The Fourteenth Sunday After Pentecost - September 10, 2017

"Warning from Me"

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The text which engages us this morning is the Old Testament lesson, Ezekiel 33:7-9, which reads, "So you, son of man, I have made a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. If I say to the wicked, O wicked one, you shall surely die, and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from his way, that wicked person shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way, that person shall die in his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul." Amen. So stands God's Word. Amen.

Think about all of the warnings that we have received during our lives. When we were very young our parents warned us of various things that could harm us, such as a hot stove, sharp knives, and strangers. Maybe we have had the occasion to be given a warning from a police officer, after being stopped for speeding, rather than being given a ticket. We have devices that give us warnings. Our cell phones warn us that our batteries are too low. The cups we drink our restaurant coffee from have warning printed on them that the coffee contained inside is hot. Almost every product that we buy now has at least one safety warning that accompanies it. We are warned about the things that we eat and what we drink. Even more confusing is the fact that at times we may even hear conflicting warnings.

Various special interest groups out there are sending out their warnings to the rest of us about many issues such as the environment, the economy, global warming, over population, water shortages, various diseases, and I'm sure that all of you can add to this list many other things that I have not thought of. There are warnings out there concerning potential enemies. The Russians for the hacking of our elections, the terrorist organizations ISIS and Al-Kida, the North Koreans, and others. We are a people who are in warning overload. There are so many warnings out there that we have to prioritize them or else we would most likely be immobilized by all of these warnings. What warnings do we heed and take seriously and what warnings do we ignore?

There are warnings that, although serious, we can possibly choose to ignore and not suffer any consequences; maybe the one in authority isn't really serious, or they can be talked out of the potential consequences. But there are warnings that carry with them consequences that are unavoidable because the One who has issued them is very serious, and who cannot be cajoled out of them. This is the One who also gives warnings as a loving parent would give, not to be dictatorial and oppressive, but out of love and concern for the safety of the children.

Our Lord and heavenly Father gives us His warnings for those very reasons. His warnings are out of His great love and concern for us His children. These warnings are given because He does not desire that any of His children should perish and be lost, but that all be in a loving relationship with Him. God so often does not merely just give a warning, but He also provides someone who will represent Him, speak His Word, and guide the people in the ways that the Father would have them go. For Adam and Eve, God Himself walked with them in the Garden and talked with them. He had warned them not to eat of the tree in middle of the Garden, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, because on the day that they ate of it they would die. They did not listen to the Father's loving warning and so they did indeed die and they brought death into the world for every single person who came after them. Through Noah, God gave a warning to a world overcome with evil. God warned Noah that He was sending a flood to overwhelm the entire earth. He was the only person, along with his wife, his sons, and his son's wives to heed God's loving warning. The rest did indeed die in the overwhelming waters of the worldwide flood. Time and time again God sent prophets to His chosen people Israel to warn them to turn from their evil and idolatrous ways and live and not die. Out of His love God did not just give one or two warnings but He gave many and gave them over and over again. But the people Jesus tells us in Luke 13:34, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!" So that they were one day conquered by their enemies and taken away from the Promised Land and taken off into exile. But we also see people who have heeded God's warnings to them. For example, the City of Nineveh. Yahweh sent the prophet Jonah to Nineveh with the message, "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!" The King and all the people of Nineveh and their animals sat in sackcloth and did not eat or drink, they repented and humbled themselves before Yahweh, and God forgave them.

We see here in the text this morning that God, through His prophet Ezekiel, sends out another warning to His people. He says, "So you, son of man, I have made a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. If I say to the wicked, O wicked one, you shall surely die, and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from his way, that wicked person shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way, that person shall die in his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul." There is a warning for both Ezekiel and the people. The prophet is warned to serve as Yahweh requires and to deliver this life and death message to the people. If the people hear the message but do not turn from their evil they will die. But if Ezekiel does not proclaim God's message of warning so that the people do not repent, they will die, but Ezekiel will be responsible for their blood. That is a warning for God's people as well as their called servants. A pastor is to proclaim God's Word of Law and Gospel so that the people repent of their sins and receive the grace of God through Jesus Christ and His broken body and shed blood so that their sins are forgiven and they do not spend eternity separated from God in hell and eternal torment.

We have God's warnings that He has given to us in His Holy Word. We see time and again that warning to the evil person to repent and turn from their evil and sinful ways and live. Jesus Himself gave warning to the people and the religious leaders of the day time and time again. In John 8:23-25 Jesus says to them, ""You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins." So they said to him, "Who are you?" Jesus said to them, "Just what I have been telling you from the beginning. That is the ultimate and most serious warning. It is a warning that carries with it consequences that are eternal. The only way for a people not to die in their sins is to believe in Jesus the Christ for forgiveness. That is the message that we proclaim. That is the message that we are required to proclaim. We love people enough that we proclaim God's Law to them so that they repent in sorrow over their sins and then proclaim God's Gospel in Christ for forgiveness. We joyfully hear this message over and over again and rejoice in God the Father's love for us. Like a loving and caring father, God our Heavenly Father has not only given us a warning, but also provides for healing and forgiveness and life for us His children who ignore this warning and sin every day. What a joy it is that God our Father loves us so much that He does not tire of lovingly warning and then forgiving and restoring His children through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen. The peace of God that passes all understanding forever keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.


The Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost - September 3, 2017

"Living in Denial"

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The text for our meditation this morning is from the Gospel reading, particularly Matthew 16:24-28, which reads, "Then Jesus said to his disciples, "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father's glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done. "Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom." Amen. So stands God's Word. Amen.

There are times when all of us can be living in a state of denial. Maybe we do this because we are afraid. We see symptoms of illness and do not go to the doctor for fear that these fears will be confirmed. If we ignore or deny it long enough maybe it will go away. The student who puts off writing the paper until the last minute or studying for the exam because they tell themselves that they don't need much time to get ready. There are worse situations to be in denial over. The spouse who is suffering from abuse telling themselves that the other person didn't mean it and it won't happen again. The person living in the path of the storm who is warned to evacuate but refuses to because they believe they can ride out the storm no matter how bad they are told the storm will be. As bad as the consequences are over living in denial in these situations there is another situation that billions of people the world over are living in that is far worse because the consequences of living in this denial are eternal. Those who deny the fact of our sinfulness; the fact that we are poor miserable sinners who deserve nothing from God but His punishment both here in time and later in eternity. Then there are those who worship the false gods of man's imagination and believe that these works based religions of man will provide for their eternal bliss. Then of course there are those who deny the very existence of God. Scripture talks about both of these people. As to the one who believes in false gods we read this in Isaiah 45:16 "All the makers of idols will be put to shame and disgraced; they will go off into disgrace together. Of the one who denies the existence of God we read this in Psalm 14:1, "The fool says in his heart, "There is no God." They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good."

In the Gospel reading Jesus Himself calls us to live in another state of denial. Jesus has this message for us, "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me." A disciple of Christ must deny himself. What in the world does that mean for us? There are certainly a number of things that are involved here but one of them is that as sinful human beings we put ourselves and our needs, wants, and desires first. We believe that God should respond to issues and problems in way that we believe in right. When we deny ourselves in these situations it means that we will not expect God's action to be in line with how we would like the situation to be addressed.

Then of course there is the desire that we have to take the power for ourselves and to us this power to act as we desire God to act. We hold this power over the heads of our brothers and sisters; we quietly criticize, we compare, and we demean our brothers and sisters while we don't actually do anything. We place the things of man over the things of God. But that is not how Jesus Himself came to act. Jesus did not come in power. Jesus did not come as a king to set up an earthly kingdom to rule. No, Jesus came in humility. Jesus came in obedience to the heavenly Father. When Jesus was being tempted by the devil in the wilderness He did not use His own power. Jesus relied on His Father in heaven and not in a way that put Him to the test. But He trusted in a humble and obedient way. Jesus did not put Himself first but He submitted Himself to the Father's will. So, here Jesus calls upon us to deny ourselves.

Next, Jesus calls upon all who would follow Him to take up their cross. Jesus is not talking about bearing up under the daily cares and struggles of life. Jesus here is talking about the cross of living as a disciple of Jesus. The cross that comes because we are His redeemed children. The suffering, disgrace (in the world's eyes), and the persecution that comes to a person because they are a believer. In his Concordia Commentary on Matthew the Reverend Doctor Jeffrey Gibbs writes, "To take up the cross begins when disciples acknowledge that discipleship will entail hardship precisely because this is God's way of reigning graciously in a rebellious world-not paying back evil with evil, but evil with good." How did God repay evil with good? He sent His Son Jesus Christ to bear our punishment for us. To be utterly forsaken by the Father with the sins of the world laid upon Him.

Jesus then calls upon His disciples to "follow Me." We follow Jesus. We place our faith and our trust in Him for all things. We relinquish our desires. We do not try to exercise power over others. We patiently endure and take up our crosses and we follow Jesus. As Christians, as those who by faith believe in and rely upon Jesus we can expect to be resisted and resented. We can expect, in a world where religious pluralism is celebrated, Jesus call for all people to "follow Me" and make no mistake this call is to follow Him alone, is highly offensive. Jesus clearly warns that this will happen when He tells the disciples in Luke 21:16-18, "You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. Everyone will hate you because of me. But not a hair of your head will perish." So, yes, Jesus gives a warning but He also gives a promise and an assurance. Jesus gives something of the same here in our text this morning. Jesus says, "For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it." No matter what a person might do in this life to save their life or to make it easier it will not do them any eternal good. There is certainly nothing that a person can do to gain eternal life. But this is not what Jesus is talking about. If we conform to the whims and desires of this world in order to not be offensive and to go along to get along and we make great earthly gains from it, but we lose our soul, what, in reality, have we really gained? The answer of course is nothing. Also, in truth, instead of gaining anything we would have actually lost everything. It is only in Jesus and in Jesus alone that true life in found. It is only in Jesus and in Jesus alone that the forgiveness of sins and life eternal is to be found.

The reason for all of this is found in verse 27, "For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father's glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done." This might sound like a form of works righteousness, but when it is examined against the overriding message of Scripture we see that the "work" or what a person has done that the reward will be based on is, have we denied ourselves, taken up our cross, lost our lives for Christ's sake? Have we believed in Jesus Christ the only-begotten Son of God and He suffering, death, and resurrection for the forgiveness of our sins, or have we worked to save ourselves. You see Scripture tells us over and over again that salvation is found in no one else. Acts 4:12 reads, "Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved." Indeed, it's not about us, it's about Jesus for us, and Jesus has done it all for us, there is nothing that we can add, nothing that we need to add. Anyone who does not believe this is still living in denial. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding forever keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.


The Twelfth Sunday After Pentecost - August 27, 2017

"Gifts"

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The text for our meditation this morning comes from the epistle reading particularly Romans 12:1-8, which reads, "Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God-this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is-his good, pleasing and perfect will. For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully. Amen. So stands God's Word. Amen.

I am going to ask you to think back a little. What would say is the greatest gift that you have ever received? What specific gift over your life is the one that you remember the most? Who is it that gave that gift to you? The gift may not be large. This gift may not be expensive. You may even still have this gift somewhere in your home or it may exist only in your memory. But this is a gift that you always remember and you also remember the one who gave it to you. Or maybe you most remember the worst gift that you were ever given. This might have been a gift given with good intentions but you just thought it was terrible and you couldn't wait to return it of just get rid of it in some way. I tried to look up the greatest gifts of all time and I did find a list of fifteen of the greatest gifts in history. Now of course this was one person's opinion and it was from a secular website so they probably did not even consider anything in the realm of religion or of Christianity in particular. But a few of the supposed greatest gifts in history are: The Statute of Liberty; a white elephant to Pope Leo X in 1514; the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, given to the wife of Nebuchadnezzar II; the 69.42 carat Taylor-Burton diamond; and the famous Faberge Eggs. There are more, but I'm sure you get the idea.

Scripture also talks about gifts. The very first gift is the gift of creation, earth, the universe and everything that exists within it. Then we have the gift of life. Adam and Eve create in the very image of almighty God and given the gift of the Garden of Eden in which to live in perfect peace and love and contentment in the presence of God their loving creator. But amazingly these glorious gifts did not seem to be good enough for them. Satan, the great accuser and deceiver came a convinced them that God could have do better by them. He was holding out the most awesome gift of knowing good and evil, and being like God. So they threw God's gifts back at Him and disobeyed His command and instead received some really terrible gifts in exchange. They exchanged God's image for their own; peace with God and obedience to Him for sin and disobedience and being His enemies; enjoyment in work with earning food with the sweat of the brow; being fruitful and multiplying now comes through pain; we have also exchanged life for death. God's gifts have been exchanged for curses and pain.

But even after all of this God, in His love for us, promised another gift. This was a gift of a Messiah who would bruise the head of the Serpent while His heel was being bruised. This was the One who would restore us to a right relationship to our heavenly Father again. But this gift did not come immediately. It was literally thousands of years after the first promise of a Messiah was made until it was ultimately fulfilled in Jesus Christ, true God and also true man; conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. But Jesus is a gift for all people, everyone who has ever lived and everyone who ever will one day be born. In the eleventh chapter of Hebrews, the author talks about the people of old who died before Jesus was born, but that they still died in the faith in the promise and still received the gift of life and forgiveness that Jesus came to earn for us all. "Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for." Then the writer goes no to list many of the great men and women of faith from the past and this is what he says about them; "All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth." Then he wrote; "These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect."

Yet the very faith by which they, and we too, believe in the promise made and now fulfilled, is also a gracious and wonderful gift from God. Ephesians 2:8-9 tell us, "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God- not by works, so that no one can boast." What wonderful gifts. We are given the gift of the forgiveness of sins through the suffering, death, and resurrection of the Son of God Himself! Then too, we are given faith as another gift by which we receive God's gifts of forgiveness and life. God's gifts do not end there. Jesus Himself has given to us the gift of His own body and His own blood in His Holy Supper. He has given this to us for the forgiveness of our sins and for our remembrance of Him and His sacrifice and His love for us. Because He has showered His gifts of love, faith, forgiveness and grace upon us; we are now able to love God and to love one another. We read in 1 John 4:10-12, 19 "This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. 'We love because he first loved us.'"

But His gifts still do not stop there. In our epistle reading the apostle Paul tells us about the Spiritual gifts we have been given so that we are able to serve God and to serve one another who are all members of the same body with Christ as our head. Paul writes: "Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to, let us use them. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully. Now of course God does not need us to do any of these things for His benefit; we use these gifts given to us for the benefit of our neighbor, so that God's Word would be spread throughout the world. Our salvation does in no way depend on our use of these gifts, but we use them in service because of the most precious gift of all that has been given to us. We have been given a gift that none of us deserve. God in Christ has forgiven us of our many sins and He continues to daily forgive us as we come to Him in repentance and the gift of faith. So I will ask you to consider once again; what is the greatest and most memorable gift you have ever received? It is a priceless gift. It is a gift that will last for all of eternity. It will never wear out or go out of style. Indeed it is a gift that money can't buy but it cost the death of the Son of God Himself. But praise God, death could not hold Him. He lives and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God interceding for us; and because He lives we to will live. What a priceless gift of God's love to us. Amen. The peace of God that passes all understanding forever keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.


The Eleventh Sunday After Pentecost - August 20, 2017

"Even the Dogs Eat the Crumbs"

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The text for our meditation this morning is the Gospel reading, Matthew 15:21-28, which reads, "Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, "Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly." Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, "Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us." He answered, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel." The woman came and knelt before him. "Lord, help me!" she said. He replied, "It is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to the dogs." "Yes it is, Lord," she said. "Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master's table." Then Jesus said to her, "Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted." And her daughter was healed at that moment. Amen. So stands God's Word. Amen.

We love our pets. Here are some statistics that backup that statement. We spend some $60 billion a year on them. Broken down we spend $23 billion on food, $15 billion on veterinary care, grooming and boarding come in at $19 billion, and other at about $2 billion. Our dogs sleep with us, we talk to them, we dress them up in costumes, we clean up after them, and we make excuses for them when they misbehave. Statistics tell us that is costs about $1,600 a year to take care of a dog. So, going by these statistics it would seem that our dogs get much more that the crumbs that fall from our tables.

Dogs in Biblical times were not seen as valuable as we see them today. Dogs were looked upon as dangerous, they ran in packs, they ate the bodies of the dead. To call a human being a dog implies that they were of low status. To call a person a dog meant that you believed that the person was considered evil. In 1 Kings we see the Lord speaking to Ahab through the prophet Elijah saying, "The dogs shall eat Jezebel within the walls of Jezreel. Then this promise is fulfilled in 2 Kings Chapter 9. Jesus, in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus says that Lazarus was laid at the gate of the rich man and he desired to eat what fell from the rich man's table but was given nothing, he was so helpless that he could not even prevent the dogs from licking his sores. This unnamed rich man, who feasted sumptuously everyday would not even spare Lazarus his crumbs. The rich man relied on himself and his wealth while Lazarus relied on God, and for his faith Lazarus received his reward, eternal life with God.

In our text this morning we have another who exhibits great faith. We are told that Jesus has gone away to Tyre and Sidon. This is a Gentile area. There is no expectation that Jesus would be recognized or received as who He truly is. Jesus has been encountering a steadily growing opposition to His person and His teaching. The scribes and the Pharisee's are continually rejecting Him and condemning Him for healing on the Sabbath and for His disciples not following the traditions of the elders. They have no faith. They feel in their hearts that they have everything they need and that they do not need what Jesus says that He has brought for them. They do not believe. They call Him Rabbi or teacher, but it goes not further than that. They are however truly sick with the disease of sin, and this disease brings eternal death with it. They would not receive Him even though they were His own, they were heirs of the promise, but as John writes in his Gospel, "The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God-children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God." Jesus did not find faith where He should have found it. But He did find it in unexpected places. Jesus found faith in the Roman Centurion, a Gentile, whose servant was ill. Now here in our text another Gentile comes to Him, a Canaanite woman. Listen to how this woman addresses Jesus, "Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me!" This Canaanite woman calls Jesus her Lord! Then she goes on to call Him, "Son of David!" She speaks to Jesus as if she is a believing Israelite; she addresses Jesus as the scribes and Pharisees never did. In fact they never even would have paid a bit of attention to her because they considered her, and all people like her, as unclean and outside the promise of God. Are we guilty of this type of attitude? Do we look upon others as though they are unclean, outside of the promise of God, or as lowly as a dog? We have to remember that we too are sinners. We remember that we have been washed clean of our sins by the shed blood of Jesus. We are no better or more worthy than anyone else of God's love and grace, but still, for the sake of Jesus we have received grace upon grace and have been forgiven.

This Canaanite woman comes to Jesus in faith and in need. Her daughter is oppressed by a demon. This woman and her daughter need Jesus help and she knows it. She knows that Jesus can do what no one else can. This woman knows and believes in who Jesus is. She comes to the Messiah, her Lord and asks that He relieve her daughter's oppression from this demon. But Jesus says that He was sent only for the "Lost sheep of Israel." He does not speak a word to her. The woman is not put off, and she perseveres in her request and continues to cry out to Jesus as Lord and kneeling before Him asks for Him to help her. Jesus then answers her, "It is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to the dogs." This is true! Jesus came as the Messiah of Israel. But this Canaanite woman does not take offense. She does not go off and sulk while feeling sorry for herself and her daughter. No! Listen to her response, "Yes it is, Lord," she said. "Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master's table." Yes Lord, the children's food should not be given to the dogs, that is wrong, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall to the floor when the children are being fed. This woman recognizes that Yes, Jesus is the Messiah of Israel, and she also believes in the abundance of what the Messiah brings to even feed the dogs under the table.

Then Jesus now answers her, "Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted." We are then told that her daughter was healed at that moment. What a display of faith, but more importantly, what an act of love and care and generosity and abundance from a loving and merciful God. You might ask the question, "How did this Canaanite woman know who Jesus is? Who revealed this to her? Well Scripture answers this question. We read in John 6 where Jesus is speaking of Himself as the bread from heaven and the bread of life, but the Jews grumbled against Him, so Jesus says, "Stop grumbling among yourselves," Jesus answered. "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day." The Father drew this Canaanite woman to faith in His Son, Jesus Christ. The Father gave her faith in Him and the abundant grace He came to give. Just as the Father drew the Roman Centurion to faith in Jesus, and just as He has drawn us to saving faith in His abundant grace by the power of the Holy Spirit. In Matthew 11:25-27 Jesus prays, ""I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do. "All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him." We are God's little children and He has revealed the truth of faith in Jesus for our salvation to us and has drawn us to Him. By the power of the Holy Spirit who calls us to faith through the Means of Grace; we too can with this unnamed Canaanite woman call Jesus Lord, and the Son of David, also with faith that He is Israel' Messiah but the abundance He brings is always enough, even if it might be only the crumbs that fall. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding forever keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.


The Tenth Sunday After Pentecost - August 13, 2017

"Where Were You!"

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The text for our meditation this morning is the Old Testament reading, Job 38:4-18 which reads, "Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone-while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy? "Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb, when I made the clouds its garment and wrapped it in thick darkness, when I fixed limits for it and set its doors and bars in place, when I said, 'This far you may come and no farther; here is where your proud waves halt'? "Have you ever given orders to the morning, or shown the dawn its place, that it might take the earth by the edges and shake the wicked out of it? The earth takes shape like clay under a seal; its features stand out like those of a garment. The wicked are denied their light, and their upraised arm is broken. "Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea or walked in the recesses of the deep? Have the gates of death been shown to you? Have you seen the gates of the deepest darkness? Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth? Tell me, if you know all this." Amen. So stands God's Word. Amen.

Were you ever in a situation where you were self-righteously indignant? You were going through some personal angst and feeling as though you were abandoned by family, by friends, and even by God Himself. Certainly at one time or another, to one degree or another, most, if not all of us, have felt this way. Have you ever found yourself becoming angry with God because of something that has happened to you or to a friend or a loved one? Maybe you have been diagnosed with an illness such as cancer. Maybe you have lost someone you loved very much and watched them suffer and slowly waste away because of their disease. You asked the one word question, "Why"? Maybe "WHY" all capital letters, with multiple exclamation points. Maybe you have asked God the question, "Where were you?" As Christians might find our non-Christian friends asking us, "Where was God?" When some disaster or another occurred. Many people will take disaster, human suffering, and death, and disease to be an indication that if there is a God, He either delights in our suffering, or He just doesn't care. So, we ask the question, "God, where were you!?"

