Welcome

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!

Disclaimer

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

Sunday, June 16, 2019

The Wisdom of God - June 16, 2019 - The Holy Trinity - Text: Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31

Today we commemorate the social holiday of Father’s day, recognizing God’s gift of fatherhood and giving thanks to God for the Godly father’s who take serious their God-given role as the head of the family making sure to bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. As we have heard time and again, our short life in this world is nothing compared to our real eternal life in heaven reminding us that what is most important while we are in this world is making sure our eternal salvation has been procured. Thus, we rejoice in Godly fathers who make the spiritual life of their family the highest priority by being in Divine Service and Bible class, being given all the gifts and blessings God has to give. Thank you fathers for being here today and God’s continued blessing on your vocation as father.
 
This morning we celebrate the fact that we worship a God who has revealed Himself to us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and as we describe Him in human terms, a God who is three persons in one Godhead. We are baptized into the Church in the name of God when water and His name, Father, Son and Holy Spirit are placed on us. We begin our divine service by invoking His name, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We conclude our divine service in His name in the Trinitarian Aaronic Benediction. And, although we may only be able to describe our God in human terms and may not be able to completely understand how He can be how He shows Himself to us, this is what we believe because this is how He has revealed Himself to us.
 
Our Scripture readings for this morning help us to understand God as He reveals Himself to us. In the Epistle lesson Peter espouses Jesus as truly God in human flesh. Peter testifies that although King David died and is still dead, at least his body is still in the tomb, Jesus, who was crucified on the cross, is alive and showed Himself to be alive and is ascended into heaven, from where He descended.
 
In the Gospel reading Jesus espouses Himself to be truly God. Jesus tells the Jews that before Abraham was born, He was already in existence. Not only here, but in the other Gospels as well, Jesus continually spoke of Himself and showed Himself, not only to be truly human, but also truly God.
 
Now, getting to our text. Our text speaks of wisdom and as we hear, read, mark and inwardly digest, or as we take to heart our text, we will understand and know that the wisdom with which our text speaks is indeed wisdom incarnate in Jesus, who is God. God is wisdom who created all things out of nothing and beginning in our text at verse twenty-four, He speaks of His creating water, “24When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water” (v. 24). Jesus was with the Father and the Spirit at the beginning of Creation. He was there at the creation of the water and its separation from the dry ground.
 
Continuing on in our text, God is wisdom who created all things out of nothing and in our text at verse twenty-five, He speaks of creating the mountains, “25Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth, 26before he had made the earth with its fields, or the first of the dust of the world” (v. 25-26). Again, reiterating the fact that Jesus was with the Father and the Spirit at the beginning of Creation. He was there at the creation of the mountains.
 
Again, continuing on in our text, God is wisdom who created all things out of nothing and in our text at verse twenty-seven, He speaks of separating the earth from the sky, “27When he established the heavens, I was there; when he drew a circle on the face of the deep, 28when he made firm the skies above,” (v. 27-28a). Once again, reiterating the fact that Jesus was with the Father and the Spirit at the beginning of Creation. He was there at the separating of the earth from the sky.
 
And finally, concluding in our text, God is wisdom who created all things out of nothing and in our text beginning at the second half of verse twenty-eight, He speaks of setting boundaries for the seas, “when he established the fountains of the deep, 29when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth” (v. 28b-29). Finally, once again, reiterating the fact that Jesus was with the Father and the Spirit at the beginning of Creation. He was there at the creation of the seas and the setting of their boundaries. And just as an aside, I believe and trust that God continues to keep these boundaries so that the earth will never again be flooded with a global flood, no matter what fallible, human scientist might suggest.
 
In summary, then, our text instructs in the fact that Jesus is truly God, with the Father and the Spirit at the creation of the world, and with the fact that true wisdom is founded in God and in particular is personified and incarnate, that is made flesh, in Jesus Himself. This is important as today we celebrate Holy Trinity Sunday. Today we celebrate that God is wisdom. Just look at creation and how can you conclude anything less than what a wise creator God we have who created out of nothing the complexities of the orderly world in which we live?
 
Today we celebrate that Jesus is who He says He is and who He showed Himself to be, that is that Jesus is God. Jesus was with the Father and the Spirit at creation. Jesus took on human flesh at His conception and birth. Jesus showed Himself to be truly human during His life as He demonstrated human attributes, that is He was hungry, thirsty, tired, sad, and so forth. Jesus showed Himself to be truly God during His earthly life as He demonstrated divine attributes, that is He healed the sick, raised the dead, calmed the storm, walked on water and so forth.
 
Today we celebrate that Jesus is truly Wisdom incarnate, wisdom in the flesh. If Jesus is God and God is wisdom, then we know that Jesus is wisdom. And thus we understand that apart from Jesus there is and can be no wisdom, no true wisdom.
 
So, what does this mean? Beginning with our text, we are reminded of creation and the fact that as God created all things out of nothing, He created all things perfect. After each day of creation, God saw what He had created and said it was good. After the sixth day of creation, after creating all things, God looked at what He had created and He said it was very good. So, in the beginning, all things were good and even very good. Unfortunately, when we move to chapter three of Genesis, after God ceases running the show, which He was doing in chapter one and two, when we get to chapter three and man begins running the show, perfection is lost. After creating all things perfect and holy, man sinned and this sin tainted man’s will and wisdom. Before the fall into sin, Adam and Eve knew only good. My contention, not to give them an excuse, but I believe since they knew only good, they did not understand that Satan was lying, because they did not understand evil. Anyway, after Adam and Eve sinned, that sin took root in their entire DNA so that no longer were they perfect and holy and knowing only good. Now they knew what was evil as well as what was good. Now their wisdom and understanding were tainted by sin.
 
Today our world continues to espouse human wisdom, which is tainted and flawed, over God’s wisdom. Today so called scientist attempt to explain our world apart from its Creator God. Today many people attempt to make sense of death and destruction apart from a perfect, holy Creator God and a humanity which has been tainted by sin. Today there is an attempt to throw God out, to keep Him out of our courts, our politics, our schools and even out of our homes. Is it no wonder that the world is in the mess it is in? Is it no wonder that people, even young people are killing each other? If there is no God then we are accountable to no one. If we are simply accidents of nature, or as some have describe us, rearranged pond scum, then we are simply doing what is natural and who are you to say we cannot kill, steal, and so forth?
 
What is touted as wisdom in this world, that is wisdom apart from and without God, we can see and understand is truly the foolishness of this world because we know that apart from God and Godly wisdom, is only foolishness. It is amazing how those who tout themselves as wise apart from God will believe the impossible, such as the spontaneous generation of DNA information and deny the obvious, creation by design. When looking at photo of a house and a yard, the so called wise man of this world has no problem believing the biologically complex lawn happened by accident, but cannot fathom and would believe you to be crazy if you suggested the much less biologically complex house came together by accident, perhaps through a tornado. This is the wisdom of this world, tainted by sin, which is indeed foolishness.
 
As Christians, as those redeemed by God, as those having God’s name put on us through the waters of Holy Baptism, we bear witness of truly Godly wisdom and we do this, bear truly Godly wisdom, through our lives of faith. So, although the world may call us foolish, we have God’s witness and we have His authority and promise that as we live lives as priests in the priesthood of all believers, as we live lives of faith, offering our lives as living sacrifices, He is with us to deliver us. In the end, as we gather around our Lord’s throne, then, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord!
 
This morning, as we celebrate Holy Trinity Sunday, we celebrate the Godly wisdom of our triune God who shows Himself to us especially in the person and work of Jesus. It all begins with Jesus. He is the prime mover. He was with the Father and the Spirit at the creation of the world. He took on human flesh and blood in order to be our substitute. He loves us so much and He shines His love into our hearts and lives especially through His means of grace, His word and His Sacraments. He loves us and helps us to love others. He loves us and in our loving others and serving others, we are serving Him and giving glory to His holy name.
 
God is wisdom and Jesus is wisdom in flesh. God is love and Jesus is love in flesh. As Christians, we rejoice as we are counted as worthy enough to stand with Jesus, to be persecuted for our faith, to be called foolish and unwise, because we know the truth, we know wisdom, we know Him who gave His life for ours and we know Him who saves us and gives all things to us. My prayer for you is that as you continue to make regular and diligent use of the means of grace, the Lord will continue to strengthen you and keep you in your faith, and strengthen you so that you will be better able, at all times to give a defense and answer for your hope and faith in Jesus. To Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Making A Name - June 9, 2019 - The Day of Pentecost - Text: Genesis 11:1-9

There are some people, who, when they sit down to read a book, they like to go to the last chapter or the last few pages and read to see how the book ends. They believe if they know how it ends, then they can better enjoy the journey through the book. This morning, as we celebrate Pentecost and the giving of the Holy Spirit, and the ability of the Apostles to speak in the languages of those present in Jerusalem, we might come to realize that we are reading the end of the story of our text which takes us to the time that the languages were mixed and confused so that the people were scattered to populate the earth. Today we celebrate Pentecost which is the undoing of the Tower of Babel in our Old Testament reading.
 
