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


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

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

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

This year our theme for Advent is Christ as God/man, Prophet, Priest and King. This week we will look at Jesus as our Prophet, next week Jesus as our King, the following week Jesus as our Priest. For Christmas Eve we will take up the them of Christ as God and then finally on Christmas morning we will talk about Jesus as man. In order to help us with this theme we go to our catechism and under the question, “For what threefold office was Christ anointed?” we have the answer, “Christ was anointed to be our Prophet, Priest, and King.” This evening we want to look in particular at the first response, that of Christ as our Prophet and again the catechism tells us, “A. As Prophet, Christ: 1. preached personally during His life on earth, validating His word with miracles, especially His own resurrection; Deut. 18:15; Matt. 17:5; Mark 1:38; John 1:17-18; John 6:68; 2. through the preached Gospel today still proclaims Himself to be the Son of God and Redeemer of the world. Mark 16:15; Luke 10:16; 2 Cor. 5:20.”
The promise of a Messiah was first given in Genesis. Let me set the stage. In the beginning God created all things, out of nothing. Then, on the sixth day, after creating all the animals God set out to create the crown of His creation, human beings. Human beings were created different from the rest of all creation in that man was formed out of the dust of the ground and then God breathed into him the breath of life and man became a living being, with a body and a soul. Soon afterward God created the woman from the rib of the man in order to be a helper suitable for him. And up until this time everything was good and even very good, meaning everything was perfect. Again, please notice that after God had completed all His creation everything was good and even very good, again meaning everything was perfect. When we move from God’s hand of creation, from God running the verbs, as we say, to the account of the humans doing the doing, then we move to the fall into sin and the ruin of creation. However, even though God’s creatures, humanity, brought sin, death and destruction into the world, God continued to show His love, care and concern. Immediately after man fell into sin, God intervened and promised to take care of what man broke, to send a Savior, a Messiah. We read this promise in Gen. 3:15, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”
Later God reiterated His promise and expanded it when Moses announced to the people, “15The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen—16just as you desired of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.’ 17And the Lord said to me, ‘They are right in what they have spoken. 18I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him’” (Deut. 18:15-19). God would send a Savior who would also be a prophet.
Although God waited some 4500 years from the time He first made His promise to fulfill His promise, yet He did fulfill His promise. In Bethlehem of Judea God fulfilled His promise. To a young woman, a virgin and to her betrothed husband, God sent His Son to be born. This Child was like all other children in that He was truly a human child, but He was different in that He was also the Son of God, that is He is truly God as well.
Up until He was about thirty years old and began His earthly ministry, we hear only about Jesus’ birth and about His trip to Jerusalem and to the temple at the age of 12.
After reaching the age of thirty Jesus began His public ministry. It was in what was perceived to be His hometown of Nazareth that we hear of Him as not only the Messiah, but also as a prophet. As Luke tells us, “16And [Jesus] came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. 17And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, 18“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, 19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 20And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 22And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth. And they said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” 23And he said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Physician, heal yourself.’ What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.” 24And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. 25But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, 26and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. 27And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” 28When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. 29And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. 30But passing through their midst, he went away” (Luke 4:16-30). Of course, a prophet is not simply one who foretells of future events. A prophet is also one who proclaims the Word of God.
And finally, at about the age of thirty-three, after three short years of work, in Jerusalem Jesus does what He came to earth to do. There, just outside the city gates, Jesus is nailed to a cross in order to die and in so dying He paid the price for all sins of all people of all places of all times, including your sins and mine, once and for all.
Today Jesus continues to be our Savior and Prophet, yet He no longer comes to us immediately, rather, today He comes to us through means, mediately, through the read Word, in other words, as the Word of God is read to us every Sunday morning, and Wednesday evenings, Jesus speaks to us through this Word, as He speaks to us individually as we read His Word.
Jesus is our Savior and Prophet as He comes to us through His Word, that is as He comes to us through the preached Word. Here we understand that a Pastor cannot improve on the Word of God, and so his proclamation of the Word of God is the Word of God only and in so far as what He proclaims is the Word of God. Which reminds us as Pastors to preach the Word and then to sit down and be quiet.
Jesus is our Savior and Prophet as He comes to us through Holy Baptism. Through water and the Word of God, namely His name, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Jesus comes into our hearts, gives us faith, gives us forgiveness, writes our names in the book of Life, and gives us eternal life.
Jesus is our Savior and Prophet as He comes to us through the Lord’s Supper. Through bread and wine and the Word of God, Jesus comes to us to give Himself for us to eat and drink. Very much like the Old Testament sacrifice, as the spotless lamb was present to be slaughtered, burnt on the altar and then eaten by the family, so Jesus presented Himself as our spotless lamb who went to the cross to be crucified and now comes to us as we eat His body and drink His blood through this most Holy Meal of the Lord’s Supper. And through this meal as through all His means of grace, our Lord gives to us faith, strengthening of faith, forgiveness of sins, life and salvation.
Jesus is our Savior and Prophet as He comes to us through confession and absolution. As we confess our sins and hear those most beautiful, most precious words, “I forgive you all your sins,” then we know we have just what those words say we have, forgiveness of sins and with forgiveness comes life and salvation.
What does this mean? First, God the Father promised it. And we know that whatever God promises, He brings to completion.
Second, Jesus fulfills it. Jesus is one with the Father and so He fulfills the promises He makes that is He came not only to live for us, to do all that things we are supposed to do but are unable to do, but also to pay the price for our sins, to suffer the eternal death penalty of hell for us in our place.
And third, the Holy Spirit gives us faith in Him. The work of the Holy Spirit is to motivate us, to stir in us and to work in and through us to live lives of faith, doing the good works which God has prepared in advance for us to do. And they are good works because they are done to His glory.
Thus we see, Jesus is our Messiah and our prophet, not only as He came during His life, but also as He continues to come to us and for us today. To Him be the glory for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

