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.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

I AM - Lent Midweek Two - February 25, 2015 - Text: John 18:1-9

Our text for this evening is John 18:1-9: “1When Jesus had spoken these words, he went out with his disciples across the Kidron Valley, where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered. 2Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, for Jesus often met there with his disciples. 3So Judas, having procured a band of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, went there with lanterns and torches and weapons. 4Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to him, came forward and said to them, “Whom do you seek?” 5They answered him, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus said to them, “I am he.”  Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them. 6When Jesus said to them, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground. 7So he asked them again, “Whom do you seek?” And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” 8Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. So, if you seek me, let these men go.” 9This was to fulfill the word that he had spoken: “Of those whom you gave me I have lost not one.” This is our text.
This evening we continue our trek through the Lenten Season uncovering the answer to the question behind the question, finding the inner depth of the Words of Holy Scripture. Sometimes when we read a passage of Scripture we might stop and wonder and ask, “I wonder what God means by that?” This evening we will continue to mine the meaning of the words and message of God’s Word and in particular the words of our text for this evening.
We begin this evening with the arrest of Jesus and setting the scene. Before gathering in the Garden, Jesus had been with His disciples in the upper room, the guest room as it were, or as we heard during advent and Christmas, the katalooma. He had been celebrating the Passover with His twelve apostles and from the Passover He had given them something new, His Holy Supper, the Lord’s Supper. After the meal they sang a psalm and then made their way to the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus liked to go with His disciples.
As they reached the garden, Jesus left some of His disciples in one place and took with Him Peter, James and John a little further. He left Peter, James and John, those referred to as His inner circle and He went still further away to be in prayer. As He left each group of disciples He had asked them all to be in prayer with Him. On this particular evening we are told that Jesus had been in prayer with the Father and three times He asked of God the Father, concerning His upcoming suffering and crucifixion that this cup of suffering might pass from Him, but if not, “Thy will be done.”
Each time after praying Jesus returned to His disciples to find that they had not been praying but were sleeping. Each time Jesus warned them to stay alert and pray lest they be lead into temptation. As we made note last week, even though Jesus is truly God, as true man He knew the importance of prayer and being strengthened by God the Father.
Finally, after the third prayer, after Jesus had been strengthened by God the Father and as He returns to His disciples, to find them sleeping again, we are told that Judas enters the scene and with Judas we are told that he has what we would call a band of temple “thugs.” These were probably temple guards and not associated with the Roman government.
As Jesus approached Judas and as they met in the garden the scene was certainly a scene of chaos. It was dark and difficult to see. Faces and people were difficult to identify. Judas and the temple thugs were ready for a stand off, even a rumble. Tensions were high. And yet in the chaos and confusion, Jesus remains calm. Jesus is calm because He had been in prayer and was strengthened for what was to lay ahead.
John tells us how the arrest took place. As the band of thugs approach, Jesus asks, “Whom do you seek?” and they answered, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus’ response was, “I am he.” Now, let us compare Jesus response to God’s answer to Moses in the wilderness when God called Moses to deliver Israel from Egypt. When Moses asked God, “Whom shall I say sent me?” God answered, “Tell them ‘I AM’ has sent you.” Notice the similarity. God is the great I AM. And interestingly enough this conjugation of the “be” verb is in the present tense which helps us to recognize that our God is not a God who was, past tense or who is to be, future tense, but our God is a God who is and who lives in the eternal present tense, He is I AM. Jesus is true God and so He answers likewise that He is the I AM for whom they are looking.
At Jesus’ response, “I am he,” we are told that the band of thugs fell to the ground. They fell to the ground because they could not stand in the presence of God, the great I AM. And yet, even these events, just as all of Jesus’ signs and wonders did not convince the mob of Jesus’ true identity.
And so, Jesus asks again, “Whom do you seek?” and the answer again was, “Jesus of Nazareth,” and Jesus’ response again was, “I am he.” Then Jesus asks that the disciples be let go and we are told this was to fulfill Scripture.
What does this mean? What is Jesus claiming by saying, “I am he?” During the season of Advent we follow along preparing ourselves to celebrate the birth of Jesus, the Messiah, in Hebrew, the Christ in Greek. This Christ was promised in the Garden of Eden immediately after Adam and Eve disobeyed God, sinned and brought God’s curse on the world. God stepped in and promised that He would take care of the sin of Adam and Eve and of all people. He would take care of doing what Adam and Eve and all people could not do. God promised to send a Christ who would live a perfect life, obeying all God’s laws and commands perfectly and take care of the curse and sin of all people. The only way a Christ could do all this is if the Christ would be born in perfection and the only way He could be born in perfection would be that He is truly God. And the only way He could live as our substitute would be that He is also truly human. And so, Jesus is truly human being born of the human woman, Mary and Jesus is truly God having been conceived by the Holy Spirit. Thus, Jesus is God in flesh. Jesus is the I AM who called to Moses in the wilderness.
Jesus is God in flesh who came for a purpose. Jesus was born to fulfill all righteousness. What all mankind could not do, what all the people of Israel could not do, what we cannot do, Jesus came to do, perfectly for us in our place. Jesus was born, lived a perfect life obeying all God’s commands perfectly, fulfilling all the prophecies concerning the Christ, the Messiah perfectly, took our sins upon Himself, suffered, died and rose in order to fulfilled all Holy Scripture. All the prophecies and promises concerning the coming Christ were fulfilled in Jesus. All the law, all the commandments were kept perfectly in Jesus. When Jesus lived He had us, you and me in mind. When Jesus took our sins, it was your sins and mine that He took. When Jesus suffered eternal spiritual death in hell, it was our sins, for us, with us on His mind. When Jesus rose, He rose for us. When we partake of His sacrifice in His Holy Supper, eating His body and drinking His blood, we are identifying with Him and participating in His life, suffering, death and resurrection, so that they are our life, suffering, death and resurrection.
