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, February 28, 2016

Be Careful: Don’t Fall! - February 28, 2016 - Third Sunday in Lent - Text: 1 Corinthians 10:1-13

If you have ever worked with children, been around children, or been a child yourself, you know that children are not always logical, at least not in the way we think of logic. To many of us, children are not logical in their thinking, speaking and acting. Maybe that is why God refers to us as His dear children, because when it comes to our spiritual life and the things we do and do not do, what may seem logical to us, is not always right in God’s eyes. I am sure that there are many times when God shakes His head in wonder; wondering why we are the way we are and even wondering why He bothered creating us in the first place. Well, that’s the bad news anyway. The Good news is that no matter how illogical we may be, God is still God, He still loves us and He is always there to take care of us. Paul’s words to us this morning reminds us of these logical facts and he reminds us that God’s will is that we would serve Him alone.
Paul begins by pointing to the past, “1I want you to know, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, 2and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3and all ate the same spiritual food, 4and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ” (v. 1-4). What Paul is doing is that he is reminding the people that God really is their God and He really does love and care for them. Paul points to the deliverance of the children of Israel from their bondage of slavery in Egypt as “proof” of God’s love for them. It is almost as if Paul were saying, “you would think that would be enough to convince the people that God is God, that He loves them, and that they should not and would not go running after other gods and idols.” But that was not the case. Time and time again the children of Israel would forget God. God would allow for them to be taken over by another country. The people would realize their sin, repent and turn to God for help and God would deliver them.
“Nevertheless,” Paul says continuing on in our text, “with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness” (v.5). How often they tried the Lord’s patience, once too often, and the Lord allowed for them to suffer the consequences for their sin. God allowed for some of them to die there in the desert, a physical death and for some, an eternal spiritual death.
And now Paul writes to tell us that these things were warnings so that we do not do the evil that they did. Yet, we often times follow right along in their footsteps. We know that God is God, and that He is our God. We know that He has redeemed us, lost and condemned creatures. We know that He has purchased and won us from all sin, from death and from the power of the devil. We know that He has done this with His holy precious blood and His innocent suffering and death. We know that He has done this without any merit or worthiness within us. We know this because this is what we have learned and been taught from early on. And yet, we continue in our sins.
Continuing on in our text, Paul hits us with the truth of the Law. How fitting it is that we have these words of law as we continue through the Lenten season. Remember, Lent is the time we take the time to contemplate our sins and our part in putting Jesus on the cross. Yes, Lent is the time we really look at our sin and look at our Savior as He suffers and understand that He is suffering because of us and for us, because of our sins, your sins and mine and for us, for you and for me. Unless we can confess our sins, unless we can admit to our part, there can be no forgiveness.
Paul says continuing on in our text, “6Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. 7Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, ‘The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.’ 8We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. 9We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, 10nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer.” (v. 6-10). Our natural inclination is to sin as God tells us, ever intention of our heart is evil all the time. We do tend toward idolatry. While we may not bow down and worship a graven image or an idol made of stone, yet we do tend toward idolatry nonetheless. We often put other things before God. We let the busy-ness of our lives interfere with our prayer time, with our time for reading God’s Word, with our personal and family devotion time, and sometimes it even interferes with our times of divine service. With so many things going on in our lives here on this earth, we get so caught up in the things that we think “must” be done that there is little time left for God. Thus, our idol becomes the busy-ness of this world.
We do indulge in immorality. We may not be out having affairs, but we do indulge in immorality nonetheless. How often do we find ourselves looking lustfully at a member of the opposite sex, or even today, some lust at a member of the same sex. How often do we find ourselves saying, “excuse me,” when words of profanity slip past our lips. How often do we find ourselves sharing with a friend, either sharing “in love” or even sharing the truth about someone else and what an awful person they are, as we sit at the gossip fence. How often do we find ourselves telling little “white” lies to “protect” someone else or ouselves? How often do we find ourselves running down our own church and then wonder why no one wants to come with us to visit? How often do we find ourselves blaming others and even blaming God for our struggles in life? How often do we refuse to acknowledge and confess our part in the struggles we face? How often do we find ourselves putting God to the test? And how often do we find ourselves justifying our thoughts, words and actions?
Yes, we do put the Lord to the test. How often do we find ourselves putting ourselves into situations where we know we will be tempted and then justify the sin by saying we were unable to overcome the temptation. How often do we tend to blame God for the things that happen in life when we are the ones who are responsible for our words and actions. Remember Paul’s warning, “11Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. 12Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (v. 11-12). That last verse almost sounds like the old cliche, “pride goes before the fall.” Perhaps we would do well to read and reread Paul’s Word, which are God’s Word, then look in the mirror and make our confession.
How often do we find ourselves grumbling. “Nobody loves me, everybody hates, think I’ll eat some worms.” “Poor me, everyone has it so much better than I do.” “No bodies on my side, everyone is against me.” And, “If you think you have it bad, you should hear how bad I have it. Why doesn’t God just give me a break.”
Paul’s words of Law remind us that we are no different than the children of Israel and that we need to watch out, just as they did not do so. We need to remember what happened to the children of Israel, so that what happened to them does not happen to us.
Paul does not stop with just the words of the Law. He goes on to give us words of encouragement, even words of good news, “13No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (v.13). Paul reminds us that the Lord is still our God. He is with us, and He will help us. That does not mean we can get all puffed up and challenge the devil, the world and our own sinful nature. No, instead, we must face each temptation with fear and trembling and take it to the Lord in prayer. In the time of temptation the Lord will help us. He will help us, either by removing the temptation from us, so that it is no longer there to tempt us. Or He will help us by providing us a way of escape, by opening a door to another option, or putting someone or something in the way of temptation so that we will have to go another way. Or He will help us by giving us strength to endure. God may have in mind to use this temptation to work strengthening of faith in us, so that as we work through the temptation you will be a stronger Christian and closer to Him.
Paul’s words are words we need to hear and we need to hear them quite often, whether we want to hear them or not. Paul reminds us of our need to admit our past sins. We need to admit that we have not been the people that God wants us to be. We need to admit that we do desire evil, that we have been idolaters, that we have indulged in immorality, and that we have grumbled.
Paul’s words remind us that we are not to lean on ourselves. We are not to be boastful of our ability to resist sin and temptation. Because if we depend on ourselves we will fail. We will fall into sin and temptation. We will be very much like the children of Israel.