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

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

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

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

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

Sunday, November 17, 2019

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

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

Sunday, November 10, 2019

God’s Call - November 10, 2019 - Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 27) - Text: Exodus 3:1-15

After today there are only two Sundays left in our current Church Year Calendar. In previous years this Sunday was known as the Third-last Sunday of the Church Year. As we move toward the end of one Church Year and the beginning of another our readings direct our attention, once again and as always, to the fact that our life in this world is short, especially compared to our eternal life in heaven. Thus, what is important is making sure we are ready for our real life in heaven. In the Epistle reading we have Paul’s encouragement to stand firm in our faith. In the Gospel reading we have Jesus being questioned concerning heaven and His response giving proof of the resurrection of the dead and eternal life.
Our text is God’s call to Moses to lead the Children of Israel out of their bondage of slavery in Egypt. We begin at verse one, “1Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. 3And Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.” 4When the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” 5Then he said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” 6And he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God” (v. 1-6). You might remember that this Moses is the same Moses that was raised by Pharaoh’s daughter, that he had killed an Egyptian and that he fled to Midian. Moses had spent the first 40 years of his life in Egypt being raised as an Egyptian. He knew what it was like in Egypt, the customs and the like. Certainly if there was a man for the job of delivering the Israelites from Egypt it was Moses.
At this time, Moses had now been in Midian for 40 years. He was a shepherd for his father-in-law, Jethro’s sheep. So, not only did he know the ways of the Egyptians, he also knew the ways of the desert, of raising sheep. Again, these life experiences made him well qualified for the job God was about to call him to accomplish.
As Moses was out keeping watch over the flock, the Lord appeared to Him in a burning bush. We are told that the bush was on fire but was not consumed. I would think it would be kind of like a fireplace with fake logs, except that this was a real bush with a real fire. This fire might be perceived as a sign of God’s judgement, fire being a symbol of purification and the justice of God.
    As Moses drew near to investigate the sight he saw, God spoke to him telling him that God is in this place and the He has made this place holy ground. Certainly God is holy and where God is He makes that place holy. Moses response, his reaction is the same as how we might react to such a situation, that is that he hid his face. Moses knew that to look on God could mean death.
After God gets Moses’ attention He moves on to the specifics of His calling, “7Then the Lord said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, 8and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Periz-zites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 9And now, behold, the cry of the people of Israel has come to me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them. 10Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.” 11But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” 12He said, “But I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain” (v. 7-13). God has seen the affliction of His people Israel. And this does not in anyway mean that God did not know what was going on with His people, the Israelites. Certainly God is omniscient, He is all knowing and He always knows what is happening. Here we are simply reminded that He is about ready to do something for His people. God tells Moses that He will rescue His people and He will do this with Moses as their leader.
God lays out His plan to Moses. God will send and use Moses to bring the Children of Israel into the promised land, a land flowing with milk and honey. Moses will bring them into a land that is inhabited by others, but those presently living in the land will be rooted out making room for God’s people.
Upon hearing such great and wonderful news Moses response is a question, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh?” (V. 11). Moses throws up his first excuse as to why God picked the wrong man for the job. As are all our excuses, before God we have no excuse. God tells Moses that He, God Himself with be with Moses. Moses is simply to be God’s instrument.
But Moses is not done with his excuses and God is not done giving him His credentials including His name, “13Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” 14God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I am has sent me to you.’” 15God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations” (v. 13-15). What Moses is asking for is a way to distinguish the Lord God, Yahweh, from the gods of Egypt. In other words, Moses is asking God, or telling God, if I go to the people and say that God has sent me, they will want to know what god. And so God gives Moses His name, “I AM”
