Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas Eve

Luke 2:1-14 & Isaiah 9:2, 6-7 - Christmas Eve - December 24, 2013           
His Name Shall Be Called Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace
2 The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them a light has shined…
6 For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.

The world walks in darkness.  People behave like fools when they can’t see where they’re going.  And so there’s no real surprise that the world seeks enlightenment where there is no light, and wisdom where there is no knowledge.  People think that if one is powerful, and if he can persuade the multitudes to behave and think as he tells them to, that this is the determining factor of what is true and good.  Oh, people deny this as they claim to seek justice and equality and all sorts of virtues.  They’ll walk according to their inner lights, but in the end, might always makes right.  The multitudes are invariably impressed by power.  They think they have control of their hearts, they think they know where their progress is taking them.  But their hearts are fickle and predictable, and the end result is always deeper and deeper darkness. 
Power can be seen all over the world as influential characters sway popular opinion, and as authoritative figures impose their will on the masses.  These two forces usually go hand-in-hand.  Just think, for example, of the homosexualist agenda that has in the past couple decades gained so much momentum.  Who would have thought even when I was a young boy that it would get to this?  That’s power!  Hardly, though, can we think of anything darker and more damaging to the soul than slavery to sexual perversion.  But enough celebrities speak in favor of it, and enough judges spout their opinions about it and the next thing you know, what was once universally regarded as shameful is now defended tooth and nail — even against the kindest and most thoughtful attempts to rebuke it.  True Christian concern for sinners who need to repent and find mercy in Christ is now mocked and condemned as hate speech.  So-called progress is power all right — it is the power of darkness. 
Brothers and sisters, the world walks in darkness.  It always has.  But God is not like the world.  He stands in light.  He stands in his own light.  He is light.  And it is he who orders all the affairs of this world.  Now that’s something to consider, especially when it looks like things must be way out of his control.  But consider the affairs of this world. 

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Advent Mighty God

Isaiah 9:2, 6-7 - Advent III Midweek - December 18, 2013           
His Name Shall Be Called Mighty God
2 The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them a light has shined…
6 For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.

Christ’s name is Wonderful and Counselor: Wonderful, because of the wonders he has done for us; Counselor, because he comforts and upholds us by his word.  The third name that the prophet Isaiah gives him shows us that this King of ours not only abides with us in our suffering, but has the power to assure a happy outcome.  He is Mighty God.  Or as we confess in the Nicene Creed, he is God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God. 

Of course, this has already been settled – that the Child who was to be born is himself in fact the almighty God.  And it’s important to know.  In chapter 7, Isaiah gave a sign from the Lord to King Ahaz that the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call his name Immanuel, that is, God with us.  The Child who was to be born of Mary is God.  This is an important truth.  If Jesus were not God then his death could not have paid for our sins.  If he were not God then his wonders could have only inspired the imagination, but they could not have benefited mankind in any eternal way.  If Jesus were not God, then his counsel and comfort would have only been temporary.  Like all human counsel, it would have had only enough power to urge us on in our struggles – but not the power to free us from our sin. 

But Jesus is God.  He is of one substance with his eternal Father and equal in glory with the Holy Spirit who proceeds from them both.  There is one God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  By the commission of the Father and by the power of the Spirit, the Son was conceived in the womb of their own creation.  True God became true man.  And Mary became the mother of God. 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Advent Counselor

Isaiah 9:6-7 - Advent II Midweek - December 11, 2013           
His Name Shall Be Called Counselor

The prophet Isaiah preached that the God who speaks threats against sin is the very God who covers sin.  How wonderful!  He preached that the God whose thoughts are higher above our thoughts than the heavens are above the earth is the same God who makes his thoughts wholly accessible by sending his Son to be our Savior.  How wonderful!  For Jesus’ sake, God simplifies his thoughts of eternal wisdom so that even a child can understand him: “Come now, and let us reason together,” says the Lord, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (Isaiah 1:18).  The prophet Isaiah further prophesies that the God of glory who makes such wonderful promises is the God who will lay aside his glory and dwell with man in order to keep his promises.  He will be our Immanuel – God with us.  He will reveal his glory not with riches and fame, not with pleasures and admiration from those around us.  No, but in suffering; in rejection.  He will lay aside his glory in order to reveal his glory on the cross.  There God will be glorified because there God will reconcile himself to sinners.  How wonderful! 