But God is right there alongside of us. God has promised that He will never leave us nor will He forsake us even though by our daily sins we prove that all that we deserve from Him is to be forsaken and as we confess, His present and eternal punishment. But what does Jesus Himself tell us about all of this? Let's listen to a few Words of Scripture. Luke 12:6-7 tells us, "Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows." Jesus is speaking these words in the context of assurance in the face of persecution; but they can also apply to us when we face any kind of trial or difficulty. Then of course there are also Paul's letter to the Romans where he writes in chapter 8 verses 22-28, "We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God's people in accordance with the will of God. And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." Job was called according to God's purpose. Job was a righteous man. He was a man who was, as we read in Job 1:1, "In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil." He was a rich and successful man. But one day it was all taken away. Job lost his children. Job lost his wealth. Then finally, Job lost his health. Job sat down in the ashes and scraped at his sores with a broken piece of pottery! But still, in the midst of all of this we are told that "Job did not sin with his lips."

How many of us, when we are faced with the trials and tribulations of this daily life in a world full of sin can say the same? How many of us when faced with slow traffic, a long line at the checkout counter, spilling our coffee in the morning, do not become angry and maybe even find ourselves letting out a few choice words? If we are so weak that in the face of such minor inconveniences act like spoiled children; what happens then when we are confronted with real tragedy? What will we do when we lose a loved one to disease, disaster, or death? How will we act when we lose our house, our car, our cell phone, or our other possessions? How will we respond when one day, and that day will come for each one of us sooner or later, when our health is gone and we to face our own deaths? Will we respond with rants and raves? Will we curse God and die, as Job's wife counseled him to do? Will we ask that question of God, "Where were you?" Then, in our sinfulness, feel as if God actually owes us an answer?

Job was approaching despair. Job's so-called friends were no help at all. His wife gave him bad advice. Who was there for Him? The same One that is also there for us. Job said in chapter 19 verses 25-27, "I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes-I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!"

How awesome that is! Job knew that God was there with him even in the midst of His suffering. He knew that one day he would see God with his own eyes, in the flesh. What a testimony of faith in the resurrection of the body. What faith in God even in midst of horrible trials. Of course still had that question of why? Why was all of this happening to Him? So God responded by asking Job, "Where were you?" God asked Job if he was there when God set creation into motion. Was job around when He laid the earth's foundations, when He set the boundaries of the sea? Job is asked question after question concerning his understanding of God's creation. Job is not able to answer God a word. You and I are just the same. When we are confronted by God and His Law and His Holiness we are not able to answer Him a word. But still, in our sinfulness, we believe that we can question God, and that He owes us an answer, and if the answer is one we do not agree with then we believe that God does not care. Some years ago I was asked to pray for a young man in the hospital suffering from leukemia. I ended the prayer, as I usually do, by saying "Lord, if it be Your will." As I was leaving the young man's grandfather ran out after me and said how dare I say if it be God's will, and that it had better be God's will to heal his grandson. God has to care about what happens to His grandson or what kind of God is He. What kind of God is He? He is a God who knows and understands our weaknesses. He is a God who suffered insults and abuse. He is a God who understands disease and death and who hates these things, who did not create us to suffer these things. He is a God who sent His own Son for us and who saw His Son suffer and die at the hands of sinners, who sent Him to die for our sins so that we who believe in Christ will live with Him eternally. When we ask God, "Where were you?" The answer is I am with you always. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding forever keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.


The Ninth Sunday After Pentecost - August 6, 2017



"Take and Eat"

"Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The text for our meditation this morning is the Old Testament reading, Isaiah 55:1-5, which reads, "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. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. 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. Behold, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples. Behold, you shall call a nation that you do not know, and a nation that did not know you shall run to you, because of the Lord your God, and of the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you. Amen. So stands God's Word. Amen.

The idea of food and hospitality is a very strong one. Sharing a meal with someone is a wonderful demonstration of warmth, acceptance and friendship. Even still today to be invited into a home of someone in a Middle Eastern society is a great show of hospitality and of friendship.

Think of our own country and of societies all over the world. Think about how we celebrate almost everything with food and drink. We celebrate Christmas and Easter. We celebrate birthdays and anniversaries. We have Super Bowl parties. Then too many times we will also gather after a funeral or a memorial service to fellowship with family and friends with a meal as we mourn the loss or celebrate the life of the one who has been called home to their Lord. So celebrations and consolations over food and drink are well established customs in societies all over the world. We know that even in our country where the shelves of the supermarkets are filled with overflowing there are still many people who do not know where their next meal is coming from. There are areas in cities that are called "food deserts" because there is not a grocery store for miles. Many times food that is not healthy or nourishing and that little value is cheaper than food that is healthy; so that the healthy food is economically out of reach for many. There are men, women, and children who go to bed with the gnawing of hunger pangs each night. That is a profound tragedy.

Isaiah, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, 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. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food."

Just as there is food that is unhealthy, that is even harmful; there are teachings that are out there that are also harmful. There are teachings out there that are false, that are patently wrong and that are completely un-Biblical. Why spend money for something that is not bread, which has no nutritional value to it? People are wasting their time on teachings and false made-up religions that only lead to death and separation from the One Holy and Triune God. Psalm 34:8-10 tells us to, "Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! Oh, fear the Lord, you his saints, for those who fear him have no lack! The young lions suffer want and hunger; but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing."

But we weak and sinful human beings are so willing to go off after what only sounds good. We are so very easily tempted to go off after the bread of false teachings and false religions. God through the apostle Paul warned that this would surely happen. We read in 2 Timothy 4:3-4, "For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths." O, and surely the world is full of myths. There is the myth of Buddhism, the myth of Mormonism, the myth of Islam, the myth of Native American Spirituality; and we could go on and on and on about what many people would rather believe than to believe in the truth of God's revealed and Incarnate Word.

In the Old Testament text the cry is to come and to eat and to drink at no cost. We sinners can eat and drink true food and true drink that gives life with no money, and at no cost because the price has already been paid for us. In fact there is no payment that we could possibly make that would be adequate. In the 6th chapter of John's Gospel Jesus says this, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me."

Jesus was rejected by many of those who heard Him speak these words on that day. In fact they said, "This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?" Then we are told, "After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him." This continues to be true to this day. Many of the teachings of Jesus are considered to be "hard" sayings and people ask that same question, "Who can listen to it?" But in truth we answer this question with the words of the apostle Peter, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God." Then Jesus gives us that great and wonderful invitation. Jesus bids us to "Take and eat." Jesus bids us to, "Take and drink." Jesus is both the host and the feast that He invites us to. He is the host of that great Feast that we celebrate when we eat and drink the bread and the wine, which IS Christ's body and blood, in with and under the bread and the wine. Taste and see that the Lord is God! Take and eat! Take and drink! This is a cry, an invitation that is not made to the holy and the elite. It is a cry made to the sinner, the one who is weak, the one who struggles, the one who is poor in spirit, the one who knows their need for forgiveness from their sins and strength to resist temptation.

In verse three of our text we hear, "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." We hear that invitation from our Lord and by the power of the Holy Spirit we are brought to saving faith in Him and is Word of promise and life. We come to Him for food that is true food and drink that is true drink, for food that satisfies our need for forgiveness of our sins and for life everlasting. We come to the One who is the fulfillment of God's promise to David that there would be a descendant of his house on the throne of Israel, the Church, and the New Israel forever! So, this is an invitation made to all people, which is fulfilled in Jesus' words of institution when He invites us all, ""Take, eat; this is my body." And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, "Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins." Indeed, in a few minutes we will respond to Jesus' words and we will come to His table and receive the gift of His grace given in Word and Sacrament, the spoken Word and the Body and Blood of Jesus at no cost to us because He has paid it all for us! Take and eat, see that the Lord is good, what He freely gives is true food and true drink given for the forgiveness of sins and the life of the world. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding forever keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus out Lord. Amen.


The Eighth Sunday After Pentecost - July 30, 2017



"What's the Charge"

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The text for our consideration this morning comes from the epistle reading particularly Romans 8:31-35 which reads, "What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died-more than that, who was raised-who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?" Amen. So stands God's Word. Amen.

In Michigan the Attorney General is charging eleven former caregivers at the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans with falsifying medical records after charting they had checked on veterans, when surveillance video shows the checks were never done.

In Florida police are recommending criminal charges against five teenagers who filmed a disabled man drowning, instead of helping him.

In Wisconsin a woman has been charged with striking and critically injuring a Green Bay police officer while driving drunk.

A criminal charge is a formal accusation made by a governmental authority asserting that somebody has committed a crime. All you have to do is listen to the radio, turn on the television, read the newspaper, or make an internet search, and you will find no end of criminal charges against people for one reason or another. In fact a person who has been a victim of a crime can go to the proper authorities and file charges against the perpetrator by making an accusation against that individual. Those charges may or may not be true. There are people who are charged with various crimes who are innocent. They may be victims of mistaken identity or falsely accused by someone out of anger or out of spite. Fortunately, our system of justice is one that says you are innocent until proven guilty in a proper court of law. Those accused of a crime have the right to have a lawyer represent them and to have a proper defense. Unfortunately our legal system does not always get it right; sometimes the innocent are jailed while the guilty go free.

Brothers and sisters in Christ we have one who brings charges against us. We have one who accuses us. This is the devil. This is Satan. The original Hebrew term satan is a noun from a verb meaning primarily "to obstruct, oppose." Ha-Satan is traditionally translated as "the accuser" or "the adversary". The definite article ha- (English: "the") is used to show that this is a title bestowed on a being, versus the name of a being. Thus, this being would be referred to as "the Satan". He is the one who accuses us just as we read that he accused Job.

Paul, writing in our text this morning asks an important question for all of us, "If God is for us, who can be against us?" Then Paul writes, "Who shall bring any charge against God's elect?" He also asks, "Who is to condemn?" Satan accuses us and he works day and night. One of the weapons he uses is our own conscience. Luther wrote that the Law always accuses. It accuses us because we cannot keep it. We know that we are all of us guilty. We look into the mirror of God's Law and we know that we have not kept it. In Matthew 5 Jesus shows us the impossibility of it, "You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.' But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, 'You fool!' will be liable to the hell of fire." Jesus continues, "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart." When we consider all of this, just how easy it is for us to sin, it can be discouraging. We know that we all have sinful thoughts. We know that we all speak ill of our neighbors. How can any of us make the claim of being innocent? How can any of us make the claim that we have not sinned in thought, word, and deed; by what we have done, and by what we have not done?

You can watch one of the many crime dramas and people will be arrested and will ask the arresting officer, "What's the charge?" We remember that when Jesus was arrested He said to those sent to arrest Him, "Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me? Day after day I sat in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me. But all this has taken place that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled." They knew that Jesus was without sin or guilt. Even Pilate was perfectly aware of this. Pilate says, in Luke 23, "I find no guilt in this man." Pilate says this some three times. But we know that the same cannot be said of any of us. Scripture tells us that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and that if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. All of this can lead us down the path of despair. But God has given an answer to the questions that Paul asks in the text. In the text Paul writes, "He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?" Then Paul writes, "Christ Jesus is the one who died-more than that, who was raised-who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us." John 3:16-18 reads, "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God." God is for us. Even while we were still His enemies, while we were still lost and condemned sinners, God sent His Son Jesus the Christ to suffer and die for us. He freely gives us all things out of His great love for us. Satan, the great accuser, can bring no charge against us because each and every sin has been paid for, they have been washed clean from us, covered by Christ's robe of righteousness. In Revelation 12:10 we have the word that Satan has been cast out, thrown down and that he has no more power accuse us because Christ has died, and Christ has arisen. When Satan makes his accusations and claims that we are condemned; Jesus makes the answer to any sin that he can bring up that "No, I have paid the price for that sin, I have shed my blood to make atonement for that sin.

Can anything separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? This is Paul's question from the text. All of these things are things that Paul himself had gone through. This was a rhetorical question, and the expected answer was to be a resounding NO! Nothing can snatch us out of His hand as He assures us in John 10, "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. I and the Father are one."


The Seventh Sunday After Pentecost - July 23, 2017



"Who is Like the Lord?"

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The text for our meditation this morning is the Old Testament reading, Isaiah 44:6-8, which reads, "Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: 'I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god. Who is like me? Let him proclaim it. Let him declare and set it before me, since I appointed an ancient people. Let them declare what is to come, and what will happen. Fear not, nor be afraid; have I not told you from of old and declared it? And you are my witnesses! Is there a God besides me? There is no Rock; I know not any.'" Amen. So stands God's Word. Amen.

Throughout the history of the world and humanity there have been many kings, there has been one who was the first and there will be a last, and of course they are not going to be the same man. Some of these kings have been great and greatly admired and are still admired to this day; while others have been terrible and evil kings who cared nothing for anyone and only desired to conquer or to use and degrade and enslave even their own people; these kings are also remembered, but they are remembered with horror and disgust to this day.

We know about and can look back at and read about the kings of Israel. There was one who was the first, this was King Saul he was followed by David and Solomon and then Rehoboam under whose reign the kingdom was divided into Israel and Judah. Then there was Hoshea, the last king of Israel when God gave them into the hand of the Assyrians for their idolatrous deeds; and Zedekiah the last king of Judah when God gave them over to the Babylonians because of their evil and idolatrous deeds. There were many kings who ruled over each of these kingdoms, some were good and feared God and did what was right in His sight, many while others were evil and led the people to turn away from their true King Yahweh and to worship other so-called gods who in fact are not gods at all! We read the history of God's chosen people Israel, and we shake our heads and ask how they could be so foolish? How could the people and the kings of the people forget the God and King Yahweh who had do so much for them; King Yahweh had led them out of Egypt, conquered the Promised Land for them, made them into a mighty nation, but still, the people and their kings chased after the so-called god's of the nations who lived around them.

God has repeatedly proclaimed that He is in fact the one and only God. He forbids the worship of anyone or anything else in the Ten Commandments. Time after time God has acted faithfully for His people while the so-called gods of the nations could and did do nothing. Even in the face of the overwhelming evidence of God's love and power the people showed their faithlessness as they chased after god's who are not god's and can do nothing. God would not let He people go He would intervene on their behalf over and over again and demonstrate His power and His mercy and also His judgement against sin.

We can read about the prophet Elijah and the 450 prophets of Baal. In 1 Kings 18God is calling the people back to Himself through Elijah, "How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him." And the people did not answer him a word." Then God, through His prophet shows the people the futility of worshiping the gods of their imaginations, gods who cannot hear, speak or take any action at all, for good or evil. In Isaiah 44:18 we read, "They know not, nor do they discern, for he has shut their eyes, so that they cannot see, and their hearts, so that they cannot understand." This is talking about both the idol as well as the one who makes it and then falls down and worships it.

In the text this morning we hear again God Himself making proclamation, "Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: 'I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god." He also sets out a challenge for any other so-called god to make their claim, and we of course know that there is none to do so. Yahweh calls Himself the King of Israel, Yahweh of hosts or Yahweh of armies. You will note that in your Bible wherever the word LORD is seen in all capital letters you can substitute God's name, Yahweh, or as God told Moses, "I AM". The God that we worship IS and there is no other; and we hear God Himself declare this.

We have already seen the many human kings of Israel and of Judah, but this King, Yahweh He says of Himself, "I am the first and I am the last." Yahweh is King from the first and He will still be King after this world is long gone. Now, another very important point for us and for all humanity is seen in verse six when Yahweh says that He is "The King of Israel and his Redeemer." He is the God who acts for and who saves His people, and there is no other. He says in the text that He is the One who declares what will happen in the future and that His people need not be afraid.

Long ago even after the very first sin God promised that He would send the Redeemer. He would send the One who would accomplish all that was required to defeat sin, death, and the power of the devil and so earn forgiveness and life for all people who would believe in Him. This One would also be the One who would be the Son of David and sit on David's throne forever as no mere human king possibly could. He is the One and only King who is sure to be able to start an action and be guaranteed to be there to complete it. Yes, Yahweh calls Himself "the first and the last." We also read in Revelation that Jesus is also given this awesome title. Revelation 1:17-18 has John speaking of Jesus, "When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, "Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades." Indeed, Jesus is the first and the last. Jesus is the King of the Church, the New Israel. Jesus, through His perfect life, His bitter suffering and death, and His triumphal resurrection is now both Lord and Christ. Jesus is our King, He is our Redeemer. He is faithful in all things and He has redeemed us to be His people. Who is like the Lord our God? Who is like Yahweh? Who is like Jesus the Christ?

There is no one else. There is no other God, not one! We read in the Scriptures in that there is nothing to fear from these so-called gods. That contrary to the message of the world which says that there are multiple ways to God and multiple ways to heaven that there is only one way, Jesus of Nazareth; the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. In John 14:6 Jesus says, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. I have from time to time had the unfortunate occasion to see people change their religion. They grew up as Christians but they turn away to follow the false gods of this world. This is tragic, and we pray that Yahweh, the One true God would open their hearts to the truth. Because who is like the Lord? There is no one. Where is salvation, forgiveness and life found? No place else but through Jesus Christ, as the Scriptures say in Acts 4:10-12, "Let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead-by him this man is standing before you well. This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved." Who is like the Lord? No one! Who brings forgiveness of sins and eternal life for all who believe? No one but God through Jesus Christ His Son. Praise and thanks be to God our Rock and our Redeemer, besides Him there is no other. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding forever keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.


The Sixth Sunday After Pentecost - July 16, 2017



"My Word"

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The Text which engages us this morning is the Old Testament reading, Isaiah 55:10-13 which reads, "For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. "For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall make a name for the Lord, an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off." Amen. So stands God's Word. Amen.

Words. Words have meanings that are associated with them. If our words did not have firm and fixed meanings how would we communicate with one another? Let's face it, even with words that have firm and fixed meanings we often have trouble communicating with one another because, let's face it, we are sinners. Sin has corrupted and infected every aspect of life, including our words and how we use them. We now will try and use our words to justify our sinful behavior or worse yet to try and deceive and degrade our neighbor. Not too long ago there was a national controversy over what "having sex" meant. In the Church there are corners that will look at Jesus instituting the His Holy Supper and being confused over the meaning of the word "is." We are also experiencing and increasing loss of civility in our culture, and more often than not we can see it by our use of words. When we disagree with another person we will not discuss the issue but we will instead attack personally the person with whom we do not agree. We make promises we have no intention of keeping, to men and to God. We throw words around without full knowledge and understanding of a given situation and without care of the harm and hurt they do cause. We have all heard the saying, "Sticks and stones can break my bones but words can ever hurt me." That, brothers and sisters in Christ, is a bald-faced lie! Words can and do cause hurt and pain when they are careless used without thought to our neighbor.

The apostle Paul writes about how we are to use our words in Colossians 4:6, "Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person." Then also in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 we read, "If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing." Indeed, many times the words we hear from others and the words others hear from us mean and gain nothing; we do not say what we mean, or mean what we say.

We are ever so thankful that God is nothing at all like us. God's Word says what it means and it means what it says. God's Word will never lie to us or mislead us. God's Word does not change; God's promises are always kept. Look at our text for this morning, God says, "For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it." You see, God speaks a word, and it is done. God spoke His Word of Law and we are led to recognize our sin and our need for a Savior. We are led to see how our thoughts, words, and deeds are not pleasing to God, but are in fact sinful. In the "Portals of Prayer" devotion for Tuesday, the 11th of July, God's Word is described as containing God's Law which is, "immutable, inflexible, unalterable, and intolerant." But that is not all that God's Word is. God's Word is also Gospel. The Gospel is forgiving, healing, and loving. The Word of the Law is death to us, but the Word of the Gospel is life.

Yes, the Word of God does not return empty but it accomplishes that for which He has sent it. John writes of the Incarnate Word in the first chapter of his Gospel, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it." Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word. He came down from heaven for the purpose of redeeming the world. He came with the purpose of proclaiming that the Kingdom of God is now at hand and that Satan has been defeated and death has been vanquished.

Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word has accomplished the purpose for whom He had been sent by the Father. He did not do so grudgingly or hesitantly, but He did so willingly and gladly out of His great love for the lost and sin-filled and sinful world. Hebrews 12:2 reads, "Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God." Sin is the cause of all the grief and sorrow we have in our lives. But, as our Isaiah text tells us, because of the Word, we shall go forth in the joy of the salvation earned for us by Christ. Creation will be restored and the thorn and thistle with which we are afflicted will be replaced and Paradise restored. We have the Cross as the sign of Christ our Savior's sacrifice for our sins. We have been given the true body and blood of Jesus to eat and to drink in the Lord's Supper; we have the assurance of the waters of Baptism applied to us with God's Word; and we are blessed with the written and proclaimed Word of God by which through the power of the Holy Spirit we are brought to saving faith in the Incarnate Word of God, Jesus Christ. Our words are nothing and of no value, but the Word of God is and carries with it everything; it is our light and our life. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding forever keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.


The Fifth Sunday After Pentecost - July 9, 2017



"I Will Give You Rest"

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The text for our meditation this morning is the Gospel reading, Matthew 11:25-30, which reads "At that time Jesus declared, "I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." Amen. So stands God's Word. Amen.