God’s name is I AM. He is not I was. He is not I will be. He is I AM. God’s name is an indication of who He is, that He is a God who is outside of time. He is in the present and as a matter of fact He is in the eternal present. For God there is no yesterday nor tomorrow. For God that He is in the eternal present indicates His eternal being. God is from creation. He was there at the creation of the world where He spoke all things into being.
God’s name  is I AM meaning He is from everlasting. Even before the world was created God is. We might think He was, but since His name is I AM, since He is in the eternal present, indeed He is before the world began. With God there is no beginning and no end. No one created God, because if someone created Him, then that One who created Him would be God. God was not created but He is the Creator of all. God is God because He is, was and always will be. He is the prime mover.
And God’s name, I AM means that He  is the unchangeable, eternal God. He is the same yesterday, today and forever, speaking in human chronological ordering terms. Indeed, we find comfort in God’s name, I AM as we can rest assured that He is the One True God from everlasting to everlasting.
In speaking to Moses and in giving him His name, God testifies that He is the God of Israel.  God is the Father of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. These three father’s of Israel, patriarchs of the nation all Israelites knew. That God is the Father of them all means that He is the One True God. As the One True God, as the One who chose them, placed His Name on them, covenanted with them, He is the One who can and will deliver them.
So, what does this mean? As we come to our text we might be wondering, what was Moses relationship with God. Certainly, having been raised in Pharaoh’s home he was educated about the gods of Egypt, yet, having his mother as his nurse mother for some years and knowing his Hebrew background, certainly he knew of the God of Israel. Perhaps Jethro, his father-in-law may have educated him as well. Yet, as we get to our text we see that the first thing that happens is that God calls Moses. This calling may be God’s calling him to faith. God is the prime mover. Moses did not approach God nor call Him. God called Moses. In somewhat the same way, but not with a burning bush, God calls us to faith. For many of us God called us to faith through the means of Holy Baptism. As water and God’s name, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, were spoken on us, God called us to and gave us faith. For others God called us to faith through His Holy Word. As we hear God’s Word the Holy Spirit works through that Word to give faith. And God continually strengthens us and keeps us in faith through His means of grace as well, remembering our Baptism, hearing His Word, confessing our sins and hearing His Word of forgiveness, partaking of His body and blood in His Holy Supper.
God calls Moses to faith and God gives Moses His authority to lead His people. We might surely understand, especially in our world that there are those who grasp and grab for power, but God is the One who gives authority. God gives Moses His authority and we see that authority as God is with Moses as He leads the Children of Israel. In much the same way God gives us authority. At His ascension, as Jesus was ready to depart this world He gave His authority to go out and share the good news with all nations. When someone asks us by what right we have to speak God’s word, we can tell them by God’s authority.
And God gives Moses a promise, to be with Him. God does not call Moses, give him His authority and send him out by himself. No, God’s promise is that He will be with Moses every step of the way. Even through Moses’ excuses and balking, God continues to dismantle his excuses and assures him of His presence with him. Again, in like manner, God gives us a promise, to be with us,  always, even to the end of the world. God does not send us out to make disciples by ourselves. Certainly we know that we cannot make someone believe. God’s promise is that He is with us, and that He will send the Holy Spirit to work through the Word He gives us to speak to make disciples of all nation.
This morning we are reminded of what a privilege it is to share the good news of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection with others. God calls us to faith. God strengthens and keep us in faith. God gives us His authority. God gives us His Word. God gives us the very words to speak. God stirs in others to ask us about our faith as we live lives as priests in the priesthood of all believers. God gives us the courage to speak and He gives faith to those who hear. Thanks be to God.
Yes, we tend to be like Moses. We tend to have excuses for not sharing the good news with others. Thanks be to God that He forgives us for such excuses and that He works through us in spite of our excuses. Thanks be to God that He loves us enough to use us in spite of ourselves. And above all thanks be to God for all His good gifts and blessings. To Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

We Are God’s Children Now - November 3, 2019 - All Saints Day - Text: 1 John 3:1-3

