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Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!

Disclaimer

Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Mary - March 22, 2017 - Fourth Mid-Week of Lent - Text: Matt. 27:55-61; Luke 1:27-56; 2:1-22, 34, 39; John 19:26-27

We begin this week as we began last week with the reminder that we call the Word of God the “Good News” and rightly so, for it is the good news of salvation for all who believe. This year during the season of Lent through Easter Sunday we are hearing of the events surrounding the suffering and death of Jesus through the different characters of those involved in the events. Prayerfully we are getting a better understanding of the personalities and thus the reasons for the specific actions of the characters through actual Biblical statements and “quotes” of each person.
 
Last week we got to know the apostle responsible for writing the Gospel of John, the Revelation of John and the epistles of John, probably the youngest of the apostles, the one who became Jesus’ mother’s adopted son, and the one who referred to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” the apostle John.
 
In order to get a better understanding of the person of the character of the passion we are addressing this evening we must go back to the conception of Jesus, because this evening we are looking at Jesus’ mother, Mary. This evening we begin some thirty three years before the events of Jesus’ death. We begin at the beginning, that is, we begin at the birth of Jesus. Luke tells us the history: “In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, ‘Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.’ Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.’ ‘How will this be,’ Mary asked the angel, ‘since I am a virgin?’ The angel answered, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God.’ ‘I am the Lord’s servant,’ Mary answered. ‘May it be to me as you have said.’ Then the angel left her” (Luke 1:26-38). Indeed, Luke speaks highly of the character of Mary in that she was highly favored by God.
 
Continuing on Luke tells us: “At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!’ And Mary said: ‘My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things  but has sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers.’ Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home” (Luke 1:39-56). Here we see that Mary is blessed and she is blessed to be a blessing to others, even to the world and even to us today. She is a blessing to all who hear and believe the good news of the Gospel, the good news of the child she will bear, the good news of Jesus, the Savior of the world.
 
Luke continues: “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn” (Luke 2:1-7). From this account we know that because of the royal blood of Joseph, and in other accounts that of Mary as well, that Jesus is of royal blood, even the line of King David.
 
Luke continues: “and there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’ Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.’ When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about’” (Luke 2:8-15).  Luke confirms Jesus miraculous birth as a descendent of David who came into the world in a humanly lowly manner, yet in a heavenly joyous manner.
 
Finally, Luke concludes: “So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told” (Luke 2:16-22). Mary’s character is that even though she was young and did not fully understand what was happening to her, she continued to trust in God and “ponder,” that is think about all these things that were taking place.
 
In good Jewish fashion we are told: “on the eighth day (after His birth), when it was time to circumcise him, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he had been conceived. When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: ‘This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed. When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth’” (Luke 2:34,35, 39).
 
We hear nothing of Jesus from birth and circumcision until He is twelve years old when we are told that following a trip to Jerusalem His mother, Mary and His father, Joseph left Him behind. It was not until later when they had stopped for the evening on their way home that they realized that Jesus was not with them. Returning to Jerusalem He was found in the temple discussing God’s word with the chief priests and the teachers of the Law, and that He was doing an excellent job of doing so. When confronted by His loving and concerned parents He told them that He must be in His Father’s house and about His Father’s business and once again we are told that Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.
 
One can only imagine the pain Mary felt, as predicted by Simeon at Jesus’ circumcision when he spoke of a spear piercing her heart which must have been what it felt like when Jesus was sentenced to death and nailed to the cross. Yet, even on the cross Jesus remembered His mother and to care for her needs. While Jesus was hung on the cross, suffering in great anguish of body, mind and spirit, “when He saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, ‘Dear woman, here is your son,’ and to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ From that time on, this disciple took her into his home” (John 19:26-27). Yes, we can see how Jesus loved His mother and how she loved Him. Even in His hour of pain and suffering He made sure she was cared for.
 
We hear that at the cross, “many women were there, watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons. As evening approached, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus. Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body, and Pilate ordered that it be given to him. Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting there opposite the tomb” (Matthew 27:55-61).
 
