Wednesday, December 31, 2014

New Year's Eve

Luke 2:21 - New Years’ Eve - December 31, 2014         
God Names His Children
We name our kids, and then our kids make names for themselves.  Their names stay the same – the outward syllables don’t change.  But in a name is more than what one is called out loud.  In a name is what one is, what he has done, what he’s worth.  One’s works and achievements fill the name he has and give it meaning – whether for good or for bad.  A name serves as a sort of symbol of who one is. 

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Christmas 1

Luke 2:25-32 - Christmas One - December 28, 2014
The Peace of Christmas
Every Christmas we celebrate the Incarnation of the Son of God.  The word to incarnate simply means to take on flesh and blood.  That’s what God did.  The almighty creator and sustainer of the universe became a Man, born a little Baby to the Virgin Mary, upon whom He relied for His sustenance.  We accept this wonderful mystery in simple faith, because God’s Word clearly teaches it.  Christmas is very readily and joyfully celebrated because God is here presented to man in such a gentle and peaceful manner.  Who could despise this little Baby?  He lies in a manger as a harmless Child surrounded by lowly and gentle barnyard animals.  It is truly a very peaceful way for God to present Himself to us. 
And of course, one can hardly think of Christmas without the song of the angels: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”  This adds to, and in fact establishes, the peaceful atmosphere of Christmas that we all know so well.  Simeon knew this peace very well too.  No, he wasn’t there when the angels appeared to the shepherds singing their beautiful message of goodwill toward men.  But this peace was no less familiar to him because of it.  

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas Eve Magnificat 4

Luke 1:39-56 - Christmas Eve - December 24, 2014
God Remembers His Merciful Promises
“He has helped His servant Israel,
In remembrance of His mercy,
As He spoke to our fathers,
To Abraham and to his seed forever.”
It is said that God helps those who help themselves.  It’s a clever little saying.  There’s some truth to it.  But there is also a great error in this way of thinking.  We’ll consider both. 
The truth of the matter is clear: God does help those who help themselves.  We can’t deny it.  We see it happen.  Laziness is met with poverty.  Industry is met with wealth.  This is how God’s world works.  It is tempting God to pray for daily bread, but then refuse to work for it.  It is tempting God to pray for the betterment of your neighbor, and then refuse to assist him yourself when you can.  It is tempting God to pray for your brother’s repentance and conversion, and then refuse to admonish or encourage him to hear the word of God when the occasion arises.  To pray for God’s help is to pray that God might give you the strength and opportunity to do what needs to be done.  God works through means.  You just may be the means through which God desires to work. 
But this does not mean we trust in ourselves.  No, we trust in God.  It is not like God rewards our self-help by helping us the rest of the way.  No!  God just so happens to use our own responsible decisions as a means of blessing us, and others. 

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Advent 4

John 1:19-28 - Advent 4 - December 21, 2014
A Voice of One Crying in the Wilderness
What is greater, the sun or the sunshine?  What is greater, the instrument or the music?  What is greater, the messenger or the message?  It’s difficult to even make distinctions between these things since they are so closely associated.  That’s natural.  This is why those sent by the Pharisees were so annoyed by John the Baptist.  John insisted that the distinction must be made between who he was and what he was preaching.  His answers become shorter and shorter.  Did you notice this?  “Who are you?” —“I am not the Christ.”  “Are you Elijah?”—“I am not.”  Are you the Prophet?”—“No.”  John’s answers became shorter and shorter because he was getting tired of talking about himself.  He wasn’t sent to talk about himself.  That would be like a violin screeching out information about violins rather than filling the air with melody, or like a candle radiating factoids about wax and wicks rather than lighting a room.  No, a messenger’s job is not to bear witness of himself, but to bear witness of someone else.  That is what John did.  As the Evangelist writes a few verses earlier:

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world.  (John 1:6-9) 

When we speak a word with our voice, our voice forms the word and in a sense creates it.  But this is not so with God’s Word.  His Word is eternal.  God’s Word is God himself.  And through his Word, he created all that exists.  He also creates the voices he sends to speak his Word.  