Today we celebrate All Saint’s Day. Now I know that All Saint’s Day is not that big a deal, not that big of a celebration for us in the Lutheran Church, but perhaps we should rethink this matter and make a bigger deal of this day, after all, our hope and future are not a hope and future for this world, but for the world to come. Our hope and confidence is that one day we will be saints in heaven and that one day may be sooner than we know and even sooner than we might expect.
And let me briefly remind you, in case you have forgotten, that by faith in Jesus, especially by faith given through His means of grace, either through His Word or at our own baptism, we are saints. Yes, while we are on this earth we will continue to be sinners as well, but we are saints and we will speak more on this again a little later.
In our first lesson appointed for reading on All Saint’s Day, we have John’s vision of our salvation. John describes what we call the number of completion, that is, all believers. John speaks of the 144,000 which is 12,000 from each of the twelve tribes of Israel. His lists of 12,000 from each tribe differs from the lists of the number in each tribe in the Old Testament because John’s listing is a symbolic listing of the tribes of the true Israel as described by Paul in Romans nine. The true Israel is the Israel of faith not DNA. Thus the total number of believers that will be in heaven is given in the number of 144,000, not a specific number, but a number of completion, all believers in Jesus, as he says in verse nine, “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. . . ”
John also tells us about the joy of all believers around the throne of the Lamb forever. There will be no more hunger or thirst, no more scorching heat. Instead, there will be springs of living water and God will wipe away every tear from our eyes. Quite a comforting picture John paints for believers in Jesus.
In the Gospel lesson appointed for this day of celebration we have Jesus’ words of blessing and His Words of Gospel. We are described as blessed who recognize and acknowledge that we are poor in spirit so that we do hunger and thirst after the righteousness of God, in other words, we are blessed who hunger and thirst after making regular and diligent use of the means of grace, every Sunday and every day. We are blessed because it is through these means that our Lord feeds us, comforts us, purifies us and gives us the gifts He has to give, faith, forgiveness, strengthening of faith and life. And this continues to be my concern for this congregation as well as our nation, that is that so many refuse these gifts on a weekly basis. God has so many gifts He wants to give and yet, every Sunday many people refuse those gifts by not being in Divine Service here and around the world. So, let me continue to encourage you, let me continue to exhort you, ladies and gentlemen, come and be given the gifts and encourage and exhort your brothers and sisters who refuse the gifts to come and be given the gifts.
As Jesus says, again in our Gospel lesson, especially blessed are those who believe and are persecuted, because theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. Although we may not suffer the persecution some of our brothers and sisters in Christ suffer in other parts of the world, I might suggest that we do suffer more subtle forms of persecution. The question is, do we stand up and confess our faith, or do we simply allow others to think as they will, even that we do not have faith?
In our text for this morning, John’s first letter, John helps us to understand what love is, what true love is, that is that true love begins with the Father’s Love, with God the Father’s love. True love is that God loves us first and He shows His love in the gift of His Son. We begin at verse one, “1See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we will be like him, because we shall see him as he is. 3And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure” (v. 1-3).
Notice first and foremost that God is the prime mover. He first loved us, making us His children. And how does He make us His children? Every year on Good Friday we remember and we even celebrate the giving of Jesus’ life for ours on the cross. We give thanks for His suffering the punishment for our sins. And then, every year on the following Sunday, on Easter Sunday we celebrate His resurrection, the complete defeat of sin, death and the devil. This is how He purchased us, by paying the price for our sins. He makes us His children through means, namely through His means of grace. He makes us His children through His Word, which does what it says, in other words, when the Holy Spirit, working through the Word of God, says we have faith, that is exactly what we have, faith, given to us by God through the means of His Word. Another means the Lord uses to make us His children is Holy Baptism. As water and God’s name are put on us at Baptism, the Lord gives us faith, forgiveness, life and salvation. These things come to us from outside of us and are given to us from outside of us. These are the Lord’s doing and the Lord’s giving. He makes us His children.