Paul’s words reminds us, instead, we are to lean on the Lord who will help us. We are to pray in every situation. We are to pray and know that God will provide help, either by removing the temptation, or by giving us a way out, or by giving us the strength to endure.
Paul’s words reminds us that we are to look to the cross of Christ. It is because Jesus took our sins upon Himself, all of our sins, our sins of thought, word and deed, our sins of omission and commission it was because He suffered and paid the price for our sins, because He died on the cross that we are forgiven. It is to Jesus that we pray, knowing that He suffered even more than we will ever suffer. He suffered being tempted by the devil. He knows what we are going through, even more than we can imagine, because He has already experienced everything we are experiencing, and even greater temptations and  suffering, so we know that He can help. Again, because of His suffering and death, we know that we have forgiveness and life. The very reason Jesus came to earth, was born, lived, suffered, died and rose was to pay the price for our sins, to earn our forgiveness which He freely pours out on us.
And so, Paul’s words remind us that we are to go to where the Lord gives His good gifts and blessings. We are to go to His Word and sacraments, the means of grace. Through these means the Lord gives us forgiveness of sins as well as the faith and strength we need to face the temptations and challenges of each new day, so that we may live each day to His glory.
Our text for today reminds us of Paul’s words in first Corinthians thirteen when he says, “now these three remain, faith, hope, and love, but the greatest of these is love.” Our faith is based on the past, that Jesus is the Messiah, that He did die for our sins and that He did rise from the dead. We do not forget the past, but we keep the past in mind to remind us to keep from sinning so that what happened to the children of Israel, God’s chosen people, does not happen to us. Thus, our hope is a sure confidence in eternal life in heaven. And we show our faith and hope through our love for the Lord and for each other. Our lives, then point to Jesus and say, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Scripture Readings and Sermon - Lent Midweek Three - February 24, 2016 - Text: Luke 4:16-22a; 2 Timothy 3:10-17

This year during the season of Lent and all the way through Easter morning we are looking at the various parts of our Divine Worship Service and seeing how the various parts of our service reflect God’s working in our lives; God’s giving His gifts to us, our being given to and our response of faith. The parts of the service are not necessarily be presented in the order of our service but are being presented in an order which will prayerfully give consideration to the day of Lent on which it is presented, as per example, the Lord’s Supper will be presented on Maundy Thursday, the evening in which our Lord gave us His Holy Supper.
Last week we moved on in the Divine Service to the Introit, the Kyrie and the Hymn of Praise. We were reminded how these parts of the service flowed out of the ceremonial laws of Leviticus wherein the penitent sinner would bring a sacrifice, lay hands on the sacrifice, slaughter the animal, shedding its blood which was splashed on the altar  and in so doing the penitent would recognize that the price for sin was death, that blood had to be shed. We noted that these sacrifices really and truly did nothing to bring or earn forgiveness but simply pointed to the one promised Messiah who would be the once and for all sacrifice on the cross for us, Jesus. We were reminded that our liturgy flows out of and follows the ceremonial law of Leviticus in a fulfilled manner, in that the law in Leviticus pointed forward to Jesus, and our liturgy points us back to Jesus as well. Finally, we were again reminded that our worship, our liturgy is divine service, that is it is first and foremost God service, God coming to us to give us the gifts and blessing He has to give and our response to those gifts. This week we move on to another of the means of grace that holds prominence in our divine service.
Two readings from Scripture will help make our point this evening. First, Luke’s account of Jesus during Sabbath worship in His home town, “16And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. 17And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, 18“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, 19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 20And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 22And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth” (Luke 4:16-22).
Second, Paul’s second letter to Timothy regarding the importance of the Word of God, “10You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, 11my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra—which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me. 12Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 13while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. 14But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:10-17).
Now for a question, “How does God give us the gifts and blessings He has to give?” Or, “Through what means does God gives us the gifts He has to give?” So, if I want to give you some ice cream, I do not simply ask you to hold out your hand. I put the ice cream in a bowl and serve you the ice cream using the means or instrument of the bowl. The bowl is that thing which delivers the ice cream to you. God gives us His gifts, faith, forgiveness of sins, strengthening of faith, life, eternal life and salvation. How does God give these gifts to us. He could give them to us directly, that is He could appear to us and impart His gifts to us, but that is not His usual way of giving His gifts, at least not in our world today. Today God uses means or instruments through which He gives us His gifts and those instruments or means are what we call the means of grace. The means of grace, the means through which the Lord comes to us today are His Word, the Bible, Confession and absolution, as well as His Sacraments, Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Through these means our Lord bestows on us and gives us the gifts He has to give.
In our liturgy in our divine service we notice that our service is permeated with the means of grace, that is our service is filled to the full with the means of grace. As we have heard, our service begins with a remind of our baptism and our faith in God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Our service then moves on to the place wherein we confess our sins and hear God’s Word of absolution that our sins are forgiven. We moved on and spoke, sang, chanted back to God the very word He has given us to speak to Him through the introit, the Kyrie and the hymn of praise. This evening we are reminder of the importance of the means of Grace of God’s Holy Word. Just as Jesus read from the Bible, just as Paul outlined to Timothy, it is the Word of God that is so important for without the Word of God there would be no need for a service indeed there would truly be no divine service, because it is through the Word of God that the Divine speaks to us.
And so we are reminded that God’s Word is a word with power. Unlike any other book by human writing, a science book, a social studies book, an English or Math book, God’s Word is a book with power. Certainly these other books, written by fallible humans can be and are often times good books used to learn good lessons, but they do not have any power. As a matter of fact, more often than not these man written books must be rewritten in order to “keep up with the times.” Whereas God’s Word is a book that is infallible and never needs to be rewritten. God’s Word never contradicts itself but only complements itself. Indeed, if we ever think there is a contradiction then the problem is not with God and His Word but with us and our own misunderstanding.
We are reminded that God’s Word is a word with power and so it gives and does what it says. When God’s word says we are given faith, then we know we have faith because it has been given to us. When God’s Word says our sins are forgiven, then we know our sins are forgiven because His forgiveness has been proclaim, bestowed and given to us. Indeed, as Jesus read the Word and announced that these words have been fulfilled, so that same Word is read today and the same pronouncement is made, that His Word is fulfilled for us and in us. And as Paul tells young pastor Timothy so He tells us, these are the “sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.”
