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.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Christ as Prophet - First Wednesday in Advent (Midweek 1) - December 4, 2019 - Text: LSC #125

This year our theme for Advent is Christ as God/man, Prophet, Priest and King. This week we will look at Jesus as our Prophet, next week Jesus as our King, the following week Jesus as our Priest. For Christmas Eve we will take up the them of Christ as God and then finally on Christmas morning we will talk about Jesus as man. In order to help us with this theme we go to our catechism and under the question, “For what threefold office was Christ anointed?” we have the answer, “Christ was anointed to be our Prophet, Priest, and King.” This evening we want to look in particular at the first response, that of Christ as our Prophet and again the catechism tells us, “A. As Prophet, Christ: 1. preached personally during His life on earth, validating His word with miracles, especially His own resurrection; Deut. 18:15; Matt. 17:5; Mark 1:38; John 1:17-18; John 6:68; 2. through the preached Gospel today still proclaims Himself to be the Son of God and Redeemer of the world. Mark 16:15; Luke 10:16; 2 Cor. 5:20.”
The promise of a Messiah was first given in Genesis. Let me set the stage. In the beginning God created all things, out of nothing. Then, on the sixth day, after creating all the animals God set out to create the crown of His creation, human beings. Human beings were created different from the rest of all creation in that man was formed out of the dust of the ground and then God breathed into him the breath of life and man became a living being, with a body and a soul. Soon afterward God created the woman from the rib of the man in order to be a helper suitable for him. And up until this time everything was good and even very good, meaning everything was perfect. Again, please notice that after God had completed all His creation everything was good and even very good, again meaning everything was perfect. When we move from God’s hand of creation, from God running the verbs, as we say, to the account of the humans doing the doing, then we move to the fall into sin and the ruin of creation. However, even though God’s creatures, humanity, brought sin, death and destruction into the world, God continued to show His love, care and concern. Immediately after man fell into sin, God intervened and promised to take care of what man broke, to send a Savior, a Messiah. We read this promise in Gen. 3:15, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”
Later God reiterated His promise and expanded it when Moses announced to the people, “15The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen—16just as you desired of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.’ 17And the Lord said to me, ‘They are right in what they have spoken. 18I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him’” (Deut. 18:15-19). God would send a Savior who would also be a prophet.
Although God waited some 4500 years from the time He first made His promise to fulfill His promise, yet He did fulfill His promise. In Bethlehem of Judea God fulfilled His promise. To a young woman, a virgin and to her betrothed husband, God sent His Son to be born. This Child was like all other children in that He was truly a human child, but He was different in that He was also the Son of God, that is He is truly God as well.
Up until He was about thirty years old and began His earthly ministry, we hear only about Jesus’ birth and about His trip to Jerusalem and to the temple at the age of 12.
After reaching the age of thirty Jesus began His public ministry. It was in what was perceived to be His hometown of Nazareth that we hear of Him as not only the Messiah, but also as a prophet. As Luke tells us, “16And [Jesus] 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. And they said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” 23And he said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Physician, heal yourself.’ What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.” 24And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. 25But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, 26and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. 27And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” 28When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. 29And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. 30But passing through their midst, he went away” (Luke 4:16-30). Of course, a prophet is not simply one who foretells of future events. A prophet is also one who proclaims the Word of God.
And finally, at about the age of thirty-three, after three short years of work, in Jerusalem Jesus does what He came to earth to do. There, just outside the city gates, Jesus is nailed to a cross in order to die and in so dying He paid the price for all sins of all people of all places of all times, including your sins and mine, once and for all.
Today Jesus continues to be our Savior and Prophet, yet He no longer comes to us immediately, rather, today He comes to us through means, mediately, through the read Word, in other words, as the Word of God is read to us every Sunday morning, and Wednesday evenings, Jesus speaks to us through this Word, as He speaks to us individually as we read His Word.
Jesus is our Savior and Prophet as He comes to us through His Word, that is as He comes to us through the preached Word. Here we understand that a Pastor cannot improve on the Word of God, and so his proclamation of the Word of God is the Word of God only and in so far as what He proclaims is the Word of God. Which reminds us as Pastors to preach the Word and then to sit down and be quiet.
