Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!


Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Fellowship - April 30, 2017 - Third Sunday of Easter - Text: Acts 2:14a, 36-41

Last week we heard words of forgiveness. Actually, every week we come to hear words of forgiveness. We need, so desperately, every week, even every day to hear words of forgiveness. A few years back in one of the Portals of Prayer devotions, the writer wrote the following: “Marghanita Laski, one of this century’s best known secular humanists, said shortly before her death: ‘What I envy most about you Christians is your forgiveness; I have nobody to forgive me.’ It’s so easy for Christians to take for granted the precious gift of the forgiveness of sins—a gift so many people have never truly known.” Yes, as Christians we have that most precious gift of forgiveness of sins. Last week we heard Peter’s words of Easter’, of Jesus suffering, death and resurrection. This week we hear the very conclusion of Peter’s sermon, the response of the people, and the result in the church.
Being the good Lutheran that he was, Peter preached a beautiful Lutheran sermon of both Law and Gospel. The effect of the Law was that it convicted the people of their sin. Peter’s words of law were that you crucified Jesus. And yes, he is speaking to us today. We have crucified Jesus. With our sins, with our continuing to sin, with our sins of thought, word and action we crucify Jesus. When the movie The Passion of Christ came out there were some who attempted to discredit this movie by suggesting that it was an anti-Semitic movie, blaming the Jews for crucifying Jesus. Obviously this charge was made by those who did not see the movie and do not understand the Word of God. The movie well portrayed what is true, the fact that although Jesus was convicted by the ruling Jewish council and put on the cross by the Romans, it was for our sins that He died, in other words, truly it was us, you and me that put Him on the cross. We daily sin much and are in need of forgiveness. We even sin by coming and hearing God’s Word and being given His good gifts and blessings, but not responding, not letting Him make a difference in our lives. Have you ever noticed the build up to Easter, the large crowd on Easter and then the low attendance the Sunday following Easter? Someone was prompted by these events to ask, “does Easter matter?” We come to hear the message, but does that message bring about a change in our hearts and lives?
The events of 9/11/2001 caused a change in the behavior of many Americans. People were nicer. People seemed to care a bit more, at least for a while. Even church attendance was better, at least for a while. Again, there was a change of behavior. But that change did not last very long. It did not take long for people to go back to the way they were acting before 9/11. The problem was that there was no change of heart. And unless there is a change of heart, a change of behavior is never permanent. It is only as our heart is changed that we will be truly changed.
Our text tells us that Peter’s words, “cut to the heart” of the people present. That is what the Law does, it cuts to the heart. They did believe in Jesus. They did recognize their sin. They admitted their sin. They confessed their sin. They were “cut to the heart.”
The people’s response was “what must we do?” Theirs was not a question of earning forgiveness. Theirs was not a question of what must we do to work off the sins which we have committed. They were not asking how may “hail Mary’s” or “rosaries” they must do to make satisfaction for their sins. They were not asking if they should be re-baptized, or if they should rededicate and recommit their lives to the Lord. They were not seeking to be more obedient to the Lord or to His laws and commandments. They were not looking to forward an e-mail to five friends in five minutes. They were not asking if they should make a donation to their favorite charity. What they were asking is how could they be given God’s greatest gift of forgiveness. The person who breaks an ancient one-of-a-kind vase knows that there is nothing they can do to replace it and so their question of “what must I do?” is not one in which they expect an answer of “glue it all back together.” Rather their question is one of “how can I be given your forgiveness?”
Theirs was a response of guilt produced by the Law and a motivation to confess produced by the Gospel. Remember, the Law only leads us to recognize our sins. Without the Gospel the Law leads either to self-righteousness, thinking we can do something or ultimately to despair, thinking we have not hope. The Gospel alone gives us hope which leads us to confess our sins and be given forgiveness.
Peter’s response to their response is not a formula for working out their forgiveness, rather his are words of gift getting. Peter says to “repent and be baptized.” Peter says, do not refuse the gifts, rather be given the gifts of forgiveness, faith and life.
And the response of the word was faith. The people heard the Word. The Holy Spirit worked through that Word to give faith. The best illustration of how this works is this: Suppose someone came up to one of the people who stand out at I45 and 1960 begging for money and put a million dollars into their hand. They took the persons hand, pulled it out from their side, put the money in it and pushed it back to them. What part did that person play in getting that money? Did he do something to earn it? Did he dedicate his life to the gift giver? Did he recommit himself to anything? Did he do anything to receive, or be given that money? No, he did nothing. The only option he had was to refuse the gift. Likewise with us. God comes to give us all His good gifts and blessings. We stand in our sin. We do not even reach out to Him. We do nothing to deserve being given to, yet, God gives all to us. He is the one who lifts us up out of our lives of sin, washes us, puts His robes of righteousness on us, gives us faith, forgiveness and life. Our response is a life of thanks.
Which brings us to the second part of our text which is a look at the early church. Several things you will notice about the early church. They devoted themselves to the Apostles’ teaching, that is, to the Word of God. In other words, the Word of God was important to them. They did not just say it was important, they made it a part of their lives. It was not just a Sunday thing, or a once, twice or three times a month thing. Rather than live their lives around the world and the things and events of this world, they actually lived their lives around the Word, so that nothing got in the way of being in the Word first and foremost, it was that important. They devoted themselves to the study of the Word, nothing got in the way or hindered them from their study of the Word. Or as you so often hear me say, they made regular and diligent use of God’s Word.
They devoted themselves to the breaking of bread, that is, the Lord’s Supper. They continually met and participated in the Lord’s death and resurrection, in the forgiveness of sins through His Holy Meal. They made regular use of the Lord’s Supper and by regular they meant daily.
They devoted themselves to prayer. They prayed without ceasing and that does not mean that they constantly were kneeling, folding their hands and bowing their heads. Their very lives became lives of prayer. Their lives were lived in such a way that their faith in Christ showed through.
They devoted themselves to one another. They called on one another. If the person that usually sat next to them was absent they gave them a call. They did not worry about it being someone else’s job, they called, they were concerned.
They devoted themselves to sharing the Word of God with others. They did not keep their faith a secret. They lived their faith. They invited people to divine service and Bible class. They talked about their faith. Even during times of persecution, they continued to share their faith with others, even if it meant their own life.
And they grew, by the power of God working through the means of grace, the Word and the Sacraments. Can we say these same things about ourselves, about St. Matthew Lutheran Church? Are we devoted to the Word, the Lord’s Supper, prayer, one another and the sharing of the Word with others. Are we growing through the means of grace, or are we sitting on our grace? Does Easter make a difference for us?
God has given to us all things. He has given His Word, the Word made flesh to dwell among us, to give His life for ours. He has given us His Word through which He gives us all His good gifts and blessings.
God has given to us to be a church on the Word. He has given us His Word as the foundation for St. Matthew Lutheran Church. Our liturgies, our readings, our messages, our Bible studies, all these are grounded and founded on the Word of the Lord.
God has given to us to be a church in the Word. He has given us His Word. He has given us time to live. He has given us time to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest His Word.
God has given to us to be a church growing in the Word. We grow in the Word when we as individuals read and grow in His Word. We grow in the Word when we as a congregation read, listen to, and grow in His Word. We grow in His Word as we grow and are strengthened in our own faith. We can only grow in numbers as a church as we grow as individuals in our own faith life. If we are not growing in our own faith the result is that we will not share that faith with others, but as we do grow in our own faith it is shown in our response of faith, in our giving of our time, our talents, ourselves, our first fruits, our fellowship and sharing of that faith with others.
My prayer is that the Lord will stir in us a change of heart, even before we have a change of behavior, because as we mentioned, it is only as our heart is changed that our behavior will be a permanent change. My prayer is that we might become like the disciples in the Gospel reading, the disciples on the road to Emmaus, that is that our hearts might burn with zeal for our Lord. My prayer is that the Lord will bless us so that we are filled with the Holy Spirit, so that we devote ourselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. My prayers is that the Lord will bless us so that we are filled with awe, and that many wonders and miraculous signs may be done among us. My prayers is that the Lord will bless us so that we can be together and have everything in common, so that no one will be in need. My prayer is that the Lord will bless us so that we are moved to meet together, be in divine service together, share the Lord’s Supper together, and praise God together. And that the Lord will bless us so that we might be a blessing to Him. To Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Monday, April 24, 2017

