Friday, June 17, 2011

May 29, 2011 - The Sixth Sunday after Easter - St. John 16:23-30

St. James tells us to be doers of the Word and not just hearers. Good example of people who are just hearers and not doers? Those Old Testament folks. The Lord saved them from Egypt and was bringing them to the Promised Land. He promised to be their God and told them how to live and behave. They HEARD His Word. But did they do it? Nope. They kept turning to false gods. They grumbled and complained and spoke about the Lord as if He didn't care for them at all. They HEARD the Word but instead of clinging the Lord's promises and trusting in Him, they let it go in one ear and out the other. They kept hearing but not doing and finally the Lord sent snakes to punish them. But there was a way out, a way to be saved from the snakes, a way to be rescued from this punishment of death. Look to the bronze serpent lifted up by Moses.

Be doers of the Word and not just hearers. You know who else is hearers and not doers? You. Me. We come in to church to hear and the Word goes in our ears: Love God. Love your neighbor. We don't. The Lord isn't first in our lives, all kinds of other things are. If you don't believe me, just think about the last time you were grumbling and complaining that things weren't going your way. Is that trust in the Lord? That sort of worry and complaining is just plain unbelief! Or how about your neighbor? Do you love others more than yourself? No. We put ourselves ahead of our kids. We don't honor our parents. We try to one up the people around us and take whatever angle works things out best for us and not for others. James' words cut us to the heart because we don't practice pure religion at all! We all too easily let ourselves become filthied up by the world in what we watch, and what we look at on the internet and the company we keep. Oh, we might do good or something for someone else if there's something in it for us. But the fact is that we, just like the Israelites, are good at letting God's Word go in one ear and out the other. So what to do if we don't want to be consumed by our sins like being bitten by snakes? Look to the one lifted up to save us!

Jesus tells His disciples that because He is going to the Father, they can ask the Father anything in His name and the Father will grant it. All right! Time for that new sports car! A winning scratch off ticket! For that person we don't like to get transferred somewhere else. Um, no. Did we not just hear what James said? James reminds us what it is we need to ask of the Father in Jesus' name. We need to pray to be doers of the Word and not just hearers! Think about what we prayed earlier in the Collect: that God would make us "think the things that are right and accomplish them." Our problem is that, on our own, we don't even know what is right and good to do. That's where the Lord's Word comes in. It's the Word that directs us to the One who is lifted up to take away our sins. It is the Lord's Word that saves us by teaching us the right way to think and believe in the Lord and His promises.

That's why Jesus goes to the cross. Because we are hearers but not doers. Jesus HEARS the Father's command to save sinners and He DOES it. He humbles Himself and is born of the virgin and spends His life hearing and doing the Word. He cares for the widow by making her His Bride and He cares for the orpan by giving us a heavenly Father. And Jesus remains unspotted by this world and yet when the time comes, He is filthy and covered with the sins of the world. All your idolatry, adultery, murder, lust, coveting, lying, deceiving, Word despising, hearing-but-not-doing is answered for by your Savior on the cross of Calvary. And He does it so that we have a Father who hears and answers prayers in the Name of His Son. You see, our sins would have kept us from daring to ask anything of our heavenly Father. So we go through the One who has taken our sins and taken them away. When we pray, our Father hears us because in the Name of Jesus, there are no sins to see. THAT is what makes us able to go straight to our heavenly Father and ask away: His Son Jesus who has opened the way to the Father's heart and throne.

So the answer to our being hearers and not doers is the same as the Israelites being bitten by snakes: look up to the One lifted up to save us. The Israelites needed to look to a snake to be saved from the snakes. So we look to a sinner to be saved from our sins: Jesus, not Himself a sinner bu, the bearer of our sins, nailed to the cross for us. The answer is not going to be found in our trying harder, but in having more Jesus. More of your Baptism every day. More absolution for your sins. More hearing the Word by which the Spirit promises to be at work in you. More Body and Blood to keep you in the faith. The fact of the matter is, as long as we've got Old Adam hanging around, it is a battle and struggle to be doers and not just hearers of God's Word. So the answer to our conflict is found in Christ, who has won this battle for us. So cry out to the Father every day! Cry out that you want Him to make you a DOER and not just a hearer. When the sting of God's Law reminds you that you are hearing God's Word and not doing, then confess it! Ask the Father in Jesus' Name to forgive you and work by the Spirit in you to be one who glorifies Him and loves your neighbor in all that you do. And because our Lord Jesus has gone to the cross and through death to life again, have no doubt that your heavenly Father will hear and answer, just as Jesus says He will. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

May 22, 2011 - The Fifth Sunday of Easter - St. John 16:5-15

In case you hadn't heard, the Rapture and Judgment Day were supposed to happen yesterday. I actually went to that false preacher's website to see what he had to say about it, especially since Jesus told us pretty plainly that no one knows the day or the hour. One thing he said was that over 20 years ago the Spirit was taken away from the church. The fact that we are here today I'd say pretty well proves that the Spirit is right here in Christ's church and not with that false prophet. But that's the problem. Today "the Spirit" is tossed around as the answer for everything. If someone feels like doing something, they do it, right or wrong, and says, "well I was moved by 'the Spirit.'" If some lifestyle is judged by God's Word to be wrong, the teaching is changed because "the Spirit" is at work living in the church to bring us to new understandings. When it comes down to it, things that are clearly not taught in the Scriptures are all over the place attributed to "the Spirit" even when such a teaching is directly contrary to the Bible! We're guilty of this too. For how often do we get a notion or opinion in our heads and figure that even if it doesn't square with what the Bible teaches, God or "the Spirit" must be leading us to do it? And if it's not the Holy Spirit, it's a false, deceiving spirit and we need to know the difference. So how do we sort it out?

Jesus gives us the answer when He tells us what the Spirit's job is. Jesus teaches us that the Spirit is going to convict the world with respect to three things: sin, righteousness, and judgment. And then Jesus says the Spirit will take what is His and give it to the disciples thus leading them into all truth. Not part of the truth or some of the truth or someone's version of the truth. All Truth. The Spirit works in the church and He works only where Christ's Word is. That means where Christ's preachers are preaching and teaching what is in the Bible, not what someone SAYS is in the Bible or what they think the Bible means. So what about the Spirit's convicting the world? First of sin because they don't believe in Jesus. Sin, boiled down to its most basic, is denying Jesus and the forgiveness He gives. The world is sinful because it goes against God and doesn’t want to be forgiven. Righteousness because Jesus goes to the Father. You don't get righteous by somehow getting a hold of Jesus. Rather, His righteousness is bestowed upon us and given to us as a gift by the preaching and Sacraments in His church. Of judgment because the ruler of this world is judged. Here we learn that Christ, by His death on the cross has defeated sin and death and the devil, the ruler of this world. That's why He became man: to suffer and die and rise for sinners. So everything the Spirit is about is Jesus. If it's not about Jesus and His forgiveness, it's NOT THE HOLY SPIRIT.

Jesus says the Spirit doesn't speak for Himself. Instead, He takes what is Christ's and gives it to you. And He does that by the Word and the Sacraments. Whatever is apart from the Bible, preaching and teaching, and Baptism, Absolution and the Supper is NOT the Holy Spirit. If we're not talking about those things, then we're not talking about the Holy Spirit and we're not talking about Jesus. And these things are not neutral. Either what is preached and taught and heard is from Christ or it is from the devil. It can't be both. If what goes into our ears isn't from the Holy Spirit, it won't save us but tear us away from Christ to false belief and despair. This is why the Spirit takes what is Christ's and delivers it to us. That Jesus became man and died for your sins and rose again. That you are washed and given Christ's righteousness in Baptism. That Christ's own words are that your sins are forgiven. That Jesus' Body and Blood are the feast of salvation. That's what happened with the End of the World guy. He tried to teach and preach apart from the Word. Apart from the clear Scriptures. Jesus Himself says, “No one knows the day or hour. Not the angels in heaven, not even the Son.” So we know it will come but not when. So to say when simply goes against the Bible and the only way to do that is to say “the Spirit” led him. No. I'll repeat it again: It CANNOT be the Holy Spirit if the simple and clear words of Jesus are contradicted.

And this is why, dear Christians, that it's more important than ever to learn the words of Jesus. So that you will know all He has said and done for your salvation AND be able to discern the false from the true. There's a reason we're ALL—parents and kids and everyone—going to meet this summer in Sunday School to hear about the life of Christ. To read and hear Jesus' own words. And by those very words of Jesus, He promises His Spirit will forgive our sins and strengthen us in the faith. We all have something to repent of here: thinking we can know Christ apart from His Spirit, neglecting learning God's Word, parents not making sure their children are taught the Word and learning it themselves. So let's take this summer to gather as Christ's people and learn his words and deeds so well that no false spirit can ever deceive us. Make time, brothers and sisters in Christ, to come and receive every one of those good gifts that is given by your Father in heaven.

Brothers and sisters in Christ: the world around us is filled with “spirits” and the devil wants nothing more to confuse us with all the seeming contradictions and interpretations. But listen to Jesus, our Good Shepherd. His voice, His Word is clear and simple: He goes to the Father by His death, resurrection and Ascension and sends the Spirit who leads us into all Truth. Since Jesus is the Truth, the Spirit leads us to Christ. Gives us what is Christ's: his forgiveness and salvation. And having Jesus, you have everything there is to have. Everything God has for you. The Spirit has one job: that through the Word and Sacraments you would believe in Jesus, have the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. That is the Holy Spirit that Jesus sent who brings us to Jesus and gives us life everlasting. That is what it means to have all truth: to have Jesus. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

May 8, 2011 - The Third Sunday of Easter, Good Shepherd Sunday - St. John 10:11-16

If you work a job that requires running a cash register the boss will usually tell you, and it's the same advice the police will give: If you're being held up, don't resist or fight back. Give them the money and don't do anything to provoke them and get hurt. Sometimes they do fight back. More than one store clerk has lost their life when they tried to save the bit of cash in the drawer. Why would you do that? Just so, why would you bother getting torn to shreds by a wolf or lion who came after the sheep? They're just sheep! Run! But when they're the Lord's sheep, it's different. Unlike every minimum-wage earning convenience store clerk or shepherd, the Lord doesn't let His sheep get eaten. He doesn't run when the wolf comes. No, this shepherd, the Good Shepherd, lays down His life for the sheep. Better this Good Shepherd get taken down by the wolf than He let the sheep be attacked! And that's what you need to know about your Good Shepherd: He lays down His life for you.

