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.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

March 9, 2011 - Ash Wednesday - The Ten Commandments and Matthew 6:1-6,16-21

I want you to get out your mirrors and look into them. No, not your compacts, ladies. I mean everyone. Your mirror is the Ten Commandments. They're on p.288 in the hymnal. Let's read them together...Those commandments are a mirror. They are not a pair of binoculars to spy on others so that you can see what sins other people are doing. They are a mirror so that you can look at them and see what you are. What do you see? Love God, His name and His Word? No. You don't. So look in the mirror and see the ashes on your head that tell you what you are: dead. Dust. Doomed. Do you honor your parents? Keep from harming others even with your words? Lust after those the Lord hasn't given you? Honor and love your spouse? Take what doesn't belong to you? Gossip and talk about others? Covet and daydream about things you don't have? No, you don't love your neighbor either. What does the mirror show? Ashes. You're dead. You're dust. You're doomed. This is the holy Law of God. Those who don't keep it will suffer everlasting death and judgment. That's what the Law says will happen.

But it gets worse. The Commandments don't condemn us because we don't keep some rules. As if God just said one day, “Hmm, what are ten rules I can come up with and smite people when the don't follow them?” No, the Ten Commandments condemn us because Jesus says that our hearts will be where our treasure is and the Ten Commandments show us where our treasure is NOT. God Gives us Himself. You want other things to be more important. God gives us His name. You don't pray and call upon it. He gives us His Word. You ignore, fail to study and grow in it. He gives us parents and children but we despise them and wish we had others. He gives us life, but we take it from others with our words and actions. He gives us our spouses but we lust after other people. He gives us our possessions but we try to take what doesn't belong to us and don't help others keep what is theirs. He gives us our reputation which we love to preserve while tearing down someone else's. He gives us contentment by promising to take care of us but we daydream and covet other things, always wanting more, never satisfied with what our Father in heave gives us. Get it? Our biggest problem is not that God gives us rules and we can't keep them. Our real problem is the Lord gives us an abundance of treasure in Himself and others and we could care less. We despise and want other things. And the punishment of the Ten Commandments is this: If you don't want the things God gives you, you don't have to have them. And you can spend eternity with yourself apart from God with all the others who don't want those things either. That's a pretty ugly face to see when we look in that mirror!

So the Lord gives every good thing to us and we love the things of this world more than Him. So He sentences us to turn back into dust. But there is love even in that curse. Look in the mirror. See the ashes? It's a reminder you will be dust again one day. It's a reminder that you won't last. That the things of this world won't last. The Lord teaches us in our sins that we cannot save ourselves. We can't cheat death or avoid it. And there is nothing we love so much on this earth that won't likewise pass away no matter what or who it is. The treasures of this world, our money and things and people, these get eaten by moths and rust and stolen and fade away. Ash Wednesday is the reminder that when you strip it down and take away all the things we love so much, other people, and the money and things of this world, and finally, most of all, ourselves, none of it can be relied upon. The only thing left is the Lord. If we would be saved, if we would be rescued from our sins, if we would overcome the death that awaits us, it's all on Him to do it and to save us.

Look in the mirror again. See the ashes? But what shape? The cross. The cross is the sign that God has done something about our sins. In the Old Testament, one of the sacrifices and ceremonies that took place was the making of the water of purification. To make the water of purification, the priest sacrificed a heifer, and burned it along with cedar wood, scarlet thread, and hyssop. The ashes of all this were then mixed with water, to be a water of purification. The symbolism and picture is obvious isn't it? Jesus, mocked in a scarlet, is then sacrificed on the wood of the cross to pay the price for our sins. The punishment that the Lord sets upon us for our sins—death--is the punishment He Himself undergoes for us. For us, who treasure everything else but what we should, our Savior Jesus makes His treasure this one thing: doing the will of His Father; saving sinners. Jesus treasures His Father because we don't. Jesus is the sacrifice that purifies us. The dust reminds us of death. But the ashes remind us of mercy. God's mercy to us through His Son Jesus Christ!

Just as the ashes of the heifer and the items were mixed with the water, so it is the sacrifice of Jesus, the blood He shed which is mixed with the water of the font to become a purifying water, a water that washes away sins. We have looked into the mirror of the Law and seen the ashes of our dust and death. What can take that away? What can save us? The Law doesn't make us pure and holy. It can't. It only shows us that we're not. So we wash with the water of purification. Washed in the water and word of Baptism. The words of Absolution. The Body and Blood of Christ's Supper. How can you be sure that the cures of death upon you has been lifted? That you will beat death? Because you're been purified by the blood of Christ. The font is open tonight. As you come up for the Sacrament, why not splash your fingers in that water and make the sign of the cross? Remember the waters of purification that have been made by the sacrifice of the Lamb of God for you. And, dare I suggest it? If some of that water is marked on your forehead and washes off your ashes? A reminder that through Holy Baptism we have the victory of our Lord over sin and death and the curse. A reminder that the treasure the Lord gives us in Holy Baptism is greater than any treasure that is passing away in this world!