A Proper Distinction Between Justification and Sanctification

We get it right when we point to Jesus. Pointing to self is Law. Pointing to Jesus is Gospel. The Law tells us what we are to do and not to do. The Gospel tells us what Jesus has already done. The Law demands, the Gospel gives. So too with Justification and indeed with Sanctification.
Justification points to Jesus. Sanctification points us to self but through Jesus, thus indeed points us to Jesus as well. When Sanctification only points to self and not to Jesus, then we go back to the statement, “We get it right when we point to Jesus.”
So, what is the proper distinction between Justification and Sanctification? We begin with Justification, the heart and soul of Christianity (Lutheran Doctrine, Article IV of the Augsburg Confession and the Apology to the Augsburg Confession). Justification means to be made just and right in God’s eyes. When we acknowledge that we are “brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Ps. 51:5), that “every intention of the thoughts of [our] heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5), that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23), that “no one does good, not even one” (Rom.3:12), indeed that we are truly sinful human beings, then we realize there is nothing within us of redeeming value. Just as a drowning person cannot save himself, or he would not be drowning, just as a dying person cannot save himself or he would not be dying, just as we did not choose to be born, so we do nothing to justify ourselves before God. We do nothing to save ourselves.
If we were to attempt to put forth any merit on our own part as if we could, as Paul so well reminds us (the good that we would do we do not do, the evil we would not do that is what we do Rom. 7:21ff), if we attempt to justify ourselves by keeping the Law, which some are wanting to do (“but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it” James 2:10), then we will be held accountable for keeping the whole law, which we cannot do. After the fall into sin, the world was cursed. After the fall into sin, Adam and Eve no longer knew only good. They knew good and evil. After the fall into sin, the will of all has been tainted so that our will is truly at odds with God. Our will is only to do what is evil, as Paul expresses (Rom. 7:21ff). As Paul reminds us, “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:3).
Our right standing before God does not come from ourselves as we are not and cannot be the people He would have us to be. If we could be the people He would have us to be, then we would have no need of Him. What a fool we claim Jesus to be for sacrificing Himself when we point to ourselves for any iota of our own justification and salvation.
Justification is all Jesus. Jesus was born true God, begotten from the Father and true man, born of the virgin Mary. Jesus lived the perfect life for us in our place as our substitute, doing for us what is demanded of God (“You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48)) because we cannot be perfect. The fullness of the Gospel is this: that what Jesus did He did for us in our place as our substitute. Jesus obeyed all of God’s Laws perfectly: the ceremonial laws which pointed to Him and His sacrifice, the moral law of the Ten Commandments, and the civil law of the land. Jesus never sinned. After living in perfection He took our sins, all our sins and the sins of all people, of all places, of all times, upon Himself and suffered and paid the price for those sins, hell (The wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23)). He descended into hell to declare victory over Satan. He ascended back to where He had come, and rightfully has taken His place in heaven where He now watches over us, rules over us and intercedes for us. This is Justification, and this God freely gives to us because it is His to give. We do not get it as if we “get saved,” nor do we claim it as if it is our claim. Rather it is given to us from the One whose it is and who can give it to us.
This understanding now moves us to Sanctification. Sanctification means the process of being made holy. God has justified us before Himself by the blood of Jesus; thus, when we stand before Him, He sees us robed in Jesus’ robes of righteousness, indeed as saints. Yet while we remain on this earth, we also continue to sin and will remain being sinners until we reach complete perfection in heaven.
Sanctification is expressed best in Martin Luther’s explanation to the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers. On the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ.”
Just as we have expressed in Justification, so, too, in Sanctification we cannot believe in Jesus Christ our Lord on our own through our own efforts. Again as a drowning person cannot save himself or he would not be drowning (and if a drowning person attempts to help in the rescue it only serves to drown them both), so too we cannot choose Jesus or we would not be lost. It is the Holy Spirit who calls us to faith and gives us faith, and He calls and gives us faith through the very means of the Gospel–the message of Jesus and His work of redemption–buying us back from sin, death and the devil. Not only does the Holy Spirit call us to and give us faith, but He also enlightens us and strengthens us in faith through the means that God has given to give us His good gifts and blessings, His means of grace–His Holy Word, Confession and Absolution, and His sacraments, Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Through these means the Holy Spirit “calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.” It is through these very means that the Lord gives His gifts, forgiveness, strengthening of faith, life and salvation. Thus, as Christians, our desire will always be to be where and when the gifts of God are given out so that we might be given even more of His gifts.
When it comes to God’s gift giving, we understand that God does not do fractions. He does not give us some of His gifts now and some more later, perhaps after we have done something for Him or something to earn a bit more. He gives the whole lot of His gifts now and a whole lot more later. All of His gifts He gives, and we are given to.
We count as good works, at least those that are seen as good works in God’s eyes, those works that are motivated in us by God, worked through us by God and give Him glory. These are what are truly good works in God’s eyes. These are not the same as social good works which are often done for a tax write off, for accolades, or for any other pointing to self reason. Indeed, more often than not we do good works when we are not aware of what we are doing.
Thus, just as Justification points to Jesus who has done it all and gives all to us, so too with Sanctification, we point to Jesus who motivates us so we are given to and we give God glory.
Some would have you believe that the more you grow in faith the more perfect and holy you get so that you may indeed be a mentor to someone else in their faith walk to help them to become more and more holy. If this were the case, that we become more and more holy, then we would need Jesus less and less until perhaps we would think we would need Him no more. As Lutherans we understand that the more we grow in our faith, the more we realize just how sinful we truly are and the more we need to cling to Jesus, just Jesus.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Explaining the Worship (Lutheran Worship in Particular)

