Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Sunday, December 28, 2008 Christmas I Luke 2;22-40

And when, were fulfilled, the days of their purification, according to the Law of Moses, they brought Him into Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord; just as it is written in the Law of the Lord that ALL MALES WHICH OPEN A WOMB "HOLY TO THE LORD" THEY ARE TO BE CALLED, and to the giving of a sacrifice according to what was said in the Law of the Lord, A PAIR OF TURTLEDOVES OR TWO YOUNG PIGEONS. . And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, His mother, "Look This One is appointed for a falling and a rising of many in Israel and as a sign spoken against. And also, of your own soul, a sword will pierce through, so that the reasonings from many hearts will be revealed." And Anna, a prophetess was there, a daughter of Phanuel, out of Asher's tribe; this one had gone forth for many days, having lived with a husband seven years from her virginity, and herself a widow up to 84 years, who did not withdraw from the Temple, with fasting and petitions worshiping night and day. And she, in that hour, came up thanking God and speaking concerning Him to all those expectantly awaiting Israel's redemption.

The event of today's Gospel seems rather irrelevant as Jesus is presented to the Temple. Every first-born male child since Moses' day had to have this done for him, so that his parents could buy him back from the Lord. Since Passover, each 1st-born boy belonged to God, and had to be redeemed at the price of pure lamb. Yet, because God knew that a poor young couple starting out, like Mary and Joseph, couldn't afford such a sacrifice, two doves or pigeons could substitute for the usual lamb.

What appears as a rather ordinary event of the day, actually has great significance. The presentation of Jesus was considered so important in the early church that it was celebrated as a Festival on February second. Although it now plays second-fiddle to a ground-hog, it is still a holiday honored among Christians to this day. This day is significant for Jesus as a human, born under the Law to keep it in our stead. It was also important for Jesus as God, since it points to His divine work as our Redeemer.

The redemption of Christ Jesus was quite unique indeed. For Jesus was God by Whom all things were created. The redemption payment was to God, yet in this case, the payment was for God. Yet God is veiled here, hiding behind the countenance of the 40 day old infant Jesus. It is according to His human nature that he must be bought back from God so Mary and Joseph can raise Him as their own. Yet there is absolutely no mention of the lamb as redemption payment.

The presentation of Jesus is an event which shows Jesus redemption at the price of two small birds. But it is also an event which foreshadowed your redemption at the price of the Lamb of God, Who takes away the sins of the world. No lamb bought Jesus His freedom. But a spotless Lamb would be the price paid at the cross of Calvary by which you are redeemed. You are bought back to God, freed from the shackles of sin, death and the devil which had held you fast, by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

So what do you think of the presentation of Jesus for you? Do you value your own redemption at such a great price of His sacrificed body and shed blood on the cross? Or does that day seem so very far away, since it was almost 2000 years ago? Can you treasure your gift of liberty and life purchased so long ago, in the distant past? Are you tempted to dismiss your redemption at the price of the life of the Lamb of God, either taking it for granted, or considering it a past act to be long forgotten.

Your Redeemer remains active in your life now, that the freedom from sin, death & Satan He wrought at the cross be delivered to you this day! Your Redeemer washed your sins away in Baptism, and makes it a daily bath for you in His gifts of contrition and repentance. Your Redeemer speaks to you through the mouthpiece of your pastor, who reads, preaches, and proclaims your sins forgiven with Jesus' Own words. Your Redeemer feeds you a new Passover meal, from His body and blood of forgiveness.

Ironic, that the Redeemer needed to be redeemed Himself. He was bought back at a relatively cheap price to live under God's Law and keep it perfectly in your stead. You, however, were not redeemed at such a small price, not even by silver and gold, but by your Redeemer's holy precious blood and innocent suffering and death. Jesus not only has brought you back to God, He has bought you back to God at the greatest price! For He Who was Himself redeemed, has redeemed you forevermore. Amen.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Thursday, December 25, 2008 Christmas Day John 1:1-18

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and God was the Word. This One was in the beginning with God. All things through Him came to be, and without Him came to be not one thing which came to be; In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men; and the Light in the darkness shines and the darkness did not overtake it.
There came to be a man, sent on a mission by God, whose name--John. This one came for a witness, in order that he might witness concerning the Light, that all might believe through him. That one was not the Light, but in order that He might witness concerning the Light. The Light, the true one, which enlightens all men was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world through Him, came to be, yet the world did not know Him. To His own He came, and those who were His own did not receive Him. But as many as did receive Him, He gave to them the right to become God's children, to those who believe in His Name. Who, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of a man, but of God were born! And the Word came to be flesh and tabernacled in us, and we saw his glory, glory as the only-begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.

About once a year, one of my confirmands will pose the question, "When did God make Jesus?" Usually, they are a bit startled to find out that God didn't make Jesus, but that Jesus is the God Who made everything. Back in the beginning, when God the Father spoke the Word: "Let there be light", the Son was the very Word which brought all things into existence. The second Person has always been there, within the Triune God, eternally begotten of His Father, and from Whom the Spirit has always proceeded.

But then things changed. People failed miserably to be God's Own. Adam and Eve rebelled by eating the forbidden fruit, and the Israelites couldn't even keep the first of the commandments, worshiping a golden calf. God's Son had worked to create them, but they quickly disowned Him as their God. Their feelings and thoughts, their words and actions betrayed their unfaithfulness to their Creator. God was faithful toward them, but they were not in return. They now dwelt in the darkness of their own sins, unable to see.

So that is when God decided to let the second Person of the Trinity be more than just *begotten* of His Father. Now He would also be born of His mother in the incarnation. Like we are called carnivores, who like to eat the flesh of animals as meat, Jesus took upon Himself human flesh. He came into the darkness of this world, born not only as God, but also as a human being like you and me. He came to be seen by people as a Light in the darkness of their sinful state, to enlighten all mankind.

It is astounding how God chose to manifest Himself down on earth. He had come before in the scary summit of Sinai, causing the people to dread His presence. But here, He comes in a hidden fashion, God clothed in the never-scary body of a baby boy named Jesus. The shepherds who cowered in fear at the appearance of just one angel, had no fear at all before a God who is born in a manger. God came down in the guise of sinful flesh, so that He could live like us, and eventually die for us as well.

Jesus came down so that you could be what He was, born as a Son of God. He makes you children of your heavenly Father as well, when you are born again of water and the Spirit. In Holy Baptism, your dark sins are cleansed from you, so that you can be made children of the Light. For you have been born anew, born from above, not like when your parents wanted you to be their child, for now you are born a Son of God like Jesus. You too are born of God, and are His children forevermore!

Jesus also came down incarnate in human flesh so that He could be in you in a special way. He came down to earth to *tabernacle* in you. Just as God's glorious presence was in the holy of holies in the Tabernacle of Israel, so too is Jesus' glorious presence given to be present in you today. For He takes His body of flesh and gives it to you to eat in the bread of holy communion. In the Lord's Supper, the incarnate Christ tabernacles in you, bringing you His forgiving & saving presence.

