The First Sunday in Lent - February 18, 2018

"The Kingdom of God is at Hand"

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, Mark 1:9-15, which reads, "In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased." The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him. Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel." Amen. So stands God's Word. Amen.

Praise and thanks be to God that He is a God who remembers and keeps His promises. Praise and thanks be to God that He is a God who is gracious and merciful and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. Praise and thanks be to God that He has fulfilled His promise of the Messiah in and through His only-begotten Son. During this season of Lent as we remember what God has done for us through His Son Jesus Christ and His perfect sinless obedience; we also are brought face to face with our own complete depravity and sinfulness and disobedience. We are brought face to face with our glaring need of God's grace and forgiveness. But, we are also brought to saving faith through the power of the Holy Spirit working through Word and Sacrament in the incarnate Word who has lived the perfect and obedient life for us. Jesus Christ was tempted as we are, and yet, is completely without sin. But He did not seek earthly glory and power, He came to offer Himself as the one and only necessary sacrifice for the sins of the world. He did all that the Father desired for Him to do. He submitted to John's Baptism, which was a Baptism of repentance. We read in the opening verses of the Gospel reading that Jesus came from Nazareth to be baptized by John in the Jordan. When He came up out of the water the heavens opened and the Holy Spirit descended on Him like a dove and the Father's voice came out of heaven and said, "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased." You see, the Father knows what Jesus is here to do. The Father knows what lies ahead for His Son. He knows the unbelief, the mocking, the pain that He will have to endure from the very people that He has come to deliver from sin and death. He knows the great burden of sin that He has come to endure in our place. He knows that because of this He will forsake Him at the cross.

Christ's message which comes to us at the end of our text is one that is just as important today, just as relevant today, and just as much a matter of life and death today as it was then when Jesus first spoke it. ""The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel." Now that message, those words of Jesus should sound very familiar to us. Someone else spoke words very similar to these. That was of course John the Baptist. John, as he was baptizing at the Jordan spoke these words as recorded in Matthew 3:2, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." But there is a very important difference. John was the one who was sent to prepare the way of the One who was promised; while Jesus is that One who fulfilled that promise. The Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of heaven was not at hand in John, but the Kingdom of heaven, the Kingdom of God was and is present in Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Jesus is the One who was foreshadowed by the ram who was caught in the thicket by its horns that we just read about in the Old Testament reading this morning. The ram who God sent as the substitute for Abraham's son Isaac whom God called for him to offer up as a burnt offering as a test to see if Abraham really trusted God enough to obey this command that is so very out of character with God. Abraham knew that fate that awaited his son Isaac; and when Isaac asks his father where the lamb for the burnt offering was going to come from, Abraham answers, "God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son." Then we hear the Father's voice speaking to Abraham in Genesis 22:18, "And in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice."

In Jesus this promise of God to Abraham has been fulfilled. In Jesus the statement that Abraham made to Isaac has been fulfilled. Yes, God provided a ram caught in a thicket as a substitute for him that day on Mount Moriah, but the ram was just a foreshadowing of the true Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, who would be the substitute for sins of all people, Isaac's as well as yours and mine. Jesus who would be lifted up on the wood of the cross with a crown of thorns on His head.

We are not in the season of Lent, that season of repentance. The season where we, even more than is usual, remember how great our need is because of the great debt of sin that we carry. We remember, and praise and thank the Father for His willingness to offer up for sacrifice His Son, His only-begotten Son, whom He loves; because He is the only sacrifice that is great enough and because of His great love for us.

So, Jesus is the nation of Israel reduced to one. He is baptized by John in a Baptism of repentance. John does not want to do this. John recognizes Jesus for who He is and believes that he should be the one who is baptized by Jesus. But we read in Matthew 3:15, "Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness." We may miss the importance of this, but Jesus came to fulfill the Law perfectly on our behalf, not one dot or iota would be left out. He was to do all of the things that God's chosen people failed to do. Plus He was to identify Himself with sinners and then to give to us His perfect robe of righteousness.

Jesus is baptized and is immediately driven out into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit. Jesus spends forty days out there and Satan is tempting Him. You will notice that as soon as Jesus is acknowledged by the Father as His only-begotten Son the devil goes on the attack. The devil tries to have Jesus disobey and sin just as the people of Israel did during their forty years of wandering in the wilderness. But Jesus responds to all of the devil's lies by correctly speaking God's true Word. Then Jesus drives him away. Jesus is obedient where Israel is disobedient and rebellious.

After Jesus had come to be baptized in the Jordan and He had called His disciples we read in John chapter three, "Now a discussion arose between some of John's disciples and a Jew over purification. And they came to John and said to him, "Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness-look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him." John answered, "A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, 'I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.' The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom's voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease."

John knew that the Messiah, the One for whom he had been sent to prepare the way had now come. John knew and so admitted to his disciples the truth of what Jesus had proclaimed Himself. That the time had come at long last. The promised Messiah was now among them. Jesus proclaimed, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel." The Gospel, the Good News of sins atoned for and sins forgiven through the life, suffering, and death of Jesus Christ. Our sins, the sins of the world have been atoned for. The Kingdom of God has come in the person of Jesus. The Kingdom is here now among us as Jesus has promised to be with us, with His Church always, even unto the end of the age. He has promised that where even two or three are gathered together in His name, He is there. Then He has given us the assurance that the very gates of hell will not prevail against His Church.

Jesus Christ is our prophet, our priest, and our King; and He has brought in the Kingdom of God, and it is His Good News, His Gospel that we are brought to believe by the power of the Holy Spirit who brings us to repentance and gives us the power and faith to believe so that we are heirs of the Kingdom. 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 11, 2018

"Listen"

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, Mark 9:2-9 which reads, "And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus. And Peter said to Jesus, "Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah." For he did not know what to say, for they were terrified. And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, "This is my beloved Son; listen to him." And suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them but Jesus only. And as they were coming down the mountain, he charged them to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of Man had risen from the dead." Amen. So stands God's Word. Amen.

In the first chapter of John's Gospel he is inspired to write, "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth." Today is the Sunday in which we remember the Transfiguration of our Lord. Jesus revealed His glory to both His disciples and to the people in many ways. In His first miracle at the wedding in Cana when He changed the water into wine. Jesus showed His glory when He healed the sick. When He cast out demons. He revealed His glory as He exercised His authority over the created world. He revealed His glory as He raised the dead to life again. He revealed His glory as we talked about last week when He taught the people with authority, not relying on the statements of others, mere men, but who taught with the authority of the One True God, the Second Person of the Trinity. But yet, even in the face of all of this the people refused to believe. In fact many of them were convinced that rather than being the Son of, He was in fact at the opposite end of the spectrum, or Jesus was merely a man. Just consider these verses from God's Word. Matthew 12:22-24, "Then a demon-oppressed man who was blind and mute was brought to him, and he healed him, so that the man spoke and saw. And all the people were amazed, and said, "Can this be the Son of David?" But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, "It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons." Then we see in Matthew 13:54-57, "Coming to his hometown he taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, "Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works? Is not this the carpenter's son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?" And they took offense at him."

This was and is still the story isn't it? Jesus has and does show His power and His glory to us, we see it, we are affected by it, but yet many are only offended by it. Or else many only want to bask in the glory and not serve in the Kingdom here on earth out of thanksgiving and praise.

Today as we look back at Jesus' Transfiguration we can identify with the apostle Peter. Peter and James and John are taken up on the mountain by Jesus. Suddenly they are confronted by just a small part of Jesus' true glory. His person and His clothing are absolutely radiant. They see Moses and Elijah appear and talk to Jesus. How wonderful that must have been. Which one of us would not have wanted to stay there on that mountain and bask in Jesus' glory? We have so many cares and so many worries and concerns. Certainly, if we would have been there with Jesus on top of the mountain that day all of those cares, worries, and concerns would have melted away. Peter even goes so far as to ask if Jesus wants them to set up three tents, one for Him, one for Moses, and one for Elijah. Let's stay up here forever Jesus! This is the greatest thing ever. No need to go back down the mountain and face life. Or, hear Satan in the background, "No need to go down there and face the cross.