And so Jesus fulfills the last words of our text, that none were lost and even more today He continues to work through His means of grace to give, strengthen and keep in faith so that even today He loses none, not you or me. Jesus is I AM, the eternal God in flesh for us. Jesus is God who created us and all things. Jesus is God who has given each of us life at conception, new life through Holy Baptism and all the gifts and blessings He has to give through His means of Grace, His Word and Sacraments. Jesus gives life, faith, forgiveness, even eternal life. Jesus gives because of His great love for us and we are given to.
What a great God we have, a God who gives all and neither demands no expects anything from us as if He needed anything from us or needs us to do anything for Him. He gives and we are given to, grace upon grace, pure grace. And He even stirs in us to rejoice and say, to Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Testing - February 22, 2015 - First Sunday in Lent - Text: James 1:12-18

This morning we again have three texts that work well together. In the Old Testament reading we were reminded of Abraham and his testing of faith. In the Gospel reading we were reminded of Jesus and His temptation by Satan. And with Jesus’ tempting we are reminded that when Jesus was tempted, He was tempted way beyond what you and I could ever imagine, because He was tempted with every temptation with which we may be tempted and even more. And He never sinned. In the Epistle lesson, our text, James explains the difference between temptation and testing.
James begins by reminding us that temptations will come. We begin with verse twelve, “12Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. 13Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. 14But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (v. 12-15).
James begins by reminding us that the person who remains faithful through trials and temptations is certainly blessed. Perhaps that is an understatement. And, as we realize, in and of ourselves, we cannot remain faithful through trials and temptations, thus we realize that the person who remains faithful does so because God is with them and so we realize, yes, when God is with us we are certainly blessed.
James goes on to remind us that although God may allow trails to come, He tempts no one to sin. God is the author and giver of only good. God is not the author of sin. God tempts no one to sin, that is not His nature. When temptations come to us, we know that they are not coming from God.
We know that we are tempted to sin. Each person is tempted by his or her own desire, what we call our sinful flesh. When we are reminded of the fact that, as King David says, we are conceived and born in sin, then it is only natural that our inclination is to sin. We simply cannot help ourselves. We sin in our thoughts, even in church. We sin in our speaking. We sin in our doing what we should not be doing and in not doing what we should be doing, sins of commission and sins of omission. We do not even need practice sinning because it comes so naturally. And the great thing about sinning is the fact that while we are sinning it is fun. Think about it, if sinning were not fun, would we be doing it? Oh, we may have regrets later, but again, while we are sinning it is fun.
James lays out the progression of sinning as this; sin begins with a thought, and for those who would deny our sinning in our thoughts, I would ask, “What does God mean when He says that if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out?” Your eye cannot commit an actual sin, but it is connected to your brain which has a sinful thought. So, our sin begins with a thought, then it moves to a word, that is we are moved to speak evil words, and finally, sin can end in a deed, an action. The best example of this progression of sin is the sin of Cain killing his brother Abel in Genesis. Remember, Cain first despised, or hated his brother. He had evil thoughts. He devised, or thought up a plan to kill his brother. He called him out into the field and then he actually murdered his brother. Also, notice the eternal progression of sin. Sin begins inside of us, in our heart. That should make you think about the encouragement from our culture to look inside ourselves for the answers to life’s questions. All we find inside ourselves is our sinful nature. Sin has its heart inside of us. As James says, sin is conceived inside of us. And after its gestation, sin is born. And as sin grows, it reaches its fullness in death, and here we do understand, full grown, unrepentant sins brings death, eternal spiritual death.
But do not be dismayed. James goes on to explain the key in times of temptation. We pick up at verse sixteen, “16Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. 17Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. 18Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creation” (v. 16-18). First and foremost we are reminded that every good and perfect gift comes from God. As we said earlier, God only gives good. God does not tempt anyone to sin or evil.
“Of his own will,” God brought forth the greatest gift. The greatest gift was the gift of the “word of truth,” in other words, Christ Himself. As the Gospel writer John so poetically reminds us, Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. Apart from Jesus there is no and can be no truth. Jesus is the Word, the word of promise, the word of fulfillment, the word made flesh, the word made tangible in His Holy Supper. Jesus is the Word of Truth.
Jesus, the “word of truth” came, not for Himself, but as our substitute. Jesus came to do what the whole nation of Israel could not do. Remember, last week we saw Jesus appear with Moses and Elijah on the mountain of transfiguration. There Jesus conferred with Moses the law giver and Elijah the great prophet, to make sure He had actively obeyed and fulfilled all the law and the prophets, perfectly. Jesus came to do for us what we are unable to do. The fullness of the Gospel is this, that we cannot live as we ought, we cannot resist temptation and sin. Jesus came to complete all things for us in our place. He came in life, in suffering, in death, and in His resurrection for us, to be our substitute.
Jesus is our strength and our reward, even “that we should be a kind of firstfruits of His creation.” Jesus has accomplished all things for us, in our place. We are a kind of firstfruits of His creation when we, with His help and by the power of the Holy Spirit working in and through us live lives of faith.
What Does This Mean? This means that we recognize the difference between temptation and trials. God may allow us to undergo trials, but this is not temptation to sin. The struggles and difficulties we may and will face in life are not meant to lead us into sin, but are meant to strengthen us in our faith.
On the other hand, the devil, the world and our own sinful nature (what we might call the unholy three) constantly hound us to sin. The devil, the world and our own sinful nature do not tempt us in order to strengthen us in our faith. Rather they tempt us to sin and even to sin boldly. The devil tempts us, not because he loves us, but because he hates us. He hates anything that is good, and anything that is from God. The world tempts us and even the things of this world which may be created for good can be used for tempting to evil. Remember such things that were created for good as dynamite, gun powder, nuclear energy and so on, all these were created for good and yet became temptations for evil. And our own sinful nature, that thing that is closest to us, that is a very part of us, is the thing which tempts us the most.