So you check yourself in the mirror every day before you go to work or school or out and about. Hair combed, nothing in your teeth, right? Check yourself in the mirror of the Lord's commandments each day. And whatever sins and blemishes you find there, wash them off with the remembrance of your Baptism. In this way, learn to use the Ten Commandments to prepare yourself for confession of your sins. But learn also to use them as your treasure list, to daily see the good gifts the Lord gives you. Learn to see these commandments as the true and trustworthy guide in how the Lord wants you to live toward Him and toward others. And yes, doing that will eventually show you how ugly your sin makes you. So its more washing with the remembrance of Holy Baptism. And that's the Christian life, that we struggle against the sin which despises what God gives and are purified by the sacrifice of Jesus which takes away our sins. Ash Wednesday calls to mind our death and dust. But the purifying waters of Jesus triumph over that. So we can't help but say, “Happy Lent!” In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Monday, March 07, 2011

March 6, 2011 - Catechesis at Bethel: What is Lent?

Lent is a season in the Church Year which focuses upon the Passion (suffering and death) of Jesus to accomplish our salvation. Lent is often called a “penitential” season because of the emphasis on repentance. Remember, however, that “repentance” also includes faith in Christ for the forgiveness of sins. So the emphasis in Lent isn't US and OUR sins, but JESUS and His giving Himself as the Lamb of God to take away our sins.

Historically, Lent has had different meanings and purposes. At one time, it was a period of “discipline” for those who had sinned publicly and were waiting to be publicly absolved and readmitted to the fellowship of the church. In other times, it has had a Catechism emphasis, being the time when catechumens were instructed in the faith in preparation for Baptism and Confirmation at the Easter Vigil. The best understanding of Lent is that it is about Jesus and what He suffered to save us. In worship, we forego the joyous sound of “alleluias” until Easter and our hymns will concentrate more than ever on Jesus' saving work as the sacrifice for our sins.

The Season of Lent is 40 days long. (Sundays in Lent are not counted and neither are Good Friday and Holy Saturday). These 40 days remind us of the 40 days of the rains of the Flood, the 40 years the Israelites wandered in the desert, and the 40 days Jesus was in the wilderness being tempted, among other “40s” in the Scriptures. These times remind us especially about the battles we face in this life and that we trust in the Lord to fight for us against our enemies and provide for us until we reach the safety of eternal life.

Three particular Christian practices are emphasized in Lent. Lent is seen as a time of extra prayer. During Lent and throughout Holy Week, the Church has extra times for worship so that we can give more attention to the preaching of Christ and the Sacrament of His Body and Blood. Lent is also a good time to practice daily prayer in our personal devotions. A simple order of prayer is available right in the Small Catechism (p.327 in the hymnal).

Fasting or abstaining is another Lenten discipline. Fasting means not eating for a length of time. Abstaining means not eating certain foods or, as is the more modern custom, “giving something up.” The point of these practices is NOT to deny ourselves some pleasure but to remind ourselves that Christ is our true bread and that the food of this world does not last. Sometimes meat (which really includes fish, too!) is not eaten on Fridays as a simple reminder that our Lord suffered in His flesh on a Friday. It's a devotional reminder of our Lord's suffering, again, not to deprive ourselves, but to focus our attention and meditation upon our Savior.

Almsgiving or works of charity are another type of Lenten practice. Here we learn again to crucify our own sinful flesh and its desires by remembrance of our Baptism and instead use our time or money for the benefit of our neighbor. You might take money that you would otherwise spend on something for yourself and use it for your neighbor in some way or practice loving your neighbor by helping them in some way.

Remember, the purpose of Lent is never to make ourselves miserable or focus on how sorry we are. When Lent is about US, then it's a gloomy season indeed! Rather, there is a subtle joy in Lent because even though the suffering and death of Jesus are quite awful and caused by our sins, it is exactly to save us from our sins that He underwent His Passion. Therefore we don't have to mope or seem subdued in Lent. Rather we can smile and be happy, knowing that Lent is all about what our Savior accomplished!

Lent begins with Ash Wednesday, the day we are reminded that the curse of sin is death, and that we will one day die and become dust once again. Yet this very reminder of our mortality because of sin kicks off a season in which we hear with great joy the work of our Savior Jesus to rescue us from sin and death. So Happy Lent, because of Jesus!

