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, December 31, 2015
This year during the season of Advent and following through to Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and finally, tonight, New Years Eve we have been addressing a topic that may not seem too tied to the season of Advent, we have been addressing the topic and/or issue of how doctrine and practice relate, that is how we do what we believe. Last week we took up the topic of evangelism. Does God prescribe how we should evangelize? And what should our evangelistic efforts look life, especially as we keep in mind what we believe, teach and confess and how that should be seen our evangelistic efforts. This evening we will address the subject of family relations. Does the Bible speak to us what our family relations should look like? If so, where and how?
Does the Bible speak to us about family relations? If so, where and how? Interestingly enough, if you read your Catechism, under the section of the Table of Duties we read Scripture passages which speak to the duties of the husband, the wife, the parents and the children. These are vocational duties, that is they tell us how we are to live in our vocations as husband, wife, parent and child. So, let us look at each section. And as we do look at each of these sections, please remember that the Scripture passages listed are not the only passages which address these topics. Later when you go home you might take out your Bible and look at the cross references and see the other passages which speak to this issue as well.
The table of duties speaks to husbands and lists these two passages, “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered” (1 Peter 3:7). And “Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them” (Col. 3:19). To summarize the point of these two passages we might rightly say that God’s desire for husbands is that they are to be understanding of the wife and show her honor, they are to love their wife and not be harsh to them. I must admit I find it fascinating that although the Ephesians passage is listed under duties of wives, parents and children it is not listed here. The Ephesians passage reminds husbands that they are to love their wives as Christ loved the church, so much so that He gave His life for the Church. This is where I make note to young couples getting married that the husband is to be ready to die for His wife. Yet, perhaps the reason this passage is not mentioned is that for some husbands, and understand when I say what I am about to say the same difficulty applies to both parties, but for some husbands they might believe it easier to die for their wives than to live with them understanding, honoring and loving them. And again, that goes both ways.
Moving on, the table of duties speaks next to wives and lists these two passages, “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord” (Eph. 5:22). And, “5For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, 6as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening” (1 Peter 3:5-6). To summarize the point of these two passages we might rightly say that God’s desire for wives is that first and foremost they submit to their husbands. Now, before we have a revolt let me “unpack” that word that is translated as “submit.” I believe a better translation of the word translated as “submit” is the word “subordinate.” To be subordinate means to put yourself in order under, in other words, wives are to put their husbands first, and the passage from Ephesians goes on to say that she is to do this just as she puts God first in her life. The converse then is also true, that is that if she does not and cannot subordinate herself to her husband she is not and cannot subordinate herself to the Lord. Unfortunately we see many problems in our world today because wives fail to be subordinate and instead are insubordinate and husbands are not willing to die for, not understand, honor and love their wives.
Moving on, the table of duties speaks next to parents and lists this passage, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). To summarize the point of this passage we might rightly say that parents and more in particular, fathers are not to provoke their children to anger, but are indeed to discipline and instruct their children in the Lord. First and foremost the father’s duty is a spiritual and ethical duty, to raise Godly obedient, respectful children. God gives parents, especially the father the duty to impart their Christian faith into their children. Indeed, the education of all children begins in the home with the father teaching their children about Jesus. Perhaps if we were more diligent about this teaching we would not be losing so many children to the pagan culture outside the home. After all, our lives in this world are merely a moment compared to our real life of eternity in heaven.
Finally, the table of duties speaks to children and lists this passage, “1Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2“Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), 3“that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land” (Eph.6:1-3). To summarize this passage we might rightly say that children are to be obedient to their parents and they are to honor their father and mother. Certainly, this obedience and honor are something that must be taught and instilled into the children because children are conceived and born in sin and so do not naturally obey and give honor. Notice also that this passage does not specifically say that children are to love their parents and unfortunately too many parents in our world today shirk their responsibility to discipline and instruct under the false objection that they want their children to love them. As a father, I am not here to make my children love me. I cannot make anyone love me. Rather my responsibility and duty is to discipline and instruct them in the Lord and if I do discipline and instruct in the Lord I am quite confident that my children will eventually love me with a truly Godly love. And indeed, if I fail to discipline and instruct what will happen is that I will have hooligans for children who will probably hate me for their upbringing and miserable life.
As we look at these duties we can understand that our God is a God of order, good order. God has not given us the Ten Commandments and these words of His because He wants to take away our freedom and our creativity. God gives us the Ten Commandments and His word as boundaries because He loves us. What kind of a world would we have if there were no rules? Indeed, a world with no laws would be a chaotic world, even a world in which there would be no peace. Just as we as parents will tell our children to not play in the street, we do not tell them to not play in the street in order to stifle their creativity or take away their freedom, but we tell them to not play in the street because we do not want them to get run over, indeed it is because we love them, it is because we care about them, it is because we do not want them to be run over that we tell them to not play in the street. The same is true with us and God. God does not gives us boundaries because He wants to stifle our creativity or take away our freedom, but because He loves us, because He know what is best for us.
We are ending another year, another year which was a gift of a year of life from our loving God. As we look back over the year we can most certainly see where the good gift of boundaries from God have been crossed, ignored, and moved and we can see the consequences of what happened to those who have done so. So, as we begin a new year we want to look anew to our great God of love and we want to seek His help so that we may honor His boundaries and we may be blessed by Him. I often wonder what some people are thinking when we say we want to be blessed by God, but refuse to honor His commands and His word, even when they refuse His gifts by constantly absenting themselves from Divine Service and Bible Class. Perhaps as we come to understand God’s great love for us, that it is in love that He gives us boundaries for good order, then we might better be able to honor those boundaries, with His help of course, and see how we might be even more blessed by Him.
Above all, as we have been looking at how our faith is seen in our lives we continually remind ourselves that we get it right when we focus on Jesus. Jesus fully obeyed all of God’s commands perfectly and never sinned and He did this for us in our place because we could not and cannot. And now, by faith in Jesus, faith He gives to us, His obedience is credited to us as our being obedient, thanks be to God. So, even when we fail and we will and do fail, we know that we are forgiven and He is with us to help us as we try and try again. May the Lord be with you as you begin this next new year so that He might help you to be the person He wants you to be to the praise and glory of His Holy Name. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Sunday, December 27, 2015
We have seen His star. We have been to the place where He was born. We have seen the baby in the manger. We have celebrated the birth of our King and our Savior, Jesus Christ. We are two days into our celebration of that first Christmas day and again I would encourage you, do not be like the rest of the world, continue to celebrate. Celebrate for the full twelve days of Christmas. As we continue celebrating Christmas and Jesus’ first coming, at the same time we continue to look forward to our Lord’s second coming when He will come to take us from this vale of tears to be with Himself in heaven to live with Him there forever. We even encourage His coming again as we pray, “Thy kingdom come,” and by saying, “Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly!”
Until our Lord comes again we will remain here on His earth striving with the help of the Holy Spirit to live lives faithful to His Word. In our text for this morning we read Paul’s words to the Colossians, and his words to us, words of encouragement in living in this world. Beginning at verse twelve Paul says, “12Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (v. 12-13). Here Paul is listing some of what we call the fruits of the spirit, that is the results of the faith that has been given to us through the means of grace, by the Holy Spirit. Please notice that the very first thing we hear in these verses is the fact that it is God who has chosen us. From the creation of the world God chose us to be His people. At our baptism God made us His own. He claimed us, He put His name on us, He clothed us with the righteousness won for us by Jesus on the cross. The very fact that God chose us and made us His own does not negate our response to His great love for us, rather it is His love, His choosing us which moves us to respond with righteous living.
It is only because of what God has done for us that we can do the things Paul is encouraging us to do, namely to have compassion, be kind, be humble, be gentle and patient. It is only because God first loved us that we can we bear with each other and forgive as the Lord forgave us. We just celebrated Jesus’ birth. Friday, yesterday, today and all this week we continue to rejoice as we remember the birth of baby Jesus, Immanuel, God with us, in Bethlehem. As we celebrate His birth with rejoicing we also sadly remind ourselves that the very reason for His birth was to take all our sins upon Himself, to suffer and die for our sins so that we might be forgiven. Why did Jesus do this? Because He loves us.