Jesus is our Savior and Prophet as He comes to us through Holy Baptism. Through water and the Word of God, namely His name, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Jesus comes into our hearts, gives us faith, gives us forgiveness, writes our names in the book of Life, and gives us eternal life.
Jesus is our Savior and Prophet as He comes to us through the Lord’s Supper. Through bread and wine and the Word of God, Jesus comes to us to give Himself for us to eat and drink. Very much like the Old Testament sacrifice, as the spotless lamb was present to be slaughtered, burnt on the altar and then eaten by the family, so Jesus presented Himself as our spotless lamb who went to the cross to be crucified and now comes to us as we eat His body and drink His blood through this most Holy Meal of the Lord’s Supper. And through this meal as through all His means of grace, our Lord gives to us faith, strengthening of faith, forgiveness of sins, life and salvation.
Jesus is our Savior and Prophet as He comes to us through confession and absolution. As we confess our sins and hear those most beautiful, most precious words, “I forgive you all your sins,” then we know we have just what those words say we have, forgiveness of sins and with forgiveness comes life and salvation.
What does this mean? First, God the Father promised it. And we know that whatever God promises, He brings to completion.
Second, Jesus fulfills it. Jesus is one with the Father and so He fulfills the promises He makes that is He came not only to live for us, to do all that things we are supposed to do but are unable to do, but also to pay the price for our sins, to suffer the eternal death penalty of hell for us in our place.
And third, the Holy Spirit gives us faith in Him. The work of the Holy Spirit is to motivate us, to stir in us and to work in and through us to live lives of faith, doing the good works which God has prepared in advance for us to do. And they are good works because they are done to His glory.
Thus we see, Jesus is our Messiah and our prophet, not only as He came during His life, but also as He continues to come to us and for us today. To Him be the glory for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Are You Ready? - December 1, 1019 - First Sunday in Advent - Text: Matthew 24:36-44

Did you read the headlines? It’s coming. The news is all over. There are even billboards that talk about. It’s coming. I do not know about you, but I want to be ready, because I do not want to miss it. I suggested this to someone the other day and their response was, “Miss it? Are you kidding? No one will miss it. This is one of those ‘once in a lifetime’ things that no one would dare miss.” Well, I thought that is true, but I still want to be ready.
I was talking with Mrs. Jenkins the other day. I was explaining to her the fact that it was coming and I did not want to miss it. I was doing everything I could to get ready. Her response set be aback somewhat and got me to thinking. She said she was not sure if they would be ready. Then she went on to tell me about what all was going on in the life of their family. Their oldest son, Tommy, he is the one who is a senior this year, he is doing a lot of extra work, writing letters and applying to the various colleges he hopes to attend. That fact, along with his school work and all the other activities involved in his senior year keep him pretty busy and her, too, for that matter. She then brought up her second child, Allison, she is the one who is a freshman this year, she has a lot of adjusting to do, moving out of Jr. High, just getting into high school and following in her older brother’s footsteps. It is not so bad for her, though, being a girl it is not as hard as if she were the second brother, that was what she was saying. She said that Allison wants to get involved with sports as well as drama and to add to it, she will be wanting to get started on driver’s education. That really is not until next year, but she wants to get going as soon as possible.
I stopped her at this point and said, “My it does seem like you are pretty busy,” but then she started up again. “And you know there is our youngest, little Harvey, Jr.” She explained that even though he was just going into fifth grade, he demands a lot of time as well. He is involved in soccer as well as tennis and swimming. “Quite an athlete,” she called him. “He thinks he has to keep up with his older brother and sister,” she said. “And,” she then went on to explain about all her husband was involved with as well, such as too many hours at work, meetings at church, travel for business and the like. Finally, she even told me about her busy schedule, the parent teacher meetings, the clubs of which she was a member and all that went into keeping her “girlish” figure. Finally she said, “I do not know how we will make it. I wonder if it is really worth all that it is made out to be.”
After we parted company I began to think, she really has a lot on her plate. I wonder if it is all necessary. I know the Jenkins family is a Christian family, at least they are members of our church. Maybe she just does not realize how important this is. All I could think of was that this poor family is so busy they are all going to kill themselves.