Rest. That word can sound so appealing can't it? At the end of a long hard day the idea of rest is a wonderful thing. I remember when I was working on the flight ramp at Boeing in St. Louis. We would, during the course of an eight hour work day, have a ten minute break in the morning, a thirty minute lunch, and then another ten minute break in the afternoon. These were welcome periods of rest, even though they went by much too quickly. The human body, if not given rest, will begin to break down. Even elite athletes, ones who are at the top of their sports, considered to be world class, know that they cannot train at full power and speed all of the time; they know that their bodies require rest in order to repair itself. It is not only physical activity that requires rest in order for a person to perform at their best, but also mental activity. "Some of the most serious potential problems associated with chronic sleep deprivation are high blood pressure, diabetes, heart attack, heart failure or stroke." So, rest is indeed very important. Rest is also important for us a believers, as Christians, as brothers and sisters in Christ. But, this is not just merely physical rest, it is so very much more. God, after His work of creation was completed, rested on the seventh day. This is not due to tiredness however, it is because His creating work is complete and is pronounced as very good. Also however there is another important point that we see in Genesis 2:3, "So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation." God made the seventh day holy, God set the seventh day apart to commemorate His creative work. Then later on He commanded His chosen people to observe the Sabbath day as a day of solemn rest. They were to do no work on the seventh day and to violate this commandment was punishable by being stoned to death. In fact during their forty years in the wilderness while God was feeding the people with manna, they were told to collect enough on the sixth day to feed them on the seventh, as there would be none to collect on the Sabbath.

At the beginning of our text we hear Jesus praying to the Father and thanking Him, "that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will." The religious leaders of Israel would not give the people rest. In fact they loaded the people up with a heavy load of rules and regulations. But we find no peace in rules and regulations. There is only tension and anxiety. There is only worry and fatigue, there is no rest because the Law, rules and regulations, does not allow for peace, it does not allow for rest. The burden, the yoke of the Law, never gets any lighter no matter how long we deal with it, in fact it only seems to become heavier as the guilt and shame of our not being able to follow it builds and builds. In John 5:39-40 Jesus says this to the Jews, "You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life." This was after He had healed the lame man at the Pool of Bethesda on the Sabbath. It is so very interesting to look at the reaction of the religious leaders to His healing people on the Sabbath Day. Instead of recognizing the rest, peace, and power of God who was there in their midst; they were brought to anger and only sought to kill Him. Luther, in the Small Catechism's explanation to the Third Commandment says this, "We sin against the Third Commandment when we despise preaching and the Word of God. We despise preaching and the Word of God when we do not attend public worship; when we do not use the Word of God and the Sacraments; when we use the Word of God and the Sacraments negligently or carelessly." The Jews despised the very Word of God incarnate and would not accept the rest that He freely offer them. They were learned and educated men. These men were experts in the Law and could certainly recite it to you word for word. The problem was that they just did not understand that the righteousness of God was not attained by the Law but through faith. Jewish Rabbis described the Law in this way: "The yoke of the Law is a glorious obedience to God, which frees you from obligations to the world and gives you rest." But Jesus Himself tells us that this yoke is heavy. In the text Jesus calls for all who labor and are heavy laden to come to Him and He will give them rest, but, rest from what? Well, of course this is the heavy burden from the anxiety, and terror of sin and death that cannot be lifted by adherence to the Law. Because every one of us fail in our efforts to keep God's Law, we labor and we carry a completely unnecessary burden. It is an unnecessary burden because Christ carried this burden for all the world, for you and for me. We have all felt the weight of this burden as our consciences speak to us after we have transgressed God's commands. It is only when we confess our sins and believe that we are forgiven for the sake of the suffering and death of Jesus that this burden is lifted. The Father has revealed the truth of this through His Word by the power of the Holy Spirit to little children, to us, and it has been received by faith and it gives us the promised rest. That is not to say that God picks and chooses who He wants to be saved and who He wants to believe. Those to whom this is hidden are those who reject it and refuse to believe. Because in verse twenty-eight of our text Jesus calls for "all who labor and are heavy laden." Jesus will give rest to all sinners who are burdened by the guilt and terror of their sins. But those who rely on their own works and their own righteousness, and their own wisdom see the cross as foolishness. Those who the world would consider to be wise will pick apart the peace and rest of God received by faith in the cross of Christ and the truth and wisdom of it remains hidden to them.

The day of rest, the Sabbath Day pointed ahead to Jesus who is our rest. Jesus told the scribes and the Pharisees who condemned Him for healing on the Sabbath that He is the Lord of the Sabbath. Listen to this account from Luke 13, "Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. And behold, there was a woman who had had a disabling spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not fully straighten herself. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said to her, "Woman, you are freed from your disability." And he laid his hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and she glorified God. But the ruler of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, said to the people, "There are six days in which work ought to be done. Come on those days and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day." Then the Lord answered him, "You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it away to water it? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?" As he said these things, all his adversaries were put to shame, and all the people rejoiced at all the glorious things that were done by him." Jesus lifted that yoke from this woman and gave her rest from her affliction on the Sabbath and He put to same all those who opposed Him. Jesus lifts the yoke of sin and shame and death from us and gives us rest from our affliction and when he returns in glory He will put to everlasting shame all those who reject this rest and refuse to believe in Him. But, He will give everlasting peace and rest to all of us who have laid our burdens upon Him and have received His light yoke of Grace. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding forever keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.


The Fourth Sunday After Pentecost - July 2, 2017



"Released from the Law"

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The text which engages us this morning is from the epistle reading, particularly Romans 7:4-6 which reads, "Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code." Amen. So stands God's Word. Amen.

Released from the Law. What does that mean? What is it to be released from the Law? Does it mean that the Law no longer applies to us? There are those who live their lives in such a way as to cause us to believe that they think that the law does not apply to them. We have examples of people, that quite literally, the law does not apply to. There are certain laws that do not apply to the President of the United States. The congress of the United States will, from time to time, pass a law that contains a provision the will exempt them. We will hear about foreign diplomats who have what is called "diplomatic immunity." This is meant to protect the diplomats serving in foreign countries from being arrested and prosecuted on made up charges to put pressure on their country. This, like anything else, can be and is abused by sinful human beings. "Top diplomatic officers have full immunity, as do their deputies and families. That means ambassadors can commit just about any crime-from jaywalking to murder-and still be immune from prosecution. They can't be arrested or forced to testify in court. However, contrary to popular belief, any diplomat can be issued a traffic citation. They just can't be forced to pay it." From www.slate.com.

So, is this what Paul is talking about in our text from Romans when he writes that we have been released from the Law? Does Paul mean that we have some sort of "diplomatic immunity?" That we can commit any sin that we want from lying to murder and not have to worry about the consequences? Well, in answer to this question let's look at something else that Paul wrote in Romans 6:1-3, "What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?" Think about this for just a moment. Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, writes that we who have baptized into Christ have been baptized into His death. Paul also writes that, "The Law is binding on a person only as long as he lives." He gives the example of marriage in that a wife is bound to her husband only as long as he lives.

Now certainly the Law of God is not bad. The Law of God is not harmful to us. In fact the Law of God is beneficial in many ways. Paul writes in verse 12 of Romans 7, "So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good." You see the Law of God shows us how God wants us to be toward Him and toward one another. The Law tells us what God expects of us. Listen to this exchange between Jesus Himself and an expert in the Law: "And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" He said to him, "What is written in the Law? How do you read it?" And he answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself." And he said to him, "You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live." This man wanted to use the Law to justify himself, to obtain eternal life. He did not realize that he, as is everyone who relies on their own righteousness, a slave to the Law. He did not understand that the Law does not save anyone. In fact what we believe, teach, and confess is that, "The Law always accuses." In fact these relied on the Law to such an extent that they would add more to it in hopes that they could "build a hedge" around the Law so that the people would not encroach upon it.

But that is a complete misunderstanding of the Law's purpose, which is to show us just how much we need Jesus and what He has accomplished for us. The Law is a frightening thing because we, as human beings still struggling with the old Adam within us, are in a daily battle against the accusing nature of the devil who throws our failures back into our faces. Luther writes this about the Law, "The Law says, 'do this,' and it is never done. Grace says, 'believe in this,' and everything is already done." The Law can do nothing but command us to do or to not do something. The Law also has no ability to help a person keep it. There is also no grace or mercy in the Law; you have either kept God's Law or you have not, there is no middle ground. Now we all know that none of us have kept God's Law perfectly, and when we violate one of God's commands it is called a sin. We try to lessen the severity of it by says things like, I have made a mistake, I acted in poor judgement, but in reality what we have done is sinned against God. 1 John 1:8, "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us." Sin also demands a payment. There must be a punishment for sin, God's very holiness demands it. This punishment is not just a slap on the wrist or to go stand in the corner for a while. Paul writes in Romans 6:23, "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."

We who believe in Christ Jesus as our Lord and Savior have been released from the Law's demands. This does not mean that we can sin all we want because God forgives us, no. Because as redeemed people of God in Christ we are new creations. We praise and thank God for His gift of forgiveness and life through His only begotten Son. Jesus suffered and died to pay the penalty for sin that we rightly owed. He suffered and died to receive the wages of sin that we rightly deserve, that is death. Jesus was without sin. Pilate realized this. The thief on the cross realized this. The sinless died for the sinful. Jesus died so that we might be released from the demands and accusations and strict penalty of the Law. We have been released from the Law in that we no longer have to try and keep the Law in order to receive salvation and life. We do not have to do what is impossible for us, which is to keep the Law perfectly or be condemned to hell for all eternity. Paul writes in Galatians 2:20, "I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." A person who has been baptized has died with Christ. A person who has died is no longer under the requirements of the Law.

We who are in Christ are now dead to the Law meaning that the Law's accusations and threats have no power over us because Jesus has died for us. We are dead to the Law but we are alive God in Christ Jesus. Jesus is our substitute. Think about that for a minute. What Jesus has done He has done for you and for me so that we might be released from the Law, to be released from our captivity to the Law which only results in death and eternal separation from God. Brothers and sisters in Christ, we live because Jesus died and now lives for us and we live in Him. He kept the Law perfectly for us. He died for our sins and has rose triumphantly from the grace. He has removed the yoke of the Law from our shoulders and has replaced it with His light and easy yoke. He now works through us so that we bear good fruit for Him. We no longer live for the Law but are made alive in and through Christ. No, it is not a form of diplomatic immunity because there has been a punishment for our sinful breaking of the Law and Jesus has received it and has released us and made us alive and free. Amen. The peace of God that passes all understanding forever keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.




The Third Sunday After Pentecost - June 25, 2017



"Have No Fear of Them"

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The text which engages us this morning comes from the Gospel reading, particularly Matthew 10:26-33, which reads, "So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven." Amen. So stands God's Word. Amen.

In his inauguration speech on March 4, 1933, after he was sworn in for his first term as President of the United States, Franklin Delano Roosevelt said, "So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is...fear itself - nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance." Generally most people only remember part of this, which reads, "that the only thing we have to fear is...fear itself." Also, most people don't know the national context in which this speech was given. At this time the nation was paralyzed in the grip of the Great Depression. People were afraid. People's life savings were wiped out. People lost their homes and their jobs. Many people did not have a place to lay their heads and did not know where their next meal was coming from. There were many people who were lost and they had no idea what to do; at the height of the Great Depression almost 25% of the workforce was out of a job. These people were afraid. These people needed someone to help them. They needed someone to rescue them. These people needed someone to save them. However, as with most things that happen, not all people were effected to the same extent. There were people who went through the great depression with relatively no trouble. These people kept working and didn't go hungry; they had jobs, homes and food, they were ok; but these people too were afraid.

Fear is certainly a powerful emotion. There are some things that we should rightly be fearful of and there are others which we should not fear. Fear can paralyze us into not taking action that we should. Fear can also cause us to take an action that we may not normally take, and possibly later regret. In our text this morning Jesus teaches about who we should not be afraid of and who in fact we should fear. Jesus had been teaching His disciples about the persecution that was going to come. Jesus told them that they would "be hated by all for my name's sake. But Jesus also reminded them of the resistance that He came up against, resistance that only grew in intensity as the religious leaders realized that Jesus was not the Messiah that they wanted. What they did not realize or understand was that Jesus is the Messiah that they needed.

Jesus is the Messiah that you and I as well as the rest of the world needs. The religious leaders needed Jesus even though they didn't think that they did. They were afraid too, but they were not afraid of the right person. They were afraid that if they allowed Jesus to continue as He was, that the Romans would come and do something about it. We read this in John 11:47-48, "So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council and said, "What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation." They were afraid of the Romans and the possible persecution they would bring against them and not of what God had said. They believed that they were righteous because of their own keeping of God's Law and their supposed good works. But we read in Psalm 14:1-3, "The fool says in his heart, "There is no God." They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds; there is none who does good.

The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one." St. Paul quotes these verses in Romans chapter three as he is teaching about the righteousness of God that comes to us by faith; not by our own good works which God through His prophet Isaiah describes in this way, "We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away." That is something to fear.

Jesus says to His disciples, "So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell." Isn't it interesting that contrary to what some false teachers say that God does not promise to keep us from suffering, He has not promised to keep His people from persecution as we serve Him here in the Church Militant. In fact He says quite the opposite. Jesus is saying that the people who are the most faithful are the most likely to suffer. But we are not to fear.

We are not to fear because on the Last Day every secret of God's plan of salvation in Christ - and all of man's hidden sin and rebellion - will be made know to everyone. Then, we are not to fear because not matter what those who persecute us may do to us, they cannot separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Savior from sin, death, and the power of the devil. That even at their worst and most destructive, they cannot destroy our relationship with the Father. Even though they can quite literally kill and destroy the body, they cannot do any harm to the soul. We are to fear Him who can destroy both body and soul in hell. But this is also the same One who does not desire the death of the sinner. This is the same One who tells us not to fear because He has sent His only-begotten Son Jesus Christ to suffer and die for our sins so that as He takes our sins upon Himself He gives us His own perfect righteousness. All this is completely undeserved and is God's undeserved grace to us received by faith, which is also a most wonderful gift given to us by the Holy Spirit working through the Means of Grace. Indeed, it is far better for us to suffer persecution in this life and then to live forever with our Lord and Savior for all eternity never to suffer or to fear ever again.

Jesus then goes on to affirm His promise that although the Christian may suffer in this life that does not mean God has abandoned them or that He does not care about and love them. He showed His great love for us by sending Jesus to be our Savior. Listen to God's Word through Paul in Romans 8:31-32, "What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?" In our text Jesus assures us as He says, "Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows." Then Jesus promises us, "So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven."

Because of the forgiveness and grace we have received by faith for the sake of Christ we have the privilege of proclaiming Chris and His love to our community and to the world; and Jesus promises us that He will acknowledge to the Father that we are indeed His sheep; His sheep that He will lead in and out and give pasture to and lead beside springs of Living Water! No, we do not need to fear because our eternity is assured, we are sons and daughters of the King, brothers and sisters in Christ, and washed clean by His shed blood. We do not fear not because of our own power but because in Christ our sins have been taken away and our Savior Jesus acknowledges us as His before the Father in heaven. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding forever keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.




The Second Sunday After Pentecost - June 18, 2017



"Working in the Harvest Field"

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The text for our meditation this morning is taken from the Gospel reading, particularly Matthew 9:35-38, which reads, "And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest." Amen. So stands God's Word. Amen.

There are people such as myself who know very little about planting, nurturing the crop, and then harvesting. I was, for the longest time, under the wrong assumption that the harvest was taken in the fall of the year, and that was that. Those who are much more familiar with the mysteries of agriculture know better. You can engage in planting, nurturing, and harvesting all year long. For example we have winter wheat, "Planted in fall, winter wheat is ready to be harvested in late spring. Farmers can then follow up with a quick planting of no-till soybeans, allowing double-cropping - two crops out of one field. Winter wheat typically sprouts before freezing occurs and then becomes dormant until the soil warms up in early spring. It's the same principle as planting grass seed (actually, a close relative) before frost to ensure a green lawn the next spring." Taken from the website: farmflavor.com. I had no idea!

The people of Israel to whom Jesus was speaking in our text this morning knew all about the reality of harvests occurring throughout the year. In the spring they had the early figs and the barley harvest. Late spring and early summer there was the wheat harvest. During the summer they harvested olives, summer figs, and grapes. Then there were winter figs, flax, and the almonds began to blossom in late winter, and early spring. The people of Israel knew that there was very little off time when it came to sowing the seed, nurturing the plants, and then working in the harvest fields; in fact there are times when a farmer has to drop everything else and get out there in the fields because the harvest is ready, the crop is ripe, and time is of the essence.

This world is God's harvest field. There is much work that needs to be done. Just as in the fields of the agricultural world there is a need for workers to plant, feed and water, nurture, and harvest; God's field is in need of the same. Jesus calls for the people, "pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest." You see the need is great. Jess said, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few." The proper seed must be sown. The correct fertilizer must be applied. The correct amount of water and sunlight given. It might even be the case that different workers with different skills and assignments could be used to ensure that the harvest will be plentiful and that the crop would thrive. This is also the case for Christ's Church. All people are needed, and are called to work, people of many skills and vocations are needed to work in the harvest fields of Christ's Church,

There are too many people who are still lost in sin and unbelief; in fact even if it were only one person who was still lost it would be too many. Remember the words of Jesus Himself from Matthew 18:12-14, "What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish." Make no mistake. There is only one way by which all people must be saved. That one way is to believe in Christ Jesus and His suffering and death on the cross for the sins of the world and in His triumphant resurrection from the grave on the third day. Death and Satan believed that they had won the victory and that the harvest had been wiped out. Instead the victory belonged to Jesus. Death could not hold Him, and all of Satan's plans came to ruin. However, that does not mean that he has given up from trying to entice every person that he can away from saving faith in Jesus. He does this by spreading lies and poisonous teaching that sound so good and so loving and that make such good sense to our sinful nature that people become lost in them. We are daily confronted by false and poisonous teachings that lead only to death and to hell. The devil has his workers as well. We are advised in God's Word to be wary and to guard against them. We read in 1 Peter 5:8, "Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour." Jesus talks about the false teachers who would spread poisonous doctrines in Matthew 7:15, ""Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves."

That is another reason why workers in the harvest field are so critical. There are so many who are lost in sin and unbelief. There are so many who are being fed poisonous food and contaminated water. The situation is critical and it will be so until Jesus returns in glory. We are to pray that the Lord of the harvest will equip and send workers into His harvest field. The work of the laborers is to spread the Gospel to all people of all languages and all nations. It is to do the work that Jesus describes in Matthew 28:18-20, "And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." This might sound like an impossible and daunting task. But with God nothing is impossible. God saves. The Holy Spirit works through the Means of Grace; the Word as it is read and proclaimed, and the sacraments as they are rightly administered and taught. Why is this? What is the reason that God in Christ does all of this for us? It is love. We know that God is love and that He loves all people and desires their salvation. John 3:16 is the Gospel in one easy verse, "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son, that who so-ever believeth in Him should not perish but have eternal life!" Then we read in Hebrews 12:1-2, "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God."

In our text Jesus looked out upon the crowds and had compassion on them because of their lost condition. They were lost sheep who were without a shepherd and who were being led astray by false teachers who were condemning Jesus and even going so far as to say that He was in league with Beelzebub. Jesus is the Anointed One, the Messiah, the Redeemer of the world, the true Shepherd of the sheep who lays down His life for His sheep, for us, so that we would be forgiven and receive everlasting life. Jesus calls for workers in His harvest field. Jesus has great compassion on the lost and He pours this out upon us. He fills the hearts of His people with this compassion for the lost and sends them out into His harvest. He sends out those who plant the seed of the Word. He sends out those who tend and water. He sends out those who work for the harvest. But it is God the Holy Spirit Himself who works and gives the growth, we are merely His willing and joyful servants who rejoice in being privileged to be allowed to do this wonderful service. We never do this work alone because He is always with us. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding forever keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.


The Holy Trinity - June 11, 2017



"God Gives Us the Victory"

"Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The text for our meditation this morning is 1 Corinthians 15:57 which reads, "But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." Amen. So stands God's Word. Amen. That verse is the theme verse from our Vacation Bible School this year. "God gives us the victory!" Just think about that for a moment and say it along with me. "Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." Now we could also change this up just a bit and say this a bit differently. "Thanks be to God, who makes us the winner through our Lord Jesus Christ."

Brothers and sisters in Christ. We live in a culture and a society that is sports heavy. People compete in everything; and things are being called sports that would not have been called so just a few years ago. But I am just a bit older and my opinion is colored by that somewhat. That being so I am only going to use my own definition of what a sport is. Do any of you like to play sports? I know for a fact that there are many people here in our congregation who enjoy the competition. Maybe you enjoy softball or baseball. Maybe soccer or golf is your game. Maybe it's basketball. Maybe you like running. Maybe you even have your eye fixed on the Olympic Games. If you have ever played or competed in any sport or game, then you know what it's like to win; and you know what it's like to lose. When you win it feels great, in fact there are few other feelings like it. Winning is so much better than losing.

So, listen again to our VBS theme verse: "But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." Now put another way, "Thanks be to God, who makes us the winner through our Lord Jesus Christ." Winning is important in playing sports, but winning is even more important if you are fighting in a war. Soldiers want to win even more than sports figures want to win! Sports is only a game. War is guns and bombs. War is life and death. Soldiers want and need victory too! We are in a war. In our battle against our enemies of sin, death, and Satan, we can't win the victory. Our sin defeats us every day and Satan cheers. Jesus comes and Satan runs away. Jesus is our Savior King! Victory has been won! Jesus came willingly to earth, suffered, died, and rose again so that God would forgive or sins and give us the victory: eternal life with Him forever. Say it with me, "Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." "Thanks be to God, who makes us the winner through our Lord Jesus Christ!"

In the book that God wrote for us, the Bible, God describes our eternal life as being somewhat like a sporting event. For example, God writes in Hebrews 12:1, "Let us run with endurance that race that is set before us." Again, God writes in 1 Corinthians 9:24, "Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it." God wants us to know that our Lord Jesus is the runner who won the prize of eternal life! What did He do with it? By grace through faith, Jesus gave the prize to you and to me! Through His life, death, and resurrection, Jesus defeated our enemies of sin, death, and Satan. He has promised us the final victory over every enemy, seen and unseen, at the Last Day.