In and of ourselves, we cannot keep from sinning. We are conceived and born in sin. Sinning is our nature. It is natural for us to sin. Actually, for us to not sin is very unnatural. Yet, we have James’ exhortation to remain steadfast. Certainly this adds to the pressure as we daily face the temptations of the world.
In the Old Testament Lesson, God tested Abraham. God required of Abraham that he give back to Him the one most important thing, his son. At the same time, God gave Abraham the strength to accomplish his trial. Abraham could not have accomplished his task without the Lord’s help and strength. Remember, even when Isaac asked Abraham were the sacrifice was, Abraham responded that God would provide.
In the Gospel Lesson, Jesus, as true God, and as true man was tempted. Jesus was tempted for the whole forty days. He was tempted with every temptation with which you and I are tempted. He was tempted in every way. And yet, He did not succumb to temptation. He never sinned.
As we see in the Old Testament reading, as we see in the Gospel reading, and as we see in the Epistle lesson, only with God’s help, only with Jesus on our side are we able to resist and flee from temptation and sin. Again, as every Sunday, then we are pointed back to where we need to be, always at the mercy of our great God. We fail. God accomplishes. We fall for temptation and sin. God resists and overcomes. We mess up. God cleans up. We are doomed to eternal spiritual death. God, in Christ, suffers our punishment for us.
The result is this, that every good and perfect gifts comes from God, even and especially eternal life in heaven. God gives and we are given to. Is it no wonder that I continue to remind you of the importance of making regular and diligent use of the means of grace. It is through the means of grace that our Lord gives us the strength to bear up under temptation. Our making regular and diligent use of these means, the Word of God, through personal reading of His Word, through personal and family devotions, through every Sunday worship and Bible Class attendance, through remembering our baptism, through our regular confession and absolution, through our regular participation in the Lord’s Supper, this is how our Lord strengthens and keeps us in faith. As we begin this Lenten season and reflect on the fact that it was and is because of my sin that Jesus had to die on the cross, certainly we see the need, and from the word of the Gospel we are given the desire to make such regular and diligent use of these means of grace.
Temptations do come. Temptations arise through our own sinful flesh, through the attractions and distractions of the world, and especially through Satan himself. At the same time, these temptations are not to be confused with our Lord’s testing of our faith. Yet, in all these times, it is our Lord who is there, ready, willing, and able to strengthen us so that we might keep from sinning, so that we might bear up under any and all trials, so that we might win out in the end. And the greatest encouragement we have is this, the Gospel message, that even when we do fail (and we will fail), Jesus has already taken care of the consequences of our sins. Through His life, suffering, death and resurrection Jesus has already paid for our sins, giving us comfort and encouragement, indeed to confess and ask for His forgiveness and help. And He even pours out on us all His good gifts and blessings. To Him be the glory. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Jesus’ Usual Custom - Ash Wednesday - February 18:2015 - Text: Luke 22:39; John 18:1

Our text for this Ash Wednesday service are: Luke 22:39; “And he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him” and John 18:1; “When Jesus had spoken these words, he went out with his disciples across the Kidron Valley, where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered.” These are our text.
It is often said that Jesus is an example and it is true that Jesus is an example, He is even the greatest example. And while it is said that Jesus is an example it must never be said, nor implied that the statement and fact that He is an example mean that we are to follow His example in order to be saved. If that fact were true, then we would be totally devastated, because we cannot be like Jesus. Jesus is an example, but even more than being just an example. The fullness of the Gospel is that He lived for us in our place. Everything that is demanded of us by God, that we should be holy as He is holy, that we should fully and completely obey all His commands has been accomplished by Jesus for us. Thus we rightly begin with Jesus’ life and His usual custom, that is that what He usually did He did as an example to us but even more, as a fulfillment for us because we fail.
What was Jesus usual custom? What did Jesus usually do? Two important characteristics of Jesus’ life come out quite vividly when one reads through the Gospels. One of the first usual customs we see of Jesus in the Gospels is that we see Jesus in worship. Jesus’ usual custom was that on the day of rest, the Sabbath day, Jesus was in worship. Time and again we read and hear of Jesus being in worship.
A second important characteristic of Jesus’ life that we see vividly in the Gospels, is that throughout the Gospels we see Jesus in prayer. The fact that Jesus, who is true God and true man, is in prayer should give us pause to ponder, as we are simple human beings. Perhaps being in prayer might need to be good part of our life as well.
Jesus is God. If Jesus is God, why would He need worship and prayer? Jesus is God and He is truly human and thus He needed to be in worship and in prayer especially because of the fact that He is human. Although Jesus is at the same time truly human and truly God He bears the same characteristics of both, except that as a human He was without sin. As human man, Jesus had all the needs we have especially the need to be in worship and prayer.
A second reason Jesus needed to be in worship and prayer was so that as a human He might be able to fulfill all righteousness for us in our place as our substitute. Jesus did everything we are supposed to do and He did it perfectly. Where we fail and have failed, He accomplishes perfectly.
So, we might ask, when Jesus is in prayer, is He talking to Himself? After all, we understand that God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, undivided. Jesus is true God and as true God He has all knowledge, thus He knows all and even in His humanity He has all knowledge. You might recall that after His resurrection He was no longer bound by time and space even in His humanity, but He was as He is now, always and everywhere present.
Yet, even though Jesus is true God, in His state of humanity, as true man He wills Himself not to know, and that is the best Lutheran explanation and understanding as we have. In other words, Jesus as true God, in His humanity allows Himself to make a disconnect, not for Himself, but for us, in order to help us to see Him in His humanity and as a man to see His need to be in worship and in prayer. Remember, the reason Jesus took on human flesh was for us, in order to fulfill all righteousness for us, in our place.