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Advent 2

Luke 17:20-30 - Advent 2 - December 8, 2013
The Kingdom of God is within You

Solomon says that there is nothing new under the sun.  From the first day that Adam and Eve disobeyed God and fell into sin until the end of the world, all things on earth remain essentially the same.  We are born; we die.  In between is a whole bunch of joy and a whole bunch of sorrow.  I suppose the race is on to make the former outnumber the latter.  But what a futile race, because ultimately it doesn’t really matter.  We are born; and then we die.  And for a thousand generations the same mundane thing takes place.  Our place, our thoughts, our accomplishments, and even our hopes and dreams are forgotten.  That’s what Solomon says, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  “Vanity of vanities,” says the Preacher; “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity”  (Ecclesiastes 1:2).  Kind of a depressing picture to paint, isn’t it?  But it’s true.  And I think everyone knows it. 

Many people respond to this unavoidable fact by living for the moment.  They try to experience as much pleasure as they can before it’s too late.  This is known as hedonism, or Epicureanism and has gone in times past by the motto: “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.”  A modern equivalent to this is what kids say these days: “YOLO – you only live once.”  Obviously such an outlook on life is incredibly selfish.  It encourages young people to measure the value of life by how much enjoyment they can pack into it rather than by how much good they can do for others.  This flies in the face of what St. Paul tells us in our Epistle lesson: that we should not aim to please ourselves, but to edify our neighbor.  It is true that we only live once.  But what life are we living?  Are we animals seeking carnal pleasure for some small window of time?  Or are we children of God who live forever seeking that which is above? 

Hedonism wares on you. 

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Advent Wonderful

Isaiah 9:1-7 - Advent I Midweek - December 4, 2013           
His Name Shall Be Called Wonderful

I have never been in a war.  I’ve never seen it.  I understand only what I have read in books and seen in movies.  Some in our congregation have seen war.  And they could, if so inclined, tell sad stories of what they have seen.  Others have been affected by war from right here at home as they suffered the loss of dear loved-ones fighting a faraway cause.  But barring a few terrorist attacks here and there in the United States, none of us have experienced what it is like for enemy forces to be moving at you on all sides to take over and occupy the land that we call home.  In such a war the cries of heart-broken mothers and widows can be heard right alongside and mingled with the cries of pain and defeat that their beloved sons and husbands shout out. 

This is how most war has been fought in the history of the world.  Right there close to home. War is horrible.  God has graciously preserved us from the worst of it.  It’s hard for us to imagine it here in the Midwestern United States, since we seem to be safe within the midst of a mighty empire.  But that’s what I’d like you to do for a moment.  Imagine.  This is what Jerusalem faced.  Judah was under attack – not only by foreign invaders, but from the apostate tribes of Israel to the north plotting against them with nearby Syria.  The northern kingdom of Israel had already been punished for its worldliness and idolatry, and now Judah faced what looked like certain doom for having committed the same sins themselves.  For them, little was left to the imagination.  The threat was imminent.  And they deserved it.  For fear of pain and for the knowledge of guilt, all of Judah was shaking in terror (Is. 7:2).  But God had compassion. 

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Advent 1

Matthew 21:1-9 - Advent 1 - December 1, 2013
  Lauding the Lord's Lowliness

Today is the first Sunday of the Church Year and the beginning of the Season of Advent.  During Advent, we prepare for our celebration of Jesus’ birth at Christmas.  We do this first of all by remembering why He was born in the first place: to die on the cross and take away the sin of the world.  It’s fitting that we begin the Church Year with the Gospel lesson that we just heard, because it records Jesus’ final entrance into Jerusalem right before His long awaited crucifixion under Pontius Pilate.  We begin the Church Year with the same Gospel, which is appointed for Palm Sunday as well.  We do this because the entire Year, indeed, our entire lives revolve around that singular event that took place on Mt. Calvary 2000 years ago.  The reason we make the cross the focus of our Church year is because it is the focus of Scripture. 