In the book that God wrote for us, the Bible, God describes our eternal life as being a like a battle or a war that we must fight. God writes in Ephesians 6:11, "Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil." God also writes in James 4:7, "Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you." If eternal life is a battle or a war, then our Lord Jesus Christ is the mighty warrior who went into battle before us. Our enemies of sin, Satan, and death are stronger then we are. If we fight on our own we will be defeated. But God is our Mighty Fortress and Deliverer. He battled those enemies through Jesus perfect life of obedience and His death. His resurrection victory gives us forgiveness of sins, salvation, and eternal life. This is what our theme verse for VBS is all about, say it with me, ", "Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." "Thanks be to God, who makes us the winner through our Lord Jesus Christ!"

These are God's Words. These Words teach us to think of our Lord Jesus as a great athlete or a mighty warrior who has done all of our winning for us. God GIVES us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. In our Baptism, we defeated sinners receive the righteousness of Christ through water and God's Word. During VBS we learned about the victory that Jesus earned for us by His death on the cross and His resurrection from the tomb. Our first Bible story got us ready to hear about Jesus' victory for us. It takes place in the Old Testament city of Jericho, where the walls came tumbling down through the power of God's promises. God gave His people the victory!

Our second Bible story also got us ready to hear about Jesus' victory for us. It was about an Old Testament king named Hezekiah, who ruled over God's people. Hezekiah taught us that we have nothing to fear. Why? Because "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble." In our third story of VBS, we heard about another Old Testament king, Josiah. Through Josiah, God showed us that His Word is very powerful, able to do amazing things, and that as we are told in Proverbs 30:5, "Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him."

Our fourth VBS story was of how Jesus came into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, in order to suffer and die for our sins. Here comes our great athlete, who won the contest for us! Here comes our great soldier and champion! He gives us the victory in battle! Finally, just this morning: we heard the Good News of God's greatest victory. Jesus rose from the dead on Easter Sunday! Death is defeated! Satan has lost the battle! We all receive forgiveness of sins and eternal life. The victory has been won for us!

We have certainly had a wonderful and important time together. I praise and that God that you all have been here with us. We have heard, and I hope been able to memorize, these important words, "Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." Remember the other way we can say it, "Thanks be to God, who makes us the winner through our Lord Jesus Christ!" Say it with me one more time and take it with you as we leave from this place, "Thanks be to God, who makes us the winner through our Lord Jesus Christ!" Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding forever keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.


The Day of Pentecost - June 4, 2017



"The Spirit"

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The text which engages and enlightens us this morning is the Old Testament reading, Numbers 11:24-30, which reads, "So Moses went out and told the people the words of the Lord. And he gathered seventy men of the elders of the people and placed them around the tent. Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the Spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders. And as soon as the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied. But they did not continue doing it. Now two men remained in the camp, one named Eldad, and the other named Medad, and the Spirit rested on them. They were among those registered, but they had not gone out to the tent, and so they prophesied in the camp. And a young man ran and told Moses, "Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp." And Joshua the son of Nun, the assistant of Moses from his youth, said, "My lord Moses, stop them." But Moses said to him, "Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord's people were prophets, that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!" And Moses and the elders of Israel returned to the camp." Amen. So stands God's Word. Amen.

In confirmation class and adult instruction class when we talk about the Holy Spirit we will say things like, "the Holy Spirit is the quiet member of the Trinity." We talk of the Holy Spirit as the One whose job and mission is to point us to Christ and to not call attention to Himself. If we are not careful we could almost allow ourselves to fall into the trap of thinking of the Holy Spirit as something other than God. But, of course, that would be wrong. The Holy Spirit is God. The Holy Spirit is a full and equal part of the Trinity. This is clearly taught in Scripture and is taught and explained in the Athanasian Creed, where we read these words: "But the Godhead of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit is one: the glory equal, the majesty coeternal." Then a bit later, "So the Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God; and yet there are not three Gods, but one God." This is taught throughout God's Word. In Deuteronomy 6:4-5 we have what is known as the Shema because that is the first word in Hebrew of the following verses, "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might." In the New Testament Gospel of Mark Jesus is asked by one of the scribes, "Which commandment is the most important of all?" Jesus answered, "The most important is, 'Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength."

But how can we do this? We know that our old Adam, that sinful nature that lives within each one of us resists this. We do not want to love God with all our being. When we are confronted by doctrines that are difficult to understand or are hard to take because they violate what we feel is good and right and what we think that God should do instead of what He actually does. The doctrine of the Trinity is one such teaching. People cannot wrap their minds around the fact that although there are three separate and distinct persons; there is still only One God. Islam completely and vehemently denies this and it accuses us of worshipping multiple gods. Others will say that the word Trinity is not found in the Bible, and they would be right. But the teaching is there. We see Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in action all throughout God's revealed Word to us. I can give you two examples, the one maybe not so clear, and the other very clear, but in both all three persons of the Trinity are present. In the creation account in Genesis 1:1-3, "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light." We have the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit; all in action in the creation. Then in the New Testament at the Baptism of Jesus we read in Matthew 3:16-17, "And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased." Again, we have the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit present as three separate persons, but yet they are indeed one God.

But, although God, as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are always active together in all things we, because of what the Scriptures tell us, give something of a priority of activity to each person in certain areas. The Holy Spirit is indeed the quiet person of the Trinity, but not because He is shy, but because He indeed points us to Jesus Christ who suffered and died and rose again to make atonement for the sins of the world, your sins, and my sins. He makes Himself known as He comes upon us through Word and Sacrament; as He opens our hearts and minds to the truth of God in Christ and creates and sustains saving faith within us.

In our text this morning we see God sending His Spirit up seventy elders of Israel to give them authority to assist Moses in leading God's people. When the Spirit came upon them they began to prophesy. Even two who had not made it to the appointed place, Eldad and Medad, also began to prophesy. Joshua saw this and was alarmed and reported it to Moses so that he might stop it, because he feared that they were rebelling and assuming authority that belonged to Moses. But Moses responds, "Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord's people were prophets, that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!" This is what we remember and rejoice in today, that indeed the Lord did pour out His Holy Spirit all of His people. This is just what we read about in our second reading of Acts 2:1-4, "When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance." Prophesying, or the forth telling of God's grace in Christ to all the people there in their own languages, the Lord pouring out His Spirit on all flesh as also prophesied in Joel as Peter writes, "And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh." He has done that at Pentecost and He continues to do it so that He might gather people to Himself because of His desire that all people would be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth, as Paul writes in 1 Timothy chapter 2.

The Holy Spirit's work is a matter of life and death for everyone. He continues to work through God's appointed Means of Grace; Word and Sacrament, Baptism and the Lord's Supper. Then, Jesus Himself tells us that we are to use these things in order to make disciples, as He teaches in Matthew 28:18-20, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you." The Holy Spirit working through those means in order to bring people into the Kingdom of God by creating faith within them. Because as we read in 1 Corinthians 12:3, "Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says "Jesus is accursed!" and no one can say "Jesus is Lord" except in the Holy Spirit." Martin Luther puts it like this in the explanation to the Third Article of the Apostles' Creed, "I believe that 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." Praise and thanks be to God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit for the wonderful gifts of faith and life in and through Jesus Christ. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding forever keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.


Seventh Sunday of Easter - May 28, 2017



"Rejoice and Be Glad"

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The text for our meditation this morning is from the epistle reading, particularly 1 Peter 4:12-19 which reads, "Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And "If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?" Therefore let those who suffer according to God's will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good." Amen. So stands God's Word. Amen.

People can be very cynical. Just consider the following saying, "life is hard, and then you die." Wow, what a depressing sentiment. People can go through tough times. When that happens most of us want someone to explain why? What is the reason for everything that we have to go through? Then, if we are not going through suffering and hard times ourselves, we look at all of the other people suffering in the world and ask why? Mankind has been struggling with this for centuries. Why do people suffer? To refine this question just a bit further we can ask, "Why do the righteous suffer?" The book of Job shows God's servant Job. The Lord asks Satan, "Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?" God allows Satan to afflict Job and he suffers. At first Job is not necessarily questioning the fact of his suffering. He is not questioning why? Why is God allowing all of this to happen to him? So, what does Job do? Job sits in ashes in repentance and faith. Job trusts in God and does not question His motives. Job ultimately trusts in God for his redemption, and that is why Job fears God. Jesus tells us in Matthew 10:28, "And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell." The book of Job teaches us that yes, God allows the righteous to suffer, but is for His glory. Just as when Jesus was asked why was a certain man born blind, was it because of his own sin or his parents? Jesus answered, "It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him." Then later in the chapter we have this interaction between the man and Jesus, "Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him he said, "Do you believe in the Son of Man?" He answered, "And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?" Jesus said to him, "You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you." He said, "Lord,I believe," and he worshiped him." The man worshipped Jesus and we know that we are commanded to worship God alone. The man gives praise and glory to Jesus, who is God. Ultimately, the man's life of suffering with blindness was used to bring him to repentance and saving faith in Jesus the Messiah and to show the works and glory of God in the world. And what is the work of God? It is that all people would be brought to saving faith in Christ Jesus as Lord and Savior as the One who paid the price for their sins, and in this to rejoice and be glad.

Of course other religions have a different explanation for why there is suffering in the world. Buddhism for example teaches that suffering is caused by desire and to eliminate suffering a person must eliminate desire. Also that a person has it within themselves to overcome this and to attain enlightenment. But Holy Scripture, the Bible teaches us that the reason for suffering and the reason for death in this world is because of sin. All of these issues, hunger, disease, hatred and conflict and so on are because of the consequences of our sins. We cannot overcome this on our own because the old Adam, that sinful nature that lives within each of us desires to rebel against God and sin. But rejoice and be glad because God has accomplished all that is required for the redemption of every man, woman, and child of all times and all places. He sent His only-begotten So Jesus Christ to be the propitiation for sin. Indeed, rejoice and be glad!

But all of this does not mean that we will live lives of perfect joy and peace. It does not mean that we will live lives without distress or suffering. Contrary to what some others may proclaim God does not promise us a life that is perfect. If anyone is going through any difficulties in life, any disease or distress that does not mean that they do not have enough faith. It does not mean that they are not being positive enough. It does not mean that God is no longer with them. No, God promises that He will be with us always even to the end of the age. God in Christ is with us and He can relate and sympathize with our sufferings. Jesus lived as one of us going through everything that we go through as human beings. Jesus instead told us that we would go through troubles. Listen to Jesus words in John 16:33, "I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world."

At first it certainly didn't seem like Jesus had overcome the world. Jesus was arrested by the religious establishment. He was mocked and beaten. Jesus was nailed to a cross. Jesus was tempted by the devil through the onlookers to save Himself and come down from the cross and to end His own suffering. But Jesus did not have His own comfort and safety in mind. Jesus did not have the world's purpose in mind. Jesus' will and purpose, Jesus' intention was to give Himself fully and completely for us. He surrendered all His divine powers and rights and comforts so that He might die for the sins of the world. Rejoice and be glad! The idea that we should rejoice in our sufferings doesn't sound right does it? But that is just what we are instructed to do. We can do it because we know that if God is for us no one can be against us. Indeed there is nothing and no one who can separate us from God's love expressed in His Son Jesus the Christ.

In our text Peter says, "Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed." The apostles are clear examples of this. In Acts "and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name." Peter continues as He writes, "If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you." But it is not the same as if we were suffering because of sin. We read that we are not to suffer because we are murderers, or thieves, or evil doers, or meddlers. But as Christians we are even to expect to suffer persecution for the sake of our faith and for the name of Jesus. Jesus Himself warned us in Matthew 10:20-22, "Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name's sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. Because as Peter writes as well, "Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name." Rejoice and be glad! Jesus our Savior endured all for us. As we read in Hebrews 12, "Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God." Rejoice and be glad! Even as we suffer trials and despair and discouragement and worse in our lives we take comfort in the fact that Jesus is always right there by our side. Jesus is leading and guiding us and protecting us with His love even in the midst of the worst that the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh have to throw at us. Rejoice and be glad, for Jesus has won the victory for us and because He has triumphed w too enjoy the fruits of that victory, forgiveness and life eternal. Rejoice and be glad! Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding forever keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Sixth Sunday of Easter - May 21, 2017



"God's Offspring"

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The text for our meditation this morning is from the first reading, particularly Acts 17:29-31 which reads, "Being then God's offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead." Amen. So stands God's Word. Amen.

For most people it is easy to know whose offspring that we are. We identify ourselves by our family names. We can look in the mirror and see features that remind us of our parents. We can say things, we can do things that cause us to pause for a moment because they remind us so much of how our parents would conduct themselves. These things run the gamut too don't they? For example my wife, Lesley, has told me that when our younger daughter Rebekka are walking together, we walk almost exactly the same. I know that there are also some things that we inherit from our parents that are not so good. We can inherit a propensity for various diseases. We can be more susceptible to depression or to addiction. As the offspring of our parents we receive various traits and we then pass down various traits to our own offspring.

Among the good things that offspring can receive from their parents is to see their faith and their love of God and of His Son their Savior Jesus Christ. Parents cannot of course pass down their faith. No one is redeemed by the faith of another. But parents are responsible and privileged to be able to live their faith and so to pass down to their offspring the importance of the faith to them. Christian parents bring their children to the font so that they will be received as God's children through the application of water with God's Word. They read God's Word to their offspring. They pray with their offspring and teach them and help them to understand the love of God for all people expressed through Jesus. This is not something that is new. This is something that is so important that God Himself speaks of it in His Word. In Deuteronomy 6:4-7, "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise." Then we see the importance of this also expressed in the New Testament when Paul writes to Timothy in 2 Timothy 1:3-5, "I thank God whom I serve, as did my ancestors, with a clear conscience, as I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. As I remember your tears, I long to see you, that I may be filled with joy. I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well." The apostle Peter, in Acts 2:38-39, gives this as an answer to the people who are cut by the Law Peter preached on the Day of Pentecost when they asked him and the other apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?" "And Peter said to them, 'Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.'" All of these promises of God which have been fulfilled in Jesus Christ are for us and they are for our offspring and all of the offspring who come after we are long in heaven. Martin Luther recognized this as he wrote the Small Catechism. He says in the opening of each of the six chief parts that they are written so that the head of the house can teach them in a simple way to his family. We are so busy these days and we have so many choices in entertainment and we have so many other pressures and concerns which place demands on our time; and then when we do have a few minutes in which to rest, that is just what we want to do, rest. We see it as to much trouble to open the Word of God and read it with our children or our grandchildren. We can see it as too difficult or time consuming to pray with them or to teach them how to pray or to remind them that God hears our prayers and promises to answer them in the way that He knows is best. Maybe we feel that we don't need to do any of these things because that is what the Church and the Sunday school teachers and the pastors are supposed to do. While that is certainly true, the Church and her servants both called or otherwise gladly and joyfully do all of those things, but have only a very limited time to do them. The Church is able to teach and influence our children and grandchildren at the most about three hours a week; and that's if you throw in confirmation instruction. The rest of the time there is school, friends and culture that is preaching its own message, which is in many ways contrary to what the Church is trying to teach. The Church can only do so much in the time that she has and it is up to us as parents and grandparents to continue in this teaching of God's Word to our offspring. We read in Proverbs 22:6, "Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it."

You and I are God's offspring. We are His children. He has created us and so of course all are His through this fact whether they acknowledge this or not. We are also His through the blood of Jesus and through our Baptism. Because we are God's offspring we are made in His image and we are remade in this image through the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus for our sins and the sins of the whole world. But many times we are tempted to try and make God in our image. We go against what God says in His Word and declare things like, "My God would never do", and you can fill in the blanks with any number of things. But in reality what we are doing is making a false god that turns out to be a lot like us with our feelings, preferences and desires. We are God's offspring, He is not ours. As Paul writes in Acts 17:29, "Being then God's offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man." God says in Isaiah 55:7-9, "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts." You see God in His great love and mercy for His creation, and His great desire that we again be restored as His children in a right relationship with Him, came up with a plan of redemption that mere men would never even think of. It is completely expressed in John 3:16, that Gospel in a nutshell, "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life." Jesus also says in Matthew 7:7-11, "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!" We are God's offspring through our Lord Jesus Christ. He has given us so many good thing. We have been given the Holy Spirit working through Word and Sacrament creating and strengthening faith within us; for Scripture tells us that it is faith that brings us to repentance and faith that receives the great gifts of forgiveness and life in Jesus. It is also the Holy Spirit working within us empowering us to live by this faith so that people can clearly see that we are indeed God's offspring! Amen.

The peace that passes all understanding forever keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.


Fifth Sunday of Easter - May 14, 2017



"Stiff-Necked People"

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The text which engages us this morning is taken from the First reading, particularly Acts 7:51-60, which reads, "You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him- you who have received the law that was given through angels but have not obeyed it." When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. "Look," he said, "I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God." At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." Then he fell on his knees and cried out, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." When he had said this, he fell asleep." Amen. So stands God's Word. Amen.

"You stiff-necked people!" What in the world was Stephen talking about? What could Stephen have been saying? By saying this Stephen is also making some very serious and pointed accusations. Just listen to what he said, Stephen tells them that they are just like their parents and grandparents who had preceded them. They always resist the Holy Spirit. He tells them that they have persecuted and killed the prophets that God had sent to them who had foretold of the coming of the promised Messiah. Then, to go even further, Stephen tells them that they have now even betrayed and killed the Promised One who had been sent by the Father and have indeed rejected Him and that they continue in their rebellion against God. Stephen continues with his delivery of the Law as he tells them that they had even received God's Law delivered by angels and that they were not able to keep it. O, they surely had deceived themselves into believing that they had kept God's Law and so Stephen's words do not convict them of their sins but only serve to infuriate them. But, what does this term, "stiff-necked" mean." Now, it obviously does not sound like a compliment. I imagine that it means just what you might believe that it means. In the Lutheran Study Bible notes, the note where this phrase is first used in Exodus 32:9 says, "A yoked or haltered animal might tighten its neck muscles to resist having its head turned to go in a new direction. Like a farm animal that refused to be guided, Israel refused to follow God's new direction for them. This example is when God Himself refers to Israel as being a stiff-necked people and it is during the Golden Calf idolatry of Israel. God repeats this and again calls Israel "stiff-necked" is Exodus 33:5. In both of these verses God warns that His anger is great against them and there is a danger that He would "consume them." Even though God had delivered His people from slavery in Egypt and showed His might and power and His care for His people by everything that He had done; when He gave them His good and righteous Laws and Commands the old Adam, the old sinful nature that lived within them responded to God like a stubborn animal that continually wanted to go its own way. This is one other place that I will reference and that is 2 Chronicles 30:8, King Hezekiah has cleansed the Temple and restored worship there, he has also called upon the people to observe the Passover which had been neglected for years as the people went off in their own sinful ways. Hezekiah warns the people, "Do not be like your parents and your fellow Israelites, who were unfaithful to the Lord, the God of their ancestors, so that he made them an object of horror, as you see." The people would, time after time, rebel against God and turn from Him to follow after and worship other, so-called gods. They would, just like stiff-necked animals go on their own rebellious paths. Just like stubborn animals they would not take correction or guidance and God would become angry with them and He would punish them and we would see this come to pass as both the Northern Kingdom of Israel, and then later the Southern Kingdom of Judah would be led off into exile.

We are called to repentance. We are called, as Christians, to live lives of repentance and faith. The word "repent" mean to change one's mind, to have a change of course, to turn back from the path of sin and death and to walk the path of forgiveness, salvation and life in Jesus Christ who is the only way, who is the Door of the sheep and who alone is the resurrection and the life. But, we too are stubborn. We too are a "stiff-necked" people. This sinful nature, this old Adam that lives within each and every one of us will tighten up its muscles when it is called by God's Word to turn back. Luther writes in the Small Catechism, when he is writing about confession and repentance, "When I urge you to go to confession, I am doing nothing else than urging you to be a Christian." He also connects this to our Baptism, "The Old Adam is to be drowned by daily contrition (sorrow for sins) and repentance (faith), by which we resist and overcome evil desires."

Satan, and our Old Adam can certainly make sin seem inviting. They do all they can to persuade us that what we are doing is not harmful. They will stiffen our muscles to resist the Word and Law of God. We will be kept in the heavy burden, slavery and yoke of sin instead of enjoying the blessings, freedom, and light burden and yoke of Jesus. Stephen uses another term to describe the people. He uses the phrase, "uncircumcised in heart and ears." We go all the way back to Leviticus 26:40-42, where God is calling His people back to Himself, calling them to repentance and faith in Him. " But if they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers in their treachery that they committed against me, and also in walking contrary to me, so that I walked contrary to them and brought them into the land of their enemies-if then their uncircumcised heart is humbled and they make amends for their iniquity, then I will remember my covenant with Jacob, and I will remember my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land.

The people were all going their own ways and not obeying the Word of Yahweh. They were circumcised in the flesh, but they were not circumcised in their hearts or ears. They did not follow and believe and love God with their whole heart and did not hear Him with ears of faith, ears that believe and trust in the promises of God and so move them to willingly walk in His ways. You and I do that every day as we succumb to the temptations and lies of the devil and this world, and our own sinful and stiff-necked flesh. But even as we continue to resist, God continues to work to bring us back to Himself. God continually works through His Word and Sacrament by which He pours out His Holy Spirit upon us to create and strengthen our faith. He promises in Ezekiel 36:26-27, "And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules." You see, God knows our weaknesses and He promises to be with us and to give us strength and faith because He knows that we are helpless on our own. Jesus Himself said in John 15:4-6, "Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned." Our Heavenly Father has given us His Word and the Sacraments. We have the Holy Spirit which works to soften our stony and stubborn hearts and to turn us from the path of sin and death to forgiveness and life. Yes, although we do often stray in our stiff-necked and stubborn ways, God who is faithful searches us out with His Word and brings us to repentant sorrow for our sins and He is faithful to forgives us for Jesus sake. What a joy it is that He faithfully and lovingly loosens our stiff-necks and softens our stony hearts so that we would be His people for sake of Jesus our risen Savior. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding forever keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.


Fourth Sunday of Easter - May 7, 2017



"Stranger Danger"

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The text which engages us is the Gospel reading, John 10:1-10, which reads, ""Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers." This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. So Jesus again said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly." Amen. So stands God's Word. Amen.