Is worship something we are doing for God (bringing our praise to God for all He has done for us)? Or is worship something God is doing for and to us? Some have suggested that in worship God is the audience, the congregational members are the actors, and the pastor and choir are the prompters; thus, worship is something we do, perhaps even need to do, for God. Of course, that understanding would imply that God needs something from us, perhaps our helping raise His self-esteem by singing praises to His name.
When we understand our sinful nature and our need to be given to by God, and when we remember that we are born with nothing and we take nothing from this world, and that it is God who has created all things in the first place and has created us to love us, then we get a better understanding that our worship service is an opportunity to come and be given even more of the good gifts and blessings God has to give which is why we call the worship service, not worship, but Divine (from God) Service.
Contrary to the popular misunderstanding, the Divine Service did not begin with Martin Luther and is most certainly not German. Rather it can be traced back to the first century around the world, even found in all parts of the world, and even can be traced back to Leviticus, now in its fulfilled form. In other words, our Divine Service is not simply something that was made up by the Roman Catholic Church and “tweaked” by Martin Luther to make it Lutheran. So, if the Divine Service can be traced back to the first century and parts of the service can be traced back to that to which they were given to point back in Leviticus, that is since the Divine Service originally pointed to Jesus through the ceremonial laws and now points to Jesus through the fulfilled parts of Scripture, perhaps we might be more careful in what we change or even if we should change any parts.
The Children of Israel were in a land, surrounded by pagan culture, false religion and gods that had all sorts of worship practices. As they desired to be more like those in the land, they moved further and further from God. This practice should be a warning to us. We would do well to beware of worship that seeks to look like the culture. When you see worshipers “getting down” with the jam of the band, ask yourself, “Is this any different than a concert I might attend?” If you cannot tell the difference, then maybe the culture and its norms have stolen your worship.
Worship is not entertainment and should not be confused with a concert. Worship is not vying for who is the lead or the star, who leads the “praise band.” Worship that is true worship, or orthodox worship is Divine Service and always and clearly points to Jesus, just Jesus, and not to self, not to the “leader,” not to anyone, but Jesus. Worship points to Jesus because Jesus is the One who is there giving out His gifts.
In worship everyone has a part. The called and ordained servant of the Word, the pastor, has the part of delivering the gifts of God to the people of God. He delivers these gifts through the means God has given to deliver the gifts, the means of grace. The pastor begins the Divine Service, the God Service by invoking God, by reminding the worshipers of their Baptism, “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” The pastor delivers the gifts of God through the pronouncement of the forgiveness of sins following the confession of the worshipers. The pastor delivers the gifts of God through the reading of the Scripture Texts appointed for that particular Sunday, and then expounding on that text in his sermon as he attempts to rightly speak Scripture. The pastor delivers the gifts of God through the Bread and Wine as he serves as the host at the Lord’s Table where he invites and distributes Jesus’ body and blood for the worshiper to eat and drink, thus participating in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.
The laity, the parishioners also have a part in the Divine Service. The part of the worshiper is to be given to, that is to hear the Word of God, to believe the Word of God, to go out into the community and live the Word of God, even to share the Word of God with others as they are given the opportunity to do so through their various vocation. The laity are not called to distribute the gifts of God but to be given the gifts of God.
Worship, Divine Service reflects and flows out of Doctrine. In other words, Doctrine, what we believe, is intrinsically attached to practice, how we do what we believe. The two cannot be separated. Thus, because we believe that Baptism and the Lord’s Supper as well as Confession and Absolution and the Word of God are the very means through which our Lord comes to us to give us His good gifts and blessings, this belief, this doctrine is seen in the practice of the Divine Service.
We also understand that worship, Divine Service. is for believers as an opportunity to be strengthened in faith in order to face the world and take the message of salvation to the world through their various vocations. Evangelism may take place in the Divine Service as we invite our unchurched family and friends to “Come and see Jesus” in the Divine Service, but more often than not, evangelism takes place in our various vocations. As we have opportunities and as we are asked about our faith in our various vocations, we have God’s authority to speak and His promise to be with us to give an answer, a defense for our faith in Jesus. And God then does His part, that is the Holy Spirit works through His Word to give faith when and where He pleases.
Here are some simple ways to know if you are experiencing orthodox worship or doing something else, i.e. heterodox worship:
  1. If you can confuse what you are doing on Sunday morning to thinking you are at a concert, you are probably not at worship.
  2. If, in your worship song, you can replace the name of Jesus with your spouse or boy/girl-friend or significant other, then it is probably not a worship song.
  3. It there is a discussion concerning who gets top billing, then you are probably not talking about worship.
  4. If you have come to do something for God because you think He needs something from you, then it is probably not worship.
  5. If you are being pointed to anyone or anything for salvation besides Jesus, then it is probably not worship.
  6. If you are being told how God desires for you to be rich, famous, powerful, happy and so forth, then it is probably not worship (maybe a self-help seminar).
  7. If you are being told how good you are and how you can be the person God wants you to be, rather than being reminded of your sins and God’s grace and forgiveness, then it is probably not worship.
  8. If you do not see a cross, or altar, or anything that looks like the facility might be a worship facility, then it is probably not a worship facility and thus will probably not be worship.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Us - April 16, 2017 - Easter Morning - Text: John 20:1-9 (10-18)

He is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!
Over the past six weeks, the Wednesdays of Lent and at our early Sunrise Service, we have been looking at the various characters, if you will, of the Passion of Jesus and of our Easter history. We looked at the characters of Judas, Peter, John (the disciples Jesus loved), Mary (His mother), Pilate, Jesus Himself, and the thieves involved in His crucifixion. We did step aside this past Thursday, Maundy Thursday and look at the account, the history of Jesus celebration of the Passover with His apostles and from that giving us the Lord’s Supper, His Supper and we understand that unless you understand the history and what Jesus was celebrating with His apostles and from that giving us His Holy Supper we really cannot understand what He has given to us, namely His true body and blood to eat and drink thus participating in His sacrifice on the cross for us. And on Friday, Good Friday, we stepped aside and looked at Jesus’ last seven words from the cross.
This morning we move to look at one last character of Easter history, and what a character this one is, that is we look at ourselves and our part in the Passion account and Easter History. Last Friday we watched as Jesus was crucified. This morning we come and celebrate His resurrection. As we hear the various eyewitness accounts of the resurrection of Jesus we know that we can believe these accounts because first of all they were eyewitness accounts. Second we know we can believe these accounts because of the change in the lives of those who bear witness of these accounts. We know we can believe these accounts because why would anyone bear witness of something that might bring them death unless they were true. Also, we know we can believe these accounts because these witnesses have borne witness to what they saw within a short period of time after they saw it happen. Finally, as we listen to these eyewitness accounts we know that the Holy Spirit works through these very words of God given through these writers so that by the faith He gives us through these words we too are eyewitness of these events.
Our first witness is from the Apostle John as he describes that first Easter morning, “1Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. 2So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” 3So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb. 4Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. 6Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, 7and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. 8Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead” (John 20:1-9).
Two others who witnessed Jesus after His resurrection were Cleopas and another unnamed disciple. Their account is that they were on their way home to Emmaus from Jerusalem, and as they were walking along they met a stranger who, later they found out was Jesus. They relate how Jesus explained to them all of Holy Scripture, beginning with the Old Testament and the Prophets and how He was the one who came to fulfill all of Scripture. They concluded by saying, “33And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, 34saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!’ 35Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread” (Luke 24:33-35).
One of the women that was close to Jesus was Mary Magdalene. John relates her encounter with Jesus after His resurrection. “11But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. 12And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. 13They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ 14Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ 16Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’ She turned and said to him in Aramaic, ‘Rabboni!’ (which means Teacher). 17Jesus said to her, ‘Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”’ 18Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’—and that he had said these things to her” (John 20:11-18).
In all actuality, there are many accounts of what happened, and many witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection. We have the many Biblical accounts as well as extra or outside the Bible accounts, such as the writings of the Jewish historian Josephus. As John tells us, “30Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30-31).
In looking at the accounts of history, the Biblical and extra Biblical accounts we might summarize the following. First, the evidence is clear that Jesus was born in Bethlehem and this is as the prophets of old had foretold. Second, the evidence is clear that Jesus did do miracles. He did raise people from the dead. He did cast out demons. He did do many unexplainable things. Third, the evidence is also clear Jesus did nothing to deserve the death penalty, nor did He do anything to deserve any form of punishment. He was innocent. Fourth, the evidence is clear that Jesus did die. The sheer physical torture He underwent, the wounds from the bleeding from the whipping and beating and the suffocation on the cross were enough to kill any lesser person. He was dead when they removed His body from the cross. And fifth, there is more than ample evidence to the fact that Jesus did come back to life.
Let me explain it this way. If you and I were to stand before a judge, namely before God, the perfect Judge, in and of ourselves we would be declared guilty. We are reminded that if we sin in only one point of all of Scripture, we are guilty of all. We were conceived in sin. We are born in sin. Every inclination of our heart is evil all the time. We sin with our thoughts, in lust, in coveting, in hatred. We sin in word, speaking evil of others, gossiping, failing to explain everything in the best possible way, speaking mean and hurtful things to others. And we sin in action, in deed, doing things that hurt other people. We sin sins of commission, doing the things God commands us not to do and we sin sins of omission, failing to be the people God would have us to be. We simply cannot help ourselves, we daily sin much and we continue to add to our sinning. Apart from God working in and through us, because our will has been tainted by sin, because we have lost our free will from the fall into sin, all we can do is refuse and reject God and the gifts He has to give and we must admit that we do reject and refuse God weekly and even daily. We are guilty. To get to heaven we are required to be perfect. So, left to ourselves we would be eternally condemned. There had to be another way and that other way is the way of Jesus.
Jesus is the sinless Son of God. He had to be God in order to be perfect and in order to die and to rise. He had to be human in order to be our substitute. We cannot give our lives for others, because we owe for our own sins. Jesus can, and did, give His life for ours, because He owed nothing. And that is what He did. He took all our sins upon Himself. He paid the price, the wages of sin is death. He suffered the eternal spiritual death penalty for us in our place, hell, so that we would not have to, so that we might have forgiveness of sins and with forgiveness we also have life and salvation.
This morning we celebrate God’s great love for us. Indeed, even before He began creating the world in which we live, even knowing that Adam and Eve would sin, even knowing all that would happen, He created this world and He knew us and had us in mind when He was creating this world. When Jesus was born, He had us in mind. While He lived, Jesus had us in mind. When God placed our sins upon Him and as He suffered on the cross, He was thinking of you and me. When He rose from the dead He rose for us, for you and for me. Before He ascended back to heaven Jesus promised that He would come again and He will. Until that day we wait, living lives as priest in the priesthood of all believers, living lives as living sacrifices always being ready to give an answer for our faith to all who ask. That is why we celebrate today and every Sunday so that all the world might know that we worship a living God, a God of love, a God has done everything for us and given everything to us, forgiveness, life and salvation. To Him be the glory for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
He is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!