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Trinity 19

Matthew 9:1-8 - Trinity XIX - October 6, 2013
How Can Faith Do Such Great Thing?
Baptism saves.  That little girl just received the forgiveness of all her sins.  In that font right there she was forgiven the original sin, which she inherited through me, her earthly father;   at the same time she was forgiven whatever other sin she might have committed since the moment she was conceived.  Now, of course, only God could possibly be a witness to these things—either to her sinful nature or any actual sins.  She’s just a baby.  She’s a sinner for sure – yeah – but certainly I haven’t seen it.  We know it’s true, however, not because we see it, but because God says it.  For now it remains an article of faith that such a sweet little child made of sugar and spice could in reality be a poor wretched sinner in need of God’s mercy.
But, you know, in good time it will hardly take faith to admit it.  Before we know it, she’ll be acting like her older sisters, who, although very sweet, from time to time blatantly disobey us and exhibit a selfishness that is unmistakably sin.  Before the eyes of her parents and those around her, maybe even before you, she will prove her need for what she already needs and what each one of us continues to need today: it is the need for a Savior.  And in Baptism, that’s what we get.  Right there, God delivered little Sophia Dorothy from real enemies – from our enemies – from death and from the power of the devil – by washing her sin away.  To her, and to all who believe this, God gives eternal salvation through water and the word.  How do we know this?  Well how do we know anything?  God says it.  The word and promises of God declare it: “He who believes and is baptized shall be saved; he who does not believe shall be condemned” (Mark 16:16).  Baptism saves. 

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Trinity 16

1 Kings 17:17-24 - Trinity XVI - September 15, 2013
Jesus’ Words Give Life
Let us pray: “In the midst of life we are in death. Of whom may we seek comfort but of Thee, O Lord, who for our sins art justly displeased?  Yet, O Lord God most holy, O Lord most mighty, O holy and most merciful Savior, deliver us not into the bitter pains of eternal death.”  Amen. 
These words from the rite of Christian burial we pray at the gravesite of our loved ones who confessed the faith as we commit their bodily remains to the earth whence they were taken in the certain hope of the resurrection to life.  In this prayer, we speak of three different deaths that are of course each related to the other.  The most obvious death is the bodily death.  It’s what we see, and it saddens all people alike.  We are in the midst of it.  The second is the actually cause of the first.  It is spiritual death.  It is the sin that justly displeases God.  We are in the midst of it.  The third is eternal death.  It is God’s final judgment.  It is damnation.  It is hell.  We are not in the midst of this.  We pray to be delivered from it on the last day.  Right now is the time of grace when God does just that.  He does so through his word. 
Christ Jesus our Lord, who is himself the Word of God made flesh, delivers us from eternal death by delivering us from our spiritual death.  He does this by forgiving us our sins on account of the fact that he took them away on the cross.  Through this forgiveness, we have the certain hope that he will deliver us from our physical death as well when he raises our bodies to eternal glory.   God delivers us from all three deaths by one and the same word, because all three deaths are really the same. 

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Trinity 14

Luke 17:11-19 - Trinity XIV - September 1, 2013 
Saving Faith is Thanking Faith

It is often unsettling for folks to witness in Lutheran church services our persistent focus on crying out to God for mercy.  Now, rarely will a self-avowed Christian deny his need for divine mercy – oh no – at least he won’t intend to deny it.  It’s not that we don’t need mercy, the argument goes, but don’t we already have mercy?  Why can’t we move beyond this constant plea for what we already have and begin to focus instead on the life of thanking and praising God?  Don’t we have a lot to be thankful for?  
So it goes.  And some of us might feel a bit of sympathy toward this concern.  After all, we do cry out for mercy an awful lot in our liturgy.  But if we are serious about wanting to give thanks to God, we’ve got to go at it a little differently.  The reason we can’t move beyond our cry for mercy is twofold: 1) we are unable to move beyond our sin; we keep needing mercy, and 2), it is precisely when our dear Lord answers this constant cry of ours that we learn again and again what it means to be thankful. 