Where would we be if Jesus had just stayed up there on the mountain with Peter, James, and John? Where would our hope be? Where would our forgiveness and life be? But to stay up on the mountain was not in God the Father's plan, it was not what Jesus, God the Son, had come to earth and a man to do. If Jesus had wanted to remain in glory He would not have come to earth in human flesh. He would not have gotten into this messy world full of sin, evil, hatred, and death. He would not have put Himself as the target of the hate, blasphemy, and disbelief of so many. He would not have put Himself through the mocking, pain, humiliation, and condemnation of death on the cursed cross. But He did. The writer to the Hebrews was inspired to write in chapter 12 verse 2, "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."

Yes, looking to Jesus, and Jesus only for our redemption. Up on the Mount of Transfiguration that day the disciples heard the voice of God the Father speak, and He said, ""This is my beloved Son; listen to him." The text continues with; "And suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them but Jesus only." But unfortunately, as I talked about a couple of weeks ago, we are not good listeners. We know what we must do. We know that we are to listen to Jesus because the Father has sent Him for our redemption and He commanded it. But we also have the testimony of Peter from John 6, "So Jesus said to the twelve, "Do you want to go away as well?" Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God." Jesus only has the words of eternal life. Jesus only is the Holy One of God. Then we have the words of Jesus Himself in the fourteenth chapter of John, "Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going." Thomas said to him, "Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?" Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." Indeed, it is Jesus only who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Jesus only is the way to the Father.

We live in a world that proclaims so many different and dangerous messages. They are messages that can at times even seem fair and reasonable. It would seem to be fair and reasonable to believe that you can earn your way to heaven by just being as good as you can. It would be fair and reasonable to believe that all religions are basically the same and that they all lead to the same place as long as the believers are sincere. As fair and reasonable as all of that may sound; it is wrong. For the past year as we remembered the Reformation we had been saying that it's all and still about Jesus. It's always been and always will be Jesus only. Our text tells us that, "And suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them but Jesus only."


The Fifth Sunday After The Epiphany - February 4, 2018

"Everyone is Looking for 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 from the Gospel reading, particularly Mark 1:35-39, which reads, "And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. And Simon and those who were with him searched for him, and they found him and said to him, "Everyone is looking for you." And he said to them, "Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out." And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons." Amen. So stands God's Word. Amen.

When we are looking for something, and just cannot find it, the experience can be frustrating to say the least. Maybe you are searching everywhere for your car keys or your cell phone. When you cannot find something it can drive you to distraction. But, what about when you are searching for a person, a friend, a loved one? Maybe you have become separated from your child at the grocery store, or a parent who's memory and health are not what they once were are out and about alone, when it is dangerous for them to do so. In most cases the ending is a happy one. Even if there has been an amber or a silver alert issued later on we are told that the individual has been found, reunited with their families, and that all is well.

But, there are also the cases that do not end as well. The person who was lost, and who so many are searching for is either not found, or if they are found the worst has happened. There is great grief and sorrow. There may even be accusations and recriminations. A precious loved one is lost. Now, admittedly, this is the situation that exists in the Gospel. Jesus is not lost. Jesus has not been taken. But, He cannot be found. Our context has Jesus in the city of Capernaum. He had been in the Synagogue teaching. We are told that He is not basing His teaching on the words of other teachers, but He is teaching with His own authority. The people are astonished at this and He goes even further and shows His authority by casting a demon out of a man.

Jesus then leaves the synagogue and He heals Peter's Mother-in Law. After this they begin to bring to Jesus all of the sick and demon possessed from throughout the town and we are told that Jesus healed them. But, the demons knew who Jesus is but Jesus would not allow them to speak. So, now we come to our text. Jesus rises early in the morning and goes off to a desolate place to pray. The disciples go to look for Him and when they find Him they tell Him, "Everyone is looking for You." But why? Why was everyone looking for Jesus? This is not the first time in which people were looking for Jesus. The shepherds went to look for Him after the angels announced His birth to them; and so they went to see. The Magi went looking for Jesus to worship Him who was born King of the Jews. Herod sent soldiers to look for Jesus in order to kill Him. The people in our text are searching for Jesus, but is it because they know that He is the promised Messiah who has come at last? Probably not. Jesus has healed many in Capernaum. The people knew a good thing when they saw it; Jesus could heal people and drive out demons so of course they sought Him out and wanted Him to stay.

Later on in Jesus ministry after He had fed the 5,000 with only five small loaves and two fish; the people were also searching for Him. In John 6 after the people found Jesus around the other side of the Sea of Galilee we read this, "When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, "Rabbi, when did you come here?" Jesus answered them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal." Then they said to him, "What must we do, to be doing the works of God?" Jesus answered them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent." Jesus knew that they were seeking Him because He satisfied their earthly hunger but that was not why Jesus had come. What does our text this morning tell us? "And he said to them, "Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out." And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons."

To be fed by Jesus with bread and fish, to be healed physically by Jesus is a wonderful gift. But it is not a gift that lasts. We become hungry again. We become ill again. Even those who Jesus raised from the dead such as Lazarus and the widow's son died again. That is not the reason that Jesus came, although in His mercy and love for His people He did indeed heal, drive out demons and raise the dead. But if people look for Jesus for only temporal benefits that is completely worthless and wrong. If you are hoping in Jesus in order to have your best life now, well you are hoping for the wrong reason.

You see in these events where we have people looking for Jesus we are given to understand that they are not looking for Him because He is the only-begotten Son of God, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. They do not understand that He is the one who is going to take God's wrath against sin upon Himself and to then experience the pain of being utterly forsaken by God because of our sin which He has taken upon Himself. You see, there are often times where we look for Jesus for the wrong reasons. Even we who are brothers and sisters in Christ treat Jesus as if He is there for us to command and to have Him help us, heal us, and feed us, to make our lives in thus world easy and comfortable. If we suffer in anyway, if our lives are hard, if we are chronically ill and God does not answer our prayers for healing and deliverance in the way that we want we become angry and our faith weakens. We no longer trust in Him as we should. But these are also sins for which He suffered and died. When we are brought to the realization of these sins and of our other sins, no matter what they are, and we repent and ask for God's forgiveness for Jesus' sake; we are forgiven.

You see, just as Jesus tells us in the text this morning, He came to preach the Good News. He came to heal us and deliver us from our burden of sin and to rescue us from death and eternal separation from God in hell. Jesus came in order to seek us out. We have been chosen by God for salvation in Christ Jesus, all people have. But there are those who refuse to believe, who refuse to repent and receive the forgiveness of their sins that is freely given.

Psalm 14 and 53 are very similar. They both say that God looks down from heaven on the children of man to see if any understand, if there are any who seek after God. He is taking about believers. Unbelievers cannot and do not seek after God. We can only seek after, or call upon God in faith and love and trust after He has sought after and found us. It is only after He has healed us of our sins, given us the gift of faith, and has brought us into His Kingdom for the sake of His Son our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ.

You see it is God who seeks out and saves. Jesus said in Luke 19, "For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost." Jesus is the One who came to seek His lost sheep, the sheep who sinned and strayed from Him, the Good Shepherd. He is the One who sought us out and who laid down His life for us. And because He has found us and redeemed us and made us His own, now, we can call upon Him in worship, thanks and praise, and can turn to Him in faith in times of trouble and in faith trust in Him for the answer that is always best. Praise God that we do not have to look for Jesus because He has found us. Amen. The peace that passes all understanding forever keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.


The Fourth Sunday After The Epiphany - January 28, 2018

"Listen"

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, Deuteronomy 18:15-20 which reads, "The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers-it is to him you shall listen- just as you desired of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, 'Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.' And the Lord said to me, 'They are right in what they have spoken. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him. But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.'" Amen. So stands God's Word. Amen.

Are you a good listener? Research tells us two things: first is that most us believe that we are good listeners, and two most of us actually are not good listeners at all. We are distracted by the events of our daily lives. We are distracted by our almost constant attention we give to our electronic devices. How many of us, who while we are in a conversation with someone, are thinking about the other tasks we have to accomplish that day, or are already forming a response in our minds before the other person has finished speaking? I find it interesting that people have made careers out of teaching others the skills that are required to be a good listener. I looked at some articles on the internet and I found places that claim anywhere from eight to fifteen skills that are required to be a good listener. Here are a few: stop talking (I really like that one), prepare yourself to listen, put the speaker at ease, remove distractions, empathize, be patient, be patient, avoid personal prejudice, listen to the tone, listen for ideas - not just words, and finally wait and watch for non-verbal communication (look at the person). When you consider all of that, most of us must admit that we are not very good listeners. But, we can do something about that. We can get better. We can improve our listening skills.