The ever-living God takes upon Himself human life as well on this day. He does it so that He might be our life which we forfeited by sinning. The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God in Christ Jesus is eternal life. In blessed exchange, He takes your sins upon His flesh at the cross of Calvary, and suffers death there in your place. So that what He earned by His glorious sin-free life might be yours–life eternal. For Jesus, the eternal God, has eternal life in Him, and shines that light of life upon you this day. You behold this glorious life, full of grace and truth, by the eyes of faith, trusting in Jesus–your incarnate Savior.

December 24, 2008 Christmas Eve Luke 2:1-14

And it happened in their being there the days were fulfilled for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her son, the Firstborn, and wrapped Him in swathing cloths and set him down in a manger, because there was not a place for them in the guest room. And shepherds were in the same region staying outside and watching guard in the night over their flock. And an angel of the Lord approached them and the glory of the Lord shown around them and they were afraid, with great fear. And the angel said to them, "Stop fearing, for look, I am proclaiming a good message to you--great joy which will be for all the people: that born to you today--a Savior which is Christ the Lord, in David's town. And this, to you, the sign: you will find a baby swaddled and lying in a manger." And unexpectedly there happened to be with the angel a numerous army of heaven, praising God and saying, "Glory in highest places to God, and upon earth peace on men--good will." And it happened as the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to each other, "Let's go through, then, immediately to Bethlehem and let's see this word which has occurred, which the Lord has made known to us!" And they went, hurrying, and discovered Mary and Joseph and the Baby lying in the manger; And having seen, they made known concerning the word spoken to them concerning this child. And all those having heard were amazed concerning the things spoken by the shepherds to them. Yet Mary kept guarding all these words; she kept pondering in her heart. And the shepherds returned glorifying and praising God upon all they heard and saw, just as it was spoken to them.

We have spent this Advent season contemplating the canticles which Luke recorded in his gospel. Zechariah's song at the birth of John the Baptist, Mary's song after she conceived the Savior, and Simeon's song as Jesus was presented to the Temple. And so we have journeyed through the 1st, the 2nd and the 4th canticle of Luke's gospel. But what of the 3rd? Well, that one cannot be called an Advent canticle, because it is the Christmas song from the words of the angel army to the shepherds.

Of all these canticles, the Gloria in Excelsis seems the oddest. It comes from an army of angels, so fearsome that just one of them making an appearance is enough to scare these poor shepherds out of their wits. This army was necessary, for no doubt Satan and all his demons were poised to pounce against the Savior as soon as He would be born. This angel army had a battle on its hands, to be sure, but for this brief moment, they proclaim not warfare, but peace to these simple shepherds.

An army sent to proclaim peace? This seems completely backwards! But it is not the kind of peace that most people would expect. God is not promising here that all nations would beat their swords into plowshares and all wars between peoples on earth would cease. Far from it. Such a horizontal peace between peoples will never occur until the last day. The peace these angels declared was a vertical peace, come down on earth from heaven above. It was God's peace with mankind. Why was such a peace so significant for us people? Because God has every reason to be anything but peaceful with such rebellious sinners like us. You know your own heart, which desires what you want, and could often care less about what others need, or what God's will is. The rebellion of our human nature has put a big rift between us and our holy, righteous God. God's wrath was upon us, and the guilt, the blame, and the punishment for our sins was an impending doom we would await.

But God didn't want to continue having hostility toward lawbreakers like us. So He did the unthinkable; the Father sent His eternally begotten Son from His right hand in heaven, down to earth to be humiliated! He conceived Him in Mary's womb, and caused Him to be born in the likeness of sinful flesh. But He inherited no sin from His daddy like we do, for His Father was the perfect God above! So He could do what you & I couldn't; He kept our half of the covenant, obeying God's Law.

But that's only part of what it meant for Jesus to be your Savior. He not only stood in your stead as Law-keeper for you, but then He also willingly took your place at the cross, suffering the punishment of your death in His Own person on the tree. There, God died so that mankind might live! All the Father's wrath: His anger and hatred against sin was poured out in full upon Jesus that day.

This is peace on earth. It is God's good-will. For in Christ Jesus, the whole world is reconciled to God the Father. The Savior born this day is God's good-will toward you. Jesus is your Peace on earth.

Monday, December 22, 2008

December 21, 2008 Advent IV John 1:19-28

And this is the witness of John, when the Jews of Jerusalem sent priests and Levites on a mission to him, in order that they ask him,"Who are you?" And he confessed and did not deny, yet confessed that "I myself AM not the Christ." And they asked him, "What, then, Are you Elijah?" And He said, "I am not." "Are you the Prophet?" And he answered, "No." Then they said to him, "Who are you? In order that we give an answer to those who sent us; what do you say concerning yourself?" He said, "I myself--a voice crying in the wilderness, `Straighten the way of the Lord,' just as Isaiah the prophet said." And some of the Pharisees were sent on a mission, and they asked him and said to him, "Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah nor the Prophet?" John answered them saying,"I baptize in water; In your midst stands One Whom you do not know, One Who comes after me, of whom I am not worthy, in order that I loosen the strap of His sandal.

Today's Gospel shows us a great opportunity for confession. Not the confession of sins, which is also important, but the confession of faith in Christ. John boldly makes his confession, which includes two things: what isn't true, and also what is true. All true confessions do the same thing. When we confess Jesus as the Christ, along with John, we admit what we ourselves are not, and also what Jesus is in our place. That way our confession contains the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

Such confessions of faith are not very popular today. Nowadays, folks are all about saying what they think is true, but rarely do they condemn the false beliefs which are untrue. In this so-called post-modern age, tolerance is all the rage. "I believe my truth, and you have your truth, and neither one of us will condemn the other's differing beliefs." This is more than simply respecting differences of opinion. This is embracing the notion that the truth we confess is not any better than the falsehood our neighbor believes.

Praise God that John didn't fail us in his confession. Many wanted him to be the promised Messiah. He could have said, "y'all can believe I'm the Christ if you want to" in the spirit of tolerance...but He didn't. He emphatically denied having any Messiah complex about himself. In fact, John had such humility that he didn't view himself worthy of doing even the lowest slave task for Jesus. So humble was John that he didn't even recognize the prophesy of Elijah's return to prepare Christ's way, as applying to himself.

So how is your own confession of Christ Jesus? Do your everyday words give Him the glory that is due? God gives you opportunities for confession quite often. Does your demeanor betray you as a Christian, so that others will ask you for the reason for the hope you have? Or are your words and actions each day seem to have little difference from those unbelievers all around you? Perhaps you are too uncomfortable to make a bold and confident confession of Christ Jesus to your friends, neighbors, relatives and co-workers.

One reason you may lack confidence is that you don't know enough about your faith to give a good answer to those with questions. So, come to bible class! Review your faith with the pastor the next time an adult instruction class is offered. Make time from your busy schedules to attend the special worship services here at holiday time to be fed more from God's Word. Dust off your Catechism and review it once more. Get a Book of Concord and read (or re-read) about your Lutheran confession of faith.