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Advent Magnificat 3

Luke 1:39-56 - Advent 3 Midweek - December 17, 2014
God Exalts the Lowly
“He has shown strength with His arm;
He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He has put down the mighty from their thrones,
And exalted the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
And the rich He has sent away empty.”
When Mary greeted her cousin Elizabeth with the Magnificat, John the Baptist leaped in his mother’s womb.  “Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist” (Matthew 11:11).  We can think of all sorts of reasons why Jesus would have said this – why this is so.  But I think we have a pretty good answer here.  Even before he was born, John came to saving faith through the spoken word.  And with all his might he confessed his saving faith just as his Aunt Mary had taught him.  Her soul and spirit magnified the Lord and rejoiced in God who saved her.  And so with his entire little body John did the same.  Even before he was born, John was fulfilling his role as a faithful witness of God’s grace and mercy toward sinners. 

God has formed us all, and has known us all even as we were yet unformed (Psalm 139:16).  Because of this, we Christians are able to find hope in the gospel even for babies whose lives are cut short in miscarriage.  Baptism isn’t a clever trick that God uses to keep people out of heaven.  It is the means by which he publicly claims us as his and grants us certainty of our salvation through the forgiveness he attaches to water. 

But Baptism also teaches us what the heart of God is toward us all. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Advent Magnificat 2

Luke 1:39-56 - Advent 2 Midweek - December 10, 2014
All Generations Call Her Blessed
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.
For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant;
For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.
For He who is mighty has done great things for me,
And holy is His name.
And His mercy is on those who fear Him
From generation to generation.”
We call it the Magnificat, because it is the first word in Latin for “My soul magnifies the Lord.”   It teaches us how to worship God.  It teaches us how to worship by teaching us the faith.  The highest worship that any soul can extend to God is to believe the gospel.  There is no greater way to magnify the Lord than by confessing Christ who saves us.  This beautiful canticle could as easily be called the Exsultavit, which is the first word in “My spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”  True worship is founded in true joy, not forced joy or worldly joy or sentimental joy, but true, godly, Spirit-wrought joy.  Our soul learns to call God great only when our spirit learns to know God’s grace.  We magnify God by rejoicing in him who saves us from our sin. 

When Mary first heard from the angel Gabriel that she would give birth to the Savior of the world, she said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord. Let it be done to me according to your word.”  This is the response of faith.  This is what we speak to God when his ministers deal with us according to his word.  We first acknowledge that God is speaking to us“Behold the maidservant of the Lord.”  We second acknowledge that what he says to us is both true and beneficial“Let it be done to me according to your word.”  This is what we say to God.  We say Amen and Amen. 

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Advent 2

Luke 21:25-28 - Advent 2 - December 7, 2014
Signs in the Sun and Moon and Stars
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. 
The day is surely drawing near
When God’s Son, the Anointed,
Shall with great majesty appear
As Judge of all appointed.
All mirth and laughter then shall cease
When flames on flames will still increase,
As Scripture truly teacheth. 
Let us pray:
O Jesus, who my debt didst pay
And for my sin wast smitten,
Within the Book of Life, oh, may
My name be also written!
I will not doubt; I trust in Thee,
From Satan Thou hast made me free
And from all condemnation. Amen. 

“But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly.”  So said our Lord, Jesus Christ.  His warning is earnest, because he loves us.  Let’s begin this morning by considering why we take heed, how we take heed, and what we take heed of. 

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Advent Magnificat 1

Luke 1:39-56 - Advent 1 Midweek - December 3, 2014
What Manner of Greeting is This?
“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.”
During our Advent midweek services and for our Christmas Eve service – so for four weeks – we will be considering the song of Mary in three parts.  We call Mary’s song the Magnificat because it is the first word in Latin for “My soul magnifies the Lord.”  Today we begin with an introduction that focuses on the power and efficacy of God’s spoken word.  Let us consider what happened to Mary that brought her to sing the beautiful hymn that she did. 

