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!
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.
Sunday, March 24, 2013
A Bold Profession - March 24, 2013 - Palm (Passion) Sunday - Text: Luke 23:1-56 (esp. v. 39-43)*
Today is Palm Sunday. Today is traditionally the Sunday our congregation and many Lutheran congregations celebrate as confirmation Sunday, however, although this year we have no youth to confirm, we do have three adults who will be joining our congregation through adult instruction class, as well as other adults coming into our membership. In years past, the Gospel lesson appointed for this Sunday was the actual Palm Sunday Bible Reading, you know the one about Jesus riding into Jerusalem on the donkey with the people waving Palm branches, throwing their coats on the ground, kind of like a red carpet entrance into Jerusalem for Jesus, and singing, “Hosanna, Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” Now, for the sake of expediency and, I would suppose, because not everyone attends Maundy Thursday and Good Friday service and so are unable to hear what we call the “Passion” account of Jesus, that is what we have read on this the Sunday before Easter. Evidently the thinking of those who put our lectionary series together is that we need to hear the Passion account before we hear the resurrection account and if you will not be in Divine Service on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, then we should accommodate you by reading it today. Thus, today we heard what is called the Passion account. Actually, Jesus’ passion began when He took on flesh and blood and was born under the law. This passion account is the end of His earthly life and His brutal torture and death.
Our text for this morning is the reading of the passion, and yet, for our purposes I want to focus in on verses thirty-nine through forty-three, the account of the two thieves on the cross and their conversation with Jesus. When we hear the account of the thieves, to whom do we identify with? Do we identify with the thief that cursed Jesus or the thief that asked for forgiveness? If we are honest, we should identify with the “other” thief. We do mock God. As a matter of fact, every time we sin we mock God. We say, “I know I should not be doing this, but I will do it anyway. That is my nature.”
Not only do we mock God, we also resist, struggle and fight against God, again, every time we sin. When we fail to be in Divine Service, we mock God. When we give some excuse as to why we cannot be in Bible Class or Bible Study, we resist God. When we fail to remember our Baptism or come to the Lord’s Supper, we struggle against God. When we fail to have a personal relationship with God, speaking to Him in prayer and letting Him speak to us through His Word, that is when we fail to read our Bible, we fight against God. And we do this, because this is our nature. So, as we see, we should identify with this other thief on the cross.
Certainly we would rather identify with the thief who recognized his sin and confessed. As the thief on the cross did, so we do not claim any merit, but acknowledge that it was my sin that put Jesus on the cross. As the thief, we confess that Jesus is receiving an unjust punishment. Jesus never did anything to deserve what He received. It was us and our sins that deserve the punishment meted out to Jesus.
Again, as the thief, we come to church to Divine Service on Sunday and we confess our sins and hear those most beautiful words of Absolution, “Your sins are forgiven.” And as we hear those words, so we know that this is exactly what we are being given, the forgiveness of sins. God’s Word does what it says and as His Word tells us we are forgiven, so we are forgiven.
And we hear Jesus words, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” Heaven is our home. It is ours not because of anything on our part, but purely by God’s grace through faith given to us through His Word and Sacraments, faith strengthened through that same Word and Sacraments. Heaven is ours because we know that where there is forgiveness, there is also life and salvation. How we would like to be like this thief on the cross.
This morning we celebrate our reception of new members, some by transfer of membership from another Lutheran congregation, some by what we call a reaffirmation of faith and some by adult instruction. As I have done so in the past on Sundays of confirmation, explaining the rite of confirmation, this morning I would like to talk a little about the rite of reception of membership, both as a lesson of instruction and as a way of reminding us all of our commitment as members of St. Matthew Lutheran Church of Westfield. Let me remind you as I always remind our confirmands, that the completion of adult instruction classes in no way means we are through with our study of God’s Word. I would continue to encourage and invite you as I do all our members to be in Bible Class as well as Divine Service. Make every opportunity that Divine Service and Bible Class or Bible Study is offered an opportunity to grow in your faith and be given the gifts God has to give.