Later we are told that Jesus did show Himself to be alive, even to Mary, which certainly brought her joy. Perhaps it was seeing Him alive that helped her put the pieces of His life together, those pieces she had been pondering all through His life. Mary was an extraordinary woman, a woman of courage. She was a woman, chosen by God to fulfill His Word and purposes in this world.  And she was gifted by God with the strength she needed to be the person He created her to be. As God chose her and called her, as He gave her the strength to be His servant, so we see her life and example as an example to us so that we too are encouraged to come and be given to by God and to rejoice in His living in us, working in and through us, giving us faith, forgiveness and life and our response of giving Him glory. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Testing the Lord - March 19, 2017 - Third Sunday in Lent - Text: Exodus 17:1-7

In our Epistle lesson for this morning Paul reminds us that “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character hope, and hope does not put us to shame.” And this is the reason we “rejoice in our sufferings.” Would that the children of Israel had Paul’s words and would that we would memorize Paul’s words and make them a part of our lives. How often do we find ourselves “suffering,” and wonder why? Of course, we might need to define suffering. For some of us suffering my be losing our job, a family member and our automobile all in the same week. For others suffering my be a hangnail. For each of us our tolerance for struggles is different and God knows our level of tolerance and thanks be to God that He has promised that He will never allow us to suffer any more than He knows we can handle, which reminds us that in all our struggles He is with us. This morning, as we look at the “suffering” of the children of Israel and their reaction to their struggles, we would do well to reflect on our own lives, our own suffering, our own struggles and how we react.
 
Our text is a part of the history of the children of Israel, God’s chosen people. What God had already done for His people is that He had already delivered them from their bondage of slavery in Egypt. He did this in a rather grand way. He did this by defeating all the gods of Egypt which He did one be one through the plagues that infected the land. He did this by pillaging the Egyptians which He did by making the Egyptians predisposed to give the Israelites their gold and precious metals as they were leaving Egypt. He did this by showing the greatness of His strength and power. Certainly you would think that His show of power would have been enough to convince the children of Israel that He is God indeed.
 
Yet, as the children of Israel left Egypt and as it seemed that they were trapped, with the mountains on two sides and the sea in front of them with the Egyptians behind them, the Lord again showed His power by clearing a path through the Red Sea so that they passed through on dry ground. But even more, as the Egyptians followed the Israelites into the Red Sea the Lord again showed His power and protection as He returned the water to its original place and drowned the Egyptian army.
 
And still, if all this were not enough, the Lord continued day and night to lead the children of Israel. He lead them with a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. He was with them every hour and every minute of every day. He never left them.
 
In our text we read of one of many accounts of the Lord testing the faith of the children of Israel. On this particular occasion the children of Israel had encamped where there was no water to drink, or at least they found no water to drink. The reaction of the children of Israel is that they quarreled against Moses, the Lord’s chosen leader. Time and again they accused Moses and God of leading them out into the desert in order to die. Time and again they recalled how much better things were in Egypt, how they had pots of meat to eat and how great things were before they left Egypt. It is interesting that the way they remembered how life had been in Egypt was a lot different from the what it was actually like when they grumbled while they were still in Egypt, but I guess they are really no different than the rest of us and the way we remember things.
 
Anyway, it is this quarreling and grumbling that show what is really in their hearts, the fact that they were ungrateful and unbelieving. God had done so much for these people and yet, here at the mountain, when they believed they did not have any water to drink they showed their ingratitude and lack of faith, they quarreled, grumbled and complained.
 
As for Moses he warned the people. He warned them that their quarreling, that their discontent was not so much with him as it was with God. And you would think that such words would bring them to their knees in repentance. But such is not the case with this stiff-necked people.
 
As for God, His answer is that He told Moses to take the staff, which was a symbol of the authority God had given to Him, and he was to use the staff to demonstrate his God given authority. In this instance he was to take the staff and pass through the people, taking with him the elders of the people and he was to strike the rock at Horeb and God promised that water will come out. One note to remember, this was not the same rock that later Moses was simply to speak to, the rock he hit and the event which kept him from entering into the promised land. In this instance Moses was commanded to strike the rock and that is what he did.
 
God, again, showed His power and the authority of Moses by His working through Moses to give the people water to drink. Moses struck the rock and water came out of it.
 
The elders who were with Moses were there to bear witness of the Lord’s power and might. They were their to bear witness of the Lord’s case and for that matter, Moses’ case against this stiff-necked people. And the name of the place was called “Massah and Meribah” because of the quarreling of the people and the testing of the Lord.
 