But don't be fooled! He doesn't lay down His life for us because we're worth it! Ezekiel and Peter nail it: The sheep love to wander off. God takes care of us and provides for us and we wander off. Go away to do our own thing. To live how we want. Do what we want. Worship the gods we want. Go after the things we want. Put ourselves first. All that is sheep wandering away. The Lord has given us the sheep pen of His Law, to guide us and corral us and we just find a way over it or around it or out of it. Never mind God. Never mind our neighbor. Off we go, wandering away, happily doing our own thing even when we wind up in the tangled branches that are the consequences for our sins. Or even when we are suddenly all alone, away from the Lord and the wolf, that devil, is right there ready to pounce! If sheep are really that stupid, they deserve to get eaten! They deserve to starve to death while they're all tangled up. We sinners deserve what we get! There is no reason the Lord should come after us. But He does. Because He's the Good Shepherd.

The Good Shepherd knows His sheep. He knows that they go astray. He knows what you think and say and do that is your wandering from God. The Good Shepherd also knows His Father. That's why He lays down His life for the sheep. Don't think He did it because we deserved it or were worth it. He did it because that's what His Father wanted Him to do. It's as if He said, “Son, the wolf will come after our sheep. And the only way we can keep that wolf from tearing up the sheep is if you lay down your life for them. That will save them.” So the Good Shepherd does. He baits the wolf with Himself. He lays down His life by being lifted up on the cross. And that protects the sheep. The death of the Good Shepherd on Calvary is what rescues you form the wolf, the devil, whose one desire is to devour you! You see, the Lord doesn't just come looking for you, He lays down His life to protect you and rescue you. Yeah, the Good Shepherd knows you are a wandering sheep. He also knows His Father wants you back. And so He does what only the Good Shepherd does: He lays down His life for you and takes it up again!

And so He knows His sheep and is known by His own. There is one flock and one shepherd. That one flock is the holy Christian church and that one Shepherd is Jesus. It's HIS flock. The church doesn't belong to the pastor. It doesn't belong to you or the Voters or the Council or any Christian. The church, the flock is the Lord's. So what goes on here is what the Good Shepherd gives and does. And so just how do we know our Good Shepherd? Well He told us: He laid down His life for us. Any preaching or teaching which isn't about that, about the Good Shepherd laying down His life for the sheep, isn't the Good Shepherd caring for us. Any church where the sheep are not led to the still waters of their Baptism and the green pastures of Christ's Word is no church where the Lord is the shepherd. And where the overflowing cup of Christ's blood is not rejoiced in and given out, there the Good Shepherd is absent is well. But where those gifts are given, the gifts that deliver to us the life that Good Shepherd has for us, there we can be certain and confident that Jesus our Good Shepherd is caring for us and bringing us back whenever we wander away.

No, the cash in the drawer is not worth dying over. But neither are the sheep that love to wander. Christ lays down His life for us not because we are worth it but because He knows His Father. But now that Christ has died for you, laid down His life for you, know that you are precious in His sight. You are His little lambs. When you wander, He finds you and forgives you. In the pastures of His church He feeds and cares for you. And When the wolf comes to get you, He's got to get past your Good Shepherd! Jesus is the Good Shepherd because He has laid down His life for you. And He is the Good Shepherd because He is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

May 1, 2011 - The Second Sunday of Easter - St. John 20:19-31

Dear Babies in Jesus. Yes, I said babies. We heard it from St. Peter in the Introit: “Like newborn babies, crave the pure spiritual milk of the Word!” Why are we babies? Well, babies are helpless. Babies can't do things for themselves. The Readings we have this Second Sunday of Easter teach us that we are babies who need the Lord to do for us because we can't do for ourselves. Now pay close attention. Because the Christian faith that is for helpless people isn't usually what is preached and taught most places. We are surrounded in this world by other those who suppose that in order to be a Christian, you have to do something. But how can we? We're helpless. It is the Lord and His Word that rescues us and gives us that pure milk by which we are fed and nourished. Just consider the Word of God that we've heard today.

Apart from the Word of God, we are nothing but dry bones like Ezekiel saw. Before we were baptized and given the birth from above by water and the Spirit, we are dead in our trespasses and sins. Can that big pile of bones live? Can they put themselves together? Can they come to life on their own? Of course not. The Lord tells Ezekiel to prophesy to the breath, that is, to preach and the Spirit will give them life. By the WORD, which is outside of them, those bones are given life. Just so you don't become a Christian by somehow bringing yourself back to life. The Spirit of God is given to you by water and the Word and THAT is what makes you live again. See? We're too helpless on our own. It's only when the Word is spoken that the Spirit awakens us from being dead. We could never do that on our own.

Our problem is that we were dead. Unable to come back to life. Unable to live. Unable to do anything. That is why Jesus came. To do what we could not: pay for our sins by His death. To do more that we couldn't do: conquer death and rise to life again. Jesus' death and resurrection accomplish what we could never accomplish. We are taken down by death. He takes death down. We were in slavery to our sins. Jesus sets us free. We were spiritually dead, unable to fear, love and trust in God. Jesus makes us alive by His Word. St. John says we have overcome the world in faith. That's because we could never overcome the world ourselves, so we trust in Jesus that He has overcome it by His suffering, death and resurrection.

Then we come to Easter evening and a week later. The disciples are locked inside, unable to do anything. Paralyzed by fear it seems. But Jesus comes and does what they can't do for themselves, He gives them life. By speaking His Word, He breathes the Spirit upon them and gives to them the power to absolve and retain sins. Why does He give them this task? Because sinners can't forgive their own sins. Sinners can't get rid of their own sins. Sinners can't unlock the shackles of their sins; they can't free themselves; they can't remove sins and take away death. But the Word of God can. The pronouncement of holy absolution can. For Holy Absolution is the testimony that because Jesus is crucified and risen from the dead, our sins are taken away. We can't get that ourselves. It must be given to us as it is in the church. You can't earn it or work it out. It is a gift that must be given to you. And so the Lord sends His apostles to give that gift, to forgive sins and deliver to the world the forgiveness He won for them and which we could never get for ourselves.

When Jesus tells Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe,” He's talking about us. We haven't got to put our fingers in the nail holes of Jesus' hands like Thomas did and yet we believe in Jesus and confess that He has died and risen from the dead. This we know, not because we can figure it out on our own but because the Word of God tells us this and the Spirit works through that Word to bring us to faith. Think of the ways in which the Lord delivers the forgiveness of sins to us: by the washing of Holy Baptism, by the Absolution and preaching and teaching of God's Word. And by the Holy Supper. These are all things that are OUTSIDE of us. EXTERNAL to us. Think about it: A baby can't make its own food either in its body or prepare something to eat himself. He must be fed. So likewise, babies in Jesus, you need to be fed and taken care of. This Jesus does by His Word and Sacraments. Remember we are surrounded in the world by those who say that you have to do something to become a Christian and that there is a part for you to play in remaining a Christian. Jesus teaches us exactly the opposite! We cannot become or remain Christians at all any more than dry bones can come back to life. We need Jesus to accomplish these things for us by His Word. Only His Word can bring us to life and keep us alive by the forgiveness that it delivers to us.

And that is all for your comfort. A baby doesn't have to worry about how it will be taken care of. Just so, we needn't worry that we've got to do our own religion. Christ has been pierced for you on Calvary. He has risen from the dead for you. He washed you. He absolves you. He preaches to you and He feeds you. These holy gifts are the pure spiritual milk we are to desire just as a newborn wants to eat! And just as the newborn is fed by his mother, so we are fed by our Mother, the church, who gives to us the pure milk of the Word and gives to us life that the Risen Jesus bestows, for we could never get it for ourselves. But Jesus gives it to us for free as His gift! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

April 27, 2011 - Wednesday after Easter - St. Luke 24:36-49

The fact of the matter is, the disciples just weren't sure what had happened. They didn't believe it. They didn't get it. When Jesus appeared to them, they thought they were looking at a ghost. So what better way to prove that He is still a man even though He was dead and is now alive, than having something to eat. The disciples are amazed, confused, bewildered, frightened and there's Jesus: “You got anything to eat?” Then they realized that this was the same Jesus in the flesh, with flesh and bone, who was alive even though he had been dead. Then He opens their hearts so that they would understand as He explained to them how everything that went down was according to the Scriptures. Then it all came together and they understood that Jesus' death and resurrection were all foretold in the Old Testament. They Jesus sent them into the world as His witnesses to preach and teach that He suffered and died and rose for sinners and that repentance and the forgiveness of sins are given in His name. In other words, salvation comes from the One who died and who was alive on the third day—Jesus!

Now we need to understand something. There are teachings in the Bible that are important, but if you didn't know them, you can still be saved. For example, in the book of Genesis, we learn that Nimrod was a mighty hunter. Now, you can be saved without knowing anything about Nimrod. But there are teachings which are central to the faith and without knowing them, we cannot have eternal life. The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is one of these. If someone denies that Jesus rose bodily from the dead, they are no Christian. Christ was and is truly alive on Easter and ever since. In fact, the resurrection stands at the heart of the Christian faith. If Jesus didn't really rise from the dead, we're all just fools in a silly religion. But Jesus DID rise from the dead and that means that sin and death have been taken care of for you. It means death cannot hold you down. You will rise too. Jesus paid the price for our sins on the cross but it is by His resurrection that He demonstrates that death and the power of sin are truly overthrown. Without the resurrection, we have nothing. With the resurrection, we have salvation and everlasting life.

Now it's all well that the disciples can see Jesus enjoying his broiled fish and can see his nail holes to believe that He is really and truly alive. But what about us? We haven't seen Him like they did? That's why Jesus tells them, “You're my witnesses to the ends of the earth.” The apostles don't just tell others what they've seen and heard, they tell future generations by writing it down. By reading it in the Scriptures, it's as if we're hearing it from them ourselves. Think about it. How many of you knew your great-great-great-grandmothers? But you believe in THEM don't you? Isn't it funny how people in the world can talk about Henry VIII or Julius Caesar or Genghis Khan or any other person in history as if they really lived, but when it comes to Jesus they want to argue that it's all made up or just stories! No! We have EYE-WITNESSES. And because they saw and wrote it down, the Spirit uses that Word to teach us that Jesus died for us and rose again too. By that Word, that preaching of repentance and the forgiveness of sins in Jesus' name, the Spirit creates faith and trust in us which clings to Christ even though we haven't seen Him with our eyes as the disciples did. Such faith and trust is a gift which believes that Jesus has taken away all our sins and gives us everlasting life. After all, if he rose from the dead, our bodies will rise from the dead too, for that's what our Baptism promises to us because of that same forgiveness of sins!