The angel Gabriel appeared to Mary to announce that she would give birth to the Savior of the world.  The sight of an angel brings with it the reflected glory of God.  This is not simply a dazzling sight.  This would have been a terrifyingly beautiful sight.  Consider the shepherds and their fear on the night when Jesus was born.  They were sore afraid.  But here we learn nothing of Mary’s fright at the sight of an angel.  Instead we learn that it was the word he spoke that shook her up.  “She was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was.”  And a strange greeting it was indeed.  The angel had said: “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!” 

What troubled Mary was the incredibility of it all.  How could a poor, lowly, ordinary maiden, with nothing special about her be called highly favored?  How could she, a sinner, be told to rejoice, and be called blessed among women?  She was incredulous.  This stopped her in her tracks and sent her head reeling and her heart pounding: “Who me?  Impossible!”  

But as Mary trembled, the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary.”  This served as an absolution.  For God to tell you not to be afraid means to say that your sins are forgiven.  Of course this is only comforting to those who know enough to be afraid of God’s righteous anger.  Mary knew she was a sinner.  But the angel calls her by name.  So God speaks to us.  He calls us by name in Holy Baptism, where he claims us as his, and from then on every pronouncement of peace and mercy has your name on it.  The angel said, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.”  And this is what it means to be forgiven.  It is to have God’s favor, to know that God is graciously disposed toward you. 

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Advent 1

Romans 13:8-14 - Advent 1 - November 30, 2014
The Dignity of Man
Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law.  For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not bear false witness,” “You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. 
And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed.  The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light.  Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy.  But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.  

To have dignity is to have value.  These days there are all sorts of ethical issues that people talk about that deal with the question of human dignity – – ranging from abortion and euthanasia to homosexuality and so-called gender identity.  All of these debates seek to say something definitive about human dignity.   But with what authority can anyone really say anything?  What really is the value of man?  In order to answer this question, we need first to know something about God who created man.

Thursday, November 27, 2014


Luke 17:11-19 - Thanksgiving - November 27, 2014
Thanking God by Returning to Christ
On the way to Jerusalem he was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. 
Let us pray:
Christ, the Life of all the living,
Christ, the Death of death, our foe,
Who, Thyself for me once giving
To the darkest depths of woe:
Through thy sufferings, death, and merit
I eternal life inherit. 
Thousand, thousand thanks shall be,
Dearest Jesus, unto Thee.
Thou hast borne the smiting only
That my wounds might all be whole;
Thou hast suffered, sad and lonely,
Rest to give my weary soul;
Yea, the curse of God enduring,
Blessing unto me securing.
Thousand, thousand thanks shall be,
Dearest Jesus, unto Thee.  Amen. 
Today is Thanksgiving Day.  It is a national holiday.  It’s good and wise that a nation set aside a day for such a worthy celebration. 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Trinity 27

Matthew 25:1-13 - Trinity 27 - November 23, 2014
The Fullness of Heavenly Wisdom is Mine
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. 
Wisdom’s highest, noblest treasure,
Jesus, lies concealed in You.
Let me find in You my pleasure,
And my wayward will subdue,
Humility there and simplicity reigning,
In paths of true wisdom my steps ever training.
If I learn from Jesus this knowledge divine,
The fullness of heavenly wisdom is mine.[i]  Amen. 
This morning I’d like to talk about wisdom, what it is, and how we get it.  We consider the parable of the ten virgins.  There are five foolish, and five wise.  Foolishness is a terrible thing.  To be foolish is to be self-destructive and willingly ignorant of what is good for you.  It is to be stubbornly unconcerned with true righteousness.  The word in Greek is μωρός, where we get the word moron.  A spiritual moron is one who does not take the word of God to heart. 
Wisdom, on the other hand, is a beautiful thing.  The Greek word for wisdom is σοφία.  To have σοφία is to have full knowledge of what is eternally true.  It is to love what is righteous and to completely delight in what is good.  To have wisdom is to know Christ and his saving grace.  Wisdom is a gift from God because faith is a gift from God.  When our youngest daughter was born, Monica and I had this very truth in mind when we settled on her name.  Sophia Dorothy translates straight from the Greek: Wisdom is God’s Gift.  And so it is. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Trinity 26