But what we cannot do is earn forgiveness of our sins. We cannot work our way into heaven. We cannot come to God through our own efforts and merits. We cannot make ourselves pleasing to God on our own. Scripture also tells us that we cannot proclaim "Jesus Christ is Lord" of our own devices. Scripture tells us in no uncertain terms that outside of the Holy Spirit we cannot believe, we can proclaim Christ as Savior and Lord.

The apostle Paul, writing in Romans 10, "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?" The Word must be proclaimed. The Word must be heard. The Word must be listened to. Consider the text for this morning, "The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers-it is to him you shall listen- just as you desired of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, 'Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.'" So, what's going on there? This is a reference back to Exodus 20. The Israelites are before the Lord at Mount Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments. "Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, "You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die." Moses said to the people, "Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin." This is a response of sinful people who find themselves in the presence of a righteous and Holy God. There is fear and the realization that God is indeed Holy and you decidedly are not. This is the realization that you have not listened to the voice of God. You have not obeyed His command and His statutes and have listened to your own voice and the voice of the sinful culture around us. This is the realization that if you are ever to be able to come into the presence of a Holy God; if you want to be able to obey Him, if you want to be able to please Him, you need help. You need someone to mediate for you. You need someone to act and to speak before God on your behalf.

God had hardly finished giving Moses His Law on Mount Sinai before the people fell into idolatry. They had already broken the First Commandment: "You shall have no other god." Don't pat yourself on the back though while you compare yourself to them. You may not have danced around a golden calf, but you have had other god's. You have put other people and things in the place of God. You have taken His name in vain. You have not kept the Sabbath holy. You have not honored the authorities He has placed over us. Need I go on and list all of God's commandments to you. Can we look at even one of them and claimed that we have listened to the voice of God in this matter and have heard and obeyed Him? If any of us believe that, well, that's proof of the opposite. The Holy Spirit, speaking through James tells us, "For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it. For he who said, "Do not commit adultery," also said, "Do not murder." If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law." The people of Israel knew they needed someone to stand between them and God, a mediator. Moses stood for them. Now, Moses is about to be taken home by God, and so through Moses, God says, "I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him." Who is this "prophet"? The nation of Israel was sent many prophets and of course the people did not listen to them. But there was only One who was sent who always spoke the Word of God because He is God. He was always the One to whom we are to listen. He is the One who is greater than Moses and greater than all of the prophets combined. The One to whom John the Baptist referred when he said, "'After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me."

This is Jesus the Christ. He is the One of whom the Father said, "And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, "This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!" Yes, Jesus, He is the One to whom our text this morning refers when we are told, "I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers." He is the One to whom we are to listen and if we do not hear His voice and listen to Him we are told, "Whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him." What is it that will be required of the one who will not listen? It is their very lives. If anyone does not listen to the voice and Gospel of the Son they are lost. They are dead in their trespasses and sins. But Christ has come. God has listened to the cries of His people and has sent the Messiah to redeem us from our sins. John writes in chapter ten of his Gospel, "I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again." Praise and thanks be to God that He has sent us Jesus our Good Shepherd who laid down His life to atone for our sins on the cross; and who rose again in glory. We listen to His voice in His Word and by the power of the Holy Spirit we are given faith to believe and be saved. 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 21, 2018

"The Time Has Grown Short"

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The text for our message this morning is the epistle reading, 1 Corinthians 7:29-31, which reads, "This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away." Amen. So stands God's Word. Amen.

We here that phrase being thrown around a lot; "the time has grown short" or "time is running out" we here this especially in reference to the so-called big sales that businesses put on from time to time. After-all, this is so important and it's a once in a lifetime event or sale that you just can't afford to miss out, because it will just never come around again; at least until next month.

Then many of us may remember the great anticipation and stress before the year 2000; you know the great Y2K fears. All the computers were going to crash. Life as we knew it was going to change completely. Businesses invested a great deal of time and money into being ready for the huge change that was coming when the calendar changed from 1999 to 2000. At that time I was working for the Boeing Company in St. Louis and we were always getting messages about what the company was doing to prepare for this momentous event. You might also remember that after the anticipation peaked; nothing happened. We all woke up on New Year's Day 2000 and everything still worked; planes didn't fall from the sky, the world's economy continued running as it always had; it seemed as if it was just a lot of unneeded stress and aggravation, in fact for a while we made jokes about it and we all laughed. But in the weeks and months prior very few people saw anything funny about it.

Now those of you who have the Lutheran Study Bibles know that interspersed throughout are different articles written by Lutheran scholars. On page 2126, before the end of chapter twelve, they have placed an article that begins with this historical account, "The year 999 was especially fearful in medieval Europe. Many people expected that Christ's return was very near. Some sold all they had, gave the money to the poor, and went on pilgrimages. The New Years' service in Rome was packed. It is said that some died of fright as they thought of the trumpets of heaven sounding at midnight. Yet as the bishop of Rome, Sylvester II, gave the benediction and the church bells sounded the new millennium, everyone went home rejoicing. Judgement Day did not appear as they had feared."

These two accounts are interesting. They show people reacting to what they perceive as the end. The time was seen to be growing short and there was a great deal of fear and apprehension. Still today we have many people who talk about the coming end of the world. People are out there known as preppers. They have their shelters, food, water, weaponry, clothing, and medical supplies so they can survive the end. They believe that the time has grown very short.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, Paul writes in the text this morning that this is indeed the case. "The appointed time has grown very short." This truth is brought home to us when we approach different events in life. But then as these events come and go and it appears that everything remains just as it was we very quickly and easily forget the truth that we can be called home by our Lord at any time; or Jesus our Lord can return for His Church and to judge the world. Paul talks about how we are to live because of this truth, that the time is short. Paul writes that those who have wives are to live as if they did not; those who are mourning as if they were not; those who were rejoicing as if they were not; those who were buying as it they had nothing; and those who are dealing with the world as if they had no dealings with it.

Paul, in 2 Corinthians 6:8-10, writes a passage that is very similar to our text this morning; "We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything." What does all of that mean to us? Well, there are more important things to be considered in respect to eternity than possessions, wealth, or fame. There is more to life than what the world thinks of us or whether the world loves us or not. Jesus Himself said in Matthew 16:25-27, "For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done."

What we are being taught here is not that we are to remove ourselves from the world. We are not to live as hermits or doomsday preppers, detached from what is going on. How does this approach further the Kingdom of God? How does this approach serve the spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, He who has overcome the world, He who has suffered and died and rose again for our sins and the sins of our neighbor. But we are also not to be so dominated by the world and absorbed in the chase for what the world has proclaimed are what we need and what we should be focused on instead of the things of God. Because what can we give in return for our eternal soul? What do our wealth, our fame, our possessions matter when we die and come before the throne of God and are not covered by Christ's robe of righteousness and have not been washed clean by His blood? The answer of course is that they do not matter at all. Look at the account of the rich man and Lazarus that Jesus gives to us in Luke 16. His wealth and goods did nothing for him. He relied on and put his faith in them. He did not put his faith in the one true God for his salvation. He did not have his eyes focused on the Last Day, that Great Day of the Lord; the day where we, as Paul writes in our text, we see the things of this present world pass away completely as they are even now doing.

It is too easy for us, with our sinful natures, to take our eyes off of the world to come. It is so very easy to fall into the trap of coveting the world's goods and envying our neighbor and not being content with what God has blessed us with. It is so very easy to take our minds off of Christ and leave them focused on the fool's gold of what this world has to offer. Then as we pursue the goods of this world we might lie, or cheat, we might even steal what belongs to our neighbor and make excuses to justify it. We may neglect a perfect God given opportunity to witness the love of God in Jesus Christ to our neighbor. We may forget that the time has grown very short. Or maybe we have fallen into the trap of many who believe as some of Peter's day did; he writes about in 2 Peter 3, "You should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, "Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation." Yes, it has been almost 2,000 years since Jesus ascended into heaven and promised to return and ever since then we have been told that the time has grown very short, and it has. But it is not too late. The mercy and forgiveness of God through Christ Jesus is still freely available to all. We joyfully spread the word of God's grace in Christ to our neighbor and we joyfully live with our eyes focused not on this world and its goods; but with our eyes firmly fixed on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith; we live in world but are not of it. Indeed the time has grown very short. 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 The Epiphany - January 14, 2018



"You Are Not Your Own"

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The text for our edification this morning is from the epistle reading, particularly 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, which reads, "Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body." Amen. So stands God's Word. Amen.