Thief - April 16, 2017 - Easter Sunrise - Text: Luke 23:40; John 18:30

He is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!
I want to begin this morning as I have begun every mid week service during lent with the reminder that we call the Word of God the “Good News” and rightly so, for it is the good news of salvation for all who believe. This year during the season of Lent at the Midweek services and now through this Easter Sunday morning we have been hearing of the events surrounding the suffering and death of Jesus through the different characters of those involved in the events. Prayerfully we have gotten a better understanding of the personalities and thus the reasons for the specific actions of the characters through actual Biblical statements and “quotes” of each person.
Last week the person we met was the central person of the Passion account, Jesus Himself.  We listened to Jesus’ own words describing the fact that His birth ushered in the beginning of the end of the world and His own words laid out for all those who would believe that He came to give His life as a ransom for all. This morning our person of interest is the repentant thief on the cross.
Last Friday we came and watched as Jesus suffered on the cross. We listened in on the seven last statements He made. You might recall that with Jesus were crucified two other criminals. The first criminal was the man who mocked Jesus with the others in the crowd. As he was told by the other criminal, they, both criminals were convicted of several crimes of which they were guilty, thus they deserved what they were getting, a just punishment for their sins.
The other criminal, knew he was guilty of numerous crimes, yet, as we can see from his confession on the cross, he was remorseful for the crimes which he had committed and we might be certain that he had faith in Jesus as his Savior. When the one criminal began to mock Jesus, the other criminal came to Jesus’ defense. “The other criminal rebuked him. ‘Don’t you fear God,’ he said, ‘since you are under the same sentence? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.’ And he was saying, ‘Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom’” (Luke 23:40-42). It is evident from these words that this man believed Jesus to be the Savior, the Messiah, the One promised from of old.
You may remember that at Jesus’ trial there was another criminal that was accused and actually convicted for his crimes, and that was Barabbas. Barabbas received a stay of execution, because of the custom of the Pontus, that of releasing one criminal at the Passover. About this Barabbas we are actually told that he was a notorious criminal. He was known for causing riots, for insurrection, even for treason. Evidently he had his trial and was awaiting execution. Again, the reason he was not executed was because of Jesus. Every year at the time of the Passover celebration the governor allowed the people to choose someone for him to release, to grant a stay of execution and a full pardon. This year, Pilate put forward, Jesus, who was only accused of, but never really convicted of, rioting, insurrection and treason or Barabbas, who was a convicted criminal. The crowd chose Barabbas. Of course we know that the crowd shouted for Barabbas release as they were incited by the Pharisees and chief priests. Perhaps looking back we can see the irony of this whole situation, that is that the man who was guilty was set free and the one that was innocent was crucified. Indeed, we come as Barabbas. We are guilty of our many sins and we stand guilty before God, yet, God has taken all our sins and placed them on Jesus, the innocent, spotless Lamb of God who came to take away the sins of the world. We are forgiven, free of sin as Jesus suffered and paid the price for our sins.
So, we have one thief we know who was unrepentant, thus we would surmise in his death he received the just punishment for his sins. We have another criminal who may or may not have been repentant, and who may or may not have any idea of why he was set free, yet knowing he too was guilty. And we have the one thief who recognized and confessed his sin and to whom we are told, this day he was with Jesus in paradise. Indeed in our world today, there are those who continually live unrepentant in their sins and if they remain so they to will go down to sheol, to hell. Perhaps we would do well to love our neighbor and gently call them to account, not that we are less sinners, but that we daily have contrition for our sins, that is that we admit, confess, and repent, and vow to turn from our sins, understanding that we can only keep our vow with God’s help. And then we are given forgiveness and with forgiveness we know we have life and salvation, even eternal life in heaven.
There are many people in this world who are not aware of the fact that the price for their sins has been paid. They may not even be aware of their own sins, sins of omission, not doing the things that they should be doing, and sins of commission, doing those things that they should not be doing, indeed doing those things that God forbids. Too many people are not aware that they sin sins of thought, word and deed. Again, we would do well to love our neighbor as ourselves and gently call them to account, not that we are less sinners, but that we daily confess so that they too might daily confess, repent, and turn from our sins, and be given forgiveness and have eternal life.
Finally there are those of us who know and recognize our sins. We know and understand how we daily sin much and are in need of forgiveness. We know what God commands, especially what He commands us to not do, indeed we have the Ten Commandments. Yet, how often it is that we look at the Commandments and look to find a loop hole, or a grey area so as to justify ourselves. How often we sin against not one, but all of the commandments, perhaps not actual sins such as actually stealing something or killing someone, but we sin against the commandment nevertheless by harming and physically or mentally hurting someone, or by name calling or begrudging, which are sins against the commandments nonetheless. More often than not I would suggest our sins are sins of omission, not doing as we should. Again, we know what we should not be doing, but we tend to fail in what we should be doing. Are we helping and befriending our neighbor? Are we explaining everything in the best way possible? Are we eagerly and regularly coming to hear God’s Word, and not only hear His Word, but believe it and act on it, that is actually live as He tells us to live? How often do we look lustfully at another? And how often do we put other interests before our God? Indeed, as we look at our own lives we can see the fact that without Jesus, we would be lost and condemned persons, no different than the rest of the world, no different than Barabbas or the thief on the cross.
Thanks be to God that we know the good news of the message of the Gospel that our sins have already been paid for, cast as far as the east is from the west so far have they been removed. We know we have forgiveness of sins and it is this good news motivates us and moves us to repent of all our sin and to turn and try with God’s help to sin no more. And even though we continue to sin we continue to repent and strive, with God’s help. And as we know, with confession there is absolution, sins confessed, sins forgiven. And with forgiveness is life and salvation, thanks be to God.
This morning, this Easter Sunrise morning we come and rejoice and celebrate because we know the whole history of these events. We rejoice and celebrate because Jesus did not stay dead, but He rose from the dead. Thus not only did He pay the price for ours sins, He also completely and utterly defeated sin, death and the devil. We have this faith, this hope, this confidence that Jesus was born, true God in human flesh; that Jesus did live a perfect life for us, in our place because we cannot; that He did fulfill all of God’s Word and promises; that He did take our sins and the sins of all people, of all place, of all times on Himself and He did suffer the complete eternal spiritual death of hell for all sins for us in our place; that He died; that He was buried; and indeed, that He rose from the dead victorious over sin, death and the devil. We know that He showed Himself many times to be alive so that we can have confidence in those who have witnessed these events. We know that by faith in Jesus, faith given to us through His Word and Holy Baptism, faith strengthened through His Word and the Lord’s Supper, through sins forgiven through Confession and Absolution, we have forgiveness, life and salvation. What joy is ours, joy that stirs in us and moves us to say, to God be the glory for Jesus’s sake. Amen.
He is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!

Friday, April 14, 2017

The Seven Words from the Cross - April 14, 2017 - Good Friday - Text: Luke 23:34, 39-43; John 19:25-27; Matt. 27:46 (Mark 15:34); John 19:28-30; Luke 23:46 (John 19:30)