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Trinity 13

Galatians 3:15-22 - Trinity XIII - August 25, 2013

What the Law Can Do for You

Our salvation is extra nos.  That’s Latin for ‘outside of us.’  They don’t require that we learn Latin at the seminary, but there are a number of Latin phrases that any Lutheran pastor worth his salt cannot help but have had drilled into his head.  Now, you don’t have to learn the terminology like I did, but you had better learn the concept.  Extra nos.  Outside of us.  The moment that one begins to require that certain conditions be met within the sinner by the sinner in order for him to be saved is the moment that the gospel is completely denied and turned into something that it’s not, namely, the law.  Our salvation is outside of us.  Because it begins and ends with God’s pure love toward sinners.  Period.  What God planned for us from eternity to rescue us from our sin and from his wrath God accomplishes outside of our control. 
And thank God.  We’re not as reliable as he is.  The fact that he is in control of the most important need in our life is of great comfort to the Christian.  That is, of course, if we know the character of this great God in control.  And we do.  He loves.  He speaks kindly to those who have wronged him.  He forgives.  He keeps his promises.  We see his character clearly revealed toward us in the vicarious death of his Son Jesus Christ who on the cross atoned for all our sins.  The same thing that teaches us that God is good and loving also teaches us what God has accomplished.  It is where our Savior said, “It is finished.”  

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Trinity 12

Mark 7:31-37 - Trinity XII - August 18, 2013 
Sharing Our Faith

Jesus was walking through a region of Judea where the population consisted mostly of Gentiles.  This means that they didn’t have the word of God.  That’s what made them Gentiles.  They had notions of God, of course.  But their notions were false, because the gods they invented were crafted in their own hearts.  They learned what they thought they knew about God by consulting their feelings and experiences rather than by listening to what God actually said.  Needless to say, their source of information was flawed.  And since they had a flawed understanding of who God was, naturally they also had a flawed understanding of what to expect God to do. 
Of course, they knew God was powerful.  This much they knew – what he could do.  But who doesn’t know this much?  You don’t need Scripture to tell you this.  Look at the earth and sky.  Notice the intricate design of the plant and animal world around us.  Look at how fearfully and wonderfully made everything is.  Seeing God’s handiwork certainly tells you a lot about God.  But it won’t tell you his will for your life.  The most important thing you need to learn about God can only be learned by listening to what he says to you. 

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Trinity 4

Luke 6:36-42 - Trinity IV - June 23, 2013 
Be Ye Merciful

Almighty God, merciful Father.  That’s what we call God when we bow down to confess our sins.  We don’t appeal to justice.  We appeal to His boundless mercy.  We ask that He would mercifully spare us from our punishment, which His Son endured in our place, and that He would graciously give us that good, which Jesus has earned in our place.  Grace and mercy go hand in hand. But we see here in the relationship between the two that there is also a distinction worth noting. 
When we say that God is gracious, we are saying that He gives us what we don’t deserve to have.  Take, for instance, everything that we need to support our body and life.  All this God gives to us by grace alone without any merit or worthiness in us.  We don’t deserve what good things we have.  What do we deserve?  Well, this is where mercy comes in.  We deserve God’s temporal and eternal punishment for how we have lived.  We have treated our bodies as though we own them, and everything God gives us as though it were here to serve our own desires.   We act as though we deserved the things God so graciously bestows.  But we don’t.  We deserve wrath.  And yet it is in mercy that God declines to be wrathful.  In mercy, God chooses not to condemn us, but to forgive and acquit us. 

