image of Jesus is, as majestic and powerful and glorious as we see Him in this moment of transfiguration, even then we are not seeing His divine nature most fully. That’s right, even this incredible spectacle on a mountain is not the complete display of Jesus as God. We see His glory, to be sure, but the true nature of divinity in Jesus is best beheld at another snapshot, one which we will begin contemplating in a matter of days with the coming of Lent. Yes, one sees Jesus most fully as God as He is suspended between heaven and earth, lifted up as the Lamb of God, Who takes away the sin of the world. There isn’t glory to behold, but rather gore as the blood of the Lamb is shed for the people. We don’t see His splendorous majesty, but we see the humble love of the Creator for His creatures as He lays His life down for them. We don’t hear the booming proclamation from the Father, but rather His deafening silence, as Jesus breathes His last and says, “Father, into Your hands, I commit My spirit.” We see Jesus doing the impossible, what only God can do: making atonement for sin by taking all sin upon Himself, and killing it in His own physical death. We see Jesus’ divine nature most clearly as He becomes the physical embodiment of love in His self-sacrifice upon the cross. We see Jesus as God most clearly as He dies out of love.

    That’s not where the disciples are at, though. Right then and there, as Jesus is standing before them, resplendent and regal on the mountain, in this picture, we see a snapshot of the family of faith, those who trust in what and Who He is as the Messiah. As Jesus displays His glory, He is the bridge between the Old and New Testaments, bridging the gap between ancient Israel and those who see the promises given to Israel fulfilled.

    While you may not see it, as we read these words and believe them to be true, we are likewise privy to this private, majestic display. That’s because we likewise are members of this family of faith. We are of the same family as Moses and Elijah, all the Old Testament believers who clung to the promise of the Messiah. We’re in the same family as Peter, James, and John, those first apostles who not only witnessed Jesus holy life, death, and resurrection, but also were sent out to bear this Gospel message to our forebears! The same family as Constantine, as Augustine, Luther, Walther, Pieper, all those who have gone before us, as well as those who will come after us who trust in Christ our Lord!

    With Him at the center of the picture – both true God and true man – we have nothing to fear! When the focus of our teaching and faith is nothing by Christ, and Him crucified, resurrected, and returning, we know from where we come, and to Whom we belong! We gaze upon Christ as we partake of His body and blood, broken and shed for us! We hear His forgiving voice in absolution pronounced to us! And we shall see Him most truly and fully when He returns in a glory and majesty that is sure to outshine even what the disciples saw on that mountain! Yes, dear Christian friends! The best is yet to come!

    + In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.

  • Run the Race

    See the Weekly Bulletin Run the Race 1 Corinthians 9:16-27 Well we certainly don’t have to look very hard to find a sports ...

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    Run the Race
    1 Corinthians 9:16-27

    Well we certainly don’t have to look very hard to find a sports metaphor in our text for today, and there’s a good reason for that. Most people recognize and appreciate the life lessons that are a part of sports; lessons that prayerfully will last long after the win loss record of the team has been forgotten. But Paul uses sport today to teach a greater lesson.

    The first thing we want to remember is this lesson is not about the blessings that are a part of the grace God has and continues to show to each of us in Christ.  This lesson is about our responsibilities as God’s children, if I may, as players on His team.

    It’s about living with the knowledge that we are forgiven while at the same time continuing to fight the temptation to use that truth as an excuse to sin, or to take time off from the discipline of Christian living. While I’m no athlete, I do exercise regularly, and while I do more walking then running these days, I know that after missing just a week you can see and feel a decrease in your endurance. A truth everyone who exercises laments is that - you lose ground a whole lot faster than you gain it.

    Paul begins in verse 24 with these words, Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. What Paul is looking at is attitude and effort, not to earn salvation that’s God’s gift to you and all who believe, but the determination and effort it takes not just to claim but to live the life we have been given in Christ; that is, to live as His faithful witnesses.

    All one of the players that have joined us this weekend have spent months in preparation. They’ve run laps, done sprints, shot free throws, run through passing and dribbling drills time and time again. They’ve given up afternoons and portions of their weekends. The result is that they are no longer five or ten players, they are a team. They think and work as one. They come with the desire to win and the hope that they will be the ones to take home the trophy. They are prepared and determined to play in such a way as to win the prize, no matter what the odds.

    As you’ve seen or know from your own experience, athletes often deny themselves many things during the season that they enjoy in the off season. They’re taught and work at self-control so that no matter what situation they find themselves, in they don’t panic, but they stick with the game plan. They subject themselves to strict rules and accept the discipline that comes if they break those rules understanding it’s for the good of the team.  All this for a trophy that will collect dust on a shelf or in a trophy case somewhere in one of our schools.

    The truth is, you parents have also been willing to make those same kinds of sacrifices. You have your child at practice whenever it’s scheduled, you miss meals because you have to run to pick someone up or drop someone off. I’m sure most of you here this Super Bowl weekend could have found something else to do, but you willingly and joyfully make the sacrifices needed so your child’s team would have a chance to bring that trophy home. That’s the way it is when you have children in sports, or music, or art, or dance, or whatever activities or teams you and your child are involved in.

    And so knowing that to be true Paul, says in effect, “You’ve shown you’re willing to sacrifice so much and to rearrange your life to the extent that you do for a moment of glory now are you willing to put that same kind of effort into your Christian life, a life that brings eternal glory?

    Now, maybe you disagree with Paul, but for a moment put the two pictures side by side and consider: When it comes to living as a Christian, have you gone into strict training? Do you show the same sacrifice, the same self-denial and extra effort that we expect from our children when they’re involved with sports? Do you have your child in bed early the night before a game so that he or she can be well rested, but find sometimes it’s just easier to stay in bed on Sunday morning? Do you have your children at practice early so they can warm up, but run into church not taking the time for a prayer before worship begins? Do you tell your child to keep his or her head in the game while your mind wanders during the Divine service? Do you look for opportunities to talk about what your children did in their last game and miss the opportunities to talk to them about the love God has for them in Christ?  Do you put as much effort into living your faith as you do your sports? It’s a hard question; a fair one, but a hard one.

    Please remember Paul is not calling eternal life the prize.  He’s not saying we have to do this or that to go to heaven. Paul understands better than most that forgiveness is God’s gift to you in Christ, and a real gift is not earned, but comes from the heart of the giver, and your effort or lack of effort won’t change that.

    Again Paul’s lesson today is not heaven, but our faithfulness in living the life that is ours in Christ. Paul is reminding us that the way we live our lives Monday through Saturday says as much, if not more, to our families, friends, and neighbors about the place God has in our hearts as the things we do on Sunday.

    The truth is, if we look, we can see in ourselves what Paul saw in himself; that our sinful nature is also very much alive. Thanks be to God that while we share the same sinful nature as Paul, we also share in the grace that God showed to Paul and to us all.

    The same Christ who called Paul His child calls you His child. The same Christ who died for Paul’s sins died for your sins. The same Christ who rose that Paul might know life rose that you might know life. The same Word of Christ that reminded Paul again and again that he was forgiven reminds you again today that you are forgiven.

    You see, our confidence about our place in heaven, like Paul’s, does not come from a list of deeds we have accomplished, but it comes through the cross of Christ alone.  But, do we who know God’s love in Christ take that to mean we shouldn’t try? Is that the advice you’d give to your team? That, if you can’t win it all, don’t bother trying?

    No, I’m sure you’re much more the: “It’s not whether you win or lose but how you play the game” or “as long as you do your best…” kind of people. So the question remains, are you doing your best to live your life as a witness of God’s love in Christ?

    The truth is, we do often work much harder at the unimportant things ... and yet even as we recognize and confess the truth that we often take God’s gifts for granted, we have a reason to rejoice. We rejoice for we know that in Christ we are forgiven and the prize, the crown that never fades, even now, in Christ Jesus is yours.

    In His Name, Amen

  • A Demon's Voiceover

    See the Weekly Bulletin A Demon's Voiceover Mark 1:21-28 + Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from ou ...

    See the Weekly Bulletin

    A Demon's Voiceover
    Mark 1:21-28

    + Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and our Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

    The text for our meditation is from our Gospel lesson, specifically where Mark records, the interaction between Jesus and the demon-possessed man, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him. Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

    If you’re familiar with the works of C. S. Lewis, you’ve probably heard of The Screwtape Letters. It is a collection of letters which Lewis declares, in his fiction-written-as-fact sort of way, to have come into his possession in a mysterious, unknown way. He says this for, you see, the letters are between an older, semi-retired and apparently successful … demon, named Screwtape, and he is writing to his young nephew Wormwood who is just beginning his career as a tempter, trying to lure away the souls of men to their “Father Below.” It's a fascinating read written in quite the unique format, and as a theoretical window into the operations of demons, it also says something significant about human nature, and how easily we are duped into temptation and sin. It says something about who, from humanity’s perspective, seems to be pulling the strings in our world. It says something about all fallen creatures, and who they think is really in control.

    In a similar way to how Lewis acquired these letters, I seem to have come across a diary or journal entry from the very demon we heard about in our Gospel lesson today. It’s uncanny how similar the two writings are, and it certainly makes you think! Now, he doesn’t mention his own name, but suffice it to say, after what happened with Jesus in the synagogue, he was less than pleased…

    *              *              *

    How dare He! How DARE He do this before the appointed time! I know Who He is, but who does He think He is!? To break protocol! It is insufferable! Intolerable! How DARE He!

    It wasn’t always like this. Why, I remember when it all started, when our father below got the ball rolling with that STUPID man and woman! How easily he beguiled them, with promises of becoming like the enemy, knowing both good and evil – all they needed to do was transgress the singular law the enemy had established! The cacophony and cataclysm that followed when they assented can only be described as glorious! Those “pinnacles of creation,” those made in the enemy’s image and likeness, His pets, were now fallen, and oh, how far they had fallen! How He could claim to … ahem, “love” them, even after they broke His precious creation is nothing short of fantastical and folly.

    The years and centuries after that marvelous fall of man from perfection was marked with highs and lows – I particularly enjoyed my time amongst the human vermin before the enemy seemingly gave up on His pets and drowned them all – well, except for eight of them. No matter; the influx of misery and pain from those damned souls who perished in the deluge was as a finely aged wine. Oh my, yes, those were the days … Even though the enemy’s pets still lived and were, on the whole, faithful to His whims, we were still sustained through that time of drought because, after all, sin is something that the fallen human vermin crave, and we only too eagerly would indulge them.

    Even when the enemy chose His supposed elect people, it didn’t take much prompting to get those … Israelites, I think they called themselves – to forget the ridiculous promises the enemy had given them. I don’t quite recall what they all were – had something to do with “having offspring as numerous as the stars” and “being a blessing to all nations” (the very thought is nauseating and repugnant!) – but I do recall one particular promise given over the centuries which always sent a shiver of horror and revulsion through my essence: the promise of one the enemy called the “Messiah.” Be that as it may, we tempters still plugged away at our trade, drawing Men away from the supposed hope that could be had in the enemy’s employ. For a select few of us, we were given the task of drawing those “Israelites” to worship in the way we established, diving headlong into their decadence, forsaking a covenant made with the enemy for the beautiful death found in our camp! Their misery was certainly of a special vintage – to pry away so many of the enemy’s little pets made for an especially delectable and palatable sustenance!

    After the enemy sent them to their punishment in Babylon, however, we had to change tactics. We had to maintain our control and authority, and their newfound piety and blatant refusal to follow our kind was an absolute affront! To say the least, I was incensed for so long before we realized we could actually use their piety against them. They would become so wrapped up in their little rules, trying to protect themselves from breaking the enemy’s laws that they would completely forgo the very thing that their God demanded: fidelity … trust … love…. The irony of it all was so delicious as to make even the most cynical of tempters regale in their foolishness, arrogance, and pride. They thought they had it all figured out. They thought they were in complete control. Oh, the delightful conceit, especially when we tempters know who’s REALLY in control: us!

    But that MAN…. Oh, the RAGE!  We had heard reports that He had manifested here in Judea some time ago – that scrumptious fool Herod first caught wind of it through those “wise” vermin from the east, but I had not known that He would have grown up so … strongly, so wisely. I knew our banquet could not last forever, but I did not expect to see that “Messiah” in my career as a tempter, and yet here He was, in Capernaum! I had been inhabiting this scrumptiously miserable man when I saw from afar, that “Jesus” go into the synagogue. Putting aside my indignation at His invasion of my stomping grounds, I knew instantly something wasn’t right. My suspicious were confirmed as I drew near the gathering place and heard Him speaking – only, He wasn’t talking like one of the fools who thought they had it all figured out, those who would trust in their works to “save” them. No, no, no – this Man … was teaching with AUTHORITY! The sheer absurdity! The incredulous nonsense of it all! Didn’t He know that we are the ones with authority here!? Again, how DARE He!

    I could only put up with this Usurper’s vile truth for so long before I had to say something! I burst into their synagogue and called Him out! “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” If He was going to try and exhibit His authority here, then all those in earshot should hear exactly who He is, and Who He is is only too clear: the … ugh, Holy One of God! Perhaps if they knew this, then they would not kill Him in the end and the enemy’s plan would all be brought to naught! Nevetheless, this young upstart, holy or no, was not supposed to be here yet! The world had not yet ended; our time on the chopping block had not yet arrived! He had NO RIGHT to be here, teaching as if He had authority! The impertinence, the audacity!

    I wish I could say that He shut right up, then and there, but alas, I was … erm, “evicted.” Much to my horror and chagrin, try as I might, I could not resist His command, “Be silent and come out of him!” I fought, to be sure, sending that tantalizing Capernaumite into convulstions, but in the end, to my shame, I could not resist. I had heard of other accounts such as this, where my brethren of our father below were sent screaming into the void at this Jesus’ command, but that knowledge did little to console me as I was ripped from my host and sent back here, to report my grievous news and failure. This is, surely, the beginning of the end. I shudder to think of what awaits us. We will fight, but in my despair, I fear that all is lost…

    NO! We mustn’t give in! Our reality is real! There are still men to be coerced, to be drawn away and tempted! I hear of fabulous new technologies which will make our job infinitely easier in the future! The authority is ours … OURS!! No matter what the enemy may say or do, if we lose our residence in one, we will move to another! We are in control, and no commands of the enemy will dislodge us!

    Long live the underlord!

    *              *              *

    What this demon fails to realize is that the authority, the control was never theirs in the first place. What they don’t know or understand is that Jesus is there to take back His own people, and nothing is going to stop Him. He is there to bind the strong man and plunder his house, stealing away the souls the tempters undoubtedly thought were secure in their grasp. Jesus muzzling of this rancorous unclean spirit brandishes His absolute control and authority. That is why the demon leaves the man from Capernaum, and that’s why all those present in that synagogue looked on in amazement and perturbation.  They say, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” Why? Because in a rare word of truth from the demoniac, Jesus is the “Holy One of God.” Jesus Himself declares at the end of Matthew’s Gospel account, All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. We needn’t fear the plots and schemes of the actual enemy, Satan, because our God has declared us to be His children. He says it, and because the authority is His, because it does not lie with us or anything else in all creation, it is true, and we can rest in that revelation.

    + In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.

  • The Time Is Fulfilled

    See the Weekly Bulletin The Time Is Fulfilled Mark 1:14-20 Again today we have two accounts of God calling men into the Holy Mini ...

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    The Time Is Fulfilled
    Mark 1:14-20

    Again today we have two accounts of God calling men into the Holy Ministry.  The Old Testament reading is about God calling Jonah to serve the people of Nineveh.  In the Gospel Jesus calls four of His disciples to become fishers of men.

    In our reading from Jonah, we find God working with a very reluctant prophet.  Remember, when God originally called Jonah to go to Nineveh, he ran away.  You see, Israel and Assyria were bitter enemies, and Nineveh was the capital of Assyria.  Jonah hated the Assyrians and if the Holy Spirit worked faith in them, then God would forgive them.  That was the last thing Jonah wanted because he hated the Assyrians. 

    So Jonah gets on a ship that would take him as far from Nineveh as was possible in the world that he knew.  He literally tried to do the exact opposite of what God called him to do so that the people of Nineveh would die in their sins.  My friends, Jonah really hated the Assyrians.

    God of course intervened.  He allowed a storm to threaten the safety of the ship.  Jonah was so intent on avoiding the people of Nineveh that he convinced the sailors to throw him into the sea.  He knew God was angry with him and he thought that if he drowned in the sea, God would not punish the ship. 

    Sure enough, when the sailors threw Jonah into the sea, the storm calmed and the sailors continued their journey. But, instead of drowning, God sent a great fish to carry Jonah back to the eastern shores of the Mediterranean, and there vomited Jonah onto the shore.

    So what’s an angry prophet supposed to do?  As we heard this morning, Jonah went to Nineveh and preached God’s judgment on them.  And the Holy Spirit worked through the message that God gave to Jonah, and the people in Nineveh repented, and just as Jonah feared, God forgave them.

    Now we can learn several things from Jonah.  First of all, God’s called prophets, apostles, pastors, and teachers are sinners just like everyone else.  Second, the most hateful thing a servant of God can do is keep God’s Word to himself.  Jonah hated the Assyrians and so he determined not to share God’s message with them.  Finally, we learn that God’s message is a blessing to us even if the messenger is not.  The message of God brought the blessing of forgiveness even from the hateful mouth of Jonah.

    As Jesus preached, He also called disciples to follow him. As we read [Mark 1:16–20] Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets. And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him.

    These four men and the others that Jesus chose were not full of hatred like Jonah, but they did all have their weaknesses.  As we follow Jesus in His ministry, we see these men fail again and again.  Jesus will teach, and they will often fail to understand. While Jesus is proclaiming the kingdom of God, they are arguing amongst themselves about which of them is the greatest.  They will walk, talk, and eat with Jesus for years, but they will focus on their own concerns. And yet they the ones God chose to proclaim God’s kingdom after Jesus ascended back to the Father.

    Again, God calls men to serve in His kingdom who are born of sin just like everyone else.  In fact, it sometimes seems as though God goes out of His way to choose the most unlikely candidates to proclaim His message.  As the Lord said to Paul, [2 Corinthians 12:9] My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. That is: it’s the message that’s important, not the messenger.

    And nothing has changed.  God still seems to call the most unlikely men to proclaim His kingdom.  We are weak and frail with enormous faults as Pastor Harrison said when he learned that he was about to become the president of the LC-MS, “You have kept your perfect record of electing sinners as president of the Missouri Synod.”

    But how can God take sinful, weak men and make them the bearers of eternal life?  Well, if He created a unique “better than you” kind of person to be His under-shepherds, do you think you’d be able to relate to your pastor or he to you?  You see, we share a life of ups and downs, of questions, of doubts, of fears – in truth, a life of sin.  But we also share something greater than sin for we share the gospel of Jesus Christ.

    Remember what Jesus said?  The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel. The fulfillment of all things was and is found in the man, Jesus. The kingdom of God, is not distant but comes to us in Christ who bore all human suffering.

    Have you been crushed by the weight of guilt, or pain, or sorrow?  Look to Jesus – He knows you and will gladly carry it for you, if you let Him.  That’s why God gives His people pastors.  When God seems distant, here is a man who shares your humanity and speaks for the One who has redeemed you.  He stands in the place of Christ, bringing the ear of Christ in confession and the heart of Christ in absolution.

    Do you fear death?  Look to Jesus – He’s already been there and has some great news for you!   He has taken all the punishment earned by sin for you and every other sinner, shedding His holy and innocent Blood to pay what you could not pay.  And the good news is death could not hold Him.  On Easter morning with His resurrection He destroyed the power of sin, death and the devil.  And this He proclaims to you when a pastor, poured water upon your head in His Name and you became one with your savior Jesus in both His death and His Resurrection.

    Are you weak? Come to Christ’s altar where a pastor places into your hand … the very body and blood of Jesus given and shed for you.  Here you receive in with and under the bread and wine of His supper forgiveness for your sins and strength for your faith.  This is as we sing a foretaste of the feast to come.  Here, for you, is the Kingdom of God, it’s not distant, but comes to you this very moment. 

    God called Jonah to minister to a congregation that Jonah hated.  In spite of the hatred, God worked repentance in their hearts and they received forgiveness for their sins.  In spite of the failures of the apostles, Christ still sent them to proclaim repentance and the forgiveness of sins in His name and the Word of the Lord grew. 

    God still calls sinful men into the ministry.  And in spite of all our shortcomings, when we are faithful to His word, the Christ we proclaim still forgives your sins and offers you eternal life. My friends, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.

    In His Name, Amen

  • Come and See

    See the Weekly Bulletin Come and See John 1:43-51 Today is one of those Sundays when the - how the Old Testament lesson fits with ...

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    Come and See
    John 1:43-51

    Today is one of those Sundays when the - how the Old Testament lesson fits with the Gospel lesson is really obvious since both deal with God’s calling men to serve within His Kingdom.

    The reading from 1st Samuel tells us that the Lord came and stood, calling Samuel. That is the Son of God appeared to Samuel centuries before He took on flesh and blood. We often refer to such a visit as an epiphany of the pre-incarnate Christ. So, while He exists from eternity as spirit, the Second person of the Trinity did on occasion, reveal Himself to different people. Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, and Moses would be a few examples of those who saw the Christ before He was born of Mary.

    In todays reading we heard that Jesus found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” This of course would be the incarnate God calling Philip that is the second person of the Trinity after He was born of Mary.

    In either case it’s God who comes and calls. Samuel didn’t suddenly decide to be a prophet, nor did Philip just decide to become an apostle. It is God who called them. God worked through Samuel to call Eli and his sons back to Himself, and He worked through Philip to call Nathaniel. So whether God calls directly, as with Samuel and Philip, or indirectly as with Eli and Nathaniel, it is God who calls them to Himself, just as it is God who called you.

    The message that God gave to Samuel it turns out was one about the death and destruction of Eli and his family. The problem was that Eli’s sons, who were priests at the tabernacle, were corrupt. The Scriptures describe Eli’s sons as worthless (or wicked) men. They were adulterers and they used the office of priest for their own gain and pleasure. How hard it must have been for Samuel to speak this message to the man who was his mentor … a man he loved and respected. But even after hearing the message Eli did not repent, nor did he discipline his sons.

    Eli and his sons all worked in the tabernacle. They had access to the writings of Moses. They participated in the sacrificial system. They had every reason to fear God’s wrath and trust His promises. Yet they ignored both His written word and His word spoken by the mouth of Samuel. You see God wanted to show them mercy but they chose death instead.

    One lesson we learn from the call of Samuel is that God calls men into the ministry to first proclaim a message of judgment, and that because it simply does no good to learn that Jesus forgives sin if you think you don’t have any. Jesus says the same thing when He says [Mark 2:17] It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners. You see those who declare themselves to be righteous may not realize it, but by doing so, they by that act, are also saying they don’t need Jesus.

    That’s why it really is important for you to actually think about your confession of sins as we begin each Divine Service. If you just go through the motions and don’t really mean or even think about what you’re saying, you are in effect saying to Jesus: I don’t really need You.

    Samuel was afraid to share his vision to Eli … afraid really of hurting Eli. I don’t know about other pastors, but it gives me no joy to have to point out your sin. And ashamedly I have over the years failed to point it out to some as directly as I should have because I was afraid of hurting feelings. Forgive me my weakness and I am working on it because I have come learn that calling sin, sin is, in reality, an act of love, it’s just that sometimes loves does indeed hurt.

    It’s along the line of just as there’s no joy for a doctor in telling someone about their cancer, there’s no joy for a pastor in telling God’s children about their sin. In the same way that the doctor informs you of your disease not to hurt you but so that you will understand your need for treatment, a pastor informs you of your sin not to hurt you but so that you will understand your need for the only treatment for sin that exist that is the blood of Jesus Christ.

    Now unlike Samuel’s message of doom, Jesus gave Philip a message of joy to proclaim. Philip found Nathanael and said to him: We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph. Both Philip and Nathaniel were ready for Jesus. Notice how Philip and Nathaniel knew about Moses and the prophets. That means they knew about their sins and about God’s promise to send a savior to free them from those sins. All Philip had to do was tell Nathaniel that Jesus of Nazareth was the promised Savior.

    But Nathaniel did have one problem … his preconceived notions about the Christ. Can anything good come out of Nazareth? When Nathaniel asked that question, he was saying that he wasn’t convinced. And yet, Jesus is God in the flesh, born of a virgin and laid in a manger. After living a couple years in Egypt His parents brought Him to Nazareth where he grew in wisdom and stature. Philip’s response was simple. Come and see.