When Jesus came into the world, as we are reminded in the Gospel accounts, the world rejected Him. Jesus was not the Savior the people were looking for, at least not the Savior for which some were looking. Jesus was not a social/political savior. Jesus did not come to over throw the oppressors of the Children of Israel, at least not the oppressors they wanted overthrown. Jesus simply did not fit their definition of who the Savior was or what He should do.
The world rejected Jesus and as He makes us His children, we should expect nothing more or less from the world, in other words, we should expect that the world will reject us. As children of the Lord we do not speak the same language as the world, we do not have the same priorities as the world, we do not have the same outlook as the world. The world speaks of power, fame and fortune. The world speaks of the things of this world, that this is all there is. We speak of sin and forgiveness. We speak of absolutes, absolute truth and love. We speak of the transient nature of this world, that our lives in this world are fast and fleeting. And so, our hope is not in this world, but in the world to come.
John says we are not yet what we will be. John is speaking of our goal of sanctification, that is that, after being given faith by the Holy Spirit, through the outward means of grace, the Holy Spirit continues to work in and through us to make us more and more Christ-like. Of course, we understand that we will never be completely Christ-like, at least not on this side of heaven. But when we reach our eternal home of heaven, we will be made perfect again. So, we are no longer what we were before being given faith, that is we are no longer complete sinners, lost and condemned persons, but we are not yet all that we will be in heaven, complete and perfect saints.
What does this mean? First we are reminded that God is the prime mover. As John says elsewhere, we love because He first loved us. Here I like the image of the Sun and the moon. When we see the moon shining in the sky, we know we are seeing the reflection of the Sun, because the moon has no light of its own. Thus, when we love others and when we are loved by others, we know that we and they are merely reflecting the love of God to each other, because in and of ourselves, apart from God, we have no love of our own.
God first loves us and then God gives us faith, forgiveness and life. These are gifts from God. These are not gifts we take or get on our own, they are gifts from God. And these gifts He gives through means, namely through outward, external means of Grace, the Bible, Holy Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and confession and absolution. Just as we did not choose to be born into this world, but we were conceived by our parents and born into this world, so we do not choose to save ourselves, to get forgiveness for ourselves, these gifts are given from outside of us, namely our Lord has chosen us and gives us the gifts He has to give, forgiveness, faith and life and He delivers these gifts through the means of grace.
God first loves us, God gives us faith, forgiveness and life and then God works in us our sanctification. Sanctification is our becoming more and more Christlike, but here again, this is not something we do in and of ourselves, this is God’s doing as well. God the Holy Spirit, whose work it is to always point to Christ, and that is why we do not hear or see much of Him, He is the one, working through the means of grace who works in us to do the good works which God has prepared in advance for us to do and we do them because He is working them in and through us.
And finally, God brings us into His kingdom. Notice how in all these instances it is God who is doing the doing. God does and we are done to. God gives and we are given to. God has His way with us and we are thankful. We know we get it right and we can have confidence only in this, that God always does it right, and gets it right. I may err, but God never errs. Thanks be to God.
As we celebrate All Saint’s day, then we celebrate the fact that we are saints. And we are reminded as Dr. Luther so well reminded us and as John reminds us, even though we are saints, we are and while we remain on this earth we will also continue to be at the same times sinners. So we are saint/sinners. Our life on this earth is a life of sanctification in that our Lord continues to work on us through His means of grace to be strengthened in our faith in Jesus alone for our salvation. Certainly, while we are here on this earth, we will have times when we will fail. We will fall for temptation and we will sin, yet we are not to be discouraged because we are given forgiveness and the Holy Spirit continues working on us to be the people God would have us to be.
Our ultimate hope and certainty is indeed described in the Revelation of John that upon our passing from this earth, either through our own death or through the Lord’s return, we will be united with all the saints, all those who have gone on before us and all those who will go on after us so that we will all gather at the Lord’s throne to be feed and comforted, to give glory to the Lord, to live with Him forever in heaven. To Him alone be all glory. And we might well end by saying as John does, “Come Lord Jesus, Come quickly.” Amen.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Justified by Faith - October 27, 2019 - Reformation Sunday - Text: Romans 3:19-28

