Welcome

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, January 29, 2014

Martin Luther on How to Prepare for Death

Interesting words from Martin Luther and how seriously he takes death and its connection to ones spiritual well-being, Lord’s Supper and Divine Service participation. Taken from Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House ©2008, p. 1102.

[How to prepare for death:] First, one must admonish the people to attend church and listen to the sermon so that they learn through God’s word how to live and how to die. It must be noted that those who are so uncouth and wicked as to despise God’s word while they are in good health should be left unattended when they are sick unless they demonstrate their remorse and repentance with great earnestness, ears, and lamentation. . . . Second, everyone should prepare in time and get ready for death by going to confession and taking the sacrament once every week or fortnight. He should become reconciled with his neighbor and make his will so that if the Lord knocks and he departs before a pastor or chaplain can arrive, he has provided for his soul, has left nothing undone, and has committed himself to God. When there are many fatalities and only two or three pastors on duty, it is impossible to visit everyone, to give instruction, and to teach each one what a Christian ought to know in the anguish of death. Those who have been careless and negligent in these matters must account for themselves. That is their own fault. After all, we cannot set up a private pulpit and altar daily at their bedside simply because they have despised the public pulpit and altar to which God has summoned and called them.

Third, if someone wants the chaplain or pastor to come, let the sick person send word in time to call him and let him do so early enough while he is still in his right mind before the illness overwhelms the patient.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

United in Christ - January 26, 2014 - Third Sunday after the Epiphany - Text: 1 Corinthians 1:10-18

Today we continue following along in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. And as we said last week, so I remind you this week, as Paul is writing to the church at Corinth, so God is writing to us, through Paul, here at St. Matthew Lutheran Church of Westfield, 2014. These are not my words to you. These are not Paul’s words to us. These are none other than God’s Word to us and we are to hear them as God’s Word to us.
 
Paul writes, appealing to the Corinthians and us that there be no divisions among us. Certainly his plea is that we have no individual divisions among us, yet, how often are we reminded, especially when we have a disagreement with someone that where two or three are gathered there are four or five opinions. Or, and since I am German I can say this, we are reminded, you can tell a German, but you can’t tell him much. Might I suggest that on a daily basis we are reminded of our sinful human nature, our prideful nature and the like. We all have opinions and we all like to think that we are right, which usually means that everyone else is wrong.
 
And of course, no one wants to be wrong. Perhaps you have noticed, in our tolerant society, how we get around being wrong. You may have noticed that not too many people talk about what they know or believe anymore. Now we talk about how we feel. We talk about how we feel, so that we are never wrong, because our feelings cannot be questioned, our feelings are not right or wrong. And not being right or wrong is a good thing, at least according to our tolerant society.
 
I would suppose that some of this thought process has made its way, even into our own church and congregation. We have some strong feelings on topics such as creation and evolution, politics, guns, gambling, abortion, euthanasia, as well as on other issues of our church. Yet, how often do we actually go back to the handbook, the Bible and see what God says. Here again, I would suggest that the naturalistic teachings of the world and what is being touted as scientific fact has turned our heads to question God’s Word rather than man’s opinion in science. So, it only follows that our tolerance has much of its roots in our denial of the ultimate authority of a Creator God, and our own responsibility to our Creator God. Interestingly enough, if we believe there is an ultimate authority and an ultimate Creator God, then we would refer to His Word as the one and only authority, without trying to distort that same word, but we will say something about that in a minute. Personally I use the rule of thumb that if the opinion of fallible human thinking, often stated as fact, is contrary to the Word of God, often stated as a belief, I will stick with the unchanging, inerrant Word of God and realize that man has made an error someplace which needs to be reexamined.
 
Paul talks about divisions on a personal level, but what about divisions on what we would call a denominational level? Why do we have Denominations among our churches? We have Denominations because we disagree on doctrines and teachings of the Bible. Now, let me say that personally, I do not think that denominations are necessarily a bad thing and they may even be a good thing. They are good, because they make us continually look at our doctrines and teachings, at our beliefs to make sure they line up with what God tells us in His Word. Think about the church of Luther’s day, when there was only one church and no one was allowed to question what was going on. Today we have sort of a checks and balances among denominations.
 