    Coming from Nazareth isn’t the strangest thing that Nathaniel will learn about Jesus. He will learn that this man about whom Isaiah said: he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him is the Son of God. He will be a witness to Jesus living under and keeping the law perfectly. He would see himself run away in terror with the others when the soldiers arrested Jesus. He would hide in fear as Jesus hung on the cross. He would stare in wonder as Jesus invited him to reach out and touch the wounds in His hands, feet, and side.

    The truth is Jesus is the means or the way that God dwells with man in peace. As Jesus taught Nathaniel, portraying Himself in verse 51 as the fulfillment of Jacob’s vision of heaven with the ladder extending down from heaven with angels ascending and descending on it and God promising, in Genesis (28:15) Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.

    And in our reading Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” That’s the message of Jacob’s vision … Jesus is the ladder that allows God to come and live with man in peace. That is if God were to come to man apart from Christ there would be only judgment and punishment, but in Christ there is mercy, forgiveness, joy and peace.

    You see God calls men from every nation to proclaim His message of repentance and the forgiveness of sins found in His Son Jesus. The message of repentance, like the message God gave to Samuel, is a word that terrifies because we know our sin. And the message of forgiveness like the message God gave to Philip is a word that points us to God’s Son and our savior … Jesus of Nazareth … of the cross … of the empty tomb. Jesus, who comes to you again today through His Word and Sacrament. Come and see Jesus, your Lord and savior who still comes to set you free.

    In His Name, Amen.

  • Can You Hear Me Now?

    See the Weekly Bulletin Can You Hear Me Now? Mark 1:4-11 + Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lo ...

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    Can You Hear Me Now?
    Mark 1:4-11

    + Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

    The text for our meditation this day is from our Gospel lesson, specifically where Mark records, In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when He came up out of the water, immediately He saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on Him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are My beloved Son; with You I am well pleased.” Here ends our text; dear Christian friends.

    “Can you hear me now? … Good!” You probably remember those Verizon Wireless commercials from the 2000s, with the “Test Man” wandering around on his cell phone, asking if the person on the other end of the line could hear him. Personally, I found those commercials a bit annoying - and Paul Marcarelli, the actor portraying the Verizon Guy, would seem to agree; when his contract with Verizon ended in 2011, he was reportedly relieved to be moving on. However, at the time, the message of those commercials was exceedingly clear: if you want crystal-clear communication, to hear the person on the other end and have them hear you, regardless of where you are, use our services.

    At the risk of sounding reductionistic or silly, I’d like to propose that we can hear some echoes of the Verizon Guy’s tagline in today’s readings, especially our Gospel text. So far this Church year, we’ve been hearing quite a bit about John the Baptist and the role that he played in Jesus’ life and earthly ministry. Here, we see the first instance, according to Mark’s Gospel account, of interaction between these two. Now, Mark’s Gospel is noticeably shorter than the others; the way in which it was written begs that it be read as more of a drama, almost like a play. Mark has a message, and he wants to get it out, clear and quick, to those who are reading and listening. That’s why you see words like immediately scattered throughout his gospel account - he is keeping the action and narrative going.

    This explains why this first interaction between Jesus and John the Baptist is so brief, even a bit terse. We get our introduction to who John was, what his purpose was, and what may have almost been a catchphrase for the camelhair-clad prophet: After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit. Immediately following this introduction, we have Jesus coming to John to be baptized. Mark records no interaction between the prophet and the God he was proclaiming. Here in Mark, we see no apprehension of the Baptist, saying that he should be baptized by Jesus rather than the other way around. Instead, Mark cuts to the chase: [W]hen He came up out of the water, immediately He saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on Him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are My beloved Son; with You I am well pleased.”

    Mark is practically screaming to his readers what seems obvious to us now: this Jesus, the One from Nazareth of Galilee? He’s GOD’S SON. In spite of what the Pharisees and Sadducees would undoubtedly be screaming to the contrary, in spite of the oblivious nature of the disciples at the time, God is spelling it out so clearly to us. He is declaring to His people, THIS is the One Whom you all have been waiting for; can you hear Me now?

    Of course, if this is the case, that has some pretty incredible consequences for all of those who come after. If this Jesus is God’s Son - rather, since this Jesus is God’s Son, what does that say about all the things that He did and said among us, His people? You know, the Sermon on the Mount, and all that language of, But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother … everyone [who lusts] … everyone who divorces? All that language of If your eye causes you to sin, tear it out? When He says, For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person. If all these words of Jesus are true - sorry, again, since they are true, coming from the mouth of the Son of God, what hope do any of us have in any of our own works, so thoroughly and completely tainted by sin as they are? Can you hear Me now??

    What about when Jesus says, I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me? What about, when speaking of His own body, Jesus said, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up? For that matter, what about when He said, Take, eat; this is my body … and, Drink of [this cup], all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. How about Jesus’ words, Son, your sins are forgiven? We trust these words are true, in spite of our absolute wretchedness, because they are coming from the lips of Jesus, the One Whom the Father proclaimed to be His Son. Can you hear Me now??

    Since Jesus is the Son of God, it’s an understatement to say that this lends much more weight to all that He said and did. His Word actually means something. His Baptism means something, especially for those of us who have been baptized into His Name. We have inherited that baptism - it’s not just a washing away of dirt and grime, but it is the holistic cleansing of your very person - body and soul. In our epistle lesson, Paul wrote to the Romans, Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. Part of the reason Jesus was baptized by John was to, as our own baptismal liturgy declares, sanctify and bless “all waters to be a blessed flood and a lavish washing away of sin.” When God’s Word is combined with water - regardless of the source or quantity, what you see is God making a claim on one of His creatures. It is YHWH Himself cleansing you from all sin, wiping away the filth and the muck that proceeds out of our vile human hearts and declaring, “This one? This one is MINE, and NO ONE is going to snatch this one out of My hands!” Can you hear me now?

    When Jesus was baptized in the Jordan by John, He didn’t do so because He needed the lavish washing away of sin like we do. No, there’s a reason why we celebrate this day right after the official start of the season of Epiphany, when we celebrate Jesus being revealed to the nations. His baptism was an official act of revealing Jesus for Who He really is to all those present. God the Father was declaring that this One standing before them was His Son. For that matter, He says the same thing about you and me by virtue of our own baptisms. You needn’t fear, wondering whose you are. The Holy Spirit decided that for you in that blessed and holy flood. Baptized into Jesus’s death and resurrection, we now belong to the Father; we are His. Can you hear me now? … Very good!

    + In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.

  • Waiting for Messiah

    See the Weekly Bulletin Waiting for Messiah Luke 2:22-40 + Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lo ...

    See the Weekly Bulletin

    Waiting for Messiah
    Luke 2:22-40

    + Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

    The text for our meditation is from our Gospel lesson, specifically the song sung by Simeon upon seeing Jesus and taking Him in his arms, Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word, for my eyes have seen the salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to Your people Israel. Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

    Nunc dimittis. That’s the official Latin name for this wonderful departing proclamation from Simeon, meaning “Now release.” This older man had been waiting, for an undisclosed amount of time, for what Luke calls the consolation of Israel. He had been given a promise by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death until he had seen the Christ. Now … finally … as Joseph and Mary have brought this seemingly ordinary Child to the Temple in the normal way that Moses had told them to do with the birth of the firstborn son, Simeon is able to see through the commonness and recognize the Infant Priest for who He is.

    Simeon, and a little later, Anna, were able to recognize this Child as the Messiah, God’s holy one, anointed for the purpose of being a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory of … Israel. They knew who He is, the reason He came, and, from the sounds of it, they also had an inkling of what being the Messiah meant in order to be the salvation prepared in the presence of all peoples. Their waiting for the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophesies about the coming of the Messiah was finally and at long last at an end.

    Unfortunately, not everyone knew properly the reason why this long-awaited Messiah was brought into the world. Where all in Israel were, like Simeon and Anna, awaiting the coming of the Messiah, most others thought the coming of YHWH’s anointed one would herald a new age for Israel … but not in the way that we Christians understand it. Specifically, there was the widely-held belief that the Messiah was going to come as a victorious, conquering king, who would drive out the pagan nations that had for centuries imposed their will upon God’s chosen people. He was going to come, and he was going to oust the Romans and the Herodians, all those foreign oppressors from the Promised Land. He was going to bring YHWH’s kingdom down to earth and rule there until all of Judea’s enemies lay at her feet.

    That’s what most Judeans expected from the Messiah; that’s also what the enemies of Judea were told to expect. That’s why Herod put to death boys two-years-old and under in Bethlehem when he was duped by visiting Magi. For that matter, it’s why many years later Pilate would ask Jesus if He was a king as He stood on trial for His life. They all feared the ramifications that would come from the Messiah’s advent, but of course, they were all misguided in their conceptions of what the Messiah’s mission actually was. He wasn’t after earthly thrones and glory, all of which are fleeting. He wasn’t going to overthrow governments and kingdoms with political maneuvering and revolution. The temporal rulers of this world needn’t fear the Messiah’s hijacking of their temporal rule. That is not His aim; instead, the Messiah’s purpose was exactly what YHWH had revealed to Simeon: the salvation prepared for all peoples - the light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of His people Israel.

    Simeon knew this truth. Thus, as he held the holy Child in his arms, he proclaimed his recognition of YHWH fulfilling the promise given to him. Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your Word. No longer waiting for the Messiah, Simeon could die in peace … but not without a parting word to His earthly parents. Simeon’s words about Jesus to Jesus do not signify the end of his proclamation; Luke records that he also has some words for His parents, specifically spoken to Mary … but they’re not what you may expect. After a blessing upon both parents, he says to Mary, Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.

    A sword will pierce through your own soul also? That doesn’t sound like words that should be spoken to a brand-new mother 40 days after the birth of her firstborn son! These are dark, ominous words—not merely about Mary’s soul being pierced, but the fact that Simeon says that her soul will be pierced also. Before the infancy narrative of Jesus even comes to a close, we receive this somewhat darker prophecy. Mary’s soul was to be pierced, yes, but so was the little bundle of joy resting in Simeon’s arms. That’s what the rulers and powers-that-be didn’t know about the Messiah. That’s what the rest of Judea didn’t expect of the Messiah. He would come to them, not proud and mighty, but humble and lowly. He came, not to be served, but to serve. As we heard at Christmas, whilst we marveled at Jesus’ incarnation, He was born literally to die.

    But again, that’s what the Messiah came to do, and Simeon and Anna saw this. They knew, even though this Child would die, by His death, YHWH’s salvation would come to all people - not just to Israel, but to all nations! The fulfillment of YHWH’s promises to all of mankind was found in this Child being dedicated in the way Moses had prescribed.

    We have no idea how long after this episode occurred that Simeon - or Anna, for that matter - closed their eyes in death. We do, however, have much in common with these faithful saints of old. Where they waited to behold the Messiah before His salvific work, we wait in eager expectation Jesus’ return. We are waiting for the Messiah - not to lighten the Gentiles and Israel, but to put to death the last enemy, Death itself. Yet, in our waiting, we hold to the promises YHWH, the Triune God, has given to us: that our sins are forgiven in Christ, that He is always with us (especially in the Host and Cup of the Supper), and that eternal life is ours - when our eyes are closed in death, or when Christ returns. May that blessed Day come quickly!

    + In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.

  • Faith in the Preparation

    See the Weekly Bulletin Faith in the Preparation Luke 12:35-40 We have lots of days of celebration and commemoration during the y ...

    See the Weekly Bulletin

    Faith in the Preparation
    Luke 12:35-40

    We have lots of days of celebration and commemoration during the year. As a nation, we remember the signing of the Declaration of Independence on the Fourth of July. We remember the men and women who risked their lives for our safety on Memorial Day. We remember discoverers on Columbus Day. These are but a few of the days we remember as a nation.

    The church also has its days of memory: Christmas - God taking on our human flesh in order to save us. Epiphany - the revelation of God in the flesh to the entire world. Good Friday - God in human flesh sacrificing Himself to take away our sin. Easter - God certifying His salvation by rising from the dead. Ascension Day - God in the flesh ascending outward to fill all things. Pentecost - the transformation of the Old Testament church into the New Testament church by the power of the Holy Spirit.

    We especially as Americans have a lot of reasons to remember and celebrate both as citizens of this nations and as citizens of Heaven. As far as I can tell, only two holidays in any given year deal specifically with the passage of time. And as with many things our attitude about those days depends on where we are or think we are in life.

    Some look to the future with anticipation others see impending doom. One of these days is personal. The other is shared by all. The personal one is your birthday. The shared one is this evening. These two days more than any other remind us of the passage of time.

    This evening, we come to the end of another year. Some look forward to the new year with excitement. Others look forward to the new year with dread. And there are good reasons for both. But for the Christian the end of the year is always a good time to look forward to the end of time and the beginning of eternity.

    That’s what our Gospel does. Just as there are two ways to look at the changing year, there are two ways to look at the change from time to eternity. In tonight's lesson, Jesus encourages us to be ready for the day when time stops and eternity begins. And He wants us to be ready so that it is a day we greet with joy.

    Jesus asked His hearers to imagine the slaves of a household who were waiting for their master to return home from a wedding reception. Remember at that time there was no instant communication. The slaves learned the time their master was coming home when he showed up at the door and knocked.

    He also asked them to imagine that coming to be like that of a thief that is completely unexpected. Simply making the point that the end of our time, like Noah’s flood will most likely be a surprise to a vast majority of well humanity.

    But then death is often unexpected. From accidents to natural disasters, illness and disease death comes in many ways and most are unexpected. This is one of those rare times that the Bible doesn’t tell us anything that we don't already know from our own experience.

    Still there are many who deal with this truth by ignoring it. Everyone knows that none of us are guaranteed tomorrow and yet most people, Christian or not, live as though they’ll never die, at least not until they reach a ripe, old age.

    There are those who know of Christ but put off learning about Christ often because they’ve come to believe that being a Christian will take all the fun out of life. It’s an old story, they’ll just put off religion until they’re too old to have fun and then learn about this salvation thing. This evening Jesus in effect says that’s a bad idea. With sin and the death it brought came the need for all of us to prepare for the end of our time on earth.

    At first it may seem that preparation is beyond our grasp. We are after all sinners through and through. Preparation for the coming of the Holy One surly requires a holy people. And if we’re honest we don't know what it means to keep our lamps burning or staying awake until the master returns? What don’t sleep until Christ returns … have you figured out how to do that?

    And that’s when God reminds us that when it comes to our salvation, He does all that needs to be done, period. You are prepared for the end of your time and the end of all time because God has prepared you. In fact, we just celebrate the beginning of that preparation.

    You see God was preparing all of humanity when He took on human flesh and blood. He was making preparation as He began His ministry of healing, preaching, and teaching; a ministry that culminated with His arrest, several mock trials, and a sentence of death by crucifixion. And with His resurrection from the dead and Ascension into heaven all was prepared for His second coming - the day when He will come again to judge the world.

    His life as a human was perfect in every way, that’s the life He now offers to you but not you alone. When Jesus took our sins to the cross, He put Himself in the position to take God's penalty for our sin, preparing all to stand sinless in God's sight.

    And God not only prepares His gifts for us, but He also prepares our hearts for us. The Holy Spirit works through God’s Word and Sacraments to create and sustain faith in our hearts. By grace through that faith He allows us to receive all the gifts of life and salvation that Jesus prepared for us through His life and with His blood on the cross.

    What that means is when Jesus asks us to be ready, He’s really only asking us to be the way He made us by the working of His Holy Spirit and His gift of faith. You see we are ready for the end when we believe by faith the Holy Spirt worked in us that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who has paid for all my sins. I’d say that’s it but as we already recognized that preparation is beyond our grasp.

    To be ready as Jesus again tells us is to be in Him. As He says in John 15 - Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

    Clearly Jesus is telling us that He does the work of providing all that we need to sustain the life we have in Him. And you are in Him as Paul writes to the Galatians: for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

    As this year comes to an end, we give thanks to God that on the day of our baptism He made us ready for the end of our time in this world. As the New Year begins, we pray God’s continued blessings as He works through His word and sacrament to keep us ready and working through us to prepare others to see with joy the glory of His return.

    In His Name, Amen

  • What Now?

    See the Weekly Bulletin What Now? John 1:1-14 You know that feeling you get after all the build-up, all the planning, and all the ...

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    What Now?
    John 1:1-14

    You know that feeling you get after all the build-up, all the planning, and all the work for a big event is done? Do you remember what it feels like when the party is over and all the guests have gone home and all your left with is memories and clean-up? That’s how I sometimes feel on Christmas Day. Last night we pulled out all the stops, and now here we sit. It’s somewhat anticlimactic compared to last night. All the anticipation; all the excitement, it’s gone, done for another year. Today kind of feels more like a day after the party.

    Now I know there are many Christians who struggle with going out to church on Christmas Day to worship after they just attended Christmas Eve worship. Pastors struggle with this too, especially when it comes to sermon preparation. It’s the same story we just preached on it ten hours ago. Nothing has changed since then.

    That’s actually why so many churches are closed today. The rationale goes like this: All the people show up on Christmas Eve. That’s when you get the most opportunity for “return on your effort”. Look around, this is not unusual, Christmas Day as most of you knew before you got here is typically a bit roomier then Christmas Eve.

    No doubt many think: Why bother getting out of the PJs and making the kids leave their toys? We’ve already heard the story of Jesus birth. But maybe just maybe we feel this way because we don’t really understand the miracle of God in the flesh for all mankind as well as we think we do.

    This morning I’d like you to consider with me the shepherds we read about in our Gospel lesson. We heard a little bit about them last night. They were the very first ones God told about the birth of Jesus. That’s pretty impressive when you consider, despite the way we romanticize them, these guys were considered to among the dregs of society. Truth is shepherds didn’t count.

    Not only were they not counted for the census, they weren’t even counted for taxes, and that’s saying something. But that’s how insignificant they were to the rest of their society … the Roman government didn’t even bother with them for taxes. And yet…God tells them about Jesus first. He makes this Good News known to them by filling the night sky with bright angelic choirs, all singing: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rest. So God pulls out all the stops to tell some insignificant, know nothing shepherds that He loved them and counted them as worthy of being saved; worthy enough to send His Son to live and die for them.

    And what do they do well … they do exactly what faith does: They hear this Good News and say: “Let us go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened.” Luke tells us that they immediately went without haste. So how does that compare with our own reality? How many Christians around the world heard the Good News last night proclaiming the birth of Jesus? I get that Hollywood’s best would fall far short of the angelic display God put on for the shepherds but still …. how many people heard the exact same words last night? How many do you suppose after hearing that Good News, set out without delay this morning to find Him? If only we ran to church the way children run down the stairs to see if Santa has come.

    But here’s the point I’d like you to consider this blessed Christmas Day. Notice what the shepherds do after hearing the Good News and after they go to worship Christ. They go back out into the world; the same world that shunned them. They return to their vocations, and they glorify and praise God for all they have heard and seen, making known to everyone what had been told to them and what they themselves had witnessed and beheld and were a part of. My friends: This is where the “what now?” question just gets absolutely destroyed. What now? Go and tell what God has done for you! Go! Return to your vocations. Return to the callings and offices God has placed you into in order to serve Him and make Him known. Go serve God by serving your neighbor.

    Unfortunately, that’s something that a lot of 21st century American Christians with big hearts and good intentions often struggle with. We’ve been duped into believing that we need to find the “secret, higher purpose” that God has for us. We’ve willingly taken the bait—hook, line, and sinker—believing the lie that our everyday vocations at work and home are not enough and if we really want to serve God we need to step up our game. Were led to believe that ordinary life just doesn’t cut it, it’s to ordinary.

    But that’s not how God sees it. These lowly shepherds went back to their lowly vocations. They return to nomadic shepherding, only now they’re evangelizing, telling everyone they saw about Jesus. But they didn’t take their sheep into the cities they stayed in the fields where God had first found them. “What now?”

    Well like them we share what we know where we are. We share that the Word of God who became flesh and lived among us to die and rise again for us. We share the good news that Jesus the Lamb of God, has taken away the sin of the world. That this same almighty God, still lives with us to feed and forgive us, to nourish and protect us, to deliver us from all evil. We share that God is holding out to all His real and tangible gifts of grace, mercy, and peace. That is after all what the angelic hosts sang about! Here is God’s peace on earth, with you and for you, right now!

    It’s that simple, and it’s a profound, yet this joy was never intended to be restricted to one night or one day out of the year. It’s a profound, yet very simple Christ centered joy that is ours each and every day that we live in Christ. That’s what today is about. Today is another opportunity our Lord gives to us to be in His presence, to receive from His own hand, and to celebrate all that He has done for us out of His great love, grace, and mercy for us.

    May this gift of Christ to you; the gift of your salvation; the gift of knowing and trusting that God is reconciled to you and at peace with you because of the all-atoning life, suffering, death and resurrection of the Word made flesh. May this gift of God be your joy, your peace, and the reason behind all that you say, think, and do in your daily God-pleasing, family loving, neighbor-serving vocations, until the day we are all together with Him who was born of Mary for us all.

    In His Name, Amen.

  • Savior, Christ, and Lord

      See the Weekly Bulletin Savior, Christ, and Lord Luke 2:1-14 Jesus was born before there were birth certificates. At th ...


    See the Weekly Bulletin

    Savior, Christ, and Lord
    Luke 2:1-14

    Jesus was born before there were birth certificates. At that time the idea of a birthday celebration was reserved for royalty. Most people had no idea when they were born or the exact date of their birth.

    From time-to-time a person of common birth would grow up to become a person of historic significance. People would want to celebrate the historical significance of this person’s birth, but because no one knew the date of his or her birth, the cultures of the day came up with a formula for those whose birthdate was unknown.

    This tradition proposed that the date of conception was the same as the date of death. So if a person died on January 1, they would say that he was conceived on January 1, and his birthday would be nine months later on October 1. In reality, they had no idea when the actual date of his or her birth was, but would celebrate their birth from that point on every year on October 1.

    That’s how it was with Jesus. The early church focused on the day of His crucifixion and the day of His resurrection. By the time people thought it would be good to celebrate His birth as well they had long ago forgotten the date. But … they did know that Jesus had died on Passover.

    The problem with Passover is that it always comes on a full moon which means it’s on a different day every year. And so the church did its best to figure out when Passover was during the year that Jesus died and set nine months later as Christmas.

    As time went on, people started to notice that spring came a little bit later than it used to. At about the same time astronomers had figured out that an extra day needed to add to the calendar every four years in order to keep the calendar in sync with the seasons. Since there had been no “leap year” before they decided to add a dozen leap days in one year to get things back on track.

    That led to the church having to decide: Do we adjust all the church holidays because of these extra leaps days, or should we keep them the same? The church in the East, decided one way and the church in the West the other. So, today the Western church celebrates December 25 as Christmas while the church in the East celebrates Christmas on January 6. The difference is twelve days or what we know as the Twelve days of Christmas.

    Today we understand that the miracle of Jesus’s birth is the same miracle that takes place every time a baby is conceived. A single human cell within the womb of the virgin Mary began the process of dividing first into two cells, then four, then eight, for the next nine months. The unique thing is that even as one cell, God was present in all of His fullness.

    And so Mary gave birth to God the Savior who would one day crush the serpent’s head lays sleeping in a manger. And satan, the world, and our own sinful flesh want to keep this child right where you see Him, that is in the manger. The last thing satan wants is for us to remember that this child who rests in Mary’s arms will one day hang from the arms of a cross as a sin offering.

    The world works hard to produce a flashy, entertaining Christmas holiday. The world would be happy if the only image you had of your savior was that of a baby peacefully sleeping in a manger surrounded by His mom, dad and some adoring shepherds, and that’s all there is to it. The world would truly celebrate if the holiday of Christmas was all that you knew about Jesus.

    And the world uses some of the best traditions to take our minds off the savior. The world would have us believe that getting together as a family is the main reason for Christmas, but it’s not. The world would have us believe that generosity is the main reason for Christmas, but it’s not. There are all kinds of good and noble traditions associated with Christmas and the world stands ready to push them all in order to divert our thinking from the true meaning of Christmas.

    My friends it’s the angel’s proclamation to the shepherds that warns us about those traps. From them we learn that there is more to this child than just a baby in the manger. Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.

    The angel used the words: Savior, Christ, and Lord. Savior from what? Well the Scriptures teach that we’re all conceived and born sinful and would be lost forever unless delivered from that sin and the condemnation it brings. The angel wants us to know that this One who is born in the City of David is that promised Savior.

    The title Christ means the anointed one. Here the angel tells that this new born in the City of David is anointed to an office. In fact, it’s the three-fold office, that of prophet, priest, and king.

    As prophet He speaks for God. And who better suited to speak for God than God Himself. Even then Jesus is more than a prophet. When prophets speak for God they revealed promises of God. Jesus not only makes Divine promises, but He fulfills them as well.