In a few minutes our new members will come forward and answer the same questions or similar questions most of us answered when we joined the Lutheran Church. We will be asked, “Do you this day in the presence of God and of this congregation acknowledge the gifts that God gave you in your Baptism?” Simple enough, do we acknowledge that our faith is a gift from God, given to us at our Baptism and through the very means of the Word of God.
Next we will be asked, “Do you renounce the devil and all his works and all his ways?” Of course, to renounce the devil and all his works and all his ways does not mean that we will no longer suffer temptation from the devil. As a matter of fact, it is when we profess our faith that the devil seems to turn up the temptations on us, because he hates to lose us.
Next we will be asked, “Do you believe in God, the Father Almighty, in Jesus Christ, His only Son our Lord, and in the Holy Spirit?” This is simply a question concerning the fact that every Sunday we confess our faith in God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Next we will be asked, “Do you hold all the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures to be the inspired Word of God and the doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, drawn from them and confessed in the Small Catechism, to be faithful and true?” This is a question asking if we believe what we have been learning over the past number of weeks.
Next we will be asked, “Do you intend to hear the Word of God and receive the Lord’s Supper faithfully?” I believe the important word in this question is the word “faithfully,” meaning do we intend to be in Divine Service and I would add, and Bible Class, as often as it is offered and as we are able. How can we hear the Word of God and be given His Supper unless we are in attendance where these gifts are given out?
The next two questions we will be asked are, “Do you intend to live according to the Word of God, and in faith, word, and deed to remain true to God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, even to death?” and “Do you intend to continue steadfast in this confession and Church and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it?” This is a tough question. First, as we mentioned before, acknowledging faith in Jesus may bring about even more temptation from Satan especially as “living according to the Word of God” is concerned, yet we are reminded that when we do fail, there is forgiveness. The last three words are important as well, that we intend to die for our faith. Over the years, it is unfortunate as many of you here has witnessed as well, too many people give up their faith rather than die for their faith.
Finally the last two question we will be asked are, “Do you desire to become a member of this congregation?” and “Will you support the work our gracious Lord has given this congregation with your prayers and the gifts God has given you?” Here again, let me remind you that these questions are questions which are asked in response to all that our Lord has first done for us and given to us, so we are asked to respond in faith.
Now, in good Lutheran fashion we ask, “What does this mean?” and “How does this tie in with our Gospel reading? This means that we are convinced that Jesus is God in flesh and is our Savior. We believe what the Bible tells us. We believe that we are conceived and born in sin. We believe that we daily sin much and are need of forgiveness. We believe that we are like the one thief on the cross, that we deserve eternal spiritual death.
Yet, we are also convinced that Jesus died for us, for you and for me. We believe that it was because of God’s great love for us that Jesus came to live perfectly for us in our place. We believe that even if we were the only person in the world, that Jesus still would have done what He did. We believe that Jesus suffered and died for us. We believe that His suffering and death were enough, that there is nothing left to do, that forgiveness is ours as a gift from Him.
Finally, we are convinced that with His help, we will respond by living a life of faith. We cannot live faithful lives alone. We simply cannot do what God expects of us. Yes, even after He has earned forgiveness for us and given it to us, even after we have been given faith and we confess that faith, even after all this, we still are impotent in being the people He would have us to be, therefore we are glad and we rejoice, because our lives are still in His hands. He will help us. He will send His Holy Spirit to us to stir in us a desire to be ever in His Word, to want to be in Divine Service and Bible class, to want to have personal and family devotion, to want to have personal time alone with Jesus, to want to go to Him in prayer, to want to remember our baptism, to want to confess our sins and hear His word of forgiveness, and to want to attend the Lord’s Supper. We will want to continue to have our Lord pour out on us His good gifts and blessings.
Today is the day we remember Jesus’ triumphant entrance into Jerusalem where He came for the last time in order to be crucified on the cross for us. We are reminded how we are like both thieves on the cross, but most especially like the thief who repented, was forgiven and promised eternal life, likewise we continue to hear that we too are forgiven and have the promise of eternal life in heaven with Jesus. And in just a bit we will witness our new members make a public confession of faith before us and our Lord. My prayer is that we all might be reminded of our own pledge and with the help and by the leading of the Holy Spirit we too might make our pledge again. Above all, may God be glorified, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.