Later I met up with Mary Ann as I was on my way to church. Mary Ann was all excited. You see, she had just gotten engaged. She told me how much planning and preparation went into a wedding, “at least into a wedding which was to be done right,” those where her words. I never realized. She was telling me how you have to book the church and the hall, at least a year in advance. There were the invitations to select and order, the guest list to make out, the menu to choose for the reception, and the honeymoon, so many places to choose from, but again, the reservations had to be made well in advance. I asked her if she was getting ready, because it was coming. She told me she had seen the headlines and had noticed the billboards, but she had not given it much thought, just too much other stuff to do. The way she talked, it was almost as if she did not believe it was coming. Here again, all I could think of was that this poor young lady is so busy she is going to kill herself.
Well, I do not have to tell you, but by this time I was getting a bit discouraged. Was I the only one who was excited about it? Did I miss something? How could so many other things be as exciting or as important as this? But my enthusiasm continued. I met Grandma Perkins after church. She was excited. She told me that she was getting ready. Nothing was going to stand in her way for this. She told me that she had been looking forward to it for many years. “You know,” she said to me, “I cannot believe that there would be anyone who would not be excited.” I did not want to put a damper on her enthusiasm, so I did not mention anyone I had been speaking with before.
Finally, I went home, somewhat discouraged. For my devotion that evening I opened my Bible and I read these words, “As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left. Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him” (Matthew 24:37-44). Slowly it began to dawn on me. Slowly it all began to make sense to me. Jesus is talking about us, today.
Christmas is coming. We are in the season of Advent. The liturgical color is blue, the color of hope. The Advent wreath has been put out. We have decorated the church and the Christmas tree. I do not know about you, but Christmas has always been an exciting time of the year for me. Unfortunately, I believe that we too often run off barreling ahead of ourselves and we forget about Advent. Advent is the time we take to get ourselves ready, it is the time of preparation. How can we be ready if we do not get ourselves ready? Mary Ann was telling me how much time she needed to get ready for her wedding. If I understand my history right, it took God some 4500 years to get everything ready for the first Christmas, for Jesus’ birth and entrance into the world. And here we take just three or three and a half weeks to get ready for this monumental celebration. How can that be enough time to get ready? Now do not get me wrong, I am not talking in terms of getting ready for our Christmas celebration in terms of getting presents purchased and wrapped, getting the house decorated and the like. What I am talking about is getting our hearts and minds in the proper frame of mind. But it is coming, whether we are ready or not, our celebration of Jesus’ birth on Christmas morning is coming.
Yes, Christmas is coming and we need to be ready, but do you know what? Something even more important is coming as well, or rather I should say, someone more important is coming. Jesus is coming. We talked about that at the end of the church year and here at the beginning of the church year we talk about it some more. Jesus is coming. The old “Hide and Seek” game cry comes to mind. You remember the call, “Ready or not, here He comes.” And that is a fact. Whether we are ready for His second coming or not, when it is time, He will be here. He has been planning this for about 2000 years now. Again, Mary Ann and her wedding come to mind. So much planning involved in getting ready for a wedding. God has done so much planning in getting ready to come for His Bride, the Church, that is, us.
I do not know about you, but I know I want to be ready and so I know that I need to spend time in getting ready. No, I am not going to quit my job or anything like that, but I am going to make a better effort at doing what I need to do to make sure I am ready. Perhaps Paul’s words to us are words we should take seriously, that is that we should put off those things which entangle us in this life. Perhaps we need to take a look at our own priorities and see if these things with which we are busying ourselves are worth the price. Or if they are busying us to death. Sometimes I like to put things into an eternal perspective. Sometimes that is the only way I can make sense of this world. Of course, the eternal perspective is the fact that compared to eternity, millions of billions of years, our life on this earth is but a snap of the fingers. So, what is important is our life is the world to come and that is something we would not want to miss.