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Trinity 3

Luke 15:11-32 - Trinity III - June 16, 2013 
The Father’s Love for His Son 
Fathers’ Day 2013

Jesus receives sinners.  He seeks the lost sheep who has soiled his life with sin, and fallen prey to the roaring lion who seeks to devour him.  Jesus seeks and finds him here in church by calling us all to repentance.  Jesus sweeps clean this house, like an old lady searching for a coin she lost.  He sweeps away all pride and delusion in our hearts and makes sinners out of each one of us.  Only then are we found.  Here in God’s house, Jesus seeks us and finds us though the preaching of His word.  And when He finds us here, when we are found to be in dear need of His mercy, Jesus gives us His mercy.  He absolves penitent sinners of their sin, because that’s what His Father sent Him to do.  When Jesus receives sinners, God receives His children, and heaven swells with unspeakable joy. 
The parable of the forgiving father follows the same theme as these first two parables.  It’s usually known as the parable of the prodigal son.  And I suppose that makes sense, since the theme is repentance.  The son repented, not the father.  But what’s great about these stories is that, although the theme is on repentance, the main character is not the son who turns back, but the father who waits for and receives with joy his wayward child.  Repentance seems like something that we do.  And yet true repentance doesn’t begin with us at all — no more than a coin initiates the task of being found under the rug.  No, repentance always begins with the work and will of the Father.  As Jesus says in John 6, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him” (John 6:44).

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Trinity 2

Luke 14:16-24 - Trinity II - June 2, 2013 

Come Lord Jesus, Be Our Guest

“Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest, and let these gifts to us be blessed.  Amen.” 
That’s what we pray before we eat.  It’s known as the common table prayer.  We invite Jesus to join us as we sit down to enjoy what He Himself has given us.  We usually don’t think of such things as coming from Jesus.  Of course, we know that there is one God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, three Persons in one divine Essence, and that Jesus is God.  And all good things come from God.  But we tend to talk about the Father, not the Son, as being the One who blesses us with our material things, don’t we?  Well, it’s true.  It’s proper to speak this way since that’s how Scripture speaks.  The Father is the source of all things.  That’s why we call Him our Maker.  It is God the Father almighty who daily and richly provides us with all that we need to support this body and life.  This is what we confess in the Creed.  And all this He does only out of fatherly divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in us. 

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Trinity Sunday

John 3:1-15 - Trinity Sunday - May 26, 2013 

We Speak of What We Know

“You shall have no other gods before Me.”  By this commandment, it is obvious enough that there is only one God. There is none beside Him.  Of course, even natural man is able to figure this much out by thinking about it.  But that isn’t what makes Him our God.  By using our mind, we can conclude that God exists.  Sure.  But it is not by thinking hard that we come to fear, love, and trust Him. 
Jesus was once asked by a Scribe, as recorded in Mark 12, “Which is the first commandment of all?”  Jesus answered by quoting from Deuteronomy 6: “The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.  And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment.”   Jesus almost quoted from Deuteronomy word for word.  But He added something – not like He added to Scripture – No, but He clarified the meaning of Scripture.  He who Himself fulfills all of Scripture summed up what it means to love God with your heart, and soul, and strength by including the phrase, “and with all your mind.”  
See, it’s perfectly accessible to human reason that there is one God. 

Sunday, May 19, 2013


John 14:23-31 - Pentecost - May 19, 2013 
The Holy Spirit Clears Confusion by Giving Peace with the Father through Jesus Christ

After God had rescued Noah and his family from the destruction of the flood, God told Noah and his children to spread out and fill the whole earth.  They didn’t.  Admittedly, they couldn’t have done so right away — and God didn’t expect them to.  It would take a few generations for three women to have enough children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren to begin filling the earth.  They’d have to wait for God to bless them.  Well, their numbers grew.  They had big families.  God told them to be fruitful and multiply.  And they did, because God blessed them.  But instead of looking at their increase as a blessing come down from God, they looked at their increase as something to raise up to God, to show Him what they had become.  They got it all backwards.  They were proud.  And in their pride, instead of spreading out, like God told them to, they settled in the valley of Shinar and sought to make a name for themselves. 
The reason God gave them children was in order that He might bless their children. 