For the Word of God is a great blessing to you. It forgives your sins whenever the Pastor proclaims Jesus' Gospel love to you from lectern, pulpit and in the sacrament of holy absolution. It is the same Gospel word which John and later Jesus connected with water to forgive you & bestow God's name upon you as His Own. It is the same Gospel word which Christ attaches to simple bread and wine, placing therein His Own body and blood, given and shed for you for your forgiveness at the Cross of Calvary.

Strengthened by this Word of God in so many ways, God Himself makes you confident in your personal confession to say the same things as God does in Holy Scripture. You may then confess the negatives along with John, that you also are not the Christ, for your ways are not the same as God's ways. Where you stray from the path God has set for you, your confession is a humble one concerning yourself. There you confess your sinfulness before your holy and righteous God and Father in heaven..

You then may confess also the positives about your Savior, Christ Jesus: that He, unlike you was perfect, keeping the Law in your place, earning eternal life in heaven for you...that He willingly took your place at the Cross, dying your death so you could live His life in glory above...that He has rescued you from sin, death & the devil as the great I AM, the LORD God Who has triumphed at the Cross. Amen.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

December 14, 2008 Advent III Matthew 11:2-10

And John, having heard in the prison the works of the Christ, having sent through his disciples, he said to Him, "Are You Yourself the One coming, or will we wait for another?" And He answered: Jesus said to them, "Having gone, announce to John what you are hearing and seeing; blind receive sight and lame walk, lepers are cleansed and deaf are hearing, and dead are being raised up, and the beggarly are being evangelized; and blessed is whoever does not fall into a death trap on account of me. And as these were going, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John, "Why did you go out into the desert? To see a reed by the wind shaken? But what did you go out to see? A man clothed soft & fancy? Look, those wearing what is soft & fancy are in the houses of kings! But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes I say to you, and much more than a prophet! This it is, concerning whom has been written, "Look, I Myself send on a mission my angel before your face, who will prepare Your way before You. Amen, I say to you: there has not arisen among those born of women greater than John the Baptizer; but the one lesser in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he is.

What is going on with John the Baptizer?!. He was the one who boldly confessed Jesus, as the Lamb of God Who came to take away the sins of the world! John knew Who Jesus was, compared to him. He boldly confessed that he was not worthy to even untie the strap of Jesus' sandals! He willingly became lesser & lesser, knowing Jesus would become greater and greater. Now, he seems to question just who Jesus really is. Has being in prison begun to get the best of him?

From our view, we might assume that John must be having a crisis of faith, or that doubt is beginning to creep in. But we ought not jump too quickly to such a conclusion. For John is a master teacher, one who knows how to use questions wisely. Your teachers in school didn't ask you questions because they didn't know the answers, did they? They posed questions to you for your benefit, so that you could learn something, and that's just what John was doing for his disciples.

John asks a question through these disciples for a reason. Is Jesus the coming one whose advent believers await? Of course he is. Then why have these disciples of John not realized yet that the Baptizer has now grown lesser and lesser, and that they ought to be following the one Who is growing greater & greater? So John cleverly sends them to Jesus to see for themselves, and their Savior does not disappoint them. They actually witness the miracles Jesus describes.

In John becoming lesser and lesser, therein Jesus points out the Baptizer's greatness. No greater man has been born than John was. But his greatness was in humbly stepping out of the way so that Jesus could walk in the way the Baptizer prepared. John knew that it wasn't all about him. It was all about God, Who had taken upon human flesh to tabernacle among men. Jesus was the One Who was to come, and John has successfully pointed his clingy disciples toward Him.

Jesus speaks another thing which causes us to ask, "What's up with John the Baptizer?" The Lord declares that the lesser ones in God's kingdom are greater than John! Does this mean we won't see John one day in heaven? Of course not. Jesus is simply pointing out John's greatness found in his humility. For John was a lowly slave to God's people. His humble service was preaching God's gift of repentance and administering God's baptism to bring others into God's kingdom! Boy can we learn a lot from John the Baptizer.

First, it is not about
all of the things we do for the church that's most important, rather what God provides us which we receive that matters most. Your greatness is not all about holding a church office, or pitching in to help out in cleaning, decorating and maintaining your church. Those are but opportunities for humble service, anonymous if possible, so that even your left hand does not know what your right hand has done in the end .

Greatness in the God's kingdom of heaven down here, known as the church, is all about what God does. First & foremost it is in the healing, in the restoration, and in the resurrection Jesus brings to sick, forsaken, dead-in-our-sins folk like you and me. Jesus' word proclaims your illness of sin cured from lectern and pulpit. Your adoption into God's family through Baptism restores your relationship with your heavenly Father. And the body and blood of Jesus, which died & rose on high for you forgives your sins, and bestows to you eternal life and everlasting salvation.

So what's up with John the Baptizer? Simply, once again, directing us to our Savior, Christ Jesus.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

December 7, 2008 Advent II Luke 21:25-36

And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and upon the earth distress of nations, in perplexity of the roaring of seas and waves; men expiring from fear and anticipation of things coming upon the world; for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. And these things beginning to occur, straighten up and lift up your heads, because coming near is your redemption. And He spoke a parable to them: Look, the fig tree and all the trees; whenever they shoot forth, already you see; from yourselves you know already near is the summer. So also you, whenever you see these things occurring, you know that near is the kingdom of God. Amen, I say to you that, no, this generation will not pass away until all things are to take place. The heavens and the earth will pass away, but My words, no, they will not pass away. Watch yourselves so your hearts are not weighted down in dissipation and drunkenness and worries of life, and that day spring upon you suddenly, like a trap; for it will come upon all those who dwell on the face of all the earth.

Lift up your heads, ye mighty gates! With these words the hymn writer reminds us of how the generation which looks for the Redeemer ought to act. But do we act like those who are waiting the return of Jesus with eager anticipation? Or instead, do we go about our daily grind, acting as though we don't expect Jesus to come back at all in our lifetime. Sadly, our heads are turned downward, toward this world and its affairs almost all of the time, with only a rare gaze of hope upward to Jesus.

Some fail to lift up their heads to seek Jesus' return because they are so distracted. The fears of economic & political turmoil in the world, and the worries of daily life preoccupy all their time. Don't let yourself fall into this trap either. You can easily get caught up in these small things, and miss out on the big picture. Then, you would find yourself unprepared for Christ's return, having focused your attention on temporary matters, and not eternal ones. Instead, you lift your heads and look for Jesus!

For your Redeemer brings the kingdom of God near to you. He did that when you were baptized, bringing you into the kingdom of heaven by water and the word. But you were not made simple subjects in that kingdom, oh no. Your heavenly king adopted you into His Own family that day, making you yourselves into a kingdom of royal priests! Your life is no longer a temporal one, but an everlasting life. You lift your heads now as everlasting doors, for Father, Son and Spirit to enter in through baptism.

Others fail to lift their heads toward Jesus because they feel somewhat unworthy to do so. Perhaps they know of the Son of Man's great power & glory, but then compare that to their own weakness & dishonor. You yourselves may fall into this trap, not wanting to think about Jesus' return, almost dreading it because He is so holy, and you know that you are not. But don't hang your head low and mope around like Eeyore the donkey and cry, *Woe is me...*. Lift your heads high and look to Jesus!