We read of this love picking up in verse fourteen where Paul says, “14And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (v. 14). The type of love about which Paul is speaking is the kind of love that only God can have for us, that is agape love, a selfless concern for us, so much that He gave His only Son to die for us. As you have heard me describe before, that in the same way that the moon has no light of its own, but only reflects the light of the sun, so too the love our Lord has for us is the type of love we can only reflect because we have no love of our own. As the moon reflects the sun’s light so we reflect the light of Christ, the Son of God.
It is this love which brings about perfect unity and Christian fellowship. This perfect love is what we strive for while we are here on this earth, understanding that we will never completely reach this perfect love until we are in heaven with our Lord. Until we reach perfection in heaven we pray for the help of the Holy Spirit to lead us daily to be more and more Christ-like, more and more loving.
In verse fifteen Paul continues in his progression of thought by saying, “15And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful” (v. 15). The peace of Christ of which Paul is speaking is true peace, the true peace which comes only from God. It is the peace we have at the cost of Jesus on the cross. It is the peace we have from knowing that we are forgiven. You know what I mean, how guilty we feel as we remember our sins. Our guilt is overwhelming at times. Without forgiveness we would have no peace from our guilt feelings. But because of Jesus’ forgiveness we no longer need to feel guilty and without those feelings of guilt we have true peace.
Having true peace leads us to respond by being thankful. We were reminded at Thanksgiving and again today that true thanks comes only by kneeling at Jesus’ feet and confessing Him as the giver of all good gifts and blessings. Unless we acknowledge that Jesus is the giver of all that we have we can never be truly thankful.
Picking up at verse sixteen Paul encourages us and gives us hints as to how we are to thankfully respond to all our Lord has done for us. We read, “16Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (v. 16-17). We respond by remembering our Baptism, by being in God’s Word, by confessing our sins and hearing His most wonderful words of absolution, “Your sins are forgiven,” and by being given His body and blood to eat and drink in His Holy Supper. Paul tells us to let the Word of Christ live in us. We do this by remembering our Baptism, by taking in God’s Word, that is by reading the Bible, by having personal and family devotions, by attending Divine Service and Bible class and by begin given Christ’s body and blood in Holy Supper. We do this by singing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, especially in Divine Service and at home devotions.
It is God’s word living in us which moves us to live as witnesses of our faith. How do we live as witness of our faith? We have a wonderful example in our children. Friday or even Thursday evening for some, we watched as our children unwrapped their Christmas presents. How they beamed with excitement. How they could not wait to show and tell their friends what they got. They may even have wanted to bring their new toys to church to show their friends. They were bearing witness of their new possessions. What a wonderful example their witness is to us. We have an even more wonderful possession, the gifts of faith, forgiveness, life and salvation. How much more do we beam with excitement and anticipation as we share those gifts, the greatest gifts of life and salvation with others.
Today is the first Sunday after Christmas. We have “seen” God’s gift of His Son who’s sole purpose for being born was to die. Next week we celebrate Epiphany the day the Magi came bearing gifts for the baby Jesus. In five and a half weeks we will celebrate Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent, followed by Easter, Ascension, Pentecost and the Pentecost season. We celebrate and remember these events year after year. We do this because we need the constant reminder, lest we forget, of who we are, whose we are, and what our great God has done for us.
We have just read Paul’s words of encouragement for living. God’s Word is filled with words of encouragement for holy living. We remember the words of the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” How unfortunate that so often we hear God’s Word in the negative rather than the positive. God gives us His positive words of encouragement and instead we hear them in the negative as, “if someone does not do wrong to me I will not do wrong to them.” Or we hear them with a condition, that is we think, if someone is nice to me I will be nice back to them. God gives us His word in the positive and with action. We are to actively go out and do good to others, have compassion on others, be kind to others, be humble, be gentile and patient with others. God does not say, “if others are to you,” rather He says, “go and do.”
God’s Word tells us that as we are going, as we are living our lives in our various vocations we are to be His witnesses into all the world. We are to be good witnesses, showing the faith that is in us through our thoughts, words and our deeds. When we remember all that our great God has done for us, the sending of His one and only Son, the suffering and death of His Son, His resurrection from the dead, the gifts of forgiveness, deliverance from the guilt as well as the punishment for our sins, the promise of new life here on this earth, and life eternal in heaven. When we remember all these things how can we do anything else but let His gifts overflow in us and pour out to others with a great witness to our great God.
But, how are we to do it? In and of ourselves we are not able to bear witness, or do anything else for the Lord. It is only with the help of the Holy Spirit that we can bear witness of our great God in thought, word and deed. We give thanks that the Holy Spirit works God pleasing thought in us, that He works good words to others through us and that He works good works through us, not that we deserve any credit but, that the Holy Spirit is praised for all our good works.
The title of our message for today is Bear, Forgive, Love. These were the three key words to our text. Because God chose us; because God clothed us in the righteousness which Christ earned for us on the cross; because the Holy Spirit works in us we are able to bear with each other, forgive each other and love each other. And we say, all praise and thanks to you, dear Lord. To You be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Friday, December 25, 2015
This year during the season of Advent and following through to Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Years Eve we have been addressing a topic that may not seem too tied to the season of Advent, we have been addressing the topic and/or issue of how doctrine and practice relate, that is how we do what we believe. Last night we took up the topic of worship. Does God prescribe how we should worship? And what should a worship service look life, especially as we keep in mind what we believe, teach and confess and how that should be seen in our worship service. This morning we will address the subject of evangelism. Does the Bible speak to us about what our evangelistic efforts should look like? If so, where and how?
So, does the Bible speak to us about evangelism? If so, where and how? Perhaps the most misused passage of God’s Word in speaking about outreach is what is often labeled the “Great Commission.” I say this passage is misused because if you actually go back and read the passage and read it grammatically correct, you will note that there is no co-missioning involved. So, this morning we are going to go back and reread what God is telling us and giving to us as we read His first instructions in evangelism. We read, from Matthew 28: “18And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20). Unfortunately the very first words of verse nineteen are translated as an imperative rather than as an indicative, the difference being that an imperative is a command word, a word that needs to have an exclamation point after it, whereas an indicative conveys a sense of the usual way of things, a word that is followed simply by a period. So, instead of this being a command to “Go!” (exclamation point), this is a description of a usual occurrence that is that as you are going about your life something usual will happen.
But, first things first. You may have noticed that we began this passage at verse eighteen with the words of Jesus explaining to His disciples, and us for that matter, that having lived a perfect life, having taking all our sins and paying the price on the cross for our sins, all our sins as well as all the sins of all people, of all places, of all times, having died and risen from the dead, now, once again as true God enjoying all the attributes of God in heaven, now once again having all authority as His, now the implication of those words is that He is now endowing, giving to His disciples and to us that same authority. In other words, when His disciples are asked, even when we are asked, by what authority do we speak what we speak, or to use our modern lingo, “Who gave you the right to say such things?” we might boldly profess that Jesus has given us the right as He has given us His authority to speak as such. So we begin by noting that God is giving us the authority to speak for Him as we evangelize or “good word” other people. That is what the word “evangelize” means, good news, good word, good message.
The next “aha” of our text is the how of our use of His authority, that is how do we exercise the authority Jesus has given us? We exercise His authority through the means He has given us to exercise, that is through the means that He uses to give the gifts He has to give, by baptism and teaching which we know as the means of grace. Indeed, God has never promised to give any of His gifts through any other means, namely and in particular through the means of anyone person, nor any other word, spoken or read, but only through the means of His Word, as well as Confession and Absolution and the sacraments, Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
So, as we are going, as we are living our lives, we have Jesus’ authority to speak His Word and to Baptize with the confidence that through these means God gives the gifts that He has to give and we would add as we read in the confession of our church, when and where He pleases. In other words, God does not act according to our time and will, but according to His good and gracious will which is always best and right. But, we do have this added benefit, that is that we have His promise that He will be with us as we have and use the opportunity to speak and baptize. We have His promise that He will give us not only the courage, but also the very words to speak so that when all is said and done we never need to question whether or not we said the right thing, but trust that God will use whatever we have said to His glory.
Thus, the sum of what is given in Matthew 28 is not a great commission but rather a great word of what we might call vocational evangelism, that is that as we live our lives in whatever our vocation we live in such a way that as we are asked we are able with God’s authority and promise to give an answer, even a defense of our faith in Jesus and then let the Holy Spirit do His work when and where He pleases.