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Easter 4

John 16:16-23 - Jubilate, Easter IV - April 21, 2013 
80th Anniversary of Trinity Lutheran Church

A few months ago, the idea was suggested that we celebrate our 80th anniversary this spring.  December 11 marked 80 years since this congregation was first founded.  That’s a long time.  And yet it’s young enough to be remembered by several of our oldest members.  There is a lot to celebrate here.  How many of you, and your children have been baptized here and confirmed here?  How many of you were married here?  How many of you, in sadder times, looked at the face of a beloved husband or wife or mother or child for the last time here – and yet received here the certain consolation that you would see them again?  And this is all because here it is that we hear the word of God.  We celebrate 80 years of God doing what God does.  He calls us, gathers us, enlightens and sanctifies us – by His word.  He fills our greatest need.  How many of you having been burdened by sin, or having been stiff-necked and bitter at God, or perhaps filled with doubt and unanswered questions – how many of you, having been reproved by the law and persuaded of your sin, were then compelled to confess them here to a gracious God, only then to be served by that gracious God through the preaching of your crucified Savior Jesus Christ?  How many of you, having been fed with His very body and blood have received what Jesus secured for you in His resurrection?  —How many of you have thus been strengthened and preserved in the one true faith?  That’s what God does here.  That’s what we celebrate.  He forgives your sin and gives you life everlasting. 
Joy, O joy, beyond all gladness!
Christ hath done away with sadness!
Hence, all sorrow and repining,
For the Son of grace is shining.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Easter 3

John 10:22-30 - Misericordias Domini - April 13, 2013 
Good Shepherd Sunday

Jesus Christ is Lord.  This is the most fundamental confession of the Christian faith.  In Luther’s Small Catechism we confess in the second article of the Apostles’ Creed, “I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the virgin Mary, is my Lord.”   Immediately once we confess who Jesus is, namely, that He is true God and true man, we also confess what He has done.  This is important.  The two confessions always go together.  And so we continue, “who has redeemed me a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won me from all sins, from death and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and His innocent suffering and death.”  It is not possible to separate who Jesus is from what He does for our salvation.  By calling Him Lord, we always confess both. 

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Easter 2

John 20:19-31 - Quasimodo Geniti - April 7, 2013 
The Arm of The Lord Is Revealed

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.  Amen. 
On Good Friday I preached a sermon on St. John’s account of our Lord’s Passion.  I decided to focus on an event that occurred only after Jesus died on the cross, but while His dead body was still suspended for all to see.  The piercing of Jesus’ side fulfilled Scripture not only by sparing His bones from being broken, but also because, as Zechariah foretold, “They shall look on Him whom they pierced.”  When Jesus was pierced by the Roman soldier, a flow of blood and water came forth from His side. 
John, the Apostle, saw it.  He bore witness.  And yet only the Holy Spirit can reveal to us the significance of Christ’s death. 
And He does.  We learn from the Holy Spirit by listening to the inspired words of Holy Scripture. 

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Easter Sunday

Mark 16:1-8 - Easter Sunday - March 31, 2013 
God’s Words & Actions Speak Loudly

There’s a famous saying attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, who lived about 800 years ago, that says: “Preach the gospel always; if necessary, use words.”  Now, people like to pretend that this is really profound, as though the true nature of the Gospel is seen in the things that we do rather than in the things that we say.  But it is not profound.  It sounds pretty clever, sure.  But it’s really quite absurd.  And we know that!  Because the Gospel consists of words.  They are God’s words.  They tell us something.  God’s words report His actions, and, in fact, it is God’s word itself that carry out His actions.  God’s word actually accomplishes what He speaks. 
They say that actions speak louder than words.  Well, sure they do.  This is true as far as we are concerned, but not with God.  With us, when there’s a disconnect between what we say and do, we call it hypocrisy – like when someone says one thing and then does another.  Or we might simply chalk it up to weakness – like when someone makes a promise to do something, but then lacks the strength to perform.  But with God, neither of these is possible.  First of all, because God cannot deny Himself or lie.  Second of all, because God is almighty.   It’s not possible for Him to say that He’ll do something and then find Himself unable to do it.  He’s God.  There is no dissonance or discrepancy between what God says and what God does. 