For your Redeemer has left you with a blessed gift which will never pass away–His word. The word of the scriptures was written for your instruction, that it would lift you up, encourage you, and enable you to persevere through all difficult times, as those who have hope. Jesus' Own Word of the Holy Gospel delivers that hope to you, promising you forgiveness, life and salvation from Christ, your Redemption, Who died for you on the cross, in your place, taking away your death to give you life eternal.

Still others fail to lift up their heads in expectation of Christ's imminent return, simply because they don't think He's coming back anytime soon. They figure that He's waited 2000 years so far, and probably won't return for another 2000, so they eat, drink and be merry. Don't fall into this trap, yourselves. You can boycott bible classes, and ignore special worship services as though there is nothing happening for which God wishes to prepare you. Or you can lift your heads and seek Jesus!

For your Redeemer is accustomed to coming down to you regularly. The Son of Man comes down to teach you in bible study. The Son of Man comes down to serve you in the Divine Service as well, as the ever-living body of Jesus comes down from the right hand of God in heaven above to feed you with Himself in the Lord's Supper. His life-giving blood which flows through His veins nourishes you in the cup of salvation. Isn't this a reminder that He Who keeps coming down will one day soon return?

You are the generation of believers who have not yet passed away. You are those blessed by Jesus' Words, proclaimed and put into action in the sacraments, as He prepares you for His imminent return.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Canticles of Advent--Magnificat

And Mary said, "My soul makes great the Lord, and my spirit has been jubilant over God, my Savior, for He looked upon the humbleness of His slave-maiden. For look, from now all generations will bless me, because the Mighty One has worked greatness to me, and holy–His Name, and His mercy into generations & generations, to those fearing Him. He works strength in His arm, He scattered haughty ones in the understanding of their hearts; He brought down rulers from thrones and He exalted humble ones, He filled hungry ones of good things and rich ones He sent away empty. He took hold of Israel, His servant, to remember mercy, just as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed into the ages."

Tonight we take a look at the first poem of Luke's gospel, the Magnificat--our first canticle of Advent. Although Mary first spoke these words, they have become a canticle sung by the Christian churches since soon after it was recorded by Luke. This Song of Mary, as some
have come to call it, has been sung in congregations like ours in the evening hours, most often during the prayer office at Vespers. Yet, it is not so much *Mary's Song* as it is the Church's song which we are blessed to sing tonight.

Oddly enough, as much as some would err by elevating Mary too highly in their worship, Mary herself seems to do the very opposite. She is overjoyed at being chosen as the Mother of God, but also perplexed about it; for she knows she is nobody special. She is not from Herod's palace, or even the daughter of the chief priest Annas. She's an obscure young
girl from Nazareth, far from Jerusalem's Temple. She considers herself but a humble slave-girl of God, not at all worthy of such a blessing.

Not only is Mary modest in her earthly, temporal circumstances; but she is also humbled where her spiritual, eternal welfare is concerned. She knows she is not sinless like some would want to believe, but a sinner. She sees herself as someone who needs saving from sin, its empter–the devil, and its wages–death. That's why she calls God her *Savior*. She knows she is not perfect, yet in her womb is now growing her very Savior Who will forgive her sins and rescue her from the hell she deserves.

You do well to learn something from Mary here. The Law words of the magnificat caution us against being to arrogant & haughty in our attitudes. God will bring down such proud people, since pride indeed goes before a fall. So if you think that you are already a good person on your own, and that you deserve lots of good blessings from God, you will be in for a big surprise. Such folks will be brought down by God, and sent away empty, without His blessings they assumed they deserved.

You do better to also learn from Mary's words of Gospel in this canticle. As she fears God by faith, so too do you believe in Jesus as our Savior. As she relies upon His mercy to save her, you also trust in His grace for your own salvation. Your confidence is in how God remembers His mercy toward you. Just as He worked a great work in Mary as she bore Jesus our Savior, God has worked great works of Jesus for you. Jesus came down from heaven to give you His Holy Name as His Own in baptism. As you hunger, He fills you with good things--His very body & blood given to you in Holy Communion.

You are blessed no less than Mary, believe it or not; because you are of those generations who call her *blessed*. God has generated faith in you by the power of His Holy Spirit, through the Gospel message you have believed about God, your Savior–Christ Jesus. You are part of the
generations & generations to whom God's mercy has been worked. You are those of Abraham's Seed, the One Who was born several generations after that patriarch, from the womb of the virgin Mary–your Savior.

So, perhaps this canticle is a bit mis-named, when we call it Mary's Song. It isn't just hers alone, but recorded for us in Luke's gospel, it is now your song to sing as well. It is the Church's song, sung in paraphrase, or sometimes in hymn form, or just as Luke wrote it as a
Canticle at Vespers. It is your song too, just as each one of us may say, *This is my song about my Savior as well!*

Yet an even better name for this canticle would be your Savior's Song, since it is really all about Jesus anyway! He humbles you by His words of Law, and then raises you up, exalting you on high by His Gospel love. Your Savior Who gave up His life on the cross for you, takes hold of you in His word & sacraments, to be His people Israel forevermore. And so, as Mary's soul magnifies the Lord Jesus in our view this night, may His song evermore be known among us as the Magnificat. Amen.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Sunday, November 30, 2008 Advent 1 Matthew 21:1-11

And when they came near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage at the Mount of Olives, then Jesus commissioned two disciples, saying to them, "Go into the village across from you, and immediately you will find, tied, a donkey and a colt with her; having loosened, you bring to me. And if ever anyone to you says anything, you will say that the Lord has need of them; and immediately he will commission them. And this happened in order that the word through the prophet might be fulfilled, saying, "Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Look, your king comes to you, gentle and mounted upon a donkey, even upon a colt, a son of a beast of burden.'" And the disciples went, and did just as Jesus had instructed them; they brought the donkey and the colt and placed on them the garments, and He sat upon them. And much of the crowd spread their garments on the road, and others were cutting branches from the trees and spreading in the road. And the crowds, the ones going before Him, and the ones following after were saying, "Hosanna to the Son of David; blessed–the One coming in the Name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest!"

Blessed new year! Advent begins today, and a new church year is now upon us. It is fitting that the 1st Gospel of the year portrays our Lord's triumphal entry into Jerusalem, for the Advent season is all about Jesus coming to be with His people to bless them. We know that He comes to us today in His words proclaimed & in the visible words of the sacraments. And we also know that Jesus will come again, at the last day, to take us from this valley of tears & sorrows to be with Him forever in heaven.

But exactly what kind of man is this who comes in the Name of the Lord? The crowds seemed overjoyed to welcome him to Jerusalem that Palm Sunday. But just 5 days later, the crowds would shout *crucify Him, crucify Him*. What gives? They knew that Jesus was the Son of David, a human being descended from his royal line through His mother, but they seemed to forget just Who Jesus' Father was. Jesus was God come down in the flesh, sharing His Father's divine glory.