Happy Reformation Day! And so again, this year, as last year and as I will continue to do every year, I greet you with what I consider to be wonderful words of greeting. And again I confess, right from the start, that Reformation Day continues to be one of my favorite holidays. Reformation Day is the day we celebrate the re-forming of the church, and specifically, the church of Luther’s day. Reformation Day is the day we celebrate the work of God through the man, Dr. Martin Luther. Notice, we do not worship Martin Luther. We do celebrate that God the Holy Spirit, working through the means of grace, the Word and the Sacraments, moved Dr. Martin Luther to recognize the false and misleading teachings of the church of his day. God worked through Dr. Luther to show us that a person is not saved by works of the Law, rather a person is saved by grace, through faith in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. That alone makes this a most precious day to remember.
In our text for this morning, the Epistle lesson, Paul gives us a lesson to help us get a fuller understanding of the proper distinction between the Law and its purpose and the Gospel and its purpose. Paul begins with the Law and its purpose, we read, “19Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin”(v. 19-20). According to Paul the Law serves the following purposes. One of the purposes of the Law is to silence us. The Law is to keep us from bragging or boasting about our good works, or what we think are our good works. After all, it is hard to brag when all you have to brag about is how you are responsible for the death of someone, an innocent someone, especially when that someone is your own God.
Another purpose of the Law is to show us that we are accountable. Through the Law we understand the we are responsible for ourselves. Does this fact ever smack right in the face of our society today?! How often do we read or hear about people who have won lawsuits for their own negligence, if not out right stating or at least implying that they are not responsible for themselves. The most famous case was from a few years back and I am sure you remember the lady who spilled the hot coffee on herself and sued the fast food company. Other examples include the guy who road his bicycle at night wearing dark clothes and without any lights and sued because he was hit by a car. Of late we have hard about the young man who wanted to sue the fast food industry because he was obese. We could spend a lot of time discussing how we do not like to be held accountable for our actions in this country, yet, we do not want anyone telling us we cannot do whatever we want to do. In our text, Paul tells us that God, through the Law, reminds us the we are accountable, He will hold us, each one of us,  personally responsible for breaking the Law.
Which brings us to one more stated purpose of the Law, that is that the Law is given to show us our sins. One quick check of our lives against the ten commandments will suffice. I will be quick and brief, but I just want you to get the idea. Have you ever placed your hope in yourself or the things of this world, misused God’s name, neglected not only to be in church, but to hear and do according to what God says in His Word? Have you ever disobeyed anyone in authority over you, thought hateful thoughts, called someone a name or hurt them in any way, lusted after another person, thought about stealing, borrowed without returning, committed vandalism, said anything bad about someone, even if it was true, thought you wanted something so bad you would steal for it. Have you ever been discontent with your circumstances or possessions? If you have done any one of these things, then you have broken, not one but, all the commandments. Ouch! And our punishment was to be death, eternal death, hell.
Thanks be to God that Paul did not stop with the Law. Our text continues with the Gospel and its purpose, we continue reading, “21But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—22the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe”(v. 21-22a). Here I must say we do not count the number of purposes of the Gospel. When it comes to God’s gifts, especially His gift of the Gospel, we are reminded that God gives the whole lot of His gifts and He gives a whole lot more. I know I have said this before, at least I have mentioned it in Bible Class, but the fact of the matter is that God does not do fractions, that is God does not do math. God does not give us some of His gifts now and some later. He gives us all His gifts now and even more of them later. One of the purposes of the Gospel, then, is to bring us righteousness, which comes from God. Our righteousness, our right standing before God, does not come from within ourselves, it is not a self-righteousness, rather it comes from outside of us, it comes from God. Think about it this way, would you rather be self-righteous according to your standard of righteousness which might not cut it before God, or would you rather be righteous according to the standard of the person who is judging your righteousness?
Another purpose of the Gospel is to make our righteousness known to us and that is done through the Law and the Prophets. Here the Law and the Prophets are the whole Bible and it is through the whole Bible that God makes His righteousness known to us. We might say it this way, the Bible is one of the means that God has of giving us His righteousness.