Matthew 25:31-46 - Trinity 26 - November 16, 2014
And Their Works Do Follow Them
In our Old Testament lesson, the prophet Daniel received a vision of the very same event that Jesus described in our Gospel lesson.  He saw the Ancient of Days gather the nations for the final judgment.  The Ancient of Days is God.  Ancient is not simply to say that he is very old.  It is to say, rather, that he is eternal.  It bends the mind to try and comprehend it, doesn’t it?  But we can’t, because God cannot be measured by time.  He has quite simply always been.  He lives in the eternal Day.  Time itself has a beginning, and it will soon have an end.  All that will remain is God and his word.  That’s why we listen to it now while time still exists. 
What a beautiful name God gives himself to express the fact that he is eternal: Ancient of Days.  This name got me thinking about another place in Scripture where the word day is used not for any specific period of time, but likewise for the eternal Day that has neither beginning nor end. It comes from Psalm 2 where the second Person of the holy Trinity says the following:

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Trinity 25

Exodus 32:1-20 & Luke17:20-30 - Trinity 25 - November 9, 2014
Christian Worship Is Divine Service
Last week, I spoke of two mountains.  There was the mountain of curse, and the mountain of blessing.  The mountain of curse was Mt. Sinai from where God spoke the 10 Commandments to Israel.  It is the mountain of curse because the law curses all who disobey.  The mountain of blessing is where Jesus fulfills the law for us and blesses us with the righteousness that he earned in our place.  For the sake of contrast, last week I spoke of this mountain as the place where Jesus preached the beatitudes — “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” and so forth.  But the mountain of blessing is more than just where God speaks the blessing.  It is where God earns the blessing.  It is Mt. Calvary.   It is where the curse of the law was spoken against the Son of God in our place.  Jesus placed himself under the law for us, and suffered and died as our holy Substitute.  Without the cross, there is no blessing.  Without Mt. Calvary, there is no Mt. Zion. 

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Reformation Sunday

John 8:31-36 - Reformation Sunday - October 26, 2014
Jesus Sets Us Free
Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you remain in My word, you are truly My disciples. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”
They answered Him, “We are Abraham’s seed, and have never been enslaved. How can You say, ‘You will be made free’?”
Jesus answered them, “Amen amen I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin. And a slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. Therefore if the Son frees you, you shall certainly be free.”
When Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves by executive order in 1863, the opponents of slavery rejoiced.  Though the war was not yet over, they had won the day.  They had fought against the institution of slavery for so long and finally the institution was crumbling.  Those who had been held against their will and forced to labor under a heavy burden were pronounced free to reap the fair value of their work.  No longer would they be held captive, but would work for wages as free agents.  No longer would they be bred like cattle so that their sons and daughters could be sold and forced to work for someone else’s profit.  They were free and so were their children. 
So what did they do?  Did they all draft up resumes and get well-paying jobs?  Did they begin to open up their own businesses and pull themselves up by their bootstraps?  No!  Most of them continued to work for their former masters.  That’s all they knew.  Sadly, the legal declaration of their freedom achieved very little in reality.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Trinity 17

Luke 14:1-11- Trinity Seventeen - October 12, 2014
God Humbles the Exalted and Exalts the Humble
Christ is our Physician.  He heals by the almighty power of God, because he is the almighty God.  The Man Jesus who witnessed helpless misery on earth is the same God in heaven who never ceases to meet the needs of his creation.  He continues to see our needs, and even when they appear to be ignored or remain unmet, he does not sleep.  He notes them and in his wisdom will most certainly address them.  He gives rest to those who suffer with no end in sight.  He does so in his own time.  That is why we call on him in a day when he may be found.  We wait on God who has compassion. 