Now they should have known better. After all, they chose to quote the well known Passover Psalm which predicted Jesus' work. *Hosanna!* they shouted. But what does that mean for us English speakers? It was a prayer, calling upon God to grant salvation. Yet they shouted it at Jesus! They should have known that God alone could be their Savior, and if they expected Jesus to save them, they ought to have understood that the promised Messiah would have to be God incarnate.

If this were not enough, they continued by shouting, "Blessed is the One Who Comes in the Name of the Lord". Now, this meant more that Jesus being simply God's emissary. This prophecy meant that the One coming was from God's Own family, One Who shared God's divine Name! They should have realized, as they helped fulfill the prophecy of Psalm 118, that the Person riding on before them was not just someone sent from God, but it was God come down to them in human form to save them.

Now, I know that you probably would guess that you are much better than this dopey crowd in Jerusalem. But guess again. Do you speak & act like Jesus is your God & Savior all the time? Or do you speak from faith at one moment, and then soon after speak sinfully? Do you sometimes find yourself a willing servant of God, and toward others for a time, yet all too quickly to shift gears into self-serving desires. You know well what God wants of you, yet you are as hypocritical as the crowds.

Truly, the bad news is that human nature hasn't changed much in the 2000 or so years since these supportive crowds so quickly turned against Jesus. But the good news is that God hasn't changed either. Jesus loved those hypocrites from the crowds so much that He was willing to give them everything they wanted. They wanted Him to save (hosanna) them--that's just what He did. They wanted Him crucified--He willingly went to the cross to die in their place to save their sin-sick souls.

Jesus is the same, yesterday, today & forever for you as well. He saved you no less than those crowds of hypocrites, by taking your place in death on the cross. He washed your sins from you in baptism and became them at Calvary. He gave up His body to death, and shed His blood for you there, that you may eat & drink His forgiveness given to you in the Sacrament of the Altar. He continues to declare His eternal love to you in His gospel proclaimed from lectern & pulpit

He who once came to Jerusalem, and now comes to you in word & sacrament, will come again from on High in glory to judge the living & the dead. That day, you greet him with Hosannas in the highest!


Sunday, November 23, 2008

Endings and Beginnings, FYI

The last three years of sermons have been based upon the Psalms of the 3 year Lectionary. With the coming of Advent, the sermons will be following the Gospels of the Historic One Year Lectionary.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

November 23, 2008 Last Sunday A Psalm 9

I will thank Yahweh, in all my heart; I will tell of all Your wonders. I will be glad and rejoice in You; I will praise Your Name, Highest One. In the turning of my enemies backward; they stumble and perish from Your face. For You establish my justice and my cause; You sit on a throne, judging righteously. You rebuked nations and destroyed wicked ones; their name You blotted out forever and ever. The enemy has come to an end of lasting devastation; and their cities you uprooted, their memory you lost. And Yahweh, forever He sits; He establishes for judgment, His throne. And He, Himself will judge the world in righteousness; He will bring justice to the peoples in uprightness. And will be, Yahweh, a high fortress for the oppressed; a stronghold in times of trouble. And they will trust in You, those knowing Your Name; for You have not forsaken those who seek You. Sing praise to Yahweh Who sits in Zion; declare to the peoples His actions. For He Who demands blood, those ones, He remembers; He doesn't forget the cry of the afflicted. Be gracious to me, Yahweh, see my affliction from those who hate me; You lift me up from the gates of death. So that I may account all Your praises; in the gates of the daughter of Zion, let me rejoice in Your salvation. Sunk, are the nations, in the pit they made; in the net they hid, their own foot has been caught. Causing Himself to be known, Yahweh established judgment; in the work of his hands is ensnared the wicked one. (Playing a zither...exalt!) Will return, the wicked, to Sheol; all the nations who forget God. For not always forgotten will the needy be; nor the hope of the afflicted perish forever. Rise up, Yahweh, do not let prevail, man; Let the nations be judged before Your face. Impose, Yahweh, fear in them; let the nations know they are but men. Exalt!

In today's Gospel, Jesus pictures you as a sheep. Now sheep are known
for being kind of *dumb*, and in our Lord's description today, we don't
disappoint. Although perhaps not stupid sheep, we are portrayed as quite
ignorant. For you, this ignorance is bliss, for it is the ignorance that
makes you a wise sheep, even though you remain ignorant of most of the
good works given you to do. "When did we do these things for you?" we
ask in our ignorance. It is in the mundane service of daily vocations.

The picture for the goats may look the same on the surface, but it is
completely different. They too have their works which appear good. Some
claim to have taught in the streets for Jesus, to have fellowshipped with
Him, to have prophesied in His Name, even to have cast out demons and
performed miracles for Jesus. But those goats who are keenly aware of
what they have tried to do for their Lord, and are counting on such
works to merit Jesus' favor, will be sorely disappointed.

What is the difference between being judged as sheep vs goats? The
psalmist today nails it. In wisdom David notes how it is God's work
alone which saves. God must establish justice for the final judgment.
His is the only pure righteousness which brings us justice. David
recounts not his own works, but those of God His Savior. He recognizes
that God alone lifts us out of the death we deserve because of sin.
David rejoices in the salvation that comes only from God's Own work.

But the wicked are fools, just like goats. Goats are so focused on what
they do that they will consume your shirt off your back without
hesitation. Like goats, wicked people are self-confident. The are sure
that they can contribute, at least in part, to their own salvation. The
wish to make themselves co-Saviors with Jesus, if they could. But they
cannot. As men, they try to prevail of their own efforts. David prays
that God will not let this happen, but instead judge these men's actions
as failures.

The wicked dig a trap for themselves without realizing it. They have
good intentions, wanting to do stuff which they think is God-pleasing.
But they act from the Law, which ensnares them, since they can never do
enough, or perform with sufficient perfection to merit any favor from
God. The more they try, the more guilty they become, since their
so-called righteousnesses are but filthy rags. There works are more than
corrupted. They collect the monthly blood.of death of a child that never

Be forewarned not to fall into this same trap yourselves. Stop *trying*
so hard, thinking that your efforts can make God love you more. He
already loves you completely in Christ Jesus, for the blood of the Son
which God demanded has already been shed for you at Calvary's cross. His
grace there is sufficient. It is the one thing needful for your
salvation, which comes to you from His word proclaimed, and put into
action with water in baptism and with bread & wine in the Lord's Supper
to forgive you.