    The King is the One who reigns. As Christ, this baby born in the manger is anointed to reign over all things. The one who reigns makes the rules. But most Kings set themselves above the rules. Not so with Jesus He was as God reveals through St. Paul … born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.

    A priest is a mediator between God and man. He prays to God for the people. He also offers up sacrifices on their behalf. As the Christ, this baby in the manger is the one, true mediator between God and man. He not only prays for the people, but He is the answer to our prayers. He not only offers up a sacrifice for the people, but He Himself is the sacrifice for all people. When the angel proclaims the birth of Christ, he is pointing us to the cross.

    The angel called Him Lord. That is the baby lying in the manger is more than just a human being. He is God in human flesh. He was anointed to fulfill the promises of the prophets, keep the laws of the king, and offer Himself as the sacrifice that washes away all sin. The angels carry with them the truth in a manger for all the world to see, is God in the flesh who has come to save His people from their sin.

    see even on this night we are reminded that all of us are conceived and born of sin and walk the road that leads to death. But we are also reminded that it was on a night like this that God who took on human flesh and blood was born into His creation that He might walk that road of death and die in our place so that by grace we might live eternally with Him who was born this night for us all.

    In the Name of Him who saves us, Amen.

  • Child Savior

    See the Weekly Bulletin Child Savior Matthew 1:18-25 + Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord a ...

    See the Weekly Bulletin

    Child Savior
    Matthew 1:18-25

    + Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

    The text for our meditation this Christmas Eve comes from our Gospel lesson, especially where Matthew records, But as [Joseph] considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” Here ends our text; dear Christian friends …

    Nobody would have blamed him, had he gone through with it. From all the evidence, she had betrayed him. Of course, she denied it, but her defense sounded ludicrous; you don’t just become pregnant without some … other activity taking place first. Nevertheless, that was her story, and she was sticking to it. She insisted that she had not been unfaithful, and much as he wanted to believe her, he couldn’t. Her protestations seem to have fallen on deaf ears, and he resolved to divorce her quietly.

    We are, of course, talking about the holy family. We’ve got Mary, the virgin Theotokos, the “God-bearer.” We’ve got the yet unborn Holy Child, Jesus who will be called the Christ, Who is still being knit together in His mother’s womb at the time of our reading. Then … we’ve got Joseph, the groom-to-be who finds himself caught in one of the most awkward situations in human history. He was fairly certain that his bride-to-be has cheated on him, and the penalty for such adultery could be as mild as shunning or as severe as death, usually by stoning. But Joseph didn’t want that for Mary; as hurt and betrayed as he undoubtedly felt, Matthew describes Joseph as being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame.

    But Mary hadn’t been unfaithful. Her innocence, her chastity, her virginity remained intact. Instead, she had been selected to be the bearer and mother of the incarnate Son of God, conceived by the Holy Spirit! Enter the mysterious fifth character in our text today, an angel of the LORD. This messenger of good news comes to Joseph in a dream, assuring him of Mary’s innocence, that it was by the working of the Holy Spirit that the Child, the Boy growing in her womb was conceived by the miraculous intervention of the Holy Spirit. Joseph needn’t fear, in spite of what people might say about either of them. They knew the truth of the holy Child yet to be born, and thus he could, should, and would take Mary to be his wife … and raise the holy Babe as his own Son.

    Such an unusual, mysterious, holy Child couldn’t be given any ordinary name. He was to be given a special Name, a Name that hearkens back to the writings of the prophets: Yeshua, Jesus, literally meaning, “Savior,” and He was to be given this Name to indicate the purpose for which He was born. He would be called Savior, because, as Matthew records, “[H]e will save his people from their sins.”

    Joyous, indeed, is this night as we behold the Babe of Bethlehem, but the angel’s proclamation to Joseph also carries with it a dread reality, a shadow which would hover all His life: from when Mary first placed Him in a manger, through His earthly ministry, even as He marched up a hill outside of Jerusalem called Golgotha. That shadow was in the shape of a cross. This Child, the incarnate Second Person of the Holy Trinity, had taken on human flesh for a purpose. He wasn’t born to just be a cute baby - that happens every day! No this Child was born with a very specific vocation: Jesus was literally born to die. That is how He would save His people from their sins: by taking the sins of the entire world - all people from all time, indeed, the brokenness and sin of all creation - taking that all unto Himself, and killing it the only way it could be killed: by being killed Himself. The self-sacrifice of the Son of God for the restoration of all creation, the redemption and salvation of all Mankind. It could only be done by Immanuel, God literally with us.

    But that’s how people are saved from the eternal consequence for their sin. Innocent blood becomes the guiltiest of all, and that blood must be shed. In ancient Israel, Yom Kippur or the Day of Atonement was one of the holiest days. It was a day of repentance, of fasting and sacrifice, and one of the more well-known sacrifices of that time included the sacrifice of two goats. One of the goats would be sacrificed in the more traditional sense, as a sin offering to YHWH, but the other goat … would have the Levitical priest lay his hands on the head of the animal, cast the sins of the people onto and into the animal, and send it off into the wilderness. This second goat, the “scapegoat,” would bear the sins of the people far away from them and die in oblivion. Both of these animal sacrifices prefigure the ultimate sacrifice - not of a goat, but that of the Lamb of God, Who takes away, not only the sins of Israel, but of the whole world.

    That’s the reason behind the joy of Christmas. It is right that tonight we revel in Christ’s incarnation, God stepping from eternity into the time and space of His creation, out of love, in order to saved His hateful creatures, but even on this joyous night, we remember that this Babe came with a mission, revealed in the Name that Joseph was to give Him. That’s what this glorious and holy night is all about! Not the self-centered, rank materialism that our culture associates with Christmas. It’s not even about the gathering together of family and friends for feasting and revelry. Wonderful as those things are, and thankful though we are for them, this night … is all about Jesus. The Name that Joseph gave to that Infant Priest … says everything about Him, and everything about you and me. Into that Name we were baptized, into that Name the sin within us was killed, and into that Name we were raised with Jesus to everlasting life. Harry Belafonte was right when he sang a few decades ago, “Man will live forevermore because of Christmas Day.”

    + In that holy Name of Jesus, that Name that is above every name. + Amen, and merry Christmas.


  • Many Lights Are Brighter Together

    See the Weekly Bulletin Many Lights Are Brighter Together Romans 15:4-7 Last week, we heard about one of Pastor Heckert’s r ...

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    Many Lights Are Brighter Together
    Romans 15:4-7

    Last week, we heard about one of Pastor Heckert’s routines to prepare for Christmas. He talked about choosing the right tree, putting it in the stand, positioning it just right, admiring its natural state and aroma, and then putting on the lights.

    We heard how difficult it was to get the lights just right. How when they were finally balanced there wasn’t just a feeling good that it was done … the tree, really was a beautiful sight. I’ve certainly noticed this year how the tree is the only light turned on in the room in our home. It’s true a well-lit Christmas tree brings more joy to a darkened room than a single light bulb. Certainly, a single bulb can be bright enough on its own, but when even much dimmer lights are joined by the hundreds, their brilliance and glow just fill a room in a different way and touches everyone who sees them. It’s not magic or anything like that … it’s just nice.

    Last week, we also heard St. Paul speak of a routine as we prepare for Christ, the light of the world. His words gave us encouragement as we prepare and live spiritually for his second coming. In our text today, we hear Paul’s conclusion about quarrels over different opinions among the Christians in Rome.

    There were those who believed they could eat anything, while others believed they could eat only vegetables. Some wanted to observe the Old Testament festivals, while others considered every day the same. Paul wrote to settle these disputes and perhaps more importantly he wrote to teach how to receive and welcome one another, that they might shine in unity, because many lights are brighter - together!

    Many lights together bring praise to God, and that because Jesus, has united all God’s children in hope through His sinless life and sacrificial death. That hope is the reason His church has been able to shine bright enough for all the world to see.

    And that hope is written in the Old Testament. Paul begins our text: For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. Sadly, there are many today who shy away from the Old Testament, because well it can be difficult to see or understand the hope that is promised there.

    My friends without that hope, we’re like lights hung on a tree that aren’t plugged in. When we look to ourselves for hope, we find only darkness. Without hope, we are blind and unable to see God’s gracious light, a light that lightens the pathway to forgiveness and so to Him.

    In Christ, we are given hope through God’s Word. In this hope, we receive the confidence and encouragement to confess and repent of our sins, knowing that we are already forgiven and will be strengthened.

    In God’s Word, we can look to the prophets for instruction; there, we’re given many many examples of suffering and endurance. As a pastor, I can’t imagine preaching the last twenty-five years and receiving nothing but negative feedback from everyone like for ex: Jeremiah. And yet, Jeremiah persevered and kept proclaiming the Word of God. He also persevered through physical persecution: beatings, imprisonment, being thrown into a muddy cistern. Me I’ve never even been threatened.

    Jeremiah also had false prophets to deal with as they preached only what the people wanted to hear instead of what they needed to hear. And in the midst of it all Jeremiah was still able to write: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him. (Lam 3:22–24).

    Clearly Jeremiah understood that when God is the source of your strength, you have everything you need … even in the midst of hardships. I understand that sounds easier said than done but you don’t have any choice in the hardship part, you only have a choice in how you handle it and when God is your strength it does make a difference. That too is not magic it’s His promise.

    So it’s our hope in Jesus that unites us to God, and so Jesus who is the source of our strength, life, and salvation, it is Jesus who unites all who are the family of God. In the Gospel of Luke, after he had risen from the dead, Jesus explained to the disciples the entire meaning of the Old Testament as he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem (Lk 24:45–47).

    That is the Old Testament is all about Jesus, our Savior, the hope of the world. Our hope that was once prophesied through Isaiah when he wrote: For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Is 9:6).

    Our hope, Jesus is the Lamb of God who offered Himself as the sacrifice for the sins of all people, of all times and places. And God’s plan of salvation would come to its completion when Jesus was raised from the dead and unite us to Himself through his blood.

    Just as many lights on a Christmas tree are brighter together, so are the united praises of God’s people. And as the many lights are joined by one strand, we, too, are joined together by the One who is called Jesus. We’re joined through the gift of our salvation that is found in Christ and offered to us and to all by the grace of God through the Good News that our sins are forgiven by his blood and we are clothed with His righteousness, together gifted to us in our Baptism, and strengthened in us as we receive His very body and blood.

    Therefore (Paul writes) Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. But it’s not always easy to welcome one another as fellow members of the family of Christ. Paul knew this to be true for the Romans and for all would read his words after them and so he continued to encourage them and us to live in the love and righteousness purchased by Christ. Paul knew pride is a terrible thing to let stand between Christian brothers and sisters.

    He also knew that the darkness that once filled the world has been pierced by the light of Christ. Yes, the world has seen a great light, enlightening our lives with grace and mercy, making us one in Him who loves us and gave Himself for us all.

    In His Name, Amen.


  • The Great "I Am"

    See the Weekly Bulletin The Great "I Am" John 1:6-8, 19-28 Today’s Gospel lesson is in some ways a repeat of what ...

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    The Great "I Am"
    John 1:6-8, 19-28

    Today’s Gospel lesson is in some ways a repeat of what we heard in last week’s Gospel reading. Last week we heard about John the Baptist according to Gospel of Mark. Today, we hear about John the Baptist according to the Gospel of the apostle John.

    Now John in today’s reading has left us a good example of something that literary professors call step-parallelism. While parallelism compares two people or things that have similar characteristics, step-parallelism uses this comparison to show that the second person or object has these characteristics in a way that is greater than our understanding. That is, we build up someone and then we show that a second someone is even greater.

    In today’s lesson John the Baptist is described as an honest, faithful prophet who preached the words that the Holy Spirit gave him to preach. He was even prophesied about by Isaiah who some 700 years earlier wrote: “A voice cries: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.’” John says of himself: “I am that voice.”

    In his gospel the apostle makes it very clear that the Baptist is faithful, honest, driven, and fearless. That John the Baptist is a great man and a very real force of history. Now comes the step- parallelism. When John the Baptist had the opportunity to describe the One who came after him, He said: “I am not worthy to untie the strap of His sandal.”

    Now we can easily make the case that John the Baptist was the last and greatest of the Old Testament prophets. And yet, he says he’s not worthy to even bow down and untie the sandals of the One he was sent to reveal. The step-parallelism seen in our lesson says that John the Baptist is great, but he’s nothing when compared to the One who already stood among them.

    You see, there’s one little three-letter word that describes the difference between John the Baptist and the One who followed him. That word is “NOT.” When the Jewish authorities came to investigate John, they asked, “Who are you?” He freely confessed, “I am not the Christ.” Those three words: “I am not,” are the great difference between him and the One who followed him.

    The One who followed him would say, [John 8:58] “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” He would also say, [John 6:35] “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” [John 8:12] “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” [John 10:11] “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” [John 11:25–26] “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” [John 14:6] “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” The One who followed John is the One who spoke to Moses from the burning bush and said, [Exodus 3:14] “I AM WHO I AM.” The great prophet John the Baptist could proclaim the blessings, but the blessings became reality only in the One who followed him … the great “I AM. “

    But the One who followed John did not come in the expected way. We expect important people to come in important ways. We expect servants. We expect wealth. Important people demand service and they get it. Nevertheless, this One who followed John … who was more important than John said, [Mark 10:45] “[I] came not to be served but to serve, and to give [My] life as a ransom for many.”

    The One whose sandal John was not worthy to untie came to serve you. St. Paul certainly writes the same thing to the Philippians as God reveals though him: “He (Jesus) humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” That is, Jesus came to die for you. He came to ransom you. He came to earn eternal life for you and for all who live under the law.

    The delegation that came from Jerusalem to check on John had its answers. The sad thing in today’s lesson is that the men in the delegation wanted to know who John was, but they didn’t want to hear his message or the One he spoke about. When John told them about the Greater One who was already in the crowd, right then standing among the people, they weren’t impressed. As far as they were concerned, no one in the crowd looked very Messianic.

    The problem is that the men in the delegations had preconceived notions about the coming Messiah and His messenger. John didn’t measure up either. I’d say again but really, he’s first. He was the first not to be what the leaders of Israel expected. They were looking for the Messiah to reveal Himself in worldly glory and power.

    They expected the Messiah’s messenger to be a reflection of that glory and power. This shaggy beard, camelhair coat wearing eccentric just did not fit their preconceived notion of the prophet of the Messiah. Their preconceived notions blinded them to the blessings that God wanted to give them through His servant John the Baptist.

    John the Evangelist, his brother James, and all the other disciples of the Baptist would soon meet the Christ, but the men in these delegations would miss out. They passed up the opportunity of a lifetime because John the Baptist didn’t meet their expectations.

    And the sad truth is nothing has changed in over two thousand years. We still let our expectations block or limit our relationship with God. We expect our religion to teach us how to get along with others even though thousands of years of human history show us that it can’t be done. We expect our religion to teach us how to lead an honorable life even though we have inherited the curse of sin from our parents.

    We expect our religion to make us happy, healthy, wealthy, and wise. In short, we expect our religion to teach us how to live happy and prosperous lives here on this earth and how to earn our way into heaven when we leave this world. We conveniently forget or ignore that the Scriptures, the very word of the One true God, clearly teaches that this is impossible. It seems that we, in our heart of hearts, would rather pretend than repent and trust God to work His will in our lives.

    You see, the salvation God earned for us is unexpected. That the true God, the Almighty Lord and creator of all things would pay the price of salvation for such rebellious people, simply makes no sense. Who would expect Him to then offer this gift of life to all … for free? Who would expect God to leave His throne of glory and take on human flesh and blood and live under the authority of the law?

    Who would expect our Savior to hide His divinity in the womb of a virgin? Who would expect a savior that was so poor that even in His death He had to be laid in a borrowed tomb? Who would expect salvation to come from the blood of one stretched out on a cross? Who would expect this dead so called “author of this salvation” to rise from the dead or to ascend into heaven?

    And yet this is the salvation promised in the Scriptures and provided for all by the One who followed John the Baptist, the One who is for you and for all the great “I AM.”

    In His Name, Amen

  • Put on the Light

      See the Weekly Bulletin Put on the Light Romans 13:11-14 + Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and f ...


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    Put on the Light
    Romans 13:11-14

    + Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

    The text for our meditation is from Paul’s letter to the Romans, the section read a few moments ago.

    Call me weird, but I love putting up Christmas decorations. I always have; I remember putting up decorations and especially the lights outside our home with my dad, just the two of us in the bitter cold, and while he may not have wholeheartedly shared my enthusiasm for Christmas decorating, we would still always have a good time. I also remember quite vividly the first time I didn’t help decorate the home I grew up in. Instead, I helped my then-future-father-in-law decorate their house at my first Thanksgiving with my then-future-wife. Not surprisingly, I was called upon to help string up the lights, which I was happy to do, but in the front yard, there are some shrubs that I’ve never been that fond of. These shrubs have branches that are tight-knit and making matters worse, they also have these gnarly thorns all over the place. You can imagine who was called upon to string the lights in those bushes. Numerous punctures and some bloodshed later, I got the lights nicely nestled among those thorns, bringing beauty and light to an otherwise hostile piece of shrubbery, an image whose metaphor has stuck with me to this day.

    That image reminds me a bit of the text we are looking at today. Paul speaks of Christ as the light of the world, and that we are to prepare for the Day of His coming. However, Paul’s not talking about Christmas, since that’s an event that has already happened. He’s not concerned with trees, decorations, or even our sort of light. Instead, he desires to focus on the anticipated light of Christ’s Second Advent, the Day when Christ comes in all his splendor, power, and glory, with all the heavenly angels, banishing the darkness with His victorious light. We eagerly anticipate this unknown Day, knowing how God loved each and every one of us so, that He sent His only Son, Jesus, into this world of darkness to be our hope and light of eternal joy - the Light among thorns and darkness.

    Problem is, humans beings, by our very broken nature, love the thorns and darkness; after all, we are sinners, and all sinners love darkness and decadence and death. Even as God’s dearly-loved children who have been called out of darkness into His marvelous light, it is so difficult to live as we should. After all, we are simultaneously saints and sinners, living in a world of darkness that neverthless charms and lures our sinful flesh to be captivated by its intrigue and sinister beauty.

    I’m sure you’d agree that nothing good happens in the darkness of this world. So many of the sins we commit happen in the dark, where and when no one else can see them. This is what Paul is talking about in our text. He’s encouraging Christians to put away the works that need to be hidden by darkness: sexual vices, drunkenness, quarreling, and jealousy. His list is, by no means, exhaustive; you could very well insert your own pet sin into this list: alcohol abuse, pornography use, hatred, embezzlement, gossip, the list goes on.

    Instead, in the verses that precede our text, Paul speaks to us about loving one another, for the entire Law of God can be summed up in one simple statement: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Rom 13:9). Through God’s Law, we know our sinfulness. But His love is the fulfillment of the Law in and through His Son, Jesus, born to be the Savior of all the nations. He was born to pierce the darkness, and under the darkened afternoon sky on Good Friday, He did. Jesus’ death is the ultimate glorious light of God’s love.

    And God’s love for us did not end when Christ died on the cross. His love continued to shine through Christ as He bestows upon us the Holy Spirit, in Word and Sacrament, to bring us the gift of saving faith. Faith that clings to the blood and righteousness of Jesus that covers our individual sinful lives and unites us as believers. As sinners who have received this righteousness of Christ, we live lives redeemed out of the darkness, not by anything we’ve done, but purely by God’s free and loving gift, which cleanses us from all our sins and enables us to love as he has loved us. And this is what we do, as those who have been called out of the darkness and into his marvelous light. We desire to follow in the way of Christ, obedient and loving, not out of fear but because of his love for us first.

    Through God’s Law, we know our sinfulness and our inability to escape the captivity of sin’s darkness. Through God’s grace, we know we’ve been forgiven and empowered to live in the righteous life of Christ. It is in this grace that we put on the armor of light that Paul talks about. We openly and honestly love our neighbors, living joy-filled lives. We enjoy peace in our families, exhibiting patience with our children. We express kindness, goodness, and gentleness with those who hurt us, and have more self-control with those who differ with us. Truly, this armor of light is by far brighter and stronger than any light man can imagine, for it is Christ Himself, the Light of the world, shining through. We put on Jesus as our armor of light to protect us from the darkness of this world and the temptation of the devil. Strengthened, daily, by the power of Christ’s Word and Sacraments to live and radiate his armor of light, adorned with his glory, we stand ready for his second and final coming.

    Through the gracious love of our heavenly Father, who sent his only Son to be born and suffer death for us, we have been called out of the darkness of sin and into the marvelous light of Christ. “The night is far gone; the day is at hand.” Put on the light of Christ, and as we wait in eager expectation for His Second Advent, shine in His glory through the darkness and thorns of this world.

    + In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.

  • God Comes - Peace and Comfort

    See the Weekly Bulletin God Comes - Peace and Comfort Isaiah 40:1-11 + Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and ...

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    God Comes - Peace and Comfort
    Isaiah 40:1-11

    + Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

    The text for our meditation is from our Old Testament lesson, especially where YHWH speaks through His prophet Isaiah, Comfort, comfort My people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins. A voice cries: In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. … Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news, lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, ‘Behold your God!’ Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

    It’s that wonderful time of year again, my friends. It’s Advent, that blessed season of the Church Year that anticipates Jesus’ coming -- first in His incarnation when He was born as a baby in Bethlehem, and when He will come again in glory, as Judge and Restorer of all creation. This second weekend in Advent is all about peace -- not in the “peace, man” way seen in the mid- to late-60s, but more in the peace of God which surpasses all human understanding, that comfort from God which cannot be understood.

    Isaiah certainly is on-board with this idea of peace and comfort. In some of the tenderest words we find in Scripture, we hear YHWH speak through him, Comfort, comfort My people, says your God. These words also represent one of the greatest twists and marked shift in Scripture -- so much so, that some scholars (irreverently, I must say) have suggested that it represents a second author, a second Isaiah, an idea which we know to be unmitigated hogwash. It’s a twist because these incredible, sweet words in our text for today follow on the heels of a rather tense (and less than hopeful) interaction between the prophet and King Hezekiah of Judah; in fact, the chapters preceding our text are quite the roller coaster ride.

    In chapter 36, we saw the Rabshakeh (a military officer like a colonel or general), the leader of Assyria’s armies standing outside Jerusalem’s walls, proclaiming to all Jerusalem and especially King Hezekiah that Jerusalem’s destruction is assured, since they were on a mission from the LORD. Chapter 37 saw Hezekiah humble himself, pray for deliverance through Isaiah’s prompting, and the overnight destruction of the entire Assyrian army, as well as mention of the assassination of the Assyrian king, Sennacherib. Then, in chapter 38, Hezekiah caught a disease which Isaiah told him that he would not recover from. Hezekiah again humbled himself before YHWH his God, prayed (no doubt for recovery), and wept bitterly. YHWH heard his prayer, and healed the king of Judah.

    Finally, in chapter 39, right before our text, we have, honestly, a rather embarrassing moment. After all that YHWH had done to guard and protect the life of Hezekiah -- indeed, of all Jerusalem, the undoubtedly well-intentioned king commits a grievous faux-pas: Hezekiah entertains envoys from BABYLON, not withholding anything on his tour of all the royal property. Isaiah approaches Hezekiah and asks (probably incredulously) what had transpired. Hezekiah tells him (probably nonchalantly) what happened, not even realizing the floodgates of doom he had opened. Isaiah replies how the days were coming that all his household, all of the wealth of Judah, would be carted off to Babylon, where his offspring would become eunuchs in service to the Babylonian king. And how does this dunce Judahite reply to this horrific prophecy?? The word of the LORD that you have spoken is good, thinking to himself, “Hey, at least it ain’t me! There will be peace and security in my days.” Not exactly words of comfort or peace here -- just a blissfully unaware king who is only concerned with his own comfort and peace.

    Here’s where things get interesting. Literally the next sentence in Isaiah’s prophecy is our text for the day, starting with Comfort, comfort My people, says your God. I hope you caught the disconnect. You go from the blissful and damnable ignorance of a Judahite king, whose descendents were destined to be castrated and enslaved in service to a pagan nation … to words which express the peace and comfort that only comes from YHWH of Hosts, the only true God. In this section of his prophecy, Isaiah wrote that YHWH was coming, and in many of the Old Testament prophecies, this would not be a good thing. The Day of YHWH, the Day on which He would come, was usually described as a day of judgment and darkness, of bitterness and destruction and death. It’s usually described as a Day when YHWH would pour out His wrath upon evildoers and wicked nations, and Judah would certainly fall into that category.