As an example, Jesus continually demonstrated to His disciples and us, how we are to be, how we are to live and move and have our own being. Thus, Jesus was seen by His disciples in prayer and worship, so that they might know and understand their need to be in prayer and worship. If the Savior of the world, who is truly human and truly God, needs prayer and worship, would we not all even more so need prayer and worship?
But not only was Jesus an example to His disciples as to how to be in worship and prayer, He also taught His disciples how to pray. Remember the Lord’s Prayer as we call it. After watching Jesus in prayer and when His disciples asked Him how to pray, Jesus taught them and gave them the most wonderful prayer of all, His prayer, the Lord’s Prayer. For those who would suggest the only real prayers are those we make up in our hearts, I would refer them to the Lord’s Prayer and ask if they did not learn anything, for indeed the Lord’s Prayer is the greatest prayer. I cannot make up a better prayer than Jesus Himself and I know Jesus’ desire is to hear me say back to Him the very words He has given me to prayer in His prayer.
Indeed, Jesus taught His disciples especially as He modeled for them as an example what they are to do. He regularly went to the Mount of Olives to pray with His disciples. His usual custom was to be in prayer and worship, modeling for us and demonstrating to us our need to have as our usual custom to be in prayer and worship.
Yet, even Jesus disciples were like we human beings. When Jesus left them to be in prayer they fell asleep. Jesus struggled in prayer the night of His betrayal and His disciples slept. How often do we find ourselves in worship or in prayer struggling to keep from falling asleep. It is not that we are tired or bored, but that the devil, the world and our own sinful nature continue to tempt us to refuse and reject the gifts God gives, especially the gift of conversation and the gifts offered in worship.
What does this mean? We are not gods, but humans alone, thus we need worship, that is we need time where the Lord can and does come to us to give us the gifts He has to give through His usual means of giving His gifts, His means of grace. We need times of Bible study, personal and family devotions, reading God’s Word on our own and with others, and especially we need times of worship. Through the very Word of God, the Bible, through our being reminded of and remembering our baptism, through confession and absolution and through the Lord’s Holy Supper our Lord comes to us to give us all the good gifts and blessings He has to give. He loves us first. He gives to us first. He movers in us first.
Again, we are not gods, but humans alone, thus we need prayer, that is we need time to speak to our Lord in prayer. In this way we have a conversation with our Lord. He speaks to us through His Word, we speak to Him in prayer.
As we begin Lent we begin by looking at and to Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith. We look to Jesus who gives, strengthens and keeps us in faith. We look to Jesus as our model, our teacher, our example and even more the One who accomplished everything for us in our place because we cannot. As we have been given faith and as our Lord works in and through the very means He has given to give, strengthen and keep us in faith, so our faith is shown in our desire to be where the gifts are given out. Our desire is to be in worship whenever offered so that we might be given the gifts God gives, faith, strengthening of faith, forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. And truly, a lack of the desire is indeed a sign of a lack of or no faith.
Jesus is our example, but even more, He is the One who accomplished all that He demonstrates to us. Jesus’ usual custom was to be where the gifts of God were given out, even as He is the One giving those gifts. Jesus’ habit, what He usually did, was to be in worship and in prayer, not because He needed to, but because of our need, to demonstrate to us our need and fulfill our being given to. And now He stirs in us to rejoice and say, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Christ Removes the Veils - February 15, 2015 - The Transfiguration of Our Lord - Text: 2 Corinthians 3:12-13 (14-18) 4:1-6

Today we celebrate Transfiguration Sunday, the day we are reminded of Peter, James, and John’s mountain top experience as disciples of Jesus Christ. It was fitting that these disciples had this experience when they did and that we celebrate this event today, the Sunday before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. Jesus was preparing for His crucifixion and His transfiguration served to strengthen Him as well as His disciples for the events which were about to take place. So, I pray that our Lord’s Word this morning will serve to wake us up and to prepare us for our up coming Lenten Season.
Before we get into the text for this morning I would like to take a moment to look at the other readings for today. Our Old Testament lesson for today is the historic account of Elijah’s ascension into heaven and his leaving Elisha to take his place. Elijah was indeed a man of God and the Lord allowed for him to not die, but to ascend bodily into heaven. As the lesson goes, we read that “chariots of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them (Elijah and Elisha). And Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven” (v.11). And please notice, it was not as we so often mistakenly suggest when talking about this event, that Elijah was taken to heaven by a chariot of fire, but as we go back and check the text we are told that he was taken into heaven by a whirlwind. A chariot of fire and horses of fire is what separated Elijah and Elisha.
In our epistle lesson Paul mentions Moses who, as we remember because he struck the rock instead of speaking to it, was not allowed to enter the promise land with the rest of the children of Israel but died and was buried by God Himself. Then as we listened to our Gospel lesson for today both Elijah and Moses appear, being with Jesus who was transfigured on the mountain. Obviously Peter was frightened and did not know what to say, so he suggests that they build three tents, or booths, to shelter Elijah, Moses, and Jesus. This was not the reason for the transfiguration, to have booths or tents built so they could permanently stay.
Although we may not be completely certain of the reason or reasons for this event, we might make a couple of suggests. Remember, Jesus came to be Israel and us for us, that is He came to be perfect for us in our place. He came to fulfill all righteousness. He came to do what we and all of Israel could not do, live perfectly. So, understanding why Jesus came, one suggestion for this transfiguration event is that Jesus was conferring with Moses, the law giver, to make sure that He had completely and actively obeyed all the laws of the Lord, for us and in our stead. And He was conferring with Elijah, who is held by many to be the greatest prophet in Israel, to make sure that He actively obeyed all the prophecies, the promises concerning Himself as the Messiah, again, for us and in our stead. And most certainly, this transfiguration event was meant to strengthen Jesus’ resolve to take our sins upon Himself, go to the cross and suffer for us. I believe it also helped strengthen the disciples belief in the resurrection, because here was Moses who had died many years ago, alive. Interestingly enough, the disciples were given orders by Jesus not to tell anyone about what they had seen until after Jesus’ resurrection.