Saturday, March 05, 2011

March 6, 2011 - Quinquagesima - St. Luke 18:31-43

How many times did the Lord tell His disciples that He had to go to Jerusalem to be handed over, mocked, spit upon, flogged, and killed and then rise the third day? And they still didn't get it! They didn't understand what He was saying, what He was talking about. It was hidden from them. Sometimes when Jesus told them what was going to happen, they were afraid to even ask what He meant. Other times they gave up and instead argued about which of them was greatest. “Do you understand what Jesus is talking about?” “No.” “Me either.” “So anyway, which of us do you think is top dog?” How about us? We've heard it all before. Jesus suffers and dies and rises again. We hear it in every sermon. Most of us have heard it our whole lives. But do we get it? Do we understand what Jesus is saying? What He did? We can hear over and over and over that Jesus is true God and man who suffered and died and rose. And yet we still have notions in our heads that we somehow please God by what we do. Or that Jesus was just a good teacher. Or that it doesn't matter how we live. Or that somehow we need to have a God other than the one who suffered and bled and died and rose for us. The fact is, from pastor on down, we live as if we haven't heard it before or that we don't get what it means for our faith and life.

Contrast that with the blind man that Jesus runs into outside Jericho. This man, when he finds out it's Jesus going by cries out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me!” He's heard of Jesus. He knows who Jesus is, the Son of David, the promised Savior, and He knows Jesus can heal Him. Even when the crowds try to shush him, he just cries out louder, “Lord, have mercy!” Nothing will stop this guy from having His Jesus save him and help him. And Jesus does have mercy on this poor man. He opens his eyes and gives him his sight. And this man probably has heard somewhere that Jesus is on His way to die. You'd think now that his eyes were opened he could see Jesus for what He is and run the opposite direction. But instead he follows Jesus. Follows Him toward His suffering and death. The disciples have heard Jesus over and over talking about His suffering and death and resurrection and they don't get it. This blind man receives his sight and follows after Jesus. That's quite a contrast! Disciples with hard hearts compared to a blind man who sees and “gets” it and gos with Jesus.

Because when it comes down to it, the only Jesus that saves us is the One who is handed over, spit upon, mocked, scourged, killed and rises again the third day. The only Savior who saves is the One who suffers and dies in our place. People don't want that kind of God. A seemingly weak, suffering, crucified God. But nothing else saves us from our sins. Nothing else removes from us the curse that would otherwise leave us cast out from God forever. Nothing else but the Son of God crucified for sinners will shut down the accusations of Satan against us. When Jesus tells His disciples over and over that He must suffer and die, He is teaching them what sort of a Savior He will be. And when we hear it preached over and over that Jesus suffered and died and rose, we are learning by God's Spirit to trust in no other God than the One who became man and did what it seems God should never do: die. But that's what He did for us.

So the blind man knew that Jesus could save him and so he cried out even when the crowd was against him. Do you pray like that? Do you cling to Christ like that? When we come to the Divine Service, and Christ Himself passes by in His Word and Body and Blood, are we “ho humming” in our hearts as if it's just the same ol' same ol' or do we cry out with the blind man, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” And Jesus does have mercy on this blind man. I get to study God's Word and preach Christ all the time and yet it feels like I'm just preaching the same old sermon. What we need is our eyes to be opened by Jesus. And that's exactly what He's doing when He washes us at the font, absolves us of our sins, speaks His Word into our ears and gives us His Body and Blood to eat and drink. By the same Word that said to the blind man, “Receive your sight,” The Lord tells us, “Receive your sight. Your sins are forgiven. You are the Lord's. This Savior who suffers and dies and rises has done all that for you.” When we come to church, we are doing exactly what the blind man does: crying out for Jesus to have mercy on us. And His answer is, “Your faith, your Jesus has saved you,” for here in His church, the Lord is opening our eyes and forgiving our sins and granting us eternal life.

But a Savior who suffers for us means being disciples who will suffer with Him. The blind man who could see probably presumed he would go and suffer whatever Jesus might. Maybe he did. Maybe he was later killed by those who hated Jesus. We don't know for sure. But we do know that those who follow Jesus will die. You've already died. Died to sin. And you die daily, meaning life isn't about YOU but about the people around you who need you. To be a Christian is to die to yourself, to crucify by the daily remembrance of Holy Baptism that Old Adam who only thinks about Himself. But more than that it may mean that we literally suffer and die with Jesus. Already around the world our brothers and sisters in Christ are tortured and killed for confessing Jesus. Who knows but that our time may come too. But now, our eyes have been opened and along with his disciples after Easter, we know what His suffering and death is all about. Now it's not just words and nonsense but it means something. Now we know that our Lord's suffering and death has rescued us from anything in this life that can hurt us. There is nothing to fear and we can follow Jesus, not blindly! But with open eyes, crying out to Him to have mercy upon us and trusting that He will do exactly that.