Sunday, September 21, 2014

St. Matthew's

Matthew 9:9-13 - St. Matthew the Apostle & Evangelist - September 21, 2014
Jesus Is Our Merciful Physician
As Jesus passed on from there, He saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax office. And He said to him, “Follow Me.” So he arose and followed Him. 
Now it happened, as Jesus sat at the table in the house, that behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Him and His disciples.  And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to His disciples, “Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
When Jesus heard that, He said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.  But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”
Christ gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers.  He gave them for the Church.  We continue to benefit from the ministry of the apostles, prophets, and evangelists through Holy Scripture.  God commanded them to speak his words and for some to commit them to writing for our sake.  He gave them his Spirit to work in them and through them.  We hear and read the words they recorded and receive them as from God himself, because they are from God himself.  The Bible is a gift from Jesus. 
Jesus sends ministers today to teach us the Bible. 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Trinity 13

Luke 10:21-37 - Trinity Thirteen - September 14, 2014
Jesus Is The Neighbor We Need
Jesus thanks his Father that he has hidden these things from the wise and prudent and revealed them to babes.   This here requires two things to be clarified.  First of all, who are the wise and prudent and who are the babes?  And second of all, what are “these things” that are hidden to some and revealed to others? 
The wise and prudent are those who know the law, but who don’t know what it is for.  They think that the law is intended to help them become righteous on their own.  They are foolish.  The babes, or the little infants, on the other hand, are those who know that they are sinners.  They are those who are helpless to fulfill what the law requires, because the law demands that they love from pure hearts.  We do not love as God requires.  We cannot.  We have neither the will nor the way, because we are poor miserable sinners who have been lost and condemned since before we were infant babes.  We know the law.  The law works wrath.  It is good that we know this.  For what is hidden from the self-righteous wise and prudent is revealed to us who have been born from above by water and the Spirit.  And so in simple faith we receive what Christ freely gives, as little children who desire true spiritual milk. 

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Trinity 12

Mark 7:31-37 - Trinity Twelve - September 7, 2014
Ears to Hear and Tongues to Confess
“Sing aloud to God our strength; make a joyful shout to the God of Jacob. Alleluia.” 
We call him the God of Jacob.  This means that he is the God who wants us to rely solely upon his word.  That is always how he has revealed himself – through his word.  He does not reveal himself through our personal experiences.  In fact, our personal experiences deceive us.  They distract us.  They make us expect one thing when we should expect another.         Often we feel strong.  We feel close to God.  But we need to be brought low.  We need to be made weak.  God is our strength.  And we find his strength when we recognize how weak we are and cling to his word alone.  There true joy is found.            Often we feel forsaken.  We feel like God is too displeased or fed-up with us to continue to strive within us.  When this is how we feel, we need to repent, as David did, and as we sing: “Cast me not away from thy presence, and take not thy Holy Spirit from me.”  We are weak, but he is strong.  His strength is found in his mercy – where he is faithful to forgive us our sin and to increase our faith in him. 