Today we are celebrating the birth of our Savior, Jesus, God in flesh, the promised Messiah, the Christ, the one for whom we are named, Christians. Christmas is a great time for evangelism. At Christmas time we have the witness of the angels as they make their announcements, of course we might include the announcements to Mary and Joseph some nine months earlier, but also the announcement to the shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night. The announcement included who was born, the Savior, where He was born, in Bethlehem, and how they would find Him and know that it was Him, that He would be wrapped in clothes and lying in a manger.
We have the witness of the shepherds who listened to and believed the angels. They went into the city of David, Bethlehem and found everything just as the angel had told them. They arrived to find Jesus, most likely in the main part of the house because, as we were told, the guest room had been taken by other relatives. Jesus was lying in the manger, the animals food trough. And as they witnessed the truth of the angels they could not help themselves, but as they were going they told all who would listen to what they had seen and heard.
We also have the witness of the towns people who heard the message of the shepherds. These same people probably went and saw the baby as well and most certainly as they went on their way, as they lived in their various vocations, as they had opportunity they also speak of what they had seen and heard.
We also would include the later witness of the birth of Jesus by the star that lead the Magi. Indeed, even before they knew what they would see, even before seeing the boy Jesus they bore witness of what they believed they would see as they believed the promises of God through the prophets of old. And we have the witness of the Magi who came and saw the boy Jesus and most certainly as they went on their way spoke of the things they had seen and heard as well.
Today Christmas is an opportunity for us to bear witness as well. We bear witness of our faith in the Messiah, in Jesus the Christ as we live lives that celebrate the birth of Jesus, God in flesh. Indeed as we decorate, as we speak, with God’s authority, words of, not “happy holiday,” but boldly words of “Merry Christmas” we bear witness of our faith as we are living our lives. As we live lives of faith and celebration there are those who will notice that we are different and when they ask, why we are different we may be bold in expressing our faith through the very means God has given us to express that faith namely through His Word and then we let the Holy Spirit do His work, when and where He pleases, thus we do not witness through coercion, but simply in quiet confidence.
Most certainly when asked what we celebrate, even if we do not know what to say, even if we may falter according to our human nature we may simply follow Phillip’s example and invite them to “Come and see.” Come and see Jesus.
As always, as we have been bold to profess through this Advent and Christmas season, our focus is on Jesus. As we live lives of faith focused on Jesus and our faith in Jesus, we are evangelists and we are witnesses of what a great God we have, a gift giving God, a God of love and grace. Finally, we bear witness of our faith so that our very lives say, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen
Thursday, December 24, 2015
This year during the season of Advent and following through to Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Years Eve we have been addressing a topic that may not seem too tied to the season of Advent, but as you have heard me say, during the seasons of Advent and Lent, since we do not have any appointed Lectionary readings the Pastor gets to do some topical preaching, so during this Advent season we have been addressing the topic and/or issue of how doctrine and practice relate, that is how we do what we believe. Last week we took up the topic of the building. Does God prescribe how we should build a church building? And what should a church building look like, especially as we keep in mind what we believe, teach and confess and how that should be seen in our church building. This evening we will address the subject of the worship service. Does the Bible speak to us about what our worship service should look like? If so, where and how? And how does that tie in with Christmas?
Does the Bible speak to us about worship? If so, where and how? We begin by defining two words, prescriptive and descriptive. To describe something is to tell what something looks like, for example, I might describe a box as having six sides. To prescribe something it to tell what something must look like when it is completed, for example, I might prescribe that a drawing of a triangle must have a right angle, a thirty degree angle and a sixty degree angle.
With those two definitions then, what we have in the Bible, more often than not, is not a prescription, not a telling us of how something must be, such as worship, rather what we more often have is a description of what is worship. About worship Luke writes, “16And he (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” (Luke 4:16-20). So, this description of a worship service entails a reading of Holy Scripture and a sermon. And yet, our service has a lot more to it than just those two parts.
In his book, “Christian Liturgy,” author Frank Senn traces our Lutheran liturgy back to the first century A.D., in other words he writes that the Divine Service we use today had its beginning at least back as far as close to Jesus’ day as he could trace it. Personally, I believe that our Divine Service can be traced back to the giving of the sacrificial system of worship in Leviticus. I must admit that I cannot prove my belief, but I believe there is enough evidence to show how this theory might be true. During our upcoming Lenten Season we will look at the parts of our liturgy and see how they may have been a part of the sacrificial system and how, now as they have been fulfilled in Christ, that we have the liturgy we have today.
Oh, and one thing you may have noticed or picked up on, I like to use the name “Divine Service” for our worship service rather than simply calling it “worship” because what we are doing is Divine, that is it is God service. First and foremost we come to be given to by God and then and only then are we moved to respond with songs and prayers and hymns of praise.
So, as we have been discussing aspects of our Christian life, we ask, “How does our worship reflect our beliefs?” You may want to follow along in your hymnal as we see how our liturgy does a wonderful job of teaching what we believe, teach and confess. Because Baptism is important we begin our Divine Service with a remembrance of our Baptism, that is we begin with the invocation. The invocation is just that, an invoking, an inviting of our God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit to come and be a part of our service, to come and give us the gifts He has to give.
Because we believe that forgiveness is important, indeed it is our greatest need, to be forgiven, we follow the invocation with our confession and our hearing the most wonderful words in the world, God’s absolution spoken through the mouth of the Pastor and as we learned and confessed in Luther’s Small Catechism when we hear the word of absolution through the mouth of the Pastor we can be certain that his words are the Words of God and we can be confident that our sins are forgiven. Knowing that our sins are forgiven, which is truly what motivates our confession, indeed we confess before God and each other all our sins in our general confession. Knowing that we do not keep track of our sins and that very often we do not even realizing we are sinning when we do sin, we confess together all our sins, those of thought, word and deed, sins of omission and commission. And, again, then we hear the most beautiful words in the world, the words of Gospel and sins forgiven and we know that our sins are forgiven.
Because the Word of God is important, actually because the Word of God gives the gifts it says it gives and does the things it says it does, gives faith, gives forgiveness, strengthens faith, gives eternal life and so on, because the Word of God is important we hear readings from the Bible, usually an Old Testament Lesson, an Epistle Lesson and a Gospel Lesson and if we are doubly blessed, they all actually relate to one another. And we hear a sermon which should expound on the Word of God which we heard, neither adding to it nor taking from it. Indeed, as we believe, teach and confess that the Lord works through means and in particular the means of His Word, His Word should and does permeate our Divine Service, as a matter of fact, you can find the references for all the responsive liturgical phrases listed beside the phrase, as we say back to God the very Word He has given us to say.
Because our response of faith is important we do respond. We respond by singing hymns, by offering our first fruits, tithes and offerings, and by offering our prayers. We offer prayers in faith that God will answer our prayers according to what He knows we need, according to what He knows is best for us and according to His good and gracious will.
Because the Lord’s Supper is important, indeed another means of grace, another way in which our Lord gives us the gifts He has to give we have the Lord’s Supper. We prepare ourselves and then we come to His table where in, with and under the bread we eat His body thus making His sacrifice a part of us. And in, with and under the wine we drink His Holy Blood, again, making His sacrifice a part of us. Thus, His perfect life becomes our perfect life. His perfect suffering and death become our perfect suffering and death. His perfect resurrection becomes our perfect resurrection and His perfect life eternal becomes our perfect eternal life.
Finally, we conclude with God’s Trinitarian blessing that is the Aaronic benediction, that blessing Aaron put on the children of Israel, which is a fitting blessing because by faith in Jesus we are indeed the new Israel. And so, as one of my professors so well put it, we worship best when we say back to God the very words that He has given us to say and that is exactly what we are doing in the Divine Service.
As we celebrate the birth of the Messiah, we celebrate that our whole Divine Service points us to Jesus whose birth we once again celebrate. From the invocation, inviting Jesus to bless and be with us; to our confession and hearing the words of forgiveness He paid for us; to hearing the Word proclaiming Him as our Savior; to our partaking of His body and blood, given and shed for us; we celebrate His birth, life, suffering, death and resurrection. And remember we are just now beginning our celebration for we do celebrate for twelve days, until Epiphany, which some have called the Gentile Christmas for that is the day we celebrate the first visit of Gentiles to see the new born King. Our whole Divine Service is permeated with that Word of God as well as with His means of grace, all of His means of grace so that through these very means of grace we are given the gifts that God has to give. And we are moved to respond with hymns pointing Jesus and to our faith in Jesus, God in flesh.