When it comes to fellowship among denominations, we understand that this fellowship is based on agreement of, and I would say, all doctrines and teachings. In other words, we cannot be in fellowship with someone with whom we disagree. And we talked about this in Bible Class, the circle of agreement, that is the number of doctrines and teachings with which we should agree, should be a large circle, a large number of doctrines and teachings in order to truly say we are in agreement and fellowship. And, again as we said last week, agreeing to disagree is not agreement.
 
So, what is the problem? Why is there disagreement, especially since we all have the same Bible? The heart of the disagreement among those who have the same Bible is simply this, is the Bible the Word of God, or does it merely contain the Word of God. In other words, do we subject the Bible to our own reason or do we subject ourselves to the reason of the Bible. What you will find is that those who subject the Bible to their own reason usually do so in order to justify any behavior they wish to justify and the examples are many in our world today from homosexual behavior, to women in the pastoral office, to infanticide, to polygamy, to abortion, and to whatever else one might want to justify. We hear this subjection of the Bible to our own reason when we hear arguments like those in the Garden of Eden, “Did God really say?” In other words, when we hear those with an agenda to justify deviant sinful behavior go back to those Bible passages which denounce such behavior and question whether or not God was really denouncing such behavior. That questioning is a subtle way of saying, “Did God really say?” On the other hand, those of us, who subject ourselves to the Bible as the Word of God, whether we like it or not, and certainly all of us would like to throw out a commandment or two, we understand that all of the Bible is God’s Word and so we must be subject to all of it, whether we like it or not, whether it runs with the opinions of our tolerant society or not. Thus, we get back to the fact that our sinful human nature plays a big role in our disagreements.
 
Paul writes to encourage unity. As we said last week, there is only one Church, one Holy Christian Church (capital C), and it is the invisible Church as we call it, the Church of all those who have faith in Jesus alone for salvation. This one Church spans the many Christian denominations and only God, who can look in our hearts, knows the members.
 
At the same time that there is the one Holy Christian Church, the Communion of saints, the invisible Church, there are also many local denominations. Among these local denominations there are orthodox congregations and heterodox congregations. An orthodox congregation is one in which the Word of God is taught in its truth and purity and the sacraments are administer the same. A heterodox congregation is one in which the Word of God is taught to some degree, but it is over powered by the use of man’s own reason and intellect.
 
In the third commandment we are reminded, “We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it”. We despise preaching and His Word when we over power it with our own reason and intellect. And that leads down the road of heterodox. We despise the Word of God when we fail to recognize and believe that Word which tells us how precious we are to our Lord, from the moment of conception, and instead allow the thoughts and opinions of our society to be tolerant of those with a different opinion. God does not and will not tolerate sin. Why should we?
 
God calls us to be faithful. Nowhere in His Word does God call us to be successful. He never even gives us a definition for success. Instead we are to be faithful. We are to constantly be on guard making sure that God’s Word reigns over our own reason and intellect. And please, do not misunderstand, I do not intend to say that we do not think, certainly we are to think, yet we are to remember that whenever our thinking contradicts the Word of God, it is our thinking that needs to be changed, not the Word of God.
 
So, what does this mean? This means that as always we continue to shy away from preaching and teaching a theology of Glory, that is that we simply talk about Jesus and His power and His making us powerful and rulers and the like. We shy away from talk of how good we are or how good we can be, how we think we can be the people God would have us to be. How we do not need to be in Divine Service and/or Bible class every Sunday, after all, we are already saved, and we are pretty good people. Instead, we will always and ever, this side of eternity, keep our focus on a theology of the cross. Paul says that the cross is folly to those perishing. The cross is folly to those who are perishing, because the cross is itself a symbol of death. How can death be a good thing? How can a cross be a symbol of victory instead of defeat? When it comes to the cross, we understand that this symbol of death, for our sins, is the power of God. Our sins brought death. Our sins of omission and commission. Our sins of thought, word and deed. Our continual, daily sinning much. Indeed, as we grow in our faith, we realize more and more just how sinful we are and how much we need Jesus. The theology of the cross reminds us that Jesus took our sins upon Himself in order to pay the price for our sin. Because He paid the price for our sins they are no longer counted against us. No matter what our sin, nor how big we might think our sin to be, even no matter how small we might think our sin, Jesus paid the price for that sin and all sins. There are no sins too big or too small for which Jesus did not die to pay. His death paid the price for all sins of all people of all places of all times.
 