We cannot deny that we live in a world that is corrupted by sin. One symptom of this total corruption and depravity is "stranger danger." "Stranger danger is defined as the danger presented to children and adults from adults whom they do not know." You can go on-line and see safety tips regarding "stranger danger." Some might seem obvious to us as adults but not quite as obvious to children, which is why parents, grandparents, and other responsible adults go out of their way to help children understand. Some of the tips are these: Don't talk to strangers. Don't take anything from strangers. Don't go anywhere with someone you don't know. Trust your instincts, if you feel you are being followed or something is not right, seek help immediately. This is certainly all good advice. We want our loved ones and especially our children to be safe, to be aware of what is going on around them, and who is near to them. We do not want our children to live in fear but we want them to be safe. We want them to have the proper information and to know who they can trust to help them if they feel that they are in danger from a stranger or from anything or anyone else.

Jesus talks somewhat about stranger danger in our text. He also talks about people who are thieves and robbers. Jesus warns against people who are out to serve their own interests and not the interests of the people who they should be serving. I love the metaphor of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. Jesus Himself declaring that He is the Shepherd who lays down His life for the sheep. Jesus speaks in terms that the people of His day would clearly understand. Even today shepherds in the Middle East lead their flocks and they call to them and speak to them. The sheep know who their shepherd is. As Jesus teaches, the sheep know the voice of their shepherd. The sheep trust their shepherd to love them, to provide for them, to care for them and to protect them from predators and other dangers. The sheep trust their shepherd to provide proper and nourishing food and pure water for them. But yet, Jesus also teaches that the sheep will not follow a stranger because they do not know him, they do not recognize his voice. In fact Jesus teaches us that they will flee from a stranger, yes, the sheep recognize stranger danger.

Jesus' warning becomes even more serious. Jesus tells us that the stranger, the one who is not the shepherd, does not enter by the proper entrance. The stranger is a thief and a robber and he comes only to kill and to destroy. Jesus teaches that not only is He the Shepherd of the sheep He is the Door. Jesus continues, "If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture." Stranger danger is certainly real and we experience a form of this all during our lives. There is a stranger who comes to us in various forms and fashions and tries to separate us from our Good Shepherd. He tries to persuade us that our Good Shepherd really does not care about us and in fact does not love us or want what is best for us. This is the one who is a thief and a robber, and a liar, asks that question, "Did God really say?" This is the one who teaches that the little white lie is okay, or that we can spread gossip about our neighbor as long as it's true. This is the one who spreads the lie that it's okay to hate and fear our neighbor it they are different from us, speak a different language, come from another country. This is the one who says it's okay to ignore our neighbor who is hungry, ill-clothed, or homeless. This is the one who says that it's okay to not keep the Sabbath Day holy and to despise the preaching and teaching of God's Word.

He has his allies to assist him in his work. He sends out wolves into the flock who disguise themselves as sheep. Jesus warns in Matthew 7, "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?" 2 Peter 2 tells us this, "But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep."

How are we to recognize the stranger, the ravenous wolf in our midst. How are we to recognize the one who has come only to steal, kill, and destroy? Remember, Jesus told us that we will recognize them by their fruits. What are their words? What are they teaching? Who are they talking about? Are they teaching about Jesus Christ and Him crucified and rose again for our sins or are they talking more about themselves or what you have to do? Is the idea to have health and wealth and your best life now, or forgiveness of sins and eternal life in heaven?

Following the stranger can be dangerous. Following the voice of a stranger can lead us away from our Good Shepherd. You see when trouble or difficulty come along the stranger will flee away and leave the sheep to their own devices because they do not care one bit for the sheep. This one cares only what the sheep can do for them. But the Good Shepherd did not look for what the sheep could do for Him because the sheep could do nothing for Him. The Good Shepherd cared only for what His sheep needed that only He could accomplish for them.

We hear the voice of Jesus, our Good Shepherd. He speaks to us in the pages of Holy Scripture and we know the false teacher, the ravenous wolf because what they preach and teach is proclaimed as something new and it does not agree with what God's Word reveals to us, either about sin and it's punishment, or about God's plan for our redemption through His only-begotten Son and His sacrifice for our sins and the sins of the whole world.

Our enemies do not do this. Sin, death, and the devil only seek our eternal damnation. The false teacher seeks only their own profit and as hirelings they care nothing for the sheep. They do not feed the sheep, they only feed themselves. This morning here at Hope we have the joy of seeing and hearing one of the Good Shepherds sheep, Leanna Roush, confirm that she has heard the voice of the Good Shepherd at her Baptism and that she has heard His teachings and that the Holy Spirit has called her by the Gospel and has given and preserved her faith. She has learned that the Good Shepherd feeds His sheep by His Word and with His own true body and blood, in, with, and under the bread and the wine given and shed for us for the forgiveness of her sins. The stranger did not do this. Only Jesus has made this loving sacrifice for us so that we could be the people of His pasture and the sheep of His hand. Praise and thank God that because of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, we are forgiven of all of our sins and given life forever. We can say the Good Shepherd Psalm along with David, "The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding forever keep us with our Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, forever. Amen.


Third Sunday of Easter - April 30, 2017



"O Foolish Ones"

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The text which engages us this morning is from the Gospel reading, particularly Luke 24:18-29, "Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, "Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?" And he said to them, "What things?" And they said to him, "Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see." And he said to them, "O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?" And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself." Amen. So stands God's Word. Amen.

We human beings can be much too susceptible to outside influences. Look at the advertising industry. This is an industry whose express purpose is to influence us in our beliefs and the products that we use and the businesses that we frequent. They are very good at what they do. The advertising industry influences the clothes we wear, the food we eat, the cars we drive, and even the medicines that we take. It can be good, but it can also be very bad. The advertising industry influences countless numbers of people to smoke cigarettes or use other tobacco products; and we know that these are very harmful. That is just one example of a group trying to influence us. Just listen to your radio or turn on the television, or go out to one of the many social media sites on the World Wide Web and you will see individual and groups that are trying to influence what you do and what you believe. These groups and people can be good and right, or they can be bad and very, very wrong.

The two disciples walking on the road to Emmaus that first Easter Day did not have the World Wide Web or radio or television to influence what they believed but their culture was very active in what it believed and taught about who they thought the coming Messiah would be and what they believed that He would do. When you have lived with a teaching for your entire life and it has been reinforced every day you will have a hard time changing on your own, you have to be helped see the truth. These two on their way to Emmaus were no different. They saw Jesus. They had heard Him teach and probably witnesses some of the miraculous signs He did which proved who He is. They most likely had heard from Jesus' own mouth or second hand from another that Jesus had predicted, prophesied what was going to happen to Him; for example from Matthew 16 we hear a somewhat veiled prediction as He tells those who continue to ask for signs, "An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah." Then you hear Jesus coming right out and saying directly what will happen to Him, "From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised." But the cultural influence and what they had always been taught about the Messiah caused Peter to not understand. We continue to read, "And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, "Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you." We see that Jesus is having nothing of it is He? "But he turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man." Remember, when Satan left Jesus from the wilderness temptations we are told that he would be back at an opportune time, well apparently this was one of those times; just as when He was hanging on the cross.

The people had God's Word and His promise but they allowed themselves to be influenced to their harm by foolish talk and teachings so that the mission and work of the Messiah was completely distorted. Abram, when he was called by God in Genesis 12:3 was told, "I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed." The Messiah who would redeem the world from their sins was promised to come from Abram's line. This Messiah was to be for the world, for all people of all nations.

But, by the time of Jesus this message had become distorted. The people of Israel had come to believe and were taught that the Messiah was for them only and that He would defeat the enemies of Israel and they would be great. That the Messiah would establish an earthly kingdom and not usher in the Kingdom of God for all people. The message had caused the people to believe in foolishness, in something that God had never promised. They twisted God's Word and misinterpreted it. Scripture tells us that it is the fool who does not believe in God. But, it also tells us that it is foolish and harmful to believe in the wrong thing. 2 Peter 3:15-16, "And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures." The Emmaus disciples believed wrongly about the Messiah, when Jesus came to them and asked what they were discussing, they tried to teach Jesus believing they knew. ""Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel." Jesus tells them, ""O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?" And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself." Jesus turned the tables. He exposed their foolishness. He taught them everything the Scriptures told about Him! Their hearts burned within them and they recognized Jesus as He broke the bread. So many people today are like the Emmaus disciples. They listen to what the culture or what some liberal church teaches about Jesus; He was a prophet, a good man, a great teacher of love but He is not God, not the Messiah, was not born of the Virgin, did not die for our sins and certainly did not rise from the dead. But yet many who hold these beliefs call themselves Christian. They are foolish ones and Jesus would say to them also, "O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?" You see God in His grace and mercy and in His desire that none should perish but have eternal life has preserved His Holy Word for us which reveals Jesus' saving work for the world. He has poured our His Holy Spirit to bring us to and preserve us in the one true faith. He and He along works through His Means of Grace and rescues us from foolish unbelief and false belief and makes us wise unto salvation. Praise and thanks be to God for His wisdom of the Cross of Christ. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding forever keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our risen Savior and Lord. Amen.


Second Sunday of Easter - April 23, 2017



"You Do Not See Him"

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The text which engages us this morning is the epistle reading. 1 Peter 1:3-9 which reads, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith-more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire-may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. Amen. So stands God's Word. Amen.

How often have we heard the saying, "Seeing is believing?" Then of course we live in Missouri, where we are called, "The Show Me State." One of the answers that you will find out there as a reason for this is, "the "Show Me State" got its nickname because of the devotion of its people to simple common sense. In 1899, Rep. Willard D. Vandiver said, "Frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me. I'm from Missouri. You've got to show me." He wanted to see the proof of something before he would believe it and apparently mere words were not enough to convince him. We human beings have many times had a difficult time believing something that we could see or that we had not been shown proof of. In fact, even when there is certified and documented proof from eyewitnesses whose reliability is without question there can be, and often are, questions and doubts. Think I'm exaggerating? Here are a few examples: There are many people who deny that the United States ever landed on the moon. There are those who deny that the holocaust ever happened. There are those who still do not believe that Elvis is dead.

We even have two examples from the resurrection of Jesus. The first is from Luke 24:10-12, "Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles, but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home marveling at what had happened." The women come back from the tomb, "in fear and great joy," and tell disciples what they had seen and what the angel had told them; but they did not believe. Peter ran to the tomb in order to see for himself.

We also have the account of Thomas from John 20:24-25. This was after the first time Jesus appeared to the disciples who were hiding behind locked doors. "Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord." But he said to them, "Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe." Then of course just a short eight days later Jesus appears to them once again. Jesus allows Thomas to see. Jesus allows Thomas the proof that he had asked for. "Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe." Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!" Jesus said to him, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." There are so many people who did not see Jesus, ever. They did not hear Him speak. They did not see Him perform all the miraculous signs that proved who He is and that He is true man and true God. They did not see Him on trial before Pilate and Herod. They did not see Him scourged. They did not see Him mocked and spit upon. They did not hear Him cry out, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" They did not hear Him say, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do?" Then they did not see Him after He had risen triumphantly from the dead or ascend into heaven to go and prepare a place for us, from which He will return for His bride, the Church.

I am not speaking of those who were born after all of these most important events took place; I am also speaking about those many, many generations who had come before. Listen to Jesus own words from Matthew 13:17, "For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it." Then of course we are also included among those who have never seen Jesus our Lord and Savior. We are indeed asked to believe without seeing. Or are we? Are we actually asked to believe without seeing? We want to be so quick to condemn Thomas and others like the Scribes and Pharisees, who refused to believe in Him and who demanded more and more signs and proof from Jesus so that they would believe in Him. We say that if we had been there we certainly would have believed and not needed all of that proof. But I wonder if that is really true. There are times that we too demand signs from God. We pray for the healing of a friend or a loved one and if they do not recover we can become angry and doubt. We pray for God to supply the answer for any number of different needs and if God doesn't answer in the way that we want, well, same thing, anger and disappointment, discouragement and doubt. But God has not left us alone, He has not left us without proof and He has not left Himself without testimony to us. We believe, teach, and confess that God has indeed revealed Himself to us through His Son our Savior, Jesus Christ. He continues to work and to reveal Himself and His plan of salvation in Christ through the Holy Spirit working through the Means of Grace, through Word and Sacrament. In Luther's Small Catechism we read this in the explanation to the Third Article of The Apostle's Creed, "I Believe that 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."

Even though many people profess, "I'll believe it when I see it." We are given the opportunity to "see." We are not asked to just believe all by ourselves. God, our heavenly Father knows how weak we are and He has not left Himself without proof. Romans 1:19-21 tells us, "For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened." We call that the natural Knowledge of God. But He has given us even more. He has also given us the Holy Scriptures, His own true Word, where He reveals His will and love for us. John tells us, "These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name." The Holy Spirit working through this Word and the Sacraments gives us the gift of saving faith in Christ and His wonderful work for us and so that as it says in the last two verses of our text. "Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls." Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding forever keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our risen Lord and Savior. Amen.


Easter Sunday - April 16, 2017



"Great Joy"

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The text for our edification this morning comes from the Gospel reading, particularly Matthew 28:8-10 which reads, "So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. And behold, Jesus met them and said, "Greetings!" And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me." Amen. So stands God's Word. Amen.

Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! As we make that triumphant exclamation our main and overwhelming emotion is on of joy! It is a joy of knowing without a doubt that God, our good and gracious heavenly Father, loves us with a great love. It is a joy of knowing that Jesus, our Savior and our Lord, has restored us in our relationship with the Father by His sacrifice. It is a joy of knowing that the Father has shown His acceptance of Christ's sacrifice by raising Jesus, His only-begotten Son from the grave. It is a joy of knowing that the women who went to the tomb on that first Easter morning found it empty. It is a great joy that we have because of the gift of faith we have been given.

The women had gone to the tomb in sadness and grief and loss, wondering who would roll the stone away from the tomb for them so that they could finish the preparations of Jesus' body for what they believed would be His final rest in the tomb; those preparations which could not be completed because the Sabbath was fast coming upon them. These women came to the tomb and did not see what they had expected to see. The women came to the tomb and did not hear what they had expected to hear. The women came to the tomb and instead of seeing the stone sealed in place and blocking the entrance, saw that the stone had already been rolled away. Instead of seeing a guard of soldiers preventing them from entering, saw an angel sitting on the stone. These women, instead of hearing a message from the soldiers telling them to go away, that they could not enter the tomb to prepare the body of Jesus were told, "Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay." Do not be afraid is the message that the angel gave. He also could have added these messages. Do not grieve. Do not be sad. But what he did say carries the same joyous message. You seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for He has risen, as He said. Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! He has arisen. He is alive. He has done exactly what He had told you He would do. I wonder if the women realized that the angel had even said those words. He has risen, as He said. Jesus had time and time again told the disciples, the women and the others who were following Him that He would suffer, die, be buried, and the third day rise again. Here is just one example from Luke 9:22, "The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised." They might not have remembered what Jesus had said to them but now they are confronted with the reality, the fulfillment of it. The burial preparations that they had come to finish were not necessary, they never had been, Jesus was not dead, He is alive! So, the emotions with which the women arrived at the tomb were changed. We are told that after receiving the angel's message and instructions to go to Galilee they go from the tomb with both fear and also "great joy" to spread the word to the disciples. Jesus told this to His disciples in John 16:19-20, "Jesus knew that they wanted to ask him, so he said to them, "Is this what you are asking yourselves, what I meant by saying, 'A little while and you will not see me, and again a little while and you will see me'? Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy." You see Jesus is again telling them that He is going to suffer and be killed. The world will rejoice in this. The world will be glad to be rid of Jesus, but the disciples will be filled with sorrow. But Jesus is also assuring them that their sorrow will only be temporary. This sorrow will not last and it will turn into joy. It will turn into joy because they will see with their own eyes that Christ has arisen. They will see with their own eyes that the tomb was now empty. Jesus will have won the victory over sin, death, and the power of the devil. The enemies of God would celebrate for a short time believing that they had won. But Jesus would claim the final victory and He would proclaim it even in hell as He proclaimed it to the spirits who were already imprisoned there.

We in this world live out our lives not knowing what to expect on each new day. We do not know if our day will be a joyful one or a sorrowful one. We do know that in a world that has been contaminated by sin that we will have days where we suffer, where we experience loss, where we have grief and pain. Sometimes this is a consequence of our sin. Sometimes it might be a consequence of someone else's sin. We all do indeed sin and we all bring its consequences to bear. We lie to those we love. We cheat and we steal. We covet things that God knows are harmful for us or that He does not mean for us to have. We take God's name in vain and we do not keep His Sabbath Holy. We fashion other gods for ourselves such as money or possessions or maybe we even make little gods out of ourselves. But yet, like the people of Old Testament Israel, when life gets hard we finally remember that the one true God exists and that there is no other and we remember His promises and His love and we go to Him. But we serve a God who is gracious and merciful and abounding in steadfast love, a God who because of Christ does not hold our sins against us. We serve a God who loves the world so much that He sent His Son to make atonement for the sins of the world. When we come to Him in repentance and faith He does not fail to forgive, and to forgive us over and over and over again. Jesus turns our sorrow into joy. No matter how deep and how great the sorrow He turns it into Great Joy! It is the joy of knowing that no matter the sin it has been atoned for. That no matter how far someone has strayed the Great Shepherd of the sheep seeks them out with His Word and Sacrament and will carry them back to the fold and bind up their wounds and turn their sorrow into joy as He welcomes them into His family through His shed blood. During His earthly ministry Jesus gave us many words of comfort, among these words are the ones He spoke to His disciples before His arrest in John 16:32-33, "Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world."Remember the words that the angels spoke to the shepherds on the day that Jesus was born? We read in Luke 2:9-11, "And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, "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." Joseph was told by the angel that they were to name the child that Mary carried in her womb Jesus, because He would save His people from their sins. Jesus means the Lord saves. Jesus is Savior and Lord. Through His bitter suffering and death He earned the forgiveness of our sins and restored us who believe to everlasting life. We have an angel announcing Jesus' birth as news of "Great Joy" for all people. Then at Jesus' resurrection another angel brings news that the women receive with "Great Joy". The One that they seek in the tomb, who was dead, who was crucified; He is not there, He has arisen, He is alive! This is news that they received with fear and great joy, but it is news that we receive without fear, but with "Great Joy" alone! The angel and also Jesus Himself told them that they would see Jesus in Galilee. Well brothers and sisters in Christ, I proclaim to you a message of Great Joy. "Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! And because He lives, we too will live and we have the assurance that one day we to will see Him and be with Him for all eternity and this is truly news of Great Joy. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding forever keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord through whom we have great joy. Amen.


Palm Sunday - April 9, 2017



"The Form of a Servant"

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The text that engages us this morning, Palm Sunday, is the epistle reading, particularly Philippians 2:5-11 which reads, "Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so 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." Amen. So stands God's Word. Amen.

We talk quite a bit about service. We talk about serving God. We talk about serving one another. We even talk about those whom we elect to govern us, as well as those who work in the fire and police departments, as "public servants." The problem with this can sometimes be that those whom we elect to govern us forget that they hold a position of public service and come to believe that we are there to serve them. We can also come to look down on those that we serve, especially if we find ourselves serving the same people over and over again. We can come to have what has become known as "compassion fatigue." Or we can come to look upon our service, our servanthood, to be something deserving of reward and of recognition. We serve because we believe that others will admire us and that God will look well on us. In other words, instead of serving out of love for God and love for our neighbor we serve because it makes us proud of ourselves and we become ensnared in the sin of pride and of thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought. Jesus tells us in Luke 17, "Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, 'Come at once and recline at table'? Will he not rather say to him, 'Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink'? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, 'We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.'"

Paul talks about this and he tells us that we should have this mind. Look at Jesus. He is true God and also true man. But Jesus did not count His equality with God something that He needed to hold onto, to jealously guard, this is in spite of the fact that He can never be less than fully God. Paul tells us that instead Jesus made Himself nothing. Paul tells us that Jesus chose to take on the form of a servant. Jesus was born in the likeness of men. This is not to say that Jesus merely looked like a man, which is what some would say. Jesus is indeed a true man. He was conceived as a man, the difference being that it was without sin. Jesus had all of the characteristics of a man. Jesus was born, He grew, He ate and drank, He slept, and He had emotions. But Jesus did all of this without sin. That is so very much unlike you and I. All that we do is tainted by our sin. Even our efforts at serving God and serving one another are tainted by sin. We serve with the wrong motives. Even the disciples were affected by this. We have this account in Mark 10, James and John come to Jesus as ask that they sit one Jesus' right and left hand in His Kingdom. The other disciples hear of this and become angry. But Jesus answers them with these words, "You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."

Jesus served all during His ministry as He walked the earth with His disciples. Jesus healed the sick. Jesus restored sight to the blind. He made the deaf to hear and the lame to walk and the mute to speak. Jesus taught the people. Jesus proclaimed that the Kingdom of God was near. Jesus loved and cared for the people who were like sheep without a shepherd. Jesus forgave sins. Jesus came so that He might serve us and all people by laying down His life and shedding His blood for the forgiveness of the sins of the world. He came in the form of a servant. He came as one of us. Today we celebrate Palm Sunday. We have seen the children process in at the beginning of the service waving palms in recognition of Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Jesus comes into Jerusalem not as a ruler or as a conqueror. He rides into Jerusalem on a donkey, a humble beast of burden and fulfilled the prophecy from Zechariah 9, "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey." The people were ready then and there to make Jesus king, but that was not why He had come. Jesus had not come as a king, but He had come in the form of a servant. Later, before the Feast of the Passover Jesus again teaches His disciples about service to one another as He takes on the task of the lowliest of household servants and washes their feet. He then says to them, "If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him." Now Jesus was not setting up a sacrament of foot washing. But what He was doing was showing the disciples and us as well that we should consider no act of service to be beneath us because we are certainy not greater than our Savior and Lord but we are also none of us greater than another. Jesus however did not end His service merely by washing the disciple's feet. He would soon wash the hearts of His disciples clean by shedding His blood at the cross. Isaiah prophecies about Jesus as the suffering servant in Isaiah 53. "He had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed." Indeed, Jesus appeared just like any other first century Jewish man. He was not born into a rich and comfortable household. You would not look at Him and see Him as God incarnate. You could probably easily have seen Him and imagined Him to be a servant; and that is what He was. That is what He came to do, to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many. Jesus did not come to be worshipped and gain glory, although that is what He rightly deserves. Jesus did not experience compassion fatigue, as He continued His journey that was meant to lead Him to the cross. Jesus came in the form of a servant, a slave, as the Greek word can also be translated. He willingly laid aside the power, glory, and privileges of equality with God and endured the shame of the cross out of His great love for us. Yes, Jesus who came in the form of a servant will one day return for us His Church and this time it will not be as a servant but as a king. Hear the closing verses of out text, "Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so 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." Amen. The peace of God that passes all understanding forever keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.