Today is Transfiguration Sunday and as you can see, the scripture readings all fit very well together. I believe the main theme running through these lessons is the cloud, or veil as our text says, that covers us from our understanding of the Gospel message and that Jesus and faith in Him is the only way to remove this veil. According to our sinful human nature we resist the Gospel, instead we look to the law to justify ourselves and it cannot be done. The law serves to veil the Gospel even more and it is only with the help of the Holy Spirit that the veil is removed and we see the Gospel message and its freedom.
Our text tells us that for the Israelites still today there is a veil over the old covenant, that is the Old Testament, so that they do not understand the freedom of the Gospel. Before we stand in judgement of them, however, we need to look at ourselves and see how the gospel remains veiled to us today because of our own resistance. Of course we would never admit to having our eyes clouded over by these veils, but take a moment to give, as Paul would say, sober judgment as I talk about the veils we have over our eyes and see if one does not perhaps cover your own eyes.
The first veil with which we cover ourselves is the self-righteous veil. This veil includes work righteousness and dependency on the law. And the first thing that pops into our mind is, what are you talking about? I am not self-righteous, I do not think that I can get to heaven by my own works. But is that true? Do we always remember that it is Jesus who is the only way to heaven. Why is it then that we compare ourselves with others? “I am no worse a person than my neighbor.” It is because we can always find someone worse than we are. Instead of comparing ourselves to others we would do well to begin by comparing ourselves to Jesus who was perfect and that is how we find out just how bad we really are. Yes, we are self-righteous people and we often look for ways to justify ourselves and why Jesus should let us into heaven.
The second veil with which we cover ourselves is the “I’m not good enough” veil. This is the woe is me, self-pity veil. We think that if we condemn ourselves enough that God will feel really sorry for us and He will have to let us into heaven. We have had it so rough here on earth that we are not deserving of hell.
The third veil with which we cover ourselves is the intellectual veil, that is we think we are smart enough either that we do not need any further Christian education, or that we can answer any questions God might have for us. For some this veil has evolved to the point that they do not even need God anymore because their world can be explained by science or by any number of theories. For others, they think confirmation was graduation and see no further need to study God’s Word. And for too many we believe that one hour a week on Sunday, or every other week on Sunday is enough “God” time, instead of hungering and thirsting after the Word of the Lord every Sunday, even desiring to be in Bible class and have personal reading of God’s Word, personal and family devotions and the like.
The fourth veil with which we cover ourselves is the philosophical veil. This veil tends to lead us to a very watery faith. We come to the belief that God is love and He would never really send anyone to hell, so we become very universalistic in our belief, that is, that everyone is going to heaven. It does not matter what you believe, as long as you believe something or as long as you are sincere in your faith. And this tends to lead to a very humanistic point of view, that is that man is essentially good and there again deserving of heaven. We forget that we human beings are conceived and born in sin and are naturally enemies of God and that God is a just God and has promised to punish sin.
The fifth and last veil with which we cover ourselves is the religious veil. This is another of the obvious work-righteous veils, which by the way all of these really are. This veil says that I always go to church and therefore I deserve heaven. Or, I have been a member of this church all my life. I have taught Sunday School, Vacation Bible School. I have been a member of the LWML or LLL, this board, that board, and on and on. I am sorry, but none of these good works will get us into heaven. And this type of thinking clouds over the real Gospel message.
Which brings us to what I call Christ’s veil removal service.  His veil removal service works first with the plow of justification. That is, through the working of the Christ’s death and resurrection we are justified and through the Holy Spirit working in our hearts we are brought to faith. The word justification means to be made right. It is a very fitting legal term used because not only do we stand accused, but we are also found guilty in God’s court. We are conceived and born in sin and there is no way we can save ourselves, and we have seen from the previous examples of how we try to do so. It is only because of God’s grace, His undeserved love toward us that we are saved. Because of His grace for us He sent Jesus to take all our sins upon Himself and to suffer for all of them. He died and He rose so that we might stand before God and be declared justified, right in His eyes. It is His justification for us which frees us from the bondage of the law so that we are no longer veiled and can see the freedom of the Gospel. Working through Word and Sacrament, what we call the means of Grace, He is the one who gives us faith. We cannot even claim our own faith as something we do, because it is only through the Holy Spirit working in our hearts that we are given faith.
His second plow is the plow of sanctification. That is, through the working of the Holy Spirit we are transformed. The word sanctify means to make holy, to make special. Even though we are made right before God we are still sinners. We are now in the process of becoming saints. We are no longer what we were before, that is completely lost and condemned persons, but we are not yet all that we will be, that is completely saints in heaven. We are on our way to become more and more Christ-like. We are becoming more and more holy with His help. Of course we continue to understand that we will never be completely holy until we reach our home in heaven.
Our sanctification is our response to our justification. First, we are justified and this is all done by God. Next God works on our sanctification. Again, this is something God works at within us. God works at our sanctification through our worship and Bible class attendance, through our daily family and personal devotions, through our remembering our Baptism, through our Confession and absolution, through our daily reading of God’s Word, through our attending the Lord’s Supper as often as we can. And with our Lord working through our daily Christian example we bear witness of the faith that is in us.