Easter Sunday

1 Peter 3:17-22 - Easter Sunrise - March 31, 2013 
Crushing the Devil’s Head 

Jesus purchased and won us from sin, death, and the power of the devil.  He did so not with perishable things like gold or silver, but with His holy precious blood and His innocent suffering and death.  He did this in order that we might be His own and live under Him in His kingdom of grace here on earth.  This life consists of the forgiveness of all our sins, and the daily cleansing of a bad conscience.  We have been redeemed to serve God in holiness.  We live by faith — because, although we are given the Holy Spirit who works new desires in our hearts to will and perform what pleases God, we still must contend with our flesh and blood.  We sin.  The holiness we possess as redeemed children of God is a holiness that we possess by faith in the Son of God.  We see this holiness in Christ, not in ourselves.   He is the life of all the living. 
But in good time, when in God’s wisdom we leave this world – whether by death or by our Lord’s imminent return, we will live forever in God’s kingdom of glory.  What we now know and see dimly will be made clear and bright.  We will no longer struggle against sin or doubt or depression or chronic pain or whatever else makes life such a bear.  Our bodies will be glorified and spiritual even as Christ’s body has been glorified.  Our minds will be enlightened and wise and sharp because they will be completely conformed to the mind of Christ.  Our holiness will no longer be an article of faith, because the mystery of our union with Christ will be unhidden.  We will know our Lord even as we are known.  We will spend eternity in the presence of Him who once was slain to redeem us.  His blood will clothe us forever in the righteousness that will never leave us ashamed. 

Friday, March 29, 2013

Good Friday

John 19:31-37 - Good Friday - March 29, 2013 
That the Scripture Should Be Fulfilled

Our Lord suffered in body and soul on the cross to save us poor sinners from the eternal sufferings of hell.  Isaiah foretold it in that beautiful chapter that I just read.  God’s Servant bore our sin.  The Lord God laid them on Him so that He might take our place.  He was stricken, smitten, and afflicted as though He were responsible for every sin that makes God mad.  That’s what it means to take our place.  He took our place under His Father’s anger – an anger that He totally agreed with.  And He agreed to endure it too.  No one has ever known such pain.  But He knew it.  And by His knowledge, God’s righteous Servant justified many.  Because His pain was not useless — it was not senseless.  By suffering the way He did, Jesus bore our iniquities. 
God justifies us, that is, He declares us to be righteous in His sight, by taking our sin away in a very real way.  God requires that we live a holy life.  He also requires that the sinner be punished for his sin.  God receives satisfaction for both – both the obedience that we could not render and the deserving death of the sinner – in the same place!  He demands the perfect life of His Son.  And so, in obedience to His Father’s will, Jesus poured out His soul unto death. 
And when He did, although His physical thirst was mocked by sour wine, His thirst for our salvation was fully quenched — because it was in His pain, and in the mockery He endured that Jesus made peace between God and sinners.  There was nothing beyond the painful death of Jesus that God demanded for our salvation.  This was it!  And that’s why Jesus was able to cry out what He did: “It is finished! – it’s done!”