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Trinity 11

Luke 18:9-14 - Trinity Eleven - August 31, 2014
The Pharisee and the Tax Collector
He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
A couple springs ago on the Saturday evening before high school graduation, I was fiddling around in my garage with the garage door open.  There evidently was some sort of graduation party nearby because there were cars parked up and down the block and plenty of teenage voices to be heard.  It brought back fond memories of not so many years ago when I was walking in the same shoes.  But I was a little bit embarrassed as they passed my house by the thought that perhaps I also once talked, so-to-speak, in the same shoes.  A whole conversation which I could hear begin a block away and carry on for a block in the opposite direction consisted of two boys and two girls taking polite turns speaking sentence after sentence.  I must have heard about 30 or 40 complete sentences … and every single one – I kid you not – began with the word I.  They weren’t talking filthy or rude or starting fights.  Like I said, they weren’t even interrupting one another.  Everything was very civil.  But despite their best behavior, a certain egotism was plainly revealed. 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Trinity 10

Jeremiah 8:4-12 (Luke 19:41-48) - Trinity Ten - August 24, 2014
Hanging on Jesus’ Words
You shall say to them, “Thus says the Lord: When men fall, do they not rise again? If one turns away, does he not return? Why then has this people turned away in perpetual backsliding? They hold fast to deceit; they refuse to return. I have paid attention and listened, but they have not spoken rightly; no man relents of his evil, saying, ‘What have I done?’ Everyone turns to his own course, like a horse plunging headlong into battle. Even the stork in the heavens knows her times, and the turtledove, swallow, and crane keep the time of their coming, but my people know not the judgment of the Lord. How can you say, ‘We are wise, and the law of the Lord is with us’? But behold, the lying pen of the scribes has made it into a lie. The wise men shall be put to shame; they shall be dismayed and taken; behold, they have rejected the word of the Lord, so what wisdom is in them? Therefore I will give their wives to others and their fields to conquerors, because from the least to the greatest everyone is greedy for unjust gain; from prophet to priest, everyone deals falsely.  They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace. Were they ashamed when they committed abomination? No, they were not at all ashamed; they did not know how to blush. Therefore they shall fall among the fallen; when I punish them, they shall be overthrown, says the Lord.”
The prophet Jeremiah records God’s frustration with his people.  It’s a frustration with sin, and of course with the unbelief that’s at the root of sin.  Sin is unlike anything else.  The natural inclination in our sinful hearts is not simply an unfortunate tendency to make the wrong choice here and there.  It is, in fact, rebellion against God.  He created earth and all that fills it to be good.  The sin that spoils what God made good begins in our own hearts.  By nature we are enemies of God.  By nature, we deserve his wrath. 
By nature.  But how natural really is sin?  Isn’t it rather a corruption of nature? 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Trinity 9

1 Corinthians 10:1-13 - Trinity Nine - August 17, 2014
Written for Our Learning

The Apostle Paul does not want us to be ignorant.  No teacher wants his students to be ignorant.  He wants them to know what he knows.  Consider his subject matter.  He wants us to know the Bible.  The Bible that he used as his textbook when writing to the Christians in Corinth was of course the Old Testament prophets, along with the New Testament Gospels that by this time had already circulated throughout the growing Church, wherever the Apostles had gone.  The Gospels are the history of the life of Christ, the Son of God.  The Old Testament is the history of the life of God’s chosen people, the children of Israel.  The events of the Old Testament are not just historical events that have some religious or moral lesson to them.  They are more.  They are the accounts of what God did through and for his people in order to teach them of their future redemption in Christ.  And they continue to teach us.  

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Trinity 6

Matthew 5:20-26 - Trinity Six - July 27, 2014
Exceedingly Righteous in Christ
If I were to ask someone whether he knew he were going to heaven or not, and that person replied by saying something like, “I sure hope so,” what would that amount to other than “I don’t know for sure”?  Such a response would be an indication that that person is not going to heaven, because it would be an indication that he puts his faith in something other than Christ – something uncertain.  Faith trusts in what is certain, because it trusts in what God has done to save us.  That’s why God teaches us to trust his word.  Faith is confidence.  But this is not because faith is some great work of ours.  It is not our own capacity to believe that makes faith certain.  No.  It is God’s word.  There are many elements of doubt in our faith, because we are but flesh, and therefore susceptible to the devil’s wiles.  But there is no element of doubt in the promises of God.  So that is what we cling to.  God’s word stands sure no matter what storms of doubt might be swirling inside of us. 
One who is not certain of his salvation is uncertain for one very simple reason. 