Jesus doesn't just die on the cross and rise again and let a few people know it! He shows Himself to His apostles so that they will show Him to us by the Word. Jesus doesn't leave us guess but shows us plainly and clearly by His Word that He is alive. By water and the word and also in His Supper, the risen Christ comes to us and lets us see Him with the eyes of faith. While it may not be with our eyes, we have the eyes of the witnesses who have written it down for us so that there can be no doubt. And having that word, we have what it says: repentance and the forgiveness of sins in the name of Jesus who died and rose; who ate fish and fulfilled the Scriptures; who is even today alive and will come again. That's why when we say the Easter greeting we add that great big INDEED! Christ is risen! He is risen INDEED! Alleluia! In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

April 24, 2011 - Easter Day - St. Mark 16:1-8

“Location, location, location!” That, they say, is what's most important for a business to do well. Well, our Easter Gospel is about, location, location, location. All too often, when we get into a discussion about God, we leave location behind. God is just “out there” or “up there” somewhere. You can't see Him. You just assume He's there and doing something or other. That's how the world thinks of God and the devil loves to trap Christians into thinking that way too. But through all that abstract, “out there” God talk and clutter, the Easter Gospel shines brightly, reminding us that God is really a location, location, location God. He tells us where He is and what He's doing. And Easter is really all about that.

Location: Nazareth. The angel says to the women, “You're looking for Jesus of Nazareth.” That's a location. A specific person from a specific place. It's a reminder to us that God became man. He was in Mary's womb and born in Bethlehem and raised in Nazareth. Our Lord isn't just “out there somewhere.” He was in Nazareth. He lived there. Grew up there. Played there. Ate there. Worked there. And when He began His work of salvation in earnest, He preached there too. The point is this: God is located in the flesh. He went places and did stuff. When we speak about God, especially to unbelievers, we don't need to get caught in their trap of “abstract God somewhere.” Talk to them about Jesus, the God who grew up in and was from Nazareth. You can still go there today. It's a real place. And He's a real person that was there.

Location: The cross and tomb. The angel goes on: “Jesus...who was crucified. He is risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid Him!” Now Jesus went lots of places but the most important place He was, was the cross and tomb. On that cross, God died. On that cross, God took away our sins. On that cross, Jesus, the Lamb of God, gave Himself as the sacrifice for sins. It happened there on a hill called Calvary. And that hill is still there today. And then there is a garden tomb. He was there too, resting in the tomb until He rose on Easter. The women knew where that tomb was and they and the disciples saw clearly that it was empty. But there in a particular place, our Lord hung on the tree. There, God was. He didn't look like God, all bloody and dead, but you can't get a more specific location than that. It's where, in the midst of all our suffering and asking that question, “Where's God?” we can point to Calvary and the cross and say, “Right there, pierced for you!”

Location: Galilee. “Tell His disciples—and Peter—that He is going to Galilee. There you will see Him just as He told you.” Because He's risen! He's alive! He WAS on the cross. And He WAS in the tomb but now He is alive. And He is where His Word said He would be: In Galilee. Eventually He would appear to all His disciples, where they were, in His Body. He is no ghost or spirit. No vision or dream or delusion. He's alive and He can prove it by showing His disciples the LOCATION of those nail and spear holes. The God who walked around Galilee and Judea before He died is the same God who walked around Galilee and Judea when He was alive again. Once more, God is not an “out there” kind of God, but the God who is in the flesh, who suffered for our sins, rose again and was seen by all of those eyewitnesses.

Location: Christ's church today. Just as our risen Lord had told His disciples where He would be (in Galilee), so He tells us where He will be. After He had conquered sin and death, died and risen, before His Ascension, Jesus told His disciples to go and preach and baptize and that He would be with them always to the end of the age. So now, today, where is the Lord? Where do we find Him? Sure, He's everywhere because He's God, but remember: Location, location, location. He tells us where He is going to be located for our salvation. For our comfort and strength. And where is that? Right here in His church. Where water is put upon you at the location of the font. Where your pastor is located to preach and teach Christ's Word to you and absolve you of your sins. Where Christ Himself is located in His Body and Blood on the altar in the meal of salvation. In these locations, these specific, concrete, actual places, we don't get caught up in the “somewhere out there” God but the God-with-us in the flesh who is still with us in His church. If you want to know who God is, He is there in Christ. And if you want to know where Christ is, He's right here in His church. Therefore we are rescued from useless arguments about a God “out there somewhere” because we have a God who has come in the flesh and still comes in His flesh through His Word and Sacraments in His church.

So Easter is about location, location, location! God has a location! He's not just everywhere and anywhere. He's somewhere. And He's somewhere FOR YOU. That location, that somewhere is His holy Christian church on earth where His gifts are given for forgiveness, life and salvation. His church whereby the forgiveness of sins He won by His death and resurrection, sin and death and the devil and hell are all defeated. His church in which we are nourished in the faith and kept in that faith til the day our Lord comes back and raises US from the dead, just as He rose from the dead on Easter. Therefore don't seek Him in there, in your feelings, “out there,” in nature, our “up there” in the sky somewhere, or anywhere else. He is right HERE for you. For to say that Christ is risen is to confess that He is right here in this location for you. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

April 23, 2011 - Easter Vigil - St. John 20:1-18

Easter morning was something of a mess! Mary doesn't know where they've taken Jesus. Peter and John run to the tomb and they believe and yet still don't know the Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead. Jesus speaks to Mary and it is only that which opens her eyes to recognize that it is Him. The other Gospels tell us about the angels announcing He is risen and the disciples on the road to Emmaus who don't believe what has happened. Then, of course, there's Thomas, too. Everything seems to confused and up in the air. But what straightens it all out is the Word. The Word that Jesus speaks. The Word of the Scriptures that He has fulfilled. Easter is more than just about the fact of the resurrection, though that's the big part of it. The fact of Jesus being alive the third day and the tomb being empty can only matter if the Word declares it. After all, you and I weren't there. We can only hear and believe from the Word. And so it is the Word that tells us that Jesus was going to rise. It is Jesus' own words that tell His disciples He's going to rise. And it is the Word that the apostles, who were eyewitnesses of the risen Jesus wrote, it is that Word which tells us Christ has indeed risen.

This is also why Jesus tells Mary, “Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father.” Now, after the resurrection, we aren't to find Jesus by hanging on to Him outside the garden tomb. Now, He will ascend to the Father and will go all over the world through the preaching of His death and resurrection, that is, by His Word. Jesus tells Mary not to cling to Him but to go to where the disciples are. Where the church is gathered. There is where you'll find Jesus. Now, after His resurrection, Jesus is alive and until He comes back, He lives and reigns in His holy church, where His Word is given. Here we are forbidden to find Jesus anywhere else than where His Word is. To look for Jesus in some other place like our feelings or some physical location like the tomb in Jerusalem (and which one is it?) is to seek Him where He hasn't promised to be found. To try to have God apart from His Word is what our Easter repentance confesses.

So what about that Word? It's there in the Scriptures. In the Old Testament which foretold all that Jesus would do, including His resurrection. In the New Testament in which the eyewitness testimony of His life and words and suffering, death and resurrection are told and expounded. In the preaching of that Word today by which Jesus Himself is among us. In the speaking of that Word with the water that washes us and makes us children of God. In the speaking of that Word which declares our sins are forgiven. Where that Word is that delivers Christ's Body and Blood with the bread and wine in the Supper. Our whole life as Christians, worshiping a crucified and risen Lord is all about His Word. It is that Word by which the Father shows us His Son, by which the Son reveals Himself and dwells among us, and by which the Spirit calls and preserves us in the holy Christian church. Without the Word, we perish, we wither and die. And with that Word that brings us Jesus, the Jesus who died for our sins and rose again, that Word brings us life now and life everlasting. The Scriptures told it. We shouldn't be surprised. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

April 22, 2011 - Good Friday - St. John 18:1-19:42

Your sins are Jesus' suffering and death. The commandments teach us plainly and simply to love God above all things. We don't. The commandments teach us plainly and simply to love others as ourselves. We don't. The commandments decree that the punishment for breaking them is the awful wrath of God. But there, on that cross, that suffering, that death, that's yours. But now it's His. Your sins. They're His.

Therefore Jesus' sentence is your “not guilty.” Christ who is innocent takes the place of a guilty man, Barabbas. You. Me. Christ is given the sentence of a guilty man. He is condemned. But His condemnation, the judgment and verdict of “death” is your “not guilty” from God. Because He has taken your place.

Jesus' nakedness is your covering. Those soldiers took those garments of Jesus. Sinful men received the clothing of Christ. On the cross, naked and covered in shame, Jesus, by His death as the Lamb of God, provides for you a robe of righteousness. A covering of perfection and holiness so that when you stand before the Father, you stand there dressed not in the filthy rags of a sinner but in the spotless and untorn robe of your Savior.

Jesus' leaving His mother behind is your adoption into His family. As St. John was commended into Mary's care, so you are given into the care of your mother, the church. By grace, you have been adopted by your heavenly Father, under the care of your spiritual mother, the church. Christ, who leaves behind His mother and is forsaken by the Father on the cross, suffers these things that you might no longer be an orphan because of sin but once again in the family of God, the Christian church.

Jesus' thirsting is your being refreshed. The one whose parched lips touch a sponge filled with vinegar in order to fulfill the Scriptures is the One who gives you the Holy Spirit, to well up in you as a fountain of living water, a fountain that means you'll never thirst but always have Christ's unfailing and refreshing forgiveness.

And finally, Jesus' death is your life. His “It is finished” is your promise that there is nothing you need to try to do to get right with God. It's done. His giving up His spirit at the moment of His choosing means that this is not some random act of violence; our Lord fulfilled the Father's will and died for you. And the blood and water flowing out of His side are your life. The life given in the water of the font and the life given in the blood of the cup. All that Jesus has suffered, all that Jesus has undergone, all that is BAD for Jesus—is GOOD for you. Happy GOOD Friday. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

April 21, 2011 - Maundy Thusday - St. John 13:1-15,34-35

When Jesus washes the disciples' feet, he's not giving us an example of how to wash other peoples' feet. He's giving us an example of forgiving sins. The foot washing is just an example and picture of this. We know this because Peter objects and Jesus tells him he has no part of Him unless He washes His feet. Peter, ever impetuous says, “Well then wash my hands and head!” To which Jesus replies, “You're already clean. You don't need a bath. Just a foot washing because you step in it.” In other words, Peter is already baptized. He doesn't need to be baptized again. But as he goes around stepping in sin, Jesus must wash him again, that is, forgive and absolve him. He does this in preparation for this special Supper in which He then gives them His body and blood to eat and drink, body and blood that are about to be given into death on the cross for them and for the world.

