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, January 29, 2023

God’s Election of Unsophisticated People - January 29, 2023 - Text: 1 Corinthians 1:18-31 - Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

This morning we continue reading along through Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, as a matter of fact, the first verse of our text for this morning is the last verse from our text from last week, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (v.18).

In our Epistle lesson, Paul is writing to the Christians at the church in Corinth, and again, I remind you, that at the same time, by the power of the Holy Spirit, he is writing to us Christians here at St. Matthew Lutheran Church of Westfield, January 29, 2023. He is writing to you and me. A few verses before our text Paul express the concern and the fact, that outside of the church, that is, outside of faith in Jesus, the message of the cross is foolishness. Yes, Paul is writing to us today. Today we live in a world where tolerance is key to survival. Now, what that actually means is that is unless you appear to be tolerant, then no one is to be tolerant to you. Or as we in the Christian Church so well know, we are to be tolerant of everyone else, but no one needs to be tolerant of Christians. So much for tolerance. Have you ever noticed how the people who yell for tolerance the most are very often intolerant to those who are unlike them? Today we live in a world where we are encouraged to be our own people, to be original (like everyone else), to be your own person. We are encouraged to believe whatever we want to believe, as a matter of fact, it was not too long ago that an article in a newspaper, in the religious section enthusiastically spoke about people taking bits and pieces from several different religions and made their own religion, and this was presented as a good thing. And so, in our society today we are encouraged to do whatever we want to do, to be ourselves. The problem is, when the Christian, that is when you and I, come into contact with the rest of the world. Jesus tells us, and we believe Him, that He is the only way, the only truth and the only life and that apart from Him and faith in Him there is no salvation. So, when we express this fact to our tolerant society, we are seen as intolerant and foolish. Well, how would it be if the world acknowledged that the Christians were right? That would be devastating for them. No, we are considered foolish because the rest of the world does not want to give up living the way they want to live.

With that said, let us get to our text. In our text, Paul calls us to think about our own existence before we were called to faith. For many of us that was just before our Baptism and right after we were born, but for some that was when you were older. Paul says, that not many of us were wise, at least not by human standards. Today the human standard for wisdom is marked by tolerance and open mindedness. We are not considered wise because we cannot see past our own intolerance and praise others for their open mindedness and diversity. The world looks down on us and thinks, “if only the Christians could see and understand that there is an existence apart from Jesus. If only they could see how there are many paths to the same goal of eternal enlightenment.” Yes, according to the world, we are not considered wise.

Paul also calls us to think about our influence. The real word in our text is the word “power.” By human standards we are not very influential or powerful. Here again the words “tolerance, open mindedness, and diversity” are the words our world likes to hear. The world does not like to hear the words we speak from the Bible, “the (one) way, the (one) truth, the (one) life, eternal life.” And so, according to the world, we are not considered influential or powerful.

Paul calls us to think about our nobility. By human standards we are not noble. I would guess that Paul knew the people to whom he was writing, but even in our world today, there are not many people who are noble or for whom nobility is an issue any more. But, according to the previous standards, because we are not wise nor are we influential or powerful, we certainly could not be considered to be of noble birth.

“But,” Paul continues, and here I am wondering if he had not been reading the Gospel of Matthew, because in his Gospel, and our reading for today, Matthew gives what we call the beatitudes in which Jesus points out the difference in the way God sees things and the way the world sees things. And so, Paul also points out this difference. Paul says that God chose the foolish and weak to humble, that is to shame the wise and strong. First, notice who is doing the work, who is doing the action. As my favorite professor always put it, and as you so often hear me say, “who is running the verbs.” It is not we who are choosing God, but it is God who is choosing us. God has chosen us, those who are, at least according to the world, foolish and weak. In the beatitudes from Matthew’s Gospel we would add Jesus words, that God has chosen us who are poor in spirit, who mourn, who are meek, who hunger and thirst for righteousness. God has chosen those who acknowledge, confess and repent of their sins. As we often confess at the beginning of our services, “If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us, but if we confess our sins, God, who is faithful and just will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” If we are so high and mighty, if we think more highly of ourselves and believe we have no sins to confess, then we get no forgiveness, because failure to confess is gift refusal. That is how it is with the wise and strong of this world who think they have no sin. And actually this failure to confess is what tolerance is all about. Think about it. No one asks you to be tolerant of their good behavior. No, we are asked to be tolerant of one’s deviant, sinful behavior. Which means there is no confession, thus no forgiveness.