Another purpose of the Gospel is to show us that our righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ and His work on the cross. Here we are reminded of the importance of our faith. But let us not misunderstand faith. We must recognize that faith is not something we do. Although the Gospel continually speaks of the necessity of faith, it does not do so in the sense of demanding faith as a good work, rather it does so in the sense of an invitation extended to all people to be given the promises of God. To say that we “are given to” by God takes all the onus off of us and puts it entirely on God as the giver and makes us the passive ones who are being given to. Remember, the whole value of faith lies not in who has faith, but in the object or basis of faith. Faith in self earns hell. Faith in Jesus and His work on the cross alone earns heaven.
Moving on in our text Paul tells us how the Law and Gospel work together, we read, “For there is no distinction: 23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus”(v. 22b-26). The Law shows how we have completely failed, that we have fallen short of the glory of God. The Law shows us our complete damnation. The Law does not save, it does not move us to anything but despair, or it leads to self-righteousness, which is why we never preach the Law by itself. This misunderstanding is what Dr. Luther was trying to reform in the church of his day. There was a confusion of Law and Gospel, such that one was taught that forgiveness could be earned and even must be earned, or it could be purchased for a price, namely for a certain amount of money. Anytime it is stated or even implied that there is anything we need to do or even can do to pay for some or any of our sins, we are simply saying that Jesus’ work on the cross was not sufficient for our sins. Again, this misunderstanding is what Dr. Luther was trying to reform.
The Gospel shows how God freely lifts us up and makes us one with Himself. The Gospel shows us our complete salvation. The Gospel saves and moves us to do good works to the glory of God. However, the Gospel must never be preached by itself either, for if we preach the Gospel without the Law then it becomes worthless. Think about it this way, if we do not hear the Law, if we do not know that we sin, then why would we need a Savior, thus the Gospel is worthless. If we are taught and told over and over again how we are good people and how we can be good people, then why would we need a Savior. Our preaching, which expounds the Word of God, must reflect that Word which proclaims Law and Gospel. It must also reflect God’s Word, such as the words of the Close of the Commandments, which show us that God’s Law is but for three or four generations, whereas His Gospel is for thousands of generations. Always the greater emphasis on the Gospel.
The Law and the Gospel work together to show us the importance of Jesus’ atonement, or at-one-ment sacrifice. Jesus died for all sins of all people of all time. Our text calls them those sins committed beforehand unpunished. This reference is to the sins of the people before Jesus came. Their sins were literally unpunished until Jesus came to the cross.  Their sins were punished in Jesus on the cross, as were our sins and the sins of all people of all times and all places.
All of this, the Law and the Gospel are meant to show God’s justice. When we talk about the word justice we do mean a legal act on the part of God, by which He places in us, makes us possessors of, a righteousness which was not ours, which we did not earn, which we do not deserve, which we did not merit. In other words, we do not receive what we deserve, eternal damnation in hell, rather we are given what Christ has deserved for us. In our world today we might just say, praise the Lord that we do not get what we are entitled, hell. Rather we get what Christ is entitled, life in heaven.
Finally, Paul tells us how we are to respond to God’s gift of Law and Gospel. Yes, even Paul, in good Lutheran fashion, answers the question, “What does this mean?” we read,“27Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law” (v. 27-28). Paul begins by reminding us that we are to respond to the Law and Gospel by humbly being given the gifts God has to give to us. We are not to boast which includes holding anything back from the Lord as if we have any part in obtaining the gifts that He has to give to us, in other words, thinking we are doing God a favor by coming to worship and Bible class, thinking we are doing God a favor by putting some of our earnings into the offering plate, thinking we are somebody because we are members of St. Matthew Lutheran church, especially if we are members in name only and do not take part in the whole life of the church, or simply thinking more highly of ourselves rather than thinking of ourselves as servants of the Lord.
Paul reminds us that we are to recognize that we cannot save ourselves. All of our offerings, all of our good deeds, all of our prayers, all of our time, all of our anything will not save us. Only all of Jesus’ work on the cross will save us. How true and how humbling.
Paul, then, reminds us that our response to the Law and the Gospel is to humbly give thanks to God with our fruits of the spirit. We are given God’s gifts and show that we have been given His gifts by our actions, by our living in peace, in joy, in patience, and so on. We are given the gifts from God by boasting only in the cross of Christ, recognizing that we are justified, are made right before God and have access to heaven by faith apart from our observing the law.
Reformation Day is an important day, not because of some man named Dr. Martin Luther, but because of God’s work through this man and because of His work through the means of grace, through the Word and the Sacraments, through which He daily and richly works to strengthen us in our faith, to remind us of our forgiveness and to remind us of our salvation. To God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Your God Shall be My God - October 13, 2019 - Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 23) - Text: Ruth 1:1-19