So what about you? Would you wash someone's feet? You might. But here's a tougher question: Would you forgive someone when they step in it? Your husband or wife; your kids or parents; your other family members? The dirt and crud on someone's feet doesn't seem half bad compared to the things people do against us. The hurtful words we can't let go. The pain of having someone let you down. The promises not kept. The awful attitude and bitter disappointment that come when others go against us. We'd touch a person's smelly tootsies faster than we'd forgive them and treat them like they DIDN'T sin. It'd be much easier to scrub the grime off someone's feet than to put away whatever it is they did against you and stop holding a grudge and forgiven them. Repent of such unforgiveness to whomever and hear Jesus' Words again. Jesus tells His disciples and us, “A new commandment I give you, that you love one another as I have loved you.”

And how did He love us? How does He still love us? On this night, He loved us by giving us a holy Supper of forgiveness from His Body and Blood. On this night He let Himself be arrested and taken before evil men. He allowed Himself to be beaten and slapped around and to be dragged before Pontius Pilate and tortured some more before finally being humiliated and nailed to a cross. And He has washed you in Holy Baptism and still washes your feet by Holy Absolution as you daily step in stink piles of sin. And all that is not merely the EXAMPLE of how you're supposed to love others. His forgiveness is the very forgiveness which you pass on to those around you. When they step in it, wash their feet. Forgive them. Don't hold their sins against them. That is hard to do. Which is why Christ did and still does it for you: so that by HIS strength, the blessing of His forgiving you will be the blessing of your forgiving someone else. Now come to the feast of forgiveness. After all, you're all washed up for dinner!

April 10, 2011 - Tuesday of Holy Week - St. Mark 15:29-32

It seems so despicable. Cruel. Evil. Those wicked men standing their mocking Jesus. Laughing at His torment on the cross, making fun of Him and His apparent inability to save Himself. “He saved others; let Him save Himself. Let Him come down off the cross if He's the King of Israel.” That's Satan talking again. “If you're the Son of God, turn these stones into bread. IF you're the Son of God, come down off the cross.” See? That's the devil mocking. The funniest or most disappointing thing people can think about Jesus is that He could save others but then He couldn't save Himself. He can heal the blind and deaf and dumb and even raise the dead but He somehow couldn't avoid getting Himself crucified? And once He's crucified, He can't get down off the cross? Some Savior He is! What a joke! They mock. They ridicule. They hate. And when we see it, we think to ourselves, “I'd never do that!”

Oh, really? When you're sick and God doesn't seem to answer your prayer for healing do you get upset with Him? When you want something that is going wrong in your life to go right, you don't demand from God to do things your way? “If you're really God, then why don't you help me? Heal me? Fix me? Save me?” If God is really God, why does He let bad things happen? Why doesn't He prevent them? Oh, it's not that you would tell Jesus to come down off the cross. You'd just tell Him how best to run your life. Work things out. Make things happen. And when He doesn't do it, perhaps you consider He can't because maybe He's not everything He's supposed to be. No, we wouldn't mock God on the cross; we would just question His grace and mercy all the other times of our lives!

But once again, those who mock Jesus speak the truth. “He saves others but Himself He cannot save.” Yep. That's how it works. Jesus COULD save Himself. But then you would be doomed. It's you or Jesus. Someone's going down for your sins. Someone's going to pay the price. And it won't be you. That's why Jesus doesn't save Himself. He doesn't save Himself so that He DOES save you. His not saving Himself means you are saved. His not coming down from the cross means your sins are paid for by His blood. His suffering means you being spared. That's just how it works. Jesus won't save Himself in order that He saves you. Jesus not coming down from that cross means there will be a washing to forgive you and give you new life; a Supper of broken body and shed blood to give you forgiveness and life and salvation. Jesus' undergoing the mockery of evil men means evil ones like us have our sins forgiven. It all comes down to this. He IS the Son of God most of all not because He can save Himself but because He saves others. Saves you and me. The devil doesn't get it. But then again that salvation isn't for him. It's for you. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

April 18, 2011 - Monday of Holy Week - St. John 12:1-43

Jesus is troubled. Does that trouble you? Jesus is troubled. Upset. His suffering has already begun. He knows what He faces. And there's a way out. He could ask. He could bail. He could abandon ship and escape before it's too late. He's that troubled. BUT...That's why He came. He can't leave it. He came to do it. “Now is my soul troubled, and what shall I say? 'Father, save Me from this hour?' But for this purpose I came to this hour.” What purpose is that? To be the grain of wheat that dies to bear fruit. To be the Lamb who is sacrificed for our sins. To be the Savior who suffers horribly and has it all topped off by being crucified. To be the object of wrath and the curse of the Father as He bears our sin. To be the fulfiller of the Law and the Prophets. To be the God who dies for His creation. To be your Savior. Your Lord. Your Lamb. That's the purpose for which He came to this hour.

He came to be troubled because we are not. We live in an age where we can fight wars around the world and they're hardly mentioned on the news. We live in a world where as long as things are working out for us, there's not much reason to be troubled. We live in a world which teaches us not to be troubled over our sins and so we aren't. We daily despise God and His Word. We daily pick and choose whom we'll love and whom we'll ignore and have nothing to do with and acting that way doesn't really bother us, does it? And if something does go wrong, we may be troubled but only because in our selfishness, we think whatever is wrong is the end of our world. When it comes down to it, we are not so troubled by our sins. We aren't even really troubled by Jesus' death. If our eyes glaze over to the tragedies we see far away on a new broadcast, how much more do we not get worked up about Jesus death for our sins?

Repent of not being terribly troubled at your sins. But more than that, recognize the reason Jesus is troubled. It's not just because He's going to suffer a whole lot of pain and He's not looking forward to it. Our Lord is troubled by our sins. He takes them as His own and feels their guilt upon Him. He makes our sins His own and suffers the weight of God's judgment upon those iniquities and transgressions. We ought to be troubled by our sins, but only in the sense that we realize how bad they are: They killed God Himself in the flesh. But then hear Jesus' words again: “It is for this purpose that I came to this hour.” You can't get Jesus off track. He came to be troubled by our sins, to be crushed and bruised and stricken, smitten, and afflicted for us. His one entire purpose was this: to be troubled for you. In your place. On your behalf. And having taken the trouble of our sins upon Himself, He trades it for a pure and clean conscience. Washed clean at the font. Fed and strengthened at the altar. The grain of wheat goes to die. It fulfills its purpose by dying and then producing a plant. The Lamb goes to His purpose. To His sacrifice. The Savior goes to His cross. To his suffering and death. To make what was yours, His, your sins and death. And to give you what He has for you: forgiveness and life. Jesus doesn't ask the Father to save Him from this hour. Rather, He goes to His hour, to His purpose, for you. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

April 17, 2011 - The Sunday of the Passion - St. Matthew 27:24-25

There are two reactions to Christ being sent to death. The first reaction is that of Pontius Pilate washing his hands. “I am innocent of this man's blood!” It's not MY fault. I can't do anything about it. He's the ROMAN governor. He can certainly stop it. But he's had too many run ins with the Jews and they hate him. And the Emperor told him to keep the peace. So let's make a grand show of washing our hands and pretending we can't do anything to keep an innocent man from getting nailed to a cross. Sound familiar? It's not MY fault. Jesus' death wasn't caused by MY sins. Or maybe a little bit but hardly as much as someone else's sins! No, Pilate, you don't get off the hook like that. And not us either. We don't get off the hook like that. We are responsible for sending Jesus to the cross. It was for our sins that He suffered and died. You can't say those words you said to someone aren't your fault. That it wasn't your responsibility. You can't get away with “they did it first.” There is no “I'm not to blame” or “I have an excuse.” We sin against God and others all the time and it is because of those sins that God is nailed to the tree. We don't get a pass just because we think it's a bit uncomfortable to say that it's our fault.

The other reaction is that of the Jews. “Fine! Let His blood be on our heads!” They so hate and despise Jesus that they don't care if they are judged for killing God Himself. They so hate and cannot stand God in the flesh that they want Him dead and they'll gladly take the blame as long as it gets done. Pilate's answer is to pretend we don't have sin. The Jews' answer is to not care about their sins. Even if they know it's wrong, they'll do it anyway. And that's our reaction too. I know what I'm about to do is wrong but I'm going to do it anyway. I know that I have a Savior who forgives my sins but I don't care. I'm going to sin anyway and I'm not really sorry for it. I'll take responsibility later. What matters now is what I want to do. I don't care if my sins killed Jesus. You can't tell me what to do! Don't call me a sinner. I don't care. I just want Jesus out of my life so I can do what I want. How'd that work for those who cursed themselves. Forty years later the city of Jerusalem was leveled by the Romans and the inhabitants, men, women and children were slaughtered. How will that end for you if you think like that?

But here's the twist in all of this. Pontius Pilate and the Jews just show us pictures of ourselves and how we react to sending God Himself to suffering and death. And yet, in a deeper way, both what Pilate and the Jews say is true! Jesus goes to suffering and death to take away our sins after all. So when Pilate says that He is innocent of this man's blood, He really is! And when the Jews say that His blood be on their heads, it really is. And you, whose sins sent Jesus to the cross, because He shed His blood for them there, YOU are innocent of His death. God doesn't count your sins any longer as your own but Jesus' sins. You are innocent and He is made guilty. And His blood IS on your head. It's sprinkled upon your head in the waters of Holy Baptism. It's forgiveness is preached into your ears and it is even given you to drink in the Sacrament. The very death that is caused by those who try to claim they're innocent and those who are so angry they don't care; the very death that is caused by ALL of our sins, takes those sins away. Wipes them out. They are no more. Understand this, dear Christians, that it was YOUR sins that sent Jesus to Calvary. But when He was there upon that cross they were no longer your sins but His. And now, washed by His blood, you have everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness. It's not that we got away with out sins. Our sins were taken away by our Savior. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

April 13, 2011 - Wednesday of Lent 5 - The Sacrament of the Altar

In the Ten Commandments we learn to confess our sins. With the Creed, we learn what God has done for us. In the Lord's Prayer we cry out for our heavenly Father to keep us in the faith. In Holy Baptism we confess that we are the Lord's and in Confession we have the opportunity to hear the sweet words of Holy Absolution. Then, finally, in the Sacrament of the Altar, Christ is truly present among us to forgive us and bestow upon us what He won at the cross. What is it and what does it do for us? Let's read in the hymnal page 326 and 327, the first and third questions about the Sacrament of the Altar...Every question or misunderstanding about the Sacrament of the Altar can be answered by Jesus' words. His Words tell us what this Sacrrament is: His Body and Blood. What to do with it: Eat and drink. What good it does: gives the forgiveness of sins. The Catechism reminds us that everything we need to know about this gift is all there in those words: “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” With those words, Jesus gives His gift to us and guards us from all false teaching and misunderstanding of this gift.

“Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” Given and shed. These words point us straight to Calvary where God Himself in the flesh bled and died for us. There, on the cross, He gave Himself into death to take away our sins. His body was mocked, spit upon, crowned with thorns, pierced with nails and a spear. From those holy wounds His blood spilled forth, washing away our sins. As the Passover Lamb was slaughtered and eaten in the Old Testament, so this Lamb of God is slain upon the cross and gives His Body and Blood as a holy Passover food that rescues us from death. When we eat and drink the Body and Blood of Jesus, have no doubt that it is the same Body and Blood that was upon Calvary. When Christ's Words are spoken, the bread and wine that sit upon the altar now has with it the true Body and Blood of Jesus. Then our Lord who was on the cross 2000 years ago and is now at the right hand of God is yet here with us now, today, not just in our memories or imaginations but really and truly present is this special and sacramental way.

Given and shed. FOR YOU. For the forgiveness of sins. It's not just that Jesus died on the cross and rose again. His death wouldn't do you any good if its fruits and benefits weren't ever given to you. You weren't there when they crucified the Lord. But He is here now in His Body and Blood for you. And what does His Body and Blood bring us? Forgiveness of sins. Again, in yet one more way, the Lord bestows upon us His forgiveness, His promise that He will not treat us as our sins deserve but rather has cast them into the depths of the sea and made them white as snow. But along with that forgiveness comes eternal life and salvation. Jesus said quite clearly: “If you eat my flesh and drink my blood I will live in you and you in Me and I will raise you up on the Last Day.” (John 6). There it is. The Lord's Supper is not JUST that whatever sins you committed this past week are wiped out. It's so much more. It's the promise that Christ Himself now lives in you and that because He overcame death by His resurrection you will too. So it is perfectly acceptable to say, “Because I have eaten and drunk the Body and Blood of Jesus, my sins are forgiven. I am saved. I am in Christ and He is in me. I will rise on the Last Day and be alive forever!” All of those things are the gifts and promises Christ gives with that Body and Blood that were given and shed for you.

Now we all know what will happen if we stop eating. Not just dieting or even fasting, but just don't eat. We'll become malnourished and eventually we'll die. Now I don't know many people who decide they want to stop eating and let their bodies waste away. But there is always the temptation that we despise the Sacrament and think little of it and so let ourselves drift away from it. Many people do this and they are putting themselves in spiritual harm because eventually their faith that is sustained and made strong by Jesus' Body and Blood will wither away. Therefore let us never despise this holy gift of Christ's Body and Blood, the Sacrament of the Altar! But let us hunger and thirst for it as the medicine of immortality and the cure for our sin and death.

The Sacrament of the Altar is not just a ceremony or something we do in church. It is the highlight and center of our life as Christians that here, at His own altar, Christ Himself feeds us and strengthens us and nourishes us in Him. Here at Christ's altar is not a symbol of something but the Lord Himself, letting us feast upon Him for salvation. “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” Those are Jesus' words that mean what they say and give what they say: His Body and Blood that were crucified and raised for you so that you your sins are gone and you have eternal life. “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” It's all there in His Words. At His altar. His gift to you. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

April 10, 2011 - The Fifth Sunday in Lent - St. John 8:42-59

If the season of Lent is about anything, it's about our Lord's fight against the Devil. Jesus says that the Devil is a liar, and the father of lies and a murderer too. The father of lies and a murderer. The way that the Devil murders is by being a liar. If the Devil can lie to you about God's Word and get you to believe it, then you die, because you are cut off from Christ's Word. The Devil may try to get you to believe the lie that you live a good enough life for God to love you. He may try to get you to believe the lie that all religions are the same and it doesn't matter what you believe. He will lie to you and tell you that there is no God and that all religions are a joke and to be avoided. He will lie and tell you that you can't be a child of God with the sins you've got. He will lie by trying to get some pastor to say that what the Bible teaches is old and outdated or irrelevant. Or he will lie and try to get you to focus on the Law instead of the Gospel as your salvation. It doesn't matter. The Liar and Father of Lies will lie to you in any way, shape, or form can make you doubt Christ's Word and fall into unbelief.

So that is why Jesus says THREE TIME in this Gospel lesson to the Jews who hated Him, that those who are belong to God keep his Word and will not see death. The thing that saves us from the Devil's lies is the Word of Christ. That is the Word that says that God Himself has come in the flesh to carry our sins to the cross and die for them. God dies so that we shall not taste death. Just think of that! Because Jesus died for our sins and rose again, we will not taste death. Wait...does that mean we won't die? No. At least not unless Jesus returns first. What it does mean is that for you who are in Christ, death becomes nothing more than a nap, a falling asleep, a brief passing from this life to eternal life. Being baptized into Christ and having feasted upon Jesus' Body and Blood, know this: for you, death has been overcome. Its power has been neutralized. When the moment of your death comes, it is no more than falling asleep in Jesus. That may not be a pleasant thing to think about, but it's the truth: your death, when it comes, is nothing more than falling asleep in Jesus.

But there is more death than physical death from which Jesus' Word rescues you! There is eternal death. Eternal death is the death that comes after Judgment Day, the eternal separation from God which comes for those who'd rather hold on to their sins than let Christ carry them. Eternal death is everlasting punishment which results from being unrepentant. And from this horrible and eternal death Christ's Word also saves you. Christ's Word delivers His forgiveness so that on the Last Day the verdict you will hear is “not guilty.” Christ's Word is the word that is combined with the water to wash you in Holy Baptism and rescue you from sin, death, and the power of the Devil. It is Christ's Word that your pastor speaks, declaring your sins to be forgiven. Christ's Word is the Word which delivers His Body and Blood for you to eat and drink with the promise that He will raise you up on the Last Day. It is Christ's Word that promises you shall not see death; that physical death cannot harm you and that eternal death is not yours either. It is Christ's Word that gives life and protects us from the lies of the devil.

Now, all this Jesus talk sounds good as long as it's theoretical. But as soon as the rubber hits the road, the Devil is right there to accuse us of...having a devil! Just like the Jews did to Jesus. All Lent Jesus has been casting out the Devil and now they say he has a Devil! That's the Devil's trick. As soon as you try to tell someone that Christ's Word is right, that His Word is true, they will accuse you of being “unloving” and “closed-minded.” In today's world, there's almost nothing worse than being called THOSE things! Don't believe me? Talk to your Baptist friends about Baptism. It matters whether Jesus baptizes and saves babies or He doesn't. “That stuff doesn't matter,” they say, “As long as we all believe in Jesus. Talk to your non-Christian friends about Jesus being the only way to heaven and they will likely reply, “You can't say that someone who doesn't believe in Jesus will go to hell. You're close minded!” Tell someone else in our own church body, the Missouri Synod, that they shouldn't be giving Communion to just anyone and they will accuse you of meddling and questioning their intentions. In short: the moment you confess that Christ's Word is the truth, the absolute, unchanging, saving Truth, the Devil goes into overdrive to throw his lies at you and wear you down until you just want to give in and say, “It really doesn't matter!” And if the Devil can't get you with that, he'll go after you some other way. Just as the Jews, when they couldn't argue with Christ's Word, became so enraged they grab stones to kill Him!

Brothers and sisters in Christ, take this battle seriously! Repent of any despising of God's Word or not learning that Word which protects and saves you! Here, in Christ's church, where His Word is preached and His holy Sacraments are given out, you need not fear the Devil and his lies. Here you have the Truth of Christ delivered to you from God's Word, the Holy Scriptures. Here in your Baptism, Absolution, Supper and the preaching and teaching of the Scriptures, you have every weapon against the Evil One who seeks to confuse you and lie to you and ultimately murder you. In the end, the Devil is a total fool. He worked so hard through evil men to get a hold of the Son of God and kill Him! And yet it is by that every death that Jesus tramples the Devil and his kingdom and swallows up death in the victory of Easter. You are of God, for you have God's Word. And Christ's Word means that you will not taste death. It's a fact that the Devil hates but that he can't do anything about, for you are safe in Christ Jesus. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

April 9, 2011 - Higher Things "Baptismal ID" Retreat Matins - Psalm 130

Are you ever down in the dumps? Life's the pits? Feelin' low? In over your head? That's all what the psalmist calls “the depths.” The “depths” are the deep places where the devil, the world and our sinful nature overwhelm us. The depths are where you are when your parents are mad at you, your friends stab you in the back, and you're troubled by something you said or did or thought and think that God is mad at you and won't forgive you. Yep. The depths. Not a fun place to be. So what do you do when you're there? Whine? Complain? Cry? Sob? Get in a foul mood? The Psalmist gives us some help: Cry out to the Lord! “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord. Lord, hear my voice. Lord, I'm sinking in the depths! I'm drowning! Going down! Help!”

Look around. Not here. I mean look around those depths. See who else is there? No, not just pretty much every other kid you know. Jesus is there. In the depths. That's right. Right there in the depths with you. Because Jesus knows all about the depths. He knows that down there in the depths, the Devil is swimming around like shark waiting to gobble you up with despair and sadness. So that's where Jesus is. In the depths. To save you. And He can do that because He's been in even deeper depths than you. First of all, even though He's the sinless Son of God, god Himself, He came down to this world, to the depths of where sin lives here among sinners. Then He went even lower. He went to the cross and even though He was lifted up on the cross, He was sunk down in the depths. Our sins were like a great block of concrete or some other weight chained to Jesus dragging Him down into the depths of our sins and God's judgment and finally into death. He went even lower, but this time not to suffer. He descended into the depths of Hell itself to let the Devil know that he has no claim on you. Then He came bursting out of the depths of the grave and was alive again. The depths aren't so deep now, because Jesus has been through them.