God’s Word is a word with power to give the gifts He has to give and to do what He says it will do. God’s Word is true, perfect and holy because it is His Word. And so we are reminded that God’s Word points to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. Indeed, all of Scripture and all of time point to Jesus. Ever since the Garden of Eden and the fall into sin and God’s promise of a Savior, a Messiah, a Christ, all of the Old Testament pointed to Jesus. Today, we look back and we have our New Testament which points to Jesus. Even our calendar, B.C. and A.D. point us to Jesus, the center of time and eternity. And so rightly our divine worship, our liturgy, our reading of His Holy Word all point us to focus on Jesus who had done everything necessary for salvation for us and gives it all to us and we are done to and given to and so we say, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Stand Firm in the Lord - February 21, 2016 - Second Sunday in Lent - Text: Philippians 3:17-4:1

A few years ago, alright, a lot of years ago, I was invited to Camp Lone Star to try out their new “team challenge” course. The “team challenge” course is a course of obstacles that must be overcome by a team. There are low obstacles, about a foot off the ground, and there are high obstacles, about thirty feet in the air. Over the course of a couple of days the ten members of our team covered a lot of obstacles. I also found out that there are many companies, big businesses, that will send their employees to these courses and video tape their going through the challenges to see how they operate, that is how the individuals work as individuals and how they work and cooperate together as a team. The theory is that the way each individual reacts and interacts on the course is the way they will react and interact while working for the company. At any given obstacle people come forward as leaders, as motivators, or as just followers. Thus, how people react and interact on the course is most like they will react and interact to challenges in the “real” world and so they are assigned jobs in the company accordingly.
There was one challenge in particular that made an impress on me, especially in the sense of its life application. The one challenge that I want to describe is the one that helped a person to understand how and where one must focus their attention, and in a human or business way, we might say to focus one’s attention in order to be successful. The challenge looked simple. There was a large log hanging horizontal above the ground about a foot or so. It was hanging from two trees, one on each end, by a cable attached to each end, so that the log was able to swing and move between the two trees. The object of the obstacle was to jump up on the log at one end and walk to the other end. The difficulty was that the log was free to swing, so in the process of jumping on the log it would swing to knock you off. Some participants jumped on the log only to immediately fall off. Some participants were able to jump onto the log, but after only a few steps fell off. Others were able to jump up onto the log and walk the distance of the log and then jump off. The solution to the challenge was in one’s focus. Where do you focus your attention? You could either focus your attention on the log or something else. The participants who focused on the log always fell off. The solution was to focus on something that was not moving, like a tree in front of you. The life “lesson,” or life “application,” of the challenge was that when we have struggles in life if we focus on the struggles, the swinging log, we do not get very far, but if we focus on a solid firm foundation, like the sturdy tree, and as Christians we would say, like Jesus Christ, then we can make it through the struggles. This morning Paul talks to us about our focus. Where is our focus? Is it on the things of this world, or is it on the things of our eternal life in heaven?
Paul begins by putting himself up as an example for the people. He does not do so as a braggart, that is he is not bragging about himself, saying look at how wonderful I am. He simply says to imitate himself and others. We are to see the good in his example as well as the good in the example in others and imitate that good.
Paul suggests that we imitate him. Well, we might first be reminded that Paul was a Pharisee of Pharisees. He was a persecutor of the church, even putting Christians to death. Obviously this is not the parts of Paul’s life he wants us to imitate. Certainly, then, to be encouraged to imitate Paul would be to forgive his sins and faults and to look to follow his good example. Paul’s words remind me that I am to live in such a way as to be an example to you, the members of this congregation, as well as to others, and I try to do that with the help of God. Certainly, I, too, am a sinful human being and I am not a perfect example, but I know I am forgiven and by God’s grace and with the help of the Lord I strive to set a good example. I think Paul’s words remind all of us that we are all to be examples and particularly, the stronger Christian is to be an example for the weaker brother or sister.
The difficulty in following the example of others is the fact that there are not many good examples left in our world today. It would seem that there are more bad examples than good examples and as sinful human being we tend to move more to follow the bad examples rather than the good examples. That is just our nature, as God reminds us, every intention of our heart is evil all the time and this has been the way it has been since the fall into sin. This does not give us an excuse to sin, simply a warning to be watchful and alert.
Paul cites as particular bad examples the enemies of the cross. Who are the enemies of the cross? Anyone who says that the cross was not efficacious is an enemy of the cross. In other words, it is not the person who denies that Jesus died on the cross, but the person who denies that it was worth anything, the persons who says that Jesus’ death did not earn our forgiveness or salvation. Thus, an enemy of the cross is anyone who states or even implies that Jesus’ death was not enough to earn our forgiveness and so we must do something to help pay for our sins, as if we could do anything.
The enemies of the cross are those who desire to continue to live life in this world more than to live life in heaven. I would suggest that this would apply to many of us at times. How often to we find ourselves thinking more of our lives in this world, planning what we will be doing now and then with no thought of our life in heaven? We often forget the story of the rich man who built bigger and better barns thinking, today I will eat drink and be merry and tomorrow I will concern myself with my spiritual needs. As you may remember the story, we are told that very night his soul was required of him, in other words, he died. We tend to live life as if we will live here on this earth forever and forget that we are all just one breath away from death and our final judgement.
The enemies of the cross are also those who try to lure us away from heaven. The devil, the world and our own sinful nature are constantly battling to seduce us into disbelief, despair, or other great shame or vice. And the devil, the world and our own sinful nature continue to win battle after battle as we are lead into sin, daily, in thought, word and deed, sins of omission and sins of commission. We are tempted to think that our lives are our own to live as we wish. We are tempted to believe what we have, the physical blessings of life are ours as if we have somehow earned the blessings God has given. We are tempted to believe that the commandments are simply suggestions. We are tempted and indeed we constantly act out the putting ourselves before God, absenting ourselves from His gifts, taking His gifts for granted, refusing to acknowledge Him as the gift giver and indeed outright refusing and rejecting His gifts and then wonder why He does not bless us more. Indeed, left to ourselves we would be lost.
Thanks be to God that we are not left to ourselves. Paul’s remedy is to move our focus heavenward. We are to eagerly await for heaven. But really we do not wait for heaven, because heaven is a present reality, it is ours now. We may have to wait to move in, but heaven is ours now. As Paul says, our citizenship is in heaven. We are merely visitors here on this earth. As we can see, our citizenship is one with privileges and responsibilities. We have the privilege of knowing that our fellowship with the Father in heaven has been restored by Jesus, but we also have the responsibility, as we have been talking about, of being good examples for others.