Monday, July 14, 2014

Trinity 7

Romans 6:19-23 - Trinity VII - July 14, 2014
The Wages of Sin & the Free Gift of God

Romans 6 is a wonderful chapter of Scripture.  After having established in the clearest words possible the doctrine of justification in the preceding three chapters, St. Paul here in chapter 6, addresses the new life that the Christian lives here on earth.   This is an important thing to do, and for two main reasons.  First of all, because it pleases God that we live holy lives to the praise and honor of His holy Name.  That’s what He called us to do.  He called us to live in righteousness, not to die in soul-destroying sin.  We should consider the new life of the Christian for a second reason too: because if we are to stand on the doctrine that we are justified by grace alone through faith apart from any works we do, we had better learn how to defend ourselves against those who falsely accuse us of forbidding good works.  We don’t.  We uphold good works.  We teach that they are necessary. But we put them in their proper place, as fruits that necessarily flow from true faith.  

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Trinity 1

Luke 16:19-31 - Trinity One - June 22, 2014
Fear, Love, and Trust in God
It’s easy to oversimplify things and imagine a certain virtue in poverty and a certain vice in wealth.  And so it is tempting to judge peoples’ hearts according to what we see.  This is because it is often true that poverty grants the opportunity to consider what is most important in life.  That’s why Jesus encourages us to fast, for instance —because denying ourselves certain pleasures helps us to consider the value of heavenly things over earthly things.  And if poverty aids a man in his piety, so it is even more often true that wealth corrupts a man and makes him stingy and materialistic.  That’s why Jesus says that it is very difficult for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. 
But this is not a hard and fast rule.  Poor people are very often among the greediest, aren’t they?  Just look at how many people figure that if they don’t possess very many nice things, that makes it OK to covet the nice things that others have – as though it’s only fair that they give up a piece of the pie.  And they’ll even appeal to those in authority to take it from them by force in a way that only appears right.  Well, that’s greed if there is such a thing.  And then on the other hand, rich people are often among the most generous.  Just consider the endowments and offerings made by wealthy Christians to build schools and beautiful churches, and to support the preaching of the gospel in their own congregations and around the world – not to mention their personal contributions to the need they see around them. 
We shouldn’t judge vice and virtue by what we see, because we can’t see the heart.  Only God can.  Rich people are not necessarily bad; and poor people are not necessarily good.  The story that Jesus tells in our Gospel lesson shouldn’t be interpreted to teach otherwise. 

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Easter 7

John 15:26-16:4 - Exaudi Sunday - June 1, 2014
Pure Doctrine
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.
God’s Word is our great heritage
And shall be ours forever;
To spread its Light from age to age
Shall be our chief endeavor.
Through life it guides our way,
In death it is our stay.
Lord, grant, while worlds endure,
We keep its teachings pure.
Throughout all generations.  Amen. 
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen. 
“We keep its teachings pure.”  We pray that the Lord grant that as long as the ages continue to come and pass we keep pure what his word teaches.  Now obviously, it is not we who keep doctrine pure.  No, it is God who keeps it pure in our midst.  That’s why we pray for it.  But we don’t ask that angels keep it pure, because God doesn’t send angels to preach it to us.  We pray that we keep it pure.  And we don’t pray simply that our pastors keep it pure, since Christ has commanded us to identify his voice on our own and judge our pastors.  So in order for us – for you the hearers who came here to listen to what God wants you to know – in order for you to make sure you are hearing the pure doctrine of God’s holy word, you need to make this prayer your own: namely, that you keep pure in your hearts and minds the word of God like a seed that grows and bears abundant fruit.  You keep it pure by embracing what is true and by rejecting what is false.  You bear fruit when you do — fruit that coming generations will praise God for – just as we also praise God for our fathers and mothers in the faith who left us a great heritage.