As always, our focus is on Jesus, His birth, His life, His suffering, death and resurrection, even His ascension and the sending of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. We can and we do get it wrong. Human beings have been know to be wrong. But God is never wrong. He never gets it wrong. Thus we get it right when we point to Jesus, when we come to Jesus to be given the gifts He has to give. This evening that means especially celebrating the gift of the birth of Jesus, God in flesh who came to save us from our sins. Our response is simply to say, to Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Sunday, December 20, 2015
Christ Accomplished God’s Will - December 20, 2015 - Fourth Sunday in Advent - Text: Hebrews 10:5-10
Today is the fourth and last Sunday in Advent. Today we have lighted all four of our Advent candles which means that we only have a few more days to wait until we celebrate Christmas. In four short days, on Christmas Eve, we will begin celebrating Christmas. Christmas day is not the end or culmination of our the Christmas season, but the beginning of the twelve days of Christmas. Unfortunately, most of the rest of the world does not get it, instead, for the rest of the world, the celebration usually ends the day after and then the after Christmas sales begins.
Getting to our text for this morning, the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews gives us Christ’s words as He quotes David’s words in the Ps. 40:6-8. We read, “5Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, ‘Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; 6in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. 7Then I said, “Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book”’” (v. 5-7).
The Lord’s desire in the system of offering sacrifices in the Old Testament was not simply that sacrifices should be offered for the sake of offering sacrifices. His desire was not that sacrifices should be offered for the sake of earning salvation, or doing a duty, and so forth. Rather, the sacrificial system of the Old Testament was a reminder, a vivid visual reminder of sin and its cost, its price, that is that the price for sin was death. Blood had to be shed. And, unfortunately, all the sacrifices of the Old Testament meant nothing, at least as far as paying any price for sins committed. They were simply sacrifices which pointed to what was to come, namely the ultimate sacrifice of God Himself.
When Jesus came, He came not simply to be obedient for Himself. Sure, He could have lived a perfect life and then ended His life simply going to heaven and omitting the cross, which Satan tempted Him to do, but that is not what He came to do and that is not what He did. Christ Jesus came, God in flesh, to be our substitute, which is why He had to be and was truly a human man. As our substitute, as a human, He did everything we cannot do and He did it perfectly. As our substitute He lived perfectly. He obeyed all God’s commands perfectly. He obeyed all of God’s laws perfectly. He fulfilled all of God’s prophecies and promises concerning the coming Messiah perfectly. And He did it all for us, in our place.
Jesus came to do the will of the Father. And the will of the Father was that Jesus came to give His life for ours. This giving of Himself was the plan way back in the Garden of Eden and this was the plan even before the Lord began His work of creation. This plan was the will of the Father to redeem the world from sin and death.
How does the epistle writer understand these words? He gives his explanation beginning at verse eight, “8When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), 9then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He abolishes the first in order to establish the second. 10And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (v. 8-10).
Although David was a man of God he was not the Christ, the Messiah. David was a type of Christ in that some of the things he did in his life were like what Christ would come and do. David was king of Israel and he offered sacrifices for his people. Yet, as was stated before, the sacrifices David offered did not do anything, at least they did not earn or merit any forgiveness, instead they merely pointed to the ultimate sacrifice of Christ Himself. But the fact remains that David was a type of Christ in this priestly role of offering sacrifices.
For His part we say that Christ is the antitype, that is He is the fulfillment of the type. He is the one to whom the type points. Christ is the antitype in that He is the fulfillment of David. Christ offered sacrifices, but not simply sacrifices for the sake of offering sacrifices. Christ offered the sacrifice of Himself. His sacrifice was the once and for all sacrifice that all the other sacrifices pointed to.
Thus, with His offering of Himself on the cross, Christ abolished the law. Christ fulfilled the law by obeying it completely, so now we are no longer under the curse of the law, and of course we say, thanks be to God.
Ultimately we then understand that Christ’s work brought our justification and sanctification. Christ’s work brought our justification because He came as a substitute for us, that is He did what He did for us in our place because we are unable to do and live as we should. So, when God looks at us, by faith in Jesus He sees us as perfect, which is what He demands. Christ work also brings our sanctification in that as we make use of His means of grace the Holy Spirit works in us to do the good works which He has prepared in advance for us to do.
And so, as usual we ask, “What Does This Mean?” First and foremost this means that we understand our situation in life. We are conceived and born in sin. We daily sin much and are in need of forgiveness. We sin in thought, word and deed. We sin without even thinking about sinning. Sinning is simply our nature. Because of our sin, our just reward should be death, eternal spiritual death and physical death. Yet, although we know that we may physically pass on from this world, by faith in Jesus, we will never have to face eternal spiritual death.
So, we celebrate Christ’s birth. We celebrate that Jesus is God in flesh. We celebrate that Jesus came to do what we cannot do, live perfectly, which is what is demanded by God. We celebrate that Jesus came to do what was promised.
Jesus came to do, not only what we could not and cannot do, He came to do what all people could not and cannot do. He came to accomplished what all the Old Testament sacrifices pointed to. The bounty on our heads is death. Because of our sin our verdict was death. And there was nothing and is nothing we can do in and of ourselves to change that verdict. This has been the verdict since the Garden of Eden. This has been the verdict to which all the sacrifices of the Old Testament have pointed. Jesus came, not only to offer sacrifices, but to offer Himself as the once and for all sacrifice for us in our place. This is also why Jesus had to be truly human. Just as we understand that we do not substitute or compare unlike items (the example often give is that of apples and oranges) so we understand that Jesus had to be human, He had to be one of us in order to be a substitute for us, in order that the giving of His life might be counted as the giving of our life.
Jesus allowed Himself to be sacrificed after He had fulfilled all God’s laws and promises perfectly. What we cannot do. What the whole nation of Israel, God’s chosen people, the family of Jesus could not do, Jesus did perfectly. He fulfilled all of God’s laws perfectly. He fulfilled all of God’s prophecies and promises concerning the Messiah, concerning Himself, perfectly. This is why He had to be truly God. Any ordinary human being could not be born perfectly, nor live perfectly. It was only as He was truly God that He was born without sin and could live perfectly.
Hindsight is often twenty-twenty, as the saying goes, that is because we have the ability, we have the privilege of looking back and seeing that what Christ did He did for us. We are conceived and born in sin, Christ was conceived and born in perfection. We daily sin much and are in need of forgiveness, Christ never sinned. We mess up, Christ cleans up. Left to ourselves we would be eternally lost. Thanks be to God we are not left to ourselves. By faith in Jesus, faith given through His means of grace, He gives us salvation, forgiveness and life.
And so, everything is just about ready. We have been planning. We have been preparing ourselves. We have been pointed to the words of promise that a Savior would be born. We have been reminded of the need for a Savior, because of our sin, our being born in sin and our daily sinning. We have been reminded that God keeps His promises and so we can count on Him. I think we are just about ready. On Thursday evening we will return. We will be reminded of God’s fulfillment of giving His Son to be born lowly in a manger. We will be reminded that the reason for the birth of the Christ child is that He was born to die, to give His life as a ransom for all. And we will begin to celebrate. Friday we will indeed celebrate. And this is just the beginning. I would encourage you to not be like the rest of the world. Friday is not the day to stop celebrating. Friday, or the day after, Saturday, or perhaps the Monday after, the rest of the world will go back to everyday life. The radio stations will cease playing Christmas music. The stores will have their after Christmas sales. Life will go on. I do know some families who have a tradition of giving their children gifts each day for each of the twelve days of Christmas. Perhaps that is one why to remember to keep celebrating. Because the celebration continues until January 6 which is Epiphany. So, again I encourage you to be different, to shine as a light to the world and to celebrate so that others might see your good works, that they might see your celebration and celebrating and give glory to the Lord who does all and gives all. To Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Wednesday, December 16, 2015
This year during the season of Advent and following through to Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Years Eve we are addressing a topic that may not seem too tied to the season of Advent, we are addressing the topic and/or issue of how doctrine and practice relate, that is how we do what we believe. Last week we took up the topic of education and were reminded that children are God’s gifts to parents and that parents are the first teachers of their children. We also were reminded that when God is absent from education and He is replaced by what is called secular humanism, that there is truly no knowledge. Indeed, outside of God and faith in Jesus who is the way, the truth, and the life there is and can be no surety of anything in the world, thus all things are called into question. This evening we will address the subject of the building of a church. Does the Bible speak to us about what a church building should look like? If so, where and how?