Well, I am glad for the fact that even if I am not completely ready, at least Jesus was ready. It took God 4500 years to get things ready, but when the time came, Jesus was ready. He was ready to be born and placed in a manger. He was ready to be born of humble parents. He was ready to be born in literal obscurity, even if He was visited by some shepherds and later by some Kings. I do not know if His life was any easier or less busy than ours, but I do know that He came for one reason and one reason only. He came for you and for me. We may not know a lot about His early life, other than His birth, His visit by the Magi, His trip to Jerusalem at the age of twelve and then we pick up His life at His baptism, at the age of thirty. He was a busy man. He walked over one hundred miles from one end of His mission territory to the other and possibly some thirty to sixty miles east and west. In other words, He covered from three to six thousand square miles of territory by foot, and He did it all in three years.
Jesus came with one purpose in mind and He never lost His focus from that purpose. Neither was He too busy for the people. He always had time to teach and to preach, to heal and to cast out demons and He always made time to pray. On the day of worship His usual routine was to be in His Father’s house. Like I said, He came for one purpose and that purpose was to do for us what we are unable to do, He came to live for us. And He did. He lived perfectly, for us, in our place. And then, wonder of wonders, He took all our sins upon Himself, our sins of busying ourselves with the things of this world instead of the things of His Kingdom. Our sins of putting other things ahead of divine service, reading His Word and prayer. He took all ours sins upon Himself and He suffered and died for them. He paid the price, the cost, the wage of what our sins earned, for us. He suffered the eternal death penalty for us in our place.
After His death and burial, He rose. Death and the grave had no hold over Him. He rose from the dead and before He ascended into heaven He promised that He would return. He is going to return. Mark my words. Just like He kept His first promise to come to this earth to save us, so He will keep this promise to return. And when He returns, it will be to gather us, those He has made ready, those who have faith in Him, and He will take us to be with Himself in heaven. He will come to take us, His Bride, the members of His Holy Christian Church, of which we are members by His grace through faith which He gives to us and strengthens us and into which He keeps us through His Word and Sacraments, to be with Himself in heaven. He is coming and through His means of Grace He gets us ready for His coming. He gets us ready and He keeps us ready. So that when He comes and He is coming, He will come to take us, you and me, to be with Himself in heaven, forever, and ever. It’s coming. He is coming. And by God’s grace, we are ready. Amen.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Blessings - November 27, 2019 - Thanksgiving Eve - Text: The Apostle’s Creed and Explanations

God gives and we are given to. God gives first. He is the prime mover. In the beginning God created all things out of nothing. Nothing exists that has not been made by God. Thus, even we who are His creation have been given to by Him. We have been given life at conception, new life through Holy Baptism, even eternal life earned and paid for by Him. As Dr. Martin Luther so well states in each of his explanations of the three articles of the Apostles’ Creed that God’s gives. God has created me. “He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them. He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life. He defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil.” It is Jesus “who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death,” The “Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers. On the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ.”
As we said, God gives, and we are given to. God has created all things out of nothing so that all that is has been created and given to us by God to use in service to Him in His Kingdom. Certainly we understand that although in the beginning God created all things prefect and holy, because of man’s sin, we now live in a world that is under the curse of that sin so now all things are not perfect, but are imperfect. Yet, all things have their origin in God.
God gives. God gives life at conception. Along with life God gives us all our senses: hearing, taste, touch, sight, smell. God gives us a house and a home as well as clothing and shoes, meat and drink, wife and children and all that we have, all that we need to support our body and life. God even gives us each our vocations, that is those roles in life through which we serve Him by serving others, such as husband or wife, mother or father, carpenter or miner, banker or lawyer, doctor or plumber. All these vocations are given by God as He gives each of us gifts, talents and abilities to perform the various works of service in each vocation.
To understand how God is the prime mover, the beginning, the middle and the end in all giving to us, let us focus in on and trace how God gives using one physical item from God, that of food and in particular the food of oatmeal as our example. From where does oatmeal come, other than off our pantry shelf. Normally we purchase our oatmeal from the grocery store. But, what does it take for the grocery store to have oatmeal on the shelf. In order for a Grocery Store to function properly it must have an owner who must hire workers who stock the shelves as well as sell the items and keep the store clean and running.