We are much like the Corinthians to whom Paul was writing. The Transfiguration of Jesus has already occurred. Christ has already lived, suffered, died, and risen for us. We can read about these historic events in the Bible. Now the Holy Spirit is working in our hearts, 18And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (v. 18). May the Lord continue to work in you that transformation. To Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

I Am Compelled - February 8, 2015 - Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany - Text: 1 Corinthians 9:16-27

Over 200 years ago our country was founded on the idea that all people are created equal. Over the years we have struggled with the understanding of just what that means. Even today we struggle with the understanding of what it means to be free. We are people who do not like to be dependent on others and we are people who do not like to have to answer to others for our actions. We are people who like to have our freedom, whatever that means to us. To some, freedom means being able to do whatever I want to do without any interference from others. To some, freedom means not having to answer to others. In our text for today Paul gives us a better understanding of what freedom means for us as Christians.
Although the word in our text is translated as “servant,” the more accurate translation would be “slave,” as some translations do record. Unfortunately, the very mention of the word slavery brings an uncomfortable feeling to the people of our country today, perhaps that is why it is so often translated as “servant.” Over the years our country has developed a very narrow view of slavery. Because of our understanding of slavery today, we find it strange and even hard to believe that Paul would tell us that he makes himself a slave to everyone. We might wonder to ourselves, why would anyone want to subject themselves to another human being, to be owned by them, to be abused by them, to be at their every beck and call? Obviously, our understanding of what it means to be a slave is quite different from Paul’s understanding.
If our understanding of slavery is different from Paul’s, what about our understanding of freedom? Do we understand freedom today in the same way Paul did? I would suggest that even though we see freedom in a very positive light we tend to explain it in negative terms. When we think about freedom, instead of speaking about freedom to do or speak, we think about freedom from different things. Freedom from slavery; freedom from tyranny; freedom from having to listen to others, obey others, and for some even freedom from religion, going to church and the like. Again, I think our understanding of freedom is quite different from Paul’s understanding.
For Paul, it was his freedom which led him to make himself a slave of the Lord. In verse sixteen Paul tells us that he is compelled to preach, “16For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (v. 16). To us that may not sound like freedom. And certainly that does not sound like gospel, but law. But, let us not get confused. Paul does not say that he must preach the gospel, because if he does not preach the gospel then he will go to hell. No, Paul says that he is compelled to preach, it is something within him, a burning desire to share the good news with others. Some have suggested that it is a gospel imperative that has moved Paul to preach. Of course, that seems to make the Gospel into a new law which is what an imperative would be, something demanded for us to do. Perhaps we  might call it a Gospel urgency which has moved Paul to preach. I believe it would be great if we were all the same way. Certainly our salvation does not depend on what we do. We do not have to tell others about Jesus. But the more we hear and read the good news, the more the Holy Spirit fills us with the good news, the stronger we become in our Christian faith, the more we bubble over and we just cannot help ourselves, we just have to tell someone the good news. It is what we get to do. It is kind of like when we get something new, when we get a new car or a new home, we just have to tell someone or we will just burst.
Paul says it with even more emphasis when he says, “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” By faith in Jesus’ work of redemption Paul was assured of his eternal salvation. He was free from the law. As a response to all that the Lord has done for him, Paul has volunteered himself as a slave to the Lord. As a slave of God he now has no choice in the matter of accepting or rejecting the tasks the master, God, gives him to do. But woe to him if he refused, and woe to him if he did not do well. Remember the parable of the talents; how the master gave his servants 5, 2, and one talent and when he returned expected that each had managed his talent or talents well. The Lord has given us all things, life, new life, faith, forgiveness, the promise of eternal life, and so on. The Lord has made us right before our Father in heaven. Because of all our Lord has done for us we respond, with the help of the Holy Spirit and make ourselves slaves to Him. As slaves He expects great things of us, things which we do with the help of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus made Himself to be an example for His disciples. On Maundy Thursday He took a towel and some water and washed the feet of His disciples and He showed them by his example how they are to be toward one another. He showed them how they are to serve one another, not to gain righteousness, but as a response to the righteousness gained for them by His death on the cross. In our text Paul tells us that he has made himself to be a slave to everyone in order to win as many as possible. He goes on to list those he has become like in order to win. And notice, Paul does not say he become what he mentions, but he says he became like, one. We are included in the list as those who were under the law before coming to salvation, that is, we were under the curse of the law before coming to salvation. Remember, the purpose of the law is to show us our sins. The purpose of the law is to condemn us.
Thanks be to God, we are no longer under the power and curse of the law. By grace, through faith in Jesus’ work on the cross we now live under the Gospel. The purpose of the Gospel is to show us our Savior, to show us our forgiveness, earned for us by Jesus’ death on the cross and His resurrection.
Does that mean that we can throw out the law? By no means, because we are still under what we call the third use of the law, that is the law is still a guide for our lives. And there are times that we still come under the first and second uses of the law, that is that the law is there to keep us on the right road and to show us our sins, but for the most part the law is used to give us guidance in our lives, with the help of the Holy Spirit.
What does this mean? This means that we have Jesus’ example to follow and we have Paul’s example to follow. With the help of the Holy Spirit we are to become all things to all people. This does not mean that we do anything that will compromise our Christian faith and life, but it does mean that we live our lives so that we are examples and witnesses of our faith through all we think, say, and do.
I believe Dr. Luther had it right in his explanation to the third article when he said, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason our strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but 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. This is most certainly true.”
How easily we forget all our God has done for us and that God has done it all for us. It would seem that each day we wake up and ask, what God has done for me lately? And each and every day we need to be reminded of all that God has done for us. We are really no different from the children of Israel and their roller coaster existence as God’s chosen people. How often it was that they would fall away from God, He would allow for them to be taken captive, they would repent, and God would rescue them. So too with us, we daily sin much, God allows for us to be disciplined, we repent, and God assures us of our forgiveness and salvation.
And the most joyous thing about this is what He continues to do for us. He continues to allow us another day to live. He continues to allow us to have a job, to earn a living to feed ourselves and our families and even more so to allow us to be able to have things we want, not just things we need. He continues to reassure us of our forgiveness. Through our daily reading of His Word, through our confession and absolution, through our being given His body and blood in His Holy Meal, through our daily remembering of our baptism, through our daily devotions, through our studying of His Word He works to strengthen us and keep us in faith in Him.