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Maundy Thursday

Exodus 12:1-14/Matthew 26:17-30 - Maundy Thursday - March 28, 2013 
For You

The Passover was to be celebrated as a statute forever.  Even before God commanded Moses what to do, He made it very clear how important its celebration would be for years to come and even forevermore.  “This month shall be for you the beginning of months.”  Their whole calendar would be reoriented around the events that God would soon accomplish.  “This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord, throughout your generations, as a statute forever.” 
But, of course, we don’t celebrate it anymore, do we?  The reason is simple.  Christ fulfilled it.  The Passover pointed to what Jesus would do to save sinners from eternal punishment.  The reason God was so adamant about its continual celebration wasn’t because of the ritual itself.  No, it was because God requires faith in Christ.  Consider these words from Psalm 51:
O Lord, open my lips,
And my mouth shall show forth Your praise.
For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it;
You do not delight in burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit,
A broken and a contrite heart—these, O God, You will not despise.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Lent Midweek

Luke 23:33-34 - Lent I-V Midweek - February 20, 27; March 6, 13, 20, 2013
Confession & Absolution / Office of the Keys
Forgive them!
And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right hand and the other on the left. Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” 
O sinner, come thy sin to mourn,
So vast and vile that it has borne
Christ to this vale of anguish;
Son of a Virgin, sweet and mild
In poverty the Holy Child,
Thy substitute, did languish;
Behold, with faith, God’s only Son!
Come nigh and see what Love has done
To save thee from damnation;
The Father cast on Him thy guilt,
For thee His precious blood was spilt,
To bless thee with salvation.  Amen. 

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Lent 5

John 8:46-59 - Judica, Lent V - March 17, 2013 
Seeing Death Aright

To be “of God” means to be born of God.  It means to have faith in God.   The Holy Spirit engenders faith in our hearts through the forgiveness of sins.  That’s how we are born of God.  We receive forgiveness by believing God’s word.  The power to give us new birth in the Sacrament of Baptism is nothing other than the command and promise of Jesus that through this Sacrament of water our sins are indeed forgiven and we are received as God’s dear children.  The power here again is in the words He speaks.  We benefit from Jesus’ words by believing Jesus’ words.  Through faith in Him, God rescues us from the sin and death that we have inherited from our father in the flesh, Adam.  And He gives to us by faith a new and better inheritance – it’s a spiritual inheritance with His eternal Son, and our Brother in the flesh, Jesus Christ.  He is the second Adam, the Perfect Man.  Who can convict Him of sin?  No one.  Not even God. 
Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me, and know my anxieties;
And see if there is any wicked way in me,
And lead me in the way everlasting. 
So wrote King David at the end of Psalm 139.  And yet only Jesus is able to say this with full confidence of impunity: search Me; try Me.  He says this to God!  And “which one of you,” He asked the Jews, “convicts Me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe Me?”  Jesus exposed their unbelief.  They couldn’t accuse Him of anything false He had either said or done, but they didn’t believe Him anyway.  And Jesus told them why: “Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.” 

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Lent 2

Matthew 15:21-28 - Reminiscere, Lent II - February 24, 2013 
Wrestling with God

Our Introit this morning comes from Psalm 25 and begins by asking God to remember His tender mercies and lovingkindnesses, for they are from of old.  That is to say that they are from a long time ago.  That’s why, I suppose, the Psalmist, who is King David here, asks God to remember them.  It’s not like God forgets.  He doesn’t.  We do.  We take them for granted.  We take advantage of our freedom under God’s grace.  We cave into fleshly lusts of various stripes, and so we forget who we are as children of God, redeemed by the blood of Christ.  We ignore God’s word to our peril, and so forget who God is as our merciful Father, reconciled by the propitiating sacrifice of His Son.  And as often as we in our sinful weakness forget, we ask God to remember.  We cry to God for mercy.  And this is what it means to be saved by grace through faith.  It means that God continue to recall and apply His promises of old.  And we continue to ask Him to.  We don’t ask for something new when we cry for mercy.  We ask for something old.  We ask for the same thing.  We ask that God once again, as He has already done so many countless times, open up and reveal His heart to us sinners, so that we might again know and believe His love for us.  And God remembers. 
I remember learning the German word for “remember.”  I’ll spare you the pronunciation of the word with its guttural R’s, but it’s a really neat word.  It literally means to bring something deep within yourself so as to be able to retrieve it at will.   It’s a helpful picture of what it means to remember.