Don't fear as Jesus returns soon for that final judgment on the last
day. He will indeed judge you on works, but not on the ones you strive
to do for Him. He judges you as dumb sheep, mostly ignorant of the good
works He prepared in advance for you to walk in via your daily
vocations. Simply be glad & rejoice in the righteousness of Jesus
already given you, & in the right things He does through you.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

November 16, 2008 2nd Last Sunday of the Church Year Psalm 90

Lord, a refuge You have been to us in generations and generations. Before the mountains were given birth and You caused the beginning of the earth and the world; and from everlasting to everlasting, You are God. You return man back to dust; and You say, "Return, sons of Adam". For a thousand years in Your sight–as a day just passed, as it passes by; and a watch in the night. You stop life–they sleep; they will be, in the morning, like grass vanishing. In the morning it blossoms, yet it vanishes; in the evening it is cut off, it is dried up. We are consumed in Your anger; and in Your wrath we are terrified. You place our iniquities in Your presence; our secrets in the light of Your face. For all our days pass away in Your anger; we finish our years with a groan. The days of our years, in them--seventy years; and if in strength–eighty years. And their pride–labor and trouble; for it is cut off in haste and we fled away. Who knows the strength of Your anger; and according to the fear of You, Your wrath? To number our days, rightly teach us; and we may gain a heart of wisdom. Return, Yahweh–how long? and have mercy on Your servants. Satisfy us in the morning with Your loving-kindness; and we will sing for joy and rejoice in all our days. Gladden us according to the days You humbled us; the years we saw evil. Let appear, to Your servants, Your work; and Your splendor upon their children. Let Your kindness, Lord God, be upon us; and the work of our hands You establish upon us; and the work of our hands, You establish.

With these words, Moses composes, in this psalm, the biblical teaching of the works of the kingdom of heaven. The line is clear. All wrong works of sin and iniquity belong to man, who returns to the dust of death as his proper punishment. But all good works among God's people belong to God. They are His to establish & accomplish for us, in us and through us. Or as I teach my confirmands, if there is anything done right, then praise God; but if there is anything done which is wrong, then blame me!

In the parable today, Jesus teaches of the works of the kingdom of heaven also. But He is not teaching anything about the works of *our* talented-ness, since no skills or qualities of the slaves themselves are mentioned. The *talent* of the story is a sum of money as valuable as a million dollars, given to each slave. No human skill is worth so much. But God's grace is. It is this priceless grace of God which is given to the Christian church for its servants–its ministers to put to work.

So it is not so much about man's sanctified good works which follow salvation. It is about God's saving works of justification by which He produces more offspring in His church. Notice that the word translated *interest* is actually the term for God's creatures being fruitful & multiplying offspring. We in the church are given the blessed task of adding to the kingdom of God by storing up treasures in heaven. Each saved soul is someone you and I will treasure forevermore in the paradise above.

How is God's grace the priceless purchase price to increase God's offspring? It comes about by Jesus' willingness to take your place under God's Law. He knew that you deserved to be consumed by God's anger. He Himself was terrified of that cup of wrath as He prayed in Gethsemane. But He willingly took your iniquities upon Himself, becoming sin–your sin, at the +. There, not millions in silver & gold, but His holy precious blood & innocent suffering and death bought you as His Own.

OK, but that was some 2000 years ago. How can the grace Jesus purchased long ago come to you? Well, it is good that for God, a thousand years is nothing, like a day. Time is no matter for Jesus. In fact, He can take you back in time through your baptism all the way to Calvary. There, sinful you was crucified with Jesus, and buried by baptism into His death. But just as He didn't stay dead, so to in your baptism did new you rise up to everlasting & glorious life as Jesus rose up Easter Sunday.

Not only that, but Jesus can take Himself forward in time from the cross as well for you today. He takes His body once given, and His blood once shed, and brings them to you in the simple bread & in the cup of the Lord's Supper. Here at the Lord's Table, appears to you the Work of your Lord Jesus, His splendor manifest to you by faith which recognizes Jesus' Own body & blood in the Sacrament. There you eat & drink the forgiveness He purchased & won for you at the Cross of Calvary long ago.

What appears to the naked eye as only human act of water washing, and people eating & drinking, is actually the work of God Himself, works He establishes to forgive your sins, to save your soul, to strengthen your faith, and to give to you life eternal. Be satisfied in the works of His loving-kindness.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

November 9, 2008 Third to last Sunday of the Church Year Psalm 19

The heavens tell the glory of God; and the work of His hands the firmament declares. Day to day it gushes out speech; and night to night it reveals knowledge. There is not speech and there is not words; in (them) no voice is heard. In all the earth goes forth their line; and in the end of the world, their utterances–for the sun He has placed a tabernacle in them. And that, as a bridegroom exiting from his bridal chamber; it rejoices as a strong one to run a course. From an end of the heavens, its rising; and its circuit to their other end; and there is nothing hidden from its heat. Torah of Yahweh--flawless, restoring a soul; Testimony of Yahweh–reliable, causing to be open, a simple one. Directions of Yahweh–right, causing joy to a heart; commands of Yahweh–clear, causing enlightenment to an eye. Fear of Yahweh–clean, lasting forever; judgments of Yahweh–true, righteous altogether. They are desired more than gold, and more than much fine gold; and they are sweeter than honey, and the drippings of a honeycomb. Errors? Who can discern? From hidden sins acquit me. Also, from presumptions, keep your servant; do not let them rule in me. Then I will be complete; and acquitted from much transgression. Be acceptable to your sight words of my mouth and meditation of my heart; Yahweh, my Rock and my Redeemer.

Today begins our countdown to the end of the church year. So, our focus begins on the countdown to the last days of this world–all the way to Judgment Day. On that day, Jesus will return as He promised, from the clouds of the heavens to earth, to judge the living & the dead. He comes like a long-awaited bridegroom comes from his chamber to the home of his beloved, to take her as His wife. Jesus instructs us to be alert until that time, since we don't know when that day will be.

How do you know if you are one of the alert ones? How can you be sure that you are like the prudent bridesmaids who came prepared with enough oil? Well, your certainty can never be in what you do, for you know that you are not flawless, you are not completely perfect, and you commit some secret sins that are even hidden to your knowledge! If keeping alert and being ready for Judgment Day were something for you to do, no doubt you would fail to be prepared & probably sleep right through it.

So how do you have enough *oil* for your lamp on that last day? Some look at the oil as *faith* from the Holy Ghost. Others see it as God's *grace*. Still others view it as similar to the wedding garment of Christ's holy *righteousness*. The answer is, essentially, all of the above, since your entrance into the eternal wedding feast of heaven includes being saved by grace, through faith, not of your own effort to keep God's Law, but of His works of righteousness alone. In Jesus you are well prepared!

Yet, if you were to reject any one of these essential elements of your salvation, your oil runs out. If you place confidence in yourself instead of trusting in Christ Jesus, you would find yourself locked out of the heavenly wedding banquet. If you seek to earn God's favor by your own fithly rags of righteousness, instead of relying on His grace to save you, you will find the Bridegroom claiming to have never known you. For only by Christ acquitting you from much transgression are you saved.

For this is what it means for Christ Jesus to be your LORD, your Rock and Your Redeemer. As your LORD, Jesus is God come down in the flesh, to be your righteousness under the Law in His 1st stay on earth. As your Rock, Jesus alone is the foundation-stone of your faith, upon which you are built as a living stone. As your Redeemer, Jesus paid the full ransom price for you at the cross of Calvary, by His body given unto death and His blood shed for you there for the forgiveness of your sins.

By His Word & Sacraments, Jesus does you one better than to simply invite you to attend His heavenly wedding. He comes to be your very own Bridegroom, coming forth from the bridal chamber with His loving-kindness, having already wed you to Himself forevermore in Holy Baptism. The psalmist David compares the sun shining in the heavens to this Bridegroom, as evidence to all of God in action. Jesus' instruction restores your soul to everlasting life with Him as His beloved bride.