At the end of the explanation to the first article of the Apostles’ creed Dr. Luther expresses the idea that it is our “duty” to thank and praise, serve and obey our Lord. Our first reaction might be to think that this is a new law. After all, the word “duty” implies something we are compelled to do. This is not a new law. Dr. Luther is reminding us that everything that we have is a gift from God and that it is our privilege to respond to all our Lord has done for us by thanking and praising, serving and obeying Him. That is what this little word “duty” means, it is our privilege to respond. To use Paul’s words from our text, yes we are compelled, we cannot help ourselves, but to “thank and praise, serve and obey” our Lord.
The Gospel gives us all that God has to give, forgiveness of sins, faith, life, even eternal life. God does all and gives all. He has taken care of everything, that is the Gospel. The freedom of the Gospel does not move us to live lives of cheap grace, that is to sit on our grace. Rather, the freedom of the Gospel moves us to respond, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to make ourselves slaves of our Lord. So, with the help of the Holy Spirit the Lord gives to us to live according to His good and gracious will to the praise and glory of His Holy Name. We just cannot help it. To God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Getting to the Root of the Problem

For the past twenty-three plus years or so, as a pastor I have listened to various people discuss their personal difficulties, and one main theme seems to be at the root of the afflictions we so often bring on ourselves.

When people share with me their financial difficulties, my first question, which may sound a bit odd and perhaps even rude is, “How is your giving?” In other words, have you faithfully responded to all the good gifts and blessings the Lord has given to you by stepping out in faith and giving or rather returning your first fruit tithes to the Lord? Indeed, when we understand, realize and believe that all that we have in one way or another first comes from our Lord, instead of asking how much should we return we perhaps might ask, “How much should I keep for myself?” Because we cannot out give God, especially since everything comes from Him first, we show our thankfulness to Him for all His gifts by returning our first fruit tithes to Him. It is only as we fail to recognize God as the gift Giver that we fail to respond in faith with our first fruit tithes. And then we usually wonder why God is not blessing us as we think He should.

I cannot tell you how many people, who after learning the joy of first fruit tithing have said that before they were first fruit tithers they had no idea where all their money went and why they never had any left, but after they learned the joy of first fruit tithing it seemed they still did not know where all their money went, but they always had some left over. Mathematically speaking it did not seem to work out as it was all the same money and bills, but God made it work. The point is, we cannot out give God and He is the one who gives to us in the first place. I will continue to challenge anyone who is having money “problems” to step out in faith and learn the joy of first fruit tithing and see what happens, how much more God will bless you as He is the One who gives the first, the best and the most.

The great thing about first fruit tithing is that it is so simple. The first money spent from money earned is returned to God and the amount is simply 10%, or a less percentage with a goal of the Biblical tenth. With percentage giving of first fruits, if you did not earn anything, you do not give anything, and the more you earn the more you may have joy in returning.

The second affliction that is often shared with me as a pastor has to do with relationships, especially husband and wife relationships and my first question is, “How is your church attendance?” More often that not those with relationship difficulties are those who do not have a good relationship with Jesus. Now, understand, just being in church does not guarantee a perfect relationship or marriage, but it goes a long way in helping. Very often the response to the question of church attendance is that it is not very good to which I then ask, “And do you suppose you would be in this difficulty had your attendance been better?” and the response is very often, “No.” You see, a good relationship, a good marriage begins with a good relationship with Jesus. It is only as we have a good relationship with our Lord and are being given His forgiveness and love that we can reflect that forgiveness and love to another person. And the first and best place to be given forgiveness and love from our Lord is the place where His gifts are distributed, His Divine Service.

Our problems all stem from sin, the curse in the Garden, and our own sin. Indeed, we daily sin much and are in need of forgiveness. As we say on many Sunday mornings, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8,9). Our greatest need is forgiveness of sins and that forgiveness is poured out most generously in Divine Service. Thus we are continually encouraged to make regular and diligent use of the means of grace, especially being in Divine Service.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Love Builds Up - February 1, 2015 - Forth Sunday after the Epiphany - Text: 1 Corinthians 8:1-13

Have you ever played the game called “Trivia Pursuit”? Actually, today there are many such “trivia” games, games in which you are challenged in what you know about different areas of pop culture, television, movies, and life in general. Perhaps for us Christians, one of the most humbling “trivia” games is one in which our Bible knowledge is challenged. And I believe our Sunday School children have been challenged in a bit of a Bible trivia pursuit game. Of course, we understand that Bible knowledge is not “trivial,” and at the same time we also understand that knowledge simply for the sake of knowledge is not the goal of God’s Word either. We even have the warning from James that reminds us that the devil knows the Bible, probably better than many of us know our own Bibles, yet he is still condemned. Salvation is more than mere head knowledge or trivia knowledge. In our text for today, Paul speaks to us about our Bible knowledge, but even more, he speaks to us about how we live and love according to God’s Word.
Concerning knowledge Paul says, “1Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up. 2If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. 3But if anyone loves God, he is known by God” (v. 1-3). In essence Paul is making a distinction between what we might call head knowledge and what we might call heart knowledge. He tells us that the problem with head knowledge alone is that it puffs up, in other words it often makes one think more highly of themself. Heart knowledge is knowledge that thinks more of others than oneself.