The Fifth Sunday in Lent - April 2, 2017



"Do You Believe This"

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The text for our meditation this morning is the Gospel reading, but we will particularly focus on John 11:17-27 which reads, "Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. Martha said to Jesus, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you." Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again." Martha said to him, "I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day." Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?" She said to him, "Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world." Amen. So stands God's Word. Amen.

The question that Jesus asks of Martha, "Do you believe this?" can be taken in a couple of different ways depending on who is asking the question, the contextual situation, and the tone and inflection of the voice. Someone whom you don't trust could be asking. The situation could border on the absolutely unbelievable. The tone and inflection of the voice could be do you BELIEVE THIS? Certainly with that tone and inflection the answer that would be expected would be NO! We have all probably heard the saying, "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is". When we find ourselves in some situations this is a good rule to remember. There are people out there who would scam us and deceive us in order to steal from us and defraud us. There are those who promise wonderful results from products and services that just too good, but we want the result that they claim so much that we fall for the lies. But, when Jesus speaks to Martha and asks her, "Do you believe this?" He is not trying to trick or to deceive. He is not trying to steal but He is instead going to give, to give of Himself. Jesus is here to fulfill the promise of a Redeemer who will free all people from the bonds of sin and death. You see, Jesus, true God and true man has power and authority over all things including death and He is about to exercise this authority.

Have you ever heard someone ask, "Does God care about what I'm going through?" Others will even come right out and make the statement asserting that God certainly doesn't care. But the Gospel appointed for today shows the depth of God's love and care for the people that He created. In the opening verses of chapter eleven Jesus is told about Lazarus, "Lord, he whom You love is ill." Then we read in verse five, "Now Jesus loved Martha and he sister and Lazarus." In verses thirty-five and thirty-six we read, "Jesus wept." So the Jews said, "See how He loved him." Jesus wept for Mary and Martha and He also grieves for all who mourn. He cares for all those who are suffering from illness and disease. He cares for and loves all those in this world who are suffering under the ever present consequences of sin in this world. Jesus cares for the family grieving at the bedside of a dying child or an elderly person who is suffering all alone. He knows our pains and our griefs. We see in Hebrews four, "For 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." He also grieves for those who are still lost, who are still bound in their sins and unbelief. Those who do not believe His Word and promise, who believe that it is too good to be true. Who would rather believe in the lies and deceit of false gods and religions that teach that we are saved in whole or in part by our own works instead of what Jesus has done fully and completely for us.

Jesus hears that His friend Lazarus is ill but He delays coming to him. When He finally does arrive Martha says, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you." Martha express great trust and faith in Jesus, but she still did not have the idea that Jesus would raise her brother from the dead. Then some of the Jews say, "Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?" There is also an element of faith among the Jews but Martha clearly says that she believes that Jesus is who He claims to be and she says, "You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world." But remember what Jesus said to the disciples, "This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it." Then later on Jesus tells them, "Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him."

Jesus said to Martha, "Your brother will rise again." Martha said to him, "I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day." Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die." Then Jesus asks Martha, "Do you believe this?" Jesus then goes to the tomb and orders the stone to be rolled away. Martha tells Jesus that He has been dead for four days and there would be an odor. Martha did not believe that when Jesus told her that her brother would rise again that He meant that very day. He says to her, "Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?" Then after the stone is taken away Jesus lifts up His eyes and says, "Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me." Jesus is that supreme expression of the love and care of God for us His people. What more is there than to send Your only begotten Son into the world to bear the worlds sins and to pay the penalty of death that rightly belongs to each one of us. How tragic it is that so many people find it too good to be true that God would love us that much. That they do not believe that God would sacrifice Himself so completely for our redemption. They would rather believe that they can do something for God to please Him to make themselves right with Him, in whole or in part. What do we believe that can we do that God cannot? What do we believe that we can accomplish for our own salvation that God is not capable of doing all by Himself without our feeble efforts?

Jesus called, "Lazarus, come out." Of course death had to release Lazarus to the One who has the power over death and Lazarus came out alive. I have heard some speculate that if Jesus had merely commanded, "Come out" that all the dead would have arisen. I'm not sure about that because Jesus knew what He meant to do and who He meant to raise, but He could have, couldn't He? But, when you think about it, isn't that just what He has done? He has called to every man, woman, and child to "come out" and to rise to new life in Him. To rise again from the darkness of sin and death and walk into His light and life. He has sent His Holy Spirit and given us His Word. He has given us His Holy Supper and Baptism to create, strengthen, and preserve us in the faith so that we might believe and so receive forgiveness and life.

After Lazarus came out of the tomb Jesus said, "Unbind him, and let him go." Just as after He raised Jairus' daughter and told them to give her something to eat, He shows His care and concern for our personal needs as well. How wonderful that through His bitter suffering and death and glorious resurrection He showed His power over death once again and defeated sin, death, and the devil once and for all. After He had raised Lazarus from the dead we are told, "Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him." We may not have seen, but we have all of this in His Word for this express purpose, as we are told in John 20:31, "But these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name." Do you believe this? Praise and thanks be to God that He has given us the faith to believe! Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding forever keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.


The Fourth Sunday in Lent - March 26, 2017



"Darkness and Light"

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The text for our meditation this morning is the epistle reading, Ephesians 5:8-14 which reads, "For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, "Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you." Amen. So stands God's Word. Amen.

Many people have an instinctual fear of the dark. The darkness holds the unknown and the possibility of danger and of death. We like the light. We like to be able to see clearly everything that's out there in front of us. We want and need the light to be able to see clearly not just where we are going but also we are. Now of course to some the darkness is safety, it is cover and concealment. But what is it cover and concealment for? Is it for good or is it for evil? To be in the dark is not considered a good or a beneficial thing. To be kept in the dark implies a certain amount of ignorance. In fact in order for us to see we must have light. Maybe you have been on a tour of a cave and in one part of the tour the guide turns off the lights and when they do you find that it is so dark that you can't even see your hand a mere inches from your face. People also talk about the darkness of war. When war comes it is at times described as a darkness descending over the land as when at the start of the First World War a British peer said that the "Lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our life-time." He was certainly correct as Europe and the world went through two world war, a depression, and communist totalitarian rule over much of Eastern Europe. But as prophetic as this man was he was a few thousand years too late in his estimate of when the lamps went out and the world was plunged into darkness. Darkness has come over the earth long before the start of the First World War. You see, the darkness of sin, and death had fallen over the world and over all humanity the instant that Adam and Eve disobeyed God's command that they not eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This is a darkness that if far worse than the darkness of the night that comes upon the land with the setting of the sun. This is a darkness that is impenetrable by any earthly light. This is a darkness that is so deep and so deceptive that those who are walking in it are not even aware of the danger that they are in. There are those who are comfortable in the dark because they are rebelling against the light. Think about how instantly light chases away and defeats the darkness and how it then exposes everything. Paul in our text comments on this. Paul encourages the Ephesians in verses eleven and twelve of the text, "Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret." What then are these shameful things that are done in secret? What then are these unfruitful works of darkness? Paul talks about these things as well, doesn't he? In some of the verses that immediately precede our text Paul talks about sexual immorality and impurity. Paul also writes about foolish talk and crude joking. Paul mentions covetousness as well and calls it idolatry. Then in verse six Paul gives a warning, "Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience." Just listen to verse fourteen of the text where those who are living in the darkness of sin and of death are compared to those who are asleep, "Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you."

We today are living in a world and in a culture where the things that at one time were done in secret and under the cover of darkness are now being done in the open and visible to the eyes of the world and are celebrated. Today our world and culture dishonor marriage and the marriage bed. God's declaration of what He created marriage to be is called old fashioned and discriminatory. The sanctity of life has reached a new low with abortion on demand and with people being given the right to end their own lives legally if they are sick or claim that they are suffering in any way. But these are just a couple of the bigger things, the more shocking developments. But there are other acts of darkness aren't there? Children not honoring their parents, parents who abuse and neglect their children. Spouses who abuse one another. People gossiping about their neighbor. People telling dirty jokes. People using foul language and taking the Lord's name in vain. People not keeping the Sabbath Holy and despising the reading and hearing of God's Word. People imprisoned in the lies and darkness of the worship of false gods who are not gods at all; some in religions that are recognized as religions such as the lie of Islam or Mormonism; while others follow the darkness of self-worship and are asleep, imprisoned, in the darkness of atheism. Or even others who claim to be Christian denominations but are so full of false teaching that they have virtually abandoned God's Word found in Holy Scripture with their own ideas because they are asleep in the darkness that has overtaken them. This sleep is as we have seen is looked upon as death. They are in the darkness and dead in their trespasses and sin.

But there is no reason to be dead, asleep in the darkness because the Light has come into the world. Jesus Himself said this in the eighth chapter of John, "Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." Again, in our text we are told that, "and Christ will shine on you." His light is the light of life. If we do not walk in His light we are still asleep and walking in the darkness of death and ultimately those who persist in this will find themselves cast into that outer darkness away from the presence of God where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. But Jesus has come to shine His light on all people and to give His life as a ransom for us and for all of our sins that we even now still commit even though as brothers and sisters in Christ we stand forgiven and redeemed by the blood which He shed for us. Through the Spirit working through the Word and the Sacraments we are awoken from our sleep of death and we are brought into His light.

Jesus says that He came to open the eyes of the blind so that they could see. He, as the Light of the world casts the light of His Gospel so that we can see the truth and to recognize that He and His Word are truth. We know that light chases away the darkness. In the first chapter of John we are told, "In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it." The darkness thought it had overcome the Light on the cross but in reality the darkness was utterly defeated. Yes, the darkness still rages and makes claims but the Light, the Light of Christ has come and shines into the darkness of this sin filled world. The Holy Spirit works through the precious Gospel and brings us to the Light so that we will never be in the darkness again, we are woken from our sleep and by Christ's power we are brought from death to life in His light. He also empowers us to live in His light as we love and care for our neighbor and as give our prayers, praise and thanks to the God who has indeed brought us up and rescued us from the darkness of death and hell and has brought us into His wonderful Light of forgiveness and life eternal. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding forever keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord, the Light of the world. Amen.


The Third Sunday in Lent - March 19, 2017



"Give Me a Drink"

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The text for our meditation this morning comes from the Gospel reading, particularly John 4:7-15, which reads, "A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, "Give me a drink." (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, "How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?" (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, 'Give me a drink,' you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water." The woman said to him, "Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock." Jesus said to her, "Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life." The woman said to him, "Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water." Amen. So stands God's Word. Amen.

We do not really see it in the United States but there is in fact a global water crisis. This is identified as the number one global risk by the World Economic Forum. Twice the population of the United States lack access to safe drinking water. Water is crucially important. Drinking water flushes toxins from the body, it can help keep your skin moist, and it can help you lose weight. We need to drink eight glasses of water a day. There is what is known as the rule of three. You can survive three minutes without air, three hours in a harsh environment without shelter, three weeks without food, and three days without water. Now of course these are considered the extreme limits, it is not at all recommended that anyone test these figures. Doing so would certainly be a foolish thing to do.

Obtaining water for household use used to be a very laborious endeavor all over the world. You obtained it by the power of your muscles or by those of an animal. In many places in the world today water is still obtained in this fashion. We are very blessed in the United States to have clean, fresh, and safe water piped directly into our homes instead of having to go out to a well and carry back what we need.

But, that was how water was obtained in Jesus' time. Normally it was the women of the house who would go to the well to fill up their containers with water to bring home. This was normally done in the afternoon, well after the heat of the day. It was also used as a time to socialize and catch up on the news of the town. But the Samaritan woman in the Gospel reading is not at the well when other women would be expected to be there. Maybe she was trying to avoid contact with the other women of the town because of her marital situation, which we come to find out later on. This woman comes to the well to draw water, and instead of being ignored by Jesus who is at the well, He speaks to her, He asks her for a drink. The woman is astonished. She asks how it was possible that Jesus, a Jew, would ask her, a Samaritan and a woman for a drink. But Jesus is not concerned about either the fact that she is a Samaritan or a woman. Jesus tells her that if she knew the gift of God who He was, that she would ask Him for Living Water. The Greek word that is translated as gift in this passage is a word that stresses God's bounty and it emphasizes the idea of grace, grace that is given abundantly and without restraint. Jesus answer to this Samaritan woman ignores the hostility between the Jews and Samaritans as well as ignoring the denigrating way in which women were treated. All of these conflicts in the world that had come about because of sin. Jesus came to break down these walls of hostility. Paul writes about this in the second chapter of Ephesians, "For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility." So of course and more importantly, making peace between us and the Father by His atoning sacrifice on our be half. But in this world we are so caught up with many other things that distract us from what if truly important. We are caught up in our own ideas and opinions even when they conflict with what God has told us in His Word.

This unnamed woman of Samaria is dealing with these things. She is dealing with the traditional hostility between Jews and Samaritans, the second place status of women in the culture. She is dealing with sexual immorality in that she has had five husbands and is now living with a man outside of marriage, in disregard to God's law and desire for marriage and the relationship between men and women and between all people for that matter.

This woman also is caught up in a worship of God that goes against what God had ordained. God had ordered worship and sacrifice in the Temple in Jerusalem while the Samaritans worshiped somewhere else. As Jesus talks to this woman He overcomes her resistance and the hurdles that she throws up to try and sidetrack Him from helping her to see her sinfulness; but He also helps her to see who He is and that He has come for all people, including her and the Samaritans. He overcomes her efforts to justify herself and to make excuses and shift the conversation. We see some similarities between the reaction of Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman in that they do not yet understand and they see things in the physical realm; fleshly birth as opposed to born from above, and physical water instead of Living Water. We do very much the same thing don't we? We justify our sinful actions and make excuses and shift the blame for what we do. We continue in our sexual immorality and hostility toward one another and at times even toward God Himself if something does not go our way. We even continue in our own ideas of what God wants from us in belief and in our worship and in our prayers. Our sinful natures do not want to hear the truth about who we really are and what we truly deserve from God.

But God in His Word deflects and cuts through all of these feeble excuses and self-justifications that we try to put in place. God's Word always keep the conversation steadfast focused on salvation and the forgiveness of sins by grace through faith in Jesus. It keeps us focused on our need for Living Water so that we will never be thirsty again. You see, just as Jesus taught the Samaritan woman, earthly water only satisfies us for a short period of time and after we drink it we soon are thirsty again. But this Living Water satisfies forever and is only required once, because it is through this that we are given the Holy Spirit. So this becomes in us Jesus said, "a spring of water welling up to eternal life." For water to be clean and fresh it is important for it to be connected to the source from which it flows. Well, through our "birth from above" we receive this Living Water, the Holy Spirit which creates faith in Jesus as Savior from sin and our Lord. We are led and guided to worship in spirit and in truth. We are led to recognize our sins and to repent and be washed clean. We are led to live lives in service to God and our neighbor in response to the great gift of God that we have received. Yes, there are many people who receive their water from deep, deep wells, and they satisfy their thirst temporarily. But Jesus gives us that Living Water. Water that satisfies forever and which wells up within us as a spring that brings eternal life. This water connects us to the true source of forgiveness and life. Jesus. Amen. The peace of God that passes all understanding forever keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.


The Second Sunday in Lent - March 12, 2017



"Born of the Spirit"

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The text for our meditation this morning comes from the Gospel reading, particularly John 3:1-8 which reads, "Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him." Jesus answered him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." Nicodemus said to him, "How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?" Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again.' The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit." Amen. So stands God's Word. Amen.

In Genesis 1:28, after God had created Adam and Eve this is what we read that He did, "And God blessed them. And God said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.'" For our purposes this morning the section we are going to focus on is "Be fruitful and multiply." God created Adam and Eve and gave them life and now they would come together and by God's grace they would be fruitful and multiply, they would reproduce. Now at this point, since sin had not yet entered God's 'very good' creation childbearing and childbirth were not meant to be the same as they are today. There would have been no risk. There would have been no discomfort. There would have been no pain. Every person, both male and female would have been born into this world in the image of God as Adam and Eve were created. But, with their sin and disobedience all of that changed. The ground was cursed and we would eat bread by the sweat of our brows, and childbearing and childbirth would bring with it some risks, to both mother and child, as well as discomfort and pain. But even of more consequence is the fact that every child, both male and female who have been born since were not born in the image of God, because, that image was lost due to disobedience and sin. We see in Genesis 5:3, "When Adam had lived 130 years, he fathered a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth." So, we have all inherited that sinful nature that began with Adam, and we follow in his image and likeness. But, it was not all hopeless. You see, Adam and Eve had the promise of the One who would be born who would crush the head of the serpent and defeat him, and they believed in this promise.

God did not forget man's sinful predicament. Neither did God forget His promise of the Redeemer. In the Old Testament reading we read God's calling of Abram. In Genesis 12:1-3, "Now the Lord said to Abram, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed." Abram also believed God and trusted in Him and listened to this call. His name was changed to Abraham and later we are told in Genesis 15:6, "And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness." It was by Abraham's belief, his faith in God, that he was saved, by which he was declared righteous. St. Paul in the epistle reading for today talks about this. Remember, there is nothing in the Bible by accident. Everything is there because the author, God Himself wants it to be there for us. But it is reiterated in Romans 4:1-4, "What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness." Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due." But over time the nation of Israel strayed from this. They slowly began to rely upon works of the Law as opposed to faith. They also came to rely upon their descent from Abraham, in fact they bragged that they had Abraham as their father, as if that would benefit them in their standing before God. Sadly, many people today act in a very similar way. You ask them if they believe they are going to heaven when they die and you will hear something like, "Yes, I'm a good person. I give to charities. I help at the local soup kitchen. I help out my sick neighbor." Others might say, well I'm a member of such and such church. My great-grandparents, grandparents, parents have been members there. What they don't tell you is that they only attend a few times a year just to keep their names on the roles. There is no belief, no faith. Your great-grandparent's faith does not save you. Your name on the church membership role will not help you when Jesus returns.

In the Gospel this morning, a ruler of the Jews, a member of the Sanhedrin, came to Jesus by night. This man, Nicodemus, calls Jesus Rabbi, a term of respect. He tells Jesus that He is a teacher sent from God, because no one can do what Jesus is doing unless God is with him. Nicodemus has come a long way. There are some commentators who say that his coming by night has symbolic significance in that he is coming out of the darkness of sin and unbelief into the light of Jesus and faith in Him for His redemption and life. But Nicodemus still has a ways to go, he still does not fully understand who Jesus is and why He has come, he is still, "in the dark" and if you notice, Jesus does not address his statement. Jesus instead says, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." This idea of being "born again" was also not understood by Nicodemus. He considered it from merely a physical, fleshly birth. Jesus instead meant something different. Jesus again says to Nicodemus, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again." Now, a better translation of "born again" is "born from above." In order to "see" the Kingdom of God Nicodemus and in fact everyone must be "born from above." We and all people must be born of water and the Spirit. This certainly implies Baptism and the receiving of the Holy Spirit who creates faith within us, so that we believe in Jesus and are now new creations. Because of this we can see the Kingdom of God, but this is not mere physical seeing. This also speaks of participating in by receiving and possessing what we see.

Many commentators also interpret the "Kingdom of God" as God's heavenly, end of time Kingdom, but in John the Greek word for "Kingdom", Basileia, is talking in terms of the person and work of Jesus the Messiah. So Jesus is making Nicodemus face the fact that He is "The Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world" that He is "the Son of God." So, in order for Nicodemus, or anyone else you and I included, to "see" the Kingdom of God we must believe that Jesus is who He has said that He is and that He has accomplished by His suffering and death at the cross all that is required for our salvation. We must have faith in Jesus. We must be born from above. We must be born of the Spirit. It's all God's work for us and in us. The Spirit does His work through Word and Sacrament and we are born from above. Our sins are forgiven and we participate in and possess the Kingdom of Heaven even now. We are freed and empowered to live as God's children and show the fruits of the Spirit in our lives. How wonderful and joyous this is. Just as we did nothing to aid in our physical birth, we do nothing to aid in our new birth, our birth from above. This is all God's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes. We are indeed saved by grace through faith, not by works so that no one may boast. If we must boast we boast in the work of Jesus and the Holy Spirit by whose work we are born from above, born of the Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding forever keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.


The First Sunday in Lent - March 5, 2017



"Tempted by the Devil"

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The text for our consideration this morning is our Gospel reading, Matthew 4:1-11, which reads, "Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread." But he answered, "It is written, "'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'" Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, "'He will command his angels concerning you,' and "'On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.'" Jesus said to him, "Again it is written, 'You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.'" Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, "All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me." Then Jesus said to him, "Be gone, Satan! For it is written, "'You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.'" Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him." Amen. So stands God's Word. Amen.

I am going to once again show my age just a bit. But, I remember that there was a variety show in the early 1970's called "The Flip Wilson Show". The host played a number of different characters and performed in comedy sketches. In some of the sketches one of the characters had a tag line of "the devil made me do it." Of course the idea behind this is you should not blame me for what I do because it wasn't really me because the devil made me do it. I was helpless and had no power to resist the devil's temptations and enticements. How can I possibly be held responsible? It is really the devil who is to blame because after all he is the one who made me do the things I had done. But is that really true? Can the devil really make us do anything? Are we really powerless in the face of his temptations and enticements? The devil is admittedly smart and powerful and we are admittedly no match for him if left to our own devices. But are we really alone in our struggle? Have we really been left to our own devices? Is it impossible for us to resist him?