In order to stock the store there needs to be trucks which deliver the goods to the store from the warehouse which must also have a staff of employees to make sure the warehouse is properly stocked to fill the orders from the stores.
The warehouse gets its goods from the factory which produces the products it sends to the warehouse to be distributed to the stores to be sold to the consumer. The factory must have a staff of workers as well as the right equipment and packaging to produce and package the product. The equipment must be built and maintained in order for the factory to function properly, and the packaging must be available to appropriately distribute the product. Both the equipment and the packaging call for their own set of subroutines to function properly. And the factory must have workers to run the equipment.
The factory needs raw materials and in the case of oatmeal, the factory must purchase the oats it uses to make oatmeal from the farmer. The farmer must have good seed to plant as well as fertilizer and other farm equipment, workers, water and so forth to grow a good crop of oats. Ultimately the farmer depends on God for good weather and a good growing season in order to produce a good crop of grain.
Indeed the Lord blesses us with oatmeal and all we need through the labor and vocations, the gifts, talents and abilities of many workers, and yet we see it all begins and ends with the Lord.
God gives, and we are given to. God gives us all that we need for the support of our bodily lives, all we need, not necessarily all that we may want, because we can always want more. And yet, God gives even greater gifts. His greatest gifts are His spiritual gifts, those gifts and blessings that are given, freely given and that give eternal life. Very often we speak of the fact that God in Jesus rescues us from sin, death and the power of the devil. We speak of the fact that Jesus’ life, suffering, death and resurrection defeated sin, death and the devil. We speak in terms of Jesus giving us the strength to resist the unholy three of the devil, the world and our own sinful flesh. We speak of the fact that God gives faith, forgiveness of sins, life in this world, eternal life, salvation, strengthening of faith and so on. So, the question we might ask ourselves is this, “How does God give us these gifts and blessings?”
The answer to “How does God gives us these gifts and blessings?” is that He gives them through external means, in particular through the Means of Grace: the Holy Word of God, Holy Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, Confession and Absolution. God’s usual way of working with us, of giving to us is through means. God’s unusual way is directly. Now certainly we know that after Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension, after the day of Pentecost God gave His apostles the ability to perform signs and wonders, to do miracles, and this ability was given as confirmation to attest to the words they were proclaiming. Yet, as the apostles died, so did the ability to do such signs and wonders.
Again, God’s usual way of coming to us and giving to us today is external, through means. His unusual way is internal, directly. To direct one internally, that is to direct a person to look inside himself to find the answers to life’s questions leads either to despair because all we find inside ourselves is a sinful nature, or it would lead to self and works righteousness because a person might actually believe s/he could live by the demands of the law which, according to our conceived and born in sin nature, is impossible. And so we are directed to look outside ourselves. We are directed to the external means of grace. It is through the very means of Grace, the very means of God’s Word, Holy Baptism, the Lord’s Supper and Confession and Absolution that God gives faith, forgiveness, life and salvation.
Paul encourages us saying, “Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says ‘Jesus is accursed!’ and no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit 1 Corinthians 12:3). Notice that Paul does not encourage us to look inside ourselves, rather his words are an encouragement to look outside ourselves to look to God the Holy Spirit. It is God the Holy Spirit who works externally through the means of His Word and Sacraments, in particular Holy Baptism to give us faith and to stir in us to say that Jesus is Lord.
Our doctrine, what we believe, teach and confess, determines our practice, how we live out what we believe. As momma used to say, “Practice what you preach.” So, how does our doctrine look when we say that God gives His gifts through means? First and foremost God gives faith, and the faith He gives He usually gives soon after birth through the waters of Holy Baptism when water and His name are put on us. It is through these simple ordinary means that God does great and extraordinary things, namely giving us faith, forgiveness of sins, and writing our names in the Book of Life.
If we were not baptized and given faith as a child, certainly God works through the means of His Holy Word. The Holy Spirit working when and where He pleases and He works through our reading and hearing of the Word of God to give faith, forgiveness and eternal life.
Jesus purchased and won forgiveness of sins on Calvary. He distributes that forgiveness through His Word as well as through Confession and Absolution. When we confess our sins we hear the most beautiful words in the world, “Your sins are forgiven.” Those are the most beautiful words in the world because with sins forgiven we know we have life and salvation. And yet, God also distributes His forgiveness through Holy Baptism and through His Holy Supper.