In the Old Testament, as soon as the Children of Israel have been delivered from their bondage of slavery in Egypt God gives a detailed description of what the tabernacle, what was in essence the temple, should look like, including all the specifications to its parts. Later, after Israel was settled in the Promised Land under King Solomon, God gives instructions about how to build the temple. We read in 1 Kings, “1In the four hundred and eightieth year after the people of Israel came out of the land of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon’s reign over Israel, in the month of Ziv, which is the second month, he began to build the house of the Lord. 2The house that King Solomon built for the Lord was sixty cubits long, twenty cubits wide, and thirty cubits high. 3The vestibule in front of the nave of the house was twenty cubits long, equal to the width of the house, and ten cubits deep in front of the house. 4And he made for the house windows with recessed frames. 5He also built a structure against the wall of the house, running around the walls of the house, both the nave and the inner sanctuary. And he made side chambers all around. 6The lowest story was five cubits broad, the middle one was six cubits broad, and the third was seven cubits broad. For around the outside of the house he made offsets on the wall in order that the supporting beams should not be inserted into the walls of the house” (1 Kings 6:1-6). Certainly this is just the beginning of God’s description of the temple and indeed He gives very specific details concerning all the parts of the temple and all the instruments to be used in the temple.
So one question we might ask is this, “Does this mean our churches should look like the temple?” Our first answer is probably not, and yet at the same time I would say, would it not be nice if all our churches did look as grand as this temple? Indeed years from now when archeologist dig up our cities what will they find, awesome temples to the great God we worship or something else? Indeed they might surmise that the great god we worship is money as we build great buildings to the god of profit.
The second answer to the question of should our churches look like the temple is that the local synagogues were not prescribed but some descriptions tell us a little about them. In the account of Jesus preaching in His hometown we are told that there was a place to read scripture and preach the word. But that does not give us much to go on.
So, our best answer would be that our churches our church buildings should reflect our theology. What does it mean that our churches should reflect our theology? But let me pause here a minute and describe some “church” buildings that we see today and try to figure out what the building says about what is going on inside, in other words, what is the theology or beliefs. If one would venture into Houston and stumble across Compaq center would the first thought be, “Oh, this is quite a church building?” Or would one wonder, what type of sporting event or entertainment might be happening inside? When we enter a building and see a stage with screens, what does that tell us about the focus of what is going on? Again, would we surmise that this would be a place where one is entertained? When we enter a building and look around and see that there is no cross or baptismal font, what is our impression of what is or is not important? Indeed, our building does say something about what we believe, teach and confess.
A church building that has been dedicated to be a place to worship our Lord, that is it is dedicated as being a place to come and be given the gifts of God and to respond to those gifts, should speak well of those gifts and the means through which we are given those gifts. Because Holy Baptism is important to us and is a means through which our Lord gives us faith, should not our church have a prominent place for our baptismal font? I might be so bold as to suggest that because we believe that Baptism is our entrance into the Church (capital “C” as in Holy Christian Church) would it not be most appropriate that our Baptismal font would be at the entrance of our church building, as is the case in some churches? Moving on, because confession and absolution is a means whereby our Lord gives us forgiveness, perhaps a sign of such confession would be kneelers in the pews, or at the least a railing in the front where one might go and kneel before the Lord in order to submit in humble confession? Because the Word of God is the means through which our Lord gives, strengthens and keeps us in faith, should there not be a place where that word is boldly proclaimed, perhaps a pulpit designated for such proclamation? And because the Lord’s Supper is another means through which our Lord gives us forgiveness and strengthens us in faith, should this not have a prominent place, including an altar where the elements are kept as well as a place where the elements are distributed? Because our Church, as well as all history focuses on and has its center as Jesus Christ and Him crucified, should not the cross have a prominent place in the church? Indeed, the cross, the reminder that Christ is the focus as well as the symbols of God’s means of grace should be prominent in a place that is fit for worship. Worship, or Divine Service means we come to be given to by God and to respond to His gifts, thus the place of worship should be reflective of, not of a mall or place of entertainment, or a sporting event, but a place of worship.
I have seen church buildings that quite well speak volumes of the theology, the doctrine of the people who worship in the building. I have seen churches in which the baptism font is at the entrance. I have seen churches where the Baptismal font, the altar and the pulpit are the main things in front and center with a cross as a focal point, all focusing on what is important. I have also seen churches where one cannot find a cross, nor a baptismal font, nor an altar or pulpit, instead they find a stage and a band, a screen and amps, bringing one to wonder what is the focus of such church? Indeed, how we practice building our church building, the style of the building says a lot about the substance, the doctrines and teachings of what goes on in that building.
So, to tie this in to our Advent season, how does our building speak of Christmas? Our doctrine shines through during Advent and Christmas season through various changes within our worship facility. The changes that should be most obvious are those that we should notice such as the change of paraments. The paraments for the Advent season are blue symbolizing the hope that we have in looking forward to our celebration of the birth of our Messiah. There is often a change of banners which emphasis the season of Advent and Christmas. Many, not all, but many congregations add an advent wreath. You may have noticed and certainly I take the time for instruction on Sunday morning concerning the message of the Advent wreath, but we change our Christ candle to be the Advent wreath as the middle candle of the wreath is the Christ candle. You may or may not have noticed that the Christ candle is lit from Christmas Eve through Ascension day symbolizing Christ’s living among us. After ascension day it is no longer lit, except for Baptisms, until Christmas Eve again, symbolizing Jesus’ ascension into heaven. Also during the season of Advent to Christmas there are various local seasonal customs which might include such additions as a Christmas tree, greenery, candles, lights and so forth.
The purpose of these changes and additions is to make sure our focus is on our celebration of Jesus’ birth. We can either focus on us and the things of this world, on our being entertained or even our being amused, or we can focus our attention on our Lord, what He has done for us, what He does for us and what He continues to do for us. As we approach our celebration of the birth of our Messiah certainly we will want to focus our attention, not on things temporal, not on the things of this world, but on things eternal, on preparing our hearts and minds in as many was as possible to celebrate, to be given the gifts of God and to give praise and glory to His holy name, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Sunday, December 13, 2015
Last week we noted that in his letter to the Philippians Paul does not dwell so much on any particular sin of the Philippians, rather the intent of this letter is one of encouraging and building up of the people of Philippi. Yet, although Paul does not dwell on any particular sin, as we read his words of encouragement and put them up as a mirror to our own lives, we do indeed find ourselves lacking. We find ourselves lacking because of our refusal of the gifts of the Gospel and this is our sin, as we will see.
Before we get to our text for this morning, as we continue on through this advent season, as we continue getting ourselves ready to celebrate Christmas and the birth of God in flesh, let us take a moment to look at the other lessons for this morning. In our Old Testament reading we hear the words of the prophet Zephaniah as he predicts the coming of the Messiah.
In our Gospel reading for this morning we hear some of the fulfillment of the words of the Old Testament lesson and we hear the account of Jesus’ response to the question of John the Baptist who came to prepare the people for Jesus’ coming, in particular for Jesus to begin His earthly ministry. Yet, as great a man, as great a prophet as John was, he still had his doubts as we hear in his question of Jesus identity. Jesus’ response was not to argue for His identity as the Messiah, nor was it a call to look at anything as proof of who He was, except that He was fulfilling the words of the prophet’s concerning the Messiah.
In our text, Paul encourages us as people who have witnessed Jesus’ first coming and who look forward to His second coming. We are to patiently, yet eagerly wait for the day of the Lord when He will come to gather us and all the elect and to take us to be with Himself in heaven.
Now, getting to our text in particular. Our text begins at verse four, “4Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (v. 4-7)
Paul begins by encouraging and exhorting us to rejoice and to rejoice always. As we look at our lives, do we rejoice always? I think we are people who, rather than rejoicing always, more often than not we tend to bemoan our own circumstances in life. We bemoan that things don’t always go our way. We bemoan that life is unfair, at least as we might consider life to be fair. And if we are not always this way, certainly we know people who tend to be this way. Yet, Paul encourages and exhorts us to rejoice always, no matter what our circumstances. As we listen to Paul’s words and as we understand his words as coming from an end times point of view that is as Paul knows what the end result for us is, eternal life in heaven, certain he can encourage us to rejoice always. And as we know, believe and have hope and confidence in our eternal salvation, with the Lord’s help, we can rejoice always.