Our text begins with the plot, and sin, verse one, “1Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. 2And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. 3And they said to one another, ‘Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.’ And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. 4Then they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.’” (v. 1-4)
 
A quick review of history is in order. In the beginning God created the world. On the sixth day of creation, the same day God created the dinosaurs, God created Adam and Eve, the first man and woman. Some time after creation, Adam and Eve sinned and brought sin, death and evil into the world. Sin and evil got so bad that God washed the world with a world wide flood. After the flood God told Noah and his family to spread out and repopulate the world. However, instead of the people going out and repopulating the world, they stayed in one place and grew to be a large number of people.
 
Now, getting to our text, our text tells us that the people wanted to “make a name for themselves,” that is they thought more highly of themselves than they should have. They wanted to make themselves known to the generations that followed them. They wanted to leave a legacy. They wanted to be thought of, even as gods. They did not want to “disperse over the face of the whole earth,” instead, they wanted to disobey God and outright sin.
 
Their plan was to build an everlasting monument to themselves, a monument that would draw people to Babel, to keep them at Babel and to perpetuate their idolatry. For our engineers, notice that their plan was to make bricks in a new and better way. They were not going to simply make mud bricks and let them dry in the sun which is how it was done before, instead they would make bricks from stone and bake them and concrete them together so they could build a taller and stronger structure, a structure that would last longer. Just a side note of interest, did you notice how, from creation, God had given them the wisdom necessary for this architectural ability. This engineering ability was not something that was “discovered” or learned, but was already in their DNA. When God created Adam and Eve He created them with all knowledge, with perfect knowledge and this is important as we will make note a little later.
 
God is God and He knows what is happening, He is, after all, omniscient. His answer to their arrogance is seen beginning at verse five, “5And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. 6And the Lord said, ‘Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. 7Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.’ 8So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. 9Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth. And from there the Lord dispersed them over the face of all the earth” (v. 5- 9)
 
It is interesting as our text describes God in terms of ‘coming down’ to see the city. God is omnipresent, that is He is always everywhere present, yet for the sake of emphasizing how little these “big headed” people really were, God ‘came down’ to this little earth, that He created, to assess the problem. Now, understanding that it is because the people have one language that they are able to carry out the evil intent and desire of their heart and so God’s plan to stop their behavior is to confuse their language. When God confused their languages, since they now spoke different languages and could not understand each other and could not communicate with one another, they had to abandon their project.
 
After the Lord confused their languages, the people had to find those who spoke their own language. Sorry for the image, but my first instinct is to think that this might have been something like a group icebreaker where everyone is instructed to go around and find people of similar eye color or hair color, or the like, except that with an icebreaker like this, everyone can speak the same language.
 
At any rate, after finding people who spoke the same language as they spoke, these people of various language groups dispersed, and as they dispersed they took with them certain dominant genetic traits. This is why we have the various cultures we have in our world today. This is natural selection, not molecules to man evolution. As the people who spoke the same language dispersed to certain parts of the world they took with them certain dominant DNA traits. Some took with them traits for certain dominant colors of skin, some traits for certain dominate shapes of eyes, some traits for certain dominate heights, and so forth. What the world calls the various races of the world, I believe, are better described as the various cultures of the world, I say this because God in His Word speaks of only two races, the believers and the unbelievers. So, our text for this morning explains the beginning of the various culture groups we have around the world.
 
As I mentioned earlier, today is Pentecost Sunday. In our Gospel lesson we hear Jesus promise to His disciples that He will send the Holy Spirit who will teach them all things and bring to their remembrance all that He has said to them. And so, He is encouraging the disciples to wait for the sending and their receiving of the Holy Spirit.
 
In the Epistle lesson we read the account of the day of Pentecost and the sending of the Holy Spirit. And just briefly, the celebration of Pentecost was a Jewish harvest celebration when the Jews were instructed to be in Jerusalem to celebrate, which is the reason so many Jews from the various parts of the world, speaking various languages were in Jerusalem. God took this Jewish celebration and gives something greater, the gift of the Holy Spirit. One of the most fascinating things about this is the timing, that God’s timing of the life, death and resurrection of His Son happened so that this Jewish celebration of harvest, this Pentecost celebration might coincide with the fiftieth day after Easter and His sending of the Holy Spirit, at just the right time.
 
And as we made note earlier, this sending of the Holy Spirit on these people who had gathered in Jerusalem at this time and who spoke different languages is the undoing of the Old Testament lesson and the reminder of God’s will to save all people.
 
So, what does this mean? Again, my contention is that what we read and hear is not coincidence and no surprise. Remember, it was immediately after Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden that God promised to take care of their sin. God’s promise to send a Messiah was given in Eden before there was a Jew or a Gentile, when there was only one people group, Adam and Eve. As we walk through the Old Testament, we note that although the promise of through whom, through which family line the Savior would be born was narrowed, the promise to save all people was never changed.
 
Following the flood, as at the creation of the world, it was God’s desire to populate the earth. At creation God told Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply and subdue the earth. After the flood God told the people to disperse and repopulate the world. Because the sin of humanity remained in Noah and his family, people continued to be born in sin and continued to sin. Sin is in our DNA, it is genetic. That fact that we are conceived and born in sin, that sin is in our DNA does not give us a license to sin, but it does explain our natural instinct and behavior. And this morning, we have our answer as to from where the various cultures, or as our world likes to designate them, the various races come, the tower of Babel.
 
We live in a world that is still infected by sin. We still think more highly of ourselves. We still seek to make a name for ourselves. Yes, we are still conceived and born in sin and we know that every inclination of our heart is evil all the time. We still need a Savior and that is why Jesus came, to be our Savior, to be our substitute, to give His life for us and for all.
 
Jesus came to do what we cannot do, to live perfectly, to obey all God’s laws and commands perfectly and He did, never sinning even once. Because He was born as one of us, a human being and because He never sinned, He was able to be our substitute. He took our sins, our sins of thinking more highly of our selves, our sins of thought, word and deed, our sins of omission and commission and He took them on Himself and paid the price for our sin. He suffered the eternal death penalty of hell for us, in our place and He died. But as we know the story, death and the grave had no power over Him because He rose victorious over sin, death and the power of the devil. And today we celebrate the sending of the Holy Spirit. It was the Holy Spirit who worked in the hearts and minds of the Apostles so that they finally understood all of what Jesus came to do and did. It is the Holy Spirit whose work today continues to point to Jesus. He is the one who works and gives faith through the means of the Bible as well as Holy Baptism. He is the one who stirs in us and gives us the words and boldness to proclaim His Word to all.
 
Again, and as always, God is the prime mover. And now, we know we are getting it right when we know He is the prime mover. God gives and does and we are given to and done to. God gives life and we are reminded of His giving of life at creation and personally at conception. God gives forgiveness of sins, and we know we have forgiveness as we hear His Word of forgiveness spoken to us. God gives life and salvation and we know we have salvation, again, as we hear His Word.
 
And again this morning we see God’s great love for us. God created all things out of nothing and His desire is to show His love for all He created. He showed His love in His promise to Adam and Eve to send a Savior. He showed His love in His attempt to cleanse the world with a flood and in His preserving Noah and His family. He showed His love in thwarting the plans of the people at the tower of Babel and the confusion of their languages so that they were scattered throughout the world. He showed His love in the giving of His Son and His Son’s life for us on the cross. Today He continues to show His love through His Word as well as through confession and absolution, Holy Baptism and His Holy Supper. God loves you so much, my prayer is that you continue to be given His love and that you will continue to be lavished with all the good gifts and blessings our Lord has to give as you make regular and diligent use of His means of grace. To Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

The Lord Opens Hearts - May 26, 2019 - Sixth Sunday of Easter - Text: Acts 16:9-15

Over the past three Sundays we have been reminded that our lives bear witness of the faith that is in our hearts, or that it bears witness of our lack of faith. Indeed, we are encouraged to love others as God first loves us, thus we live in our vocations as a response of all that God first does for us. We live as priest in the priesthood of all believers, living our lives as living sacrifices to the Lord, serving God by serving others. We were also reminded of the fact that because of our inborn sinful nature we do bear witness imperfectly.
 