In his explanation of the Second Article of The Apostles' Creed Luther writes, "I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true."

As Christians it is a very simple and easy thing to say and acknowledge that Jesus suffered and died for our sins. That His shed blood and death paid the penalty for us. We will hear people say this when they are talking about their faith. You may even, but more rarely, hear someone speak in terms of belonging to Christ. Even when those words are spoken it means different things to different people.

The apostle Paul spoke of himself as a "doulos" or a servant or a slave of Christ. Certainly slavery brings up a very bad and evil picture in our minds. None of us would want to be in a position of slavery. None of us want to be thought of as being purchased and owned by another. In human terms and experience that is not a good position to be in. We all are very much aware of what slavery implies. Slavery implies being subject to the whims and moods of another. It implies having to obey another without question. In many cases even a slave's physical treatment and wellbeing are in the hands of the one who the person is in servitude to. In Roman times a slave, someone who did not have authority over himself, whose body did not belong to them, could have a great deal power and responsibility and could serve in a number of important and even critical positions. But, they were still slaves. Their bodies were not their own.

We, as sinful human beings, certainly rebel at the thought of this. We think of ourselves as autonomous, with the freedom to make our own decisions in every avenue of life, as long as it is within the law. We have the same attitude that was common among the Jews of Jesus' day. Jesus was speaking in John 8, and this was a particular group, listen to how they are described; "So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, "If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." They answered him, "We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, 'You will become free'?" Jesus answered them, "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."

Jesus was speaking to Jews who believed in Him. However we are not told how strong that belief was or what they believed about Him. Of course Jesus was perfectly aware of this. He tells them, "If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." They responded in a way that many people would probably respond today. They stated that they did not need to be made free because they had never been slaves to anyone in the first place. Of course they easily brushed aside the fact that they as a people had been slaves many times in the nation's history; to the Egyptians, Babylonians, and in Jesus' day they were subject to the Romans. Many in our world today, especially in our culture would stand up and be firm about their belief that we are free and subject to no one; and that I am free to make any decision that I want to make and am free to do anything that I want to do, as long as it is under the law; although there are some who would even go beyond that. This is especially true when it comes to what a person wants to do with what they refer to as, "my body."

Of course Jesus makes it clear that all people are in slavery because all people who sin are in fact slaves to sin. As slaves to sin they and all people needed redemption, they needed to be bought back from this slavery because this slavery only ended in eternal death. So, this slavery is far, far worse than any normal physical slavery as even that slavery ends when the slave dies.

Ever since the fall all human beings were born under slavery to sin. There was no other option. There was no amount of money that could either prevent this that can purchase one's freedom from that slavery. Sin is the harshest of masters. We can look and see evidence of this in our world around us. Sin carries with it both temporal and eternal consequences. It is interesting to look at these consequences in terms of the wages of sin, which is death.

In the epistle reading as a whole Paul talks about the body and that he would not allow himself to be enslaved by anything. Paul speaks of the body not being made for sexual immorality. He then writes that we are all members of the body of Christ. That we who have been joined to the Lord are one spirit with Him. Then in verse 19 Paul asks what should be viewed as a rhetorical question, "Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?" But Paul goes even beyond this when he says, "You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body." Of course Paul writes this in the context of sexual sins. But, we can look at this about all sins. Certainly, sexual sins are sins that are committed against our own bodies. We can see the consequences, at least in part in sexually transmitted diseases, which can and often do result in someone's death.

But, it is interesting to look at that idea of death when it comes to sin and just how sin will literally lead to death, both temporal and eternal, when it comes to the idea of jus whose we are. We hear many who claim that, "this is my body, and I can do what I want with it." This claim has led to and is used to justify both our sins and also the preservation and even expansion of a culture of death.

We have seen this since 1973 when abortion on demand was made legal here in the United States. Since 1973 it has been reported that there have been 59,115,995 abortions in the United States and in some cases, even in the Church, this is celebrated as the exercise of choice and a woman exercising control over her body. We are also seeing this in the campaign to make it legal for a person to elect to end their own life with the assistance of a doctor, because after all, it is my body and I can do what I want with it. But we see that this is not how God commands it. When we sin, any kind of sin we are participating in something that brings death. But, we are not our own, we have been bought back with a price and that price is the Holy precious blood of Jesus that washes away all of our sins. We who have been washed clean by His blood are no longer slaves to sin, but we are servants, slaves of God and slaves of righteousness. This is a wonderful and a joyous slavery that brings with it not death, but everlasting life. No, no matter what we may claim we are not our own, we are slaves of sin, death, and the devil; or to the praise and glory of God for the sake of Jesus and by the power of the Holy Spirit we belong to God. God our heavenly Father who for Jesus sake removes the harsh and heavy yoke of sin and death from us and replaces it with the light and easy yoke of Christ and His forgiveness, love, light and life. Amen.

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




The Baptism of Our Lord - January 7, 2018



"The First Day"

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 the Old Testament reading, Genesis 1:1-5, which reads, "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. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day." Amen. So stands God's Word. Amen.

The New Year brings with it, at least according to some, and opportunity to start fresh. January 1 is a time when people look to initiate changes in their lives. After all, it is the first day of a New Year. So, out with the old and in with the new. People will decide to do any number of things on that first day. People decide that they will stop smoking. They will exercise. They will change their diet. They will make better decisions. They will begin daily devotions. They will attend a weekly Bible study. But, we all are very well aware of the statistics on New Year's resolutions. The percentages of resolutions that are broken within the first month are discouraging. I would also imagine that many of these resolutions do not survive the first day. My opinion about it is that a person is either going to do something or they are not. I like the Nike slogan that began some years ago, "Just do it!" But that it easier said than done, even on that first day. "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. In the beginning God is. God is there on that first day. God is creating something out of nothing. God is creating order out of the formless and the void. God quite literally creates time. Think about that for just a bit. Not only is God doing His work to create the heavens and the earth on that first day. But He also is establishing the rules of time. God is creating what a day is. God created that first day. God also created you and me. He laid out our first day and our last day. We read in the Scriptures in Psalm 139:16, a Psalm of David, "Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them."

But we serve a God who had no beginning. We serve a God who had no first day. Unlike us, He will also never have a last day. Think about what God told Moses from the burning bush. When Moses asked God what he should say when the people ask who sent him God said this in Exodus 3:15, "Say this to the people of Israel: 'The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.' This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations." Jesus also stated that He is God. The people He was speaking to understood this perfectly. Jesus was responding to the Jews in John 8, "You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?" Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am." So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple." This is God, the only God, revealed to us in the Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; One God in three persons. As God He makes and remembers and keeps the promises that He has made from the first day. You and I forget promises that we made yesterday, but God remembers and He keeps them out His great love for us that He has had from that very first day. God continues His work of creation throughout the subsequent days, until He reached the sixth day. On that day He created the crown of His creation. On the sixth day, God created man. Genesis 1:27 reveals to us, "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them." After this we are told that God showered a blessing down upon them. This is something that He did not do for any other part of His creation. Genesis 1:28 reveals, "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."

Just imagine how wonderful everything was. Creation was pronounced as "very Good" by God Himself. Man had the very image of God. There was no pain. There was no disease. There was no war, or hunger. There was no need of charitable organizations. No need of homeless shelters, or food pantries. No need of prisons. No need of shelters for battered women and children. There was no abortion. There was no murder. There was loneliness, or sadness, or grief. There was only perfection. There was only the unrelenting joy of being in the presence of God and of knowing and of doing His will. That is what it was like for Adam and for Eve on their first day.

But, not for any of us. That is not to say that God did not shower blessings upon us, even from our first day. And our first day may not be what you think. Our first day was not the day that we drew our first breath. Oh no, David talks about what that first day truly was in Psalm 51, "Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me." Yeah, there it is, that horrible tree letter word, sin. Sin is what ended the perfection of creation. Sin is what spoiled what was created on each day from the first to the sixth. We are told that Adam and Eve were naked, yet they were not ashamed. They walked before God and each other and were not ashamed. Then they fell for the devil's temptations and false promises and rejected the truth of God and His rock solid promises and they sinned. They disobeyed God and their eyes were opened and they saw their nakedness and were then ashamed. But that was not the worst of it because now all of the other evils that had not existed were now in the world. There would now be death, hunger, pain, fear, and hatred of brother against brother. That was the first day for sin, death, and all of its accompanying evil. But, it was also the first day of the promise of salvation. On that day, the day of the fall into sin, God promised the One who would deliver us from our sins and who would defeat, sin, death, and the devil. This is that same One who was with God in the beginning.