We do eagerly await for heaven because we know that heaven is where we will be perfect. Everyone and everything in heaven will be like the world before the fall into sin, perfect. We will live in perfect fellowship with each other and with Jesus. There will be no more pain and suffering, no more sorrow or tears, no more temptation or sin. Only perfection, only holiness, only joy.
And heaven, like hell, is eternal. When the Lord returns or when we pass on, that is die the physical death we will all die, unless the Lord returns first, and leave this earth we will go to only one place or the other, either heaven or hell. There will be no movement from one place or the other. Upon one’s judgement we will either live in hell for eternity, remaining absent from God and His love. Or we will live in heaven for eternity, remaining in Jesus’ presence and love forever.
As we await our entrance into the Lord’s kingdom in heaven we continue to prepare ourselves for that entrance. We prepare ourselves by making use of the means of grace, by reading our Bibles, by remembering our Baptism, by confessing our sins and hearing those most beautiful words of absolution, “Your sins are forgiven,” and by making use of the Lord’s Supper, partaking of His body and blood and thus participating in Jesus’ death and resurrection. We prepare ourselves by continuing to focus our attention on the important things, the cross of Jesus Christ and His crucifixion. As we are reminded, there can be no glory without the cross. The Holy Spirit continues to work through the means of grace to point us to the cross of Christ so that we might be assured of our forgiveness and strengthened in our faith, forgiveness, life and salvation.
As we await our entrance into the Lord’s kingdom in heaven we also continue to prepare ourselves for that entrance by looking at and following the example of Paul and all the saints who have gone on before us. Notice I did not say that we are to worship or pray to Paul and all the saints that have gone on before us, but we are to set their lives up as examples for us to follow. Besides, it would do no good to pray to them or to worship them because they would not be able to hear us anyway. Heaven is a place of perfection and it would not be perfection if all those in heaven could hear how things were here on earth. Only God can hear our prayers and our worship.
And finally, as we await our entrance into the Lord’s kingdom in heaven we also prepare ourselves for that entrance by, with the help of the Holy Spirit, being examples for others. Certainly we realize that we are not perfect, we are still sinful human beings, yet, with the help of the Holy Spirit working through the means of grace He does help us to be the good examples that He wants us to be, as we live our lives with our focus heavenward and to His glory. We are imperfect humans, yet good examples as we exemplify God’s love and forgiveness in our lives such that others know that although we fail, although we sin much we are forgiven as God’s grace abounds in our lives.
One last reminder. I have said it before and I will say it again, our actions do speak louder than our words and our action often betray us. Our actions show if our life focus is heavenward or earthward. Our actions show if our life focus is on the things of God or on the things of this world. I would exhort you to remember that your citizenship is in heaven, that heaven is where will live our real lives, for eternity, not just the short sixty, eighty or hundred years on this earth, and that the Holy Spirit will continue to stir in your heart to keep your focus heavenward as you make use of the means of grace. To God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Introit, Kyrie, and Hymn of Praise - Lent Midweek Two - February 17, 2016 - Text: Mark 10:47; Luke 2:14; John 1:29

This year during the season of Lent and all the way through Easter morning we will look at the various parts of our Divine Worship Service and see how the various parts reflect God’s working in our lives; God’s giving His gifts to us, our being given to and our response of faith. The parts of the service will not necessarily be presented in the order of our service but will be presented in an order which will prayerfully give consideration to the day of Lent on which it is presented, as per example, the Lord’s Supper will be presented on Maundy Thursday, the evening in which our Lord gave us His Holy Supper.
Last week we began, appropriately enough with the invocation. We were reminded that the invocation reminds us of our baptism and initiation into the Church and the Christian faith, that we worship a God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier, and we invoke or invite Him to be in worship giving us the good gifts and blessings He has to give through the means He has given to give us those gifts, the means of grace. This week we move on in the Divine Service to the Introit, the Kyrie and the Hymn of Praise.
The Introit or the entrance hymn follows the confession of our sins and our hearing God’s word of absolution, that is that our sins are forgiven, which part of the service we will appropriately take up on Good Friday. Immediately following our confession and absolution, that is immediately after our sins have been forgiven and we now stand before God in a state of forgiveness, we are prepared to enter into God’s presence, thus the introit or entrance hymn. If you have never noticed, next Sunday you will, but the introit if pretty much a part of or parts of one or more psalms with an antiphon that introduces and concludes the introit. Certainly it is appropriate that the introit is chanted or sang, but can be spoken. The introit points us to the Sunday of the Church year and focuses our attention on the gifts of God of which we are about to be given.
After the introit we sing the Kyrie or the Kyrie Elison which is Latin for “Lord have mercy.” The Kyrie is the plea of blind Bartimaus to Jesus for healing and reflects our cry to Jesus for spiritual healing as well. As noted in our hymnal the Kyrie is a quote from Mark, “And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’” (Mark 10:47). And so we cry out in our plea to our Savior and triune God with the three-fold, “Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy.” We speak words calling for mercy because we know that our Lord and God is a merciful and gracious God who is full of compassion. Indeed, it is the Gospel message of forgiveness that moves in us and stirs in us to cry out knowing with all confidence that our plea will be heard and answered.
Following the Kyrie we sing a hymn of praise. On special occasions we sing the hymn of praise “This is the Feast” which comes from Rev. 5:12-13; 19:5-9, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” (Rev. 5:12b-13).  “And from the throne came a voice saying, “Praise our God, all you his servants,  you who fear him, small and great.” Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”—for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God” (Rev. 19:5-8). In the Hymn of Praise This Is the Feast we sing of our ultimate dining at the Lord’s Heavenly Banqueting Table, singing praise to the Lamb of God who has taken away the sin of the world and more especially our sins.
On the not so special occasions, every other Sunday, which we might contend are special occasions as well we sing words spoken by the angels at Jesus’ birth and spoken by John the Baptist in reference to Jesus. The words of the angels, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:14). And the words of John, “The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’” (John 1:29). In the hymn of praise we Praise God for giving us a glimpse of His glory in Jesus. How fitting, we have invited God to be a part of our service, and actually to be the main giver in our service, which is what Divine Service means, that is it is God’s service, first and foremost to us. So, we have invited God to our service of Him giving His gifts to us and at the same time were reminded of our Baptism. We have confessed our sins and heard His Word of absolution so that now we can with confidence enter into His presence robed with His forgiveness so we have no fear in approaching His altar. We have approached His altar singing His words of praise. We have cried out our plea for mercy and now we rejoice in His glory.