So what about your depths? The psalmist says that with the Lord there is forgiveness. With the Lord is abundant redemption. Jesus has pulled you from the depths once. He pulled you out from the depths of sin and death on the day you were baptized and pulled, as it were, from the water. On that day, with water and the Word, your Savior has rescued you from the depths so that even when you think life is the pits, Jesus is right there with you by His Word and your Baptism to rescue you from despair and unbelief and everything else that seems like it's going to completely overwhelm you. Remember what we sang just a bit ago? “The deep places of the earth are in His hands.” Remember that: when you are down in the dumps, the pits, the water's over your head and you are in the depths, the Lord has those in His hand. And that means you in His hand. And that is the hand that was pierced with a nail for you and the hand that splashed the water and Word upon you. It is the hand of Jesus that lifts you up out of the depths and puts you at the highest place alongside Him, where sin, death, devil and hell can't touch you. So when you're in the depths, make the sign of the cross and remember you Baptism and cry out to the Lord. He'll save you. He already has! In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

April 6, 2011 - Wednesday of Lent 5 - Confession and Absolution

The struggle that we face as Christians is NOT one of trying to improve ourselves but rather learning to believe that our sins which would condemn us are truly and completely forgiven in Christ. That needs to be repeated: The struggle of being a Christian is not one where we try to improve ourselves but rather learn to believe that the sins which would condemn us are truly and completely forgiven in Christ. The gift that Christ has given us for this battle and the focus of our Catechism tonight is that of Confession and Absolution. Let's read on page 326 in the hymnal... Now, all of the Gospel and Sacraments—Baptism, Absolution, the preaching of the Gospel and the Lord's Supper—all give us forgiveness of our sins. But each one has something special about it. The special thing about Confession and Absolution is that it is forgiveness targeted to the sins that bother us in particular. My sins aren't the same as your sins and your sins aren't the same as someone else's. So in Confession and Absolution, in particular, PRIVATE Confession and Absolution, the Lord delivers forgiveness to you for the sins which trouble you. You see, the Devil wants you to believe that because of your sins, you're out. Out of God's kingdom. Out of God's family. Out of the church. Out of luck. Doomed. You know what I mean. We have all done something or said something or thought something about which the Devil whispers, “You did, said or through that. You're no Christian. It's Hell for you!” We all have sins of which we're ashamed, or by which we are burdened or bothered. Absolution stands between you and the lie of the devil because by Holy Absolution, the minister that Christ has ordained speaks as Jesus' own representative to declare that your sins are forgiven and not held against you.

So what's the deal with Confession? How does it work? Well, it has two parts. First, we confess our sins. We admit and acknowledge that what the Commandments say we should do we haven't done or that we shouldn't do we did. Now the truth is most people don't like to go to private confession. Why not? Because when you tell the pastor what you've done, you suddenly realize that God really DOES see and know what you've done. As long as we avoid Confession, we can pretend that not even God sees and hears our words and deeds and thoughts even though we say He does. As long as we hang onto our sins and hide them, we think no one, least of all the Lord Himself will know. But when we confess our sins, we come to the awful realization that they are known. They're known to the pastor and God Himself too. But perhaps more than that, we realize that if we are telling our sins to the pastor, they must be really bad. In fact, so bad that they killed the Son of God! Put another way, the sins we confess are the cause of Christ's suffering and death and so we don't like confession because it brings us to the realization not only that our sins are not hidden from God, they are bad enough to kill God! After all, it was for the words we say, and the deeds we do and the thoughts we think the deny God and our neighbor that Christ shed His blood on Calvary and died.

And yet the very sins that caused Christ's death are the very reason He gave Himself up as a sacrifice: to take those sins away! To wipe them out! To blot them out! To forgive them so that they no longer accuse and condemn us. To rescue us from the devil and the eternal punishment we deserved. Notice that when the Catechism talks about the two parts of Confession, it says a few words about Confession but a whole bunch of words about Absolution! Yeah, sure, we confess, we speak what sins are bothering us and admit that we are sinners. But the BIG DEAL, the whole reason for going to confession, is the Absolution. What is Absolution? It's when the pastor forgives our sins and we know that His forgiveness is from Christ Himself. And if that forgiveness is from Christ Himself, not the devil, the world or even our own sinful nature can contradict it or say otherwise. In Absolution, the death of Jesus for our sins and the forgiveness He won is personally and uniquely bestowed upon you, robbing the devil of any chance he has to accuse you! Absolution is the pardon from God just as certainly as if you were a death row inmate and received a call from the governor pardoning you, told you by the warden! Absolution declares that you are free. Forgiven. It's a reminder of what God has given you in your baptism and it's an invitation to come and receive more forgiveness in the Supper too! When you are absolved, you are pardoned by Christ Himself.

Now I know that private Confession and Absolution are often seen as “Roman Catholic.” Sometimes people say to me, “Lutherans do that?” Yes, we do. But the emphasis isn't on your sins. Bring the sins that bother and nag you, the ones the devil is hanging over your head, the ones you can't even admit to another person. Bring those sins and have the comfort and relief of absolution applied directly to you and you alone! To go to Confession is to battle sin the only way we can: in Christ, to defeat sin and take away its power by Christ's forgiveness. Tomorrow your pastor has set times for you to come and confess your sins if you want. Remember, we never say you HAVE to! Confession is a gift, not a law, not a curse, not a burden! If you look at your life according to those Ten Commandments, you'll find something that accuses you! So bring that tomorrow at noon or six o'clock to have it wiped out by Holy Absolution. And when you struggle with that sin, and fall back into it, then come to Confession and be absolved again. Over and over as much as you need. THAT is the real Christian struggle; not that we can fix ourselves but that Christ forgives us and then by that forgiveness gives us His Holy Spirit to work in us to make us love God and our neighbor more and more. And if you've never been to private Confession? No problem. We do it straight out of the book so that we're guided entirely by God's Word. Our Savior left us with this gift, that His pastors loose our sins. So come and make your pastor work! Come and make him do that joyful job of laying his hands on your head and pronouncing that all of your sins are gone for Jesus' sake. For Confession and Absolution are the Lord's gift; one more in His pile of gifts by which He forgives you and strengthens and comforts you unto life everlasting. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Monday, April 04, 2011

April 3, 2011 - The Fouth Sunday in Lent - St. John 6:1-16

Remember back at the beginning of Lent how we heard the devil trying to tempt Jesus. “Turn the stones into bread. Bow down and get all the kingdoms of the world!” We hear something very similar today when Jesus feeds the 5,000. Everyone had as much as they wanted to eat and so they tried to seize Jesus and make Him a king. A King who provides unlimited free groceries. Who wouldn't want to avoid standing in line at Kroger or Wal-Mart if they could? But that's not why Jesus came. And it's not why He fed the 5,000. If we were to go on and hear the rest of John chapter 6, we'd hear Jesus say “I am the Bread of Life” and be talking about forgiveness and salvation, not the all-you-can eat catfish buffet!

Jesus fed the people their daily bread so that He could teach them His Word. But the people got stuck on the bread and fish. That's all they wanted. They chased Jesus around the lake to find Him because they had eaten and been full. That's what they want! A King who will give them whatever they need without them having to work for it. Jesus promises to provide for us our daily bread but people instead think that's all there is to the Christian faith. I can prove this is true by turning on the the TV and seeing a preacher who flat out tells people that if you are a Christian and especially if you give to his “ministry,” you'll have all kinds of “blessings” like money and cars and happiness. It's as if the Word of God is used to lure people in to a religion where it's really about the stuff you can have. But Jesus teaches us not to worry about the stuff because what's most important is His Word. He's got the stuff covered; so really He's rescuing us from a love of worldly things that doesn't give us what we really need. Just as in the desert, He promise to feed and take care of them but they tried hoarding the manna and gathering it on the Sabbath when it wasn't there. Their hearts were turn to the love of the STUFF rather than the Lord and His promises. Stop for a moment and consider what good things the Lord has given you in this life and how much of an idol you make out of them. And repent!

The feeding of the 5,000 gives Jesus the opportunity to talk about true bread. The true bread is not the manna the Israelites ate. That didn't keep them from dying. The true bread is not the barley loaves Jesus multiplied for 5,000 people either. They wouldn't keep them from dying. No, the True Bread is the Bread of Life, which Jesus says is His flesh which is given for the life of the world. Jesus says that to eat His flesh and blood is to have life. What's so special about His flesh and blood? Why is it the Bread of Life? Because it gives life. Consider a loaf of regular bread. Grain is planted in the ground and essentially dies so that it can grow up and produce more grain which is then harvested and crushed and milled and made into flour and into bread; all to give us nourishment. So it is with Jesus. He is crushed for our sins and planted in the ground to become our life. Our bread. By His flesh, we overcome death. That's because His perfect flesh was crucified for our sins and rose again on the third day. But His flesh is not just true bread by analogy or comparison. His flesh IS true bread and food for He gives it to us to eat and drink in the sacrament of the altar. Of course, this is no cannibal way of eating His flesh; it's a sacramental way in which He gives us His Body and Blood to eat and drink when His Words are spoken over the bread and wine. But then they are no mere bread and wine but along with them the Body and Blood of Jesus by which Jesus promises that He will raise us up on the Last Day. His flesh is really given to us in the holy sacrament so that all that He won for us on Calvary is delivered to us.

So let's realize that our daily bread, the things we need for this life, are taken care of. The Lord's got that covered. In most cases, the Lord provides us a job by which we can earn the money to provide daily bread to our families. But when that is not possible, the Lord provides our parents or sometimes our children to help us. Or even our brothers and sisters in Christ. I surely hope that if anyone here fell into such a need, there would be no hesitation among the rest of us to generously provide for them and help them, in much the same way we provide food for children who don't get enough at school. If you consider that even the poor and homeless in our nation are often well fed and have shelter if they want it, you will quickly realize that our Lord is gracious in providing our daily bread. So the Lord is teaching us that He will indeed take care of our bodily needs, our daily bread. And since He does, we just don't need to get all worked up over it or obsessed with it or turn our daily bread into an idol.

Rather, the most important thing that Jesus gives us is His Word and forgiveness. He gives us Himself as the Bread of Life which gives us life way beyond our Pop-tarts and cheeseburgers. The Bread of Life gives us everlasting life by taking our sins away and providing the promise that He will raise us up on the Last Day. By feeding the 5,000, Jesus is teaching us that we just don't have to worry about that stuff; He's got it covered. Rather, our greatest joy and treasure is to be Jesus Himself and His gifts. It's sad how many people even try to be thankful for God's gifts but still neglect the most important. How many do you know who might honestly say they are thankful for what God gives them and yet they are never here in the Divine Service, feasting upon the Bread which will give them everlasting life. There is simply no greater gift that the Lord has for us than to gather us in His church and fill our ears with His Word and our mouths with His Body and Blood. By doing that, He is giving us something far greater than food for our bellies. He is giving us forgiveness of sins and everlasting life. What a promise! The Lord says that those who eat His body and drink His blood will be raised to everlasting life. No wonder the early church fathers named the Sacrament the “medicine of immortality!” This life-giving feast is what the Lord truly has for us. By it we overcome the devil and have eternal life!