    Early in his prophetic writings, Isaiah calls Israel (both kingdoms) a sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, offspring of evildoers, children who deal corruptly! These are people who long before had abandoned any of the true comfort that came in YHWH’s covenant and promises, and instead chose their own way. They wanted peace and comfort on their own terms. They wanted to have their cake and eat it, too - to hold to the promises given to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but live like Canaan, Moab, and Egypt. They wanted the security of YHWH, but the perceived perks of Baal and Moloch. Make no mistake, folks: Judah deserved the punishment YHWH would visit upon them over a century later. Judah deserved exile into Babylon, the land that Hezekiah thought would bring him peace and security and comfort.

    Usually, this is how the Prophets speak about YHWH’s advent, His coming, so why … why is this advent message in our Isaiah text good news?? Why is it a comfort, when Isaiah says, Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news, lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, ‘Behold your God!’ “’Behold your God’?? Last time we did that, we were carted off to Babylon!” you can imagine the former residents of Jerusalem saying. Why is today’s text a proclamation of Gospel, and not a terrifying condemnation of Law?

    Because of the God Who is speaking through Isaiah. It’s not Baal or Moloch, who would accept the human sacrifices of first-born sons. No, Isaiah is speaking for YHWH, the true God Who, in the fullness of time, would send His only-begotten Son to take on human flesh and die, bearing the sins of all people! He’s the same God Who had delivered His people from the bondage of Egypt, the same Lord Who would use the Persian king Cyrus to liberate His people from exile in Babylon. These are words which are coming from the God Who proclaims, Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins. He’s the One Isaiah spoke of when he wrote, Behold, the Lord God comes with might, and His arm rules for Him; behold, His reward is with Him, and His recompense before Him. He will tend His flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs in His arms; He will carry them in His bosom, and gently lead those that are with young. This is coming from the just God, who rightly punishes sins … but pours His justified wrath upon His innocent, incarnate Son for our sake. This is the God Who came, not to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him, the God of mercy, of love. The same God Who saved us through the waters of holy baptism, Who gave us faith, Who feeds us with His very Body and Blood on a weekly basis! The same God Who is coming again, as Judge and Restorer of creation, the death of death!

    Truly, friends, this is a blessed time of year, a time of hope, peace, and comfort, and that comfort comes from the One Who loved us so much, that He did not withhold His Son for our sake. This is why Isaiah, and later John the Baptist, declare, “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” So, yes, behold your God -- as a newborn Babe in a manger, as your Redeemer hanging upon a cross, and returning as your King. There is peace and comfort in this advent of our God.

    + In His holy and precious Name. + Amen.

  • Think About It

    See the Weekly Bulletin Think About It Mark 11:1-10 While last Sunday was the last Sunday of the church year and today the first ...

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    Think About It
    Mark 11:1-10

    While last Sunday was the last Sunday of the church year and today the first Sunday of a new church year, the readings for these two Sundays contain a common theme, that is: The Coming of the Christ. Last Sunday, we focused on the final coming of Christ … the day when He will come to re-create a new heaven and a new earth and fully reveal Himself to us for all eternity.

    In the Sundays leading up to the end of the church year, we once again heard that not everyone will look at His final coming the same way. Some will see Him and be fill with joy and others with great fear.

    As we begin this new church year, we focus on the three-fold coming of our Lord. First of all, we’ll consider how He came to earn forgiveness for us with His holy life and His sacrificial death. Secondly, we’ll consider how He now comes to deliver that forgiveness to us through Word and Sacrament. Finally, we’ll consider Christ coming to destroying of this sinful world and creating a new heaven and a new earth.

    The central theme for all three of Christ comings is forgiveness which should remind us we are sinners in need of forgiveness. You see there is no reason for this three-fold coming of Christ except our sin. I mean if it weren’t for sin God would to this very day still be revealing Himself openly as He did in the days of Adam and Eve.

    But the truth is we did and do sin and so in mercy God veiled His presence so that His glory would not destroy us. But at a time God had chosen, He sent His Son who took on our humanity and dwelt among us in the person of Jesus the One who came, who is coming, and who will come again. During this season we focus on our repentance for the sin that caused God to hide His face from us. And so even now our joy is tempered.

    Today’s Gospel reading is Mark’s account of Jesus coming to Jerusalem. He’s entering Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover and to be the Passover Lamb whose blood would earn salvation for all people. You see it’s part of God’s nature to come and be with His people. We can see the coming of God throughout Holy Scripture. Clear back in Genesis we see God’s desire is to be with us as He was with Adam in Eden in the garden.

    And sadly, since that day in Eden when Adam and Eve first disobeyed God … all of humanity has been afraid of and hated God. Since that day the last thing our sinful nature wants is for God to come to us. Even though God has nothing but love for us, our sin and its guilt produce in us fear and hatred of Him who created us.

    Throughout the centuries, God continued to come in love to His people, but always in a way that was hidden so that His holy presence wouldn’t overwhelm them. He was there in tabernacle and Ark and eventually in the temple – always with them, but always hidden. Only with sacrifice could God’s people come into His presence and even then, it was one person who went into the Holy of Holies and that just once a year. Finally, when the time had come, God came to His people in a temple was that not made with stone, but was made of human flesh and blood.

    In today’s reading, we see God coming that He might fulfill His work and offer Himself up as a sacrifice for all sin. God in His temple of humanness is coming to the temple of His hiddenness. And in His temple of flesh and blood, Christ will die in order to fulfill the promise of the sacrifices made on the altar in the temple of His hidden presence that is the temple of stone.

    As the Son of God entered Jerusalem the Passover Pilgrims shouted His praise. Chances are good that few if any understood the full meaning of Christ’s coming. Although their songs spoke of coming in the name of the Lord and the kingdom of David, they did not understand what they were saying. They quite rightly called Jesus their Messiah, but they would not know what that meant for another week. Because as you know, Jesus had come to die. He had come to Jerusalem to offer Himself as the sacrifice that takes away the sin of the world. His being, lifted up upon the cross, was the culmination of His first coming.

    The Son of God had taken on human flesh that He might take our place. He had come to Jerusalem to experience the fullness of our sin and take our punishment. That is He came to take away the guilt that causes our fear at His coming. Jesus came to Jerusalem on that Sunday so that on that Friday He could suffer and die on a cross and so atone or pay for the sins of the world.

    Christ’s sacrifice on the cross changed the temple of stone as well. When Christ conquered sin, death, and the devil on the cross, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom and God was no longer hidden from His people.

    As God lead St. Paul to write: Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? That is with the sacrifice of Christ and the Holy Spirit’s gift of faith, God now makes His temple in you and all who believe in Christ for the forgiveness of their sins.

    And now, as only He can, God lives within us even as He continues to come to us. As a pastor speaks the words of absolution, we hear Jesus offering us forgiveness. As a pastor reads the Scriptures and preaches on that Word, Jesus works in our hearts the confidence, comfort, and assurance that all of His promises are true.

    As we come to His Table we take and eat the very flesh that Christ sacrificed for us and drink the blood that He shed for us and for all on the cross. But remember this flesh and blood are not dead things. For the Son of God did not remain dead but He rose from the dead. The flesh and blood He now gives to us are not just the flesh and blood of crucifixion, they are also the flesh and blood of resurrection.

    And God will continue to come for all people until that final day when He comes to bring all who trusted in His salvation to be with Him in both body and soul to our heavenly home. On that day He will reveal Himself to all flesh both the living and the dead and He will send away those who refused to listen to Him. And they will experience the wrath of God as they suffer the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. But those who listened to Him will received the gift of His coming with pure joy and will be with and worship Him for all eternity.

    So take some time during this Advent season and actually stop and think about God and His comings. Think about the love that He showed by His coming into a world that you well know is filled with the fear and hatred sin brings with it. Think about how He continues to come to you in love through His Means of Grace that is His Word and Sacraments bringing life and salvation. Think about the suffering and death Christ endured in your place and His resurrection that is your justification. Think about the blessings that He gave when He first came into the world … the blessings of forgiveness that He gives now … and the blessing of life as He intended it to be when He comes again.

    In His Name, Amen.

  • Sheep Things

      See the Weekly Bulletin Sheep Things Matthew 25:31-46 + Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and ...


    See the Weekly Bulletin

    Sheep Things
    Matthew 25:31-46

    + Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

    The text for our meditation is from our Gospel lesson for this day, specifically where Jesus says, When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

    It was written over 50 years ago, and even to mention it risks alienating anyone with a birthday any more recent than the 1970s. Still, there’s something timeless about Eleanor Rigby, so I’ll take my chances. Even if you’ve only ever heard it once, the song has the tendency for lodging in your thoughts, being a song that, I think, can be accurately described as “haunting.” People, understandably, assume that the song is about “loneliness,” as McCartney himself in the chorus wonders about “all the lonely people.” For me, though, I think the song is less about loneliness than it is about … futility. “Eleanor Rigby picks up the rice in a church where a wedding has been…” and what’s the point? Who cares about her thankless work? Who notices? What difference does it make? And Father MacKenzie darning his socks in the night when there’s nobody there, and writing the words of a sermon that no one will hear… and what difference does it make anyway? Why does he bother? Futility—empty words, meaningless gestures, inconsequential actions, pointless deeds, wasted lives. Futility.

    It’s not a foreign thought, is it, futility? I know this is something I struggled with a bit in seminary, as I sat alone in my dorm room, pouring over books I knew that I would likely not be able to look at again until I retire from ministry, attempting to wrap my head around theological concepts that escape my understanding because of my mortality. Sometimes, I confess, my work felt as futile and as pointless as Eleanor Rigby picking up rice.

    That spectre of futility hounded me as a student, and I can promise you that, while I’ve certainly been kept busy in my first year serving here, it’s an issue that hounds pastors all across our synod. It’s an issue, I’m sure, that has hounded you at one point or another in your life. Indeed, there’s a lot in our lives, as Christians living out our vocations, which can begin to feel futile. You work diligently on the paper, pouring yourself and all you think you’d learned into it, fulfilling the task to the best of your ability … only to get it back a few weeks later, marked up in red, and a C+ circled in the upper corner, so what’s the point? You offer wise spiritual counsel to someone who sorely needs it … just to find out later that your advice has been utterly disregarded. You shed blood, sweat, and tears as you prep for the class that you’re going to teach, and you pour yourself into the lecture … and your students stare out the window, or into the endless void of an LCD screen. You baptize, catechize, and confirm your kids … and watch them fall away from the faith the moment they hit high school or college. You spend the time and money putting in a new crop in spring, which does well through the first half of the season … and a freak deluge floods out half your fields, leaving you with no choice but to soldier on and reap from what you didn’t lose. You plan the outreach event, you advertise and publicize it , hoping that people will sense your enthusiasm and thus desire to sign on … but only the usual dozen show up. You try hard to be a good husband, or a good mother, or a good daughter … but does anyone notice? Does anyone appreciate your efforts?? The temptation to go through the motions without regard for the meaning behind the motions hounds us all. The fear of futility looms and grows, regardless of the capacity in which we serve. When all is said and done, what difference does it make? What’s the point? Why bother?

    Well, that’s quite the heady question, one which we can find the answer to in our Gospel lesson for today, the parable of the sheep and the goats. A word of warning, though: this is not an easy parable. It’s a difficult text, but the difficulty is not that it is hard to understand; indeed, the meaning seems altogether clear … and that’s the problem! It rubs against the grain of our Lutheran ears because it sounds suspiciously like works righteousness. If this were the only Word that we had received from Jesus, then a religion of works and salvation by human efforts would be the logical conclusion. Sheep … do acts of kindness, and they receive heavenly praise and eternal rewards! Goats … do not, and they get hell. Thankfully, this is not the only red ink in our Bibles; Jesus did say more, and we have been given a complete Word of God that that makes it clear: of course we do not earn our way into God’s good graces. We don’t buy our way into eternal life, and yes, even this parable and its difficult words agree fully with the theology that we are justified before God solely by grace through faith in Christ alone!

    Notice what Jesus first says to those sheep: Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. The sheep are sheep … because God has made them sheep! They are chosen … predestined … elect! They are not sheep because they made a choice to be a sheep. They are not sheep because they did acts of kindness. They are NOT sheep because they worked hard to become a sheep! They are sheep for one reason: God has done it! God makes them sheep! God makes them righteous!

    And then these sheep … live like His sheep. They go out into God’s creation, out into their ordinary lives, and they take care of those around them. They help the sick, they feed the hungry, they visit the imprisoned, they clothe the naked. They do sheep things! Sheep … act like sheep! And the goats? Well the goats choose what God never planned, never intended: they choose to ignore the call of God to repentance and life, they choose to ignore the cry of their fellow creatures. They reject grace, and they choose death. In return, our loving God gives them what they choose: they share in the unintended and unsought fate of Satan and his horde in the fires of perdition. … But not you. You are a sheep!

    In the deluge of Holy Baptism, at the font, God made His claim, and gave you His Name! YHWH is YOUR Shepherd! You are His sheep! You belong to Him! So you, His sheep, live like His sheep! You go out into His world and you do what you have been given to do: you meet the needs of fellow creatures who cry for your help. That’s what sheep do! And when sheep do what God has given them to do … futility … is gone. It’s wiped out completely! That’s the point of the parable!

    This is not an exhortation to be a sheep and not a goat! Sheep have no choice anyway; remember, God does the choosing! No, the point is that what sheep do as sheep is never wasted and never lost! There’s no futility! This means that your daily work is transformed! What you do - whatever you do for the sake of those around you who need your help, whatever you do in fulfillment of your God-given vocations, whatever you do that God has given you to do is exactly the work that you should be doing, and is never wasted, and is never lost! That’s the criteria! It’s not about what makes a big splash or attracts large numbers of people. It’s not about makes others applaud. It’s not about what earns financial perks or accolades or “A’s.” It’s not what makes you feel good. None of these things determine the validity, the value, or the direction of the work that you do. The only thing that matters, in this regard, is that you are doing what you have been given to do in service to those who need it.

    So you study for that incredibly difficult test, and you sit through another class that doesn’t exactly fire your imagination, and you do so with all the commitment and energy you can because it is holy work! And you prep for another class on an old topic, and you work well into the night grading papers through bleary eyes, and you do it all with all the zeal you can muster because it is holy work! You rub your wife’s ankles after her long day of work, and you massage your husband’s back when he’s under stress, you lift each other up in spite of your own difficulties, not because it is easy, but because it is holy work! You wait for the checks to clear the bank, and you pour over the budgets until your eyes strain from staring at the chart, and you do it because your work is needed, because God has called you to serve in that way and thus it is holy work! You change the day’s 8th diaper, you prepare the day’s 4th bottle, and you wipe the white trickle from your shoulder and back with a sense of awe and wonder and gratitude at the sheer holiness of the work you are doing for the one who needs your service.

    You don’t need work that is “more meaningful.” You don’t need a vocation that packs more prestige! You don’t need to do things that will impress those who watch or grade or evaluate. No, you just need to do … what you have been given to do, to care for those around you who need your service, and when you do that, you are doing incredible holy work just the way that God intended it to be done! That is work that is ALWAYS worthwhile!

    See, that’s the way it is with sheep, and you are sheep! Elect, chosen by God, doused in forgiveness at the font … righteous! Righteous before God! You are a sheep! You see the need of those around you, and you step up to meet that need! Parishioners, pastors, professors, students, parents, children, employers, neighbors, strangers—you give them what they need from you, and you fulfill your vocation, and you are righteous! Sheep are righteous twice: righteous before God in your election, entirely passive, and righteous before creation in your vocation, entirely active! You are sheep, my friends—you live without fear of futility because you know … you know that your labor is never in vain! No deed is insignificant, and no act is forgotten! God saves you and your labor; neither is ever lost!

    Eleanor Rigby and Father MacKenzie may have lived empty, futile lives and died in meaninglessness … but not you! NOT you! You are sheep, and that changes everything. Everything about you, and everything about what you do forever.

    + In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.

  • Eternal Thanks

    Eternal Thanks Luke 17:11-19 Since tomorrow is a national holiday and that in only seven countries in the world and not all on the s ...

    Eternal Thanks
    Luke 17:11-19

    Since tomorrow is a national holiday and that in only seven countries in the world and not all on the same day and certainly not the commemoration of a specific event or teaching of the Bible, there’s a wide range of readings to choose for this day. Over the years however, the account of the Ten Lepers has become one of the traditional readings for our national day of Thanksgiving.

    The facts of the miracle are clear enough. Jesus was still in Galilee, but heading to Jerusalem with His disciples. As they traveled, they encountered ten lepers. Jesus instructed the lepers to present themselves to the priests in Jerusalem according to the Law of Moses. While they were on the way they noticed that the leprosy was gone. One of the lepers returned to worship Jesus in thanksgiving. The Holy Spirit inspired Luke to emphasize the fact that the leper who returned was a Samaritan and that Jesus asked about what happened to the other nine who were also healed.

    Luke tells us that Jesus and His disciples were traveling along the border between Galilee and Samaria. Although there was a much more direct route straight south through Samaria, Passover Pilgrims would never go that way because well the Samaritans and the Jews hated one another, and the Samaritans simply refused passage to anyone who was headed to Jerusalem. If it weren’t for the Roman occupation, Samaria and Judea would probably be at war, but because of the Romans, the Samaritans had to be satisfied with this token gesture of their hatred.

    In practical terms that hatred meant that Passover Pilgrims like Jesus and His disciples had to go around Samaria to get south to Jerusalem. Jesus had traveled south in Galilee until He reached the border with Samaria. Then He would have traveled along the border with Samaria until He arrived at the Jordan River and the eastern border of Samaria. There He would travel south until He arrived at the border of Judea where He would turn back toward the west and head for Jerusalem.

    And yet Jesus healed this Samaritan. We see this as a lesson about salvation in Christ being not just for Jews, but for all people. And that show of grace through Christ for all is indeed a wonderful Gospel truth found in this lesson but there is more.

    As we listen to Jesus’s response about the other nine who did not return, it’s true He seemed disappointed but He didn’t take back their healing. They were unthankful but Jesus doesn’t take back His gifts just because we’re not as thankful as we should be. This too is a great comfort for Christians because I know I’m not always as thankful as I should be and I’m sure you aren’t either.

    The Scriptures don’t tell us what happened to those nine healed lepers. I imagine they went and showed themselves to the priests just like Jesus told them to. We just don’t know … but we do know about the Samaritan.

    The Samaritan returned and fell at Jesus feet with his face to the ground. That is, he came and worshipped Him. By returning to glorify God, and thank Jesus we see what he believed that is he confessed that Jesus was the Lord. He confessed that, as he looked at Jesus, he was looking at the Son of God. The one who had been dying not only in his leprosy but more so his sin was by grace made alive in Jesus. The Holy Spirit had worked in him the gift of faith, and as Jesus said … your faith has made you well. (Luke 17:19)

    Now there are some scholars who wonder if the Holy Spirit led this Samaritan to go his way by remaining with Jesus and His disciples. And it certainly is possible that the Holy Spirit led this man to join the other Passover Pilgrims walking with the Eternal High Priest. The Scriptures just don’t say. If he did walk with Jesus to Jerusalem, he would have seen a very different high priest than the other nine who were healed.

    I mean Jesus is the High Priest who not only offered up the sacrifice, but offered Himself as the sacrifice. The priests in Jerusalem offered lambs, goats, and other animals for the forgiveness of sins as they were commanded. But these were all but shadows that pointed forward to the sacrifice of the Lamb of God that is His Only Begotten Son. If this Samaritan did walk with Jesus, he would have been a witness to his great high priest being lifted up from the earth on a cross and left there to die.

    And there, whether the Samaritan understood it or not Jesus performed a miracle far greater than the healing of his leprosy. For on that cross Jesus offered Himself as the cup to be filled with the full measure of God’s wrath against sin. And with the giving up of His Spirit Jesus satisfied God’s justice so that this Samaritan could also be cleansed of his sin.

    And not him alone, as we read in 1 John: He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:2) which of course includes you and me.

    And you and I do need this cleansing not from leprosy of course, truth is we suffer from a much worse condition, that is we are full of sin. Our bodies may be clean and we all smell nice but still we all do need daily to be cleansed of our sin. One look in the mirror of the law confirms it, we all need the gifts that Jesus earned for us with His suffering and death on the cross.

    And with His resurrection Jesus in His mercy has promised us a much greater cleansing than the healing of leprosy. He who has conquered death has promised that there will come a day when He will raise all the dead. Some of those who sleep in death will awaken to shame and everlasting condemnation, but you and I and all who believe in Jesus for the forgiveness of their sin will awaken to everlasting life.

    We are gathered here this evening because the leaders of our nation have declared tomorrow to be a national day of thanksgiving. But the truth is only we, who believe in Jesus for the forgiveness of sins, can truly be thankful. We can give thanks to God for the physical blessings He has generously poured out upon us who live in this blessed nation, but even more for the forgiveness, life, and salvation that we receive by faith in Jesus Christ.

    It’s true, Christians are the only ones who can truly give thanks because only Christians give thanks to the one true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Thanks for life today with all its blessing, and thanks for life eternal from Him who exceeds all our expectations.

    In His Name, Amen

  • Safety (Not) Guaranteed

    See the Weekly Bulletin Safety (Not) Guaranteed Matthew 25:14-30 + Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and fro ...

    See the Weekly Bulletin

    Safety (Not) Guaranteed
    Matthew 25:14-30

    + Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

    The text for our meditation is from our Gospel reading, the parable of the three servants, but especially the third servant and his sheepish reply to his Master, … ‘I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours.’ Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

    “Safety first!” I’m sure we’ve all heard this old adage before – from sweet grandmothers and mothers looking out for the children under their care, to the driver’s ed classes and the reminders of what happens when you’re NOT a safe driver (I’m sure some people here were forced to watch “Red Asphalt” at some point), to the mandatory meetings and videos I’m sure people are required to attend and watch to fulfill the requirements of the human resources department where they work. Perhaps, though, the maxim of “Safety first” is seen in no place better than on playgrounds. I’m sure people my age and older remember playing on equipment that, by today’s standards, would have been condemned as horrific “safety hazards.” The jungle gyms and forts at my elementary school were made of wood and metal, with tire swings and a giant stride (if you even know what that is), and do you know what? It was AMAZING; not surprisingly, all that equipment has been gone for at least a decade now. The classic wood chips that we had to empty from our shoes has been replaced with cushioned mats, the metal slides that baked our backsides on sunny days have been replaced with plastic ones, and the tire swings and giant stride are just … gone. Gone in the name of safety. Safety first.

    That seems to have been the attitude of one of the servants mentioned in our Gospel reading. The story goes like this: a Master had three servants and, before leaving on a journey, He entrusted to them His wealth. To one, He gives a small fortune – five talents, equivalent to 5-years’ salary. To the next, He gives two talents, and to the final servant, He gives one talent, and lest you think He’s being unkind in not distributing His wealth equally, this Master is being smart – Jesus says that He gives to them each according to his ability, so that the one who has more financial know-how has more to do with as he sees fit.

    The Master goes on His journey, and in His absence, the servants carry on being stewards of what the Master had given them. The first servant is apparently quite savvy, even though he is, undoubtedly, a risk-taker, investing the Master’s five talents and in the process, doubling what he had been given. The one who’s given two talents has a similar idea, with similar results – doubling what he had been given. But that third servant … the one entrusted with only one talent … leans upon the axiom of “Safety first!” and does nothing. Granted, he doesn’t do anything bad – he doesn’t take that one talent, that one year’s salary, and blow it on pleasurable company or gambling. However, neither does he do anything good with it. He doesn’t even place it in a bank, where it could have accrued interest! He plays it safe, burying it in the ground, and as sometimes is the case, “playing it safe” comes back to bite him in the tuchus. The Master returns from His journey, and is delighted to see that the first two servants have done exceedingly well with the riches He entrusted to them. They made Him richer, and for this, He gives them highest praise – Well done, good and faithful servant! Enter into the joy of your master!

    Then … He comes to the third servant. You can imagine the sheepish look on that servant’s face as he fesses up, Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours. He thought he’d taken the safe route; neither did he make anything additional, but at least he didn’t lose it, either! Safety first, right? That should count for something, right?

    You can imagine the surprise and, really, the horror that must have fell upon that servant as the Master spoke. You wicked … and slothful … servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? You know that, do you? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest! So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away! And cast this worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

    Wow. Harsh. Perhaps it sounds uncharacteristically harsh for a parable coming from the lips of our Lord, but here’s the thing: the Master is fully justified in carrying out this sentence on the wicked servant. That guy had one job to do … and because he feared for his safety, because he feared the retribution of what would happen if he failed … he ended up failing. His fear paralyzed him, preventing him from doing what he had been given to do. Safety first? It’s a nice sentiment, but safety is not guaranteed in this parable. Perhaps a better take away here is another well-known adage: “Nothing ventured, nothing gained,” or perhaps a similar one, “No sacrifice, no victory.”

