Appearances to the ContraryMarch 11, 2018See the Weekly Bulletin Appearances to the Contrary John 3:14-21 + Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and fro ...
Appearances to the Contrary
+ 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 WaterMarch 7, 2018See the Weekly Bulletin Out of Egypt: Through the Water Exodus 14:13–31; Mark 1:9–13 Slavery—bondage—serv ...
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 OptionsMarch 4, 2018See the Weekly Bulletin Only Two Options John 2:13-22 In reading this morning’s Gospel lesson, we're left with an uncom ...
Only Two Options
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 ZionFebruary 28, 2018See 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 ...
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.
FollowFebruary 25, 2018See the Weekly Bulletin Follow Mark 8:27-38 + Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior ...
+ 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 HeavenFebruary 21, 2018See the Weekly Bulletin Garden to Garden: Eden to Heaven Genesis 3 and Revelation 22 A beautiful place, a perfect paradise! ...
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 ShoesFebruary 18, 2018See the Weekly Bulletin Lived in Your Shoes Mark 1:9-15 Today’s reading from Mark covers a lot in just a few verses. ...
Lived in Your Shoes
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 RighteousnessFebruary 14, 2018See the Weekly Bulletin Heart to Heart: Sackcloth and Ashes to Robes of Righteousness Joel 2:12-29 + Grace to you, and peace, fro ...
Heart to Heart: Sackcloth and Ashes to Robes of Righteousness
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' YetFebruary 11, 2018See the Weekly Bulletin Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet Mark 9:2-9 + Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and fr ...
Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet
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 RaceFebruary 4, 2018See 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 ...
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 VoiceoverJanuary 28, 2018See the Weekly Bulletin A Demon's Voiceover Mark 1:21-28 + Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from ou ...
A Demon's Voiceover
+ 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 FulfilledJanuary 21, 2018See 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 ...
The Time Is Fulfilled
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 SeeJanuary 14, 2018See 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 ...
Come and See
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?January 7, 2018See 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 ...
Can You Hear Me Now?
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 MessiahDecember 31, 2017See the Weekly Bulletin Waiting for Messiah Luke 2:22-40 + Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lo ...
Waiting for Messiah
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 PreparationDecember 31, 2017See the Weekly Bulletin Faith in the Preparation Luke 12:35-40 We have lots of days of celebration and commemoration during the y ...
Faith in the Preparation
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?December 25, 2017See 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 ...
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 LordDecember 24, 2017See the Weekly Bulletin Savior, Christ, and Lord Luke 2:1-14 Jesus was born before there were birth certificates. At th ...
Savior, Christ, and Lord
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 SaviorDecember 24, 2017See the Weekly Bulletin Child Savior Matthew 1:18-25 + Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord a ...
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 TogetherDecember 20, 2017See the Weekly Bulletin Many Lights Are Brighter Together Romans 15:4-7 Last week, we heard about one of Pastor Heckert’s r ...
Many Lights Are Brighter Together
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"December 17, 2017See 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 ...
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 LightDecember 13, 2017See the Weekly Bulletin Put on the Light Romans 13:11-14 + Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and f ...
Put on the Light
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 ComfortDecember 10, 2017See the Weekly Bulletin God Comes - Peace and Comfort Isaiah 40:1-11 + Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and ...
God Comes - Peace and Comfort
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 ItDecember 3, 2017See 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 ...
Think About It
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 ThingsNovember 26, 2017See the Weekly Bulletin Sheep Things Matthew 25:31-46 + Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and ...
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 ThanksNovember 22, 2017Eternal 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 ...
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) GuaranteedNovember 19, 2017See the Weekly Bulletin Safety (Not) Guaranteed Matthew 25:14-30 + Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and fro ...
Safety (Not) Guaranteed
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 ComfortNovember 12, 2017See the Weekly Bulletin Urgency and Comfort 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 The text for our meditation is from Paul’s letter to th ...
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 theeMighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrowDie 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 wellAnd better than thy stroke; why swell'st thou then?One short sleep past, we wake eternallyAnd 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 HimNovember 5, 2017See 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, ...
Blessed in Him
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 FortressOctober 29, 2017See the Weekly Bulletin Be Still in the Fortress Psalm 46 + Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our L ...
Be Still in the Fortress
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 DilemmaOctober 22, 2017See the Weekly Bulletin Announcements The False Dilemma Matthew 22:15-22 You’ve heard me say it before and will n ...
The False Dilemma
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 ClothesOctober 15, 2017See the Weekly Bulletin Announcements A sermon from Martin Luther read by Pastor David French Matthew 22:1-14 This Gospel present ...
A sermon from Martin Luther read by Pastor David French
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 CostOctober 8, 2017See the Weekly Bulletin Announcements Counting the Cost Philippians 3:4b-14 When you read these words of St. Paul in our Epistle ...
Counting the Cost
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.
UnitedOctober 1, 2017See the Weekly Bulletin Announcements United Philippians 2:1-18 + Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from ...
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?September 24, 2017See the Weekly Bulletin Announcements Scorching Heat? Matthew 20:1-16 There’ve been many changes in our society over the ye ...
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
AbsurdSeptember 17, 2017See the Weekly Bulletin Announcements Absurd Matthew 18:21-35 + Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from o ...
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?September 10, 2017See the Weekly Bulletin Announcements What About Your Guardian Angel? Matthew 18:1-10 Depending on who you ask or what TV shows y ...
What About Your Guardian Angel?
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 SakeSeptember 3, 2017See the Weekly Bulletin Announcements For My Sake Matthew 16:21-28 + Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, ...
For My Sake
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.
So 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 KingAugust 27, 2017See the Bulletin Prophet, Priest, and King Matthew 16:13-20 Last week’s Gospel had the disciples in the area around Tyre an ...
Prophet, Priest, and King
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
ScrapsAugust 20, 2017See the Bulletin Scraps Matthew 15:21-28 + Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, J ...
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 ChurchAugust 13, 2017See the Bulletin The Boat We Call Church Matthew 14:22-33 Today’s Gospel lesson tells us that Jesus went up on the mountain ...
The Boat We Call Church
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 EatsAugust 6, 2017See 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 ...
+ 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!
NothingJuly 30, 2017Listen To This Sermon See the Bulletin Nothing Romans 8:28-39 + Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and fro ...
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.