In our text for this morning we continue to see God working through Paul, but even more, we continue to see the Church, that is the Holy Christian Church grow through the means of the preaching of the Word of God as well as through the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. Again, this morning we are reminded that God’s usual way of coming to us, of giving to us, of doing for us, of working in and through us, is through means and in particular the means of His Holy Word and His Holy Sacraments.
 
Our text begins with Paul’s vision, verse nine, “9And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them” (v. 9-10). Up until this time Paul was told “no,” you are not to go to Macedonia. Paul had a desire to go to Macedonia, but the Lord had prevented him from going by putting other obstacles in his way, but no longer.
 
With Paul, we continue to see God working outside His usual means of dealing with His people, that is, with Paul, God again comes to him a bit more directly, this time in a vision. God shows Paul a vision of a man from Macedonia calling him and urging him to go to Macedonia. And so Paul plans to go.
 
Our text continues with the rest of the story, picking up at verse eleven, “11So, setting sail from Troas, we made a direct voyage to Samothrace, and the following day to Neapolis, 12and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city some days. 13And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together. 14One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. 15And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us.” (v. 11-15).
 
As we follow along here in Acts, Luke lays out the travel plans for Paul. The trip took the group from Troas, to Samothrace, to Neapolis, and finally to Philippi in Macedonia. Interestingly enough we are told that this is a Roman colony, which means, for Paul, being a Roman citizen, he has certain privileges that other non-Roman citizen do not have.
 
Anyway, we are told that on the Sabbath, that is on the day of rest, which for the Jews was the last day of the week or Saturday, Paul was looking for a place to worship. Here we are reminded that Paul’s usual custom is being in divine service and keeping the third commandment. “13And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together” (v. 13). Paul was new to the city and did not know what to expect, so he went to where he thought was a place of prayer and then sat down with those who had already gathered.
 
Because there were no men present to lead the service, the missionaries, Paul, Silas, Timothy and Luke lead the service and Paul had the opportunity to preach the Word of God. We are not given Paul’s sermon, but from our reading of Paul’s letters, certainly we would believe that Paul preached a sermon of law, convicting those gathered of their sins, and a word of Gospel, presenting and proving that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God, God Himself who gave His life for the forgiveness of those gathered and for all people.
 
And now we have our reminder, again, this morning, as we have had over the past few weeks, how the Lord works through the very means of His Word to give the gifts and blessings He has to give. We are told that those gathered paid attention to the words that were spoken, to what was said, and what was said was the Word of God and as God’s Word does what it says, we are told that it worked conversion. Through the very means of the Word of God which Paul spoke, Lydia was given faith, forgiveness and life.
 
But even more, we are reminded that faith’s response is the desire for baptism and so, Lydia and her household were baptized, giving faith to the rest of the household. Now, a couple important things to remember; when faith is given through the Word of God, faith’s desire is baptism. For a person to say they believe yet do not have a desire for Holy Baptism is to deny one’s faith. Also, as Peter reminds us in his Epistle, baptism is also a means of grace so that through the Sacrament of Holy Baptism one is given faith and we see this in our text as we are told that Lydia’s household was baptized and we understand that to mean that they too were given faith. Notice we are not told the ages of those in her family, because the age is not important. We are accountable to God from the moment of conception, and because we are conceived and born in sin, our need for forgiveness and baptism is evident. Notice also, that we are not told of the mode of baptism, whether by immersion or sprinkling, because the mode is not what makes for a valid baptism.
 
Finally, we are told that her response of faith was to offer hospitality, to have the missionaries come and stay at her house while they were in Macedonia so that she might tend to their physical needs. And Luke says, “she prevailed upon us,” in other words, they could not say “no.”
 
So, what does this mean and what does this mean for us today? This morning we are reminded once again, as we have been reminded over the past number of weeks, that God’s usual way of coming to us and giving to us, is not directly, but indirectly, not immediately, but mediately, that is through a mediator or a means. Remember the reason the Apostle’s had the ability to do miracles, to heal, raise from the dead and the like, was to attest to the validity of their work and their Words which were the Words of the Lord. As the Apostles died off so did this ability to perform miracles, signs and wonders, because they were no longer needed. So, as I have said before, what we often see today, especially on television, what is touted as a miracle, is either a “slight” of hand, a trick, simply a show or con, a work of Satan himself, or in very rare and I mean very rare instances, truly a miracle. Personally, when it comes to believing in miracles, I give more credence to what I would call the quiet, unassuming miracles, those miracles which give glory to God and to God alone and are not accredited to any human person.
 
What we see in our text for this morning is what happens in our world today, that is that God, is working through His usual means, the means of grace to call to and give faith, forgiveness and life, through these usual ordinary means. God’s call to faith is through the means of His Word, the Bible as well as through the means of the Sacraments, Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. It is through these very means, these ordinary things, these common, earthly things, that God does great things and He does great things through these ordinary means because He is a great God. The Bible is a book unlike all other books. The Bible is a book with power, to do and give what it says. When God says we have forgiveness, we have forgiveness. When God says we have faith, we have faith. Holy Baptism is another powerful gift from God. As Peter reminds us in his Epistle, “Baptism now saves you.” We do not save ourselves, but Baptism, the very means of baptism, saves us. God, using the ordinary, earthly means of water, connected to His very Word, and in particular, His name, does and gives what it says. And the same is true for the Lord’s Supper. Though the very means of the ordinary food of bread and wine, connected to God’s very Word, He gives us His body and His blood so that we participate in His death and resurrection until He comes again. Yes, in the Lord’s Supper, Jesus life becomes our life, His death becomes our death and His resurrection becomes our resurrection, that is what “Do this in remembrance of Me,” means, we participate!
 
God gives faith, forgiveness and life through these ordinary, every day, earthly  means. And we can add to these means, the means of confession and absolution. Every Sunday we come and we begin our service by confessing our sins and then when we hear the word of absolution, the words that our sins are forgiven, although we hear them from the mouth of the one God has called to speak them in this place, from our pastor, we know that they are God’s Word of forgiveness and as God’s Word of forgiveness, so it is so, His Word does what it says, His Word gives us forgiveness so that we can be certain that our sins are forgiven, by God for Christ’s sake.
 
And finally, God stirs in us a response of faith. Our response of faith is what shows that God has given us faith. Our response of faith is to not refuse and reject the gifts that God gives, “I don’t need any more gifts this week Lord, I have enough, maybe next week I will need some more.” Rather, our response is the desire to be where the gifts are given, when the gifts are given. Our response is not, “Do I have to go to church?” but “When do we get to go again?” Our response is that we simply cannot get enough of God’s grace, forgiveness, strengthening of faith, life and salvation.
 
God loves you so much. He has shown His love in the gift of His Son and His own life for you on the cross, because of His great love for you. God has so much that He wants to give to you. He has given you life, faith, forgiveness and eternal salvation and He has so much more He wants to give to you. My prayer is that He will continue to work through these very means that He has given to continue to move you to be given the gifts He has to give and to continue to live a life of faith, to live your life as a living sacrifice as a priest in the priesthood of all believers. So that your life bears witness of the faith He has given to you and so that your life says, to Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Homeschool Graduation Address

Graduating Class of 2019, let me remind you as you move from one part of your life into the next, the world is not a nice place. Indeed, the devil is in the world roaming around as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. As our world moves further and further from the truth of God’s Word, there are those who would prey on you, especially you who are homeschooled and Christian. As a matter of fact there are many whose sole desire would be to “break” you of your beliefs. Thankfully God is on our side.
 
First, let me say, that going to college or university may not be for everyone. There are many opportunities and even more and more so today in the trade fields. Dr. Martin Luther spoke much of our vocations that are the places in life where we serve God by serving others. He expressed the fact that the milkmaid serves God better in her vocation than the monk who sits in his cell all day and meditates (not his exact quote). The point being that as we live in our various vocations, son, daughter, mother, father, sister, brother, factory worker, plumber, electrician, doctor, lawyer, pastor, priest, farmer, rancher, no matter what our vocation, we serve God by serving others and that is what gives meaning and purpose to our lives. As long as we are working in an honest vocation serving God by serving others, we should rejoice in that gift of vocation, whatever it may be. Yet, even in all workforce vocations, the devil will be there to tempt you.
 
Should you decide to further your education, the devil will be there even more so. So, let me explain something to you before you move on, up and perhaps out. The big world of academia seeks to scam you into believing that what you have been taught as a Christian makes you not so smart. They will attempt to persuade you that they know what is best for you and how you might become a free-thinking person, your own person, intellectually independent shall we say. What they will attempt to do is to convince you that if you think like your parents, like you were taught growing up then you are not truly smart nor a free thinker. Instead, they would ask you to give up your ways and instead to think like they do, because then and only then will you be truly smart and a free thinker, indeed intellectually independent. Yet, if you have been following carefully you will see that they simply want you to trade one set of norms, morals and values for another, your parents for theirs. I would challenge you to challenge any professor that says they want you to be a free thinker, ask them if it is okay to disagree with them. You might find that you will fail if you were to actually bring up free thinking ideas. So, you might be careful how you address your professors.
 