Paul continues by saying that God chose the lowly and despised. Here we are reminded of the difference between the way we and the world look at things and the way that God looks at things. When we and the world  look at things we are left to look at the outside. God looks at the inside, at the heart. Very often we have a hard time looking past the exterior of an individual, but God always looks into the heart.

Paul says that God chose the things that are not, the nobodies, to nullify the things that are. Here again we see the difference between the thoughts and wisdom of the world and the thoughts and wisdom of God. God looks into our hearts and sees us dirty, rotten to the core sinners, enemies of Him who are out doing all we can to run away from Him, turn others away from Him and give Him as much grief as possible. Yet, for us there is hope.

However, before we move on, let us put Paul’s words into how we might say this today. Today, Paul might say something like, “You see what happened, fellow Christians, when God called you, not many of you were wise or in positions of power or influence, nor were you famous, nor were you born of special parents, at least not according to the point of view of the world. Instead, God chose the foolish things of this world in order to put those who are worldly wise to shame. God chose the weak things of this world in order to put those who are worldly strong to shame. God chose the lowly things, the despised things, the nothing things and the nobodies of this world in order to do away with those things the world thinks are something.” By ourselves, left to follow the ways of the world, we would reject Jesus and we would be eternally condemned. By ourselves we would have no hope.

Thanks be to God that Paul is not done. He goes on to tell us why God did what He did. In telling us why God did what He did Paul also tells us how we are saved. God did what He did “so that no one may boast before Him.” We cannot boast about our coming to faith in Jesus. We cannot boast about our choosing Jesus as our Savior. We cannot boast about our dedication our lives to the Lord. We cannot boast about how good we are or how good we think we are or how we are good at being the people God would have us to be. We cannot boast about our obedience. All we can boast about is in what the Lord has done for us. We cannot boast because it is by God’s grace, through faith in Jesus Christ that we are saved. It is Jesus who gives us faith and He does that through His means of grace. It is Jesus who calls us to faith through the Word and the Sacraments. It is Jesus, who through the Word and the Sacraments comes to us to gives us His good gifts and blessings. Here we are  reminded of the importance of making regular and diligent use, every Sunday and every day, of the means of grace. But Paul is not done yet. Next he outlines the gifts of wisdom which Jesus gives.

Through the means of grace Jesus gives us the gift of righteousness. This is not our righteousness, for apart from Jesus we are left in our sins and we are completely unrighteous. By faith in Jesus, faith given to us, His righteousness, earned by His suffering and death, has become our righteousness. We are justified, that is we are made “just as if I’d never sinned,” in God’s eyes, simply by believing in Jesus and His death for us.

But there is more. By faith in Jesus we are given the gift of holiness. Here we understand that what happens after we are made just and right in God’s eyes is that the Holy Spirit comes into our lives in order to help us to do the good works which God has for us to do, which works are a part of our holiness, our sanctification, our continuing to grow in our Christian faith and life.

And still more, by faith in Jesus we are given the gift of redemption. To redeem something means to trade it. We have talked about the S & H Green stamps of old. You go to the store. For so many purchases you received so many stamps. Once you filled a book of stamps you would take it to the redemption center where you would trade your stamps for some merchandise. It is similar with us. Jesus traded His life, His blood, His suffering and dying for us, for our life, for our eternal life.

So, were is the boasting? There is no boasting. Oh, sure, we may boast, in that we rejoice and give thanks to God for His indescribable gifts. We may boast in the fact that it is God who chose us. It is God who put His name on us. It is God who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light. It is God who put His name on us at Holy Baptism. It is God who put faith in our hearts through His means of grace, His Word and His Sacraments. It is God who gives us faith, forgiveness, life and salvation. It is God who gives us the whole lot of His gifts and a whole lot more. Have you been noticing who is running the verbs?

Yes, we can boast but only in the Lord. And as we see, it is easy to boast in the Lord. To boast in the Lord means to take the I and me out of the subject line of all our sentences and to put in the name, Jesus. To boast in the Lord is to point to Him in all aspects of our lives. No matter how foolish to the world, no matter how weak or uninfluential it may seem to the world, no matter how lowly or despised, or anything it may appear to the world, we boast in living our lives through our thoughts our words and our actions, as we are living for the Lord.