True knowledge, which we may define as head and heart knowledge together, has its roots in being known by God.  Now, did you notice how this is stated in our text, not in our knowing God, but in our being known by God. Do you remember as a child, being out on the playground and it was time to pick teams to play a game. When your best friend was one of the captains, you wanted to be on his or her team. You actually chose, for yourself to be on their team. Of course, that did not matter. What mattered was that they chose you to be on their team. Most of us have heard the exhortation, by some, to choose Jesus as our personal Savior. Perhaps we might change that exhortation to fit the language of our text and say, we should know God. But go back and look at the text. The text runs the exhortation the other way. Instead of our running the show, God is running the show. Instead of knowing God, we are exhorted to be known by God. More important that our choosing God is His choosing us. And He has chosen us, even before the foundations of the world were set, even before He began creation our Lord chose us to be His people.
God has chosen us. He has revealed Himself to us through His means of grace and He gives us true knowledge of Himself. Thus, true knowledge is not simply knowing God but being known by Him. Even Psalmist and the writer of the Proverbs tell us that, “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”
True knowledge, then, might rightly be defined as using knowledge rightly. True knowledge is knowing with your head and engaging your heart in order to think, say, and do what is meet, right and salutary. Some have defined wisdom in this way, that is that wisdom is the right use of knowledge.
Now that Paul has given us some background on knowledge, he moves on to give us a concrete example of what he means. And his example is what he is dealing with among the Corinthians. Paul moves on to speak about idols, “4Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.” 5For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”—6yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist” (v. 4-6). First, Paul reminds us that although there are other gods (notice, small “g”) meaning idols they really are nothing. An idol is not a living being. An idol is a figment of one’s imagination. An idol is a false god that needs, even demands the undivided attention of the idolater. An idol can do nothing on its own, it depends on its idolater to do everything for it, feed it, move it, and so on so that indeed the idolater is truly the false god of the idol worshiper.
So, on the one hand there may be many gods (small “g”), but there is only one true God. The only one true God is the God of Holy Scripture who has revealed Himself to us as God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The only one true God is our God who has shown Himself to us in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ who is true God, conceived by the Holy Spirit and true man, born of the human woman, the Virgin Mary. The only true God is our God who is Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier. To reiterate Paul’s words, all other gods (small “g”) are nothing.
So, how do we use our knowledge correctly. Paul continues, “7However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. 8Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. 9But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. 10For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? 11And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. 12Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. 13Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble” (v. 7-13). Paul is encouraging us to always err on the side of grace. Paul is speaking of this thing we call adiaphora. Adiaphora means something that is neither commanded nor forbidden. So, exercise of knowledge in the area of adiaphora on a personal basis is okay. In other words, if I want to have some wine with my meal at home, then that is certainly okay.
However, exercise of knowledge in the area of adiaphora in public, which may be a stumbling block to those weaker in faith is not okay. In other words, to use Paul’s example, for a person who has come from a background of worshiping idols, to see us eat meat sacrificed to an idol, could cause them to stumble in their own Christian faith life, thus we would refrain from such eating for the sake of their spiritual well being.
The bottom line for Paul and for us is that the right use of knowledge is being guided to care for those weaker in faith. So, the right use of knowledge may mean our own abstaining for the sake of another.
What Does This Mean? This means that we want to get our knowledge right. We get our head knowledge right and we do that in the only way we can do that, through the means of God’s Holy Word. Here again, I encourage you, I exhort you, make regular and diligent use of the Word of God. Read the Bible on your own. Have personal and family devotions. Come to worship and to Bible class. Worship is where we go to hear the Word of God exhorted and expounded, even proclaimed. Bible class is that place where we have the opportunity, not only to hear the Word and grow in our faith and knowledge, but we also have the opportunity to ask questions, to discuss issues, especially questions we might have concerning our culture and the relationship of the culture and our own Christian lives. Bible class is the place we have to ask those questions our coworkers always asks us and we are not sure how to give an answer.
Not only are we to get our head knowledge right, we are also to get our heart knowledge right. Our heart knowledge is how we live our head knowledge. Our heart knowledge guides us to rightly living according to God’s good and grace will.
We rightly exercise our knowledge when we realize that we cannot rightly exercise our knowledge on our own, but only with the help and by the power of the Holy Spirit. When we attempt to exercise our knowledge on our own we tend to do so in the way Paul suggests in our text, in the way of being puffed up instead of in the way of building up. Remember, our nature is to sin. Our nature is to run knowledge in the way we would like to run knowledge, not in the way our Lord would have us run knowledge. We would run knowledge in the way of thinking more highly of ourselves, at least until we should meet someone who would have more knowledge than we have, of course, then we would humble ourselves, but only to the one with more knowledge. We would run knowledge in the way of lording it over others of “less” knowledge, at least according to our understanding of their having less knowledge.
We rightly exercise knowledge when the Lord runs our knowledge. We rightly exercise knowledge when we are guided by the means of grace. We rightly exercise knowledge when we are guided by the Lord to make regular and diligent use of the means of grace; when we are guided to come and be given the gifts our Lord has to give and to be given these gifts through the very means He has of giving them, namely through the means of grace, the Word and the Sacraments. We rightly exercise knowledge when the Lord works in and through us to do the good works He has prepared in advance for us to do and when they are done to His glory. We rightly exercise knowledge when we confess, not that we have chosen God, but that He has chosen us, that we are known by Him, that He gives and we are given to.
And thanks be to God, that even as we fail to rightly exercise knowledge, we are always reminded that there is forgiveness. This does not give us an excuse to sin, but it gives us the freedom to not be afraid of living. The Old Testament reading for this morning pointed to the One who would come, namely the prophet, Christ Himself. The Gospel reading also points to this same person, namely Jesus Christ who was the one to come and who showed Himself through the signs, wonders and miracles He performed to be the Messiah, the Christ, even God in human flesh. Jesus is the one who not only shows us how to rightly exercise knowledge, but rightly exercised knowledge for us, in our place. He is the One who is always with us to help us to rightly exercise knowledge even today. And rightly exercising knowledge is love which builds up. Finally rightly exercising knowledge is forgiving others as we ourselves have been forgiven. And we know that with forgiveness is life and salvation and to that we say, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.