If we were to be pointed inward, to look inside ourselves, to look internally for the gifts of God, we would live life looking for some inward sign, some manifestation of, perhaps being “slain” in the spirit, being able to do signs, wonders, even miracles. We would be disappointed, even in despair if we were not seeing such inward manifestations thinking that we are doing something wrong. Our worship service would be a time for spiritual manipulation, a time to be worked into a frenzy until we might “feel” something, even anything that would make us “feel” like we have been given something from God. Certainly to have an inward focus would mean pointing to ourselves, and the bottom line is that then we would be our own gods and idols.
Focusing on the means of grace looks like Divine Service, that is it looks like God’s service to us, first and foremost, and second would be our response of faith. Focusing on the means of grace means being reminded of our Baptism usually through an invocation. It means confessing our sins and hearing the words of absolution, wherein and through which the gifts of forgiveness are distributed and given to us. It means hearing God’s Word read and expounded. It means speaking back to God the very words He has given us to say through the words of the liturgy, not some man-made bit of pomp and circumstance, some rhyming poem or ode, but speaking God’s Word. It means being given God’s gifts through His Holy Supper wherein we partake of our Lord, participating in His life, death and resurrection. And it means concluding the service with God having His name put on us again.
Notice how our doctrine informs our practice which teaches our doctrine. Notice how God’s gifts are distributed through our practice which flows out of our doctrine. Notice how these all tie together and are the very means through which our Lord gives to us the gifts and blessings He has to give.
So, how are these gifts and blessing from God shown forth in our lives? Paul speaks of these gifts and blessings showing forth in what he calls the fruits of the spirit which he lists in his letters, especially as we read in Galatians. “16But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.  24And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. 26Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another” (Galatians 5:16-26).
Notice that Paul first speaks of the opposite of the fruits of the spirit by outlining the desires of the flesh. Certainly we can get a better grasp of the positive when set out against the negative. Notice that Paul shows us how the fruits of the spirit flow from the gifts of the spirit. It is faithfulness that flows out of the faith given by God through the means of His Word and Sacraments. It is love and forgiveness flowing out of God’s love for us and His first forgiving us.
When you plant a fruit tree, you take care of it, cultivate it, fertilize and water it. After a while you expect to harvest the fruit of that tree. Likewise, as our Lord has given us all the gifts and blessings He has to give; both physical: clothing and shoes, house and home, meat and drink, family and friends; and spiritual; faith, forgiveness, life and salvation; and as He continually cultivates, takes care of, feeds and waters us with even more gifts, the result is fruits of the spirit. Fruits of the spirit are those ways Christians, given to by God, show forth the faith that is in their hearts.
  God called each one of us to life at conception. He calls us to faith through Holy Baptism. He calls us to live lives of faith what we call our vocation, using the gifts, talents and abilities in service to Him by serving others. He calls some men into the Office of Holy Ministry. As the Lord has called us and as He pours out His gifts and blessings on us, our response of faith is to live and serve in our vocations as priests in the priesthood of all believers. The work of a priest is to offer sacrifices, and so our work is to offer our lives as living sacrifices to the Lord with His help and to His glory.
How does this look in real life? It looks like faith and doctrine, what we believe, teach and confess, in action. Evangelism or better said, Lutheran Evangelism is basically one living one’s vocation always being ready to give an answer for the hope one has in Jesus, and that answer is given by God through one’s making regular and diligent us of the means of grace so that the Holy Spirit uses God’s Word to bring others to faith so they too might be a part of His kingdom and live in Godly vocations as well.