So don't fear that you will miss out on the heavenly wedding feast. Jesus has prepared you well by His saving love for you. And He would not find it proper to celebrate without you, His bride, at the Festival. If that were not enough assurance, know that you are invited to the foretaste of the feast to come as you eat Jesus body and drink His blood here in the sacrament of the altar. The marriage feast is waiting; the gates wide open stand. Arise, O heirs of glory; the Bridegroom is at hand. Amen.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

November 2, 2008 All Saints Day Psalm 37A

Don't fret evil-doers; don't envy doers of wrong.
Because as grass they will quickly wither; and as green plants they will fade away. Trust in Yahweh & do good; dwell in the land & feed on His faithfulness. And delight yourself in Yahweh; and He will give to you from the desires of your heart. Commit to Yahweh your way; and trust in Him & He Himself will do it. And He will bring forth as light, your righteousness; and your judgment as midday. Rest in Yahweh and wait patiently in Him; Don't fret in the (one who) prospers in his way, in the man who makes wicked schemes. Stop anger and forsake wrath; don't fret–it's only toward evil-doing. Because evil-doers will be cut off; yet those waiting on Yahweh, they themselves will inherit the land. And a little while and the wicked will be no more; and you will look carefully for his place, and he will not be. Yet the humble will inherit the land; and they will delight in much prosperity.

Are you ever at the end of a job, running out of gas, hastily finishing up, you say, *good enough*. For some tasks, I suppose, that's alright, if they are relatively unimportant ones. But what of the task of salvation–the task which makes you a saint? How much is truly *good enough* to make you holy in God's sight? Some would want to rely, at least in part, on the efforts of lazy, imperfect man to make himself holy before God. But the sin-tainted works of man are never good enough for sainthood.

Some would want to view God as a kindly teacher in the classroom. They want to assume that He would grade on the curve, and raise up grades that are close enough, awarding an *E* for effort that would otherwise have gotten an *F* for failure. Others want to see God as the teacher that would give extra credit opportunities for us to make up for failures with a 2nd chance effort. But God doesn't offer any easy way out. He expects complete righteousness, pure & perfect in order to be saved.

When God's Law reminds you of how strict your Lord is in demanding perfect holiness in all His saints, you may get a little distraught. But this is good, since God wants you to feel hopeless & helpless in and of yourselves when it comes to righteousness. For the Lord does not want you to look for some sort of inner-righteousness of your own by which you can save yourself. After all, you are not your own savior. Instead, He wants you to seek an alien righteousness from outside of you.

In fact, God gives you a hunger and a thirst for a righteousness that is not yet within you. By faith, He makes you desire a perfect righteousness, a pure holiness, that can be found only in one place–in Christ Jesus your Savior. For He alone kept all of God's commands without fail. He kept all the works of the Law necessary to earn salvation for you. Jesus kept himself pure from any sinful thought, or word or deed. He did everything right, His entire life here on earth, in order to earn heaven.

Yet He Who was perfectly pure did the oddest thing. He allowed Himself to become your sin. He bore the burden of your iniquities at the Cross, suffering there the death you deserved. Your judgment of condemnation, that's what He Himself received in His body on the tree of Calvary at midday on Good Friday. Your unholiness He took upon His Own Person there and was forsaken by His Father, in your place. His Own holy righteousness, He gave up, in exchange for your sin and the death you earned.

And that same righteousness which Jesus willingly gave up at the cross, He gives to you as pure gift. Credited to your account by faith, Christ's righteousness is given to you now as your own! The alien righteousness you desired, hungered & thirsted for by faith, is now your own righteousness by which God the Father judges you worthy of eternal life in heaven! You didn't have to do it on your own, for such a burden was impossible for you. Instead, you rested in the Lord & waited patiently for Him.

And your Lord Jesus didn't disappoint. He fed you with His Own faithfulness in the Lord's Supper with His body & blood given & shed for you to forgive you your sins. You yourself were purified, even as Christ is pure, by the washing of water & word of Holy Baptism which now saves you. You hear the gospel word, that it is God Himself, in Christ Jesus, Who brings forth your righteousness as light, since He Himself is the Light of the World, the Light Who brings life everlasting to you.

So how much righteousness is *good enough* to make you a saint? You know that your own efforts at doing the right things will never measure up. But humbly and meekly wait on the Lord and His efforts at holy righteousness in Christ Jesus. Be still in Him and rely on His efforts to save you. Commit your Way to the LORD, for Jesus is the Way. Trust in Him, and He Himself will accomplish it.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

October 26, 2008 Reformation Psalm 46

God, to us, a Refuge and Strength; a Help in trouble, well proved. Therefore we will not fear in a changing earth; and the mountains slip into the heart of the sea. Its waters roar, foam; the mountains quake at its swelling. Exalt! There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God; the holy dwelling of the Most High. God is in her midst, she will not be moved; God will help her in the dawn of the morning. Nations uproar, kingdoms totter; He raised up in His voice, the earth melts. Yahweh of armies is with us; our Stronghold is the God of Jacob. Exalt! Come, look at the works of Yahweh; He has wrought desolations in the earth. He makes war stop to the ends of the earth; He breaks the bow and breaks the spear, He burns the chariots in fire. Stop, and know that I Myself am God; I will be exalted in the nations, I will be exalted in the earth. Yahweh of armies is with us; our Stronghold is the God of Jacob. Exalt!

Have you ever encountered a foe simply too overwhelming for you? Like a politician down 20 points to an opponent with only 2 weeks to go before election day. Maybe it was a class you were failing, with no hope of passing the final. Perhaps it was an illness for you or an ailment for family member, and the prospects for recovery were dim. Or it could be a relationship you'd sufficiently messed up that there seemed no hope for repair. At such times, you cry jumpin' Jehosephat & pray for a miracle.

The real Jehosephat, king of Judah, faced an overwhelming foe of his own. The mighty Ammonites of Jordan joined the Moabites & Edomites of the South to form a huge army. They marched on Judah in battle. King Jehosephat prayed before the people for God's help, and He was answered–the battle belonged to God. He fought all 3 armies Himself to save Judah. He turned the enemy armies against one another, & they were all killed. In joyful response the sons of Korah sang Psalm 46!

Which brings us to the overwhelming foe of Jesus' day. Not an outward force like the Roman legions. Such an enemy, no one would deny. But this was the enemy within. This was an enemy which enslaved the people, without many of them realizing it until it was too late. This was no ordinary illness which rose up within men, for such could be cured with medicines & treatments. This enemy was sin, which wrought death. And not just ordinary, everyday death, but eternal, permanent death.

Now, the pharisees of Jesus' day were in denial of this enemy within. They strove to keep some 613 commands they found in the scriptures, foolishly thinking they could defeat this enemy on their own. Modern day pharisees wrongly assume the same thing, proudly announcing that they are no longer sinners of any sort. The pharisee within your flesh may also rear its ugly head to claim that you can fight the foe of sin on your own, but you know that you cannot. Sin is much too powerful an enemy.