    So that’s our parable for today, and obviously, as a parable, it’s not meant to be taken literally; again, the different things, different characters represent something else in order to convey an eternal truth. We should not read this as Jesus giving us financial advice, or Jesus saying that CPA’s and investors are the crème de la crème in the kingdom of God. No, we need to look at who Jesus is speaking with in order to get the full gravity of this parable.

    Our Gospel lesson is a continuation of a discourse that began in Matthew 24, where the Gospel-writer records, As [Jesus] sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” In our parable, Jesus is speaking with – and to – His disciples, those soon-to-be apostles, soon-to-be “sent ones,” who would be going out into the world to proclaim the resurrection of Christ from the dead and the coming of the kingdom of God, to proclaim the forgiveness of sins and condemnation for the unrepentant! This parable is meant for them, for all those who are tasked with spreading this Gospel message. Thus, Jesus is also speaking to all who follow in His train, to all Christians throughout time and space. Yes, my friends. He’s speaking to us, and the “talents” that Jesus has entrusted us with is the same good news that was entrusted to the apostles those centuries ago. So, of course, the question becomes, which of the adages have you followed? “No sacrifice, no victory”? Or, “Safety first”? If we’re honest, I think we can all say that we’ve erred on the side of “Safety first” more than we’d care to admit. I know I have.

    If you’re like me, there have been moments which were perfect opportunities for witness … and you kept silent, for fear of rejection, or anger. When you had the opportunity to reach out to help someone in body and soul … you stayed put and lifted not even a finger. When you had the opportunity to comfort a nonbelieving neighbor … you played it safe and said nothing. Even the most fervent missionaries among us, I’m sure, have had moments like this where we follow the path of least resistance. And for this, we should be ashamed. We ought well to be ashamed and contrite for our lack of compassion, choosing complacency and comfort over the necessary awkwardness that comes with addressing sin. We should be ashamed of our love of comfort, our reviling of things that make us work harder in service of God and neighbor. “God forbid that we have to actually sacrifice something in our lives for our faith! God forbid we actually have to make time for devotions and prayer! God forbid we give something up, like a pew or parking space, for visitors!” Friends, for this, we should be ashamed. We, like the third servant, have failed. We should be ashamed that we choose safety over mission. Make no mistake, we will not hear “Well done, good and faithful servant!” because we stay silent and unmoving! Safety is not guaranteed if we play it safe!

    We are, instead, called to be bold, daring even. We are called to be risk-takers with the gift our Lord has given us, to follow the adage, “No sacrifice, no victory!” After all, Christ Himself did not play it safe. He is one Servant, a suffering Servant, who did not take the path of least resistance, but rather walked the Via Dolorosa. He endured the worst suffering imaginable, forgoing any comfort that could have been His. Far from pursuing safety, He died the cruelest death ever conceived, and He did all this … for a people who, by their very nature, hate Him. That is a the more difficult path, to be sure. Safety was not guaranteed by any means for Christ our Lord, but “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” “No sacrifice, no victory.”

    I say this, not to exhort you to be more like Jesus, as if He’s a mere example to follow. No, I say this to encourage you with the reminder that, because of His risk-taking, because of His boldness in the face of suffering and death, your safety, in one sense, is guaranteed! Because of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, you can rest in security and safety, knowing that you rest safely in His hands, and that nothing in this world can separate you from your Savior! You can rest in the knowledge that, in spite of your flesh which aspires to nothing but complacency, comfort, and safety … in the waters of holy Baptism, you were given the Spirit of the living God who, by no virtue of your own, enables you both to will and to do what you are called to do! We have our moments of weakness, of putting safety first instead of the daring investment we know is required of us, but thanks be to God that the suffering Servant did so in our stead, and for His sake, on the Last Day, we will hear the Master declare to us, Well done, good and faithful servant! Enter into the joy of your Master!

    + In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.

  • Urgency and Comfort

    See the Weekly Bulletin Urgency and Comfort 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 The text for our meditation is from Paul’s letter to th ...

    See the Weekly Bulletin

    Urgency and Comfort
    1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

    The text for our meditation is from Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, especially where he wrote, But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. … Therefore encourage one another with these words. Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

    Sutherland Springs - 26. Las Vegas - 59. Hurricane Maria – 66. Hurricane Irma – 134. Hurricane Harvey – 77. It seems as though death has been running roughshod lately. Obviously, death is literally an everyday occurrence the world over regardless of how it happens, but lately, it seems to be exceedingly prominent in our country, and this is to say nothing of the tragedies experienced on the individual level. A revered grandfather who was supposed to leave the hospital that day … suddenly taking a turn for the worse. A father who had been doing quite well and improving … suddenly being called to rest. A lovely cousin, the last of her family, being called quite unexpectedly to her Savior. A beloved mother whose steady decline finally culminated in her falling asleep in Christ.

    With this in mind, to be perfectly frank, these past few weeks and months have been rather odious. They’ve been terrible, gnarly, seeing the wages of sin paraded before our very eyes as people speak their last words, breathe their last breaths, make last final confessions, and close their eyes before soul and body are torn asunder in a way that was never meant to be. Death is the reminder that we are, all of us, sinners, equally worthy of the temporal and eternal judgment of God. We never know when death will come a-knocking; if you’re familiar with the first Thor movie, you’ll remember the god of thunder’s line, “I have no plans to die today,” to which the guardian Heimdall replies, “None do.” There are few things as intrusive, as abrupt, as seemingly final, as death.

    After all, there is no reincarnation (thank God!). There are no second chances after death, especially in terms of salvation. One life, one chance, one death, then the judgment, as the writer of Hebrews essentially once wrote. Never knowing when death may take us, never knowing when death may take a loved one, indeed, never knowing at what point in time Christ will return for the final judgment, rightly makes us uneasy, never mind the grief that those of us who are left here are left to deal with. We mourn, rightly so, not only from the physical absence of that loved one, those family members who have gone before us, but it also causes us to mourn because their deaths also tend to give us all pause, to contemplate our own temporal existence, and how fast that time is fleeting.

    Death is atrocious; it was not meant to be in creation. It is the natural consequence of sin, both on the individual level, and on the corporate level. We die – we are, even now, dying – because we are sinners. We are dying because of the sins we commit, but more than that, because of our inherited sinful nature from our first parents, Adam and Eve. We know this, we confess it, and we mourn when our loved ones pass – but that is not where we stop.

    We have a hope. That hope is found in Paul’s words again to the Christians in Thessalonica. Hear those words again: [W]e do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. Yes, our loved ones are gone, and rightly so, their physical presence in our lives will be sorely missed, but we know it is not the end. The souls of those who have gone before us in the faith live on in the presence of Christ the King. They rest now – rest from their earthly labors and vocations, rest from pain and rest from wrong. Rest from sin and all of sin’s effects, never again to be tormented by things left unsaid or undone. Never again to be hounded, as Paul was, by the good that we ought to do and do not, and the evil that we ought not to do, and yet persist in doing. There is rest from sorrow, rest from tears. Rest from heresy and wrong teaching – since they are in the very presence of their Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier, they see Him rightly in a way we cannot imagine but nevertheless greatly anticipate!

    Sounds good, right? Sounds blissful and wonderful beyond all compare, right? Well, certainly to those of us who dwell here in this broken world, absolutely. It is little wonder that Paul wrote to the Philippians, I am hard pressed between the two [options]. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Some days, rest from … well, all of this, certainly sounds preferable. To be with Christ is preferable; that is why we treasure the Lord’s Supper so highly, since it is literally Jesus coming to us, to give us Himself in bread and wine, body and blood. But eternity is not the ethereal, spiritual floating in bliss and joy. Eternity is not life-after-death, but rather life after life-after-death.

    Therein lies our hope, dear friends! We are whole persons, body and soul, and we are not meant to remain simply soul after death. No, our hope lies in the fast-approaching time that Paul goes on to describe in our Epistle lesson: For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.

    It is worth briefly mentioning here that the return of Christ will not be as it is popularly portrayed by dispensational premillennialists, like those who wrote the Left Behind series, with the “secret returns of Jesus” and people being suddenly snatched out of thin air, leaving unbelievers behind to make their decision for Christ. No, the text here actually says, a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. Doesn’t sound very secret or quiet to me! Further, the ones who will be left behind, as told in the text, are Christians who wait their turn, since they’re still alive, for the faithful dead to be raised and caught up into the air to join Christ. Only thereafter will those who are still alive likewise receive the glory and be joined with Jesus, where they will remain eternally!

    At times of death, when our loved ones who confessed the faith in life depart to rest with Christ the King, these are the things with which we encourage those who are left behind to grieve! Christ IS coming back! And when He does – whether we are still alive or are at rest with the rest of the Church invisible – life will be made right again! Death, the adversary, will be done away with, swallowed up forever in life! No one knows the hour – not the hour in which the Lord would call us to rest, or the hour in which Christ will return. But we have nothing to fear, my friends! Christ lived, Christ died, Christ rose again, Christ departed, and Christ is returning soon! I’ll leave you, as a lover of poetry, with the words of John Donne in his holy sonnet, Death, Be Not Proud:

    Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
    Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
    For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow
    Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
    From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
    Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
    And soonest our best men with thee do go,
    Rest of their bones, and soul's delivery.
    Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
    And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
    And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
    And better than thy stroke; why swell'st thou then?
    One short sleep past, we wake eternally
    And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.
    And it is Jesus Who will swing the axe.

    + In His holy and powerful Name. + Amen.

  • Blessed in Him

    See the Weekly Bulletin Blessed in Him Matthew 5:1-12 Have you ever noticed how when things in life are out of focus if you will, ...

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    Blessed in Him
    Matthew 5:1-12

    Have you ever noticed how when things in life are out of focus if you will, problems seem to multiply. Today is one of those days that if a pastor and his hearers aren’t careful, things can get out of focus and go off the theological track pretty quick. I say that because it’s not unusual for the true meaning and joy of All Saints Day to be swallowed up and lost in a flurry of good intentions but bad theology.

    For instance, with the very best intentions we can find ourselves focusing on our deceased loved ones who have gone to be with the Lord, which means we’re taking our focus off of Jesus. While I’m sure it’s not meant this way and it’s almost always after the funeral, but I often hear “So-and-so has gone to be with grandma and grandpa or their husband or wife missing the source of true comfort. Sadly, we often end up focusing on our own sentimental wonderings instead of on Jesus who comforts us in all of our sorrows.

    Consider the words of our Lord from the Beatitudes and you tell me who these Beatitudes are about? Who they focused on? The popular response is to say, “us”! But…should that be our first response? And notice: I didn’t say it was wrong to see the Beatitudes as speaking to us and our reality in Christ. They are about us! But…are we the primary focus? Think about it: By a show of hands who here has fulfilled even one of these Beatitudes as God intended? Look around, do you see any hands … did you expect to?

    My friends the Beatitudes are simply not goals for us to strive after in our quest to be a saint. They are not descriptions of what we need to do or attitudes we need to have. That would put the focus of this text on you and me and what we do, and we all know that just isn’t how God’s plan of salvation works. In God’s plan, all the focus is on Jesus and what He’s done for us with His life, by His death, and through His resurrection.

    The Beatitudes are first and foremost about Jesus. These blessed realities can only be understood with a Christ centered faith, that is a faith that holds to Christ alone. I mean, who is the One who was truly poor in spirit; that is, who brought nothing to the table except His trust in God above all things? Who is the One who truly mourns over sins; not just the sins that make life rough for us, but all sin; even the sins we’re not sorry for and will do again if we get the chance? Our sin touched Christ so deeply in His heart that He was willing to offer His blood as payment for each and every one of them. Christ’s desire is that no one would suffer for their sin. Can you honestly say that?

    Who is it that has unconditional mercy on others, who truly hungers and thirsts for righteousness? Is it you because I know it’s not me. Isn’t it Christ whose being described with these words? Don’t the Scriptures, at the end of Jesus’ temptation in the desert, say He was hungry? And wasn’t this hunger and the thirst He speaks of from the cross endured for you and your eternal salvation?

    You see the Beatitudes are first about what Christ has earned with His life and then about the reality of our sainthood, our holiness and our blessedness in Him. And so we get credit for what Jesus did at the time we are united to or graphed into or what we more commonly call baptized into Christ. This is why Jesus says, Blessed are those who are persecuted for My sake.

    That is people aren’t attacked by satan, the world and their own flesh for “being good.” Satan isn’t trying to make sure no good deed goes unpunished. That’s man’s idea. God’s children, His holy ones are attacked by satan for one reason … they have a righteousness that is not their own. As we read in 2 Corinthians 5: God made him who had no sin to be sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. This, what’s called, “alien righteousness” possessed by His saints is why God calls His saints “blessed,” and it’s why satan continues to fight the way he does.

    But please understand there is a difference between being attacked by satan and being reproved, or corrected by God, even though they may feel the same. Certainly, there times that God uses our suffering or allows crosses into our lives to get our attention but that’s only so that by His grace He might lead you back from your selfish, sinful ways to the way of repentance a way made possible by faith in Him alone.

    This fallen, sinful world and its evil prince can’t stand those who truly trust in Christ alone. The truth is: If you’re in Christ, the world will hate you. Satan will target you, and your sinful flesh will try to deceive you relentlessly. My friends it’s not a matter of if. It’s not a probability or a possibility or a maybe. It’s a fact. It’s reality.

    Being faithful to God while living in this fallen world will mean crosses and tears and heartaches and sorrows. That’s why God invites and we come to Him in the Divine Service; to hear His Word, to receive His absolution for your sins, to eat and drink Christ’s body and blood for life and forgiveness, and to be strengthened that you might strive to live fearlessly and faithfully in your Baptismal reality.

    And that’s the point that needs to be made. It’s only in Christ, by grace through faith that we are able to live out these Beatitudes in our daily lives and vocations, not trying to somehow earn God’s blessings, but simply living the life He’s already blessed us with. That is; blessed us with His grace, His mercy, His peace. Being in Christ we are by grace able to faithfully bear our crosses trusting His forgiveness and standing firm as the world crumbles around us.

    In Christ and because of Christ we can be poor in spirit, that is trusting that God is in charge and working all things for our good. In Christ and because of Christ we can dare to call sin “sin” and publicly mourn over it, letting the world know the truth of its sick and deadly condition before its Maker and Redeemer.

    We can dare to be meek and lowly, not seeking vengeance or payback or selfish glory or our own ways. We can dare to bite our tongues, turn our cheeks, and quietly suffer persecution, knowing full-well that God is in charge and we are already blessed by Him because we are in Him. We have already been claimed by Him. We and all who by grace trust His promises are His and nothing or no one can snatch this truth away from us.

    So, what are we to do? By the faith He gives, trust God’s word both written and incarnate. That’s what all the faithful saints, of all times and in all places, have always done. No matter what’s happening in the world, the saints of Christ flee to His House where He has promised to be to receive from Him a foretaste of the feast to come; a feast that all the faithful who have gone before us are enjoying right now at the heavenly half of the Lord’s Table, a Table we too will one day sit at. A Table full of the splendor and glory of Him who on this day is also serving His love and forgiveness to you, His precious child.

    In His Name, Amen.

  • Be Still in the Fortress

    See the Weekly Bulletin Be Still in the Fortress Psalm 46 + Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our L ...

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    Be Still in the Fortress
    Psalm 46

    + Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

    The text for our meditation for this, the 500th Anniversary of the start of the Reformation, is from Psalm 46 (in case you were wondering why we spoke the psalm at a communion service). We’re going to focus on where the Psalmist writes, God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. … “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

    You may not have known, but this very psalm is the text upon which Luther based that famous hymn which we all just sang, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God. It is thought that Luther wrote that hymn in 1527, and around the same time that he wrote those now renowned words … a terrible disaster fell upon Wittenberg. The black death, the bubonic plague, had come. You’ve probably heard of the black death before, how this disease wiped out a quarter of Europe’s population during its height, and make no mistake – the moment the people of Wittenberg started to see blackened toes and fingers, they knew that death had come to visit their town.

    John, the Elector of Saxony and a personal fan of Luther’s, exhorted the Reformer and all the students and staff at the university to flee to Jena, about 100 miles away. Five days later, the university did do just that, but Luther…remained unmoved. He, his family, and that of Johannes Bugenhagen, close friend and pastor to Luther, all chose to stay behind and suffer alongside those who faced the black death. At one point, the Luther’s turned their house into a makeshift hospital of sorts; you can imagine the suffering that the Luther’s saw, including their eldest son Hans (then only about a year-and-a-half old). People suffering from extreme flu-like symptoms. Mothers, include pregnant mothers, losing the baby and then losing their own lives. Otherwise healthy young men stranded in bed as their eyes sunk deeper into their sockets and developed black rings around them as death approached.

    Luther was distraught – understandably so. Writing to a friend, Nicolaus Amsdorf, he finished his letter by writing, “So there are battles without and terrors within, and really grim ones; Christ is punishing us. It is a comfort that we can confront Satan’s fury with the word of God, which we have and which saves souls even if that one should devour our bodies. Commend us to the brethren and yourself to pray for us that we may endure bravely under the hand of the Lord and overcome the power and cunning of Satan, be it through dying or living. Amen.” This was considerable suffering which Luther witnessed, and it was around this time that Luther commentated on our text for this day, Psalm 46. Hear what he wrote:

    The 46th psalm is a psalm of thanks, sung by the people of Israel because of the mighty deeds of God. He had protected and saved the city of Jerusalem, in which was His dwelling, against all the rage and the fury of all the kings and the nations and preserved their peace against all warfare and weapons. And, in the manner of the Scriptures, the psalm calls the character of the city a little stream that shall not run dry, as opposed to the great rivers, seas, and oceans of the heathen – their great kingdoms, principalities, and dominions – that shall dry up and disappear.

    Luther understood well what the Psalmist was expressing. No doubt, the author had seen his own fair share of atrocity, as Jerusalem was besieged time and again by foreign powers, by heathens who hated YHWH and His people. Nevertheless, rage though the nations would, they could not win. Regardless of how many lives were taken, how much suffering the people had to endure, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob would not completely abandon His people. He would guard them, vindicate them, and save them. The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; [YHWH] utters His voice, the earth melts. Even in their wandering and sin, YHWH still kept His promise that a remnant would remain, and that the Messiah would come. So the people sing their praises for God’s righteousness, as Luther wrote, He “preserved their peace against all warfare and weapons.” He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; He breaks the bow and shatters the spear; He burns the chariots with fire.

    And in the midst of all this violence, in the midst of the blood and the battle, the illness and the dying, the Psalmist writes, Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exhalted among the nations, I will be exhalted in the earth. The LORD of hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our fortress. The residents of Jerusalem had nothing to fear! Sure, the Philistines, or the Amorites, or Hittites, or Assyrians would rage and try to break down the walls of that great city, but YHWH would preserve His people. Why worry? The LORD God, our true fortress with walls that CANNOT be breached, is our God, and He is our fortress!

    I confess this to be pure speculation, but I could imagine Luther reflecting on the bubonic plague’s three- to four-month stroll through the streets and homes of Wittenberg as he read this psalm. God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. It was certainly true for the Israelites, because they were not completely annihilated for their transgressions and Christ was born from the tribe of Judah, just as YHWH had promised. For Luther, God certainly had been a refuge and strength, even as he was hidden behind the walls of Wartburg Castle, protected from the inquisition and bounty hunters who sought his head after he boldly spoke, “Here I stand” at the Diet of Worms. And miraculously, Almighty God preserved Luther and his household through that devastating epidemic; indeed, about a month after the plague had begun to noticeably recede, Katie gave birth to their second child, daughter Elizabeth.

    God was, to Martin, a refuge and a fortress throughout all his life. It was how he could be still and know that YHWH is God, even as two of his daughters died at a young age. It’s how he was able to endure the vehemence, the hatred that came from Rome and his other many enemies. It’s how he was able to stand firm to the end, even confessing with his last words, “Wir sind Bettler; Hoc est verum.” It’s little wonder, then, that he wrote the words – again, based on Psalm 46 – Though devils all the world should fill, All eager to devour us. We tremble not, we fear no ill, They shall not overpower 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.

    The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress! That is an eternal truth, my friends. It was the same for Adam and Eve, for Israel, for the early Church. It was the same through the time of the Reformation, for our LCMS forbears when they left Saxony for unknown dangers of the Missouri wilderness, and let me tell you, it’s the same for us, here and now, as we face a world of uncertainties, of new dangers, and insecurity and anxiety. God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. For all of human history, God has preserved His people with His promises. He has given them the means by which sins are forgiven, and they are preserved within His flock. Israel had the sacrificial system and the promises of the Messiah, both of which were fulfilled in Christ Jesus, Who was and is the singular sacrifice, once for all. Jesus’ sacrifice upon the cross was all-sufficient, to redeem you and me and all of humanity. It’s done! We bear the burden of our sin no more! The walls of YHWH’s fortress is painted in the blood of the Lamb of God, and you are safe within those walls! He has claimed you as His own, and no one will be able to break down those blood-cleansed walls to snatch us away!

    It's true, there are many things that distinguish our time and place from that of Luther’s. Still, though, there’s a reason why we hold to the truths Luther rediscovered: it’s because they’re timeless. He finished his commentary on Psalm 46 by writing, “We, on the other hand, sing this psalm to praise God for being with us. He miraculously preserves His Word and Christendom against the gates of hell, against the rage of the devil, the rebellious spirits, the world, the flesh, sin, death. Our little spring is also a living fountain, while their puddles, pools, and ponds become foul, malodorous, and dry.”

    It doesn’t matter what the world, the devil, and our own sinful flesh tries to do. We are covered in Christ’s blood! Our sins are forgiven! The Word they still shall let remain Nor any thanks have for it; He’s by our side upon the plain With His good gifts and Spirit. And take they our life, Goods, fame, child and wife, Though these all be gone, Our vict’ry has been won; The Kingdom ours remaineth. Whatever this world can throw at us, we can bear because the LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. And what a mighty Fortress He is!

    + In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.

  • The False Dilemma

      See the Weekly Bulletin Announcements The False Dilemma Matthew 22:15-22 You’ve heard me say it before and will n ...


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    The False Dilemma
    Matthew 22:15-22

    You’ve heard me say it before and will no doubt hear me say it again but context is always an important factor to consider as we listen to a text. Now to understand just how bizarre the situation is in today’s Gospel, we need to look at the societal context of Jerusalem. In our lesson we heard that some disciples of the Pharisees and some Herodians came to Jesus. Since most of us have never met any Herodians or Pharisees, we probably don’t realize how strange that is.

    One of the many things that you can say about the Pharisees is that they were extremely nationalistic. They believed that Jerusalem should be ruled by Jews, not by gentiles. After all, the law of Moses states, [Deuteronomy 17:15] One from among your brothers you shall set as king over you. You may not put a foreigner over you, who is not your brother.

    So, the Pharisees hated the Roman occupation. Now they were also realistic enough to understand that Rome had a lot of power and they weren’t in a position to force them out. On the other hand, if someone presented a reasonable plan to get Rome out of Israel, they would certainly help in any way they could.

    The Herodians were just the opposite. As you might guess by their name, they supported Herod. Herod was a puppet king of the Roman Empire. The Romans had put his father in power and they kept him in power after his father died. The Herod family was not Jewish. So, if you were a Herodian, you were a fan of Herod, and, since Herod was a puppet of Rome, you were by association a fan of the Roman occupation.

    Normally, the Pharisees and the Herodians were at each other’s throats … if not literally, certainly figuratively. The fact that these two groups worked together to attack Jesus tells you something about how much Jesus was hated. But they had a plan.

    The idea was to put Jesus between a rock and a hard place. They asked Jesus a question that was designed to get Him into trouble: Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? If he answered yes, then all those who hated the Roman occupation would turn against Him. If He answered no, then the Herodians would report Him to the Romans to be arrested. If He didn’t answer, then the crowd would label Him as a coward. The Herodians and the Pharisees thought they had Jesus trapped.

    Of course, it is not so easy to trap Jesus in His words. Jesus saw the error in their thinking; that is, they were focused on Herod instead of God. So there is a third answer given as Jesus says: Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.

    The Gospels record many plans to trap Jesus by His enemies and we’re no doubt tempted to believe that Jesus won all these debates because well He was such an excellent debater. We’re tempted to believe that it was His superior skill and divine knowledge that won all these debates.

    And while Jesus was the perfect human being and had flawless thought, that was not His main advantage. His main advantage was that He knew the truth and He never wavered from it. Making your case based on truth gives anyone a tremendous advantage over those who depend on lies.

    You see the opponents of Jesus in today’s Gospel engaged in a logical fallacy known as a false dilemma. The fallacy is that it falsely offers only two possible alternatives even though a wide range of possibilities exist. His opponents offered two possibilities: either you pay your taxes or you don’t. Jesus simply exposed their faulty reasoning by showing that there actually were other answers.