In summary, or in other words, God gives life. God gives faith. God gives all we need to support our body and life, physically and spiritual. God gives through means, both physical blessings and spiritual blessings. As we partake of the physical blessings, we grow in our body. As we partake of the spiritual means of grace, making regular, whenever offered, and diligent, taking God’s Word seriously, use of the means of grace, our Lord works through those means to give us the words we will speak when asked of the faith and hope that we have as we live lives as priests in our vocations. God gives, and we are given to. Today, tomorrow, and always we are to give thanks to God for all His good gifts and blessings. To Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

He Will Turn (Restore) the Hearts - November 17, 2019 - Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 28) - Text: Malachi 4:1-6

As we approach the end of the Church year, next week is the last Sunday in this current church year, so our readings turn our attention, our hearts and our minds to thoughts of the end times, the return of Jesus and the day of judgement. When Jesus first came to earth as a human, as God incarnate, His coming was some 4000 years after the first promise and unfortunately, too many people either missed His coming or simply could not and would not believe in Him. Now, as Jesus Himself tells us, as in the days of Noah, as in the days of Sodom and Gomorrah, so it is today, people are going about their lives oblivious to the fact that the end is coming and so today, as we have only waited some 2000 years since Jesus’ promise to return, too many people are oblivious to His eminent return, or simply do not believe He will return during their life time, thus they are eating and drinking, marrying and being given into marriage, thinking that this life will go on. When Jesus returns, and I believe that His return will be soon, sooner than we know and sooner than we might expect, we will be unable to say, “Hey, I wasn’t ready, I didn’t know.”
The day of the Lord’s return is coming. We begin at verse one of our text, “1For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. 2But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. 3And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the Lord of hosts” (v. 1-3). The Lord, speaking through the prophet Malachi warns us of the day of judgement. On the day of judgement, the believers will be judged to heaven or as Malachi says it, “the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings.” And the unbelievers will be judged to hell or as Malachi states it, “you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet.”
But notice what Malachi does not say. He does not tell us the day nor the hour of the Lord’s return. He does not give us this information, because He wants us to be ready at all times. He does not want us to be wasting our time up until the day or the day before His return, but His desire is that we are ready and that we work to get others ready as well.
Malachi continues encouraging us to remember the Law. Picking up at verse four, “4Remember the law of my servant Moses, the statutes and rules that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel” (v. 4). We are to remember the law of Moses, the Ten Commandments and we are to obey them. Obedience is important, but not simply for the sake of obedience. Obedience will not save anyone for the simple fact that we cannot be perfectly obedient and that is because we are conceived and born in sin so we are born in imperfection with a sin tainted will and so we cannot be obedient. Yet, Malachi encourages us that with the Lord’s help we are to strive for obedience.
We know that true Godly obedience flows out of a response of faith. It was Jesus who came to earth, God in flesh, who lived for us, being perfect for us, being perfectly obedient for us, in our place and then taking our sins and paying the price for our sins on the cross. Jesus’ work, His life, His living for us, being perfectly obedient for us in our place because we cannot, this work is what stirs in us a response of faith to strive to be obedient, even if it is an imperfect obedience.
Finally, God, through Malachi tells us that He will send Elijah. Picking up at verse five, “5Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. 6And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction” (v. 5-6). There are many of the Jewish faith today who continue to look for the coming of Elijah. Yet, Jesus Himself tells us that John the Baptist came in the spirit and power of Elijah, thus, John the Baptist, in the spirit and power of Elijah, did appear “before the great and awesome day of the Lord.”
John’s appearing ushered in Jesus’ appearing. Jesus’ coming ushered in the end times. Jesus birth was the signal that we are now living in the last days. So, God waited some 4000 years before fulfilling His first promise to send a Savior and now He has waited some 2000 years and has not yet sent Jesus the second time. Does this mean He will wait another 2000 years or even 1000 years? We do not know, all we know is that Jesus has ushered in the end times and so we are living in the end times. We are living in the last days of this world. And please understand that to be living in the last days of this world can mean either that the Lord will return, or perhaps even more sure is the fact that we will pass on from this world and we will meet the Lord. Either way, the Lord’s return or our passing will be our last day and the day we will meet the Lord and stand before Him for our own judgement. And as I continually remind you, that day will be sooner than we know and sooner than we might imagine, thus we are to be ready.
John the Baptist came preparing the way for Jesus. Jesus came as the Messiah. The awesome day of the Lord was that day in which Jesus took our sins upon Himself and suffered and paid the price for our sins. Jesus died the eternal death penalty of hell for us in our place. Jesus died but He did not stay dead, but rose so that He is alive.