Simply stated, we know we get it right when we get our focus right. If our focus is on ourselves, we get it wrong. When our focus is on the cross of Christ then we know we are getting it right. If our focus is on people and this world, we are getting it wrong. When our focus is on our Lord and His Word and Sacrament, then we are getting it right. As Paul so well tells us, we are, all Christians, in fellowship together. We, all Christians, do have a unity by faith in Jesus. At the same time, as churches of specific denominations, we do not have an outward fellowship or unity because we do not have a unity of doctrine and teaching and as I said last week, this side of heaven, because of our sinful nature, we never will have such a unity and fellowship, and that is okay.
 
I would encourage you, each one of you, to not be discouraged. I would encourage to you be faithful. Read, mark, learn and inwardly digest the Word of God so that you might make right decisions concerning right and wrong. And I would encourage you to stand firm in your faith, especially in your faith in Jesus whose cross, for us that are being saved, is the power of God. So that when our last hour on this earth arrives we will be caught up on the clouds with our Lord and we will be brought to stand before His throne with all the saints and say, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Called to Be Saints - January 19, 2014 - Second Sunday after the Epiphany - Text: 1 Corinthians 1:1-9

Beginning this morning and for the next few Sundays as we work our way through the church season of Epiphany, we will be following along in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. Paul is writing to the church at Corinth in order to address many practical questions that are dividing the church, questions concerning things like spiritual gifts, marriage, food offered to idols, and the resurrection. Paul is writing to instruct and restore the church in the areas of weakness and false teaching. As Paul is writing this letter to the Corinthians, we would do well to understand that God’s Word through Paul to the Corinthians are also God’s Word through Paul to us, here at St. Matthew Lutheran Church of Westfield, in the year 2014. I believe if you listen closely to the issues Paul address some 2000 years ago, you will find that these are some of the same issues we need addressing in our world today. Sometimes the issue may be labeled something different, sometimes it may be more acute, but they are the same issues nonetheless. Well, what can we say, we continue to be conceived and born in sin and we continue to live in a sin filled world, so why would we not be tempted with the same sins, even today.
 
Paul begins by greeting those he is writing. He begins by spelling out his authority that is that he is an apostle, set apart by God. We read verse one, “1Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes” (v. 1). Paul is not writing of his own need to be writing. He is writing as he is being moved to write by the Holy Spirit. Thus, these words are not intended to be words from Paul, but we are to receive them as words from God Himself.
 
And, as I mentioned before, these words are not to be taken to be written only to the church at Corinth, but are to be taken to be written to us today. Paul writes, “2To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours” (v. 2). We might well read, “to the Church of God that is in Westfield” We are the Church, that is, by faith in Jesus, each one of us is a part of the invisible Church, the one, only, Holy, true Church.
 
By faith in Jesus we are sanctified, that is we are made Holy by God. Although we are conceived and born in sin and although we may daily sin much and are in need of forgiveness, by faith in Jesus we have forgiveness of sins and we are declared holy and just in God’s eyes.
 
And by faith in Jesus we are saints who call on the name of Jesus. How marvelous it is to think and know that when we call upon the name of the Lord, our voices are joining with the voices of other Christians who are calling on His name as well. It is this name, Jesus and faith in Jesus that unites us all, as Christians, as one in the Body of Christ, the Holy Christian Church, the Communion of saints.
 
Paul continues his words of salutation speaking words of grace and peace on the Corinthians and on us. We read, “3Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 3). Paul speaks God’s grace on us that is God’s undeserved love. I still like the acronym for GRACE as God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. That is what God’s grace and undeserved love is all about, the fact that although God’s riches cost us nothing but it cost Jesus everything, including His life for ours.
 
And so we have this peace that Paul places on us. This peace is true peace, not a peace of a few hours of quiet and calm in the middle of what may appear to be chaos, but true peace, that peace which comes only through forgiveness, true spiritual peace.
 
Paul goes on to express words of thanksgiving for the Christians at Corinth and for us here in Westfield. We read, “4I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, 5that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge—6even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you—7so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 8who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (v. 4-9). First Paul gives thanks to God for His grace which He has given to us in Christ Jesus. This grace is free as are all God’s good gifts and blessings and Paul thanks God that it is ours.
 
It is God who gives and we who are given to. God gives freely. We are given to by God in Christ Jesus. It was Jesus who paid for and earned the good gifts and blessings we are given. And thus we are enriched in every way. We are enriched in that as Jesus is a part of our lives, as Jesus dwells in us and is a part of our lives, as Jesus sends His Holy Spirit to work in and through us, we are moved to be the people He would have us to be, that is we are moved to speak as He would have us to speak and we will know better what we are to do and not do and what the good works are that He has prepared in advance for us to do.
 