Sometimes it would appear that the answer to the last question is yes. We daily commit many sins. We confess that we sin in our thoughts, words, and deeds. We sin against God and we sin against one another. We lie, we cheat, we steal, and we betray. We gossip against our neighbor and refuse to put everything in the best possible light. We refuse to love our neighbor's as we love ourselves. We do not look out for our neighbor's interests. We see our neighbor in danger and do not defend. We see our neighbor hungry and do not feed them. We see our neighbor homeless and without proper clothing and do nothing to help. We do not love God with our whole being. When presented with an opportunity to be a witness of God's love in Christ we remain silent. We allow our stomach to be our god and we put up many other "gods" in the place of the One true God. We continue to make the excuse that it's just impossible to resist and it's not our fault because "the devil made me do it."

We are very good at making excuse and shifting the blame. It has been true of humanity from the beginning hasn't it? After the very first temptation and sin we see Eve shifting the blame on the serpent. We then see Adam shift the blame to his wife for giving him the fruit and to God for giving him Eve.

How about looking at the people of Israel. We can look at their actions after God led them out of slavery in Egypt working through His servant Moses. How did the people react to God's wonderful out pouring of His saving grace to them? Did they act in faith? Did they successfully resist temptation relying on God to help them? After they sinned did they then go to God in repentance and faith, confessing their sins and seeking His forgiveness?

In our text from the Gospel reading this morning, the First Sunday in Lent, we see the Holy Spirit lead Jesus out into the wilderness after His Baptism. The Gospel tells us that the purpose was for Jesus to be tempted by the devil. Jesus is the nation of Israel reduced to One. Jesus will resist and overcome the devil while the nation of Israel did not. After God delivers Israel from Egypt and leads them out into the wilderness they are hungry. The people grumble and murmur against God and say that it would have been better to die in Egypt that to starve in the wilderness. Jesus, is also hungry out in the wilderness. He does not murmur and grumble against the Father. He does not fall for the devil's lies and schemes. He will not use His divine power to help Himself and change the stones to bread. He tells the devil, "'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'" The nation does not trust God to provide for them, but Jesus does.

The devil then takes Jesus up to the top of the temple and tempts Him to throw Himself down because he wants Jesus to test the Father's promise of protection. But Jesus answers him by quoting Deuteronomy 6:16, "You shall not put the Lord your God to the test." This is in comparison to how the nation of Israel acted out in the wilderness. The people again grumbled against God because they were thirsty so God gives them water from the rock. We read this account in Exodus 17:1-7, and the last verse reads, "And he called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the quarreling of the people of Israel, and because they tested the Lord by saying, "Is the Lord among us or not?" The devil then takes Jesus to a high mountain and offers Him all the world's kingdoms, if Jesus will fall down and worship him. Jesus responds with, "Be gone, Satan! For it is written, "'You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.'" The nation of Israel break this command time and time again. It was once again not long after God led them out of slavery in Egypt that they make a golden calf and worship it as their god. Where the nation fails and falls into sin, Jesus, the nation reduced to One, lives in perfect and sinless obedience. Jesus responds to all three of the temptations that are recorded for us with the Word of God. Jesus shows faith and trust in the Father, while the nation of Israel does not. Jesus is tempted by the devil to look out for His own best interests, but He does not and He remains the perfect, obedient, and sinless servant; who came to serve us as the Lamb of God to sacrifice Himself for the forgiveness of our sins.

You might be thinking, "well of course Jesus resisted temptation, after-all he is God, but what hope or help do we have? Of course we have God's Holy Word. We have God's promise to always be with us. We have this promise from God in 1 Corinthians 10:13, "No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it."

We are God's children through our Baptisms. We are God's children through the broken body and shed blood of Jesus, and we are promised that no one, not even the devil can snatch us out of God's hand. We remember who we are and to whom we belong. We remember that Jesus has defeated the devil and resisted all his temptations, including the one to come down from the cross, on our behalf. Jesus also defeated the devil at the cross as He gave His life as a perfect and sinless sacrifice, not for His sins, because there are none, but for ours. So, the devil has already been defeated, and as God's Word tells us in James, "Resist the devil, and he will flee from you." But praise and thanks be to God that when we are tempted by the devil and we succumb to these temptations and sin, which we do daily; because of Jesus and His victory there in the wilderness, and more importantly at the cross, we can come and repent and receive forgiveness. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding forever keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.


The Transfiguration of our Lord - February 26, 2017



"Love Your Neighbor"

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The text to which we turn this morning as we celebrate the Transfiguration of our Lord is the Gospel reading, Matthew 17:1-9, which reads, "And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. And Peter said to Jesus, "Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah." He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him." When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, "Rise, and have no fear." And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only. And as they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, "Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead." Amen. So stands God's Word. Amen.

I would venture to say that none of us have had an experience quite like the one that Peter, James, and John had that day on the Mount of the Transfiguration. Certainly we have had some amazing experiences, things that we will always remember; but probably none that could compare to their experience that day. Just imagine yourself in their place for a minute. Jesus leads Peter, James, and John up a high mountain. These men are often called the inner circle of Jesus' disciples. We are not told whether or not Jesus gave them a reason for where they were going. We know that Jesus often went off by Himself to pray; so maybe they thought Jesus wanted them to pray with Him. It is also possible that maybe they believed that Jesus had some important teaching to reveal to them and that maybe they would be the ones to teach the remaining disciples. We of course do not know but what we do know is that when Jesus asked them to come with Him, they did; just as when He initially called each of them, they gladly and willingly went with Jesus.

Now think just a bit and remember what had occurred before this. We have the account in Matthew chapter 16 where Jesus asks the 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." He 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." Then, a short time later, Jesus foretells His death and resurrection. Peter rebukes Jesus and says that this would never happen to Him. Jesus immediately rebukes Peter and says, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man." Peter was, as we know, often impetuous and too quick to open his mouth; so Peter stands chastened.

But, Peter is once again with Jesus. Jesus had led them up the mountain. Of course Jesus knew what was about to happen but Peter, James, and John did not. So, something no short of miraculous happens. Jesus is changed before their eyes. Jesus is transfigured. In a word, just a small portion of Jesus' glory as the Son of the Living God, who Peter had not long ago professed Jesus to be, is revealed to them. The text tells us that Jesus' "face shone like the sun" and that even the clothes that He wore became "white as light." If that isn't enough then both Moses and Elijah appear, and they are talking with Jesus. Moses, about whom Scripture says in Deuteronomy 34:10, "And there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face." This is the same Moses whose face shone after talking with God on Mount Sinai and of whom we are also told in Exodus 33:11, "Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend."

Then we also see Elijah who is arguably the greatest of the Old Testament prophets. The same Elijah who by God's power defeated the prophets of Baal. The same Elijah through whom God raised the son of the widow of Zarephath. The same Elijah who God took up into heaven by a whirlwind after separating him from Elisha by a fiery chariot and fiery horses.

Now, up on the mountain, Peter, James, and John are witnesses to all of this. We are not told that James or John said anything. But we do have recorded for us Peter's words. Peter says to Jesus, "Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah." Do you notice what is happening here? Jesus is speaking with Moses and Elijah and we are told in Luke that they were speaking of Jesus departure which He was soon to accomplish in Jerusalem, read, Jesus substitutionary death for our sins on the cross. But then Peter interrupts them! He says that it's good for them to be there and that he would build three shelters so that they could stay! Once again, Peter has his mind on the things of man and not on the things of God. Peter desires to bask in the glory there on the mountain before what must be accomplished on the cross. They could not stay there on the mountain because Jesus had not yet done what He had come to do; that is to redeem Peter, James, and John, the disciples, all who would believe on His name as the atonement for their sins, including you and me.

But almost before the words are out of Peter's mouth we are told that, "a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him." The Father is once again saying that Jesus is indeed His beloved Son, just as He did at Jesus' Baptism. The disciple, the people and all of us are to indeed, "listen to Him." As Peter told Jesus after many of the disciples had left Him in John chapter 6 and Jesus asks if they also want to leave, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God." But of course not everyone did listen to Jesus, just as today there are those who refuse to listen and to heed His call to forgiveness and life. Jesus told Jews who were questioning Him in John chapter five, "You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life." You see the Jews of Jesus day read the Law and the prophets, but they did not realize that they were all pointing to Jesus.

Yes, on the way up the mountain there was only Jesus. Then Moses and Elijah appear and the disciples are awestruck. The voice of the Father reveals again that Jesus is His beloved Son and they are to listen to Him. Moses and Elijah are gone. They too were only servants of God who had served as they were required too. The disciples are left with Jesus only. The disciples were terrified in the presence of God. Jesus touches them and tells them to stop being afraid. It is of course natural for a sinner to be afraid in the presence of the Holy God. Moses and Elijah could do nothing to help, but Jesus only. You see, that is what Jesus had come to do. To restore us to a right relationship with the Father by washing our sins away with His shed blood at the cross so we no longer need be afraid of God's wrath. You and I who have been redeemed by Jesus blood have no reason to fear because we too are now sons and daughters of the King because of Jesus. Jesus has made atonement for all of our many sins including those sins of doubt and of only seeking the glory and not the cross as Peter had done. Just think about the fifth verse of our opening hymn, "Tis Good, Lord, to Be Here" "Tis good, Lord, to be here! Yet we may not remain; But since Thou bidst us leave the mount, come with us to the plain." He is with us here on the plain. He has not left us alone in our struggle against temptation, sin, and the devil. He comes to us in His Word and the Sacraments. He has sent to us the Holy Spirit. Yes, if we had been there we too would have seen Moses and Elijah and Jesus. But in the end. When it comes to our forgiveness and eternal life, we too see Jesus only. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding forever keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.


The Seventh Sunday After the Epiphany - February 19, 2017



"Love Your Neighbor"

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The text for our meditation this morning comes from the Gospel reading, particularly Matthew 5:43-48, which reads, "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." Amen. So stands God's Word. Amen.

There are a great many things that make sense to our sinful natures. One of these would be to put ourselves first. But Scripture tells us to act in a much different manner. Let's look at Philippians 2:2-4, "Complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 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." This certainly flies in the face of prevailing worldly wisdom which tells us to look out for number one. The Scriptures also tell us this in James 2:8-9, "If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself," you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors." The problem of course is that we do not love our neighbor as we love ourselves. We do indeed show partiality for many reasons as we deal with our neighbors. But we can clearly see that this is against what God has commanded. This is clearly not the way God wants His people to behave toward one another. Our text for this morning has Jesus speaking clear instruction as to who we are to see as our neighbor, who we are actually to love.

In regards to this, this love for the neighbor, Jesus starts out in a very interesting way. Jesus tells the people to whom He is speaking, "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.'" That is a very interesting statement. To love your neighbor and to actually hate your enemy. Where in the world did this idea and attitude come from? There is no passage in the Old Testament which commands that a person hate their enemy. Now apparently there are some non-Biblical writings from the Dead Sea Scrolls which command hatred toward outsiders. But God in His Word has never done this and does in fact command quite the opposite. It's possible that some have taken some Old Testament verses too far, such as, Deuteronomy 17:15 which says, "You may indeed set a king over you whom the Lord your God will choose. 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." Or, this is also the command from God that the people should not take husbands or wives from the gentile nations that surrounded them because of the very real consequence that they will lead the people away from the Lord Yahweh to worship other gods. This is from Deuteronomy chapter seven, ""When the Lord your God brings you into the land that you are entering to take possession of it, and clears away many nations before you, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations more numerous and mightier than you, and when the Lord your God gives them over to you, and you defeat them, then you must devote them to complete destruction. You shall make no covenant with them and show no mercy to them. You shall not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons, for they would turn away your sons from following me, to serve other gods." This was not an idle warning. We read that this is just what happened not long after the death of Joshua which we hear of in Judges Chapter three, "So the people of Israel lived among the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. And their daughters they took to themselves for wives, and their own daughters they gave to their sons, and they served their gods." But there is no place where hatred is commanded.

In our text this morning Jesus then teaches, "But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust." Jesus here is again teaching with authority, not quoting another but teaching with the authority of the only Son of God. It brings to mind the words of the Father from the Transfiguration, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him." You see, God showers His mercy on all people, even those who are still His enemies as we too once were. He sent His Son Jesus the Christ to die to make atonement for our sins while we were still His enemies, and that is the ultimate show of His love for us and in fact for the whole world. In our text we are told that we are to, "Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." This perfection includes love for the neighbor; love even for those who are our enemies.

But, it interesting how this love is meant. When we today in our culture speak of love we are really speaking of an emotional state. But this is not what the text is talking about. Instead what is being spoken of here is loving actions. For example we see the actions of the Good Samaritan toward the man who had been robbed and left for dead. Then we are told this in Romans 12:20, "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head." But this is just so hard isn't it? It's hard enough to love the person who claims to be our friend. It's hard enough to love the one who looks like we do, who speaks the same language we do, you know, that person who is like us, that we can feel safe and comfortable with. But our text speaks so much differently. Jesus asks what reward you have if you love only those who love you, or greet only your brothers. Jesus says that even the tax collectors and the Gentiles do that. In other words, even the unbeliever, the one who does not have the Spirit of God does that. How about us? How about those of us who are Christians. Do we show the love and light of God that shines within us? Do we show loving actions towards those who are different from us? Do we show loving actions toward those who are our enemies? Do we think of others as more important that ourselves, or do we always put ourselves first? Do we watch the news and see all of the displaced and needy in the world and think about how horrible it is, but then do nothing but hide behind closed borders and justify it because we say that these people all hate us? Are we willing to help people even in our own country who are desperately ill with no health insurance? I am reminded of these verses from James, "If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and filled," without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?" Yes indeed, each one of us can look into that scary mirror of God's Law and find that we just don't measure up. We can read the last line of our text when Jesus says that we must be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect and find that we are indeed sorely lacking. It can be discouraging and it can lead us to despair, but it is not meant to do that. What it is meant to do is to show us that we cannot hope to measure up, we cannot hope to be perfect. It is meant to point us to the Cross of Christ. It is meant to bring us to repentance and to seek forgiveness and grace for all of our hatred and disregard for our neighbor, wherever they may live. It is meant to bring us to our knees in prayer so that we would be empowered by the Spirit to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. Because that is the only way that we can hope to love our neighbor. We can only love our neighbor because God in Christ has loved us first and Christ has shed His blood and died so that all of our sins would be washed away. Because as Scripture says in 1 John 4:10-11, "In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another." How wonderful it is that God loved us even before we loved either Him or our neighbor and that in this love He brings us into His family through the blood of Jesus and empowers us to love. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding forever keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.


The Sixth Sunday After the Epiphany - February 12, 2017



"Merely Human"

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The text which engages us this morning is the Epistle reading, 1 Corinthians 3:1-9, which reads, "But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? For when one says, "I follow Paul," and another, "I follow Apollos," are you not being merely human? What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God's fellow workers. You are God's field, God's building." Amen. So stands God's Word. Amen.

What does it mean to be human beings? There are many people today who are asking this question. Are we special? Are we different? Are there people who have actually been born who to whom some would not grant the status of being human? As I was considering this message I went out and did just a small bit of research on the internet. I typed in a simple question, "What does it mean to be human?" I found some disturbing, but sadly, unsurprising statements that were made in answer to that really fundamental question. The first sentiment is has been around for a long time and is quite prevalent today. This was set down in a book titled, The Phenomenon of Man, by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, he was a Jesuit Priest and famous paleontologist. He wrote that, "Humans are both a biological species and a new evolutionary process. As a biological species, we are little different from our primate cousins, and there was no divine spark in our origin." Then I read an article written by a college professor who had given birth to a son who was born with severe brain damage caused by lack of oxygen during birth. This is some of what she wrote, "Was our son simply matter, just flesh? Everything I knew and believed led me to think so. Was he "human"? Everything I believed told me no. What purpose could he serve if he lived? Surely Drake could have fulfilled no purpose in the usual sense. But would he be sentient, could he feel, and if so, was that enough?"

These opinions on what it means to be human are very widespread among people today. In fact in the early 2000's scientists told us that we share 95% to 99% of our DNA with the chimpanzee, depending on the study you read. We know that we can teach animals to mimic human speech and some human behavior. But, does that mean that we are nothing special and that we are indeed "merely human"? Well yes, to some that is exactly what it means. If you hold to that opinion you can justify quite a lot of terrible behavior, we have seen it throughout history.

But we have so much more than personal and scientific opinion on the matter of what it means to be human. In fact we have an authoritative Word. This is the Word of God. We can go right to the source. We can go to the definitive Word on how and why we were created. Genesis 1:27 says, "Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth." So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them." Genesis 2:7 says, "Then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature." What an awesome and wonderful thing this is to consider.

Yes, this message is called merely human, but, man and woman were created to be more. They were made in the image of God. They were made to serve, worship, and obey their creator. They were created to care for the creation that God entrusted to them and had made for their enjoyment. But, with sin and disobedience came the shattering of the image of God within us. We did become "merely human". Genesis 5:3 says, "When Adam had lived 130 years, he fathered a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth. This is of course true for all people because from our parents we have inherited the sin of Adam and our children have inherited it from us. Romans 3 tells us, "For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God."

Paul writes in our 1 Corinthians text that the Corinthian Christians are acting in a merely human way. Paul says that he knows that there is jealously and strife among them. They have already developed cults of personality between the different teachers that have proclaimed the Gospel of Christ to them. Some claim loyalty to Paul, some to Apollos, some to Cephas. They have focused their eyes on the teacher and not the teaching. Even those who claimed that they followed Christ were thought to be making this claim to put down other believers. I wonder if that isn't something that we may have heard before. Paul writes in verse three, "For you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?" This means that they are acting in ways that a natural, fallen, sinful person would act. They are acting in the way of the flesh and not of the Spirit. Scripture speaks of understanding the things of God. "The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned." In his letter to the Galatians Paul talks about what it means to be "merely human" or what it means to act as people who are "still of the flesh". Paul says, "Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God."

But that does not mean that our human flesh is evil, that we are to get away from the flesh and that only the spirit is good. If that were the case Jesus would not have assumed human flesh. Jesus sanctified our human flesh when He became a full flesh and blood human being, but was also still fully God. But there was more. 1 Peter 2:24 tells us, "He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed." When we hear this wonderful message of the Gospel, of God's grace to us through Christ the Holy Spirit does His work and we are given faith and the ability to believe. We are made more than "merely human". That image of God is partially restored within us and we are given the ability to act people of God and show the fruits of the Spirit which are, "Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control." Yes, this is impossible for us to do fully and completely even though we desire to. There is still that sinful nature that lives within us. But we are no longer slaves to sin. We belong to God and we have been justified, we have been sanctified by the blood of Jesus Christ she for us at the cross. He has given us the gifts of the Means of Grace, Baptism, the Lord's Supper, and of course the Word; by which we continue to hear about and to receive the strengthening of our faith and the forgiveness of our sins.

We are human, but we are not "merely human." We have the Holy Spirit living and working within us. We belong to God and have been redeemed by Christ the crucified. It doesn't matter who we are. It doesn't matter about being a man or a woman; what the color of our skin is; what our native language may be; what our ethnic background is; what society may say our worth is. Those of us who are in Christ are not "merely human." We are a new creation. We are God's, we are His field, His building, and we are members together of the body of Christ. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding forever keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.


The Fourth Sunday After the Epiphany - January 29, 2017



"The Wisdom of God"

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The text for our meditation this morning comes from the epistle reading, particularly 1 Corinthians 1: 18-25, which reads, "For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart." Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men." Amen. So stands God's Word. Amen.

Where would we be without wisdom? Where would we be without the gift of our human intelligence and knowledge? Where would we be without the ability to think for ourselves and to reason out our problems and difficulties? Society certainly would not have all of the technology that we have today. We certainly would not have the comforts that we all enjoy. We definitely not have the cures for many of the diseases that afflict us. There is nothing wrong with human knowledge and wisdom. These things, as are all things, gifts from a loving and gracious heavenly Father who cares for us and provides all things for us. However, all things, as we have so painfully seen, have been corrupted by the deadly disease and affliction of sin. Sin has corrupted and destroyed our relationship with God. Sin has corrupted our relationship with one another. It has affected everything around us in God's previously "very good" creation. Just consider the first human beings. They were the epitome of God's creation. They were made in the very image of God. Adam had the intelligence to name all of the animals as God brought them to him. You could say, by the human definition of the word, that Adam was wise, he had wisdom. However, as that may very well be true, there is another way to look at wisdom and to see what it is.

The mere human definition of wisdom, taken from the Oxford English Dictionary is the, "Capacity of judging rightly in matter relating to life and conduct; soundness of judgement in the choice of means and ends; sound sense in practical affairs as opposed to folly; and knowledge; enlightenment and learning." There is nothing wrong with knowledge and sound judgement; these are also gifts to us of a loving and gracious God and Father. But these have been misused. We have come to believe that we can use our knowledge and judgement to decide on what is true and valid in the Scriptures that God Himself has given to us in order to show us the Way of salvation and life. Paul writes in our text that, "For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God." Paul also writes that, "For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God." Proof is demanded before belief. Some want to gain this proof through the application of wisdom and knowledge and reason. It something does not fit into our definition of wisdom or if it offends our reason we will not accept it, we do not want to believe.

Indeed, the Cross is an offense. It is offense to our self-esteem that we would need to be rescued out of our slavery to sin and death. It is an offense to those who believe that people are basically good. It is an offense to those who believe that they can contribute to their own redemption by good works and their own obedience to God. It is also an offense to those who have a distorted view of who God really is and how He looks at sin. It is an offense to those who believe that the "god that I believe in would never send anyone to hell." It is an offense to those who have tried to make God in their image.