This evening as we approach in the shame of our sin, knowing that it was because of us and our sin that Jesus came to suffer and die, we look at the words He spoke from the cross.
The first words of Jesus from the cross were, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). These words give us some insight to this man who was the one promised by God to come and save the world. Jesus was a gentle man. He was a loving and caring man. He was indeed God in flesh, as it is God who indeed forgives sins. From His words we can tell that He holds no grudge, especially not against those who are carrying out the sentence of crucifixion on Him. The very purpose for which He was born was so that He might earn forgiveness for the people who put Him on the cross and for all people, including us.
The second words of Jesus from the cross were spoken in conversation with the criminals who were crucified with Him. “One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: ‘Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!’ But the other criminal rebuked him. ‘Don’t you fear God,’ he said, ‘since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.’ Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ Jesus answered him, ‘I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise’” (Luke 23:39-43). The one criminal, even to the point of death, is looking out for himself. He has no guilt nor remorse for his sins. Perhaps he wants to believe in Jesus, but he just needs a sign. He wants tangible evidence. Did you notice how he said it? “Save yourself and us/” I am sure he was hoping that this Jesus was the Savior, so that his own skin might have been saved. The other criminal, by his own words and admission shows the remorse he felt. He expressed the fact that he was getting what his evil misdeeds deserved, but he believed that Jesus was innocent of all the charges against Him. And then he appeals to Jesus, showing his faith in Him. With the words He speaks, we again see the compassion Jesus has for other people. Even while being put to death, He speaks no unkind word, but encourages this man in his own death assuring him that today they would be together in paradise.
In the third words of Jesus from the cross, we again get a sense of how loving and caring Jesus is. “Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, ‘Dear woman, here is your son,’ and to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ From that time on, this disciple took her into his home” (John 19:25-27). Again, just as He was concerned for those who crucified Him and for the criminal on the cross, so He was concerned, even more about His own mother. It would be logical to conclude that Jesus’ father, Joseph, had died earlier in His life and He was left to take care of His mother. Now, even while suffering the pangs of death on the cross, He is still concerned and takes care of His mother. Certainly, He loved and cared deeply for people.
The fourth time Jesus spoke from the cross is the only time we hear, what we might call, discouraging words. Now remember, when Jesus speaks these words, He has been suffering on the cross for a while. “About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?’—which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” (Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34). First, these words go back to the claim of Jesus being a Savior. While those who put Jesus on the cross believed Him to be merely a human prophet or teacher and one who was a blasphemer claiming to be God, yet there were many in the religious community who believed that Jesus was not simply an ordinary human being, but that He was both truly human and truly God. As we confess in our creeds, Joseph, who raised Jesus as His father, was only His adopted earthly father. Jesus’ real Father was God. So, now we know that when Jesus is crying out, He is crying out to His Father, God. And why the words of frustration, “why have you forsaken me?” When we understand that God is a God of perfection and He cannot look at sin, thus, when Jesus went to the cross, He went with the sins of the whole world and so, God turned His back on Jesus, His Son in the midst of His suffering eternal death on the cross. However, when we talk about God being a God of love and we have seen how gentle and loving and caring Jesus was, some might ask, how could this be? How could a God of love allow any of this to happen? The answer is that it was God’s love for us, His creatures, which moved Him to send His Son to give His life so that we might have forgiveness of sins and eternal life.
The fifth and sixth times Jesus spoke from the cross came in short succession to each other, so we will listen to them together. “Later, knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, ‘I am thirsty.’ A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. When he had received the drink, Jesus said, ‘It is finished.’ With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit” (John 19:28-30). What crucifixion actually does is it kills a person by suffocation. The persons whole body is hanging in such a way that the diaphragm muscles get so weak that the person cannot exhale, meaning that they are unable to have clean, oxygenated breath coming in and so they suffocate. One side affect, if you will, is that your mouth and throat become very dry and you become thirsty. And so, Jesus spoke and said He was thirsty.
Then Jesus says, “It is finished.” There is a lot of meaning behind these words as we understand that whenever anyone was imprisoned, their crime was posted beside their prison cell. As their crimes were paid for by time in prison, or if it was a debt which needed to be paid, as the debts were paid, the sign was marked, “It is finished.” This debt, this bill was paid. And so, Jesus’ words, “It is finished,” are in reference to the fact that He had completely suffered to pay the price for the sins of all people of all places of all times.
The seventh and last words of Jesus from the cross we read that “Jesus called out with a loud voice, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.’ When he had said this, he breathed his last” (Luke 23:46). Now that Jesus has accomplished what He came to earth to accomplish, live perfectly, obey all God’s commands perfectly, fulfill all of Holy Scripture completely and perfectly, take all the sins of all people, of all places, of all times on Himself. Now that He has suffered the complete punishment for all sins, He is ready to die and so He entrusts Himself back into the hands of His Father, God the Father.
Well, it has been an interesting chain of events we have been seeing over the past few weeks. We have been following along with the life of Jesus. We have heard accounts of the many people that were in His life while He was here on earth. This evening we have sat at the cross and watched and listened. We have heard and witnessed Jesus’ great love for all people and for us in particular. This evening we watch, we confess our part in putting Jesus to death, we do not necessarily celebrate but we do give thanks for Jesus’ paying for our sins. And we seek comfort and consolation in His death for us.
However, we do know how these events turn out. We will wait tomorrow and then we will return on Sunday to celebrate that death and the grave have no power over Him. We will celebrate His resurrection with great joy and gladness. To Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Passover Turned Lord’s Supper - April 13, 2017 - Maundy Thursday - Text: Matt. 26:17-30; Mark 14:12-26; Luke 22:7-24; 1 Cor. 11:17-32

On this Maundy Thursday evening, the night in which Jesus, celebrating the Passover Seder, His last earthly celebration with His disciples, we come to be given His gift of the Means of Grace of the Lord’s Supper. We do this, we celebrate by listening to the four accounts we have of Jesus giving us His Holy Supper. Indeed, just as many witnesses are called forth to testify in a court of law, so here we call forth four witnesses to testify what we believe concerning the Lord’s Supper.
In His Gospel account Matthew tells us that, “on the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the disciples came to Jesus and asked, ‘Where do you want us to make preparations for you to eat the Passover?’ He replied, ‘Go into the city to a certain man and tell him, “The Teacher says: My appointed time is near. I am going to celebrate the Passover with my disciples at your house.”’ So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them and prepared the Passover. When evening came, Jesus was reclining at the table with the Twelve. And while they were eating, he said, ‘I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me.’ They were very sad and began to say to him one after the other, ‘Surely not I, Lord?’ Jesus replied, ‘The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.’ Then Judas, the one who would betray him, said, ‘Surely not I, Rabbi?’ Jesus answered, ‘Yes, it is you’” (Matthew 26:17-25). There continues to be some debate as to whether or not Judas stayed or left at this time. Matthew continues by writing, “While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, ‘Take and eat; this is my body.’ Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father’s kingdom.’ When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives” (Matthew 26:26-30). It was after this that Jesus was arrested, tried, convicted and put to death.
In his Gospel account Mark tells us, “on the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, when it was customary to sacrifice the Passover lamb, Jesus’ disciples asked him, ‘Where do you want us to go and make preparations for you to eat the Passover?’ So he sent two of his disciples, telling them, ‘Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him. Say to the owner of the house he enters, “The Teacher asks: Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?” He will show you a large upper room, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there.’ The disciples left, went into the city and found things just as Jesus had told them. So they prepared the Passover. When evening came, Jesus arrived with the Twelve. While they were reclining at the table eating, he said, ‘I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me—one who is eating with me.’ They were saddened, and one by one they said to him, ‘Surely not I?’ ‘It is one of the Twelve,’ he replied, ‘one who dips bread into the bowl with me. The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born’” (Mark 14:12-21). Here again, Mark does not necessarily tell us whether Judas stayed for the evening meal or not. Mark continues by writing, “While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, ‘Take it; this is my body.’ Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, and they all drank from it. ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,’ he said to them. ‘I tell you the truth, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it anew in the kingdom of God.’ When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives” (Mark 14:22-26). Again, it was after this that Jesus was arrested, tried, convicted and put to death.
In his Gospel account Luke begins by talking about the day of Unleavened Bread. “Then came the day of Unleavened Bread on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, ‘Go and make preparations for us to eat the Passover.’ ‘Where do you want us to prepare for it?’ they asked. He replied, ‘As you enter the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him to the house that he enters, and say to the owner of the house, “The Teacher asks: Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?” He will show you a large upper room, all furnished. Make preparations there.’ They left and found things just as Jesus had told them. So they prepared the Passover” (Luke 22:7-13). Up until this point, Luke makes no mention of the accusation against the one disciple who was to betray Jesus, instead he simply makes note of the meal. Luke continues by writing, “When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. And he said to them, ‘I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.’ After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, ‘Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.’ And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. But the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table” (Luke 22:14-21). Here, Luke finally mentions the one who was to betray Jesus, thus indicating that Judas was there during the meal. And Luke concludes, “The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed, but woe to that man who betrays him.’ They began to question among themselves which of them it might be who would do this. Also a dispute arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest” (Luke 22:22-24). This is where we will leave off with Luke’s Gospel. Later, Luke tells us, Jesus went out to the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives to prayer. There He was arrested. He was taken to trial, where He was tried, convicted and sentenced to die.
The Gospel writer John does not give us specifics of the meal itself, but he does give us some indication of who was at the meal. “After he had said this, Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, ‘I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me.’ His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them he meant. One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him. Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said, ‘Ask him which one he means.’ Leaning back against Jesus, he asked him, ‘Lord, who is it?’ Jesus answered, ‘It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.’ Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, son of Simon. As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him. ‘What you are about to do, do quickly,’ Jesus told him, but no one at the meal understood why Jesus said this to him. Since Judas had charge of the money, some thought Jesus was telling him to buy what was needed for the Feast, or to give something to the poor. As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out. And it was night” (John 13:21-30). Here again, we have no indication whether this was before or after Jesus had eaten the Passover Seder meal with His disciples.
Finally we have Paul’s account of the Last Supper. Paul’s account was not an eyewitness account however Paul assures us of the accuracy of his word because it is not his own words but God’s Word. Paul says, “in the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good. In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval. When you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, for as you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anybody else. One remains hungry, another gets drunk. Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you for this? Certainly not!” (1 Corinthians 11:17-22). Here Paul is outlining the problem of this particular Christian congregation. To help us to better understand what was going on, Paul continues, “For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:23-26). Here Paul connects the problems this church is facing with the giving of the Lord’s Supper.
Finally Paul helps us to clarify what was happening, “Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment. When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world” (1 Corinthians 11:27-32). The problem that the people were having is that they were not recognizing the Body and Blood of Christ in this meal, that this meal was the Lord’s Supper, that is what brought about all the other problems, the eating without each other, the drunkenness, and so forth. If they had recognized the Body and Blood of Christ, that this was His supper, then these other problems would have been corrected.
What we celebrate in the Lord’s Supper is something different, something special, something extraordinary given to us by Jesus. This Supper given to us by Jesus is not simply a meal of eating bread and drinking wine, rather it is more, it is actually eating and drinking of the body and blood of Jesus, the one sacrificed for our sins, thus participating in His sacrifice, making Him a part of us and His sacrifice a part of us. Remember, Jesus was celebrating the Passover meal, the meal in which the people actually ate the sacrificed lamb so that it became a part of them. In the same way, as Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, so we actually eat His body and drink His blood so that it becomes a part of us. This Supper is not something which was a symbolic act, because none of the writers spoke in these terms and besides, how can one symbolically eat and drink a sacrifice or how is a sacrifice symbolically a part of someone? These are the words of Jesus in His Holy Word, thus, we are compelled to believe Jesus’ words that He took bread and said “this is my body.” He took the wine and said, “this is my blood.” These are Jesus’ own words and what He is giving and so we are given as He gives, thus He becomes a part of us so that His perfect life, suffering, death and resurrection become our perfect life, suffering death and resurrection. Finally we are left to rejoice and say, to Him be the glory, for His name’s sake. Amen.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Learning to Point to Jesus - April 9, 2017 - Palm Sunday/Sunday of Passion/Confirm Sunday