We are not lacking. We are not lacking, as individuals nor as a congregation. We are not lacking any spiritual gift. Unfortunately, in the recent past, and even in the present, there are those who have attempted to make a lot of this spiritual gifts stuff, suggesting that we want to find our spiritual gift and use it for service in God’s church. Certainly that is an admirable goal. Unfortunately, this type of spiritual gift searching has its problems as well, because in our fallible humanness, we tend to distort what God gives. We tend to equate talents and interests as spiritual gifts and some even use the finding of their spiritual gift as an excuse to do or not do whatever they have in mind to do. Paul says that we are not lacking in any spiritual gift. God has given to us, St. Matthew Lutheran Church all the spiritual gifts we need to be His people and His church in this place, even if we cannot name which gift each person might have. According to God, we have all the gifts we need and so we are not lacking.
 
God has, is and will sustain us through life, until Christ comes again. As we talked about last week, so we are reminded again this week, we always point to Jesus. It is Jesus who earned forgiveness for us. It is Jesus who sent the Holy Spirit to give us faith. It is the Holy Spirit who is with us, working through the means of grace, the Word and the Sacraments in order to strengthen and keep us in faith. And it is Jesus who keeps us guiltless, that is free from sin through His work of redemption and forgiveness for the day when we will meet Him face to face, either on the day of our own physical death or on the day of Judgement.
 
And our confidence is in this, that God is faithful. We are not faithful. We see that fact time and again in our lives just how unfaithful we are. Oh, we may try to be good. We may have made a New Year’s Resolution to do better, but how quickly we fall back into our own sinful ways. How quickly we think we do not need the gifts God gives and we refuse and reject the gifts He has to give. Thanks be to God that it does not depend on us, but on Him, who is faithful.
 
So, we have fellowship, but only in Christ. The very word, “fellowship,” implies a connection and that connection is our faith in Christ. Without faith in Christ, we cannot be in fellowship, in communion with one another. Paul assures us that as Christians, as believers in Jesus, we do have fellowship with one another, with all the other Christians in this world.
 
So, what does this mean? This means that we, as always, begin, continue and end with Jesus. It is God who calls us to faith. He calls us to faith as individuals, giving us faith, forgiveness, and life. He calls us to faith through the means that He has given us to call us, His means of grace. That is how our Lord comes to us today to give us His good gifts and blessings, through His means of grace. He calls us to faith through His Word and through Holy Baptism, as we talked about last week, the mystery of how He can do such great things through simple earthly water and His powerful Word and name.
 
God calls us together through a common faith in Jesus to be Church and to be church in this place. As Christians we seek out other Christians in order to live in fellowship together. This fellowship is a fellowship of unity of faith and doctrine, that is teachings. Unfortunately, where there is no agreement on the teaching of our church, there is no earthly fellowship. And agreeing to disagree does not mean we agree. Yet, although there may not be agreement between all denominations making us not in earthly fellowship together, and this happens because of our sinful nature and will never happen this side of eternity, that is that we will all agree, yet, there is a fellowship in the invisible Church, that is among all those who do believe in Jesus as only He can see in our hearts.
 
God sustains us as individuals and helps us to sustain each other as Church. Here again, this is what fellowship and church is all about. We are all members of the One Holy Christian Church, the Communion of saints by faith in Jesus Christ alone. And as members of the Holy Christian Church we are encouraged to bear one another’s burdens and to build each other up in the body of Christ. How fitting for us to care for one another, to call one another, to encourage one another, as many of you here are already doing.
 
God calls, God does, God gives and we are called, done to and given to. Always the focus where it needs to be, on our Lord who initiates, stirs in us and completes all things. And of course, as the focus is on our Lord we know that, even though we may fail, He never fails and He always gets it right. And there can be no greater confidence than confidence in Him.
 