    That is we can pay our taxes, give our offerings, and care for our families. God is gracious enough to give us the resources to do all three and maybe even have a little left over for recreation.

    But make no mistake there are still many who face false dilemmas to this day. One that involves our very salvation is the dilemma between self-righteousness and despair. It goes something like this. And please remember this is a fallacy.

    We read the Bible; that God gives us a lot to do. So do you do what God says, that is are on the road to heaven, or are you not doing what God says and on the road to hell? This false dilemma is all that many unbelievers have every heard about Christianity. They’ve never been taught there is another way. All they’ve heard is good guys go to heaven and bad guys go to hell. So, are you good enough or not?

    This is the false dilemma of the law. I can deny the truth of my sin and insist that I am one of the good guys that go to heaven … but this is self-righteousness and directly contradicts God’s word found for example in John’s first epistle: If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. Or: If we say we have not sinned, we make [God] a liar, and his word is not in us. Or again Jesus saying to the rich you fool when he calls out good teacher, why do you call me good, there is ono one good but God.

    To even think: I hope I’m good enough to go to heaven is a thought born of pride and is nothing but sin. Continuing on that path is lying to yourself and calling God a liar.

    The other option according to this false dilemma is total honesty about your sin and believing there is simply no hope for you so what’s the point. This is despair. Here too, there is a strange sort of pride … the belief that my sin is more powerful than Christ blood shed on the cross … for me. That my sin is so great that there is nothing even God can do about it. In the case of Judas, his despair was so great that he took justice into his own hands and hung himself.

    What peace there is when first we learn that the two choices offered by the law are a false dilemma. Just as Jesus provided a third answer to the Pharisees and Herodians, He provides a third answer for all to the false dilemma of the law.

    In Divine Service 1 immediately after we are directed to our baptism into Christ with the invocation and the sign of the cross, we are reminded of our sin and God’s promise from 1 John as we recite: But if we confess our sins, God who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. You see God gave us a third answer to our dilemma when He sent Son to be our Savior.

    Jesus is the one who makes a third answer possible because Jesus actually did what God gave Him to do. He kept God’s law perfectly. Then He went to the cross to take the punishment we deserve for failing to keep God’s law perfectly. He by His life and death provided the only way that avoids both self-righteousness and despair.

    And He did that by earning forgiveness for all and freely offering that blood bought forgiveness to all through His Word and Sacraments. You see in Jesus Christ there is another way, that is Jesus is the way, the way of forgiveness and mercy, the way of peace and hope, the way of truth the way that by God’s grace you and I and all God’s children rare brought to life everlasting.

    In His Name, Amen

  • Gathered Guests and Wedding Clothes

    See the Weekly Bulletin Announcements A sermon from Martin Luther read by Pastor David French Matthew 22:1-14 This Gospel present ...

    See the Weekly Bulletin Announcements

    A sermon from Martin Luther read by Pastor David French
    Matthew 22:1-14

    This Gospel presents to us the parable of the wedding; therefore, we are compelled to understand it differently than it sounds and appears to the natural ear and eye. Hence, we will give attention to the spiritual meaning of the parable.

    First, the King, who prepared the marriage feast, is our heavenly Father. The bridegroom is our Lord Jesus Christ. The bride is the Christian Church on earth. God first sent out his servants, the Prophets to invite guests to this wedding; they were to bid them by preaching only faith in Christ. But those invited did not come; they were the Jews, to whom the Prophets were sent, they would not hear nor receive those sent to them. At another time he sent other servants, the Apostles and martyrs, to bid us to come saying: Behold, I have made ready my dinner; my oxen and my fatlings are killed, and all things are ready; come to the marriage feast.

    These words beautifully introduce examples by which the doctrine of the Gospel may be confirmed, so that we may the better, by the aid of such examples meditate upon Christ, and be nourished by and feast upon him as upon fatlings and well-fed oxen. This is the reason he calls them fatlings. Take an example: Paul teaches in Rom. 3, 23f. how the bride is full of sin and must be sprinkled by the blood of Christ alone, or she will continue unclean, that is, she must only believe that the blood of Christ was shed for her sins, and there is no other salvation possible.

    Follow now further in this Gospel: “But they made light of it, and went their ways, one to his own farm, another to his merchandise; and the rest laid hold on his servants, and treated them shamefully, and killed them.” These are the three barriers that prevent us from coming to the marriage feast. The first, or the farm, signifies our honor; it is a great hindrance that we do not think of Christ and believe in him; we fear we must suffer shame and become dishonored, and we do not believe that God can protect us from shame and preserve us in honor.

    second go to their spheres of business, that is, they fall with their hearts into their worldly affairs when they should cleave to the Word, they worry lest they perish and their stomachs fail them; they do not trust God to sustain them.

    The third class are the worst, they are the high, wise and prudent, the exalted spirits, they not only despise but martyr and destroy the servants; in order to retain their own honor and praise, yea, in order to be something. They were the Pharisees and scribes, who put to death both Christ and his Apostles, as their fathers did the Prophets. These are much worse than the first and second, who, although they despised and rejected the invitation, yet then went away and neither condemned nor destroyed the servants.

    It now follows: “Then saith he to his servants: The wedding is ready, but they that were bidden were not worthy.” “Then he said to them: Go ye therefore unto the partings of the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage feast.” Hence, they went out into the highways, namely, to us heathen, and gathered us together from the ends of the world into a congregation, in which are good and bad.

    Then the King goes in to behold the guests. This will take place on the day of judgment, when the King will let himself be seen. Then he will find one, not only a single person, but a large company not clothed with a wedding garment, that is, with faith. These are pious people the ones who have heard and understood the Gospel, yet they cleaved to certain works. To them the King will say: “Bind him hand and foot, and cast him out into the outer darkness,” that is, he condemns their good works, that they no longer avail anything; for the hands signify their work, the feet, their walk in life, and he will then cast them into the outer darkness.

    Now, this outer darkness is in contrast with the inner light, since faith alone must see within the heart. There our light, our reason must be covered and cease, and faith alone lighten us. For if a person will act according to reason, there is nothing but death, hell and sin before his eyes. Reason then considers itself a candidate for death; yet it finds no help in any creature, all is a desert and dark. Therefore, reason must despair and surrender itself as a captive to the light of faith alone. This same light then sees that it is God in heaven who cares for us, upon whom the heart can meditate, who rejects all aid of reason and depends upon no creature; then man will be sustained. Now this is the sense of the words, that those cast thus into outer darkness will be robbed of faith, and thus cast out.

    Let us now briefly notice what is taught by this marriage feast. First, this marriage feast is a union of the divine nature with the human. And the great love Christ has for us is presented to us in this picture of the wedding feast. For there are many kinds of love, but none is so fervent as the love a new bride has to her bridegroom, and on the other hand, the bridegroom’s love to the bride. True bridal love has no regard for presents, or riches, or gold rings and the like; but cares only for the bridegroom. And if he even gave her all he had, she would regard none of his presents, but say: I will have only thee. And if on the other hand he has nothing at all, it makes no difference with her, she will in spite of all desire him. That is the true nature of the love of a bride.

    This true bridal love God presented to us in Christ, in that he allowed him to become man for us and be united with our human nature that we might thus perceive and appreciate his good will toward us. Now, as the bride loves her betrothed, so also does Christ love us; and we on the other hand will love him, if we believe and are the true bride. And although he gave us even heaven, the wisdom of all the Prophets, the glory of all the saints and angels, yet we would not esteem them unless he gave us himself. The bride can be satisfied by nothing but the bridegroom himself; as she says in the Song of Solomon, 2, 16: “My beloved is mine, and I am his.” She cannot rest until she has her beloved himself.

    So also is Christ on the other hand disposed toward us: he will have us only, and besides nothing. And if we gave him even all we could, it would be of no use to him; he would have no regard for it, even if we wore all the hoods of all the monks. He wants our whole heart; for the outward things, as the outward virtues, are only maid servants, he wants the wife herself.

    And what do we present to him? An impure bride, a dirty, old, wrinkled outcast. But he is the eternal wisdom, the eternal truth, the eternal light, an exceptionally beautiful youth. What does he give us then? Himself, wholly and completely, the whole fountain of eternal wisdom. If then I am thus his and he mine, I have eternal life, righteousness and all that belongs to him. Therefore I am righteous, saved, and in a sense that neither death, sin, hell, nor Satan can harm me. If he gave me only a part of his wisdom, righteousness and life, I would say: That is of no help to me, I want all of thee, without thee nothing is real and true. When he gives me his servants, his Prophets, he gives me only a part and a morsel; the gifts are only concubines, among whom there is only one who is the true bride.

    And, what do we bring to him? Nothing but all our heart-aches, misfortunes, sins, misery and lamentations. He is the eternal light, we the eternal darkness; he is life, we are death; he righteousness, we sin. This is a marriage that is very unequal. But what does the bridegroom do? He is so fastidious that he will not dwell with his bride until he first adorns her in the highest degree. How is that done? The Apostle Paul teaches in Tit. 3, 5-6: “He gave his tender body unto death for them and sprinkled them with his holy blood and cleansed them through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit.” That washing is baptism, with which he makes her clean. More than this, he has given to her his Word by which she is clothed and through her faith she becomes a bride.

    But whoever has not on the wedding garment does not belong to the congregation, is filth, like the slime, pus, and ulcers in the body; it is indeed in the body, but it is no part of the healthy body. Counterfeits are among money, but they are not money; chaff is among the wheat, but it is not wheat; so there are those among Christians, but they are not Christians. This is sufficient on to- day’s Gospel. Let us pray God for grace, that none of us may come to such a precious and glorious marriage feast without a wedding garment. Amen


  • Counting the Cost

    See the Weekly Bulletin Announcements Counting the Cost Philippians 3:4b-14 When you read these words of St. Paul in our Epistle ...

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    Counting the Cost
    Philippians 3:4b-14

    When you read these words of St. Paul in our Epistle lesson about loss and gain we tend to think in economic terms and how we come out in the end. Now our context tells us that’s not the case but still in our own sinful hearts we do the math if you will to work out our salvation. Truth is the word Paul uses for gain is better understood in the sense of winning a race. And when he speaks of loss, he’s using a word that carries with it the idea of suffering violence. Clearly, Paul is not talking about economics but a willingness to suffer things that are hazardous to his health and well-being and that all for the sake of Christ.

    But still we do all too often show what has top-billing in our hearts by how we use our money. If a problem arises in life, even within the life of the church, we tend to either throw some money at it or complain about not having enough money to throw at it.

    But, like I said, this isn’t a lesson about economics, this is a lesson about you. So, I’ll ask the obvious question: What are you willing to lose? What do you count as loss for the sake of knowing Christ as your Savior?” … See how easy it is for the Word of Gospel that Paul speaks here to be turned, with the holiest of intentions, into Law. That is into something that you must do, something that can only condemn you.

    See how quickly these words of loss and gain are translated into synergistic terms; that is – you were no doubt already thinking about what you could or perhaps already have given up for your salvation, as though you’ve done some noble deed for God. My friends always keep in mind the words of Luke 17 So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, “We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.”

    Honestly, I cringe when I hear questions like: What are you willing to surrender and suffer for the sake of Jesus? Beside the fact that questions like that are not faithful to this text or the doctrines of grace and justification, in general, still I would caution you to be very careful before you answer such questions because your words and actions will betray your good intentions. We may not like to admit it; we may not even be aware of it, but there is a huge disconnect between what we’d like to believe is our reality and what our reality really is. And when I say reality I mean from God’s perspective.

    Certainly, we’d all like to think of ourselves as those who would be willing to suffer the same fate as those modern-day Christian martyrs, who’ve literally been be-headed by instruments of satan for refusing to renounce their faith in Christ. And while none of us wants to be martyred, still we’d all like to believe that we also would kneel down and let our blood be spilt for the name of Christ.

    But what I see in our culture is that most aren’t willing to give up a few hours’ sleep for their faith. Not many will chance losing even a Facebook friend over something as “subjective” as their faith or the doctrines of the church. Many are afraid to speak the clear truths of Scripture because well, offending someone is the greater sin. Honestly, more often than not it seems to me what we’re willing to lose is the truth.

    The thing is - our text is not about what you should be willing to lose for the sake of Christ. To be sure it is often taught that way turning it into nothing more than a sales pitch to getting people to surrender “all” to up-grade their seat at the heavenly banquet. Many Christians today are brow-beaten and shamed into thinking that they haven’t given up enough to gain the heavenly prize, and the result of that is, satan rejoices!

    dear brothers and sisters in Christ: Believe it or not this lesson isn’t about you. It’s not a prescription for better Christian living but a description of what Christ has already given up for you! This is about all that our heavenly Father gave up to gain your salvation! Our God completely forsook or gave up His only-begotten Son to pay for your sin so that life eternal could be freely offered to you and to all. That’s reality! Remember you weren’t just lost—you were a spiritually dead and condemned creature.

    Jesus humbled Himself and suffered the greatest loss for your eternal gain. Your sins, even the so called “little ones” that many don’t even think of as sin because “everyone does that,” like say not honoring but taking your father and mother for granted, that one sin alone is so great before God that only the blood of Christ could take it

    as we grow in our understanding of ourselves and God’s mercy that the words of St. Paul begin to make sense to our ears. That’s why I love Paul’s statement: … that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. You see “… by any means possible is not Paul’s way of saying that he’ll do whatever it takes to get to heaven.

    When Paul says: “by any means possible” he actually is making a very profound statement of humble faith and trust in His eternal God and Father. When, whatever this life has to offer is looked at through the lens of the cross he understands how useless it really is, that it’s rubbish, literally dung.

    That means that whatever may befall us in this life is truly not worth comparing to what is already ours in Christ. For Paul … by any means possible is another way of saying, “I’m okay with whatever God has in store for me because I know that God is working all things for the good of His church. And if that means that Paul has to suffer before God brings him home, then so be it.

    That’s what “trust in God above all things” looks and sounds like in real life. It’s absolutely beautiful, and it’s not something that can be commanded or coerced or taught. This “sanctified trust” is a blessed fruit of faith in Christ alone.

    Here is Christ Jesus…for you! Here is the One who lost everything for you that you by grace thorough faith might gain everything from Him. The Gospel reality of “Christ crucified for you” is the life-giving seed we sow, the seed that by Gods’ grace and nurturing takes root in your heart and springs up to bear the fruit of faith.

    A faith so real that even when you doubt in your sinful mind God’s gift of faith in our heart firmly trust in Him in good times and in bad times, for better or worse, in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer, until finally death separates us from this veil of tears and face to face we are reunited with our eternal groom in His heavenly Kingdom.

    But until that day forgetting what is behind we press forward in faith. Will we ever run this race of life in the faith perfectly? No, we can all honestly own the words of our lesson: Not that I’ve already obtained this or am already perfect … but that’s not the point, as you know Christ has already paid for all sins. We run not counting the cost because with Paul Christ Jesus has made us His own.

    In His Holy Name, Amen.

  • United

    See the Weekly Bulletin Announcements United Philippians 2:1-18 + Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from ...

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    Philippians 2:1-18

    + Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

    The text for our meditation is from our Epistle lesson, where Paul writes to his beloved friends in Philippi, So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

    One watches the news at one’s own risk these days. If you dare to brave those channels and websites, you’re likely to be bombarded by messages bemoaning the current state of affairs in our world, proclaiming a doom-and-gloom message in a sort of twisted anti-Gospel. There are murders … epic and spectacular natural disasters … and everywhere, there is division. On the international stage, countries continue to debate over the best way to disarm a belligerent North Korea, as some proclaim that “more extreme economic sanctions” will pummel the hermit-state into submission, while others worry that the only language Kim Jong Un understands is force. Europe is tearing apart at the seams, with Britain having left the European Union and others contemplating similar action. The Spanish region of Catalonia is seeking secession, and the Spanish government is pulling out all the stops to ensure that doesn’t happen, even deploying soldiers to barricade polling stations.

    In our country, terror groups like Antifa, the KKK, and BLM are causing an uproar, seeking to stoke the flames of revolution and anarchy. You see movements from atheist and LGBT-whatever groups seeking to end any protections of conscience one may enjoy by forcing them to affirm actions that are contrary to nature. Most recently, I’m sure you’ve seen our nation divide over the actions of NFL players as they protest … well, something. I remember what Colin Kaepernick was protesting about a year ago, but honestly, it’s anyone’s guess as to what they are protesting now.

    Our nation is divided, in ways that we haven’t seen since the mid-19th Century and the bloody Civil War that tore our country apart. I wish I could say that this is something new, but it’s not. Division among humanity has always existed, even in the early Church. Congregations split on different issues – in Galatia, it was whether or not radically Jewish Christians should be supported in their “Judaizing” efforts to make keeping the Jewish customs also a prerequisite for salvation. In Corinth, the congregation there had numerous issues, to say the least, among them what to do about Christians who engage in sexual immorality. Idolatry and sexual immorality, likewise, snuck into the church at Thyatira, and Sardis is described as appearing to be alive, but due to the lack of faith, was actually dead. Divisions in the Church were then, as they are now, deadly serious business. So it’s little wonder, then, that Paul has such a love for the congregation of believers at Philippi, who seem to have been united.

    Paul starts his letter to this incredibly generous church by saying, I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. These people were wholly committed to Paul and his mission, but more than that, to the purpose and focus of his mission: the propagation of the Good News of salvation by God’s grace through faith in Christ Jesus alone. These are people that Paul had known to be united in their commitment to missionary work, in their area and abroad, and Paul could not be more relieved.

    This is why, in our text, he writes, So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. We may be tempted to read ourselves into those “if” statements, as if we are the ones who have these things among us of ourselves, but it would be wrong to do so. The subject of all of these verbs – the comforting from love, the communing in the spirit, having affection and sympathy, mercy and pity, these are all attributed to Christ. It is Christ’s love that is comforting, and it is the result of this fact that the Philippians fill Paul with joy, with relief, with removal of a burden that he would feel for them, because they are adhering to this Gospel and not another. They are acting with one mind, thinking on Jesus, and by doing so, they are being harmonized, united by Christ in their belief and confession.

    They are being encouraged, as Paul later says, to work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. That may sound suspiciously like works-righteousness, but that word “to work out” in the Greek carries with it another meaning – one, frankly, that the editors should have selected instead. It can also mean “to produce,” the same way that a farmer produces a crop. It’s not him actually doing anything, since he is at the mercy of the elements, but simply gathers the fruits. The Philippians are being encouraged to produce their faith, their salvation by making confession of this and nothing else for their salvation. That is where their unity comes from: their common confession. Paul is encouraging them to let nothing and no one come in the way of the congregation’s desire to make this clear Gospel confession the most prominent thing that they are known for: We believe that Jesus died for our sins and we believe that He’s coming again. That was Paul’s prayer for the Philippians, and history shows that his prayers were answered and his hope was well-founded.

    Paul’s words certainly transcend time and space, as we sit here today and ponder his words of encouragement, but I’m sure they may carry a twinge of sting with them. It’s very easy to allow divisions to creep in. After all, we are all sinners, and like all sinners, we do often have self-seeking agendas and ulterior motives. We are prideful, self-serving, turned inward upon ourselves – I suppose we take the American ideal of rugged individualism and bring forth the worst of it. We look to how things can better our stations in life. “That’s great,” we think, “but what do I get out of it?” Perhaps that’s the reason that Paul also includes, Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus. Knowing what we do about our sinful selves, understanding and acknowledging our sinful and helpless estate, how could we do other than to count ourselves as the chief of sinners, utterly ashamed and thankful for God’s love for us in spite of our sin. True humility is the remedy for the egocentric, just as unity of confession is the cure for division – not in and of itself, but only and always when the reason for the humility and confession is Christ, and Him crucified and resurrected.

    Our world is divided to be sure, with every Tom, Dick, and Harry looking to their own interests, and to hell with everyone who stands in their way. We are not to be this way as Christians; however, when we are, we have been given a different heart and mind – one that repents at wrongdoing, rejoices in service to others, and confesses the hope we have in the forgiveness of sins for the sake of Christ, who will return. At that time, when Jesus finally does return, Paul tells us of the unity of all flesh in resurrection, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. May He preserve us in this one true unifying faith, this single confession, so that we bow, not in terror, but in reverence, with the rest of our brothers and sisters in Christ.

    + In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.

  • Scorching Heat?

    See the Weekly Bulletin Announcements Scorching Heat? Matthew 20:1-16 There’ve been many changes in our society over the ye ...

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    Scorching Heat?
    Matthew 20:1-16

    There’ve been many changes in our society over the years. One thing that has not changed, however, is "waiting in line" or "taking your turn." It is amazing how complicated the rules for waiting in line are. Yet everyone seems to know them. You can't cut in line, but you can save a place for someone in line under the right circumstances. It is amazing that people will quietly wait in line, but if someone breaks the protocol, cries of "Hey! Wait your turn!" erupt from those who have put in their time.

    It’s this deep mindset in our culture that makes the words of Jesus in today's Gospel so bizarre. He told a story and then said: So the last will be first, and the first last …, which goes against pretty much everything that our society thinks of as fair.

    Today's Gospel relates the story that Jesus told we know as the "Laborers in the Vineyard." The main point of this story is fairly straight forward. The work day represents a life time. We see that some people are born into faithful families who bring them to the Lord while they are still infants.

    These people never know a time when Jesus is not a part of their lives. At the other end of the spectrum are people who make death bed confessions - people like the thief on the cross. The Holy Spirit brings these people into the faith just days or even moments before death.

    As the master hires people at various times of the day, we are meant to think of the different points in life when the Holy Spirit brings people to faith. The point is - as long as it is day – that is, as long as a person is alive – it’s not too late for the Holy Spirit to bring him or her into God's family.

    We also need to remember that first and last are not always related to time or standing in line. In the Scriptures the words: "First and Last" can also have a broader meaning. The verses right before today's Gospel reading are about the rich, young ruler who came to Jesus and wanted to know what he must do to be saved. Jesus first points to the second table of the commandments those forbidding murder, adultery, theft, and so forth. The young man claimed to have kept them all.

    Then Jesus went back to the first table of the law and we discover that this young man loved his possessions more than he loved God. The next words Jesus speaks are about the camel and the eye of the needle ending with the words: Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.". And His disciples respond: … Who then can be saved?

    You see at that time people thought they were first in God’s sight because of their wealth alone and other people were last or least in God’s sight because of their poverty alone. And we’re no different.

    Our culture has many ways of judging people to be a part of the upper crust: wealth, fame, talent, beauty, and while none of these things are bad they certainly aren’t an indication of how much God loves us either. Jesus wants us to remember that many who we judge to be the “least” in our culture may in fact be the first to enter the kingdom of heaven.

    And then there’s the, maybe too familiar, attitude of those hired first. Listen to their concern again. 'These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.'

    Now before we consider their complaint, let’s think in general about the experience of life time Christians. They are baptized into God's family as infants. They were brought to church on a weekly basis to receive the forgiveness that Jesus Christ earned on the cross for all. As they grew up, they were taught the basics of the faith. After they demonstrated the ability to examine themselves, they received the gift of Christ's body and blood on a regular basis.

    When they encountered difficult times, God's reminds them that He is always with them. The Holy Spirit worked throughout their lives to keep them in the faith so that when their last hour came, they left this valley of the shadow of death and joined our Lord in heaven.

    The life time Christian knows that Jesus is always with them. They simply can't see Him while they live in this sin-filled world. Since Jesus is here, the reign of heaven has already begun.

    The life time Christian knows that he or she is not trying to earn a place in heaven but simply waiting for the day when God will reveal what we already processes. The life time Christian has from the moment of their baptism possessed forgiveness and life and all the other blessings that come from the cross until we are home with Christ in heaven.

    Given all these blessings, why do you think the life-long Christian in our text describe his life as a burden or as scorching heat? Stings a little bit doesn’t it? You see it’s so easy, so natural for us to feel as though we’re doing some great thing for God when by His gracious invitation we become a Christian. It’s so who we are to think that heaven is some sort of reward for those who bear a cross for Jesus.

    The person who makes the death bed confession receives the same heaven that a life time Christian receives. On the other hand, this person who received the last-minute reprieve did not experience a life time of forgiveness from Jesus while on earth. They didn’t know the peace that comes from God alone. They never knew what it’s like to always have someone who listens.

    Every now and then someone will ask the obvious question. "If God will give me all of heaven whether I become a Christian today or twenty years from now, why not wait? Why not have a little fun, enjoy life and then become a Christian?