What is my advice? Cling to what you know is right, what you have been taught. Certainly your parents, who brought you into this world, who fed and clothed you, who taught you, changed your diapers, rooted for you, encouraged and even disciplined you, love you more than you can know. Your professor simply has you as a student, a number in his or her class. They do not know you from anything, do not be fooled into thinking they actually have the best in mind for you. I would encourage you, do not trade the values you have learned for the values or lack thereof of your professor and think that makes you a free-thinking smart intellectually independent person. The truth is you will have simply traded the values of those that love you for one who seeks a notch on his or her belt.
 
How do you keep from falling prey? The B-I-B-L-E. You know what Bible stands for, Basic information before leaving earth. Every group that I get to speak to and teach I make sure I begin with the foundation, the basics, the Word of God. As we know, the Old Testament points to Jesus. The New Testament points to Jesus. The calendar, B.C. (Before Christ) points to Jesus and A.D. (Anno Domini) points to Jesus. All history, all time, the Bible points to Jesus. Thus, you know you get it right when you point to Jesus. I would encourage you to go back to your Bible, to read especially Genesis chapters one through eleven. In Genesis God sets the standards for life. He tells us exactly how He created the world meaning that there is a Creator, thus there is an ultimate Authority, and there is One to whom we are ultimately responsible. He tells us how He created humans beings, two genders, men and women and how marriage is for one man and one woman, not any other perversion of this gift. My rule of thumb in life is this: Human beings are by nature imperfect sinners and often get it wrong. Look at any science book and see how many times theories are changed. God is perfect and never gets anything wrong. So, if there is ever a difference between what God says and what men say, I am going to go with what God says and figure that the human has gotten something wrong and needs to go back and look again.
 
With that said, please understand, God never said that life in this world would be easy, as a matter of fact, because of the exclusive claim of Christianity, that there is one and only one way to heaven, the world will hate you, but indeed it is not you but Jesus they are hating. The various religions, cults, and sects of the world, the various theories of molecules to man evolution, the many worldviews of our social society have come about because of man’s desire to be the captain of his ship, his own ruler, the one to determine his own destiny or fate, in other words, to make himself or herself their own god, which we know is idolatry.
 
So, let me encourage you. Matthew 28:19-20 is usually referred to as the Great Commission. I would like to encourage you to read it as the great giving of authority and the great promise. Jesus begins by telling us that all authority in heaven and earth has been given to Him and therefore He infers that He is giving that authority to us. So, when someone asks you, who gives you the right to speak for God, say, Jesus does. Then as He continues, the tense of the verbs is not a command, rather it speaks of the fact that as you are going, as you are living, as you are living in your vocation, make disciples and we do that by always being ready to give an answer, a defense, an apology for our faith, that is when someone asks us what we believe, we eagerly answer their question. And let me encourage, as hard as it may be, no one wants to listen to you if you speak when not asked. So, although you may desire to pour out your faith on another, patiently wait and pray for the opportunity, to be asked. And then we have Jesus’ promise, lo, I am with you to the end of the age. Indeed, let me assure you, Jesus will give you the opportunity, the courage and the very words to speak to bear witness of Him. And then go on rejoicing and praying for that person.
 
Now, although this may sound discouraging, please be encouraged by this fact, heaven is a place of complete perfection. The world we live in may be difficult at times. When we get to heaven how much of this world do you think you will remember? I am an avid Cowboys and Astros fan, but in heaven how many Super Bowls, or World Series they have won really will not matter. My point is this, too many people spend too much time on the struggles of this world and too often to the detriment of their spiritual well being, on what is important, preparing for our real lives of heaven. When life gets difficult, remember this world is only a temporary place.
 
Finally, let me say, each of you can make a difference, or better said, the Lord can make a difference through you. I would say keep the faith, but I will say, give it away. Live life to the fullest, enjoying the gifts the Lord has to give and share that with others, as you have opportunity and as you are asked. And remember, you do not convert anyone, you simply share the Word and God does the rest, let Him do what He does best. May God bless you in whatever vocation you choose, serving Him by serving others and always doing so to His glory.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Repentance that Leads to Life - May 19, 2019 - Fifth Sunday of Easter - Text: Acts 11:1-18

In our Gospel reading for today, Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). A contemporary song tells us,“They’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love, yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.” Last week we saw the example of Paul’s life of service, loving others as God in Christ first loved him. This week we are given another example of love in action as we see the example of Peter’s life as God instructs him concerning his own prejudices. This morning, as we see how our Lord deals with Peter and his prejudices, might we use this example in our own lives as we think about our own prejudices and the fact that, as we were reminded last week, how our own lives bear witness, not always that we love one another, but that truly we cannot love except that God first loved us. And certainly we will be reminded from our text of God’s great love for us, that He first loved us and that He stirs in us to love one another, but let us get to our text.
 
Our text begins with Peter being questioned, verse one, “1Now the apostles and the brothers who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. 2So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcision party criticized him, saying, 3‘You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them’” (v. 1-3). Peter is questioned by his own people we might say, the circumcised party, that is, the Jews. The Jews were quite prejudice against all other people, believing themselves to be God’s chosen people, meaning that they did not believe that God cared about any other people except their own. But let us be fair, these were God’s chosen people, yet it was not so that they and they alone were chosen to be saved. God chose Israel as the nation through which the Savior of the world, of all people, would be born. So, truly, more than their being an “elite” group of people is that they were responsible for being good witnesses of the truth of salvation by grace through faith in the Messiah alone, a responsibility at which they failed miserably, not that we can do any better.
 
Anyway, Peter was accused of eating with the uncircumcized party, that is the Gentiles. Remember, God gave Israel the rite of circumcision to mark them and set them apart from all the other nations, cultures and people. Circumcision was for the Jew very much like Baptism is for us, except that we know that Baptism is a means of grace and a way in which and through which God gives faith, forgiveness and life.
 
Continuing on in our text we have Peter’s defense, picking up at verse four, “4But Peter began and explained it to them in order: 5'I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision, something like a great sheet descending, being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to me. 6Looking at it closely, I observed animals and beasts of prey and reptiles and birds of the air. 7And I heard a voice saying to me, ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’ 8But I said, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing common or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ 9But the voice answered a second time from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, do not call common.’ 10This happened three times, and all was drawn up again into heaven” (v. 4-10).
 
Peter’s defense is that God told him to kill and eat, literally. Peter tells of his vision, the sheet of unclean animals and God’s command to “Kill and Eat.” Peter explained that he was indeed a Jew of Jews and would never do anything against the laws of the Jews, but God told him to kill and eat and so what else could he do except obey God?
 
Peter then explains his vision, that is that as God explained to him, that God is the Creator of all things, out of nothing and that God is the one who, in the first place, declared certain foods to be clean or unclean for His people, and now God has made all things clean. Again, what could he do except obey God.
 
But Peter is not done with his story. He continues, verse eleven, “11And behold, at that very moment three men arrived at the house in which we were, sent to me from Caesarea. 12And the Spirit told me to go with them, making no distinction. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. 13And he told us how he had seen the angel stand in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon who is called Peter; 14he will declare to you a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household.’ 15As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. 16And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’” (v. 11-17).
 
Peter’s defense continues with the explanation that he was moved by God to go to Caesarea. For Peter these events were no mere coincidence. And we all know what a coincidence is right? There is no such thing as a coincidence. A coincidence is simply God’s unseen hand working in our lives. And so Peter, moved by God, goes to Caesarea.
 
After Peter arrives and is told the story of those who sent for him, Peter does what he was sent to do and what he came to do, he preaches the Gospel. And Peter attests that as he is preaching the Gospel, the Holy Spirit works through the means of the Gospel to give the gifts He has to give, faith, forgiveness and life. Now, please notice, just as an aside, we are not told that these people are speaking in tongues, nor are they professing to do anything. There is no altar call, no decision for Jesus, simply that the Holy Spirit is giving them faith through the means of the Word of God.
 
And as the Holy Spirit gives faith through the very Word of God, the individual response is the desire for Holy Baptism. And so, Peter’s conclusion is that “17If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?”
 
Our text concludes with the response of the committee called to investigate these matters, verse eighteen, “18When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, ‘Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life’” (v. 18). The first response of the committee is silence. Perhaps even for us today, when God speaks our first response should be silence. Then, we are told, they glorified God. They glorified God because indeed Gentiles are being saved. Certainly the fact that Gentiles are recognized as being saved is a great accomplishment for the Jews of Peter’s day, because if you remember, they believed that only the Jews were God’s people and only they had a part, a share in His kingdom.
 