Today we acknowledge Paul’s call to apostleship and our call to be saints. We acknowledge our call to faith and Paul’s words of thanksgiving for our faith. We acknowledge our calling to be God’s people in this place knowing that our Lord continues to bestow on us His free grace and favor working in and through us to be His people in this place giving a defense for the hope we have in Christ Jesus. To Him be the glory for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Alive to God in Christ - January 12, 2014 - The Baptism of Our Lord/1st Sunday after the Epiphany - Text: Romans 6:1-11

Our Christmas celebration has now come to an end. Monday was the day of Epiphany. Epiphany, that word means appearing. Perhaps you have heard of someone having an epiphany, that is someone had something appear or dawn on them. For us, we celebrate the Epiphany of the appearing of the Magi or wise men who came to visit the child Jesus. And here we should make some corrections in what really happened. The Magi did not visit Jesus while He was still in the manger in a stable. If you recall, the Magi asked Herod where the king was and Herod’s wise men told them in Bethlehem. By the time the Magi came to Jesus he was over a year old and Matthew tells us that they came to the “house” where Jesus was to present Him with their gifts. Anyway, that was Monday. Today, we move ahead thirty years and in the Gospel reading we have the account of Jesus being baptized by His cousin, John the Baptist, in the Jordan river in order to “fulfill all righteousness.” Jesus was baptized in order to identify with us and in order to be ordained into His Office of Holy Ministry. And so, this morning we celebrate the baptism of Jesus and Paul reminds us how this baptism relates to us.
 
We begin with Paul’s words beginning at verse one, “1What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4We 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” (v. 1-4). Christ was baptized in order to “fulfill all righteousness,” in order to be our substitute, in order that His grace and forgiveness may abound. So, the argument of some, perhaps even some of us, is that if grace abounds should we not go on sinning so that it may abound even more? Martin Luther is attributed with the quote that we are to sin boldly, but he continued, “believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly, for He is victorious over sin, death and the world.”
 
Should we go on sinning so that grace may abound? No, we cannot go on sinning because grace abounds. We cannot go on sinning because we are new creatures. Through our baptism our old sinful natures have been drowned and we have been reborn, new spiritual creatures so that we might walk in the newness of life.
 
How does this baptism thing work? Is it a symbolic act of obedience? Is it really important? What does God tell us through Paul? God through Paul tells us it is a uniting with Christ as we read picking up at verse five, “5For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7For one who has died has been set free from sin. 8Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9We know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (v. 6-11). Through baptism, that is, through our own baptism, through the putting on of water and God’s name we have been united with Jesus. And what we may not notice in the English is that this baptism is a passive action. We do not bring ourselves forward in obedience, but we are baptized, we are being done to in Holy Baptism. We are being made one with Christ.
 
That we are united with Jesus, that we are being made one with Him means that Jesus death becomes our death. It was our sin that put Jesus on the cross. It was our sin of thought, word and dead. It was our sin of omission, not doing what we should be doing and our sin of commission, doing what we should not be doing, that put Jesus on the cross. When Jesus died on the cross it was for our sins, because He took our sins upon Himself. His spiritual, eternal death is our spiritual eternal death. But even more, when He rose from the dead, His resurrection becomes our resurrection. Because He rose from the dead, victorious over sin, death and the power of the devil, we know that these have no power over us and we too will rise again. Sin, death and the devil now have no power over us and with the help of the Holy Spirit we may defeat them.
 
Instead, Jesus’ life now influences our lives. When temptations come, we know that we can go to our Lord and He will help us. We know that He has already faced all that we will face and even more. And we know that as He never sinned, as He took our sins and paid the price for our sins, and as He defeated sin, death and the devil, He is with us to help us to do the same.
 
What comfort we find in the words that “the death He died He died to sin, once for all.” His death, His suffering the eternal, spiritual death penalty paid for all sins of all people of all places of all times, once for all. Nothing else needs to be done, no satisfaction, no nothing. Nothing else needs to be done, as if we could do anything. We may pass away from this world, that is we may suffer physical death, but we will never have to suffer eternal, spiritual death.
 
And, yet, Paul is not  done. Verse eleven brings words of sanctification, we are “dead to sin, alive to God in Christ Jesus.” In other words, by the power of the Holy Spirit we live lives of faith, we do the good works God has for us to do. But this not something that comes from within us, no, this too points back to Christ. Yes, our justification points to Christ, who did it all and our sanctification points to Christ as well, who moves us to respond with lives of faith.
 
So, what does this mean? As we celebrate Jesus’ baptism we understand how important is our own baptism. Think about it, Jesus did not need to be baptized, at least not to be baptized for Himself and He did not need to subject Himself to John’s baptism which was a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins because Jesus never sinned. He was baptized in order to identify with us, in order to fulfill all righteousness, in order to be our substitute.
 