Today is Palm Sunday. Today is the Sunday we traditionally celebrate Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem for the last time. Today is the beginning of Holy Week and the beginning of Jesus concluding His time on earth, His giving us the Lord’s Supper from the Passover, His betrayal, trials, suffering, death and resurrection. You may have noticed however that our Gospel reading is now the Passion reading instead of the Palm Sunday reading. This fact is because too many people skip Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services, thus missing the passion readings and going straight to Easter, but you cannot have Easter without Jesus’ suffering and death, thus the passion readings for today.
For some, for seven young people, and their parents, family and friends, today is also a special day. These seven young people here in the front row, were brought into the Church (capital “C”) through the waters of Holy Baptism, or as they like to hear brought in, “in the water.” Now, after a time of instruction, as Jesus says, “Baptize and teach” they have reached a milestone in their faith. Personally for me, I am excited for these young people because after serving here in this congregation for almost 15 years, I had the privilege of being God’s instrument in putting water and His name on more than half of them.
For our guests, first and foremost thank you for being here to bear witness of this special occasion. To those uncertain as to the ceremony and rite that is taking place this morning let me briefly define for you what we will be doing. “Confirmation is a public rite of the church preceded by a period of instruction designed to help baptized Christians identify with the life and mission of the Christian community.” “Prior to admission to the Lord’s Supper, it is necessary to be instructed in the Christian faith (1 Cor. 11:28). The rite of confirmation provides an opportunity for the individual Christian, relying on God’s promise given in Holy Baptism, to make a personal public confession of the faith and a lifelong pledge of fidelity to Christ.”
So, what have these young people learned, that is into what confession of faith are they now making? And for those in the pew who have been confirmed not so long ago and perhaps many years ago, what did you learn? Do you remember? Let us review. First and foremost, I pray, they have learned to always point to Jesus. They have learned that we get it right, we get our faith right when we point to Jesus. It is important to point to Jesus because they have learned that they are sinners, conceived and born in sin and that the Law, in particular, the Ten Commandments shows them their sins. The Law points them to the fact that they cannot save themselves and they truly have no part in their salvation. Just as a drowning person cannot save themself or they would not be drowning and indeed just as a lifeguard will push off a drowning person attempting to help save themself, lest they drown also, they know that they cannot even help in their salvation. No amount of good that they do, no amount of what they might perceive as obedience will save them. Only Jesus will and only Jesus has saved them.
These young people have learned the faith of the Christian Church through the words of the Apostles’ Creed. They have learned of the work of God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. They have learned how God created all things our of nothing and how He continues to preserve and care for this world. They have learned how Jesus is true God and true man, how He had to be both; how He lived perfectly for us in our place because God’s demands are perfection and we cannot be perfect so Jesus is perfect for us in our place. They learned how Jesus took our sins, suffered, died and rose for us for our forgiveness. And they learned how the Holy Spirit works through the very Word of God, through Holy Baptism, through confession and absolution and through the Lord’s Supper to give, strengthen and keep us in faith.
They have learned the greatest and best prayer, the one Jesus gave us to pray and the one He loves to hear us pray, the Lord’s Prayer. They have learned how this prayer is the greatest prayer and how it covers all our needs.
They have learned how God comes to give us His good gifts and blessings, through the means of Grace beginning with Holy Baptism, which actually corresponds to the Old Testament Sacrament of Circumcision, which happened when a child was eight days old and is what identified one as being a child of God. They learned how at their Baptism God did all the work. Indeed, God, using the hands of the pastor and the mouth of the pastor put water on their head and spoke His name on them and in them, “in the water.” They heard Peter’s words reminding them that “baptism now saves you.” Being born a citizen of this nation and following the ways of the Church since Jesus, all but one were brought to the waters of baptism by their parents as infants and given faith since birth.
They learned how important, gift giving and efficacious is the very Word of God which we constantly need to study. Indeed, as we eat every day so we need to feed on God’s Divine Word every day. With that in mind, they learned how and why our Divine Service liturgy is permeated, filled with the Word of God and how we worship best when we say back to God the very word He has given us to say. They have seen how our Divine Service has its root in the early church as well as in the fulfillment of the ceremonial laws of Leviticus.
They learned how they are given forgiveness of sins through Confession and Absolution. Indeed, as they confess either publicly as we do in the Divine Service, or as they confess privately those sins which are extremely worrisome, that as the pastor speaks God’s Words of forgiveness, it is just as if God Himself has spoken. And as they have been forgiven they indeed forgive others.
And they learned how Jesus as He was celebrating the Passover with His disciples, the Passover first instituted in Egypt, gave us His Holy Supper wherein, as He says, He gives us His real body and real blood to eat and drink for the forgiveness of sins. Just as the children of Israel actually ate the sacrificed lamb so that it became a physical part of them, so we eat and drink Jesus actual body and blood so that it becomes a physical part of us so that we are given the benefits of such eating and drinking. They learned how this actually eating and drinking of Jesus’ body and blood is no symbolic act for indeed how can one symbolically participate or be a part of Jesus symbolically? This participation in Jesus means that His perfect life becomes their perfect life. His perfect suffering and death become their perfect suffering and death. And His perfect resurrection becomes their perfect resurrection.
Now for our confirmands, I would remind them of what confirmation is not. It is not graduation as one never graduates from being a disciple, a learner of Jesus. It is true that the more one learns about God the more one realizes there is so much more to learn. It is also true that the more one grows in their faith it is not that one becomes more and more holy, which would mean that one would need Jesus less and less and thus would be pointing to self more and more, rather the more one grows in faith the more one realize how lost and condemned they are, the more they realize how truly sinful they are and how they need to cling more and more to Jesus, just Jesus.
One final note to the confirmands, let me remind them and reiterate that they have learned that we get it right when we point to Jesus. We can never be certain when we point to ourselves, but we can always be sure when we point to Jesus. We point to Jesus when we rejoice in His work in giving us faith through the waters of Holy Baptism. We point to Jesus when we rejoice in the forgiveness He gives us in Absolution. We point to Jesus when we rejoice in the fact that all of Holy Scripture, indeed even all of History points to Jesus. We point to Jesus when we rejoice in the gifts that He gives in His Holy Supper are the gifts of His very body and blood, given into death, for the forgiveness of sins. We point to Jesus when He is running the show, when He is running the verbs in all our life, our thoughts, our words and our actions.
Now to wrap this up. Today is Palm Sunday and the beginning of Holy Week. For the past six weeks we have been spending our time recognizing our part in Jesus’ life, suffering, death and resurrection and that it is because of His great love for us that He was born, lived, suffered, died and rose. This week we have more opportunities to be given the gifts the Lord has to give, through our Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter morning Divine Services, wherein we will celebrate the Lord’s giving us His Holy Supper, the Lord’s suffering and death and most importantly, next Sunday, the Lord’s resurrection.
God loves you so much and He has so many gifts and blessings He desires to pour out on you. My prayer for each one of you and especially for our young confirmands is that the Lord will continue to give to you. As you grow in your faith know that the devil will work even harder on you. Why would he bother working on those he already has? So rejoice in your suffering. I want to leave you with the words of Paul in our Epistle lesson for this morning, words which were thought to be a part of an early Christian creed, or statement of faith as some might call it. Paul says, “5Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, 8he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:5-11). To God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Jesus - April 5, 2017 - Sixth Mid-Week of Lent - Text: (various verses from the Gospels)