In Leviticus, when God gave the ceremonial laws to His people, those laws which governed the sacrifices which were demanded as price for sins, the purpose of the ceremonial laws was to point out that the price for sin was death, that price having been set in the Garden of Eden, that blood had to be shed. The ceremonial laws specified what sacrifices were to be made according to the sins one had committed as well as the sins of the community as a whole. The person or family or at times the whole community would offer sacrifices for sins. The sacrifice was brought. The person or family would lay their hands on the sacrifice, transferring their sin to the lamb. The lamb was then slaughtered, killed, its blood shed to pay the price for the sins of those offering it. This shedding of blood truly did nothing as far as paying the price for sin, rather it merely pointed to the one ultimate sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. And yet, all throughout the Old Testament and up to the point of Jesus, these sacrifices were demanded because the price for sin is death and all people needed the reminder of what their sins cost. It was only as the sacrifice was offered and sins were declared forgiven that one would then be able to enter into God’s presence in the temple. And one would enter into God’s presence in the temple with songs and hymns of praise. Thus we see how our liturgy follows this pattern set by God in Leviticus, that of confession, absolution, sins forgiven and entrance into God’s presence.
Our entrance hymn celebrates the fulfillment of what was given by God in Leviticus. Certainly their worship pointed forward to Jesus and now our worship points back to Jesus. Just as they worshiped God in faith, looking to and believing that God would send a Savior, we worship in faith as well looking back and seeing that Jesus is our Savior. So our entrance hymn celebrates God’s victory in Jesus over sin, death and the devil. Our hymn of praise celebrated the glory of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, as well as His ascension wherein He has returned to heaven and is again ruling in all His glory.
What a great gift we have in our liturgy, in our divine service, the gift of God pointing us to Jesus and the forgiveness He has won for us, paid for and given to us, through our words, psalms, prayers, hymns and His Holy Word. Our liturgy helps us to focus, not on ourselves, not on things not promised or given by God, but on Him, on Jesus, on His means of grace, on the gifts He has to give. Yet, not only does our liturgy help us to focus on these things, because it is God’s Word, it is efficacious, that is it through the word of God we are given the gifts God has to give. And so we celebrate, we rejoice and give thanks to God for faith, forgiveness and life, saying, to Him be the glory for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Confessing, Jesus Is Lord - February 14, 2016 - First Sunday in Lent/Valentine’s Day - Text: Romans 10:8b-13

In our text for this morning Paul reminds us that we cannot confess something with our lips if it is not in our hearts. Paul does not say it, but I think we would all agree that there are times when we may try to confess something that is not in our heart (I believe they call it acting), but our actions give us away, because our actions speak louder than our words. We simply cannot confess with our lips what we do not believe in our hearts. Paul also reminds us that we cannot believe in something or for that matter, in someone, unless that faith comes from somewhere. In other words, our confession must first be put into our hearts before it can be on our lips and before it can be acted out in our lives. Paul tells us that what we confess is put in our mouth and in our hearts and that confession comes from the Word. This morning, by the power of the Holy Spirit working through the Word, that is, through the Word of Holy Scripture, we will come to be given that word that is put in our mouth and in our hearts so that we too may confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.
Our text begins by saying that “The word is near you.” The word that is translated “word” in our text is not the same word which is translated “Word” in John’s Gospel. You might remember that when John talks about, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God,” that the word John is using is the word “logos” which is used in reference to Jesus Christ Himself. The word which is translated “word” in our text for today is the word “rhema” which is used to mean the smallest unit of discourse, either spoken or written. This word is a reference, in particular, to the word of Holy Scripture.
Paul reminds us that the Word is a means through which the Holy Spirit works to give us the gifts God has to give to us. The Word is a means through which the Holy Spirit works to give us faith in our heart. The word of God, the Bible is a book that is different from all other books. The Bible is different from any text book, Math, Science, History, English, Social Studies and the like. The Bible is different from any other book, a novel, a short story, poetry and the like. All these other books may be good books. They may be good for getting an education. They may be good for a bit of escape from the world. They may even have good moral lessons, but they are not the same as the Bible. The Bible is a book with power. Every Bible comes with the extra feature of the Holy Spirit. No other book can do what the Bible can do. Many people have tried to read the Bible to disprove it, only to be given faith through it, this is why we say the Bible is efficacious, that it effects or does what it says. The Bible is the word of God given to us through which the Holy Spirit works to give us faith, forgiveness, life and salvation. It is a most precious word.
The word of God is that word which gives faith and that faith is what motives a confession with one’s lips. How can we confess what is not in our heart? The word of God gives faith, thus we are confessing what is in our heart, put their by God Himself through His Word.
There is something even more important about this particular confession than there is with all other confessions. This confess, that Jesus Christ is Lord, that Jesus Christ is Yahweh, that Jesus Christ is true God, is a saving confession. Certainly we can make many different confessions. We can confess that we have sinned, which we did at the beginning of this service and after which we hear words of absolution. We can confess that we are Americans. We can confess that we are members of St. Matthew Lutheran Church. Perhaps we have confessed our undying love for another person, but none of these confessions come close to the confession that Jesus Christ is Lord. The confession that Jesus Christ is Lord comes from our lips by way of our heart given to us by the Holy Spirit through God’s word, which highlights that importance of God’s word.
We see that heart and mouth go together. And, in our text, there are two more words that go together, they are the words faith and confession. Where there is no faith, there is no confession. We cannot confess what we do not believe. And conversely, where there is no confession, there is no faith. We cannot believe what we do not confess.
These two things, faith and confession go together and they come through means. They are not something we can get on our own. They are not something that we get immediately. In other words, they are not something that God, usually gives to us directly. I say usually, because God can do whatever He wants and if He wants He can give faith immediately, or directly, He can, after all, we do have the case of Paul being given faith immediately. Personally I do not know of any other instances in the Bible of anyone being given faith immediately. God’s usual way of working with us is mediately. In other words, God’s usual way of working with us is through a mediator of sorts, through means, namely the means of grace, His word, the Bible about which we have just been speaking and the sacraments, Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. And we might rightly add the Lord also comes to us through the means of our confession and absolution. The Lord works through these means to give us faith and to strengthen and keep us in faith. The Lord works through these means to give us forgiveness of sins and with forgiveness, we know we have life and salvation. The Lord works through these means so that we might confess with our lips what is in our hearts, that is that we might confess that we believe that Jesus Christ is Lord.