Now the season of Lent is coming. Ash Wednesday is this Wednesday. It's the time of our open eyes following Jesus to the cross for us. It's the time of learning to die to sin, crucifying the sinful flesh and cling to Jesus. Lent is the time when our open eyes are off of ourselves and fixed on Him because He goes to be handed over, mocked, spit upon, scourged, killed and to rise the third day. That's our God. That's our salvation. We've heard it countless times before and we'll hear it countless times again. Because it is that Good News that He has done all that for us that saves us, gives us victory over all evil in this world, and bestows upon us everlasting life. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

March 2, 2011 - Wednesday of Sexagesima - Isaiah 55:10-13

Hollywood spends millions producing so-called “reality” shows which are often quite scripted and not real at all. And even if they are not scripted the editing that goes into these shows to produce a certain effect is enormous. Just so companies spend millions on trying to persuade us to buy their products. But just because we see an ad doesn't mean we'll buy whatever is being sold. All over our lives we can see examples of the way in which we try to control things and make people do what we want and make things come out the way we want and it can still fail. But compare that to God's Word. He sends His Word and it does what it says. Consider for a moment the power of God's Word. He speaks and calls forth creation out of nothing. He establishes a kingdom with a word and tears down another. He pronounces judgment and punishment that cannot be avoided. He promises grace and every blessing and people are blessed. Just listen to that promise from the prophet Isaiah: “As the rain and snow water the earth and it produces a harvest, so the Lord's Word goes forth and does accomplishes the things for which He sent it. And no longer will their be briers but myrtle trees.” The promise is that wherever God's Word goes, the curse of thorns and judgment against sin is overcome.

It was God's Word that created man from the dust of the earth and Eve from Adam's rib. It was abandoning that Word that caused mankind to fall into sin. It was God's Word that promised a Savior someday to Adam and Eve and it is His Word which goes forth to save sinners. After all, when we are talking about the Word, we are most of all talking about Jesus, the Son of God who is the Word of God made flesh. What does God have to say? He says, “Jesus.” The Son conceived in Mary's womb by God's Word and born according to the promises of God's Word. The Savior who preached God's Word of mercy for sinners. The Word of God that spoke God's love and forgiveness from Calvary when He was nailed to the tree, wearing those thorns, that sign of the curse. Jesus crucified wearing thorns teaches us that the Word that brought the curse against sin has taken the curse Himself so that the Word which curses us for our sins would be instead the word that forgives our sins.

And now that Christ is risen, He still sends His Word into the world to do what it says: save sinners. There is the Word that is attached to the water of the font that says your sins are washed away. There at the font is no symbol but the work of God being carried out: the Lord Himself making a new creation and claiming you as His own, rescued from death and the devil. The Word of Holy Absolution declares that your sins are forgiven and nothing in heaven or on earth or hell itself can say otherwise. Your guilt is pardoned. The Word is preached and read from the Holy Scriptures. There we have the promises of God laid out from the beginning of time and even after our Fall into sin. In that Word we have repeated for us the Lord's mercy in sending His Son to be our Savior and take away our sins. Done deal! Then there is the Word of Jesus that makes present His true Body and Blood to eat and drink for forgiveness, life and salvation. Over and over in His church, the Word comes to us and does what it says: it forgives, it makes new, it gives life, it promises hope and blessings, it rescues us from despair and sadness. The Word of God comes forth and waters us so that live ever in Christ.

Now since the Word of God does all those things, why would we dare despise it? Neglect it? Ignore it? When we plant something, we don't just leave it to wither and die. We water it and fertilize it so that it grows. Why then would we neglect the water of God's Word which causes us to grow? Here we ought to pause and examine our lives and ask ourselves: What is it that keeps me from being in church more often to hear God's Word? What is it that keeps me from studying and learning and growing in God's Word? What is it that hinders me from paying attention when God's Word is preached and read? Here are all kinds of opportunities to repent of neglecting and despising God's Word. In fact, here is our encouragement to pray that the Lord would continue to provide us His Word and do what it promises, that is, forgive our sins and keep us in the faith. And since we have that promise we can pray boldly that His Word will do exactly that!

Who knows how a show will end or if an ad on TV will persuade you to buy anything? But the Lord's Word is not uncertain like that. It is given to save sinners and that's exactly what it does. It is the Word that bestows what it says: forgiveness of sins, faith, life, salvation, a clean heart, the blessings of communion with God Himself. Whatever is promised in God's Word His Word gives. Whatever gifts His Word says we have, we have! For the Lord's Word goes forth and it doesn't return empty. It gives and does what it promises and therefore it is the most sure and certain thing our Lord has given us. For the Word gives us Christ and there is nothing more sure and certain than Him. God's Word says Jesus is for you. His Word says you are His. So you are. Because He said so and that's the kind of Word God has. Not uncertain and wishy-washy. Sure and certain. Rock solid. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.