Our God is a great and awesome God. Left to ourselves we would be lost in our own sin. We would be foolish, powerless, lowly and despised. But thanks be to God that He has come to us to call us out of the darkness of our sinful lives. He has called us to faith though His means of Grace. He has given us faith and He continues to strengthen and keep us in faith. Yes, we do boast in the Lord. To Him alone be all Glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, January 22, 2023

United in Christ - January 22, 2023 - Text: 1 Corinthians 1:10-18 - Third Sunday after the Epiphany

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, 2023. 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, and I guess I should rather say our so called “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 all areas of life, not just 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 as I have said many times 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 reasoning and understanding or do we subject ourselves to the authority 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 heterodoxy. 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 15, 2023

Called to Be Saints - January 15, 2023 - Text: 1 Corinthians 1:1-9 - 2nd Sunday after the Epiphany

Beginning this morning and for the next few Sundays as we working 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 2023. I believe if you listen closely to the issues Paul addresses 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. Indeed that is what grace is, gift. And gift is not something with anything attached. Grace is not I give to you and you give to me, but simply what God gives to us. Truly only God can give in such a way thus only God can give us, gift us His grace. And 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. And as I like to add, although we will still do so rather imperfectly.

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 own personal 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 you have heard me say so many times, so we are reminded again this week, we get it right when we 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 have heard many time. As we hopefully have heard, the mystery of Holy Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper, is how God can do such great things through simple earthly water and His powerful Word and name, and simple earthly bread and wine and His Word..

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 1, 2023

God’s Plan Is Not Coincidence - January 1, 2023 - First Sunday after Christmas - Text: Gal. 4:4-7

It was a cold night. You were on your way home from a friends house. It was late and the road seemed deserted. You had not seen a house or another car for miles. All of a sudden your tire blows, you swerve and find yourself in the ditch. You are not hurt, just a little shaken. You get out to survey the situation. Your mind is racing a hundred miles an hour as you see no way to move your car, and no house within miles. Behind you a car pulls up and stops. It is your neighbors who are on their way home. How relieved you are as you explain to them what happened. You all get in the neighbors car and marvel at the coincidence of the events that took place. I am here to tell you that it was not a coincidence. As a matter of fact, I do not believe in coincidence. God’s ways are not our ways. He works in our lives according to His plan and purposes. As I say that, however, let me remind you that God always has the best in mind for us in our lives. Pain, suffering, struggles, evil happen because we live in a sin filled world. Pain, suffering, struggles, evil happen because of sin. For God’s part, He always works to bring out the best in any and all situations. And the best may not always be what we perceive to be the best. Certainly we might not think of physical death to a very ill person as being the best, but in Godly terms, what is better than the perfect healing of eternal life in heaven? So, this story is not meant to suggest that God intends evil or “bad” things to happen, rather it  illustrates how God works good in our lives and so in our text this morning Paul explains the seeming coincidences of our salvation.

From the events at the end of the book of Malachi to the beginning of the events of the gospel of Matthew was a period of over 400 years. From the events of Genesis chapter three to Matthew chapter one was a period of over 4000 years. After Adam and Eve sinned in the garden of Eden in Genesis chapter three, God immediately promised to send a Savior. God’s promise was that the Savior would come and would crush Satan, while in turn He would be crushed, that is in completely defeating Satan, God would suffer death Himself. God did not attach a time to His promise. And as we know, God’s time is not our time. God’s plan was that at the right time, the time He had set, the time that all the events in history would be in the right place, this Savior would be born. Paul’s reference is that Christ’s birth, which we celebrated Saturday a week ago and last Sunday morning, and we will continue to celebrate until January sixth, His birth was at the right time, thus Christ Jesus was born. This was not a coincidence but was a part of God’s plan.

Joseph had to go to Bethlehem for the census of Caesar Augustus because he was a descendant of David, King David. Joseph was also a descendant of the line of promise of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Mary was pregnant at the time of the news of the census. You remember also that Mary’s relative Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist the fore runner, the way preparer of Jesus, was also pregnant at this time. That all these things were taking place and that Jesus was born at this time was not a coincidence, but was a part of God’s divine plan.

One other aspect of this fullness of time is that as Paul says in Romans [5:6-8] “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinner, Christ died for us.” God did not wait until we could work out our own salvation. He did not wait for us to become good people. It was not a coincidence that He came while we were sinners, as a matter of fact this is the reason He came. He came in the fullness of time, while we were sinners, because we are sinners, Because we cannot save ourselves.

Paul goes on to add that Christ was born of a woman. Something so obvious seems trivial, but Paul does not write to be trivial. Our Savior is our Savior because He was born of a woman. Only because He was a human being like us could He save us. Only because He was a human being could He be our substitute, trading His perfect life for our imperfect, sin filled lives. And, so that we do not go away mislead I must remind you that Jesus was also truly God, conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit as we confess in the Second Article of the Apostles’ Creed. He had to be truly God in order to be born in perfection, in order to fulfill the command of God to be perfect and in order to raise Himself from the dead. Before the time had fully come, at which time Christ became a man, He was true God with the Father and the Spirit in heaven enjoying all the glory that was His as God. When the time had fully come, when all of human history was at just the right point, when the nine months of gestation was completed, Jesus took upon Himself to be one of us, a human being. This was not a coincidence, but was part of God’s plan.