Paul encourages us to be reasonable. To be reasonable means to be gentle, to show forbearance which might mean to put up with each other, to not give offense, and at the same time to not be so easily offended. As we continue looking in the mirror, how often do we get upset and then look for ways to get more upset and more offended, always dwelling on the negative. And so we again go back to Paul’s view of the coming of the end of the world and as we know, believe and have hope and confidence in our eternal salvation, with the Lord’s help, we can be reasonable.
Paul encourages us to not be anxious, that is to not worry. Here again, as we look in the mirror the question is not if we worry, but how often do we worry. We worry about our health. We worry about our property, our house, our car. We worry about our family and our church family. We worry because of our lack of trust in our Lord, it is only natural. Someone once quipped, “When we worry we undo our prayers.” And yet, we worry anyway and we worry that we worry. But, again, going back to Paul’s view of the coming of the end of the world and as we know, believe and have hope and confidence in our eternal salvation, with the Lord’s help, we can turn our worries over to Him.
Which leads to Paul’s encouragement to pray. Certainly we understand, as we were taught in confirmation class that prayer is a heart to heart talk with God, anytime and anywhere. Paul encourages us to give everything over to the Lord in prayer and supplication and with thanksgiving and to leave it with Him, not to take it back, not to worry and undo our giving it to Him. Yet, how often do we pray to our Lord and then we attempt to go on to help Him out in answering our prayer. How often do we believe that God has not answered our prayer when in reality His answer has been “no”? And how often do we remember to give thanks to the Lord even for answering “no” or for giving us something we may not like or even for giving us the struggles and challenges we face in life? Remembering that prayer is one part of our conversation with God, our speaking to Him. As Paul encourages us to pray, so we might well read this as his encouragement to make regular and diligent use of the means of grace, especially in the reading of the Word which is His speaking to us. Yet, again, going back to Paul’s view of the coming of the end of the world and as we know, believe and have hope and confidence in our eternal salvation, with the Lord’s help, we do take everything to the Lord by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving.
Paul’s encouragement is that as we do these things, God’s peace will be given to us. God’s peace is a peace which begins with the forgiveness of sins and a removal of guilt. Yes, we may experience some peace and quite, some peace and serenity in this world, at least for a little while, but nothing in this world can compare to that peace which is true peace, that peace which flows from sins forgiven and guilt removed. Unfortunately, again, as we continue looking in the mirror, how often it is that we hold on to our sin and guilt and we let our sin and guilt drag us down. Going back to Paul’s view of the coming of the end of the world and as we know, believe and have hope and confidence in our eternal salvation, with the Lord’s help, we can give Him our sin and guilt and we know that He does give us peace from forgiveness and life.
Paul reminds us that God’s peace is a peace which surpasses all understanding. We do have a difficult time understanding God’s peace. As we just said, His peace is a peace which has its beginning in the forgiveness of sins. And yet, even as our Lord forgives us we continue to sin. We daily sin much and are in need of forgiveness as we confess. We sin in thought, word and deed. We sin sins of omission and sins of commission. We are conceived and born in sin. We are spiritually blind, spiritually dead and enemies of God. How can God forgive us we might ask? How can a Creator God love His creation so much? And yet, this is where God’s peace, where His forgiveness so much surpasses all understanding, because He is a God who does forgive us and forgive us and forgive us.
Finally, Paul says that God will guard your hearts and minds. How does God guard our hearts and minds? He guards our hearts and minds in the same way as He gives the gifts He has to give, through means, namely through the means of grace. When we refuse the means of grace, by not being in Divine Service and Bible class, by not reading our Bibles, having personal and family devotions, by not remembering our baptism, then we remove ourselves from the means our Lord has of giving us the gifts He has to give and our hearts and minds are unguarded. But, as we remember our baptism, as we have personal and family devotions, read our Bible and attend Divine Service and Bible class, as we partake of His body and blood with the bread and wine, our Lord works through these means to guard our hearts and minds to keep us in faith, and to strengthen us in faith, until He comes again.
What Does This Mean? Christians are different, at least different from the rest of the world. We Christian are forgiven, are given faith, are given life and salvation. These are gifts our Lord gives through His means of grace. These are gifts that we, as Christians cherish above all other gifts.
We Christians focus on the world to come, on heaven. Yes, we live in this world. Yes, we are tempted to be in this world and even to be of this world, but we know that there is a better place, a greater world and that is the world to come and so we invest our time, not so much in this world, but in the world to come. We invest our time in this world getting ourselves ready for the real world, the world, not of a few short years, eighty or ninety, but in the real world of eternity.
At this time of year we Christians look forward to celebrating Christ’s birth, God in flesh. We do not celebrate just yet. Remember, “advent” means coming. We use this time to get ready. Just as one would not simply call up all his friends and say, come over in two minutes, I am having a grand party, but would instead plan by making a list of invitees, making a list of what will be served to eat and drink and so forth, so too, we do not simply jump into our Christmas celebration. No, we use this time during advent to prepare, to get ready, because on Christmas day, on December 25 we will begin celebrating and we will celebrate for twelve days, until Epiphany.
Not only do we look forward to Christmas, we Christians also look forward to Good Friday and Easter. We look forward to God in flesh dying and rising. The reason we celebrate the birth of the Christ Child is because He came for one reason, to give His life for ours. We look forward to Good Friday, not in any morbid way, but knowing, understanding and believing that Jesus’ death was for us, in our place so that we might have forgiveness and life. And especially we look forward to celebrating His resurrection on Easter Sunday, knowing that death and the grave have no power over Him.
Finally, we Christians look forward to Christ’s return. Just as God kept His first promise and sent Jesus to be born, to live for us, to take our sins, to suffer on the cross and to die for us, so He will keep His second promise to return to take us from this vale of tears to be with Himself in heaven for eternity.
By God’s grace, given through faith, given through means, we are confident in our forgiveness, life and salvation and thus we do rejoice in the Lord. Because of our salvation, because God has His way with us, we do rejoice in the Lord always, we are reasonable in our relationships, we are not anxious, but we do take everything to our Lord by prayer and supplication and we do give thanks in all circumstances. And we bask in our Lord’s peace which passes all understanding. May the Lord continue to pour out His peace on you during this season of preparation. To Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Wednesday, December 9, 2015
This year during the season of Advent and following through to Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Years Eve we are addressing a topic that may not seem too tied to the season of Advent, we are addressing the topic and/or issue of how doctrine and practice relate, that is how we do what we believe. Last week we were introduced to this topic by defining our terms, two terms in particular and those terms were doctrine and practice or as proclaimed elsewhere as substance and style. Doctrine and substance are the what we believe and practice or style are the what does this look like in real life? This evening we take up the topic of education. Does what we believe inform or direct us to have any particular type of education system?
As many of you know, our church body, the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod has for years had schools attached to our churches. As a matter of fact our history bears out the fact that many churches began with a school. Even here at St. Matthew we had a school for many years. The great thing about having a church school is that this affords an opportunity for a daily teaching of God’s Word in the normal school setting, along with all the other studies being taught from a Christian perspective.
So the question we might as is this, “Does the Bible speak to us about education? And if so, where and how?” In Deuteronomy Moses relates these words to us, “4Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 8You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deut. 6:4-9). God’s will is that first and foremost we have an education, a daily education, a daily teaching of our children and even reteaching ourselves concerning the doctrines of God. As God tells us in Proverbs, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Proverbs 1:7). Without the fear of the Lord, that is respect and awe for our maker, we would be foolish and uninstructed. Unfortunately we see this happening in the schools of our country, our elementary schools, our high schools and our college and universities, as the fear of the Lord is replaced with humanistic teachings which continually lure the hearts of our children away from our Lord and His teachings.