So, what does this mean? Unfortunately there are those in our world today who believe that God has made two covenants with His people, one to the Jews and one to the rest of the nations and peoples of the world, those known as Gentiles. And unfortunately, we still live in a world full of prejudice, cultural prejudice, religious prejudice, social and economic prejudice. Of course, that is our nature, sin. Personally, I believe the best way to rid ourselves of such prejudices is to go back to the beginning and be reminded of what God says, what God does and what God gives.
 
Remember, God’s first promise to send a Savior was made in the Garden of Eden, immediately after Adam and Eve sinned and years before there was a Jew or Gentile. God made one covenant, that is that He would send a Savior, one Savior, to take care of the sin of Adam and Eve and the sins of all people. After God cleansed the world with a flood, after God scattered the nations and cultures of the world following the tower of Babel, then, God chose Abram and promised that through his family the Savior of the world would be born. And to Abram, it was only the fulfillment of God’s promise that was narrowed, not the promise itself and it was not a new promise, nor a new covenant that God made with Abram and his family.
 
Through history, especially through the history of the Children of Israel, God continually reminded and narrowed the fulfillment of His promise, but never was His promise changed, amended, or revised. Indeed, what happened was that many of those from the nation through whom the Savior would be born, gave up, refused and rejected God’s gift of a Messiah. And so they no longer had a part in the covenant. It was not God who did not keep His part of the covenant, but the people. And let me keep reminding you, the covenant God first made was not a covenant of the flesh, not a covenant of works, but was a covenant of grace, of God doing and our being done to and for. As Jesus reminded His own people, who rejected Him, God can raise up children from stones. One is a child of God, not by flesh, not by birth, but by grace.
 
For us, especially for those of us who are Gentiles, non-Jews, we rejoice in the fact that the promise is to us. We are indeed children of Adam and Eve. We are indeed, God’s children by grace, through faith in Jesus Christ alone. It is faith in Jesus which makes us members of the body of Christ. It is faith in Jesus, given to us through the means of grace which make us a part of His kingdom. And the same is true for all people, no mater what culture, ethnicity, or national background. God is no respecter of persons, Jesus died for all people, of all places, of all times. If God loves all people so much that He sent Jesus to die for them, who are we to love anyone any less?
 
It is God who gives. God gives faith, forgiveness and life and He gives through the very means He has given us to give the good gifts and blessings He has to give, His means of grace, Holy Baptism, confession and absolution, His Word, and His Holy Supper. Because we know that God gives through His means of grace and because we know His means of grace are in full use in His divine service, why would we want to be anywhere else on Sunday morning, except in divine service where His means of grace are in full force and where He is pouring out and lavishing us with all the good gifts and blessings He has to give.
 
But even more, for us Christians, for those of us who are the true people of God, the true Israel, the true chosen nation, God also calls us to vocation and gives us a response of faith. God calls us and stirs in us to live lives of faith giving glory to His holy name. Thus, with Peter we understand that God has granted salvation to all who believe and so with the help of Jesus we do indeed show that we are His disciples by loving one another.
 
You have heard me say it before, the greatest gift God gives is forgiveness of sins, because without forgiveness we would be left with our sins and we would be eternally lost, but with forgiveness, we know, is life and salvation. As we come to the Lord’s house, as we are reminded of our baptism and forgiveness especially through our invocation and later through the benediction, as we confess our sins and hear our Lord’s words of Absolution, “your sins are forgiven,” as we hear the Lord speak to us through His Word and as we taste and participate in the Lord’s death and resurrection through our partaking of His body and blood in His Holy Supper, we rejoice in our forgiveness and our salvation and with Peter and the council at Jerusalem we say, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Commended to God’s Word - May 12, 2019 - Fourth Sunday of Easter (Mother’s Day) - Text: Acts 20:17-35

Today we continue to celebrate Easter. Remember, as Christians, we worship on Sunday because for us each and every Sunday is a miniature Easter celebration. Each and every Sunday we are reminded of God’s great love for us. Each and every Sunday we have the opportunity to come to divine service in order to be given to, in order to be lavished with all the good gifts and blessings our Lord has to give to us. Why would we want to be anyplace else?

Today we also celebrate the social holiday of Mother’s Day. Indeed, the highest calling of God to a woman is motherhood because as was His promise, the Savior of the world was born through a mother, the Virgin Mary. So, to all our Mother’s we are glad you are here, that you brought your family and we say to you, “Happy Mother’s Day.”

Now, getting to our text for this morning, Paul has called the elders from Ephesus in order to address some concerns he has for them. Paul is being compelled to go to Jerusalem and he says that this will be the last time he will see these people and so he gathers this congregation and in essence he is preaching his farewell sermon.

Paul begins his sermon by putting forth his own life as an example. We begin at verse seventeen, “17Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him. 18And when they came to him, he said to them: “You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, 19serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; 20how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, 21testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 17-21).

Paul puts his life before the people as an example. He is not boasting or bragging, remember his desire is only to boast in the Lord. Yet, the example Paul leaves is that he lived among the people as a servant, serving in humility. Paul boldly proclaimed the Word of God. He did not shrink back from any opportunity to proclaim the Word of God. Paul did not shrink back from having to proclaim words of Law to the people. He preached the Law in all its severity and he preached the Gospel in all its sweetness.

Again, Paul is looking ahead to going to Jerusalem, picking up at verse twenty-two, “22And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, 23except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. 24But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. 25And now, behold, I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again. 26Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all of you, 27for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God” (v. 22-27).

Paul understands that imprisonment and affliction await him in Jerusalem and yet, he is not afraid to go because he believes the Holy Spirit is calling him to go in order to testify of his faith in Jesus. For Paul, the value of his life is the Gospel of the grace of God. We might imagine that Paul sees the “big” picture of life that is that his life in this world of sixty or so years is nothing compared to his forever life in eternity so he is not overly concerned about this world, but is more concerned about the real world of eternity. And he is concerned about the souls of people.

Yet, before he goes, Paul speaks words of warning. Picking up at verse twenty-eight, “28Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. 29I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. 31Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish everyone with tears. 32And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. 33I coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. 34You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. 35In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive” (v. 28-35).

Satan is alive and well and is working in this world as much as he can. Paul knows that after he is gone that Satan will work through his own followers, as Paul describes them as fierce wolves, to come in and attempt to deceive them. Paul knows that there will be those who will attempt to twist God’s Word, to change the Gospel into a new law and the Law into a new Gospel, confusing the law and the Gospel, commingling the law and the Gospel and leading people away from salvation.

So Paul’s warning and instruction are to listen carefully to what is proclaimed. As elsewhere Paul instructs other Christians, they are to be as the Bereans, testing everything they hear and comparing it with what they know is right, the very Word of God. Remember, last week we were told that Paul was proving that Jesus was the Christ. And Paul’s concern is especially for those new Christians, those who may yet be weak in the faith, that is that the strong are to help the weak. Again, this echos Paul’s words and Jesus’ words concerning the fact that we are brothers and sisters in Christ and we are to build each other up as members of the body of Christ. We are to look after and encourage one another.

The first question we might ask ourselves this morning concerning Paul’s words to these Christians of the early Church and to us is, “How is this done among us?” Paul put forth his own life as an example to the Christians to whom he was addressing. Might we follow his example and put forth our own lives as an example? Not in a boastful way but in a humble, serving way? If we do put forth our own life as an example, what is our life example? Certainly we have all heard the law motivating questions, “If you were accused of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” Another question certainly we have heard and we might ask ourselves is this, “Do others know we are a Christian by our actions?” Both of these questions are indeed law questions because both of these questions convict us. We are not the people we know we should be and even though we know our actions bear witness of what is in our hearts, very often our actions speak of the lack of faith we have in our hearts. Yes, we are all, always witnesses and very often we are bad witnesses.

Continuing on, following Paul’s example, are we ready to give an answer, a defense of our faith, or do we shrink back? Do we let others know that we are Christians, or are we embarrassed at being a Christian? Not every work environment is conducive to one professing to be a Christian. So, with Paul, are we willing to face imprisonment and affliction as we vowed at confirmation for the sake of the Gospel? Are we ready to face being embarrassed? What is the value of our short life on this earth? I would suggest that we live in a world which tends to value life in this world more than life in the world to come. We live in a world which invests more energy in this life than in the life to come. And unfortunately, I believe there are too many that do so to the detriment of their own soul.