So rejoice today that Jesus came not to be a king just for this life, just for our bellies. Rejoice that He has come as the Savior-King, the One who gives His own flesh for the life of the world. He's got all the daily bread stuff covered. Don't worry about that! Jesus has way more for you than your next sandwich! He has forgiveness of sins, eternal life and salvation. He has bread which does not perish and that even keeps you from perishing forever. Thanks be to God for our daily bread but even more so for the Bread of Life! In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

March 30, 2011 - Wednesday of Lent 3 - Holy Baptism

The Ten Commandments are the mirror that teaches us to confess our sins. The Creed teaches us who our Lord is and what He has done for us. The Lord's Prayer is the living out of our life as Christians as we learn to trust our heavenly Father for all things. Now we consider Holy Baptism. Let's read these questions from the Catechism, p.325... These words of Jesus should make it clear: Baptism is something God does, not something we do. It is by Holy Baptism that the blood of Jesus which poured from His side on the cross is sprinkled upon us. It is by Holy Baptism that the Lord marks us with His own name as His own children. It is by Holy Baptism that the death and resurrection of Jesus become OUR death and resurrection. Baptism is our birth from above by water and the Spirit. Baptism is our being born again. It is our new birth and our regeneration and our new creation. Just as after Baptism the pastor writes our names in the church's book, Baptism is the writing of our names in the Lamb's Book of Life in heaven. We could go on. The fact is you just can't say enough about Holy Baptism! But let's consider how we use our Baptism in our daily life.

Baptism says that your sins are forgiven, that you are no longer a part of the devil's kingdom and that you have everlasting life. That's what the Word and water do. Because that is so, we only ever need to be baptized once, never over and over. But since it happens once and very often when we are younger, we may not remember it. The devil wants nothing more than for you to forget about your Baptism. He doesn't want you remembering that you are a child of God. He wants you to forget that you bear God's name upon you by that water and word. He wants you to ignore, forget and despise your Baptism. He comes after us in two ways. First of all he comes at us outwardly by teaming up with the world. He tries to convince us that God either loves us or hates us based on the things going on in our lives. Got a job? Got a raise? Got over some illness? See? God loves you. But then, someone died. You got sick. You lost your job or got bad grades or something really bad happened. God must hate you. He's against you. The devil wants you to judge whether God loves you based on the ups and downs of your life. But he also comes at you inwardly by teaming up with your sinful nature. He likes to tempt you into sinning. Hating. Lusting. Coveting. Lying. Whatever it is. And then the Devil uses those sins against you by saying, “See what you've done? What you've said? What you've even though? God can't love a sinner like you. You're no Christian. You are going to perish eternally!” So both inwardly and outwardly the Devil tries to pile up evidence that God is against you.

That's where Baptism comes in! We know what the Bible says about Jesus and our sins. We know that He died and rose to take away our sins. We also know that He has overcome the world for us. Baptism is God's way of making sure YOU know that all that Jesus did is for YOU. It's a physical proof that Jesus died and rose FOR YOU. And because Baptism is water combined with God's Word, there isn't anything that can contradict it. Therefore when the devil comes along with the world to trick us and say that God is against us because of some bad thing happening, we lay our Baptism against it and say, “It doesn't matter what good or bad things I have or have happen to me. Baptism says I am rescued from all that and God loves me.” Or when the Devil tries to throw our sins in our face we reply, “It's true that on my own I am a sinner; no argument there. But my Baptism says that my sins were taken away by the Lamb of God and that no matter what I've done, I am God's Child.” In other words, Baptism is the antidote for every lie that the devil, the world and your sinful nature tell. The devil can play his games, the world throw disasters at you and your sinful flesh doubt God's Word, but none of those things is more powerful than the Word of God that was attached to that water that was splashed on you at the holy font. Whenever these things come against you, you lay your Baptism against them and the triumph of Christ conquers these things.

The Catechism says that every morning and every evening, we should make the sign of the holy cross and say, “In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” The sign of the cross is no mere superstition! It is a reminder that we are baptized, that we are marked with God's name and belong to Him. Making the sign of the cross is one way to use our Baptism every day, not just think of it as something that happened in the past. The Large Catechism even suggests that when something bad happens, we make the sign of the cross as a reminder that we are not going to let the Devil tell us how it is with God. How it is with the Lord is already established by our Baptism. The sign of the cross is just the reminder that because of that Baptism, nothing in this world can truly harm us, not even death.

Baptism works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil and gives eternal salvation. Is there any better gift than that? Is there any more sure or certain promise that the Lord is on your side? In our Baptism, we have a whole life's worth of God's promises to live in and believe. The power and promise of Jesus Himself and all His power over the devil is all yours because you have been washed with water and the word at the holy font. So whatever the world throws at you, don't worry about it. You're baptized. And that means you are Christ's. And if nothing can take Him down, nothing can take you down either since you are baptized into Jesus. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Your Baptismal name! Amen.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

March 23, 2011 - Wednesday of Lent 2 - The Lord's Prayer

The Ten Commandments are our mirror to show us our sin and to teach us what gifts the Lord gives to us and protects. The Creed lays out for us who God is and what He has done for us. Tonight we consider the Lord's Prayer. There's a lot of confusion out there about how Christians should pray and why we should pray. Too many people learn to pray from TV or movies or babbling preachers who repeat the same words over and over and never seem to say much of anything. When we pray, we struggle to find the words. We might just talk “naturally” except that our minds wander and we never seem to cover everything we need to. But our example for prayer isn't the little girl on a TV show who says “Dear Lord, I know you're busy” or the rambling preacher who says, “Father God” fifty times. Jesus, recognizing that we really have no idea what to ask God for or how to ask for it, teaches us the short and simple words of the Lord's Prayer. There is nothing you can ask for that we don't ask for in the Lord's Prayer. Let me say that again. There is nothing you can pray for that is not prayed for or about in the Lord's Prayer. And before the Lord's Prayer is words on our lips, it's promises that Jesus makes about the Father. To put it another way: He wouldn't tell us to ask for those things if the Father wasn't going to give them to us!

Remember that woman in our Gospel reading this week. She cries out to Jesus as the Son of David to have mercy on her. She KNOWS He's the One to take away the devil's power over her daughter. But if Jesus wants to ignore her and call her a dog, then she'll take that and then demand the crumbs! In other words, she prays and asks Jesus based not on HERSELF but based upon HIS PROMISES and HIS WORD and the kind of Savior He is. And that's what the Lord's Prayer and all prayer are about. Prayer isn't the way that we shift God to think like us and do what we want. It's the way that we are shifted to think like the Lord and receive from Him what He wants us to have. Let me say THAT again too: Prayer isn't getting God over to your way of thinking. It's the Lord's way of bringing us over to HIS way of thinking. Prayer is given to us so that we can learn God's Promises and then learn to live by them. What do I mean? Consider this particular petition of the Lord's Prayer: Deliver us from evil. When we pray that petition we learn to believe that the Lord is the One who delivers us from evil. But how and in what way is up to Him. Take for example our dear Mary Mydler. We prayed fervently that the Lord would deliver her from sickness. Many times He gave her health and strength and she improved and we gave thanks for that. But then she died. Does that mean that the Lord doesn't answer prayer or stopped listening? No, because as we prayed for her we learned to pray that God's will be done, that she be kept in the holy faith of Christ and pass from this life in Jesus, which she did. So either way, we learned that it is the Lord that we call upon in every need. In this way, prayer teaches us that we aren't just focusing on one particular need but that in EVERYTHING, we cry out to the Father to care for us and deliver us.

Consider Jesus' own prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. He prays that the Father take the cup of suffering from Him. He doesn't want to go to the cross. But He prays, “Not my will but Yours be done.” Did the Father not answer Jesus' prayer? Jesus, by praying that way, shows us that it isn't the THING we pray for that is most important but learning to believe and trust in the Lord and that His will is done for us. So Jesus went and suffered and died and rose from the dead and ascended and is crowned with all power and authority. But more than that. His death isn't for His own sake. Because He suffered and took away our sins and because He's raised to life and the right hand of the Father, we know God's promises are true. Just imagine if Jesus said, “Pray all these words that I am teaching you,” and then He died and stayed dead! His Words would be pretty worthless. But since He conquered sin and rose from the dead, we can be certain that the words of the Lord's Prayer that He taught us are true promises that we can rub in the Lord's ear just as this dog woman clung to Him by His Word!

The fact is, prayer does NOT come naturally. We want it to be like chatting with God at a coffee shop or something and that's just not how it works. Sinful by nature, we don't even know what to pray for or how to pray. Now I'm NOT saying it's wrong to use your own words when you pray. But if you're anything like me, your words either ramble and repeat or wander off or just never come to the point. Then prayer isn't about God's promises, it's about me and my wandering heart. That's why when you pray the BETTER prayers are the ones that say simply and clearly what we need based on the simple and clear promises of God. And the BEST prayer we could ever offer is the one that Jesus taught us. Remember, Jesus says NOT to babble like the heathen but RATHER to SAY, the Lord's Prayer! It doesn't matter what is going on in your life or in someone else's or around the world, the words and promises Jesus taught us to pray in the Lord's Prayer will cover it. Consider the horrible tsunami. So we pray the Lord's Prayer and remember the Lord's promise to provide daily bread and deliver from evil. We or someone we love is sick. We pray for the Lord's will to be done and that means not only the daily bread of good health but also the Lord working through His Word to keep us from despair and unbelief while we suffer. Or consider our children. Surrounded by so many dangers we pray that simple promise that the Lord preserve them from the temptations of the Evil One. And so it goes. Whatever we have going on or need to pray about or for, the Lord's Prayer, above all other prayers, gets our thinking in line with the sure and certain promises of Jesus.

So grab hold of those words of the Lord's Prayer and take a hold of the Lord with those words just like Jacob grabbed the Lord and wouldn't let go until He blessed him and the dog lady wouldn't let go of Jesus until He helped her daughter. The death and resurrection of Jesus, your adoption by grace in Holy Baptism, the declaration that your sins are forgiven, and the Body and Blood of Jesus by which He lives in you all testify that the promises He teaches you to cling to in the Lord's Prayer are true and certain and the will of God. So above all other prayers, pray the Lord's Prayer. Learn what its petitions are all about. Pray these Words, as the Catechism teaches, when you get up and before you go to sleep (along with the Creed!) When you pray and you don't know anything else to say, let those words of the Lord's Prayer be your words to grab a hold of the Lord and cry out for mercy. The Lord's Prayer is the way in which we do battle as Christians. It is the way in which we who have learned how to live from the Ten Commandments and what to believe in the Creed call upon the Lord to give us His grace and Spirit so that we will live as we ought and believe as we should and in all things find our help and comfort in His Word and promises. So take hold of the Lord through prayer! He Himself has given you the words to use! What better way to call upon Him than with His own words which He has given you to do exactly that! In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

March 20, 2011 - The Second Sunday in Lent - St. Matthew 15:21-28

We know that the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh are against us, tempting us to turn from the Lord's Word and give in to sin. But what if our problem is with the Lord? What if God is the problem? This Canaanite woman's daughter was possessed by a demon; the devil had control; his evil attacked her daughter and her family. But when she cried out to the Lord, then what? He ignored her! He didn't even answer her! She kept at Him, stalking him, I guess because finally the disciples got annoyed and told Jesus to get rid of her! Can you imagine? Here is the one man who can help this woman's daughter and He's blowing her off like she doesn't exist. Then, as if that's not frustrating or insulting enough, He talks right over her and tells His disciples, “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Talking like she's not even there. And then she falls down to beg Him to help her and He calls here a dog! A DOG! Now I'm pretty sure calling a woman a dog back then is just about as bad as it is today. Just try calling your mother or wife or girlfriend a dog and see what happens! We thought this woman's big problem was that he daughter was demon possessed. It seems like that's small potatoes compared to the treatment she's actually getting from the Lord! And haven't you gotten the same treatment from Him too? You pray and pray and nothing happens. No answer. The Lord ignores you. You see someone else get the result you wished you had and you wonder if God is YOUR God or not! So what about it? What about when the Lord Himself is the One who is our problem?