About faith, Paul tells us that faith is for all. There is no distinction of people. Jesus died for all people of all place of all times, this is called the order of redemption. Because Jesus died for all people, we are all equal in God’s eyes, equal as redeemed sinners, or as we have heard it says, we are equal as sinner/saints. Which begs the question, if faith is for all, then why are some not saved? Some are not saved because they refuse the faith which God has to give to them. Instead they look for a faith and confession in something or someone other than Jesus.
Paul’s struggle in his day was the thought that, maybe, the Jews have ownership of God and the Old Testament. Today Paul might just as well write to confront us and to remind us Christians that we do not have ownership of Jesus and the New Testament. Rather, Jesus Christ is the Lord of the Old and New Testament. Jesus Christ is Lord of all. We are not to “keep” the faith, we are to give it away. We are to share the faith with others as we boldly confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.
This morning we are reminded of the importance of the word, the message of salvation, the message of sins forgiven for Jesus’ sake. As we are reminded of the importance of the word of God, so we are reminded of the importance of getting the message out and the ways we bring people to hear the message. Here at St. Matthew we get the message out through our Sunday school and Bible class, through our divine service, through our Vacation Bible School as well as through our Mother’s Day Out program. We get the message out through our vocations, that is through our living lives as priests in the priesthood of all believers, offering our lives as living sacrifices for the Lord. We get the message out by always being ready to give an answer for the hope that we have in Jesus and the forgiveness of sins. Through our lives as well as through the means of grace we proclaim the good news of salvation. We can and we do talk about Jesus being the Light of the world. We talk about how Jesus is true God, who gave up all the glory that was His in heaven, took on human flesh and blood and became one of us, one of His creation. We talk about Jesus giving His life for ours on the cross. And we talk about His resurrection. We talk about the forgiveness of sins He pours out on us. We talk about the most important things of life, the things of our real eternal life in heaven. We teach the basics of what we need for our short time in this fast and fleeting world, and we teach the most important lessons of life, the lessons of faith and confession which is for the forever world of heaven.
Paul’s words in our text for this morning remind us of the importance of making using of the means of grace, the instruments or the ways in which Christ has of coming to us to give us all His good gifts and blessings. The means of grace are so important. To understand how important are the means of grace we need to understand that if we stay away from them, then we are refusing them and we are refusing the gifts that God has to give. When we stay away from the gifts God has to give we are in essence telling God, “No thank you, I do not need any more gifts, I have plenty, maybe next week.” “I have enough forgiveness Lord, I don’t need any more this week, maybe next time.” God’s Word is a must for us, not just at church, but at work, at school, in our homes and in all aspects of our lives. It is imperative that we make regular and diligent use of the Word of God in our homes, reading and hearing the Word which tells us of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection; reading and hearing the Word though which the Holy Spirit works to point us to the cross; reading and hearing the Word through which the Holy Spirit works to give faith, forgiveness, life and salvation.
All of God’s gifts and blessings are important. Unfortunately, when we absent ourselves from where He gives His gifts then we are refusing and rejecting the gifts and if we refuse and reject the gifts enough we will eventually lose them. Paul mentions the importance of the gift of faith. Faith is that gift which the Holy Spirit gives through Holy Baptism as well as through the Word. Faith is that gift which the Holy Spirit puts in our hearts. Faith is that gift which is an instrument which gives us the ability to confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.
And our confession is important. Our confession tells what is in our hearts, if we have faith or no faith. Our confession is as Paul says, “what saves us.” “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” So we rightly understand that if a person does not call on the name of the Lord, then they are not confessing His name, rather they are in reality refusing and rejecting His name, they are refusing and rejecting the gifts He has to give. A person will not call on the name of the Lord unless it is to confess His name.
Paul speaks well, and loud and clear to us this morning. “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” “because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” The word is here for you to come and hear. It is also in your Bible for you to read and hear. I would urge you to make use of the Word so that the Holy Spirit may give you faith, strengthening your faith, and give you life and salvation. To Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Invocation - Ash Wednesday - February 10, 2016 - Text: Matthew 28:16-20

This year during the season of Lent and all the way through Easter morning we will look at the various parts of our Divine Worship Service and my prayer is that we see how the various parts reflect God’s working in our lives; God’s giving His gifts to us, our being given to and our response of faith. The parts of the service will not necessarily be presented in the order of our service but will be presented in an order which will prayerfully give consideration to the day of Lent on which it is presented, as per example, the Lord’s Supper will be presented on Maundy Thursday, the evening in which our Lord gave us His Holy Supper.
This evening we begin, appropriately with the invocation. First and foremost the invocation is an invoking or inviting of our Lord to be a part of our service. And the invocation, God’s name, Father, Son and Holy Spirit should be a reminder of the means of grace of Holy Baptism and our own Baptism and initiation into the Holy Christian Church when God’ Name was put on us with the water, making us His children. Indeed at our Baptism we were given faith and forgiveness of sins, the Lord put His name on us marking us as His own dear child and our names were written in the Book of Life.
Way back in the beginning, yes, in Genesis, God begins to reveal Himself to us as a God who is three persons in one Godhead, or at least that is the way in which we describe what He reveals to us. In Genesis, at creation we are told that God created the world. The word God is in the plural, yet is translated in the singular, thus we know that our God is a plural God in a singular Godhead. In the New Testament Jesus tells us that He and the Father are one thus solidifying our understanding that we are not polytheistic, that is that we worship many gods, nor are we pantheistic that is that we worship a god who is in everything, but we are monotheistic in that we worship one God who reveals Himself to us in a plurality.
Just before He ascended into heaven, Jesus met with His disciples. The account went like this: “16Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. 18And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:16-20). One of the first things I find interesting in this text is the fact that we are told that some of Jesus’ own disciples who had been with Him for three years, listening to Him preach, watching Him do miracles, and having witnessed His death and resurrection, we are told that they doubted. Makes me feel pretty good about the times that I have some doubt.