As a human being He was born under the Law, the civil law, the moral law and the ceremonial law. We remember that eight days after His birth His mother and father took Him to be circumcised and we remember that at the age of 40 days Mary and Joseph took Him to the Temple to offer the sacrifice to redeem the first born as prescribed by the Law. We remember that at the temple Mary and Joseph met Simeon and Anna. We remember that at the age of twelve Jesus went to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of the Passover. He followed all the Jewish Laws, perfectly. This was not a coincidence, but was a part of God’s plan. What the whole nation of Israel could not do; what we cannot do; Jesus did perfectly, for us, in our place. All that the ceremonial laws command, all that the ceremonial laws were intended to point to, Jesus fulfilled, completing and abolishing all the ceremonial laws so that they are no longer necessary. All this He did for us in our place because of His great love for us.

He did all of this to redeem us. Redeem, that is a big word. When I hear the word redeem, and some of you will understand this, I usually think of trading stamps. You might remember, the S & H Green stamps. You collect the stamps, paste them in a book and then take them to the “redemption” center where you redeemed them or “traded” them for some merchandise. Today, I would suppose people collect points on purchases, food points, and then “cash them in.” Perhaps we do not use the word “redeem” too much in our world today, but the word “redeem” is a good word a great word, to use for Christ’s work. However, Christ did not collect a bunch of trading stamps with which to redeem us. We have been born into this world in sin. Each of us is a sinner. We are conceived in sin and lost and condemned from birth. By ourselves we are lost. There is no way we can save ourselves. Just as a drowning person cannot save himself, and just as a dead person cannot bring himself back to life, so we cannot save ourselves. By God’s grace, His undeserved love for us, He sent His one and only Son born in the flesh for us. As God, Christ was born perfect. As man, Christ was born as one of us in order to save us. Christ lived the perfect life, under the Law, the perfect life demanded of us. He took our sins upon Himself, all our sins, our sins of thought, word and deed, our sins of omission and commission. He suffered, physically, mentally, spiritually and eternally and He died, suffering hell for us. By His suffering He bought us back, redeemed us from sin, Satan, death, and hell. He redeemed us, He traded, His life for ours, His death for ours, His resurrection for our. Purely by His grace for us, not as a coincidence, but as a part of His plan.

Because we are redeemed children of God, with the help of the Holy Spirit we cry out, “Abba! Father!” Paul is not making reference to some charismatic utterance with which we will respond. What he is saying is that because God has redeemed us, made us His sons and daughters, He has filled us with His Spirit through which we can call upon Him and worship Him. Our worship of God is not something we do of our selves and is not a coincidence, but is from God and is a part of His plan.

“So you are no longer a slave, but a son” (v. 7). A slave is subject to a master. In our case we were slaves to sin, ruled by our own sinful desires. Now, because we have been redeemed, we are no longer slaves, but God’s children. We are ruled by God, living our lives to please Him. It is not a coincidence that we live our lives for Him, this is a part of His plan.

In all His doings God made us His sons and daughters and heirs of the kingdom of heaven. He did it all. There is nothing left for us to do. As His sons and daughters, His children, we are His heirs. We are the one’s who are given to, that is we are given the inheritance of eternal life in heaven. So that at the right time, when our time has fully come, He will take us from this vale of tears, this earth, to be with Himself in heaven for eternity. This is not a coincidence, but this is a part of His plan.

The last two words of verse seven are very important. The last two words are “through God.” It is only through God and God in Christ that we are heirs of the kingdom of heaven. Paul expresses this same idea in Romans [8:15-17], he says, “For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs–heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” Through Christ, that is through faith in Christ we are heirs. Through Christ we share in His suffering, death, and resurrection. Through Christ we are redeemed, bought back and made heirs. Through Christ we share in His glory in heaven not by coincidence but by God’s plan.

That you are here today, that you are a redeemed child of God is not a coincidence. As Paul says in First Timothy, “This is good, and pleases god our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth [1 Tim. 2:3-4].” God has chosen you. He has sent His one and only Son to die for you and to rise for you. It did not just happen but is a part of God’s plan. Thanks be to the Lord for He is good for His mercy endures forever. To Him alone be the glory, for Jesus’ sake, Amen.