“Yes, Lord, but even the dogs get the crumbs that fall from the table.” Wait! What? Did that lady just admit to being a dog like Jesus called her? In our day and age, the woman could file libel or harassment charges; perhaps a slap or a nasty post on Facebook! But she agrees! Admits she must be a dog. Not worthy of Jesus. Not worthy of the Jewish Messiah. Not deserving of anything. No claim on Him at all. Except one. She's got one thing that will force His hand. That will compel Him to help. That will make Him save her daughter. What is that one thing? His WORD! When Jesus calls her a dog and she agrees, she's got Him! “OK, Lord, I'm a dog. Fine. But even dogs get crumbs and just crumbs from you will be enough to overthrow Satan's kingdom and save my daughter!” Well there's no getting out of that. Jesus is back against the wall, in the corner. He's trapped by His own words! Notice that this woman has claimed nothing about herself. The only reason she has for Jesus to help her is...Jesus! Because she's a dog but He's the Master and His crumbs will be enough. And so He does what He does: He saves her daughter. With a word, He casts out that demon and rescues this woman and her daughter from the tyranny of the Devil. And says to her: “Great is your faith.” NOT because she's so persistent. This story isn't about the woman; it's about Jesus giving the woman something to trap Him with: His Word. And she grabs a hold of it and does exactly that. And so Jesus does what He does, and is the kind of Savior He came to be.

That's because Jesus came to be the kind of Savior who rescues us from the devil. He rescues from sin and death. That's the kind of Savior He came to be and He can't be any other kind of Savior than that one. From before the foundation of the world, the Lamb has been slain. From the earliest promises the Lord made to Adam and Eve throughout the Old Testament and the promises and pictures of the coming Savior. From His birth of the virgin to His baptism and temptation, to His casting out demons. From His arrest and mocking trial, His scourging and crucifixion and death. From His resurrection and ascension and His future return in glory: From all these things we know: Christ is the one who saves. He is our God and Lord and Savior and Master from whose table even the crumbs save us. Jesus was not born with one purpose but then got sidetracked and ended up at the cross. The cross was always His destination, always the Father's plan. Remember that when it seems as if God isn't listening, that Jesus is always Jesus, always the Savior, always the Lamb who is slain for our salvation.

So what about it? What about when you pray and pray and the beg the Lord for something. To be healed or for someone you know to get better? For overcoming a temptation and sin that you keep sliding back into? For health and protection and the disaster strikes? What do you do as a Christian when it seems that the biggest problem you have in your life isn't the devil or the world or your sinful nature but the Lord Himself not doing anything about them?The answer is that you continue to take Christ's promises and rub them in His ear. That you repent of trying to negotiate with the Lord based on anything in you and go at Him full force based on HIS Word and HIS promises! You've already got some strong promises to cling to: He's the Savior who died on the cross and rose again. “Lord, you gave your life for us! Don't let this person perish! Don't let the devil win here!” He's the Lord who has washed and named you in Holy Baptism. “Lord, don't let go of your servant whom you washed and claimed as your own by water and the Word!” He's the Lord who has absolved your sins! “Lord, don't treat me as my sins deserve! Don't ignore my prayers because of my sins!” He's the Lord who gives not crumbs but His very Body and Blood from His table. “Lord, you have given me Yourself! Hear my prayer and be the Savior that you are!” And never stop taking those promises to His ears and praying, “Lord, save me. Save this person. Help and sustain us. Because you said so! So Lord, end this sickness; Lord deliver me from temptation and sin. Lord, give me your Holy Spirit so that in Christ I overcome every evil of body and soul!”

And know this: The Lord can't be any other Savior than He is. So when will He answer? It may be a long time in coming. It may not be until after death, on the Last Day when we are once and for all delivered from death and sickness and sorrow. Know that when it seems the Lord is ignoring you, or even telling you He's not for you, He's just teaching you to trust in Him all the more. He's teaching you to deny yourself and anything in yourself that you think is worthy of His attention and to have all of your faith and trust solely and completely in Him. Like Jacob, grab a hold of Him and don't let go until He blesses you! So while it may SEEM as if the Lord is against you, it can't be so. All that He does is to work out all good for you in Christ. He can only ever be the Savior that He is. The Savior who saves you. Hold Him to that, dear Christians, for He delights, as with this woman, to be trapped by His own Word and promises. For that Word and those promises declare He will not leave you to your enemies but rescue you from them all. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

March 16, 2011 - Wednesday of Lent 1 - A Sermon on the Apostle's Creed

In these weeks of Lent, we want to learn how the Chief Parts of the Christian faith teach us and how we use them in our daily lives. Last week we heard how the commandments give us a mirror by which we learn to confess our sins and the blessings the Lord gives us. This week we consider the Apostles' Creed. You can find it on the inside back cover of your hymnal. Let's read it together.... Now if one thing is clear from the example of Eve in the Garden of Eden is that the devil will always try to twist and lie about God's Word to confuse us and lead us into temptation and sin. We need to know what God's Word says simply and clearly. Thankfully, the whole Bible can be summed up in what the Lord is doing for us in the words of the Apostles' Creed. Now of course the Creed isn't IN the Bible word for word. However, every word of the Creed, every statement, is drawn from the Holy Scriptures. You could call the Apostles' Creed the “Cliff Notes” of the Bible, summarizing what the most important things are that we are to know about God. In the Ten Commandments, we learn what the Lord wants us to do. But in the Creed we learn what God has done and still does for us. The Creed then becomes our daily defense against despair and the lies and confusion of the Devil.

All around us, the world operates on the assumptions taught by evolutionary science, that is, everything randomly evolved from something else and there is nothing special about man and nothing intelligent or directed about how all things have worked out. Life and happiness are what YOU make them to be and that's about all there is to this life. The Creed guards and protects us from such a despairing way of thinking by drumming into our ears that God the Father has made all things. He not only made them, but He made them for US, since He is our heavenly Father. And He not only made us but still takes care of us. The Creed pulls together all of the stories of the Lord taking care of His people and providing for them and teaches and reminds us that God is our heavenly Father. Not a disinterested “life force” or a “clockmaker” God who just winds up the world and watches it go. No, our heavenly Father is actively involved in this world to make all things work together for the good of those who love Him. Against all the randomness and lack of purpose and importance that science causes for mankind, the Word of God tells us that God is our Father who loves and provides for us in all things.

We are also surrounded by so many different religions which teach so many different ways to God, yet the world says that all religions get you to God. But all the religions of this world teach US how to get to God. Whether it's living a good life, or following the Five Pillars, or keeping the Torah or being born over and over in this world until you live a good enough life to get out, they all are the same: YOU do something to work it all out. But against this, the Creed declares that we have a Savior. God Himself. The Son of God who became man, was born of Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate—a real, historical person—and died and rose again. The Creed pulls together everything that is most important in the Scriptures about what God has done to save us: coming as a man and dying and rising for us to take away our sins. The Creed teaches us and reminds us that the central, most important thing in our faith and religion is not ourselves but Jesus and what He has done for us. Against the religions of the world that all clamor for our attention and tell us what we have to do, the Creed defines the Christian faith in which it is Jesus, God Himself, who does the suffering, dying, rising and saving. And against all the false and misleading lies of the devil about Jesus, the facts are laid out for us to cling to: He came into this world and truly died and rose and will come again.

The Creed also sets us straight on the Holy Spirit. And we need that since the Holy Spirit is so misunderstood and preached falsely in so many churches. The devil tries to get us to see the Holy Spirit as merely our feelings. So if we want to do something or say something, whatever we feel must be the Holy Spirit, even if it's against God's Word! But against all that, the Creed sets forth what the Bible teaches about the Holy Spirit, namely, that He works through God's Word to deliver to us the forgiveness of sins in the Christian church. He's all about uniting us in Christ in the communion of saints, making us holy through the forgiveness of sins. The big deal in our life in the church is not strange miracles like so called “speaking in tongues” or some emotional rush. THAT'S not the Holy Spirit. Rather, as the Creed reminds us, the Holy Spirit is all about the forgiveness of sins that Jesus won for us delivered in Baptism, the Word and the Sacrament of the Altar. And lest we think that we somehow end up when we die just floating around a spiritual heaven on the clouds, the Creed reminds us that the same Spirit who gives us life in Christ will raise our bodies from the dead and we will have everlasting life.

We could go on and on but you get the point: all of the ideas and notions of the religions and this world that are contrary to God's Word and clearly and simply debunked by the words of the Creed. For ages the church has summarized her faith in the words of the Creed, taking comfort in all that God does for her. Now you and I, we are surrounded daily by news reports and TV shows and books and the internet and other people, all of whom the devil uses to fill our head with doubts and questions and strange ideas and philosophies and wrong notions about God and His Word. That is why we must pray the Creed daily. As the Catechism directs, pray it in the morning, fortifying yourself against the nutty ideas that are out there, hearing the Good News of all that God has done and still does for you as you go out into the world to live your life each day. Then pray it again before bed, flushing your mind and heart of all those ridiculous and wacky notions the devil has tried to plant in your mind and heart that day.

The Bible is a big book, but we should hear it and study it and learn it and grow in it. Yet even as we do, we have its most important teachings laid out for us simply and clearly in the Apostles' Creed. In the Creed we have our daily reminder of who God is and what He has done and still does for us so that the devil cannot deceive us and lead us astray. When we hear something whispered by the devil or shouted by the world, we simply compare it to the Creed and see that it is false and go joyfully on our way, not worrying because God's Word does what it says: it keeps and preserves us in the Christian faith. For after all, we hear the Father made us and takes care of us; the Son saved us and pleads for us; the Spirit makes us holy by the forgiveness of sins and will raise us to life everlasting. The Lord has done all this for us and continues to give us every grace and blessing just as the Creed tells us. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.