So, what does this mean? And what does this mean to us today? I have said it before and I will say it again, because it bears repeating and because we need to hear it, we are so very much like the children of Israel. I contend that you can take the words, “children of Israel” or “Israelites” in our text and in the Old Testament and substitute the word “Christians” and you will have a good idea of how we are in our relationship with our Lord even today. Why do we need to be in divine service every week and whenever offered? Why do we need to read our Bibles every day? Because we forget. Because we sin. Because we need forgiveness. Why do we eat every day? Why do we do many of the things we do on a daily basis? Because we need to. We need to eat every day so we do not starve to death. We need to clean ourselves every day because we tend to get dirty. We need to read our Bibles every day, we need to be in divine service every Sunday because we tend to forget all that our Lord has done, all that He does and all that He promises to continue to do. We need to repent every day because we sin every day. We need our time of confession and absolution at divine service because we need to hear those most beautiful words of absolution, “Your sins are forgiven.” And especially when we face struggles and difficult times, we tend to forget and sound and act just like the children of Israel, we quarrel and grumble and complain. We test God and show our lack of faith. Yes, we need to be reminded, daily that God has given us all things. God has given us all things including all physical or bodily blessings, “clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals and all I have,” all that we need for our lives in this world. Not only does He give us all that we need according to our bodily needs, but He also takes care of our lives. He “defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil.” And even more, He takes care of all our spiritual needs as well. He is the one who works and gives faith. He is the one who gives forgiveness of sins, paid for by His holy precious blood and His innocent suffering and death. He is the one who gives us life, life in this world and even more life in the world to come, eternal salvation.
 
And just as testing came to the children of Israel, so testing comes upon us today as well. We are tested when we have decisions to make, decisions regarding the use of our time; should I be in divine service or should I do something else, go to a ball game, go fishing, go hunting, sleep in? We are tested when we have to make decisions regarding our talents, should I use my talents and abilities in service to God and His Church or for my own good and reward or for some other reason? We are tested when we have to make decisions regarding our treasure, should we give to the Lord first from what He has first given to us, or should we give Him just some of what is left? We are tested when we face struggles in life, illness, death, loss of work, emotional pain, suffering and the like. When testing comes, how do we handle it? Very often, I believe, we act very much like the children of Israel, we show our ungratefulness and our unbelief. I do not say this to be mean, but simply because this is a fact, this is our nature after all. And I do not say this to give us an excuse either. The fact of the matter is that, just like the children of Israel, we fail and we fail and we fail.
 
Thanks be to God that He never fails. No matter how often we fail, the Lord continues to pour out His blessing on us despite our ingratitude and unbelief. What a great God we have. What a gift giving God we have. As we talked about last Sunday, we are not the ones who take the initiative. We are not the ones who act so that God reacts to us acting first. No, God always acts first. God does and we are done to. God gives and we are given to. Our lives very much reflect the account of our Gospel reading. It was not the woman of Samaria who came to Jesus, but it was Jesus who approached the woman. Nor did the sins of the woman repulse Jesus so that He did not speak words of grace to her. Likewise, we are not the ones who approach Jesus. We are not the ones who choose Jesus. It is Jesus who comes to us, who chooses us, who does everything for us, who gives everything to us. Paul says it well in our Epistle lesson, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” What great and wonderful words of grace! Just as the Lord called Abram and made him a great nation. Just as God carried out His covenant through the children of Israel so that Jesus was born of the tribe of Judah. Just as God always keeps His promises no matter how often the children of Israel failed and sinned, so the Lord does the same for us. No matter how often we sin, no matter how often we fail, the Lord is with us, picking us up, giving us forgiveness, giving us life and salvation.
 
As we come to this, the third week in Lent, as we continue to remind ourselves of our part in Jesus death, that is that it is because of our sins that Jesus came to die on the cross, so too we are reminded of God’s great love for us, a love which is shown in the very fact that He has never and will never stop loving us even when and especially when we fail. And it is this love and our knowledge and faith in this love which stirs in us our response of faith, a response of faith which includes repentance and forgiveness, as well as a desire to continually make regular and diligent use of the means of grace, having personal and family devotions, reading the Word of God, being in divine service and Bible class, remembering our Baptism, making use of confession and absolution, remembering our baptism and partaking of the Lord’s body and blood in His holy meal, knowing that through these very means of grace our Lord does and gives to us from His bounty, forgiving and sustaining us until He comes again or we go to Him. Thanks be to God and to Him be the glory for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

John - March 15, 2017 - Third Mid-Week of Lent - Text: Matt. 17:1; Mark 9:2; 10:35; 14:33; John 13:23; 21:7, 20

As we began last week, so we begin this week, with the reminder that we call the Word of God the “Good News” and rightly so, for it is the good news of salvation for all who believe. This year during the season of Lent through Easter Sunday we are hearing of the events surrounding the suffering and death of Jesus through the different characters of those involved in the events. Prayerfully we are getting a better understanding of the personalities and thus the reasons for the specific actions of the characters through actual Biblical statements and “quotes” of each person.
 