Continuing on in following Paul’s example, are we aware of those who try to deceive in our world today? Are we aware of those who twist God’s Word? Do we listen carefully and discern what is mete, right and salutary? And do we help the weak? You have heard me encourage you as Paul does to be discerning, to be as the Bereans. I know it may be hard to believe, but what is presented as entertainment in our world is not always simply entertainment. Very often what is presented as entertainment is presented with a message and more often than not, in our world today, that message is contrary to the Word of God. How often do we see the agenda of Satan portrayed in various forms in entertainment today with the underlining message that such deviance is okay? I get so frustrated with television and the need of the media to present the homosexual lifestyle in a manner which attempts to make it look normal, yet God in His Word speaks of the condemnation of such behavior. The media and entertainment industry present extramarital affairs, adultery and fornication, as normal behaviors. Truth is presented as being relative and according to the words of the teller. And of course we are constantly bombarded with the opinion that all religions, all beliefs, all faiths lead to the same heaven. We constantly hear messages which confuse and co-mingle law and Gospel, not only in the media, but especially through e-mails, texts and tweets, and whatever social media platform there is available. How often do you get an e-mail or facebook post, which makes you feel guilty and gives you hope if you do this, that or the other thing, suggesting that some work, some action, some good deed you do will cover a multitude of sins? Now, if you have enough faith, tell this sermon message to five people in the next hour so good things will happen to you. Folks, please be discerning.

So, what does all this mean? What do we take from Paul’s words this morning. First we might ask, “What is important in life?” We are brought into this world with nothing and we will leave this world with nothing. Is the amassing of stuff and things important? Our lives in this world are numbered, perhaps sixty, seventy, eighty, maybe for some a hundred years, but our lives in the world to come are forever, without ending, but continual, forever. Are we ready?

Thus, how are we to live? Paul’s life is a great example for us. Paul understood the gifts God has to give and His means of giving those gifts. God loves us so much. God loves you so much. God has given you so much and He has so much more He wants to give you. Ultimately God wants to give you eternal life in heaven. And we understand, we know, we believe, teach and confess that God’s usual way of giving  the good gifts and blessings He has to give is through His means of grace. Each and every Sunday we have the opportunity to come to His house, to divine service, through which He comes to us through the means He has given us to come to us, Holy Baptism, Confession and Absolution, His Holy Word, and His Holy Supper, to give us all the good gifts and blessings He has to give. Yes, the Lord loves you and wants so much to lavish you with all the good gifts and blessings He has to give.

My prayer for you this morning and every morning is that you will be discerning, that you will understand the importance of making regular, each and every Sunday, and diligent as often as offered, use of the means of grace so that the Lord may come through these means to give you all the gifts and blessings He has to give. My prayer continues to be that you might understand the shortness and the finiteness of the world so that your life may be lived looking forward to the permanence of heaven. And finally, my prayer continues to be that through your making regular and diligent use of the means of grace, the Lord will have His way with you, will strengthen and keep you in faith, and will stir in you a response of faith so that your life does say, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

A Chosen Instrument - May 5, 2019 - Third Sunday of Easter - Text:Acts 9:1-22

Today we continue to follow along with the acts of the Apostles following Jesus’ resurrection and ascension. Our text for this morning is the conversion of Saul, to faith and to Paul and for our purposes this morning I am simply going to call him Paul, his Christian name, so even if our text gives his Roman name of Saul, I will still use his Christian name of Paul. In our text we see, as usual, the fact that it is God who calls to and gives faith, and yet, we also see that in the calling of Paul to faith, at times God acts outside His usual means, that is instead of God calling Paul to faith through His usual means of His Word and Holy Baptism, God comes to Paul directly to call him to faith. With that said, we might make note, that even though God came directly to Paul, we might remember that Paul was well educated in Judaism. Paul was a Pharisee of Pharisees, educated under Gamaliel, so he knew his Old Testament well, and we might be certain that it was this Old Testament knowledge which the Lord used in His convicting and converting of Paul. And certainly, I believe that it was this Old Testament knowledge that God used to speak through Paul in order to prove that Jesus is the Christ. But, let us get to our text.
 
Our text begins with Paul’s intent, beginning at verse one, “1But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem” (v. 1-2). Paul was steeped in the ways of Judaism and this new sect, as he considered it, was a threat to what he knew and believed to be right and so he is doing everything he can to defeat this threat including, breathing threats and murder. In his defense we would say that he would believe these threats and murder to be justified. As we know there are many in our world today who are so convinced by what they believe that they would willingly kill those who do not believe as they do. What would it be like if we Christians had such conviction with our faith, not to kill those who disagree, but to be so convicted as to boldly speak out and profess our faith?
 
Because of his conviction, Paul asks for letters of authority to take to Damascus in order to arrest anyone who was a follower of this new sect, the Way, in order to imprison them and keep them from spreading their dangerous beliefs, again, in his opinion.
 
Yet, as we know the story, before Paul makes it to Damascus, he encounters Jesus. Picking up at verse three, “3Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ 5And he said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said, ‘I am Jesus,  whom you are persecuting. 6But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.’ 7The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. 8Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. 9And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank” (v. 3-9).
 
Now, several points to notice from this encounter. Notice that at first Jesus does not name Himself, He simply asks, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” While Paul is persecuting the Christians, the heart of his persecution is indeed, Jesus.
 
Next, notice that Paul calls Jesus “lord,” yet, the word “lord” that he uses is the word “lord” without respect to divinity, in other words, he is not calling Jesus God, simply calling him with respectful title, “lord.” We might say he is calling him “Mr. Jesus.” And we might imagine that his words of respect flow from the fear he has of this person who has blinded him on the road.
 
When Jesus speaks, He first uses words of Law, “Why are you persecuting Me?” “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” Jesus convicts Paul of persecuting Him, not His people. Again, the heart of Paul’s persecution is Jesus. And Paul was convicted.
 
We are told that for three days Paul was without sight and neither ate nor drank, perhaps an image and a reminder of Jesus’ own death and time in the tomb. We are not told what happened during these three days, yet, I would imagine that this time gave Paul an ample opportunity to look at his life and Jesus’ words to him. Perhaps it may have been a time for Paul to meditate on the Old Testament Scriptures he knew so well and Jesus’ revelation so that he might be convinced that Jesus is the Messiah, but again, we are not told exactly what happened during those three days.
 
Our text then moves us to the instructions to Ananias. Picking up at verse ten, “10Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, ‘Ananias.’ And he said, ‘Here I am, Lord.’ 11And the Lord said to him, ‘Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, 12and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.’ 13But Ananias answered, ‘Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. 14And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.’ 15But the Lord said to him, ‘Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. 16For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.’ 17So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit’” (v. 10-17).
 
God appears to Ananias in a vision and instructs him to go to Judas’ house and heal Paul of his blindness. Ananias’ response was not a question of faith, nor a questioning of God, rather it was a matter of clarification, “are you sure, Lord?” Ananias and all the followers of the Way, the Christians, in Damascus knew why Paul had come and certainly there was concern among them.
 
And so God explains to Ananias the role and calling He has for Paul. God has called Paul to be an instrument to carry His message and His name to the Gentiles, to kings, and yes, even to the children of Israel. It will not be easy for Paul, but God has called him, is giving him authority, and is giving His promise to be with him. Certainly we can see in this calling of Paul, our own calling, and what is often called the great commission, which I believe is the great giving of authority and the great promise, but more on that in a little bit. So, Ananias comes to Paul and brings absolution and healing.
 
Paul’s response, picking up at verse eighteen, “18And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; 19and taking food, he was strengthened. For some days he was with the disciples at Damascus” (v. 18-19). Immediately, we are told, Paul was baptized, and we might make note that this was probably not by immersion and I say this because there was probably nothing in the house in which to immerse him. Also make note, that as God gives faith, if that faith is not given through Holy Baptism, but through the Word of God (whether written or oral) faith’s immediate response is the desire to be baptized. Paul is baptized and then after eating we are told he immediately went out proclaiming the Gospel.
 
Finally, we are told of the response of the people, picking up at verse twenty, “20And immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, ‘He is the Son of God.’ 21And all who heard him were amazed and said, ‘Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called upon this name? And has he not come here for this purpose, to bring them bound before the chief priests?’ 22But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ” (v. 20b-22).
 
The people were amazed. They were amazed at Paul’s turn around, from reeking havoc to proclaiming Jesus as Savior. We are told that as he preached Paul increased in strength and confounded the Jews, and the line I find the most fascinating is that he was proving Jesus was the Christ. Today we say that the Bible cannot be proven, well, Paul did it, so why can we not do it?
 
So, what does this mean? I believe that in this calling of Paul, we can see our own calling, not that God has called us to be “a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. 16For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name” (v. 15b-16), but that God has called us to and given us faith, and more. But let me start from the beginning.
 