We are sinners, conceived and born in sin and we do need a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. But even more, we need what God gives through Holy Baptism, through this sacrament, that is through this mystery of God working through simple earthly elements of water and His Word. Yes, with water and God’s name, “Father, Son and Holy Spirit,” we are united, made one with Christ.
 
Through His baptism Jesus identified Himself with us. Now, through our baptism we are identified with Him. Through our baptism Jesus’ life becomes our life, His death becomes our death, His resurrection becomes our resurrection. The fullness of the Gospel is not simply the last part of what I just said, that Jesus’ death and resurrection are for us, but the fullness of the Gospel is in Jesus’ life becoming our life. We cannot live as we ought. We cannot do anything we ought to do. We cannot keep the law perfectly, or even close. Thus, the fact that Christ’s life becomes our life means that everything that He did, perfectly is credited to us as if we lived perfectly. And as our substitute, He did take our sins upon Himself and suffer and die in order to pay the price, the cost, the eternal spiritual death penalty of hell for us, in our place. And He rose showing us that He defeated sin, death and the devil and as He has defeated and won, so His victory is ours.
 
Baptism is not a symbolic act of obedience, rather baptism is a sacrament, it is a sacred act. It is not we who are acting but we who are being acted upon. Through this simple earthly element of water and God’s powerful Word and name, God, working through this sacred act, does great things. Through Baptism, God puts His name on us. He makes us His children. He puts faith in our hearts. He gives us forgiveness of sins. He writes our names in the book of Heaven. He does it all and we are passively done to. He gives and we are given too.
 
And now, now that we have been baptized. Now that we are children of God. Now that God’s name is on us, He continues to send His Holy Spirit who works in us to do the good works which He has prepared in advance for us to do. And we do them, again, not in and of ourselves, but because He motivates us to do them, because He gives us the good works to do, and because He works them in and through us. Here again, always pointing back to what He is doing.
 
Finally, we give praise to the Lord. And here again, this too, is not according to our conceived and born sinful human nature. We give praise to the Lord as He stirs in our hearts to give Him praise.
 
How important is baptism? Very important. So important in fact that Jesus Himself was baptized even though He did not need to be. As we celebrate Jesus’ baptism, I pray that you might be reminded of your own baptism so that as you are reminded of your own baptism you are reminded that you are a redeemed child of God and that your name is written in the book of life. And I pray that you might continue to remember the words we speak at one’s baptism, that is that “through Baptism God has added [you] to his own people to declare the wonderful deeds of our Savior, who has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light.” To Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Knowing Hope - January 5, 2014 - Second Sunday after Christmas - Text: Ephesians 1:3-14

Today is the twelfth and last day of Christmas. This morning we continue to celebrate the birth of the Christ-child, the one who came as our Savior, the one who came as King of kings and Lord of lords. In the Old Testament reading for today we hear young King Solomon asking not for riches or fame, but for an understanding and discerning heart to be better able to lead the children of Israel. In the Gospel lesson we met up with young Jesus who is in the temple at the age of twelve talking with the priests and we are told that He is growing “in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.” And in our text we hear of God’s plan of salvation.
 
Our text is the beginning of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians we pick up at verse three, “3Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved” (v. 3-6). Paul begins this letter as he begins most of his letters, with words of blessing. Paul begins by saying, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” or literally, “‘Good words’ be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” God is blessed, or using not so good English, He is “good worded” in connection with Jesus. God is blessed because Jesus has accomplished His work of salvation and is seated in the heavenly realms. God is blessed because He has accomplished what He said He would accomplish. His Word, spoken and written, have been fulfilled in Jesus, God in flesh, who gave His life for all people.
 
Paul continues by telling us that God is blessed because He chose us, before creation, to make us holy and blameless. We did not choose God, He chose us. He chose us, not because of anything deserving within us, not because He knew we would do anything to deserve His choosing. He chose us by the death of His Son which He told us would happen.
 
Paul goes on to tell us that in love, that is in agape, Christlike love, God adopted us and made us a part of His kingdom. He did this according to His good will and pleasure. It is God’s will that all people come to faith and are saved. And He works that salvation out according to His plan of salvation.
 
God’s plan of salvation is that according to His grace, His undeserved love, a love that is freely given, He gave us His Son, the Word made flesh to give His life for ours. It is through the death of the One He loves, His only Son, that He works His plan of salvation.
 