    And that can work if you see tomorrow but still that’s a person who at that moment has been convinced by satan the world and their own flesh that the life of the Christian is a burden. I mean so many rules: honor your parents, don’t kill or steal from each other not to mention the expectation that you go to church. Who would have time to enjoy life if all you’re doing is being “good” for God.

    They of course don’t understand that Jesus carried the burden of being good for God to the cross for each of us a long time ago. They don’t understand the Christian life is a gift from the Holy Spirit. They don’t understand what they’re missing and only the Holy Spirit can explain or open their eyes and minds to … not just know about Jesus but to live their life in Him. They don’t understand … but they can!

    this very day God continues to search the market place that is the world looking for workers for His vineyard. Truth is it really doesn’t matter when we receive faith only that we do. You see whether our faith is old or young, we rejoice because no matter when … we all received faith as a gift, a gift that brings with it, life everlasting through the blood Christ shed for you and for all.

    In His Name, Amen


  • Absurd

    See the Weekly Bulletin Announcements Absurd Matthew 18:21-35 + Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from o ...

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    Matthew 18:21-35

    + Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

    The text for our meditation is from our Gospel lesson, especially where Peter asks the question, Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times? and Jesus’ response, I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times. Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

    The story goes of a young man who worked at a nursing facility, and how he provided care for an older woman. In the course of his work, he had done something he should not have done – I’ll refrain from saying what it was, but suffice it to say, he had transgressed against this elderly lady. While certainly a sinner in this regard, this young man did have a conscience, and soon it burdened him enough to the point that he had to confess. He went to the lady, told her flat-out what he had done. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I was stupid and foolish, and while I know I don’t deserve it, I hope you will forgive me and give me a chance to make it up to you.” The woman stared at him, a mild frown on her face as she studied his. “Hmm…” she said at length. “I forgive you, young man … but NOT a second time.”

    Maybe we all know why this older woman said this. After all, we’ve all been on the receiving end of someone promising to amend their ways, promising to do better, only to face disappointment as they fail yet again. The frustration, the anger that such broken promises bring to bear is enough to drive us mad! “You said you were going to change! Why haven’t you?! I thought we were past this!”

    We’ve all been in those shoes. We’ve been there, whether it’s a child promising never to do “it” again (whatever “it” happens to be), a student who promises to never again not do their homework, or the parent who says they’ll never cave to their addiction again. Broken hearts from broken promises, and at a certain point, we may certainly ask with Peter, Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times? It’s reasonable, we think. Fool me seven times, shame on you; fool me eight or more times, shame on me. We can’t be expected to forgive again … and again … and again … right? At a certain point, the one who asks for forgiveness must not be forgiven if they keep on making the same mistakes again and again … right? Forgiveness, at that point, seems absurd, right?

    WRONG. And not just wrong – it’s DEAD-wrong. “Not seven times,” Jesus corrects, “but seventy-seven … or seventy-times-seven … times.” Regardless of what the Greek actually meant, it’s a symbolic numbering meant to show Peter and us the absolute absurdity of keeping number of the times we are sinned against. Jesus is saying, “STOP COUNTING! Knock it off! Stop keeping track of the offenses and simply forget; don’t do the math!” I don’t’ think that He could be any clearer here, and I don’t think the emphasis is wrong. It is simply absurd to think that we should do otherwise! And Jesus’ parable which follows shows us why.

    We’re told about a king who is attempting to settle accounts with his servants. In the process, he comes across one servant whose account is short by ten thousand talents – to put it in modern fiscal terms, that would be as if your average Joe owed the government between $7 - and $12 billion. It’s an absurdly high debt which the servant could not settle, not with an entire lifetime of surrendering 100% of his pay. Even more absurd is the servant’s promise that, given time, he would make good on this insane debt. Instead of calling shenanigans on the servant, the king takes pity on him, and forgives that massive debt. All of it. Not a shekel does that servant owe any longer. He’s free.

    And what does this, undoubtedly, relieved and unburdened servant do? He goes out. He zeros-in on a fellow servant who owes him a pittance by comparison: a hundred denarii, or close to $6,000 – a sizeable debt, to be sure, but by comparison, to the billions of dollars the first servant owed, it’s a drop in the bucket. That first servant finds this fellow servant who owes him a few grand, and almost verbatim, the second pleads for mercy from the first. He promises to pay back the debt (a more realistic feat, honestly) if he is just given more time. But the second servant finds no mercy here. Instead, he finds himself thrown into the debtor’s prison until the total amount would be paid off.

    You can imagine the fury of the king when news of this happening gets back to his ears. He summons the first servant, castigates him for his lack of mercy, and orders him, not just to be thrown into debtor’s prison, but to torture, until he pays back that entire $12 billion debt. It’s a parable that should make us a bit uneasy, especially when Jesus caps it off by saying, So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.

    Jesus’ point here? Our personal experience of God’s forgiveness should shape our attitude of forgiveness toward others. Because, let’s face it, we’ve all been in the shoes of the person who’s fallen for the same old trap, the same old temptation yet again. Whether it’s something as mild as being a clumsy oaf yet again, or that you’ve fallen off the wagon yet again, the disappointment, the heartbreak, the frustration with one’s self, the desire for forgiveness and the chance to try again, is something we are all familiar with. We’re familiar with it because we come to that same place at the end of every day, as we look back and reflect how we have sinned against God and neighbor in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. I have no doubt that, some days, you find yourself thinking, “Wow, did I really do that again?” So knowing this, how often we all consistently fall for the same temptations and vices, the question becomes, “Do you really want God doing the math for your sins??”

    No, of course not. To imagine God as vindictive, to imagine Him holding grudges the way that we sometimes do, is terrifying. But the plain and simple fact is that He does not do this to those seeking His pardon, mercy, and grace. When one repents of one’s sin – it doesn’t matter if it’s the first time or the fiftieth time that one has fallen into that trap or caved to that temptation – for the sake of Christ, our heavenly Father announces His great Te absolvo – “You are absolved. Pardoned. Forgiven.” And the more we hear how we are forgiven in spite of our insurmountable debt, the more that forgiveness rubs off on us. He who is forgiven much, forgives much. That’s part of the reason why we have confession and absolution week in and week out – to proclaim that “Because of Jesus’ sacrifice of His own life on the cross on our behalf, your sins are FORGIVEN” and because you are forgiven, you should be as quick to forgive others as our heavenly Father is quick to forgive us. Will you do it perfectly? No, but that’s the beauty of living in repentance – we’re always confessing before God our sins and recognizing His life-giving absolution for the sake of Christ and His all-atoning sacrifice. That is why we partake of the Lord’s Supper, receiving Jesus’ very body and blood in those supper elements, receiving – not only the forgiveness of sins incarnate in that bread and wine, but also knowing the promise of the Holy Spirit to soften hearts to no longer bear a grudge, but rather to harbor forgiveness toward our fellow servants.

    Let’s go back to our story from the beginning. The relationship between the older lady and the young man working at the nursing home was healing. However, one day, wouldn’t you know it, that idiot of a young man did it again; he transgressed against the lady once more. What’s worse, this time, he remembered her words from before: not a second time. Understandably, he was terrified of the repercussions of what awaited him as he approached her room to confess. Was he going to lose his job? Get arrested? What was she going to inevitably demand happen to this multi-transgressor? He entered her room, bearing the full weight of his guilt, not even able to look her in the eye. “Ma’am,” he said, “I’ve got to tell you, again, I have transgressed against you. Even though you warned me that you would not forgive me a second time, I did it again. I know how this looks, and I know I have absolutely no business asking it, but I must, once again, ask for your forgiveness.” He finally looked up and saw, instead of anger, a look of confusion, puzzlement, on her face. “What do you mean, ‘once again’? I forgave you for what you did before – that’s wiped away, gone forever. We’re starting over again! Of course I forgive you – but I won’t … a second time. That would be absurd!”

    + In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit + Amen


  • What About Your Guardian Angel?

    See the Weekly Bulletin Announcements What About Your Guardian Angel? Matthew 18:1-10 Depending on who you ask or what TV shows y ...

    See the Weekly Bulletin Announcements

    What About Your Guardian Angel?
    Matthew 18:1-10

    Depending on who you ask or what TV shows you watch there are many different ways to tell if a person is lying. One of the most commonly held beliefs is that a person won’t or can’t look you in the eye when they’re lying to you. They’ll look up, down, off to the side, but they won’t look you in the eye. But the truth is there are those who can and do look us straight in the eye and lie to us.

    In our Gospel lesson for this morning, we get a glimpse of this heavenly eye-to-eye reality with God’s holy angels; the same angels who God Himself sends to watch over and protect us in our day-to-day lives. As Jesus said: For I tell you, that in heaven the angels of these little ones always see the face of My Father who is in heaven. Now, it’s important to notice and keep in mind that Jesus is speaking to His disciples. He’s not speaking to the Pharisees or some crowd of unbelievers but He is as it were, speaking to His Church.

    The disciples of Jesus, as well-intentioned and faithful as they were, had some serious flaws. I mean here they are, this time and the Greek makes clear were arguing about who among them would be the greatest in heaven. But in their defense, you can sort of understand, I mean the last two years have been nothing but Jesus putting the Pharisees and Sadducees in their place, doing miracle after miracle, healing the sick, raising the dead, feeding the poor, huge crowds gathered wherever Jesus went. And remember the last words of John’s gospel: Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.

    You see up until really the time of Peter’s confession about ten days ago when Jesus started talking about His death they had been on one amazing journey. But they were also starting to get a little bit full of themselves if you will. Envisioning Jesus kingdom the way they did and all they began elbowing and posturing to be the “greatest”.

    Jesus was well aware that His ministry was about to take a change His disciples just don’t anticipate which is why Jesus sets, a baby in their midst, and says: Unless you repent and become like these little ones in your faith, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

    Now, some people hear this and start talking about the innocence of a child being what Jesus is urging us to strive for here. But that’s wrong, plain and simple. Babies are by nature completely self-centered. They don’t care that mom hasn’t slept 2 hours in a row in days.

    They don’t care that dad has to get up early in the morning. For the infant, it’s all about me! This doesn’t even consider the fact that babies get sick and sometimes sadly they die. Truly, the wages of sin is death.

    My friends if babies were innocent there would be no miscarriages or stillbirths, no tiny coffins. Do you really think babies don’t need of a Savior? I mean, didn’t Christ die so that all who have faith in Him will not perish but have everlasting life? Isn’t the gift of faith created in all who are baptized?

    So, are babies innocent … no. But do Christian babies have a more trusting faith than any thinking reasoning person? Absolutely! This is the reality that Jesus is speaking to with His proud and arrogant disciples. The littlest of children have nothing to bring to the table in terms of salvation. They don’t have any works or words or deeds to put their trust in.

    We on the other hand actually feel good about ourselves when in our inner thoughts we consider: … all the good things we’ve done. The baby has nothing but the faith God created within them and that faith holds to nothing but the gospel promise of forgiveness worked in their hearts.

    One problem we have is we forget faith is not an act of the mind but a living and active gift of God. As Paul writes to the Thessalonians your faith is growing more and more (2 Thess 1:3) Another problem we have is the influence of the world also grows more and more.

    That’s the point Jesus is making when He speaks to His disciples about how the guardian angels of these children see the face of my Father who is in heaven. These children are indeed sinful, no different than any of us, but they are living their faith in a God pleasing way and we adults are not. The guardian angels of the little-ones have nothing to be ashamed of before God. They don’t have to avert their eyes when they come to God about the one under their care.

    So, what about your guardian angel? Jesus is implying that the guardian angels of those “great” disciples do not see God’s face. That is, they avert their eyes in shame when they’re in the presence of the heavenly Father. I can only imagine how my guardian angel must feel every time he goes before God. “Lord, it’s it seems as though Your Will is being done in-spite of him rather than through him.” And if you don’t confess this same thing about your life, then you’re in the same boat as the disciples in our lesson who were blinded by their own perceived glory.

    Seriously, if you can’t look at your life in the light of the Ten commandments and see that you and every Christian who thinks for him or herself makes our guardian angels ashamed to stand before God and report on how we’ve handled this gift we call life then you’re not being honest with yourself or with God who already knows and wants only to forgive you. You can’t seriously believe that your Lord is proud of every thought word or deed that has come from or is hidden within you?

    But before you hang your heads in despair, lamenting the fact that by these standards no one can be saved, remember that Jesus Christ live in your place and gave up His life to pay for your sin. Repent and believe that you may by grace live your faith confidently looking forward to the time you look your Lord in the eye confessing to Him that you are sinful and unclean and deserve nothing but His present and eternal punishment.

    You know you’re not really just a victim of circumstance. It’s not your parents, spouse, children or works fault and the devil didn’t make you do it. Be honest. You have sinned because you are a sinner, sinful from birth and by nature an enemy of God.

    The solution, the only solution is to repent. Open the eyes of faith God gave you and behold the glory of His unconditional and amazing grace. Hear and taste the real and tangible forgiveness and love He feeds you this very day in the form of His Word and His very body and blood. He is the One who takes away the sin of the world! Because Christ died for all. This is the gospel truth we live with, rejoice and be glad for Christ has washed you clean with His blood and made you His own.

    In Jesus's name, Amen

  • For My Sake

    See the Weekly Bulletin Announcements For My Sake Matthew 16:21-28 + Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, ...

    See the Weekly Bulletin Announcements

    For My Sake
    Matthew 16:21-28

    + Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

    The text for our meditation is from our Gospel message, specifically where Jesus tells His disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

    Ours is a faith rife with paradoxes, isn’t it? Many things which are set forth in Scripture seem contrary to what one would reasonably conclude. For example, we are, at the same time, sinners, lowest of the low … and saints, justified fully by God! How both can be true at the same time is beyond our comprehension. Israel stood condemned because of their success, their affluence … and it was their captivity, their languishing under foreign oppression, that turned out to be the best thing for them! The worst persecutor of the Church, Saul of Tarsus, the man who stood by as Stephen was stoned to death and gave his approval … ended up becoming the greatest missionary to the Gentiles, even dying for his faith in Christ!

    It’s the last thing you would expect! Certainly, it’s not what we, in our humanity, would guess as to the ways of redemption and salvation. At times, our faith is downright unreasonable. We see these paradoxes, these issues that grind against the grain of our humanity and mortality, and the rest of humanity usually concludes, “Well, the Bible must be wrong. What it’s saying goes against our sensibilities, our reason; ergo, it must be wrong…” As Christians, we would do well to remember that it is not our reason that rings true in those situations. The Scripture is what is true, regardless of what our reason wants to believe. After all, human reason is … well, human. A wonderful gift from God, meant to be used in service of the Scriptures, our reason is flawed, tainted by sin, so that we can’t expect it to lead us to godly, biblical conclusions.

    So in our text, when we hear the interesting and not easily explained paradox of saving the soul to lose it and losing the soul to save it, we’re tempted, thanks to our broken reason, to explain it away. That’s not what we’re going to do today, lest we wander into heresy. Instead, let’s get at this critical teaching of Jesus by pitting one side of the paradox against the other.

    Let’s tackle that first side, when Jesus says, whoever would save his life will lose it. To “save one’s life,” or “to save one’s soul,” as some translations say, means that the person decides he or she has to do something, whatever it might be—to work hard enough, do the right things, not do the bad things, toe the line—so that he or she will end up in heaven. We call this pietism. We call this self-righteousness. Please note the word self, there. It means that, by some sort of criteria, one has to do or perform or complete some actions by which God will accept that person into the glories of heaven when this life is over.

    If that sounds like nails on a chalkboard to you, that’s good. We, as Lutherans, should recognize – and recoil from – such false teaching! In fact, whenever we hear that phrase “self-righteousness,” the red flags should be flying up in your minds. We see it all over the place – from well-intentioned Christians who think to themselves, “I don’t drink, smoke, listen to heavy metal – I’m golden!” That’s on an individual level; you see it institutionally in the form of what’s called, “decision theology,” where you must make the decision to “ask Jesus into your heart” in order to be considered saved. You have to make the conscious effort, using your own willpower and emotions, to pray and invite Jesus into your heart so that you will be accepted by God and have eternal life. That may sound reasonable enough, but the focus, the responsibility, falls on the individual to be saved.

    It’s this theology, this false teaching, that Jesus is speaking against. The harder we try, the further away we get. Luther’s Small Catechism echoes this; in his explanation of the Third Article of the Creed, we read, 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. Without the intervention of the Holy Spirit, we’d be just like those misguided Christian brothers and sisters who are missing out on the fullness of Gospel.

    But that’s not a problem that we, as Lutherans, have, right? That’s just a problem that all those other denominations out there have, right? Wrong. As sinners, every one of us has the exact same inclinations, temptations, to try to save ourselves. This clinging to self-salvation, self-righteousness, self-justification, is what it means, in Jesus’ words in our text, to desire to save one’s life, or soul. We can’t, just can’t, save ourselves. Were it not for the Holy Spirit, we would all be like all the other world religions – all of which believe that to save oneself, one must do something. We would be the same way, because it’s the way every human being by nature is hardwired to think. Our sinful nature knows only this as the way of salvation, to do whatever it takes to save ourselves. It’s in our DNA, if you will, to try and be self-savers. That’s what we would be, and we would be lost. We would be damned. In the same way that a dead man cannot charge up an AED and start his own heart again, we cannot save ourselves from being spiritually blind, dead, and enemies of God.

    ‚ÄčSo that doesn’t work. Now let’s take a look at the flipside of our paradox. What does it mean when Jesus says, whoever loses his life for My sake will find it? What does it mean to lose one's life, one's soul as some translations put it, for Jesus’ sake? The answer is not found in martyrdom, literally losing your life for the sake of the Gospel. That is its own thing; certainly, it’s something to be honored, but unrelated to what Jesus is talking about here. The answer for how it looks to lose one’s soul for Jesus sake is found a few verses earlier when Jesus says, If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.

    Denying, disowning oneself. That means, with the help of the Holy Spirit, confessing that we cannot save ourselves. That means admitting that we are entirely reliant upon God Almighty, the very fearful Judge of our souls, for our salvation. One does the ad in denying one's ability to save on self. Recognizing that we are entirely holistically sinful, that we cannot redeem ourselves from our sinful conditions and relying entirely thanks to the gift of the Holy Spirit upon Christ. It's an air of repentance it's an attitude of repentance. It is humbling. It is intimate. It is scandalous to our reason, but it is the truth. This is why the Gospel is called a “stumbling block.” We want to do it, and we cannot. We simply let Jesus do it for us. The one who loses his soul is the one who denies himself and his own ability to save himself and rests solely upon the cross of Christ. He is the one who finds his soul, his life., or perhaps, rather, he is the one who is found.

    But note the reason why one would “lose one’s soul.” Christ says, “Whoever loses his soul for My sake will find it.” Salvation can only be for the sake of Christ. Self-denial is great, but unless one trusts in what Jesus has done for the forgiveness of sins and salvation, unless one follows Him in that way, it’s all for naught. Only Christ lived the perfect life and died the sinless death. Only Christ stood in our place as the worst of sinners, even though He was holy and blameless. Only Christ made the complete and full payment for all our sins when He died on the cross so that all sin would be removed. Yes, Jesus did all that. Yes, He died and rose and gave you eternal life, just as the Spirit has brought you to believe. It all hinges on Christ.

    Having come to know all this by faith, through that blessed gift of the Holy Spirit, we rejoice and rejoice greatly that salvation is indeed for the sake of Christ. Since we are incapable of doing anything for ourselves, this is an out-of-this-world gifting. An unreasonable gift, given for free, for Jesus’s sake.

    + In His Name. + Amen.

  • Prophet, Priest, and King

    See the Bulletin Prophet, Priest, and King Matthew 16:13-20 Last week’s Gospel had the disciples in the area around Tyre an ...

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    Prophet, Priest, and King
    Matthew 16:13-20

    Last week’s Gospel had the disciples in the area around Tyre and Sidon located on the shore of the Mediterranean in Gentile territory. Jesus had taken the disciples North of Galilee around Caesarea Philippi to get away from the badgering of the scribes and Pharisees in Jerusalem.

    Jesus used this time away from the crowds of Galilee to teach His disciples. Today’s lesson really continues the theme of the last two weeks which has been about the true identity of Jesus. Jesus began the conversation by asking the disciples about the opinion of the crowds. [Jesus] asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

    It is sort of interesting that all of their guesses are dead prophets. Herod had recently killed John the Baptist. Elijah was taken up in a whirl-wind about a thousand years earlier. Jeremiah had disappeared somewhere in Egypt after the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem over a half century earlier. The people in our lesson thought that Jesus was one of these dead prophets come back to life.

    I wonder what people would say if you took a poll at a busy shopping center and asked who is Jesus? I would guess that some would say a rebel, others a great teacher or maybe a life coach. Still others think of Jesus as some permissive personality who pretty much lets you do whatever you want as long as you don’t hurt anyone else.

    There were many opinions back then and there are many opinions today. The problem with opinions is that opinions based on guesswork are usually wrong. Opinions about who Jesus is are no exception. People who simply guess about Jesus’ identity based on what they may or may not know will get it wrong.

    The truth however is when you get the identity of Jesus wrong, you get salvation wrong. You can talk like a Christian all day long and maybe even fool a lot of people into believing you’re a Christian, but, in the end, you will enter into eternal punishment. As the last two weeks have pointed out, to understand salvation you must know who Jesus is.

    And there is only one right answer to that question and we heard that answer from Peter of all people. [Jesus] said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. This is the only right answer both then and now.

    But what does it mean that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God? Jesus knew that the disciples wouldn’t understand the answer to that question until after He had suffered, died, and rose from the dead. That’s why Jesus strictly charged the disciples to tell no one who He was. He knew the disciples didn’t understand and He didn’t want them to give others the same wrong understanding of what it means to be the Christ.

    The title Christ comes from the Greek word that means to anoint. The Hebrew equivalent is Messiah. So we can say the Christ, or the Messiah or we can say the Anointed One. They all mean the same thing and refer to the same person.

    Now anointing you may recall was a rite for setting someone aside for a special office. In the Old Testament, Aaron was anointed priest, David was anointed king, and Elijah anointed Elisha to be the prophet after him. The anointed offices of the Old Testament are prophet, priest, and king. As the Anointed One, Jesus fulfilled all of those offices just like Moses said.

    Jesus is the prophet anointed by God. Now it’s easy to see Jesus as prophet when we understand what a prophet is and who Jesus is. A prophet is someone who speaks for God. Jesus is both man and God. Who better to speak for God than God Himself which makes Jesus the ultimate prophet.

    But Jesus went above and beyond the role of the normal prophet. God made many promises through the prophets down through the centuries. As prophet, Jesus Himself made many promises. Jesus went beyond the role of prophet because He did not just speak the promises of God, but He also keeps the promises that God spoken through the mouths of the prophets.

    Jesus is the King anointed by God. As God, Jesus also reigns over all things. That makes Him the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. It’s by the reign of His power that all things exist and have their being. It’s by the reign of His grace that He brings forgiveness to His church on earth. It is by the reign of His glory that He leads His church into eternity. Even here Jesus serves well beyond any earthly king. As King, Jesus not only establishes the law of His kingdom, but He humbled Himself in obedience to that law and obeyed it in our place.

    Jesus is the priest anointed by God. The priest represents the people before God. Who better to represent humanity before God than the One who is both true God and true man? Truth is Jesus is the only one truly qualified to be our priest. All the other priests in the Old Testament were merely shadows pointing forward to the true high priest, Jesus the Anointed One.

    And as you probably know Jesus went way beyond the role of any priest from the line of Aaron. The priests of the Old Testament offered up sacrifices before God. Jesus offered up Himself as the “once for all” sacrifice that truly and literally did take away the sin of the world.

    It’s only on the cross that we see what it means to be the Messiah, and there we see what He was anointed for. On the cross Jesus, freely and willing offered His blood as payment for the sin of the world. And on Easter He was raised showing that offering was accepted and the debt of sin was paid in full and that humanity was justified. That is the confession, the rock upon which Christ church is built.

    Jesus though tempted as we are lived and died without sin, that is He overcome sin. Since death is a consequence of sin, Christ defeated death at the same time and so resurrection must follow for the victory to be complete. That’s what God revealed to Peter, that sin and death would be swallowed up in victory. And so, it is with His resurrection that Jesus taught His last lesson on what it means to be the Christ.

    It’s also with that complete picture in mind that we begin to understand Peter’s confession, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” I mean Peter didn’t dream up this confession, Jesus specifically said that the Father in heaven gave this confession to him and that it would be the very foundation of His church and that the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” This confession is as Jesus implies solid as a rock, telling us clearly who Jesus is and what Jesus did.