Just as Paul was breathing threats and murder, so we are conceived and born in sin, and we are enemies of God, that is our nature. We are conceived and born spiritual blind, spiritual dead and enemies of God. Every inclination, that is every intention of our heart is evil all the time. We simply cannot help ourselves and that is not to give us an excuse, we are still accountable for ourselves, before God. We are very much like Paul, enemies of God.
 
As God called Paul, so God calls us to faith, but rather than calling us directly, God calls us through means, in particular through the means of His Word. As God spoke the words of the Law to Paul, so Paul was convicted. God speaks the word of the Law to us, convicting us of our sin and our part in putting Jesus on the cross. The law, however, is not what moves us to repent. The law does not call us to faith. The law merely convicts. It is the Lord’s word of the Gospel which converts, which moves to repentance, and which gives faith.
 
And along with God’s Word, it is through the waters of Holy Baptism that God gives faith. For most of us it was through the waters of Holy Baptism, connected with God’s Word, namely His name that was put on us at our baptism which convicted us and gave us faith.
 
Getting back to this calling of Paul and God’s commissioning of Paul to preach the Gospel.  God also calls us. He calls us to faith and to purpose. Yet, what is often called the great commission, I believe, is the great giving of authority and the great promise. Just as God called Paul and gave him the authority to proclaim His name, so that Paul was proving that Jesus was the Christ. I believe Jesus gives us the same authority, to proclaim that Jesus is the Christ. And just as God promised Paul that He would be with Him, so God’s promise is that He will be with us even to the end of the age.
 
Today, God calls us to faith and He calls us to live out our faith in our vocation, that is as we live lives of faith we are to always be ready to give an answer, an apology, a defense of our faith so that others might hear the good news of Jesus and be a part of God’s kingdom as well.
 
God calls us to and gives us life, at conception. God calls us to and gives us faith, through His means of grace. God calls us to and gives us our vocation. And God calls us to and gives us a response of faith, to live lives of faith, to live lives loving others as He first loved us.
 
What a great God we have. What a loving God we have. God loves you so much and He has so much He gives to you and so much He wants to give to you. What else can we do except be given to and rejoice and give thanks, and say to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Christian Obedience, Who Is Running the Verbs? - April 28, 2019 - Second Sunday of Easter - Text: Acts 5:12-20 (21-32)

He is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia! This morning we continue to revel in the joy of the resurrection. Remember, one of the reasons we worship on Sunday is because, for us Christians, each and every Sunday is a mini Easter celebration. We celebrate that we worship a living God, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Our text for this morning brings us to events that followed Jesus’ resurrection and ascension.
 
Our text speaks of the signs and wonders accomplished by the Apostles. We begin reading at verse twelve, “12Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon’s Portico. 13None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem. 14And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women, 15so that they even carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them. 16The people also gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all healed” (v. 12-16).
 
You might remember that Jesus did signs and wonders. The gospel writer John speaks of the signs and wonders Jesus performed as proof of His divinity, that is that He is truly God. Since we know that the apostles are not God or gods, what purpose did it serve for them to have the power, or better said, the authority to perform the signs and wonders they did? The purpose of the signs and wonders of the early Apostles, that is that God had given them the authority to do these signs and wonders, was that these signs and wonders bore witness of the authenticity of what they were preaching. In other words, the signs and wonders they performed gave evidence, proof, if you will, that what they were preaching was faithful and true to what God had given them to preach.
 
So, why do we not see such signs and wonders in our world today? First we know that as the Apostles died out, so did this ability to perform signs and wonders. What we often see today, especially on television, that is touted as a miracle, is either a “slight” of hand, a trick, simply a show or con, a work of Satan himself, or in very rare and I mean very rare instances, truly a miracle. Personally, when it comes to believing in miracles, I give more credence to what I would call the quiet, unassuming miracles, those miracles which give glory to God and to God alone and are not accredited to any human person.
 
We would do well to remember that today God’s usual way of working with us, of coming to us, of giving to us, is not directly, what we would call immediately, but rather indirectly or mediately, through a medium, a mediator of sorts, through a means. In other words, today God’s usual way of bringing healing is through the means of doctors and medicine. As for our spiritual well-being today, in our day, God’s usual way of giving to us and working in and through us is through the means of His Word and Sacraments. God comes to us to give to us the good gifts and blessings He has to give through His Word, the Bible, as well as through the sacrament of Holy Baptism, through confession and absolution, and through the sacrament of His Holy Supper.
 
The second issue of our text I want to address this morning is the issue of obedience and the direction of proper obedience. We pick up at verse twenty-seven, “ 27And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, 28saying, ‘We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.’ 29But Peter and the apostles answered, ‘We must obey God rather than men. 30The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. 31God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. 32And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him’” (v. 27-32).
 
As the apostles lived out their vocations, that is as they lived lives of faith, bearing witness of their faith through their lives, through their thoughts, words and actions, they were arrested and often times imprisoned. Their example of how they dealt with the governing authorities is one we would do well to heed today. As Christians, as citizens of this nation we understand that we are to be subject to our government, with one exception, and that exception is when our government goes against God and His Word. When our government goes against God and His word then we know that it is better to obey God than man.
 
When we obey God rather than man, when we are civilly disobedient, we are to be ready to accept and suffer the consequences. In other words, if the government should tell us that it is illegal to worship the Lord, then we would most certainly disobey and be in worship. And if we are caught, then we should be ready to accept the consequence, including being imprisoned or whatever else, whatever punishment might ensue.
 
At this time in our country I do believe we are still a few years away from the probability of such circumstances, but understand that it could happen. And know this, that if we should be imprisoned for our civil disobedience, God will give us the courage, boldness, and strength we need in any and all circumstances.
 
Our text speaks of the issue of obedience, yet, there are those who taut obedience to God as a means of salvation, but what does that mean? When we hear someone suggest that the only way to be saved is by being obedient to God, or when we hear someone say something like, “A person gets baptized to show their obedience to God,” then we need to ask ourselves, “What does this person really mean?” You know the questions I always tell you to ask. Who is running the show when obedience to God is stated as necessary for salvation? Can we actually be obedient to God? Remember, we are conceived and born in sin, and this fact means all people. Every inclination of our heart is evil all the time, and God gives no age restriction on either of these issues, in other words, as far as God is concerned, all people are conceived and born in sin and all people are accountable to God for their own sin, even an unborn child, everyone from the moment of conception. Thus, from conception we are spiritually blind, spiritually dead and enemies of God. From conception we are accountable to God for our sins. And from conception all we can do, in and of ourselves apart from God and His help, is refuse and reject the good gifts and blessings our Lord offers to us.
 
The problem with the idea of attempting to be obedient to God is that this idea brings a confusion of who is doing what and how God works. Another problem with this idea is a confusion of understanding sacraments, rites or ceremonies. When we fail to acknowledge what God tells us in His word, that we are sinful from conception, then we have this false hope in an untainted free will. The problem with failing to recognize the difference between sacraments and rites and ceremonies leads to a rejection of the gifts God gives through these means of grace and instead a false dependency and hope on one’s own doings. In other words, we move from depending on God for our salvation given through the external means of grace, to depending on ourselves, our doing or acting for our salvation. And quite frankly, we are not too dependable.
 
What can we do? Without God we can do no good thing. Without God all we can do, because our will has been tainted by sin, is to refuse and reject the good gifts and blessings the Lord has to give. But with God, by the power of the Holy Spirit working in us, especially through the means the Lord has given to come to us to give us the good gifts and blessings He has to give, with the Lord, we can do and we do great things.
 
So, what is true Christian obedience? First and foremost, true Christian obedience is to recognize who is doing what? Who is running the show? Who is running the verbs? True Christian obedience is to recognize that God does and we are done to, God gives and we are given to. It is not something we are doing for God, but what God is doing for us. Let me say that again in case we missed it. True Christian obedience is what God is doing for us.
 
Second, true Christian obedience is to recognize our inabilities, in and of ourselves. In others words, true Christian obedience is to recognize that we cannot be the people God commands and demands us to be. God’s demand, God’s command is that we are prefect. Because we are conceived and born in sin, because every inclination of our heart is evil all the time, because in and of ourselves all we can do is reject and refuse the good gifts and blessings God has to give to us, and because we are conceived and born spiritually blind, spiritually dead, and enemies of God, we understand that we cannot be obedient to God. Thus, more important than our obedience is God’s obedience. The fullness of the Gospel is the fact that Jesus came to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. Jesus came to live in perfect obedience for us in order to fulfill God’s command in our place. More important than our obedience, which we cannot do, is God, in Jesus’ obedience for us, in our place.
 