The Cross has always been seen as foolishness to the so-called wise and knowledgeable. To the Jewish people who were waiting for the Messiah the idea of Him suffering and dying on a cross made no sense. The Messiah was to be powerful with royal dignity; but for Him to die on a cross like a common criminal was 180 degrees from what they expected. The focus was on the lack of dignity and the weakness; when it should have been on the reason why Jesus the Messiah came and was crucified.

The Romans too saw the cross as weak and foolish. The states man Cicero said, "May the very name of the cross be absent not only from the body of Roman citizens but also from their thinking, their eyes, and ears." Both the historian Tacitus and statesman Pliny the Younger condemned Christianity as a perverse superstition. The Philosopher Celsus said that the idea of Christians "actually worshipping a dead man," was absurd. These ideas and objections are still with us today. This is the wisdom of man which is actually foolishness. It is indeed foolish and sinful when we decide that our wisdom and our reason is superior to God's. We may not think of it this way, but when we sin we are saying the same thing. When we disobey God's commands we are saying that we are wiser than God and that our reason is superior. Also when people deny that what they are doing is sinful, such as with homosexuality and same sex marriage, abortion, and sex outside of marriage, and when husband and wife do not love and respect one another; we are denying that God is wiser than we are and that our reason is what should guide us as opposed to the wisdom and commands of a just and holy God who has given us His laws and commandments out of His love for us, not to be onerous or burdensome. For again as Paul writes in 1 Corinthians, "For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men."

The Psalmist writes in Psalm 19:9-10, "The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb." Then the Psalmist also writes in Psalm 111:10, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever! We show true wisdom and true understanding when we believe in the Words and promises of God. When we trust in Him for our forgiveness, for our freedom from sin and death. The questions that Paul asks in verse twenty of our text can be asked today as well, "Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?" The answer to the last question is a resounding yes! The answer to the other questions is that they are not even on the podium! Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 2:1-3, "And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling." Paul also writes in verse five, "So that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God." To rest our faith on the wisdom of men is like building our house on the sand. We rest our faith on something that the world knows nothing about and could never even fathom. We rest our faith on God's salvation plan for the world. We rest our faith on the Rock of our salvation. We rest our faith on Jesus Christ and Him crucified for our sins and the sins of the world. Because it is through the suffering and death and glorious resurrection of Jesus that we have forgiveness of sins and life eternal. We do not worship a dead man, we worship and rest our faith and our hope on Jesus our crucified and risen Savior and Lord. He is alive and through Him we also live. This is true wisdom. This is the wisdom of God in Christ. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding forever keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.


The Third Sunday After the Epiphany - January 22, 2017



"Immediately They Followed Him"

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The text for our consideration this morning comes from the Gospel reading, particularly Matthew 5:17-25, which reads, "From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men." Immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him. And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, those having seizures, and paralytics, and he healed them. And great crowds followed him from Galilee and the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan." Amen. So stands God's Word. Amen.

We are blessed and we are fortunate to serve a God who chooses. He chose to create us. He chose to promise a Redeemer. He chose Abraham. We are blessed in that we serve a God who calls us. We are blessed in that we serve a God who time and time again shows His love, His patience, and His grace to us in that He has called and continues to call every man, woman, and child to Himself. He has given us the proof of His existence in His creation, but He has given us the proof of who He is through His Son. He calls us to Himself through His Word and He has sealed this through the Sacraments as we are brought into His family through Water and Word in Baptism and we receive forgiveness of sins as we receive the very body and blood of Christ in, with, and under the bread and the wine in the Holy Supper of our Lord. Just as we read in the Scriptures, for example, in Romans 1:16 Paul writes, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek." Make no mistake, God has chosen everyone through Christ. Christ's perfect life, His suffering and death were not just for a precious and chosen few; Jesus was given for the salvation of all people. I wish I could remember from whom I first heard this so I could give them proper credit; but someone once said, "How do you know if you have been chosen? How do you know that the Gospel message is for you? Well, are you within earshot of it? Have you heard it proclaimed? Have you read it? If so, then take heart because it is for you." That goes so very well with Romans 10:14-17, "How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!" But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, "Lord, who has believed what he ha heard from us?" So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ."

The Gospel reading this morning presents to us the God who chooses. We are presented Him in the person of Jesus Himself who is the only way that the Father can be known to us. Jesus is the only way to the Father. Anyone who believes that they can find God without being called by the Holy Spirit for the sake of Jesus is only deceiving themselves. Look at the Gospel reading for today; Jesus does not sit idly by and wait for people to attach themselves to Him as disciples; which was the normal way Rabbis gained disciples in the first century. No, we see Jesus today as He calls His first disciples. Jesus finds and calls them.

Now Jesus first sees Simon and his brother Andrew as He is walking on the shore of the sea of Galilee. They are engaging in their livelihood of being fishermen. Jesus merely calls to them, "Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men." The text tells us that, "Immediately they left their nets and followed him." Jesus then comes upon James and John, also engaged in their vocations as fishermen and obedient sons; and He calls to them and once again we are told, "Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him." That might seem truly amazing. There is no hesitation here. There are no excuses made. These four leave everything. They leave their old lives behind and they follow Jesus.

But why? What made these men drop everything? Certainly Jesus' call was very powerful and authoritative. There are those who will turn to the Gospel of John and show that some of these men had already had some contact with Jesus; they had already heard Him speak. But that does not take away from the fact that Jesus called them. Certainly they heard the Word from the Word made flesh. Verse seventeen of our text tells us, "From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." They had heard Him and the Word did its work on them. They began to believe. They began to see their need for repentance and for the forgiveness of their sins. These first disciples respond to Jesus call without hesitation. Jesus chooses them men who would eventually become apostles. Not all people are called to God's Kingdom to do the same work. Jesus had many other disciples that are referenced throughout the New Testament and all were called by Him just as you and I have been called by Him through the Gospel to serve in a life of repentance and faith. The twelve disciples were not called because they were sinless examples of a godly life. No, on the contrary, listen to Peter's words from Luke's account of Peter's calling, "He fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord." This was just after the miraculous catch of fish. We know that they would see some much more and hear so much more from Jesus. But these men who Jesus called weren't much different from you and me. Their faith was not always strong. They were at times afraid and discouraged. They became jealous and angry with one another. They fought for power and positon and tried to put themselves first. They were often without understanding of what Jesus had come to do. They, just as you and I do, often fell into sin. But Jesus, the One who called them is the same One who continues to call us and all people today. Some will, as these men did, will hear His call through the Word and Spirit, and believe and follow Jesus immediately. Unlike those disciples, they will not follow Jesus literally around the countryside, but Jesus has chosen them to follow Him. Others, will hear but not respond immediately but the Holy Spirit will do His work and some will respond and believe and follow Jesus later on.

What joy it is to hear the voice of our Good Shepherd and to respond to His call; to receive His gifts of faith, forgiveness, and grace. God's Word is powerful and it accomplishes the purpose for which He sends it. We are called to repentance and faith in the Incarnate Word who suffered and died and rose again in payment for the sins of us who He called to Himself. We pray that God would continue His call to faith in Christ to all sinners as long as it is still day and work can be done. There is an immediacy to all of this because the time is short and it gets shorter every day. We do not know when the call will end and the Savior will return for His Church. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 6:2, "Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation." What a wonder it is that the same Savior who called the first disciples continues, in His love and grace, to call us to serve and follow Him and to receive freely His grace and forgiveness. Amen. The peace that passes all understanding forever keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.


The Second Sunday After the Epiphany - January 15, 2017



Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The text which engages us this morning, the Second Sunday after the Epiphany, is from the Gospel reading, particularly John 1:29-34, which reads, "The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, 'After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.' I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel." And John bore witness: "I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, 'He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.' And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God." Amen. So stands God's Word. Amen.

Who is Jesus? The answer that a person gives to that question has eternal consequences. The answer that a person gives to that question determines where they will spend eternity. There are and have always been many, many answers to the question of who Jesus is. In fact most people and most religions acknowledge that Jesus existed, however what they think about Jesus can be decidedly different. Scripture highlights the different attitudes and beliefs as to who Jesus is. For example we read this in Matthew 16:13-17, "Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he 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." He 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." Think about what John the Baptist says in the Gospel reading. John calls attention to Jesus and says that He is, "The Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" Then John says something else. John says, "I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, 'He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.' And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God." Did you catch what John said? Even John, who was the voice of one crying in the wilderness; the one who was sent to prepare the way of the Lord; John tells us that he himself did not know Him. But His identity was revealed to him. As he was told, he saw the Spirit descend on Jesus and remain on Him. John then speaks of Jesus as the One who will come and who will baptize with the Holy Spirit. But of course John bears witness to Jesus with these important and comforting words, "who takes away the sin of the world" and "is the Son of God." But John too had Jesus' identity revealed to him by God working through the Holy Spirit. That might be somewhat surprising to us because of who John was. Remember, John was Jesus' cousin. John was the one, Scripture tells us, who leapt in Elizabeth's womb for joy when Mary, who was pregnant with Jesus, came to visit. So, it would be natural to think that John and Jesus probably knew each other prior to the account of Jesus' baptism. It might even be that John heard the account of Jesus' birth from Aunt Mary and Uncle Joseph, but John still tells us that he did not know Him until Jesus' true identity and mission were revealed to him. Now, as a faithful witness, John proclaims who Jesus is; "The Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" and "The Son of God." Jesus' identity, and who we believe that Jesus is must be taken seriously, and it is not a matter of opinion. This is what Jesus Himself says about this from John chapter eight as He is speaking to the Pharisees, "I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins." So they said to him, "Who are you?" Jesus said to them, "Just what I have been telling you from the beginning." But yet, even after the witness of John, even after the witness of Jesus Himself, attested by all of the miraculous signs that Jesus was doing, they would not believe.

We know just how important it is that we believe in Jesus; that we believe that He is who He says He is, that He is God incarnate, God with us, and also true man. He is the one and only remedy for the sin that afflicts us. Paul writes in Romans, "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus." He is the only way as we are told in Acts 4:12, "And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved."

There are those who would tell us that all religions are the same, or that we all worship the same god. Well, let's look at what some other religions say who Jesus is: Jews believe Jesus was Mary's son, was a teacher (Rabbi), had many disciples, was respected, performed miracles, claimed to be the Messiah and was crucified on the cross. They also acknowledge His followers reported Jesus was raised from the dead. Muslims believe Jesus was born of a virgin, is to be revered and respected, was a prophet, a wise teacher who worked miracles, ascended to heaven, and will come again. Ahmadiyya Muslims believe Jesus may have been born of a virgin, was a prophet and wise teacher, worked miracles, and was crucified on a cross. Bahá'í believe Jesus came from God, was a wise teacher who had a divine and human nature, worked miracles, and was crucified and resurrected as an atonement for humanity. Hindus believe Jesus was a holy man, a wise teacher, and is a 'god'. Buddhists believe Jesus was an enlightened man and a wise teacher. New Age believers maintain Jesus was a wise moral teacher. As this points out there are vast differences in beliefs between Christians and non-Christians. If a person does not believe that Jesus is the only-begotten Son of God and is true God and true man does not believe in the Trinitarian God of the Bible, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Our sins required that Jesus be both. Jesus had to be true man so that He could act in our place and fulfill the Law for us, and also so He would be able to suffer and die for our sin and guilt. He also had to be true God so that His fulfilling of the Law, His life, His suffering, and death, would be a sufficient payment for the sins of all people. The fact that Jesus is in fact both of these things has been witnessed by the divinely inspired words of Scripture. We see this truth of who Jesus is attested to by the Father's statement at Jesus Baptism, by the Holy Spirit, by the witness of the apostles, and by Jesus own words and actions; and by the fact that He has overcome sin, death, and the devil for us. Yes, Jesus Christ is as John testified, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world and He is the Son of God. This was revealed to Peter and the disciples. This was revealed to John the Baptist. This is still being revealed throughout history and has been revealed to us by the power of the Holy Spirit. Scripture tells us that no one can say Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit who has indeed called us by the Gospel, enlightened us with His gifts, and creates faith in us and sanctifies and keeps us in this the one and only true faith. So, who is Jesus? The answer is that He is the Son of God, born of a virgin as true man who gave Himself up for us so that our sins would be forgiven and we would be brought back into the family of God by His blood and righteousness. Who is Jesus? He is our Savior and our Lord. Amen. The peace of God that passes all understanding forever keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.


The Baptism of our Lord - January 8, 2017



"Dead to Sin"

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The text for our meditation on this, the morning of the Baptism of our Lord, is the epistle reading, Romans 6:1-11, which reads, "What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 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. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Amen. So stands God's Word. Amen.

Today is the day on the Church calendar where we remember the Baptism of Jesus. Jesus submits Himself to John's Baptism. This was a Baptism where the one being baptized was in repentance over their sins. John then instructs some Sadducees and Pharisees who were coming to him to be baptized to "bear fruit in keeping with repentance". They were coming out to the wilderness just out of curiosity, to see what John was up too. John can see that they were not coming out of faith. John can see that they do not believe that they need to repent over anything, after-all, they believe that they are already being blessed by God. They are rich. They are successful. They are looked up to by the common people. They are experts in the Law and they believe that they fully follow the Law of Moses. So, if you put all of these things together why would they need to be baptized by John, and even if some of them were it would all have been for a show before the people anyway. They fully intend to continue on the same as before. Certainly they needed to submit to John's Baptism but without repentance John would not allow it.

Then one day Jesus comes out to John in order to submit Himself to this Baptism of repentance. This One who is without sin was coming to receive a Baptism meant for repentant sinners. But we are told that at first John did not want to baptize Jesus. Instead John desired that Jesus would baptize him. But Jesus was not baptized for Himself. He was not baptized because He needed it. Jesus was baptized because we needed it. He was baptized with a Baptism of repentance for us. He put Himself in our place. Jesus was baptized in order to identify with those He came to save and so that one day He could give us His perfect righteousness. Although perfect and sinless Jesus submitted to a sinners Baptism of repentance and submitted to a sinner's death, and all of this was for us.

This all connects with what Paul is talking about in the epistle reading. There were apparently those who felt that the forgiveness and grace earned for us by Christ at the cross gave them a license to sin. If God loves us so much and desires to forgive us so much, well we might as well give Him ample opportunity to forgive us all the more, right? Of course not! Paul's words are, "by no means!" Then Paul goes on to say something that might seem even more astounding to us. Paul says that we "have died to sin." Those are strong words aren't they? How many of us feel as if we have died to sin? How many of us, in our daily struggle against temptation and sin really feel as if we have died to sin? Well, we really have!

You see our forgiveness and salvation do not rely on our feelings. They do not depend on how close to God we might happen to feel on a given day. No, our forgiveness and life all depend solely on the promises and actions of God. So, Paul writes in Romans, "Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?" What does God's Word say to us about Baptism? Well, Jesus Himself commanded us to be Baptized and to Baptize. He commands in Matthew 28:19, "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." Peter on the Day of Pentecost said to those who were listening to him, "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."

We are baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son (Jesus), and of the Holy Spirit. Paul tells us that when we are baptized we are baptized into Christ's death. Being baptized into Christ's death means something. Do you remember what Jesus said about sin in John 8:34-36, "Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed." At one time we were slaves to sin. But as we were baptized into Christ's death we have been released from that slavery to sin and death. What wonderful Good News that is for us. Of course that does not mean that we no longer sin. We are reminded of that by God's Word as well. Listen to what Paul says in Romans 7:21-25, "So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin." But although we do still sin and sin daily we do not do so purposefully. To do that shows that we are still slaves to sin. To do such things as purposefully live in unrepentant sin ignoring God's clear words about what is sin as proclaimed in His Word shows that a person is still a slave to sin. But Christ died to set us free from sin and from death and to make us alive in Him.

Verse ten of our text says, "For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God." You see, Jesus by His bitter suffering and death affected sin; He defeated sin; He paid the penalty that we owed for our sins, and He did it once and for all people. He himself was not subject to it, but He made Himself subject to it so that He might defeat it forever on our behalf. So Christ, by His dying, condemned sin once for all. You and I, and all who have been brought to faith by the power of the Holy Spirit, have received all of the benefits of His victory. We, in our Baptism, have died to sin and no longer live in it. Because we have been baptized into Christ and being united in a death like His we are told that we are also going to live with Him and just as Christ now lives to God, we too will also walk in newness of life.

You see, although we still sin, although we may not feel like new creations, although we may not feel as if we have died to sin; God's Word assures us that in our Baptism our sinful natures have been drowned and we have been raised to a new life in Christ. We are freed from sin's guilt and shame and the penalty of death. We are freed to live to God as His redeemed children so that His glory would be proclaimed. Because we have been united to Christ in Baptism we are truly dead to sin because His blood has washed us clean and we have been made alive to God in Christ to live in loving and grateful service. Amen. The peace of God that passes all understanding forever keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.


Circumcision and Name of Jesus - January 1, 2017



"His Name is On You"

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The text that engages us on this Sunday of the Church year where we remember the circumcision and name of Jesus and the world recovers from their celebration of New Year's Eve is the Old Testament reading and also the Gospel reading; Numbers 6:22-27 and St. Luke 2:21; and these read, "The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, "Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them, The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. "So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them." Amen. "And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb." Amen. So stands God's Word. Amen.

A very blessed New Year to all of you, a year full of God's grace, forgiveness, and blessings. God our heavenly Father has and continues to bless us in so many ways. He has created and sustains us and His world. He provides for us and all of His creatures. We continue in this Christmas season to celebrate the birth of the Promised One, the Savior of the world, His Son. He has provided and earned for us the forgiveness of our sins and life eternal through this Promised One whom the angel said would be named Jesus or in Hebrew Joshua, because He will save His people from their sins. You see this Holy child was not named Jesus by accident. This was the name that He was going to be called because God Himself has declared that Jesus would be His name. Just as Jesus was not conceived by a man or an earthly father, He was also not given His name by a man or an earthly Father. He was given the name Jesus by His and our Father who is in heaven.

Names. Names are important. Names also have meanings. How many of you know the meanings of your names? Parents look at baby naming books and many times the meaning of the name is there as well. Some parents will take the meaning of the name that they pick for their son or daughter into consideration. Of course there are also those who will not. Maybe a name is given to a son or daughter to honor a parent or grandparent or other relative. This was something that went on back in the time of Jesus. Remember the account of the birth of John the Baptist? The angel visited Zechariah and gave him the news that he and his wife Elizabeth would have a son and they were to name him John. Yet, when he was born and the time came to give him his name the people wanted to give him the name Zechariah; they said that no one in the family had the name of John. John means, "The Lord has shown favor." He has shown His favor to the aged Elizabeth and Zechariah; John's birth was not possible without the favor of God. The Lord has indeed shown His favor to us. He sent John as the new Elijah, the one who would announce and prepare the way for the One who was coming, the Messiah, and the anointed One. The One who would be named Jesus, because He would save His people from their sins.

We see in our text this morning God's instructions to the priests in giving God's blessing to the people. "The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace." Then verse twenty-seven says, "So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them." God, Yahweh, has declared the people of Israel to be His people. He has claimed them and has put His name upon them. This is not because they were any different or any better than the people of the other nations who were around them. It certainly doesn't mean that they were not poor miserable sinners. God chose this people because of His great love and grace and mercy. He chose them in order that He might show His mercy and grace to a world that sorely needs this. God repeatedly reminds Israel that He was the One who had chosen them, they did not chose Him. He repeatedly refers to Himself as the God of Israel and that they are His people. He has placed His name upon them. This is a world where many are headed for eternal death, they are living in darkness and sin and do not have God's name upon them. They do not have the life of the light of Christ in them and they are not called by His name. So this means that they do not have their names written in the Lamb's Book of Life; and this is a great tragedy.

In ancient Israel male infants were circumcised and given their names on the eighth day of their lives according to the command of God. All this was a sign of the covenant that God had made with Abram; that all the people of the world would be blessed through him. This covenant of Circumcision was a physical reminder of God promise and the shedding of the blood pointed ahead to our ultimate redemption by the shedding of Christ's blood for us. Later God changes Abram's name (which means "exalted father') to Abraham (which means "father of many nations"). So by this change of his name, the name which God puts upon him, he is reminded of God's promise of grace to him and to all people. Again, God did not chose Abraham because he was anyone special. He did not chose him because he was without sin. After-all, he had been an idol worshipper. But God chose Abraham because of His grace and mercy towards him.

All of this choosing, all of this giving of names and of new names is with an eye to God's choosing of all people to receive His many gifts of forgiveness and grace through Jesus. It is also to help us to remember all of God's gracious promises. Just as our earthly mothers and fathers give us names and we also receive our family names from them; God desires to put His name upon us, He desires to claim us as His own, to make us His people. He has done this through Jesus. 1 Timothy 2:3-4 says, "This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. Jesus calls Himself the way, the truth, and the life. Jesus' Word is truth. We also know that Scripture tells us that if we deny our need for Jesus, if we deny our sins and our need for a Savior, we are told that the truth is not in us. But as brothers and sisters in Christ who have been called by the Holy Spirit and have received the gift of faith in Christ and of forgiveness of sins, and life everlasting we now have His name upon us.

In Revelation chapter two we read the message given to the Church at Pergamum. In verse seventeen it says, "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it." Christian commentators interpret the reference of hidden manna to The Lord's Supper. Also, the name on the white stone is considered to be the saving name of Jesus. Remember what Scripture tells us in Acts 4:12, "And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved."

We receive this most wonderful and gracious of names upon us at our baptism. We are baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. During the rite of Holy Baptism God claims us as His people and He makes us His own, not because we are special, not because we deserve it, but because of His love, His mercy, and His grace towards us. Also in the rite the pastor says to the one being baptized, "Receive the sign of the holy cross both upon your forehead and upon your heart to mark you as one redeemed by Christ the crucified." God, our heavenly Father has claimed us. He has claimed us through the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus. He has placed His saving name upon us and as the followers of the Way were first called at Antioch, we are proud to be called Christians because He has redeemed us. God, our heavenly Father has called us by name and has placed the name of His Son and His Son's righteousness upon us. We are His people through Jesus Christ and His name is upon you. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding forever keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.