Last week we continued our theme by looking at the character we might call the most volatile, the one who would act first and think second, Peter. As we heard about Peter so we were reminded of ourselves, that as he confessed Jesus as Lord, he did so, not by his own power and will, but as it was given to him by God the Father so that even we who confess Jesus as Lord do so by the power of the Holy Spirit giving us faith and that proclamation. And as Peter denied Jesus and was forgiven, so as we daily deny our faith the Lord forgives us as well. This evening we move on to look at the character of John, the one who often referred to himself as the disciple whom Jesus loved.
 
What do we know about John? John was also one of the first apostles to be called by Jesus. He was with his brother James working as a fisherman in cooperation with Peter and his brother Andrew. John worked for his father Zebedee. From all indications John was probably the youngest of the group. He is also the one who wrote the Gospel of John as well as the Revelation of John and the epistles of John. John was one of the “inner circle” of Jesus as it is called, along with Peter and James. John was also on the mount of transfiguration as we read last week and again today, “after six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus. Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!’ When the disciples heard this, they fell face down to the ground, terrified. But Jesus came and touched them. ‘Get up,’ he said. ‘Don’t be afraid.’ When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus. As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, ‘Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead’”(Matthew 17:1-9).
 
Along with many of the Jewish community who knew the prophecies of the coming Savior, John and his family did not completely understand what the prophecies meant. Many were looking, not for a spiritual Savior from sin, but an earthly Savior from the Romans and perhaps some were looking for a bit of a combination of both. When it comes to God’s Kingdom we are told, “then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. ‘Teacher,’ they said, ‘we want you to do for us whatever we ask.’ ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ he asked. They replied, ‘Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.’ ‘You don’t know what you are asking,’ Jesus said. ‘Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?’ ‘We can,’ they answered. Jesus said to them, ‘You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.’ When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’” (Mark 10:35-45). It is rather obvious to us today that they did not completely understand Jesus’ work.
 
As we heard last week so again this week, one important bit of history was the Passover Celebration Jesus enjoyed with His disciples. Actually it was His last Passover where we learn more of the events that were to take place. We note that John, again who refers to himself as the disciple Jesus loved is the one next to Jesus. “‘I am not referring to all of you; I know those I have chosen. But this is to fulfill the scripture: “He who shares my bread has lifted up his heel against me.” ‘I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am He. I tell you the truth, whoever accepts anyone I send accepts me; and whoever accepts me accepts the one who sent me.’ After he had said this, Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, ‘I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me.’ His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them he meant. One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him. Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said, ‘Ask him which one he means.’ Leaning back against Jesus, he asked him, ‘Lord, who is it?’ Jesus answered, ‘It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.’ Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, son of Simon. As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him. ‘What you are about to do, do quickly,’ Jesus told him, but no one at the meal understood why Jesus said this to him. Since Judas had charge of the money, some thought Jesus was telling him to buy what was needed for the Feast, or to give something to the poor. As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out. And it was night” (John 13:18-30).
 
Later that evening after the supper Jesus took His disciples out to pray and we hear about John again. “they went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Sit here while I pray.’ He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,’ he said to them. ‘Stay here and keep watch.’ Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. ‘Abba, Father,’ he said, ‘everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.’ Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. ‘Simon,’ he said to Peter, ‘are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.’ Once more he went away and prayed the same thing. When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. They did not know what to say to him. Returning the third time, he said to them, ‘Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The hour has come. Look, the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!’”(Mark 14:32-42)
 
At Jesus trial we are told that it was John who got Peter into the courtyard where some of the proceedings were taking place. And following Jesus conviction and during His time on the cross, John was one of the few who actually came to the cross. John was there giving comfort to Jesus’ mother who was also there witnessing her son’s death. We are told that “near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, ‘Dear woman, here is your son,’ and to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ From that time on, this disciple took her into his home” (John 19:25-27).
 
Following Jesus’ resurrection, Peter announced that he was returning to his former trade and go fishing and John was one who went as well. That night they went fishing and caught nothing, but in the morning Jesus showed Himself on the shore, although they did not know it was Him. When He told them to cast their nets on the other side of the boat and they had a large catch of fish John realized it was Jesus. We are told, “Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’ As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, ‘It is the Lord,’ he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread. Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some of the fish you have just caught.’ Simon Peter climbed aboard and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, ‘Come and have breakfast.’ None of the disciples dared ask him, ‘Who are you?’ They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead” (John 21:7-14).
 