Now, today, only those who believe in Jesus will be saved. This exclusive claim is why we Christians are so hated by the rest of the world. But think about it this way, if there are many ways to heaven, then Jesus was a lunatic, because why would He go through what He went through, suffering and dying, if there were many ways to heaven? Or, Jesus is the Messiah. The law of non-contradiction tells us that all the religions of the world cannot be true because they contradict each other. So, we are either saved by Jesus, or we are not.
What does this mean? Our lessons for this morning remind us of what is important in life, that we are to be ready at all times for Jesus’ return. Jesus will return. Just as God kept His first promise to send a Savior, and even though He took 4000 years to keep His promise, He did keep His promise, so He will keep His promise to return and even though we have waited only 2000 years so far, that does not mean He will wait another 2000 years. And should He tarry beyond our own life, the fact of the matter is we will pass on from this world, we will die and when we die we will stand before the Lord. So, again I will remind you, either way, when we die or when He returns, we will meet the Lord and stand before Him to be judged at the end of the world.
As we approach the end of the church year, as every year, we are reminded that the end will come, sooner than we know and sooner than we might imagine. We are reminded that the most important thing for us in this world in this life is to be ready for that last day, for our standing before the Lord to be judged. So, are we ready? And how do we know if we are ready? And how do we get ourselves ready?
How do we know if we are ready? We know we are ready when our complete faith and trust is in Jesus alone for our salvation. If we are not ready, how do we get ourselves ready, or if we are ready, how do we stay ready? Actually, it is not so much our getting ourselves ready as it is the Lord getting us ready and He gets us ready through the means He has given to get us ready, His means of grace. The means of grace are those means or those ways the Lord has given us to come to us to give us the good gifts and blessings He has to give and those means are His Word, the Bible and His sacraments, the Lord’s Supper and Holy Baptism as well as the means of confession and absolution. If you have ever wondered why we have confession and absolution every Sunday, why we have an invocation and benediction, why we hear the Word of the Lord in Holy Scripture and why we have the Lord’s Supper every Sunday, it is because it is through these very means that the Lord comes to us to give to us the good gifts and blessings He has to give. Thus, the Lord gets us ready by our making regular and diligent use of the means of grace. We make regular use of the means of grace by being in divine service whenever it is offered. We make diligent use of the means of grace by being as the Bereans, by checking what is preached and taught against God’s Word and by making use of His Word on our own.
Also, the Lord gets us ready by our right attitude in divine service, that is by our attitude of being given to. The dictionary defines worship as something we do for our god who desires or demands that we do something for him. God does not need anything from us which is why what we do on Sunday morning is not worship, but is divine service. We come to divine service first and foremost to be given to. Our divine service is permeated with the means of grace because God has chosen to come to us through these means to give us the good gifts and blessings He has to give. Thus, we come to divine service to be given to by God and then to respond as moved by Him to respond. Our response of faith is to offer hymns of prayer, praise and giving thanks, to offer our prayers and to offer our offerings of gifts, tithes and first fruits.
Notice again and again and again, it all points to Jesus who does all and gives all. We know we are ready and we know we are getting it right when it all points to Jesus. Listen to your speech, how you say things, how you speak about the Lord and your relationship with Him, your faith and so forth. Do you speak about yourself and what you are doing or think you are doing for the Lord, or do you speak about the Lord and what He has done, is doing and will continue to do for you? When our lives, our speech, our actions point to Jesus running the show, then we are ready and our lives bear witness of the faith that the Lord has given us and put in our hearts.
Most of us do not like to think too much about the end of the world or our own death, but these things are important because we need to be ready. To not be ready could mean eternal death, which is hell, but to be ready means eternal life in heaven. Now more than ever is the time to be ready, to make sure we are ready, to get ready and to help others to be ready. My prayer is that you are ready. My prayer is that you will continue to make use of the means of grace to continue to stay ready. My prayer is that your life will serve to help others to be ready. So that ultimately, when we stand before the Lord, and we will stand before the Lord, He will look at us and our lives will boldly say, to You be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.