Unfortunately this passage of Scripture has been mislabeled “The Great Commission.” As we look at this text I believe we should re-label it, “The Great Giving of Authority and Promise.” Notice that Jesus begins by saying that He has been given all authority, which was His and which He had given up when He took on human flesh and blood being born as a man, but what is implied is that He is giving this authority to us so that when anyone asks us, “by what authority do you say these things?” telling people of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, we might well say, by Jesus’ authority. And what is more, we have added at the end of this text Jesus’ promise that He will be with us. Thus we have His authority to speak and His promise to be with us when we do speak.
We have Jesus authority and promise to be with us as we are going about our lives, not an imperative, but an indicative, that is that as we are living in our vocations, as we have opportunity we are to give an answer, a defense of our faith in Jesus. Interestingly enough, Jesus tells us to make disciples by first baptizing and then teaching. And notice that we are to make disciples of all nations. Today we hear interesting language about how we are to make disciples of a certain target audience, but Jesus says our target audience is all nations. In other words, His Word and His Sacraments will work to give faith to all people. And notice as well, when a child is born they are born as a citizen of the nation in which they are born, thus another clue that we should be baptizing infants.
So, we are to make disciples by baptizing and teaching. We are to make disciples using the means our Lord has given us to use, those means through which He promises to work to give the gifts He has to give; faith, forgiveness and life. God’s promise is not that we are to make disciples by surveying the social group we intend to target, as a matter of fact He never gives us a target social group, except all nations. He does promise that His Word will not return void. He does promise that He is with us. He does promise that He will give His gifts when and where He pleases through the very means He has given to give His gifts. Thus, when we fail to baptize and teach, we fail to use the means through which God gives the gifts He has to give.
We might also make note, especially as we begin our service with this invocation that it is God who gives first. We come with nothing of our own, except our sins, which we will get to next week. We come with nothing because all that we are and have must first come from God. We love because He first loved us. We give only as He first gives to us. Naked we came into this world and naked we leave, all that we have is only ours as a gift from and on loan to us from God who owns all and gives all. God gives and we respond.
So, we begin our service as our life in Christ was begun, by having God’s name put on us, by invoking God to bless us and our service. We invite Him, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We invite Him as our dear Father, the Creator of all things, the Preserver of all things, indeed our own Father as our life is a gift from Him, as He gives life at conception. We invite Him as our spiritual Father as He gives new life, even eternal life through the waters of Holy Baptism.
God gives first and He gives His all and His best. God does not do fractions. He does not gives us some of His gifts now and more later. He does not put any restriction or qualifications on the gifts He gives, in other words He does not tell us if we are obedient or do our part, or do anything that He will do His next part or give any more of His gifts. He gives and we are given to. Certainly our only response would be to refuse and reject His gifts, which is what we would do left to ourselves. God gives and we are given to and we now invite Him to give to us and to fill us with more of His gifts
We begin our service by invoking, by inviting God to hear our requests and response of faith, thus we see an ebb and flow to our worship, our being given to by God and our response of faith through our prayers, offerings, and hymns of praise.
And notice, through the very words of our invocation, we make it very clear to whom we have come to worship, to whom we rejoice in, that One who is the One who is giving us the gifts and blessings He has to give. We do not come to worship just any god. We do not come to do for our God as if He needs anything from us. Rather we come and invoke and invite our God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to be a part of our service just as He is a part of our very lives and has been a part of our lives since putting His name on us, putting faith in our hearts, giving us forgiveness of sins and writing our names in the book of life at our own baptism.
We begin with the invocation which is a microcosm of our lives and our worship. We begin in the name of our God: Father, Creator, Preserver; Son, Redeemer and Savior; and Holy Spirit, Sanctifier and giver of faith, the One who does all and gives all. To Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

We Are His House - February 7, 2016 - The Transfiguration of our Lord/Last Sunday after the Epiphany - Text: Hebrews 3:1-6

Peter, James and John were privy to witness something the rest of the Apostles did not get to witness, at least not while on earth. Peter, James and John witnessed Jesus in all His glory and Peter’s response was, “Let’s build three houses.” Of course, we are let in on the fact that Peter did not know what he was saying and we might notice that James and John said nothing. And we know Peter, he says it like it is, no thinking, simply blurting out what is on his mind. Peter’s instinct was that this was a great, and you will pardon the pun, mountain top experience and as is the case with most such experiences, we do not want them to end so we want to find a way to keep them going. Peter’s thought, “Let’s build three houses,” so this will not have to end. So, this morning, we will focus our attention on looking at the building of at least one house. In order to build a house that will last, the first thing that must be built is the foundation.
In our other readings for this morning we get our foundation. In the Old Testament reading we have the account of the death of Moses. Moses was a faithful leader in Israel. He did not choose his lot to be such a leader and as we know of his life, his history, he was rather a reluctant leader making excuses and asking the Lord to send someone else. Perhaps this account has been chosen as our Old Testament reading for today because Moses shows up in our Gospel reading.
In our Gospel reading we have the account of the transfiguration of Jesus, the account of what marks our celebration of this day, this Sunday, Transfiguration Sunday. It must have been some sight to see, the transfiguration of Jesus, or as the Greek word literally says, the metamorphosis of Jesus. Jesus was morphed, that is He was changed so that the Apostles saw Him in His heavenly glory. Why this change? So that He might be able to consult with those who were already in their heavenly glory, Moses and Elijah, the great leader and law giver, and the great prophet of Israel.
In our text for this morning, we have words from the writer who, later in chapter eleven, recounts for us the great men of faith and in this text he gives us, what amounts to, a comparison of two great men of faith, Moses and Jesus. As for this man, Moses, he was a great man, especially by human standards we would say he was a great man. He was raised by the daughter of Pharaoh, king of Egypt. Certainly he attended the best of school, had the best teachers, and gained knowledge concerning everything that was known in his day. Later he continued his education while caring for sheep in the wilderness, giving him knowledge concerning life outside the protective confines of the kings castle.
More important than his education, was the fact that he was faithful. He was a faithful servant of the Lord. As we said earlier, he was reluctant, but he did lead and he did lead as the Lord commanded him to lead. Even while facing the adversity of the people he was leading he remained faithful to the Lord and to His leading. As a matter of fact, his faithfulness was seen in the glow of his face from his communing with the Lord.
And in essence, in one sense we might say that Moses “built” the children of Israel. They were slaves. They were in bondage. They were not wilderness nomads, but shepherds. They were not soldiers and fighting men, but workers. As Moses lead them out of bondage of slavery they had to learn how to live in the wilderness as well as how to be soldiers. Moses lead them, taught them, and even ruled them as prophet, priest and judge.