Third, true Christian obedience is to rejoice in the gifts God gives and the means through which He gives them, His means of grace. In other words, true Christian obedience is to recognize that God works through means, to rejoice in His working through means and to not refuse and reject the good gifts and blessings He so lovingly lavishes and pours out on us through His means of grace.
 
Thus, fourth, true Christian obedience is to make regular and diligent use of the means of grace so that God can have His way with us and do for us and give to us and stir in us a response of faith, being obedient unto death and being given a crown of life. The only obedience we can offer is to remain faithful until death. And we can only do that, remain faithful until death, with the Lord’s help. Thus, our obedience is a response of faith, striving to live lives of faith, striving to live as priests in the priesthood of all believers, doing so imperfectly, yet doing so to the glory of the Lord.
 
This morning, as we continue to revel in the joy of the resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, we rejoice in our Lord and His great love for us. We rejoice in the fact that God loves us so much that He sent Jesus to live for us, to be obedient for us, to fulfill all God’s laws and commands for us. We rejoice that Jesus was obedient to death even death on the cross for us in our place. And we rejoice even more in the fact that God has given us the authority and His promise to be with us always even to the end of the world so that as we live lives of faith and as He gives us the opportunity, we too, with His help and power are able to be obedient to death. And He stirs in us to rejoice and give thanks and say to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

The Resurrection - April 21, 2019 - Easter Morning - Text: Psalm 16:10

He is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!
 
Our text for this morning is Psalm sixteen verse ten: “10For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption.” This is our text.
 
As you have heard me say time and again, we get it right when we point to Jesus. Over the past weeks, during our Lenten season we have been looking at the prophesies of the Old Testament that pointed to Jesus. We have heard only some of the prophecies of the Old Testament, but there are many more all of which point to Jesus, the coming Savior, Messiah and Christ. Last Friday we witnessed Jesus’ trial. Today we celebrate His resurrection.
 
This morning, this Easter Sunday morning we once again celebrate that we have seen the prophecies of old fulfilled in Jesus especially concerning His resurrection as King David himself, speaking as God spoke through him announce Jesus’ resurrection as he says, “10For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption” (Psalm 16:10).
 
As we have been reminded time and again and as we have seen history all of history, what we call B.C. or before Christ and as the attempt has been made to remove Christ from history today we have the designation as B.C.E. meaning before the common era, which simply fails to define the common era, but since the numbers have not changed we know that the common era has to do with the birth of Jesus, thus we see how history points to Jesus.
 
We also see how history with the designation A.D. “anno domini,” translated meaning in the year our Lord or, again as the attempt to remove Jesus from history, today we have the designation C.E. or common era and again we understand that the common era is one which points to Jesus. Our calendar simply will not let us forget that Jesus is the center, the main point, the person around whom all of history points. As I suggested in the early sunrise service the word history might be two words, His story and in particular, and how fitting as we are reminded that all history points to Jesus all history is His story.
 
Moving on into the New Testament, the New Testament begins with the four Gospels which give us a more detailed history of Jesus, who is a true historical person. The Christian faith is not simply one of the religions of the world, rather it is the religion. All other religions, cults and sects are based on tales, myths, lore, fables and the like. The Christian Church is grounded in the facts of human history, Jesus’ story.
 
We rejoice in the fact that God gives us four witnesses of Jesus’ life. The four Gospels speak the truth of Jesus’ life, suffering, death and resurrection. Jewish law, and perhaps, although I am not an expert, I would suggest that most legal systems throughout the world, in order to be fair would rule that a person cannot be convicted simply by the word of one witness. Thus, God gives us four witnesses, four gospel accounts of Jesus’ history.
 
However, unlike any ordinary history book, the four Gospels of God’s Word are filled with power, the power to give the gifts God has to give. Thus we understand that God’s Word is what we call a means of grace. The Word of God is one of the ways, one of the means that He has of coming to us to give to us the gifts and blessings He has to give. Of course we understand that the other means of grace, the other ways and means through which God gives us the gifts and blessings He has to give are the simple ordinary earthly means of water, bread and wine.
 
Thus, we might well proclaim with all confidence that the four Gospels prove Jesus is the Savior. Although it has been suggested that one cannot prove the words of the Bible, we are told in Acts that Paul proved that Jesus was the Christ. I would submit the fact that nothing in history or archeology has ever disproved the Bible.
 
Today we come and we celebrate. We celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. We celebrate that the resurrection gives us of proof of God’s Love for us. As Jesus reminds us, no greater love can anyone have than this that one will lay down their life for another and that is exactly what Jesus did, He gave His life, His perfect life for us, taking our sins upon Himself in order to pay the price for our sins.
 
Jesus; resurrection is proof of Jesus substitutionary role in our forgiveness and salvation. The price for sin was set in the Garden of Eden and the price was death to the one who sinned. In other words, human death for human sin was the price that was set. The ceremonial laws of the sacrificial system did nothing to gain or earn or pay for that eternal forgiveness, rather they were a reminder of the price for sin, death, the shedding of blood, human blood and pointed to the one ultimate sacrifice of a human, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, Jesus Himself.
 
The resurrection is proof of God’s acceptance of Jesus’ life for ours. When God looks at Jesus He sees our sins and Jesus’ death for our sin. When God looks at us, by faith in Jesus He sees us as perfect and holy and He is satisfied.
 
The resurrection is proof that we worship a living God who gives us life. Indeed, as we celebrate today and every Sunday, death and the grave had no power over Jesus. He rose from the dead victorious over sin, death and the devil. We worship a living God.
 
And so we do celebrate. We celebrate that God has and had chosen us even before creation. As an omniscient, all knowing God, He knew what was going to happen even before it happened and yet He created this world and us anyway, because of His great love for us. God chose us from before He began creation. He chose us to create us and to redeem us.
 
We celebrate God’s gift to us. We celebrate His gift of life at conception. At conception we are created by God, given a body and a soul and we are truly living human beings. All life begins at conception. Yet, as we are reminded by David, we are conceived and born in sin, thus we are conceived and born spiritually dead, spiritually blind and enemies of God. Yes, as we have been reminded through the Lenten Season, it was not the Jewish nation, not the Jewish ruling council, not the Romans, but it was us and our sins for which Jesus was punished, suffered and died.
 
And yet, we celebrate God’s gift of new life through Holy Baptism. At our baptism, as God promised, and remember it is His Word which gives the power to the plain water which is poured over us. At our Baptism, God, using the hands of the pastor and the voice of the pastor puts water on us and speaks His name on us. It is at our baptism that God puts faith in our hearts, forgives our sins, writes our names in the book of life and makes us His own.
 
We celebrate God’s gift of Himself in His Word and Holy Supper. As we hear God’s Word read and proclaimed we know that His Word does what it says and gives the gifts of which it speaks, faith, forgiveness, life and salvation. We know that in His Holy Supper it is the Word which gives power to the simply ordinary means of bread and wine. As God speaks His Word in our ear and as we eat the bread and His body and drink the wine and His blood so they are His body and blood given and shed for us for the forgiveness of sins. His body and blood become a real part of us so that His perfect life, suffering, death and resurrection become ours.
 
We celebrate God’s good gifts and blessings through His Word and sacraments including confession and absolution. As we begin our Divine Services entering into God’s presence in our sin and so confessing those sins so that we might enter worthily, we hear God speak, again, through the mouth of His called servant, the pastor and telling us that our sins are forgiven.
 
We celebrate God’s gifts through Jesus. Again, we get it wrong when we point to ourselves. There is nothing we can do to gain, earn or pay for our sins. We can never be obedient enough, good enough, do enough good deeds, or work hard enough. There is nothing we can add to what Jesus has done. Indeed, to point to ourselves would be to reject what Jesus gives and would be to suggest that what Jesus did was not enough. We get it right when we point to Jesus, just Jesus and only Jesus. Jesus does it all and gives it all to us. Jesus was conceived and born for us. Jesus lived perfectly for our in our place. Jesus took our sins and suffered and died paying the price for our sins. Jesus rose victorious over sin, death and the devil. Jesus gives us faith through the waters of Holy Baptism. Jesus gives us forgiveness of sins through Holy Absolution. Jesus gives, strengthens and keeps us in faith through His Holy Word and through His Holy Supper. Jesus does and gives and we are done to and given to and we rejoice and give Him thanks and praise.
 
Today we celebrate what a great, loving, living, gift giving God we have. We point to Jesus as the author and perfecter of our faith. We have our surest confidence knowing that our forgiveness and salvation come from outside of us, from the One to which all of Holy Scripture and all of history points, Jesus, just Jesus. We rejoice and say, to God be the glory for Jesus’ sake. Amen. He is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia! Amen.