Picking up at verse seven Paul lays out God’s plan. We read, “7In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ  10as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (v. 7-10). In Christ we have redemption. Last week we talked about this word redeem, how it means to trade something and we talked about S & H Green Stamps. However, Jesus did not save up and trade stamps for us and our sins. No, He traded His life, He shed His blood for our sins. Remember, the price for sin was set in the Garden of Eden, the price for sin is death, eternal spiritual death and even physical death. The price for sin was that blood had to be shed. Jesus shed His blood for us.
 
Jesus shed His blood for all people. That the riches of grace are lavished on us means that there is no end to His grace. His grace is for all people. His grace exceeds our sins.
 
He has made know the mystery of His will. The mystery of His will is how God could love us so much. The mystery of God’s will is how a Creator could love His creation, especially His sinful creation, His creation run amuck, so much that He would do what needed to be done for His creation, that He would give His life, that He would shed His blood for us.
 
Thanks be to God that we have Paul’s words of hope as we continue reading at verse eleven, “11In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory” (v. 11-14). We have hope, that is a certainty in Him. In Him, that is, in Christ, in faith in Him we have the certainty of an eternal inheritance in heaven.
 
This did not happen by accident. This did not happen according to our good will or pleasure. This did not happen for any reason for which we might be accountable. No, this was all according to God’s foreknowledge, plan and purpose. Even before the creation of the world God knew what was going to happen and so even before the creation of the world He knew He would be sending His Son to shed His blood for us. That fact in and of itself should tell us how much He loves us and how He created us in order to love us and to lavish us with all His good gifts and blessings.
 
And now, the Holy Spirit seals the deal. We have hope, that is we have the certainty of heaven, not because of anything on our part, but because the Holy Spirit brings us to faith, gives us faith, strengthens and keeps us in faith. It is the Holy Spirit who does the work of giving us the hope and certainty of eternal life.
 
As I read these words from our Epistle lesson today I realized how relevant and how fitting Paul’s words are for us today. And so I come before you to tell you that as Paul told the Ephesians, so I am tell you the same thing.
 
First, I want to remind you that God has chosen you. He has not chosen you because of something you have done, or will do. In the same way He does not disown us because of something we do or do not do. In other words, He has not disowned us because of our sins; our sins of thought, word and deed; our sins of omission and commission. He has chosen you because He has given the life of His Son, whose birth we just celebrated, for you.
 
Next, I want you to know that you are saved by God’s grace alone. Again, this is not something we can accomplish in and of ourselves. This is not something we can earn, deserve or work for. We are saved by God’s grace, by His undeserved love for us. We are saved by the blood of Jesus poured out for us on the cross. But we are not saved for no reason. We are saved for a purpose. First and foremost we are saved so that we may be loved by God and lavished with His good gifts and blessings. We are saved so that we might do good works. Yes, we are to do good works. We are saved so that the faith which is given to us at our baptism, at our conversion, is reflected in our love for each other.
 
My prayer, then, is that you will continue to make use of the means of grace so that you might be strengthened in your faith. In the same way the you were brought to faith by God’s good Word, I pray that you will continue to make regular and diligent use of that good Word to be made stronger in your faith. Remember, the mystery of why some are saved and some are not saved is because some refuse God’s gifts. We refuse God’s gifts by not making use of the gifts that He gives, the gifts of His means of grace, the gifts of His Word, Confession and absolution and His Sacraments, Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. My prayer is that you will make good use of that good Word, written and given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.
 
And my prayer for you is that you will have the hope, that is the certainty, of heaven. Too often I hear a person say, “I hope when I die I will go to heaven.” I pray that you can say, “I know that when I die I will go to heaven.” I pray that you will have that certainty because that certainty comes from the good word of the Lord. That certainty comes from knowing the Good Word of Jesus. That certainty comes from faith given by the Holy Spirit and strengthened by Him through His Word and sacraments.
 
I read a shirt once that read, “So many books, so little time.” If you like to read you know how true that is. There is a plethora of reading material available in our country today. Unfortunately, not all of it speaks favorably or even speaks of the most important Word, the good Word, the Word made flesh, the Word given to us to eat and drink at His holy Supper. I will continue to pray for you, that the Lord will continue to give you a real desire and hunger for His Word, that you may be weaned off the milk of the Word and hunger for the meat and potatoes of God’s Word through which the Holy Spirit will strengthen and deepen your faith in the Lord and your love for each other. May it be done to the glory of the Lord, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.