Yes, John 1:1-5 tells us about Him, "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, true God and also true man, the life of the world, the light that shines in the darkness, the Lamb of God who suffered and died for the sins of all people. Who gives to us His robe of righteousness and covers the nakedness of our sins so that we can stand before God and not have to hide in shame as Adam and Eve had to do. Who gave the instructions to Nicodemus about another "first day" that everyone needed beyond the day of our physical birth. Jesus said that we must be born from above. We must be born of water and of the Spirit or else we cannot enter the Kingdom of God. Then in Matthew 28:18-20 Jesus said, "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." That is truly our first day, that day we were baptized into the family of God and received forgiveness and the promised Holy Spirit. The following is from the Rev. Arie Bertsch, President of the North Dakota District.

"Throughout the Old Testament we then begin to see hints of the number 8. At eight days old, God commanded Jewish boys to become circumcised, as was Jesus. God instructed certain pieces of furniture in the Temple to be eight-sided. The Temple was the very presence of God, as was Jesus. The Temple was consecrated (set aside to be holy) for eight days. The Temple was holy, as is Jesus. Eight people were saved in Noah's ark. The ark saved Noah and his family in the flood, as Jesus saves us in the flood of Holy Baptism. This is why most baptismal fonts are eight sided, because we are baptized into the eternal eighth day of resurrection; baptized into the new creation!" Indeed the first day. Amen.

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




The First Sunday After Christmas - December 31, 2017



"The Fullness of Time"

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The text for our meditation this morning in the epistle reading, Galatians 4:4-7, which reads, "But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!" So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. Amen. So stands God's Word. Amen.

I guess it goes without saying that time is very important to us. In our culture we are virtually ruled by time. Our lives are heavily scheduled. Sometimes it seems that we know to the minute just exactly where we will be and what we will be doing. Even here in our text we have the apostle Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, writing about time. Paul writes about the fullness of time, and when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son. God sent His Son not in a way that we might expect for the Son of God to be sent. God sent His Son to be born from a woman, to be born from a human creature. He did not send His Son to rule and to reign in glory, but to be born under the law, so that we human beings who are under the law might be redeemed, be bought back. To be bought back from slavery to sin and death; to be bought back from our bondage to the law. Paul continues as he writes that it is also for the purpose that we might receive adoption as sons.

Why is that so important? It is important because when we were adopted as sons and daughters, brothers and sisters in Christ; that meant that our time as slaves had ended. We were slaves no longer, and on top of that as sons we are also now heirs. We have a great and wonderful, an eternal inheritance in the Kingdom of God. Jesus Himself said in John 8:31-36, "So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, "If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." They answered him, "We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, 'You will become free'?" Jesus answered them, "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." Make no mistake, sin is slavery, sin is death, sin is separation from God. The problem is that from the fall of Adam and Eve sin was the natural default setting for every person. Also, contrary to some, we in ourselves are powerless to help ourselves, we are powerless to resist the pull of sin. Don't believe me? Well, ok, think back on your past week. Did you get angry with anyone? Did you exchange harsh words with someone? Were any of your thoughts evil? Were any of your thoughts impure? Did you lust after another? Were you lazy? Were you prideful? Did you tell even the smallest of untruths? Did you thoughtlessly talk about another person and not put the best construction on it? Haven't each one of us been guilty of all of these things? If we are honest with ourselves the answer must be yes. Why? Why do we do these things, things that we know are against God's Law?

The problem is the same problem that has always been there, we are sinners, and we sin because that is who we are. But, we are no longer slaves to sin. We are no longer in bondage to the law, which gives us no hope. The law does not save, the Law always accuses us. The Law always points out our helpless and our sins, our failures to measure up to what God demands. Yes, even as Christians there is still the struggle against sin; where we know what is good, we want to do it, but we do not. Paul even experienced this and he wrote about his struggle in Romans 7:20-25, "Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 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."

How wonderful that is! We see it in our text this morning. God had a solution. In the fullness of time He would, and He did send His Son, His only-begotten Son who He loves. God would send His Son to earth and He would be born of a Virgin. His way would be prepared for by a strange looking man dressed in a garment of camel's hair with a leather belt around his waist. A man who ate locusts and wild honey. A man named John who called out in the wilderness for the people to repent. To prepare the way for Jesus the Christ, the Messiah, whose birth had been promised and foretold so long ago, who had at last, in the fullness of time, God's time, had come.

Think of it! The Son of God, born as a true human infant. A man who would feel the same emotions, feel pain, get tired and sleep, get hungry and eat, and get thirsty and drink. A true man who would be tempted just as we are but yet stay sinless. This baby, whose birth we celebrated last Monday, Christmas Day. The birth that had been foretold to Mary and Joseph, who was also told that the child was to be named Jesus, because He would save His people from their sins. The birth that was announced by the angels to the shepherds out in the field watching over their flocks. The birth of the Good Shepherd announced to shepherds. This child, true God and true man who was brought to the temple in the time that was stipulated by God's law and was intercepted by Simeon, who had been promised that he would not die until he had seen the Lord's Messiah, and upon seeing Jesus declared that he could now go in peace, according to the Lord's gracious Word. Indeed, Simeon was holding and speaking over the Word made flesh. Simeon declaring in Luke 2:29-32, "Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel." The fullness of time had come for the prophecy to be fulfilled and for the promise of the world's redemption to be kept. Simeon speaking by the power of the Holy Spirit declares that this salvation is not just for the people of Israel, but also for the Gentiles. This birth was also celebrated by Anna, who Luke writes was a prophetess. In Luke 2:38 we read, "And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem." The fullness of time had come for the Messiah to be born, true God and also true man. True man so He could fulfill the requirements of the Law for all men, and die for the sins of all men. Also true God so that His death would be enough to pay the redemption price for all men.

Indeed the fullness of time had come and the Messiah was born. Then in the fullness of time He conducted His ministry here on earth. Then in the fullness of time He submitted to the will of the Father and was crucified, not for any sins He had committed, but for your sins and my sins; indeed, the sins of all people both Jew and Gentile. But then He rose triumphantly from the grave and ascended into heave and sits at the Father's right hand interceding for us. Then, in the fullness of time He will return in full glory for His Church and will come as judge of both the living and the dead and He will rule in His everlasting kingdom. Then time will be no more, the ultimate fullness of time will have come and gone. It will be too late for the unbeliever. But, there is still time. God is gracious to humanity and seeks for all to be brought to saving faith in His Son. As Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 6:2, "Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation." The fullness of time. The time is now. 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 Advent - December 24, 2017



"The Lord Will Make You a House"

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 from the Old Testament reading, particularly 2 Samuel 7:4-11 & 16, which reads, "But that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan, "Go and tell my servant David, 'Thus says the Lord: Would you build me a house to dwell in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent for my dwelling. In all places where I have moved with all the people of Israel, did I speak a word with any of the judges of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, "Why have you not built me a house of cedar?"' Now, therefore, thus you shall say to my servant David, 'Thus says the Lord of hosts, I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, that you should be prince over my people Israel. And I have been with you wherever you went and have cut off all your enemies from before you. And I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may dwell in their own place and be disturbed no more. And violent men shall afflict them no more, as formerly, from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel. And I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover, the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.'" Amen. So stands God's Word. Amen.

Have you ever built your own house? I would guess that many of us have. Now when I ask this question I also include the idea of going to some display homes and picking your floor plan, picking the paint colors and picking the other options that are available to you. Let's face it, not many people these days actually design and build their own house. Today is not only the Fourth Sunday in Advent, but it is also, of course, Christmas Eve. Tonight here at hope we will celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. So, since today is slightly unusual, since it does double duty, excuse me if I might travel back and forth from the Fourth Sunday in Advent to Christmas Eve.

King David was a man after God's own heart. Even with all of the great and grievous sins that David committed God was with Him. God kept all of the promises that He had made to David, and God did indeed make for David a house. God did indeed make for David a Kingdom and a Throne that is established forever. But, this may not have been exactly as David had anticipated. David knew that he had been greatly blessed by God. David knew that it was God who had put him on the throne of Israel; and that it was now God who had given David rest form all of his enemies. So David looks around, he sees all that God has done both for him and for the people of Israel; and he sees that he is now living in a palace, but that the house of God is still the traveling, temporary tabernacle, the house of God is still a tent. David decides that he will build God a house. But, David does not just go off and do this. David goes to Nathan the prophet. By doing this David shows that he is seeking the will of God on the matter. Nathan answers David without going to God and seeking God's will first.