The Apostle Paul reminds us in Romans 8:28, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Today’s text is a perfect example of Paul’s words of encouragement. And in the Gospel of John we have Jesus own words of encouragement, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). In our Epistle lesson we are reminded that Jesus’ suffering brings us salvation. In the Gospel lesson we see the healing of the ten lepers and God’s continual mercy on us His people.
Our text is the account of Ruth the Moabite who is the great grand mother of King David. The account begins, “1In the days when the judges ruled there was a famine in the land, and a man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons. 2The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went into the country of Moab and remained there. 3But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. 4These took Moabite wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. They lived there about ten years, 5and both Mahlon and Chilion died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband” (v. 1-5).
As this historical event begins we are told that there was a famine in the land. This famine was God’s judgement against Israel for their apostasy, for their idolatry. You might recall that when God gave Israel the land they were to wipe out the pagans living in the land as His judgement against them and not to have any relations with them. However, since the Israelites failed to carry out God’s just judgement and in stead let the people live, they soon were influenced by them and began to fall into idolatry as well. God’s judgement on Israel and the rain god baal was a famine.
The solution, at least for Elimelech, to care for his family was to move to Moab. We are told that there was food in Moab and so in order to continue to feed his family Elimelech moved his wife and two sons to Moab.
While they were living in Moab Naomi’s husband dies. Her two sons marry Moabite women, but they too soon die. So we have the summary statement of verse five that Naomi is now a widow and is childless. Certainly we can understand the difficulty of Naomi’s life and she might certainly be wondering where is the good in what has happened to her.
Continuing on in our historic account we have the return of Naomi to Israel. “6Then she arose with her daughters-in-law to return from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the fields of Moab that the Lord had visited his people and given them food. 7So she set out from the place where she was with her two daughters-in-law, and they went on the way to return to the land of Judah. 8But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go, return each of you to her mother’s house. May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. 9The Lord grant that you may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband!” Then she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept. 10And they said to her, “No, we will return with you to your people.” 11But Naomi said, “Turn back, my daughters; why will you go with me? Have I yet sons in my womb that they may become your husbands? 12Turn back, my daughters; go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. If I should say I have hope, even if I should have a husband this night and should bear sons, 13would you therefore wait till they were grown? Would you therefore refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, for it is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the Lord has gone out against me.” 14Then they lifted up their voices and wept again. And Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her” (v. 6-14).
As Noami decides to move back to her home country she encourages her daughters-in-law to remain with their families who might be better able to provide for them both physically and with new spouses. Although it may sound strange to us, the Mosaic law stated that son’s wives, the daughters-in-law of Naomi were to have children by the brother so the husband would have descendants to inherit. In other words, both Orpah and Ruth were to have a child by the brother of Mahlon and Chilion. However, there were no more brothers, no more sons of Naomi, and she knew that she would not be having any more children, at least not soon enough. So, she encourages the two widowed daughters-in-law to stay and seek provisions from their families in Moab.
At first both daughters-in-law resists saying they will stay with Naomi, after all they understood their duty as family. After the shedding of tears Orpah relents, kisses her mother-in-law and returns to her family. However, Ruth is not so easily convinced. Ruth, we are told, clings to Naomi.
About this clinging, the historical account continues, “15And she said, “See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” 16But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. 17Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” 18And when Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more. 19So the two of them went on until they came to Bethlehem” (v. 15-19a).
Naomi attempts a second time to convince Ruth to go back to her family, pointing to Orpah’s decision, but Ruth is not convinced. Instead, Ruth makes a pledge, “where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.” Ruth clung to the faith of Naomi. Ruth recognized that the God of Naomi is the one true God and she would not be persuaded to give up her faith in the Lord and return to the pagan idols of her own country and family.
Okay, spoiler alert, ultimately, at the end of the book of Ruth we are told that the son of Ruth and Boaz whose name was Obed would give birth to a son whose name is Jesse and he would have a son whose name is David. This David would become the second king of Israel. Thus Ruth would become the great grand mother of David who would ultimately be an ancestor of Jesus.
So, what does this mean? As we began so we see the truth in Paul’s words and in Jesus’ words. Indeed, God does work out the best in any and all situations for those of faith and Jesus has overcome the tribulations of this world. How true it is that God works in mysterious ways and in this historic account of the Children of Israel He even works through times of famine. As we have heard said many times, there is no such thing as a coincidence. It was not a coincidence that there was a famine in the land. It was not a coincidence that Elemelech decided to move to Moab. It was not a coincidence that Naomi’s sons married Moabite women. It was not a coincidence that Naomi’s husband and two sons died. And it was not a coincidence that Ruth clung to her mother-in-law.
In Genesis, God’s promise to send a Savior was made to Adam and Eve who were neither Jew nor Gentile, or rather they had all cultures in their DNA. God’s call and promise to Abraham never excluded anyone. Even as the children of Israel entered the promised land and were given God’s just judgement to wipe out those pagans living in the land, God never negated His desire that they should be His people and a beacon to the world. So, it should not surprise us that God calls Ruth to faith as He calls all whom He wills to call. Remember, God’s desire is that all people are saved.
As we review this account of the history of Israel and the family tree of King David and ultimately the earthly family tree of Jesus we find that Jesus was not of pure Jewish descent. Here we have a Moabite in the family tree. Earlier you might remember we had Rahab from Jericho in the family tree. Rahab the prostitute that is. This fact that there are other cultures in the family tree of Jesus should convince us even more that Jesus was and is the Savior of all people.
This good news that Jesus is the Savior of all people is good news to us as well. Indeed, we are a part of God’s kingdom, a part of Jesus’ family, by grace, through faith, given through the means of grace. How important are God’s means of grace? He calls us to faith and gives us faith through the waters of the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. He calls us to, gives us and strengthens us in faith through His Holy Word. He forgives our sins through His Holy Absolution. He forgives our sins and strengthens our faith through the gift of His body and blood in His Holy Supper. He has given us these means as the very instrument through which He blesses, preserves and strengthens us. Certainly as Ruth was given faith through hearing the Word of God while being married to one of Naomi’s sons, while the ten lepers in the Gospel reading most certainly had heard the Word of God and had heard of Jesus and believed and as Paul encourages Timothy in our Epistle lesson, our desire might be even more to make use of the means of grace so that God can pour out on us even more the gifts and blessings He has to give. And then, even more we may with all patience and endurance wait and see how God works out the best for us through the trials and tribulations of this world as He Himself has overcome for us.
Once again, God is the prime mover. God moves, acts and gives first. God is love and He created us to love us. He is running the show. He is giving the gifts and we are being given to. Jesus lived for us, fulfilling God’s demand of perfection. Jesus took our sin and paid the price for our sins, giving us the forgiveness He earned. Jesus died and rose defeating sin, death and the devil. Jesus gives us faith, forgiveness and life, even eternal life. Our response of faith might be that of Ruth, “Your people shall be my people and your God my God,” that is Jesus is our Savior, Lord, and King.
“We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28) We have seen this work out in our text for today. And we have seen Jesus’ own words fulfilled, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). May we be encouraged in our own faith life especially as we face times of tribulations to know that God is with us, that Jesus has overcome and the God always works out the best for us His people, those He has given faith so that ultimately we might all together rejoice and say, to God be the glory for Jesus’ sake. Amen.