We begin this week as we have begun every week with the reminder that we call the Word of God the “Good News” and rightly so, for it is the good news of salvation for all who believe. This year during the season of Lent through Easter Sunday we have been hearing of the events surrounding the suffering and death of Jesus through the different characters of those involved in the events. Prayerfully we are getting a better understanding of the personalities and thus the reasons for the specific actions of the characters through actual Biblical statements and “quotes” of each person.
Last week we got to know the person who sentenced Jesus to death, Pontius Pilate. We listened to the court transcripts as it were; we listened as Pilate attempted to set Jesus free; we listened to Pilate ultimately decide his own fate by giving in to the demands of the Jewish leaders and having Jesus sentenced to crucifixion; all the while reminding ourselves that it was not Pilate who brought these events about but it was we and our sins who brought this judgement on Jesus.
This evening we will look at the main character of the Passion history, Jesus Himself. Now, before you think we are jumping the gun, so to speak and as it were, because we are not yet ready to go to the Upper Room, go to Gethsemane, go to Golgatha, or get to the resurrection, let me say that it is important that we look at Jesus’ own part in His Passion account. This evening we are looking at what we might call the highlights of the teachings of Jesus, those teachings that are at the heart of the Passion, those teaching which were so misunderstood by so many, and those teachings which brought about our salvation.  From early on Jesus spoke quite clearly of the reason for His life and how He came to earth to fulfill all of Holy Scripture. “Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel’”(Mark 1:14-15). Jesus preached a message much like that of His predecessor, John the Baptist, that is, “repent for the kingdom of God is at hand.” And if you listen carefully to Jesus teachings you know He came to usher in the kingdom of God. He came into this world to usher in the last days, indeed we are now and have been living in the last days since Jesus birth.
One of Jesus’ most memorable sermons was the one in His own home town. It happened this way, it was the Sabbath day, that is the day of worship. The synagogue was crowded. The people of the town, his own relatives, or seeming relatives, had come to hear Jesus preach. When Jesus stood up, “the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’ Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him,  and he began by saying to them, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing’” (Luke 4:17-20). Here we see quite clearly that Jesus was the one promised by God. He was the one who was born to save the people from their sins. He was the one who came to heal, cast out demons, and to preach and teach the good news of salvation. As the account goes, however, there were those who refused to believe and who were intent on stoning Him.
Jesus did a lot of teaching and preaching. He also did many miracles. Please notice, Jesus did not do miracles the way too many of the purported miracle healers of today do their healing. Very often today you will hear the healers say something along the lines that if you are not healed by them (which most of them will not admit) it is because you did not believe or have enough faith. Listen to what Jesus says in comparison; “when Jesus came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him; and behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.’ And he stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, ‘I will; be clean.’ And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. And Jesus said to him, ‘See that you say nothing to any one; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a proof to the people’” (Matthew 8:1-4). Did you notice that the healing of this man was not based on his faith, but on Jesus’ Word and also that Jesus healing was to be confirmed by the doctors of the day, who were the priest.
The main theme in Jesus’ teaching, preaching and life was His offering the gift of forgiveness of sins. Because it was believed that only God could forgive sins and to claim to be God was blasphemous, for Jesus to offer forgiveness was seen as blaspheme. So, what does Jesus do? He uses His healing to authenticate His forgiveness and the fact that He is God, according to the logic of the Pharisees. In other words, He is using the logic of His enemies against them. “Getting into a boat [Jesus] crossed over and came to his own city. And behold, they brought to him a paralytic, lying on his bed; and when Jesus saw their faith he said to the paralytic, ‘Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.’ And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, ‘This man is blaspheming.’ But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, ‘Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, “Your sins are forgiven,” or to say, “Rise and walk”? But that you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins’—he then said to the paralytic—‘Rise, take up your bed and go home.’ And he rose and went home. When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men” (Matthew 9:1-8).
Jesus came to bring life, eternal life. We are told that “at daybreak Jesus went out to a solitary place. The people were looking for him and when they came to where he was, they tried to keep him from leaving them. But he said, ‘I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.’  And he kept on preaching in the synagogues of Judea” (Luke 4:42-44). Indeed, Jesus came to forgive sins and to preach the good news of the kingdom of God.
“What is this good news Jesus came to proclaim?” We call it the Gospel in a nutshell. Jesus said, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). Jesus’ message of good news is that we worship a God who loves us and loves us so much so that He gave His one and only Son to come to earth in order to live for us, that is in order to be perfect, as God demands, for us in our place because we cannot. He came to take our sins and to suffer and die to pay the price for our sins, so that we will not perish and here we mean suffer everlasting death, but that we might have eternal, everlasting life in heaven.
Unfortunately, just as quickly as Jesus came to fame so to speak, just as quickly as He became popular with the people in a couple short years, so just as easily He came to opposition. His presence drew respect and at times awe from those around Him. His words of preaching and teaching were unlike others within the organized temple in that when He spoke, He spoke with authority. He spoke, but He also demonstrated what He spoke. He lived by His own Word. He cared for others. He came not to be served but to serve. And He showed this very often to those closest to Him. During His last Passover with His disciples Jesus “got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him” (John 13:4-5). When He was done Jesus told His disciples, “‘You call me “Teacher” and “Lord,” and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them’” (John 13:13-17).
In the end, when it came to His trails, the verdict and His execution, Jesus freely, or we might better say, passively allowed Himself to be arrested, mocked, beaten, smitten, stricken and afflicted. He allowed for Himself to be put to death because that was the reason for His coming to earth. As the writer of the Gospel of John says of the sayings of Jesus “Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written” (John 21:25). Jesus was not simply an example to us, as some would have you to believe for to be simply and example would only lead us to despair because we cannot be like Him. We was an example but even more, He fulfilled the very example He set. He was the One who came to live for us. We cannot fulfill God’s demand to “be perfect.” Jesus was perfect. He lived a perfect life. He fulfilled all Holy Scripture perfectly and then freely He took our sins, suffered and paid the price for our sins, and died for us. Yet, we know the rest of the story, He did not stay dead but rose victorious over sin, death and the devil and now He sends the Holy Spirit to give, strengthen and keep us in faith through the very means He has given to us, His Word and Sacraments. Thus our desire is to be where His gifts are given out and to rejoice in response with thanks and praise. To Him be the glory for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