Now, make no mistake, no one sinned in this matter. The people of Israel did not sin because they had not yet built God a house. David did not sin because he had it in his heart to build God a house. No, not even Nathan sinned, even though he answered David somewhat before he should have. This issue was that it was not God's will or plan that David should build Him a house. So God gives His Word and command to Nathan. God essentially tells David through Nathan, that He is not concerned about having a house to dwell in, He had not asked for one. Then God reminds David of all that He had done for Him. God had taken David from taking care of his father's sheep as a lowly shepherd, and God has now made David King over all of Israel. God has made David shepherd of His people. God has delivered David from all of his enemies, both outside and inside Israel. God has been with David at all times and wherever he had gone.

God now goes on and gives David another promise. Not only is David not to be concerned over building a house for God; but God promises that He will build a house for David. God tells David that He is going to make David's name great. God is going to also appoint a place for His people. 2 Samuel tells us that God will, "Plant them, so that they may dwell in their own place and be disturbed no more." God tells David that David's son shall build a house for the Lord.

Certainly, we can say that these promises were fulfilled, at least in part, by Solomon. But they were not completely fulfilled. Yes, Solomon built God's Temple in Jerusalem. God established His people in the Promised Land, their enemies were subdued, they had peace; God established His Name and His presence in the Jerusalem Temple. But Solomon and the human descendants of David who sat on the throne of Israel after him did not rule forever. The people of Israel did not stay in the Promised Land never to be moved. There were not people in the land forever, they were driven out and taken into exile, Israel's enemies rose up again and again.

Sin, death, and the devil had not yet been defeated. David sinned, Solomon sinned and led the people into sin. The Kings that followed all sinned, many turned the people away from following Yahweh. You and I, we also sin; we sin each day. There are times when we too will turn away from God. Even during times of year such as Advent, where we celebrate the first coming of Jesus, and await His second coming, we find our focus on worldly things. We forget about God and all of His great blessings and His promises to us. We sin as we neglect God's Word, we do not love our neighbor, as we seek our own advantage instead of our neighbor's well-being. We look for the gifts that the world has to offer us during this season instead of the ultimate gift that God has given to all in His Son our Savior, Jesus the Christ.

You see, God forgave David of his many and grievous sins. He kept His promise to him as He sent His only-begotten Son. No, none of the earthly kings who came after David ruled forever. But, Jesus, David's son, and David's Lord was without sin, but yet He suffered and died for David's sins and for your sins and my sins as well as the sins of the entire world. Yahweh kept His promise to David fully and completely in Jesus. It is Jesus who sits on the throne forever. It is Jesus who, though He died for our sins, was raised to life again. As we confess in the Nicene Creed that the Kingdom of Jesus will have no end.

God established the Kingdom and house of David. He planted His people Israel. But through Jesus, God established the throne forever. Through Jesus we are forgiven and delivered from the power of sin, death, and the devil. Yes, we still struggle against these things. We do not have the full benefit of Christ's victory, but we have a foretaste. We have the promise that when we sin and we repent we will be forgiven for the sake of Jesus whose shed blood at the cross washed away all of our sins; and who gives us His robe of righteousness. This Jesus, who was born in a manger and who later on said that He had no place to lay His head; has risen from the dead victorious and has ascended into heaven and prepares a place, a house for us, and when He returns, He will take us to be there with Him for all eternity. We, the new Israel, we be planted and we will be disturbed no more. We will dwell in the house of the Lord forever and will indeed have rest from all our enemies in that Kingdom which has no end. 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 Advent - December 10, 2017



"The Beginning"

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 the Gospel reading. Mark 1:1-8, "The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, "Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, the voice of one crying in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,'" John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel's hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. And he preached, saying, "After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit." Amen. So stands God's Word. Amen.

The beginning. A simple sentence consisting of two simple words. They really don't carry very much information in them. They are basically telling us that something, some story, or activity is about to start. We have no idea of what's coming. We don't know if the story is going to be a happy one. We don't know if the activity which is to follow will be a success of a failure. All we are told is, that, we are at the beginning, it is very, very early in the process. Beginnings can be very poor, but yet, there is a rebound and everything still ends up well. On the other hand beginnings can be great, but yet the end result can be a disaster. Our favorite football team can score a touchdown on its opening possession, but then never score again and be crushed. A job can begin wonderfully and with great promise of a wonderful career to follow, but then it all goes stale, you're stuck in a dead-end job with no hope of advancement, or you find out you are in over your head. You can enter into a relationship that begins wonderfully, you just can't stop thinking about the other person. But then as you get to know one another it just becomes a downward spiral, a disaster. You can start a project with such high hopes, you have a great beginning, it's all good to start, but the middle and the end, well, not so much. In fact, it almost seems as if things are completely out of control, even after a good beginning.

Our text this morning talks about a beginning. Mark 1:1-3 reads, "The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, "Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, the voice of one crying in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.'" You see, there was another beginning. In Genesis 1:1 we are told, "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." Through the remainder of Genesis chapter one we are told about the activities that occurred on the six days on which God created the heavens and the earth. Also, at the end of each day after God completes that day's part of the creation we have these words, "And God saw that it was good." This happens at the close of each day until the close of the sixth and final day of creation, then we are told, "And God everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good."

So, the creation of everything, including man, and woman, is complete, and it is all "very good" man and woman are in Paradise, created in the very image and likeness of God, in the very presence of God. They have all the food they could want. There is no pain. There is no sickness or disease. There is no struggle, depression, sadness, or doubt. There is also no death. What a great beginning! You could not have a beginning that was any better. If you didn't know better, you would ask, what could possibly go wrong? Of course we all know what happened next. Satan enters the very good or perfect creation. He tempts Eve, while Adam is standing right there. The first couple fall for the devil's lies and fall. They fall for this temptation. They fall into doubt about God and His intentions toward them. They fall in disobedience. They fall into sin. Then immediately God's very good creation, where there is no pain, no sin, and no death, is ruined. The great beginning starts a long downward spiral. We too are born in sin. We too are born in rebellion and in disobedience to God. But, we also know that this is not the end of the story. Even as He pronounces His judgement and punishment on humanity, God also promises deliverance. He promises a new beginning. He promises the Messiah, the One who would come and defeat the devil, the serpent and in doing so free us from bondage to sin and death.

Our text this morning opens with the words, "The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God." The beginning of the "Good News" of Jesus the Anointed, the very Son of God. The One born of woman, the offspring of Eve who wins the victory for us. The beginning of a story of man, of woman, and of creation being recreated. The beginning of the account of Jesus' birth, His ministry, His conflict with the religious rulers of the day. His dealing with the lack of faith from the disciples. The beginning of the account of His healing the sick, casting out demons, His rule over His creation. The account of His raising the dead. The account of showing who He is to all those who have eyes to see, and ears to hear.

We have the beginning where John the Baptist is that voice calling in the wilderness. John is calling for the people to repent, to turn from their sins and to be given a baptism of repentance. John calls out to the people to make ready the way of the Lord. John calls for the people to make ready for the coming Messiah, whose sandal strap he is not worthy to stoop down and untie. But the Messiah is the One who also, although He is God; as Paul writes in Philippians 2, "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." He did all of this while we were still His enemies. We were still locked into rebellion and disobedience.