And finally, Moses brought them to the border of the promised land. But, of course you may remember, because of his own frailty and sin, because of his own doubt and disobedience, because he hit the rock instead of speaking to it, Moses was not allowed to enter the promised land, but he did bring the people to the point of entering into their promised possession. This is Moses, certainly a great man and a great leader.
Yet, the writer of Hebrews tells us that there is one greater than Moses and of course we would agree, that the one greater than Moses is Jesus. Moses was a great man, Jesus is our great high priest. Jesus is the one who hears and answers our confession, giving us forgiveness of sins.
Moses was faithful, reluctant, yet faithful. Jesus was faithful. He was not reluctant, but of His own will gave up the glory that was His in heaven in order to be born a man, in order to be our Savior. He actively obeyed all God’s laws perfectly. He actively fulfilled all God’s prophecies perfectly. He was faithful even to the point of death, death on a cross. He passively allowed Himself to be crucified and nailed to the cross. He came, freely. He lived perfectly. He freely obeyed all God’s laws. He freely fulfilled all God’s promises concerning Himself. He freely took our sins upon Himself. He freely was obedient, even obedient to death on a cross.
Thus, Jesus “built” the true “Israel.” To be a part of Israel is not something that one gains through a birth line, it is not a physical right or entitlement, it is not automatic, rather it is a gift that is given through faith and through faith in Jesus Christ alone. A true “Israelite” is not one by birth, but a true “Israelite” is one who has faith in Jesus alone. All believers, that is all who are members of the Holy Christian Church are true “Israelites.” You and I, those who have faith in Jesus Christ alone are true Israel.
Most of all, we see Jesus as greater than Moses, because, although Moses brought the Children of Israel out of their bondage of slavery in Egypt, Christ brings us out of our bondage of slavery to sin and ultimately He brings us to heaven, the greater promised land.
What does this mean? Today is Transfiguration Sunday. Today is the day we see Jesus in His heavenly glory while here on earth. We have been following along with Jesus’ life. We witnessed His birth, lowly, humbly, born in the small town of Bethlehem and placed in a manger. We witnessed the announcement to the shepherds as well as their visit to see the baby Jesus. We witnessed as the Magi from the East, led by God by the star, traveled many miles in order to be the first Gentiles to witness and worship the Christ Child, God in flesh, God incarnate, God in flesh made manifest. We witnessed Jesus’ presentation in the temple and we heard Simeon’s words professing that this was the Messiah who was promised of old. We witnessed Jesus’ baptism and heard the voice of God the Father pronouncing Jesus as His Son. We witnessed Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness and saw how He never gave in to Satan’s temptations and never sinned. And today we bear witness of the beginning of the end, at least the beginning of the end of Jesus’ earthly life. Wednesday is Ash Wednesday and marks the beginning of Lent. When Jesus comes down from the mountain He is ready to go to Jerusalem one last time, in order to be crucified.
The writer of Hebrews presents us with Jesus who is greater, even than Moses. The writer writes concerning the fact that the one who builds the house is greater than the house itself. As we have said, Moses helped to build the Children of Israel, but Jesus is the ultimate builder. Moses helped to build a people who, unfortunately, as we have been studying in Bible Class, time and again broke their covenant with the Lord, and even gave up their covenant. Their ultimate giving up of the covenant is seen in their rejection of Jesus.
Jesus came to fulfilled all the law and the prophets. And He did fulfill all the law and the prophets perfectly. At His transfiguration we have Moses, the giver of the Law and Elijah, the great and even the greatest prophet in Israel come down from heaven in order to make sure Jesus had accomplished and was accomplishing all that He came to accomplish. In essence, Jesus came to do what all the people of Israel could not do and to do what we cannot do. God’s command to Adam and Eve was to obey Him and not eat of the forbidden fruit, yet they failed, they disobeyed and ate. God’s covenant with the Children of Israel was that He would be their God and they would be His people. They were simply to believe in Him and obey His commands, yet they failed. Time and again they failed and ultimately at their rejection of Jesus they failed. God’s command to us is that we are to be perfect even as He is perfect, yet, time and again we fail. Daily we sin much and are in need of forgiveness. Daily we sin, not against just one commandment, but two, three and sometimes even all ten. As we confess, we sin in thought, word and deed. We sin sins of omission, not doing as we ought and sins of commission doing the things we should not. Indeed, our greatest need is not the physical comforts of this world, as God provides all that we truly need. No, our greatest need is forgiveness of sins. Without forgiveness we would be left in our sins and eternally lost and condemned, but with forgiveness is life and salvation. Not only does Jesus take care of all our physical, bodily needs, He has taken care of our greatest need, forgiveness of sins. And that is what He came to do and what He did.
Thanks be to God that Jesus has not, does not and never will fail. The very foundation of the Christians Church, the New Israel, if you will, is Jesus Christ Himself. As Peter confessed and as Jesus acknowledged His confession, Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God and on this confession, on Jesus Christ Himself God builds His Church. The covenant, first given in the Garden of Eden, first given even before there was a Jew and a Gentile, the first covenant given to all people continues even today. The covenant reiterated to the Children of Israel was broken, not by God, but the Israelites, meaning they gave up having a part in His covenant, at least the earthly part. The covenant that was first given and continues today continues to be a covenant of grace. Jesus makes us a part of His kingdom by grace, through faith. Jesus is the foundation of the House of the Holy Christian Church. Jesus is the one who has accomplished everything that needed to be accomplished. And He gives everything to us. Yes, the children of Israel were a great people, but the people of God, the people of Christ Jesus are even greater as He is the foundation, the chief cornerstone, and the Builder.
This morning we come and once again we witness something great. Truly we witness the greatest thing we can witness here on this earth. Every Sunday morning we are privileged to come and bear witness, not only of our Lord, through the witness of His Word and Sacraments, but we are also privileged to bear witness of our forgiveness and our salvation. Our reaction, each and every Sunday morning, might rightly mirror that of the Psalmist who spoke well when he said, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord!’” (Ps. 122:1). Or our reaction might mirror Peter’s reaction in our text, “Let’s build three houses,” “let’s not leave this place,” “Don’t make me go home.” My prayer for us all is that as the Lord has His way with us, our desire might be even more the desire of Peter, the desire to continue to be given the gifts the Lord has to give. To Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.