And whose responsibility is this, that is whose responsibility is it to raise up and teach our children? God gives parents children and He gives instruction in the most important teachings. Again, going back to Proverbs we read the encouragement even the command to, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6). Parents have the responsibility to train up, to teach their children who are a gift to them from God. When someone suggests that parents cannot teach their own children my response is to ask, “Who taught them to brush their teeth? to get dressed? to tie their shoes? to know that Jesus is their Savior? Yes, we live in a society wherein we may gain help in training our children via the school system, either public or parochial, but the responsibility belongs to the parents. Unfortunately too many in our society are blindly giving up their responsibility to agencies who are teaching something other than the fear of the Lord. Interestingly enough, research shows that the more involved the parent is in the child’s education, the better the child will do. God also gives a promise in teaching children, that is that even if they should rebel and fall away for a time, they know what is right and will come back to the ways in which they were taught.
Finally we have words from Paul as he writes, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). God’s instructions are to fathers as the head of the family to make sure their children are given a proper teaching in faith. Indeed, God will hold fathers accountable for their children and as I have expressed to many a young couple, to me it does not matter whether you believe what I am saying, or what God is saying, but it will happen, God will hold the father accountable.
So, how do we tie this Biblical teaching of educating our children into our preparation for celebrating Jesus’ birth? As we read through the history, the accounts of Jesus’ life we can see that He did not attend any formal education as we would call it today. He did not attend public school, nor parochial school, rather He was raised and taught by His father and mother.
After His birth we hear of Jesus being brought to the temple at the age of 8 days for His circumcision, the sacrament marking Him and making Him a child of the covenant. Interestingly enough we tend to fail to acknowledge that circumcision was the precursor to the sacrament of Holy Baptism and as circumcision occurred on the eighth day following birth we would certainly correlate that with having our children baptized as soon after birth as is humanly possible, thus marking them and making them children of the covenant of salvation.
We hear nothing of Jesus’ life again until we hear of Him at the age of 12 years in the temple, perhaps at His bar mitzpha wherein He became an adult son of the covenant. Following the ceremonies we are privy to the disturbing news that Mary and Joseph had inadvertently left Jesus in Jerusalem when they left to go home. In their defense, there was a large group and they believed He was with some of the others in the group. When the found Jesus He was in the temple discussing theology with the teachers of the law and the priest. Where did He learn such teachings? Certainly as He was God He knew these things, but most assuredly His mother and father as well as the local rabbi perhaps had been teaching Him.
How does this look in our own lives? We understand that the education of our children is the responsibility of the parent. As I instruct parents of our confirmands, it is their responsibility to teach their child, but I am here to help. As parents our desire will be to teach our children that “The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” And that they should, “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” We will want to diligently teach these words to our children as we “sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” We will want to “bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.” We will want to “write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates”
Again, some parents choose to send their children to school, which is okay, yet I would encourage those parents also to take an active role in their child’s education to make sure they are learning what is mete, right and salutary. As a church we offer opportunities for Biblical education such as Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, confirmation, Bible class and the like. Here again, even more than my encouragement to take an active role in your child’s public or parochial education is to take an even more active role in their Christian education. More important than knowing the things of this world are knowing the things of the world to come. This world is transient, fast and fleeting, the world to come is eternal.
Mary and Joseph took an active role in Jesus’ education. They taught Him as they brought Him into the church through the sacrament of Circumcision. They taught Him so that He might be in discussion with the priests and teachers of the law. They taught Him and yet they were taught by Him as well.
What is different about Christian, Lutheran Education? Just as the Word of God begins, centers on and ends with a focus on Jesus, so Christian, Lutheran Education begins, centers on, and ends with a focus on Jesus. Indeed, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and just as Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, so our lives and our education focus on Jesus. Our focus is seen through our church year calendar as we begin our church year in the season of Advent preparing ourselves to celebrate His birth. And as always stirring in us to say, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Sunday, December 6, 2015
Being Made Blameless for the Day of Christ - December 6, 2015 - Second Sunday in Advent - Text: Philippians 1:2-11
Have you ever wondered where the Pastor gets his opening statement of grace? We copy Paul. Here our text begins with Paul’s usual beginning, “2Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 2). My prayer, as your pastor, is the prayer of Paul on you the reader and hearer of these words, that God would pour out His grace and peace on you as you hear these words which the Lord through Paul has to give. And that you are given the gifts the Lord has to give through the Words he pours out on you.
As is his usual custom, Paul begins by giving thanks and by telling why he is giving such thanks. We pick up at verse three, “3I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, 4always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, 5because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. 6And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (v. 3-6). Paul gives thanks because of the good work God began in the Philippians. Notice it is not some innate good work the Philippians are doing, rather it is the fact that it all begins with God. God began their good work. God works their good works in and through them so that they are indeed good works.
Paul gives thanks because of their partnership with him, and this is a partnership which is both financially and in prayers. The Philippians gave their first fruits, their tithes and their offerings to the Lord which went to support the mission work of Paul, the spreading of the Gospel to all parts of the world. The Philippians also offered prayers for Paul, certainly prayers for safe travel as well as prayers for protection from adversity and prayers for faithfulness and fruitfulness in sharing the Gospel with others.
And Paul gives thanks because of their show of faith, love and fellowship. It was not difficult to see that the Philippians were a caring group of Christians as they let their lights shine. They lived lives as Christians giving themselves first to the Lord. They lived lives as Christians encouraging and building each other up as brothers and sisters in Christ. They lived lives as Christians supporting Paul, praying for him, encouraging him and the like. Certainly one could see that God was having His way with the Philippians.
Why is Paul so thankful? Paul explains why he loves God’s people so. We pick up at verse seven, “7It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. 8For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus” (v. 7-8). Paul is thankful and loves God’s people because of their prayers and encouragement, especially during his times of trial and imprisonment. Just as being a Christian today is not necessarily an easy life to live, so it was even more difficult in Paul’s day. Paul was put on trial, beaten, stoned almost to the point of death and even imprisoned for his faith and for his missionary zeal. Paul gives thanks and loves the Philippians because of their prayers on his behalf during his times of struggle, and especially during his times of imprisonment.
Paul is thankful and loves God’s people because their lives show forth the faith he proclaims. Here again, one’s Christian faith is not something that is simply one part or one compartment of one’s life. One’s Christian faith, if it is true faith, shines through in all aspects of life. The Philippians exemplified what it meant to be a Christian and for that Paul gave thanks for them and expressed his love for them.
Paul’s love, then, is an imitation of Jesus agape love. Paul’s love was not a conditional love that depended on what the Philippians were doing, rather his love grew deeper because of their response of faith.
Finally, Paul offers a prayer for the Philippians. We pick up at verse nine, “9And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, 10so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God” (v. 9-11). Paul’s prayer is that the Philippians will continue in faith and love. Paul knows that the world is a difficult place to live. He knows that temptation and sin abound. He knows that our human nature is such that we easily succumb to temptation and sin and so he offers prayers to the Lord to give the Philippians more faith and love to help them fight against temptation and sin.
Paul prays that the Philippians will continue to grow in faith, knowledge and discernment. What better advantage, what better way to fight temptation and sin than to be strengthened in faith, in knowledge and in discernment. Just as we are daily bombarded with mixed messages in the world of today, so too were the Philippians of Paul’s day. It is no easy task to discern right from wrong, to understand and know what evil lay behind every door. Certainly growing in one’s faith, knowledge and discernment will give an advantage in fighting temptation and sin.
And Paul prays that the Philippians will remain faithful until death when they will be given the crown of life. Although life might seem long as we live it each day, the fact of the matter is life is very short. The greatest gift we can be given is to remain faithful until death.
What Does This Mean? As you may have noticed, Paul’s letter to the Philippians is not one in which he deals with too much sinfulness, rather this letter is more one of encouragement. As such, as we continue this season of Advent, as we continue to prepare ourselves to celebrate the birth of the Christ-child, God in flesh, so we are encouraged in our own Christian faith and life. Yes, we do live in a world of temptation and sin. There is the constant temptation to be like those around us, after all, it sure looks like they are having a lot of fun, living in the world, indulging in the debauchery of the world, why should we not have so much fun, after all, we can ask for forgiveness later. Yet, Jesus did not give His life so that we might have a license to sin. Jesus gave His life so that we might have forgiveness and so that we might be encouraged not to sin.
As we read and hear Paul’s words this morning my pray is that we are hearing them as being writing about us and to us here at St. Matthew. I give thanks to the Lord as Paul does, for your faith, knowledge, and discernment, given to you by God. Living in this world is not easy, as temptation and sin abound, even daily attacking and enticing us. And yet, as the Lord works through His means of grace, He works to strengthen and keep us in faith so that we do live lives of faith, so that we do grow in our faith and so that we are able, at least to some degree to discern right from wrong and at least some of the time live lives that are well pleasing in His sight. And so, I do thank God for your presence in divine service and in Bible class and for your faith, for your growing in faith in knowledge and in discernment.