So, during this week in Advent, we look at the beginning of Jesus' journey to Jerusalem, His journey to the cross. This was a journey that Jesus took out of His great love for us. It was a journey that from the very beginning Jesus knew where it would end. He knew that it would end with the Father forsaking Him as He was dying, nailed to a cross. But He also knew that this was the only way, He knew that because we had begun the journey down the path of sin and death that we needed to be rescued. But now we also know how the journey ends. We know that the journey of Jesus which began in a manger in Bethlehem, went to a cross and tomb in Jerusalem, continued as He ascended into heaven. Our journey's beginning is at the font as the pastor applies water to us and speaks the Word of God and baptizes us in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; it continues as we come to God's house and confess our sins, receive absolution; we read God's Word, receive the Sacrament. Other than Baptism, these things happen to us over and over again because we constantly sin, we constantly give in to temptation; we lie, cheat, steal; we curse, we despise God's Word, we covet, we do not honor those in authority over us; I could go on and on with a list of sins that are seemingly never ending. But praise and thanks be to God that just as we know the beginning we also know the end. We know that Jesus won the victory over sin, death, and the devil for us. We know that His Journey, with its beginnings in Bethlehem, ends with His return for us in glory to take us to Himself for all eternity. What a beginning! 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 Advent - December 3, 2017



"Come Down"

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The text for our consideration this morning, the First Sunday in Advent, is the Old Testament reading, Isaiah 14:1-9, which reads, "Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence-as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil-to make your name known to your adversaries, and that the nations might tremble at your presence! When you did awesome things that we did not look for, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides you, who acts for those who wait for him. You meet him who joyfully works righteousness, those who remember you in your ways. Behold, you were angry, and we sinned; in our sins we have been a long time, and shall we be saved? 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. There is no one who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities. But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. Be not so terribly angry, O Lord, and remember not iniquity forever. Behold, please look, we are all your people." Amen. So stands God's Word. Amen.

Here we are at last, the first Sunday of the new Church Year, or, the First Sunday in Advent. We closed out the Church Year with talk of God's judgement, of the end of time, of God's coming down to earth in triumph and victory as death is at last destroyed and we as God's redeemed people experience the fullness of Christ's victory for us for all eternity. This is something that as God's people we long for. We long to see our Savior return for us, to take us out of this world that is filled with pain, with despair, with anger, and with murder, and with every other sin that man could possibly commit. People turn from God and ignore His commands. People search the Scriptures and pull out what they disagree with and throw it away, and only take notice of what they want, what makes the feel good; even twisting the Word of God to make it say something that it does not say. So many people say that God does not exist, if He does then He should make Himself known to the world in a very real and impossible to ignore way. God should, as the first two verses of our text this morning says, "Rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence-as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil-to make your name known to your adversaries, and that the nations might tremble at your presence!"

So, in a way, we open the new Church Year very much the same way that we closed out the old one; we are waiting. We are waiting for God to come down. We are crying out to God to come down and to rescue us in a world where we suffer from sorrow, from temptation, from mockery and persecution from the enemies of God; a world where we continue to wrestle with the grief of sin and death.

The prophet Isaiah is in the midst of a people who are experiencing God's judgement. They are a people who have continually gone their own way and who have ignored God, except until the time comes when they need Him to save them. Then they cry out to Him for help and for rescue, they wonder where God has gone and why He has hidden His face from them; all the while forgetting the fact that they have turned their backs on Him and His Word and His commands. But still, Isaiah is asking for God to act in the same way that He had before for His people. Isaiah reminds God that He acted on behalf of His people in ways that the people did not expect. Isaiah describes these as "awesome things that we did not look for."

Time and time again God's people were trapped, or they were faced with an issue that appeared to be insurmountable by merely human means. God's people were in slavery in Egypt for over 400 years; and the Egyptians were of no mind to let them go. So, God came down, He appeared before Moses in the burning bush, He caused Pharaoh to release His people because of the mighty signs and wonders He performed in the plagues on the people of Egypt. The people of Israel were then faced with the Egyptians in front of them and the Red Sea behind them; so God came down and parted the waters so they could go through on dry ground. But, when the army of Pharaoh tried, God released the waters to their place and He drowned the army of Pharaoh in the sea. The people are faced with the walls of Jericho and God came down and caused these seemingly impenetrable walls to come tumbling down and in doing so He gave His people the victory over their enemies. All throughout the history of God's people He has heard His people's cries for help and for mercy and He has come down and rescued them. But then, over and over again God's people forget all that God has done for them and they turn their backs on Him and ignore His Word, forget His promises, both the promises of blessings and of curses, and persecute and kill His messengers whom He sent to bring them back to Him.

Isaiah cries out to God to "rend the heavens and come down" but he also acknowledges that the people are sinful. In verses five through seven we read, "Behold, you were angry, and we sinned; in our sins we have been a long time, and shall we be saved? 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. There is no one who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities." But Isaiah continues as He says, "Be not so terribly angry, O Lord, and remember not iniquity forever. Behold, please look, we are all your people."

Isaiah is crying out to God to be gracious and merciful to a sinful people. Isaiah does in no way deny the people's sins, nor does he make any demands on God as if God owes them anything at all. But instead, Isaiah comes to Yahweh in humble faith. He reminds God just who He is angry with. He says, "But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand." Just as Moses had interceded for the people in Exodus after the golden calf by saying, "O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, 'With evil intent did he bring them out, to kill them in the mountains and to consume them from the face of the earth'? Turn from your burning anger and relent from this disaster against your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said to them, 'I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your offspring, and they shall inherit it forever.'" Yahweh remembered and He relented of the wrath He meant to bring upon His people. Isaiah prophesy's Israel's defeat and exile, but He also prophesy's their return to the land.

But more importantly Isaiah also prophesy's the coming of the Messiah. He prophesied of the day when Yahweh will once again act on behalf of His people in a way that they will not expect. He will "come down" to His people in the form of one of them. He will "come down" as an infant, born of a woman. He will come down as both true God and true man who will not be received by His own, but will be offered up to death on a cross. He will come down as the "Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world." Who did not come in power or in glory, but who came down not to be served but to give His life as a ransom for many, for us, to pay the price for our many sins. Whose death did indeed cause the earth to quake and the rocks to split and darkness to cover the earth; and for the Roman Centurion to say, "Truly this was the Son of God!" Yes, we, like Isaiah cry out that Yahweh would "rend the heavens and come down" to return for us His people. Just as He kept His promise and "came down" to suffer and die and rise again for us; He will "come down" and return for us, and this time we know that every eye will see Him, every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess, that Jesus is the Son of God, and that He has "come down." Amen.

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


The Last Sunday of the Church Year - November 26, 2017



"Death is Destroyed"

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The text for our edification this morning is the epistle reading, 1 Corinthians 15:20-28, which reads, "But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For "God has put all things in subjection under his feet." But when it says, "all things are put in subjection," it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all. Amen. So stands God's Word. Amen.

1 Corinthians 15:12-19 has Paul talking about the fact that there are those who were questioning the fact of Christ's resurrection from the dead. In Greek culture the idea of a bodily resurrection was absurd. Also, anything physical was looked upon as bad, or evil by their very nature, but that the spirit was good. But Paul here puts all of that to rest. If there is no resurrection from the dead it would naturally follow that Christ was not raised; and so if Christ was not raised then we are all still dead in our trespasses and sins. Paul then reminds us that all those who had died in faith in Christ were lost. He ends by stating that if we only have hope in Christ in this life then we are most to be pitied. You see, if Christ had not risen from death and the grave then that would mean that death was in fact the victor. We could then in no way state that Christ has in fact conquered death. If Jesus had not risen from the dead then the authorities would have been able to point people to the tomb and say, "Look, here lies the body of your Messiah. He is dead and His body rots in the grave. Indeed, Paul is absolutely correct in his statement from verse 19. If the people, and if we, were placing our faith in a dead "Savior" we would be "of all people most to be pitied".

But how awesome it is that we do not place our faith in a dead Savior. Paul tells us, while writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, tells us, "But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive." Before Jesus death had held sway. All people lived their lives and then they died. Before Jesus, there were only two men who did not die but were taken bodily into heaven by God; and they are Enoch, who the Scriptures says "walked with God, and he was not, for God took him" and then the prophet Elijah, who was taken up into heaven by a whirlwind. Death held sway over the entirety of all creation. Why? Why, did God create the world with the purpose to sit back and watch everything in it to grow old, suffer, and then ultimately die? On the contrary, God did not bring death into His creation. We certainly do not know what was to happen to Adam and Eve, but death was not part of creation. God gave Adam the command that they were not to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of God and Evil. He warned Adam that on the day they ate of it they would surely die. Sin, disobedience, brings death, and it surely did. James writes in the very first chapter, "Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am being tempted by God," for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death." God is not the author of sin. God is not the one who brought into creation. Adam's sin, our sins brought death into and ruined God's "very good" creation. Adam and Eve instantly knew something had changed, then they see God kill some animals to cloth them, then they see their son Cain kill their other son Abel. Sin and death held sway.