So, what do we know about John. He was a young man, chosen by Jesus to be an apostle. His career path began as a fisherman in the family fishing business. He was not a step up, speak out leader, but he was one who was more of a behind the scenes worker. He knew people and used his influence for good. He was given Mary as his adoptive mother and we know he cared for her. He was not shy about sharing his faith which got him put into exile. And he knew the importance of writing down the words of the Gospel so that others might be given an opportunity to hear and believe as well. In other words, he writes for us so that we might be saved. Finally, we know that John knew himself to be a sinner in need of a Savior and that Jesus is that Savior. Even today, although we might think ourselves as good people, certainly we would think of John as a good disciples, yet we too know that we are sinners in need of a Savior and forgiveness. And we too know that Jesus is our Savior who loves us and forgives us so that we have life and salvation. And so we rejoice and say, thanks be to God and to Him be the glory. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

I Will Make You into a Great Nation - March 12, 2017 - Second Sunday in Lent - Text: Genesis 12:1-8

Pack your bags, we are moving. My boss just gave me notice that we are being transferred to our Oregon office. In our day and age this is not a rare occurrence, rather it tends to be the norm. We live in a very mobile society. We live in a constantly moving and changing world. If you have ever had to move, especially for business purposes, you might have some idea of what Abram went through. I say some idea because Abram did not have the post office to mail letters back and forth, nor did he have e-mail, nor Facebook, nor video chat, nor twitter, nor snap chat, nor did he have the telephone or cell phones in order to call his family back home to tell them how he was doing. When Abram left, he left.
 
God’s call to Abram came when he was seventy-five years old. In verse one of our text we read, “Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you’” (v.1). At least when our company tells us they are going to transfer us we can look at a map to see where we are going. We can read about where we are going in an encyclopedia (for you young people, that is a book that contains most all the information you get from google), or on the internet, or get a newspaper from that place. There are many ways we have of finding out about a place. Abram did not have all these resources at his disposal. God called, Abram answered. Abram had no idea where he was to go, simply that the Lord his God called him to leave his country, his people, his family, his relatives.
 
But with the command to go, the Lord gave him a promise. The Lord promised to bless him. In verse two of our text we read, “And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing” (v. 2). The Lord promised Abram great physical, or material blessings. The Lord promised to make Abram a great nation. That means the Lord promised to make Abram the father of many people, so many people that they would be a nation. The Lord promised that He would make Abram’s name great. The Lord did not promise to make Abram a famous person, but that he would be remembered as someone special.
 
The Lord promised that He would bless Abram. He promised that He would lead Abram, that He would be with him on his journey, that He would give him a land for his own. In the first part of verse three the Lord says, “I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse” (v. 3a). The Lord promised to be with and to protect Abram on his journey. If anyone tried to curse Abram, the curse would fall back on them. If anyone blessed Abram, they too would be blessed.
 
The Lord also promised that He would bless others through Abram. The last part of verse three reads, “and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (v. 3b). Here the Lord is promising spiritual blessings to Abram. The ultimate fulfillment of this promise was the sending of the Savior into the world through the line of Abram. Not only was Abram be the father of many people. Not only were Abram’s children, grand-children, great-grand-children, and so on a great and large nation. Not only did Abram’s people own the promised land, but the Savior of the world came through Abram’s family. Let me say that again, the Savior of the world came through Abram’s family. Through Abram “all the families of the earth” were blessed, blessed with forgiveness, life and salvation.
 
The uniqueness about our text and what stands out most is the fact that it was God who chose Abram. God called Abram. It had nothing to do with how good or how righteous Abram was. It had all to do with the grace of God. In His grace, in His undeserved love, God chose Abram. God made His covenant with Abram. God is the one doing the action and Abram is the one passively being given God’s good gifts and blessings.
 
Another uniqueness about our text is that God’s timing is not our timing. God does not immediately take Abram to the promised land and give it to Him. He does not immediately give Abram children, grand-children and so on. In our text we read of the Lord making His promised covenant with Abram and that is all. As we continue reading our Bible we see God’s hand in time as we watch how later Abram did receive the promised land, but he did so according to God’s time schedule, according to God’s good and gracious will.
 
God acts in our lives in much the same way that He acted in Abram’s life. It is God who chooses us. More specifically, it is God who has chosen us from the beginning of time and who makes us His own through our Baptism. We do not choose God. Because of our sinful human nature we cannot choose God. But God chose us. He chose us and sent His Son Jesus Christ to bring us back into a right relationship with Himself.
 