I thank you as Paul does for your prayers and for showing your faith as confirmation of the Gospel proclaimed. As I pray for each one of you so I continue to ask for your prayers for me as well and I thank you for those prayers. Being a pastor does not negate being tempted, as a matter of fact, as a pastor the devil certainly will attack all the more with the idea, as we have seen in the news, if he gets the pastor that should discredit God and His Word. So, I do continue to ask and thank you for your prayers on my behalf. I would also continue to encourage you in showing your faith as confirmation of the Gospel that you have heard. As we learn in the third commandment, simply going to church, hearing and believe the Word proclaimed is not the fulfillment of this commandment. Rather, going to church, listening, believing and doing, showing forth our faith, is the fulfillment of this commandment and so I continue to encourage you as such.
And finally, I pray as Paul does that you may remain faithful. This world is not an easy world to live in, at least, not as a Christian. We are constantly tempted to question God and His Word, “Did God really say . . .?” Or, “Did God really mean . . . ?” We are constantly tempted to deny our own faith. We are constantly enticed and lured by the pleasures and ways of this world, fame, fortune and power. Often it seems there are more enemies than friends in this world. Yet, we have God’s promise that He is with us always, even to the very end of the age. We have God’s gifts of faith, forgiveness and life which He pours out on us abundantly, day in and day out. As we approach our celebration of the birth of Christ, we are reminded that this is the promise God made back in the Garden of Eden and as He fulfilled this promise, as we celebrate as such, so we know that He keeps and fulfills all His promises. He will keep us faithful. He will watch over us and defend us. Thanks be to God.
When I begin writing a sermon, I like to capture the central thought of the text into one sentence. This morning that sentence, that central thought is this: God gives faith, strengthens faith and brings faith to completion in heaven and while living in this world, God gives fellowship with other believers and a response of faith to do the good works He has prepared in advance for us to do. May the Lord who has “began a good work in you . . . bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” For Jesus’ sake and to Him be the glory. Amen.
Wednesday, December 2, 2015
The seasons of Advent and Lent afford a pastor times to explore topical sermon subjects. Most of you know that during the year I preach through the set reading lists known as the lectionary and the readings called pericopies. I follow through the three year cycle by preaching from the Old Testament readings through one cycle, the Epistles the next cycle and the Gospel readings the third cycle. But, during Advent and Lent I get to preach off the reading list and attempt to preach topically. Over the years I have used the seasons of Advent and Lent to preach about the characters of the season as well as the symbols of the season and once from a set of poems I wrote.
This year during the season of Advent and following through to Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Years Eve we will be addressing a topic that may not seem too tied to the season of Advent. This year during the season of Advent we will address the topic and/or issue of how doctrine and practice relate, that is how we do what we believe. For example, if I believe the Ten Commandments are God’s commands to me, then I will live my life trying to keep the Ten Commandments, even if I mess up from time to time. This year we will look at how what we believe as Lutherans shows itself in the way we educate, the way our building looks, the way we worship, how we reach out and what our relationships look like. At the same time we will incorporate this topic, these issues into our preparation and celebration of Christmas and our New Year’s Eve celebration. My hope is that this topic will be a good preface for the Lenten season in which I will attempt to show how our liturgy is grounded in and shows the history and promises from the Old Testament sacrificial system pointing to Jesus, to the fulfillment in the New Testament, but that will be for then.
We being our topic with the reminder, tongue in cheek, that where two or three are gathered there are three or four opinions. We are people in conversation in our world and yet, conversations can be difficult especially if the two people talking do not share the same language. When two people who speak two different languages attempt to communicate and converse there can be some, if not a lot of difficulties.
Yet, even if they share the same language, but have different understandings as to the meanings of the words they use there is still difficulty in carrying on a conversation. If I were to invite my friend from Australia to come over for biscuits and gravy he might look at me as if I were a bit odd, because to an Australian, a biscuit is what we would call a cookie and I would think it a bit odd as well if someone asked me to eat cookies and gravy. Even more so this happens in the Christian church and among the various denominations and even other religions as well. Many churches talk about faith and grace and gifts of God, but often have a different understanding and even meaning of those words.
At the time of Jesus birth, many people, even many of Jesus ethnic background, the Jewish people, did not understand the prophecies and promises of God given since the Garden of Eden. After Jesus resurrection, in speaking with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus we hear Jesus speak. “25And he said to them, ‘O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?’ 27And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:25-27). Indeed, it was not until the sending of the Holy Spirit that this confusion was corrected and yet the confusion continues for many and in particular for those outside the Christian faith even today.
We still have this problem today in defining terms which is the reason we must start by defining our words. There are two words in particular that we need to define for the purposes of this series. The first word is the word “doctrine.” This word “doctrine” means that which we believe, teach and confess according to God’s Word and the Lutheran Confessions. A similar word is often used as a synonym for the word doctrine and that is the word “substance.” The word “substance” indicates the vital or main part of what is meant. And so we hear about doctrine and substance where these words usually are spoken with the intent that they mean the same thing.
The second word we need to define is the word “practice.” This word “practice” means how what is believed, taught and confessed is lived out in our lives. Practice is how what we believe looks in real life. Again, a similar word that is often used as a synonym for the word practice is the word “style.” The word “style” indicates a way in which something is expressed, a form to hold the main thing. And so we hear about practice and style with these words usually intended to mean the same thing.
So, the question is “How do we practice what we believe about God and His Word? Our church year centers around the life of Jesus, beginning with Advent and our preparation for celebrating Jesus’ birth. We celebrate Jesus’ birth, His circumcision, and the visit of the Magi which begins the Epiphany season. Our church year then moves to Lent which begins with Ash Wednesday and culminates in our celebration of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and our Easter resurrection celebration. Forty days after Easter we celebrate, unfortunately in not so big a celebration, Jesus’ Ascension. Ten days later we celebrate Pentecost and the sending of the Holy Spirit. The ensuing Sunday we celebrate our worship of a God who shows Himself to be a triune God, on Holy Trinity Sunday and the rest of the year we grow in our faith through the Sundays after Pentecost. So, one way we practice what we believe is that we follow the church year calendar which focus us on and points us to Jesus. And because we follow the church year calendar anyone who follows our practice will understand that we believe that Jesus is important.
You see, doctrine and practice, or what is called substance and style go hand in hand. You live or practice what you believe, or as you have heard it said, “Practice what you preach,” and you believe what you are doing, that is you believe as you practice. So, if you change one, either doctrine or practice, either substance or style, the other will automatically change. During this season of Advent we will look at how this happens, has happened and continues to happen in various aspects of the Christian Church and in our own church body specifically.
Now, to pull this in to the season of Advent, we practice our belief in Holy Scripture through our Advent to Christmas season. Just as the Lord prepared His people for the coming of the Messiah, for Jesus’ birth, so we prepare ourselves to celebrate anew each year this wonderful event and we do that through the three Wednesday services building up to Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. As we follow along through the readings on Sunday morning we hear text after text after text of the promises of a coming Messiah, a Christ. These texts point us to an indication of the birth of the Christian church promised in the Garden of Eden when God first promised a Christ. Thus all who believe the promise of a coming Christ from that day are indeed Christians.
As we prepare for and celebrate Christmas Eve and Christmas Day we do so with a grand and wonderful celebration recognizing and teaching that Jesus’ birth was important, even important enough to continue to celebrate even today. The corollary is also true. Certainly some of the secular ways of celebrating have no business in our churches, because they point to a different belief, which might and actually has caused confusion to many in our world today.
Because we believe in God’s promises to send a Christ; because we believe that Jesus is the fulfillment of those promises, because we believe Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, so we point to Him and we celebrate His birth as a baby in Bethlehem. We make a big deal about this celebration so that our celebrating, our practice might bear witness of our faith so that others might see and hear and believe as well. And because of our celebrations, others see that our faith in Jesus as our Christ, as our Messiah, indeed what we believe is seen in our celebrating and in our celebrating others see what we believe. So our witness says, Jesus, His birth, life, death and resurrection are important to us. Thus our witness says, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.