“Dem” Bones - April 2, 2017 - Fifth Sunday in Lent - Text: Ezekiel 37:1-14

For many people, death is something that is to be feared. Another thing that is often feared by some is the book of Revelation. Whenever I am asked questions concerning the book of Revelation I like to remind people that for us Christians, the book of Revelation is a wonderful book of Gospel, giving us a glimpse of what heaven is like. For the unChristian and for those who do not understand the book it is often a book of terror. For the unbeliever in general, death is certainly something to be feared, but for us Christians, death is merely a being born out of this world into heaven. More often than not, I believe it is not that we, as Christians, fear death in general, rather we are more afraid of the way in which we might die. Anyway, our three lessons for this morning give us a glimpse of the power of God as we see Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead in the Gospel lesson, showing Jesus is God with power over life and death. Paul reminds us that by faith in Jesus we do not need to fear death, because, although we may suffer physical death, although we may pass on from this world, because of Jesus and faith in Him we never need to be afraid of eternal spiritual death, that price has been paid in full. And our text, our Old Testament lesson is the account of Ezekiel and the dry bones and God’s power to bring even dry bones back to life. Yes, our God is a powerful God with power even over death and the grave.
I do not want to get gory this morning, but this text reminds me somewhat of the story of Frankenstein. Although I have never read the book I have heard the story and I have seen one version of the story as well as the Mel Brooks parody in Young Frankenstein. Anyway, the gist of this story is the reanimation of human tissue, that is the bringing of dead tissue back to life. In our text for this morning, Ezekiel is shown a valley filled with bones, and to make sure we understand that these are dead and dead we are told they are dry bones, bones that have been there for a while and he is asked, “can these bones live?” Keeping this story in its proper context I will remind you that he was asked this question by God Himself.
Our text is the experience of Ezekiel (v. 1-10) and its interpretation (v. 11-14). In the next few minutes I want to try to describe Ezekiel’s experience to you. I want to say that I use the term experience rather than say that this was a vision because Ezekiel does not call it a vision. He says that “the hand of the Lord was upon [him], and he brought [him] out by the Spirit of the Lord.” The Lord showed him a valley full of bones. He was carried back and forth among these bones in order to be shown the great number of bones there were in the valley. And about these bones he says that they were very dry, again, these bones had been here for a very long time. They were the bones of a great army of people who had died a long time ago, their outer bodies had already decayed and all that was left was these dry, bleached, dead bones.
After being shown these bones the Lord asks Ezekiel, “can these bones live?” Ezekiel’s answer shows much wisdom. Never answer a question you cannot answer. And remember, when you are in a conversation with God, definitely never answer a question you know you cannot answer. Ezekiel answers by turning the question back to the Lord, “O Yahweh God, you alone know.” Ezekiel knows that only God can know the answer and the answer is that only God can do what He wants to do, when and where He please. He knows that with God all things are possible.
God knows the answer. God can do anything. God tells Ezekiel to prophecy. He is to prophecy to the bones. The first thing he is to tell the bones is to come back together and they are to do this not because Ezekiel said so, but because the Lord says so. “Hear the word of the Lord!” he says. So, we see Ezekiel speak and we see his words come to be. His words do not do what they say because they are his words, but his words do what they say because they are the Lord’s Words. Here we see, as in all of Holy Scripture, the power of the very Words of the Lord. The Lord’s Word is such that it does what it says. When God speaks, it happens. When Ezekiel speaks the Word of the Lord, the bones come together, tendons and flesh appear on the bones, and skin covers them.
So, now Ezekiel is looking at a valley of lifeless bodies. I have never watched or been drawn to watch horror movies, but this experience sounds like it would look pretty horrifying if you ask me. Perhaps this scene might be akin to a modern day zombie movie. But Ezekiel is not yet done. Next, the Lord tells him to “prophecy to the breath.” The breath is the spirit, the wind. The breath is the spirit of God. In Genesis, at the creation of the world we are told that God formed the man out of the dust of the ground, out of the earth and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and man became a living being. This is the same breath. This is the breath of life. This is the life giving breath of God. And, again, not because Ezekiel said so, but because he was speaking the Word of the Lord, this happened. The breath, the spirit of the Lord entered the bodies and they came to life and stood up on their feet. And what Ezekiel saw was a vast army of people, living people. Where there was previously dry bones, now there were living people. Ezekiel witnessed the reanimation of human tissue. And that is where Ezekiel’s experience ends, more or less. What happened to the people we are not told. The next thing we are told is an explanation of this experience.
God tells Ezekiel what this experience means (v. 11-14). He says that the bones are the lost children of Israel. They are lost because they are dead in their sin and unbelief. They have strayed from their faith in the Lord and now they are literally dead in their trespasses, sin, and unbelief. Left on their own, theirs is a condition of hopelessness.
But with the Lord there is hope. There is good news. The good news is that the Lord will call them back to faith. The calling back to faith of the children of Israel is the Lord’s promise of true restoration. True restoration came about through Jesus. Jesus came to earth, true God in human flesh and blood. Jesus was born perfect. He came as the embodiment of Israel. What the whole nation of Israel could not do, keep the Laws and word of God, Jesus did perfectly. Jesus came to pay the penalty for the sins of Israel in order to restore them to a right relationship with the Lord.
The true restoration of Israel is this, that the Lord also calls all people, Jews and Gentiles alike, to faith in Himself. The true Israel is all who believe in Jesus as their Savior. The final restoration for all believers is heaven. The Lord will open the graves of all people and will bring all those who are His, by His grace, through faith in Jesus, to their home, heaven, with Him. The Lord will bring all believers into His Kingdom.
How might we tell this story today? We might start with taking a look at the world in which we live and especially at the lives that we live. We are reminded that we are all by nature sinful and unclean, deserving of death, eternal spiritual death. We daily show our nature through our words and our actions. Turn on the television, watch the news, read a news paper, listen to the radio. The things that are happening in our world, drug abuse, child abuse, rape, abortion, murder, violence of all kinds, these are not the things of a people who are in a close relationship with the Lord. Even in our own churches and congregations we are people who come and look like we are trying to be a part of God’s kingdom, and I would say, we actually want to try to be good Christians, yet we too find ourselves daily sinning against one another and the Lord, in word and in action. We compete against one another, we struggle for what we perceive to be positions of power, we nit-pick and gossip against one another, we tear each other down, and for what reason? Mostly because we are simply falling into the temptation of the devil. Yes, the church is full of hypocrites, those people who have faith in Jesus and yet, on a daily basis live otherwise. We all stand guilty!
In Catechetical Helps, a type of workbook for the catechism, we are reminded that we do not keep the commandments simply by not doing something we should not be doing. We break the commandments, more often by not doing something we should be doing. The statements of the third commandment stick out in reminding us that we do not keep the third commandment just by going to church. We keep the third commandment “by going to church, listening, believing, and doing; by praying and reading the Bible daily; by supporting the work of the church; and by sharing the Gospel with others.” The children of Israel became a valley of dry bones because they gave up their relationship with the Lord. Are we to become a valley of dry bones because we too are slowly giving up our relationship with the Lord?
Thanks be to God that He does not leave us without hope. In His infinite grace and mercy God continually calls us to faith through His Means of Grace, His Word and Sacrament. From the time of our birth, until the time of our death, the Lord continues to put before us, His Word and Sacraments. Through these means He would call us to faith, strengthen us in faith, and keep us in faith until He comes again.
Thanks be to God that He sent His Son to give His life for ours. Jesus did not come just to save the children of Israel. He did not come to show us the way to save ourselves. He came to live for us, that is to be perfect for us because we cannot be perfect. He came to obey all of God’s Laws and commands perfectly for us as well because we cannot, because we are imperfect. He came to take our sins upon Himself. He came to give His life as a ransom for us all. He came to give His life for ours. He came to bring us back into a right relationship with the Father in heaven, to restore us.
Thanks be to God that He came to give us heaven. Heaven is not something we will have or something that is a future possibility. Heaven is a present reality. It is ours now. We may have to wait to move in, but we are on the member list.
Ezekiel’s experience brings us the sobering thought that, but by the grace of God, there go I. Ezekiel’s experience reminds us of God’s grace in bringing us back into a right relationship with Himself through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and then God through Ezekiel calls us to and works in us the ability to live in a right relationship with Himself. And to that we say, to God be the glory. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.