Just as God worked in Abram’s life according to His own time frame, so too God moves in our lives according to His good and gracious will. Just as Abram did not always know what lay ahead of him, neither do we always know what God has in mind and in store for us. All we know for certain is that our Gracious Lord chose us to be His own, that He has promised to always be with us, and that by faith in Him we are children of Abram and are heirs to eternal life through Jesus Christ.
 
So, what does this mean? There are some religions and denominations that will suggest that the way you become a Christian is that you have to make a decision for Jesus, in other words you have to “choose” Jesus as your personal Savior, or you have to “make a decision” for Jesus, or you have to “dedicate” your life to Him. I remember as a child being out on the playground at recess. We would choose two captains who would pick teams so we could play a game. I remember at times my best friend being the captain and I chose to be on his team, but you know what? That did not matter.  It did not matter what I chose, because I was not the captain. What mattered was that my best friend chose me to be on his team. Likewise, it does not matter if we choose Jesus, as a matter of fact, Scripture tells us we cannot choose Jesus, “No one can say Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit”  (1 Cor. 12:3). If we do say, “Jesus is Lord,” that is not because of some innate knowledge in us, but because we have been given that declaration by the Holy Spirit. Remember when Peter professed that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the Living God, Jesus told Peter, that this did not come from him, but from the Father in heaven who revealed this to him (Matt. 16:17).
 
Now, some will point to Joshua and say, in Joshua, he asked the people to make a decision from God. He said, “choose this day whom you will serve,” how can you say we cannot make a decision for Jesus. Well, let us look at what Joshua actually said to the people. Joshua ended his remarks by saying, “And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15). Notice that Joshua does not even give the option of choosing the one true God. His options are that they either choose the idols their fathers serviced in the region beyond the River, or the false gods of the Amorites. Joshua understood what we understand, that we cannot by our own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ our Lord or come to Him, but the Holy Spirit has called us by the Gospel and enlightened us with His gifts.
 
Just as God called Abraham to faith, so He calls us to faith. He calls us to faith, through means, namely through the means of grace. In other words, although God came directly to Abraham and called him directly to faith, God does not come to us directly today. That is not to say that He cannot come to us directly, that just is not His usual way of coming to us. Today God comes to us through means, thus we understand the importance of the means of grace. We believe in God’s doing, choosing, and giving through Word and Sacrament. And that is why these means are so important to us and why they permeate our divine service and our lives. Because we believe God works through Holy Baptism, we begin our lives being baptized as infants, we begin each divine service with the words of our baptism, the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Because we believe God gives forgiveness and because forgiveness is so important, we begin our divine service with confession and absolution. Because we believe the Word of God is so important, our service is filled with our repeating back to God the very words He has given us to say. Because we believe the Word of God is so important, our lives are centered around that Word, having personal and family devotions, being in Bible Class and Sunday School, being in divine service as often as offered. And because we believe the Lord’s Supper is the means through which we participate in His life, suffering, death and resurrection, we partake of His Holy Meal as often as offered so we might be given the gifts He has to give through this as well as through all His means of grace.
 
Yes, God gives and we are given to. God’s promise to Abraham is His promise to us. We are children of Abraham, by faith. This is not something which comes with DNA. We are not saved because of the faith of our parents or grandparents or because of anyone else’s faith. We are saved by God’s grace through the faith which He gives to us through the very means He has of giving us our faith. And this faith is that instrument which reaches out and grabs hold of the blessings our Lord has to give. Blessings which are what God promised to Abraham. Blessing which include physical blessings, yes, a land flowing with milk and honey and no, I am not speaking of America, but eternal life in heaven, the ultimate promised land. And this faith grabs the greater blessings, the spiritual blessing of forgiveness of sin, life and salvation, that life and eternal life in the land of milk and honey, heaven. And all this is gift. All this is given, not chosen, not decided for, not with anything on our part, but all God’s doing and giving.
 
In a similar way that the Lord called Abram to leave his people and to go to a land that He would show Him, so too the Lord has called us. He has called us out of this world to be followers of Him. He has also called us out of this world as a church to teach and to lead in a Christian way. And in a similar way that the Lord blessed Abram in order that he might be a blessing to others, namely through his offspring of Jesus Christ, so too as the Lord blesses St. Matthew so that St. Matthew is a blessing to others, because as children and families come to St. Matthew and hear the Word, that Word takes root, springs up and bears abundant fruit, for Jesus’ sake and to the praise and glory of the name of the Lord. Indeed, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.