But this was not be forever. God promises the Savior who would bruise the serpent's head while the serpent bruised His heel. God continued to remind His creatures of this promise as He restates it over and over again to the Patriarchs, Kings, and Prophets of the Old Testament. But all of this time, death continues to hold sway. People continue to inherit the sin of Adam and continue in their own sin and unbelief, and death still held sway.

But at last, at just the right time, God sent His Son Jesus; true God and true man. Jesus was perfectly obedient, as were are not. But yet although innocent, as we are guilty, Jesus was the one who suffered and died, and He suffered and died for us, for our sins, for the sin of the world. Sin has been paid for. The debt has been taken care of in full. You and I, in fact no one, is required to make another sacrifice to God, or to do one bit of penance for their sins. Christ's sacrifice was complete, it was far more than enough. Then He rose from the dead on the third day. Jesus' sacrifice for us and our sins was full accepted by the Father and by Jesus' resurrection He showed that He had defeated death and the grave. Death no longer held sway. No, death has not yet been destroyed, but it is now only a foregone conclusion. Death, our enemy had been defeated.

It's strange however that the devil still continues to deceive us about death, just as he deceived Adam and Eve when he lied to them and said that they would not surely die if they ate of the forbidden fruit. How does he do this? Well, he still tries to tell us that there is no consequence for the sins which we commit. Then, he has somehow led us to believe such things as this, "Death is just a natural part of life." As Christians we know that there is nothing further from the truth. The devil has caused many to believe that not all life is precious, that not everyone's life is worth living, and that for some, death would be a better choice. He has caused some to embrace that most horrible of ideas that death is a friend. Our secular culture is ruled by the idea of the acceptance and even embrace of death. There is of course abortion on demand. It is legal to kill an unborn child at any time during a pregnancy. There is the call to make assisted suicide legal nationally. Euthanasia is already legal in Washington DC, California, Colorado, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington. Euthanasia means "Good Death." It has also been referred to as "mercy killing." God is the one who has given us life, and God is the only one with the right authority to take it away. Contrary to what the devil says through the culture, death is not natural, nor is it our friend; death is decidedly unnatural and it is our enemy. We sin when we do not value the life that God has given to us. Luther's explanation to the Fifth Commandment says, "We should fear and love God that we do not hurt or harm our neighbor in his body, but help and befriend him in every bodily need." So indeed, just because we have not actively murdered, we have treated death as a friend and ally by hurting or harming out neighbor in their body, or failing to help them, or by wishing physical evil or harm to them.

But there is one death that we can say was a "Good Death" or "Good News" and that is the death of Jesus Christ. His death for our sins of hate, neglect, and murder, of treating death as our friend instead of recognizing that it is always our enemy; have been atoned for at the Cross of Christ. Christ defeated sin, death, and the devil at the cross and the empty tomb. As we are brought to faith in Him in our baptism we, as Paul writes in Romans six, "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." Death, our enemy, has been defeated by Jesus our Savior, and on that last great day, we will all see death destroyed, and we already rejoice in the fruits of His victory. Death no longer holds sway over us because we live in the light of Christ. Amen.

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


The 24th Sunday After Pentecost - November 19, 2017



"Well Done"

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 25:20-23, which reads, "And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, 'Master, you delivered to me five talents; here, I have made five talents more.' His master said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.' And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, 'Master, you delivered to me two talents; here, I have made two talents more.' His master said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.'" Amen. So stands God's Word. Amen.

The Church year is coming to a close. This Sunday, besides being the Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost is also the second last Sunday of the Church Year. So, as is usual during this time, we focus some of our attention on the end of the age. We focus even more than we normally do on the return of Christ and upon the Kingdom of God, or the Kingdom of Heaven. Last Sunday we looked at the parable of the Ten Virgins. As Jesus began this parable Jesus said, "The Kingdom of heaven will be like." So also Jesus continues immediately with the close of that parable by saying in verse fourteen, "It will be like." So what is the "it"? The "it" that Jesus is referring to is the Kingdom of heaven. Jesus is once again teaching the people about the Kingdom of heaven. He is talking to them about the end of the age, or the "Great Day of the Lord". When the Lord returns for His people, what is to be expected? What will the Lord do? How will the Lord Judge His people and all people? On the surface of it, this parable of the talents looks a lot like a parable about works righteousness. After-all, a king gives an amount of money to three servants to use as they see fit until the king returns. The king is trusting the servants to act and to deal wisely and faithfully with the property that they have been entrusted with. Again, after-all, these talents belong to the king and not to the servants. The servants have been given stewardship over the king's property. Stewardship also implies a certain responsibility to the One who appointed you to be a steward over their property.

Your employer has entrusted you to be steward over their property. Your stewardship over this property extends only so far as to use it to benefit the business of your employer. You are to us it to the best of your ability. It is not for your personal use. You are to be faithful with the property of your employer. It does not matter whether your employer is easy-going or a hard driver. It doesn't matter whether or not you like your employer; or whether or not you believe that they are fair. You are given a task, you are given tools to accomplish this task, and your employer will compensate you with a wage.

Now, if we were to compare this parable and completely equate it with the employer-employee relationship we would be wrong. That would be a misinterpretation of this parable. This has nothing to do with earning a fair day's pay for a fair day's work. This has nothing to do with working for an employer who treats you fairly or not. This parable also has nothing to do with the resources you may or may not have at your disposal. So then, if these are what the parable is not about, then what is this parable about? This parable is about faith. It is about faith and faithfulness. It is about the faith of the servants in their king. It is about what faithfulness these servants showed in their service to their master. It is also about one other thing that might be easy to miss; but it is also about the faithfulness of the Master to His servants. It should be easy for us to see just who these people are, who they represent. The King, or the Master, is of course God the Father Himself. The servants are us. The servants are the people who make the claim of faith in God and faith in forgiveness of sins and eternal life through the grace of God for the sake of His only-begotten Son, our Savior Jesus Christ. So then, what is faith? We see faith defined for us in Hebrews 11:1-3, "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible."

Just a bit further in Hebrews 11:6 we are told, "And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him." Jesus Himself talks about faith to the father of the boy with the unclean spirit in the ninth chapter of Mark. In verses 21-24 we read, "And Jesus asked his father, "How long has this been happening to him?" And he said, "From childhood. And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us." And Jesus said to him, "'If you can'! All things are possible for one who believes." Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, "I believe; help my unbelief!"

Then of course faith in Christ and Him crucified and risen again for the sins of the world, and your sins and my sins specifically is the whole point of God's Word. The apostle Paul writes in Ephesians 2:8-10, "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." It is our faith in the Master that allows us to freely and without worry serve Him and do the works which He has laid out for us. The first two servants in the parable were entrusted with different amounts by the Master, but they both immediately go out and work with what the Master has entrusted to them. They are afraid of the Master. They trust in His grace and mercy. They are not worried about making a mistake for they know that the Master is loving and merciful and forgiving. The Master has shown His mercy to them already. He has shown His love for them already. We know that our Master, our heavenly Father loves and cares for us. We know that He is full of grace and mercy. Scripture tells us in Joel 2:12-13, "Yet even now," declares the Lord, "return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments." Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster." We have a wonderful example of God's grace and mercy in the book of Jonah. Jonah is told to go to Nineveh to proclaim God's coming wrath upon the city. Jonah goes the other way; and when he does finally obey the people repent and humble themselves before God and repent. Then, to Jonah's dismay, the Lord relents of the wrath He was going to pour out on the city. So Jonah says in chapter 4, "O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster." The third servant in the parable describes the Master as, "A hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed." Then he says, "So I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours." The servant is then described by the Master as "wicked and slothful". What little he thinks he has is taken and he is cast out into the outer darkness. This servant does not love the Master. He does not have faith in the Master's goodness or His mercy. He only knows the Master as a hard man. So he does just enough to escape being punished, or so he believes. But the first two servants fully believe in the Master's love and His grace and His mercy. They are not afraid of Him. They know that if they make a mistake, if they sin, the Master will forgive them. So knowing this about the Master, they go out and use what the Master has entrusted them with in faith. The serve in faith knowing that they are already under the Master's forgiveness and grace. They are not trying to earn the Master's grace because they, by faith, know they already have it. They hear the words, "Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.'"

So because of Jesus and His atoning work for us at the cross, we too are under the forgiveness and grace, and mercy of the Master. We too can work in His kingdom in a grateful, loving and faithful response with whatever He has entrusted to us. But it is not because of these works, but because of the faith we have been given in Christ our Lord that we too will one day here, "Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.'" Amen.

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