    We who by grace have received this gift of faith in Jesus as the Christ have a relationship with God that will last forever. Jesus promised that He would always be with us. He has promised that you and I and all who believe will live with Him forever when the day comes for us to leave this world. And if you let Him, the Holy Spirit, working through Word and Sacrament will convince you of the truth found alone in God’s Prophet, Priest and King, and our Savior, Jesus the Christ.

    In His Name, Amen

  • Scraps

    See the Bulletin Scraps Matthew 15:21-28 + Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, J ...

    See the Bulletin

    Matthew 15:21-28

    + Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

    The text for our meditation is from our Gospel lesson, especially where Matthew records the Canaanite’s woman’s response, "Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table," as well as Jesus’ response to her, "O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire." Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

    This lesson…is a lot like life. What I mean is that, in life, there are a lot of questions, a lot of issues that we want, even feel that we need, answers to, but that we will not get answers to. Why is it that this disease has hit my loved one? Why did that tornado hit my home, and not my neighbor’s instead? Why can’t I be better at volleyball, even though I try my hardest? Why can’t we seem to have kids? Why can’t I seem to kick this sinful habit, this addiction? Why can’t I be a different person? Why are people so ugly to each other? What will it take to reunite the people of our country? When will the wars, the violence, finally come to an end? Lots of questions … not a whole lot of answers.

    So it is with our text; there are plenty of questions that likely rise to the forefronts of our minds, but are wanting for any answers. Why is Jesus acting like this? To say that He is acting out of character is an understatement; He sounds downright cold! He doesn’t even acknowledge the presence of this pleading Canaanite mother, let alone give her what she desires: relief for her demon-afflicted daughter. His silence is deafening! That’s not Jesus, we think to ourselves; why on earth is He behaving thusly? You can guess, by all means, but you won’t find the answer.

    What was the tone of voice of the disciples in this interaction? Were they dismissive of this pagan nobody? Were they just wanting Jesus to give her what she wanted so she would leave them alone to do more important things? No answers. And Jesus simply responds, "No, I was just sent for the lost sheep of Israel," and does nothing. Why? No answers.

    How about the woman herself? It’s safe to assume that she’s a bit of a wreck at this point; anyone who has experienced the mere presence of the demonic, let alone hostile activity and oppression, know how terrible an ordeal it is, but she keeps pursuing, keeps trying to talk to Jesus. How does she react to His apparent apathy? What about His remark about not giving the children’s bread to feed the dogs? Obviously, it’s not a very flattering statement, but does she feel insulted? Hurt? No answers. There is, however, one question that I do believe our text does seem to spell out for us quite clearly, and it’s this: what does great faith believe about Jesus?

    If you’ve looked through the Gospel accounts with a close eye, you’ve likely noticed that Jesus doesn’t often hand out compliments to those around them regarding their faith; let’s face it – He’s just not that impressed. With this Canaanite woman, however, Jesus exclaims, O woman, your faith is great! That may sound odd to us as Lutherans, knowing that faith is a gift from God, not something that can really be quantified in any way that we know of, but still. We have the Second Person of the Trinity here, Jesus Himself, saying of a Canaanite woman, "great is your faith." So, again, it begs the question: what does great faith believe?

    We’re blessed to be given the answers in our text, and there are two. The first is this: great faith knows and believes who Jesus really is. This woman is a Canaanite – nothing about her should have, according to contemporary standards, been held up as a paradigm of faith and trust in the one true God! She’s a Gentile, she’s a woman (remembering that, at that time, a woman’s testimony wasn’t permissible in court), and she’s a Canaanite! Three strikes, you’re out, according to 1st Century Judean sensibilities. Nevertheless, here she is, addressing Jesus the way a disciple would by calling Him "Lord." In Matthew’s Gospel, calling Jesus "Lord" was something only His disciples would do, and yet, here she is, the only exception to that rule as she calls out after Him, Have mercy on me, O Lord.

    She also addresses Jesus like a true Israelite would, calling Him the "Son of David," using a very loaded term describing David’s heir, the King who would come to rule in righteousness and to save His people. Is she just parroting what she’s heard other people say, or does she know exactly what she’s saying in addressing Jesus in this way? … She knows. Her words are intentional. She knows to Whom she is calling after, and this becomes clear after Jesus tells her, in essence, that

    it is not right to give Israel’s gifts to the Gentiles. He is, after all, the Son of David, and He comes from a specific people and a specific God – YHWH, the only true God. He has come to fulfill specific purposes and promises related to a specific plan which YHWH had set in motion. Jesus is a specific Messiah; you can’t just decide to have the Jesus that you want. He is the Lord over all, and if Jesus is Lord, that means that she … is not. If Jesus is Lord, that means much more than she or anyone else around Him could have possibly known until after He had taken up His throne in the cross, died at the hands of evil men, and been vindicated as He showed Himself to be Lord even over death in His resurrection. Lord over death, and thus, Lord over everything.

    Does she know what she’s saying when she calls Him "Lord?" Yes, absolutely she does, and one little word proves it definitively. I am unsure why, but it seems as though many English translations of the Bible actually mistranslate a word in the Canaanite woman’s response. Our ESV records her response, Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table. The word they translate as "yet" is the Greek conjunction gar. It means "for," it means "because." She’s not arguing with Jesus, or otherwise appealing to Him to make an exception to the rule in her case. That’s what the mistranslation seems to indicate. There’s no "yet." There’s no "but," or "however." She’s not arguing with Him; she’s agreeing with Him! She’s agreeing with Him, and she explains why it is that she agrees with Him.

    She knows that Jesus is Israel’s Messiah, that He has a specific plan to carry out and promises to fulfill, and she believes Him to be the Lord. She knows that God is keeping His promises to Israel, and that Jesus’ authority is all that matters. Yes, Lord, she says, because even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table. Did you hear the difference? She’s saying, You’re right, Lord; it’s not right to take the children’s bread and give it to the dogs. Yes, Lord, it’s not right because the dogs … get to eat, too, from the crumbs and scraps that fall from the master’s table. The dogs don’t need the children’s bread because they’re already taken care of. That’s all I need, Lord – so rich and filling and gracious is the table of Israel’s Messiah and King, that the crumbs are all that I need … and I know that there is something here … for me. That’s the second thing that great faith believes: she knows who Jesus really is … and she knows that He’s got something for her, too. Jesus responds, O woman, your faith is great, and He gives.

    Dear Christian friends, here are truths that we, too, believe. Jesus is the Messiah, David’s royal – and greater – Son. He is the King who was hailed … and then rejected, tortured, crucified … died, with all the world’s sin and brokenness, on a Friday. The world was dark. But overcoming every plot and dark dream the world and the forces of evil could concoct, God raised Him from the dead, and He lives eternally, exalted, at the right hand of the Father. And He is the Lord. And He has something for you.

    This doesn’t make great faith easy; indeed, often it makes things considerably more difficult. If Jesus is Lord, then I am not, much as I may want to be sometimes. If Jesus is Lord, and He has something for me, it’s possible that what He’s got for me is something that I might not have wanted. Nevertheless, the Son of David is risen from the dead, thus He is the Lord, and He is for you. You have a place with Him? Yes. You belong to His people? Yes. He forgives you of your sin? Yes. He gives you peace, a purpose for your living, and the promise that, one Day, there will be full healing of all, and eternal life of body and soul with Him? … Yes.

    Great faith knows who Jesus is, and believes that He has something for you, scraps and all.

    + In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.

  • The Boat We Call Church

    See the Bulletin The Boat We Call Church Matthew 14:22-33 Today’s Gospel lesson tells us that Jesus went up on the mountain ...

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    The Boat We Call Church
    Matthew 14:22-33

    Today’s Gospel lesson tells us that Jesus went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. Biblical scholars tell us that Jesus often prayed during times of severe temptation. Remember that Jesus in His state of humiliation or during His earthly ministry didn’t use His divine power to help Himself. That means contrary to popular opinion it wasn’t any easier for Jesus to resist temptation because He is God then it is for those who are in Christ.

    As we read in Hebrews 4:15 We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. So, Scriptures teach that every temptation Jesus endured caused Him the same anguish … the same tension … the same struggle that temptation produces in us. One difference of course is that Jesus resisted all those temptations and we don’t.

    So, what’s the temptation that Jesus was dealing with in today’s Gospel reading? Today’s reading follows last week’s reading of the Feeding of the 5,000. Jesus had just finished converting a couple of fish and five loaves into a banquet for 5,000 men and their families. This feeding was so significant that all four Gospels record it for us. It’s St. John who records the crowds’ reaction to the free food. [6:15] Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself. There satan again tempts Jesus to avoid the cross for an earthly kingdom.

    When we understand this temptation, we understand the reason that Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side. Jesus has taught us to pray, Lead us not into temptation, in today’s reading Jesus is answering that prayer for the disciples. He was delivering them from temptation by commanding them to get into the boat and head for the other side of the Sea of Galilee.

    Jesus then sent the crowds away and went into the nearby mountains to spent the night alone in prayer. By the time Jesus finished Matthew tells us that Jesus had spent the entire night praying. When Jesus got up and looked out across the Sea of Galilee, He could see that the disciples were still out on the water because they also had been up all night fighting head winds and were still a long way from the land ….

    So, they’d been up for about twenty-four hours and were in the process of making their second trip across the Sea of Galilee, this time during a storm. I don’t know about you, but my mind starts to get a little foggy after being awake well before twenty-four hours. And then, just to top off the day, they find themselves in the middle of the lake fighting the wind and waves. They had to have been totally exhausted.

    Now, while Jesus never used His divine power to help Himself, He did on occasion use it to help others, and at that moment His disciples needed His help. So, Jesus walked down from the mountain across the beach, and just kept walking right out on the water until He reached His disciples who were in a boat in a storm in the middle of the Sea of Galilee.

    And what was the first reaction of the disciples when they saw that help was on the way? Were they relieved? Did they rejoice when they saw Jesus? Well … not so much! When the disciples saw Jesus they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. They were terrified. Why! Truth is because they didn’t know it was Jesus.

    It seems to me that before we know who He is, everyone responds to Jesus that way. St. Paul writes to the church in Rome. Romans 8:7 The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. The prophet Isaiah described his encounter with the Lord this way. Isaiah 6:5 “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” You see because we are conceived in sin and so sinners by nature and so the presence of our Holy God is a terrifying thing.

    But then Jesus identifies Himself. “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” That is because they were terrified, Jesus encouraged them to, “Take heart.” Because they didn’t know who He was, Jesus said, “It is I.” Because they were afraid, He speaks to their fear saying, “Do not be afraid.”

    You see for those who don’t know Him seeing Jesus coming to you was and will be a terrifying thing. So Jesus went to them, right where they were, and with His reassuring Words He gives them all they need.

    That should have been enough but obviously for Peter it wasn’t and replies: Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” It would seem that Peter wanted more proof than the simple Word of God. Peter wanted a personal sign.

    Now it’s not uncommon in Scriptures that when God’s people ask for something we’ll say “odd” God gives it to them to give them as a reality check if you will. Jesus said, “Come.” And Peter got out of the boat and walked to Jesus on the water. But instead of just standing next to Jesus, Peter began to look around. The wind and waves, the danger was real and it was very close. Peter begin to sink, his terror returns and he cries out, “Lord, save me.”

    Now this was a lesson Peter would never forget and from which we also can learn. As Christians, we talk a lot about faith, but it’s important to remember there is more than one way to understand faith and so our talk about must accurately reflect what Scriptures teach. It is not enough to have a sincere and heart felt faith if it’s in the wrong thing. You can have a faith that fills the world, but if that faith has the wrong object then it is not saving faith.

    The world says, “Believe in yourself.” Really! Look at your life in the light of the Ten Commandments. Do you really want to put your faith in you for salvation? Peter had faith in his faith but when tested he didn’t believe that Jesus was able to protect him from the storm. Thankfully for Peter, and for us, Jesus is patient, gracious, and merciful and He took hold of Peter and brought him back to the boat and the wind ceased.

    Now while not a parable still we can use todays lesson to remind ourselves for example how Christ’s mercy and grace fills our lives. We can see why since the days of Noah the boat has been a symbol of Christ’s church. We can see His disciples at times not being satisfied with the Words alone that Jesus gives to us in His boat or church.

    We know how inside our own hearts, like Peter, we want a personnel experience with Jesus. And so like Peter we often put our faith in our thoughts instead of God’s promises. And yet no matter how often we find ourselves sinking in a situation that we ourselves have created, Jesus is always ready to rescue us and bring us back to the place where He restores us with His gifts that is His church.

    To be sure, Jesus did a lot more than walk on water to save His people. The payment itself of course was offered on the cross where Jesus became the greatest sinner of all time by taking the sin of the world upon Himself, and offering the blessings of that cross to us in His Word and Sacraments. As Paul writes: For our sake God made His Son who knew no sin to be sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

    You see when Jesus died, yours sins died with Him. When Jesus rose you and all who are connected to Him by the waters of our baptism rose with Him and are even now freely justified by grace through faith in Him alone. Fear not because you do know Christ and are in Christ and in Him you and all who believe have been saved.

    In His Name, Amen.


  • Good Eats

    See the Bulletin Good Eats Isaiah 55:1-5 + Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, J ...

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    Good Eats
    Isaiah 55:1-5

    + Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen

    The text for our meditation is from our Old Testament lesson, from the Prophet Isaiah, especially where he writes, “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. … Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David.” Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

    If you are looking for some source material for your own personal or family devotions, I’d like to suggest to you that the prophetic words of Isaiah are excellent for such purposes. If you’ve never read the whole thing straight through, it’s a fascinating book – originally a scroll. It’s written about the falls of both the northern kingdom of Israel, and of the southern kingdom of Judah, and the Prophet even writes of the release of Judah from the Babylonian exile – and all of this is written proleptically, written about future events as if they’ve already happened, written about a century before Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon was even born. It’s a beautiful blend of story and prophecy, of Law and Gospel, of debauchery and exile, as well as forgiveness and redemption There is a reason why some theologians have dubbed Isaiah’s writings as the “Fifth Gospel Account.”

    Now, we don’t chop up the book of Isaiah, as the more skeptical theologians do by separating the book into four or more parts, written by four or more authors. No, we hold that Isaiah was written by the historical prophet of YHWH named Y’shaehyahu, a later contemporary of the prophet Amos, but we will say that he wrote in two different styles. About the first 2/3 of the book are words of condemnation, words of warning against both kingdoms of Israel, but there is a significant shift at the beginning of chapter 40, starting with the words, Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord's hand double for all her sins. If you will, the first portion is written for stiff-necked, arrogant, sinful pre-exilic Israel, and the latter portion is written for the broken Judahites who have languished in a foreign land, surrounded by a pagan people, threatened with mistreatment and even death on a daily basis. These broken people are the ones who are going to be redeemed by YHWH their God, and it is in this section of Isaiah that our reading falls.

    More specifically, it’s thought that the 55th chapter is written to the Judahites after Babylon has fallen to Cyrus the Great of Persia. He has conquered the conqueror, acting as YHWH’s mighty and just hand against the wicked nation He had used to punish His people. Cyrus had conquered, and now the Judahites were free. They were free from the oppressive Babylonian captivity, and they were free to return to their own land. Indeed, according to the post-exilic prophet Ezra, Cyrus issued a decree which said, YHWH, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and rebuild the house of the Lord, the God of Israel. The people of Judah were being encouraged to return to their homeland, to pick up the pieces and rebuild their shattered civilization, but for whatever reason – whether it was lethargy, or what Red from The Shawshank Redemption calls “being institutionalized” – they did not want to leave.

    I think it was a lack of belief on the part of the people. They were YHWH’s chosen people … and they had been hauled off into captivity, to a pagan nation with customs and traditions very foreign, and oppression quite severe. Now, along comes a new conqueror – and you know the saying courtesy of The Who, “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.” But he’s not like the old boss. Cyrus says to return, to go back to Judah. It all sounds too good to be true, and as my Grandpa Heckert was wont to say, “If it seems too good to be true, that’s because it usually is.” The people needed some words of encouragement, words of comfort, words of reassurance that their time of chastisement was now over

    So like a street vendor in a bazaar or a boothman at the state fair, YHWH invites His people, Come! Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters. Come, you who have no money, come, buy and eat! The time of punishment, of castigation, was over – and it wasn’t because of anything that they had done that it was over. It was purely by YHWH’s grace, His mercy, His steadfast lovingkindness, that the time was over, and Judah was welcome to come, once again, to the founts of His love, to return to the land flowing with milk and honey, to return to the comforting embrace of His mighty arms. His invitation echoes what the Psalmist wrote long before: Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!

    This is the same message that Jesus gave to those 5000+ people. They had nothing to bring to the table, no riches with which to buy food that temporarily nourished the body. They were entirely reliant on their Teacher, their Lord … and boy, did He ever deliver. As He did centuries prior for the Hebrews wandering in the wilderness, as He has done throughout history by sending rain on the just and the unjust, Jesus provides His people with food for the physical body. Likewise, He gives them spiritual nourishment, as He did through Isaiah when He said, Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David

    See, this is what YHWH does. He provides for His people, according to their various needs, and while we are neither Judahites in Babylon lacking the motivation to return to Jerusalem, nor 5000+ men, women, and children in the Judean countryside with aching bellies, we ourselves still are entirely dependent upon our Lord. The United States of America in 2017 is not the physical Babylon, but you can certainly hear echoes of that pagan nation here in our own land, and you can certainly see images of a similar oppression of the people of God. You can hear similar groanings from those who, for whatever reason, don’t wish to return to Jerusalem the Golden, to the true Temple that was torn down and rebuilt three days later. The plight of God’s people is the same throughout the ages, as we wander, pilgrims in a strange land, looking for the promised deliverance to come from God’s own hand. But He is faithful, and if He has promised it, you can be sure that He will, in His own time, bring it to fruition!

    So YHWH’s invitation is the same now, here in this place, as it was back in the iterations that came before. Come, My people! He says. Come for the good eats that I provide! Come, you who thirst for forgiveness, and I will give you the cool waters of absolution! Come, you who long for spiritual milk and nourishment, and I will strengthen you with My Word. Come, you who hunger for righteousness, and My Son will give to you Himself, His own holy, precious, body and blood in, under, and with bread and wine, given and shed for you! Don’t worry about payment; your green money cannot pay the infinitely high toll, but My Son has paid it! Simply come and partake of what He has purchased, what I now give to you! Come, incline your ear to Me; listen to My words of Law and Gospel, that you may repent and believe that My Son died for the forgiveness of all your sins and secured for you salvation and life eternal! I have made, in Him, an everlasting covenant that no one will be able to break! Come, partake of these good eats, now, where you are, and enjoy them in eternity at My Son’s marriage feast, which will have no end! Come, taste and see, that I, YHWH, the Lord your God, am good!


  • Nothing

    Listen To This Sermon See the Bulletin Nothing Romans 8:28-39 + Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and fro ...

    Listen To This Sermon

    See the Bulletin

    Romans 8:28-39

    + Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

    The text for our meditation is from our Epistle lesson, Paul’s letter to the Romans, especially where he writes, Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

    So about a week and a half ago, the world of hard rock was substantially shaken, as news came of Chester Bennington’s unfortunate death by suicide. If you have no idea who he was, Chester was the lead singer of the alternative rock band, Linkin Park. He wrote most (if not all) of the songs the band sang. Their work has won numerous awards and accolades, heralded by many people as a voice for those struggling through difficult times. When all you wanted to do was scream, Chester did it for you, and as I said, pardon the pun, his loss has rocked the world of rock music.

    I must confess, I was hit hard by his death, as well – growing up (especially in those awkward teenage, high school years), Linkin Park was one of my favorite bands, though I confess to being a fan of their earlier work, prior to their music becoming less tasteful. I hated the fact that he, and many others in recent years have been so overcome by sorrow, depression, despair, that they felt their only way to escape the pain was to end their own lives. I can’t speak intelligently about Chester’s faith life, where he was spiritually – though, of course, we pray that he had been given the gift of faith in Christ for the forgiveness of sins. If he did, if he was a child of the promises of God – or, for that matter, if any Christian becomes so overcome by pain and sorrow that they do as he did, would that separate them from the love of Christ?

    Well, what about our brothers and sisters in Christ, the world over, who know intimately all too well the words of Jesus when He said, If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you ... If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you? These are folks who believe on Jesus Christ as the only Savior of the world, the only One who has delivered us from the just punishment for our sin, and for that, they are thrown in prison. Have their livelihoods destroyed, their children stripped from them. They are people who are beaten, cursed upon, spat upon, forced into “re-education,” tortured … killed. They are found under the most oppressive governments and brutal dictatorships … and they live in “free” societies. What of them? Will the persecution they endure separate them from the love of God in Christ Jesus?

    Remember back to when you were children, and I’m sure that we’ve all had a parent or some other authority figure chastise us for not finishing our food, reminding us “There are starving people in Africa” or “China” or “insert-impoverished-peoplegroup-here.” Unfortunately, they may not have known how correct they were. There truly are people starving in all corners of the world; not for lack of food – to be sure, there is plenty – but rather because they are too poor to receive it. In some of the most impoverished regions of the globe, where the bellies of children have become distended from malnutrition, miraculously, many hold on to faith in Christ Jesus, their Savior from sin, death, and the power of the devil; indeed, it is in some of these areas that the Church is simply booming. So, what about famine? Will this nullify the Father’s declaration of our righteousness and innocence for Jesus’ sake?

    How about war? Lord knows there’s enough violence throughout the world, even as we live in these current days of terrorism and renewed anxiety over prospective nuclear holocaust. The European Union is in disarray. Nations like Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran are becoming bolder, more bellicose in their sabre-rattling, daring our country to make the first move in a highly dangerous game of chicken. The United States herself has never been more divided, with speculations over when some states would possibly secede from the union. Domestic terror groups target the very people charged with our protection, and senseless acts of violence have become commonplace, to the point almost where we have become blasé. I just met a lady who had to flee from the south side of Chicago with her son because the neighborhood in which they lived was becoming too dangerous; when asked if she could help find a neighbor’s niece, she was shocked to find the girl’s body behind her garage, in the alley, shot to death. They left nearly everything they owned to escape the bloodshed and danger that is that urban jungle, more reminiscent of Sarajevo in the mid-90s than what one would expect of the American heartland. What of this? Can these days of wars and rumors of wars strip Christ’s love away from us?

    There’s a theme that runs through all of our scripture readings for today. The love of God for His people is evident throughout all of His written Word, but it is really thematic in the words we’ve heard today. YHWH did not need to choose Abraham and his descendants to be the messianic people; out of His infinite wisdom, mercy, and love, He made them the chosen race from whom the Messiah would come. For that reason, and that reason only, they were as Moses puts it, a people holy to the Lord [their] God. YHWH had chosen them, and they became His treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was His grace, His favorable disposition in spite of their works, that God kept them as His people. The Psalmist likewise reminds his readers that YHWH surrounds and protects His people with His grace and love, even as he implores the LORD to not allow his people to fall into sin. And of course, in His parables, Jesus reminds us that YHWH would spare no expense when it comes to acquiring us, His pearls of priceless worth, His treasures hidden in the fields. He spared nothing … not even the only-begotten Son … to acquire such highly-valued treasures.

    Now, we should look at ourselves and think, “There’s nothing special about me; I’m a lousy, rotten, no-good, stinkin’ sinner.” And we’d be right to think so. If I can borrow from Bo Giertz, our hearts are rusty old tin cans sitting upon a trash heap – certainly nothing to write home about. However, “a wonderful Lord passes by, and has mercy on the wretched tin can, sticks his walking cane through it, and rescues it from the junk pile and takes it home with him.” That’s the love that God has for us in Christ Jesus.

    So, rightly, Paul asks the Romans, Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Who or what in all of God’s creation will cut us off from His amazing grace? What of any of our trials or tribulations? Getting laid off from work? Struggling to make ends meet, as the bills stack up? Family divides and impertinent, boorish children? Diseases like cancer and AIDS? Addictions? Government policies? Will any of this separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, our Lord and Savior? … NO. Paul makes it exceedingly clear that nothing from outside of ourselves will be able to wrench us from God’s holy kungfu grip. Nothing and no one will be able to snatch us from His hands.

    This is not to say that we cannot leap from His hands, that we cannot walk away from His grace, mercy, and love. His love remains, and in His love, He gives people who want nothing to do with Him exactly what they want: His absence. But we who remain safely in His care pray that this day would never come, that the Holy Spirit would keep us steadfast in the faith to life everlasting, and we trust that God, who has begun this good work in us, will bring it to completion in the Day of our Lord, Jesus the Christ.

    Thus really, to trust that the Holy Spirit will preserve us, to trust in God’s Word and His promises given to us in holy Baptism, the promises received in the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, truly, even in our sin, we can say with St. Paul that we are convinced that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. So, I ask you, dear Christian friends, what can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord? NOTHING.

    + In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.