For sin enslaves you. It captures you, and causes you to think its thoughts, feel its feelings, desire its desires, and do its dark deeds. If you stop denying sin's hold on you, and admit it has thoroughly enslaved you, they you will realize how bad off you really are in the face of this foe. For at such times, the Law of God has done its job well, convicting you of sin and the hopelessness and helplessness you face on your own in dealing with such an overwhelming & devastating opponent.

Martin Luther realized this, all too well. He knew what a great sinner he was, so much so that even dedicating his life to God's service as a monk could not help him overcome his servitude to sin. He was a failure at fighting this foe. But then the Gospel of God finally dawned its light on Luther. There was a Champion who was strong enough to defeat this enemy of sin–Christ Jesus! So Luther stopped trying to battle sin himself, and searched the Scriptures to see how God fought for him!

Jesus, God's Son made Luther free indeed! That is when Luther realized that the Christian church was not all about what man does, but about what God does to free us from sin by forgiveness. So Luther sought out all those ways God sets us free from sin-slavery in the means of grace. He discovered baptism which delivered you from death as a rebirth to everlasting life. He found the preaching of the gospel which declares you absolutely forgiven from the Pastor as from Christ Himself. He uncovered Jesus' very body & blood hidden in bread & wine of communion to save you.

Rejoice dear friends in Christ, for the battle agains the overwhelming foe of isn isn't yours. It's God's! He is your Mighty Fortress of refuge & strength! There is a river which makes the city of God glad. A river flowing from Jesus' Own pierced side at the cross, through His water & blood of forgiveness. Amen.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

October 12, 2008 Proper 23A Psalm 73

Indeed, God is good to Israel; to the clean of heart. Yet I, my feet almost turned away; as nothing my feet slipped. For I was jealous at those boasting; prosperity of the wicked, I saw. For there is no suffering in their deaths; and fat is their belly. In the troubles of men, they are not; and as men they are not plagued. Therefore pride circles their neck; violence clothes them as a garment. As fat, their eyes go forth; the imaginations of their heart overflow. They mock, and they speak in wickedness; oppression from on high, they speak. They set in the heavens, their mouths; and their tongue walks on the earth. Therefore, their people return here; and abundant waters are drained down in them. And they say, "How does God know; and is there knowledge in the most high?" Look, these are godless; and carelessly for a long time they became great in strength. Only in vain have I cleansed my heart; and washed, in innocence, my hands. And I was plagued all the day; and my punishment in the mornings.

Doesn't seem sometimes like life is not fair? You try to take care of yourself, only to have some odd malady come upon you to bring you down, while those with unhealthy lifestyles never seem to become ill. You strive to be honest, yet you see those who lie & cheat succeeding much more than you. You are a nice person with much to offer, yet the guy or gal you care about chooses another, less-worthy companion. Not only do you think life is not fair, but you may question if God is fair.

In today's Gospel, God doesn't seem to be acting fair. He is the King Whose invitees to the wedding fail to show up, so He invites strangers. But one of the strangers shows up without the proper attire. No big deal, we would like to assume, since we view God as One Who doesn't care about the outside, but only what's on the inside. So he ties up the poorly clothed guest & casts him into the outer darkness, presumably to die! Now that doesn't seem very fair at all!

The psalmist Asaph shares a similar frustration in Psalm 73. He speaks from the perspective of a clean-hearted man, innocent of the sins of the prideful & violent men of the world. Yet, though undeserving, they are richly blessed with food, comfort and health. But what about the godly one? He is plagued, punished & persecuted. He is mocked & oppressed, with seemingly no way out. Why are the godless seemingly blessed, while the faithful one is allowed to suffer and die? It just isn't fair.

Wait just a moment...what exactly is *fairness*? Some would say equality at least would be more fair. Others would argue that getting what you earn or deserve would be fair. But neither one of these is God's idea of fairness. For God's justice doesn't punish those this world would discipline, nor does He bless those whom this world would reward. Which is why the Righteous One ends up the One being punished...which is why the One without proper clothing is the One Who is forsaken.

In all honesty, there is only One Who is truly righteous. Only One person has ever been able to clothe Himself in His Own holiness. Only One is completely pure & innocent. Only One is truly Godly. And that One is none other than Jesus, Himself. So He is the only One truly worthy, on His Own, to come to the wedding feast. He is clothed in the white robes of His Own holy righteousness, and is the only One Who should never be persecuted, plagued or punished. But He was, anyway.

It appears that God's justice is quite different than this world's fairness. Jesus, God's Son Who had earned life eternal in heaven by His perfect obedience chose, willingly to give that up. He forsook the holy garment of His Own righteousness and gave it to you to clothe you in Holy Baptism. He is the only One found at the wedding feast without clean clothes. For He Who knew no sin became your sin, and received your punishment at the +, cast out & forsaken, into the utter darkness of death.

Jesus underwent all of this so that you could receive the blessed invitation to come to the wedding. The gospel message of the Son's great love for you drew you to accept that invitation by the gift of faith. Cleansed from your sins which were washed to Jesus at the cross, you are now and evermore clothed in the wedding garment of His Own holy righteousness. And you come to the wedding feast to be satisfied from His banquet table, eating His body and drinking His blood for your forgiveness.

Is God fair? Not as this world counts fairness, for which we are grateful. For your God is better than fair, giving the punishment you deserve to Jesus, and instead, giving you the life Jesus earned!

October 5, 2008 Proper 22A Psalm 80

A vine, from Egypt, You have torn out; You drove out nations and planted it. You cleared ground before it; and it rooted its root and it filled the land. Covered mountains (with) its shadow; and with its boughs, the cedars of God. It sent its branches to the sea; and to the river, its shoots. Why have You torn down its walls, and they pluck, all who pass through that way. And ravages it, a wild boar from the forest; and small animals of the field feed on it. God of armies, return now; look down from heaven and see, and care for this vine. And the stand which is planted of Your right hand; and upon the Son You made strong for Yourself. It is burned in fire, cut down; from the rebuke of Your face, they perish. May Your hand be on the man of Your right hand; on the Son of Man You made strong for Yourself. And we will not turn away from You; revive us, and on Your Name we will call. Yahweh, God of armies, restore us; cause Your face to shine, and we will be saved.

Have you ever wanted a second chance? Perhaps you acted foolishly, or in your laziness you failed to do your best, and you wanted another opportunity to try again. Maybe you've regretted how things have turned out for you in relationships, with finances, or in health matters. You wish that you could turn back time and start over again, but you cannot. That's just how Asaph felt when the impending doom of the Assyrian army was at Israel's doorstep. Yet, God's people still hoped for a second chance for life...

Fast forward to the days of the New Testament, and things haven't changed much. Israel is still the Lord's vineyard, but the ruling clergy and leading laymen had long rejected God's spokesmen, and even God's Own Son, planning to put Jesus to death! So God would remove the vineyard from them, and give to those of faith, who would bear Him the fruit of faithfulness. Just as God allowed Israel to be destroyed in the Old Testament, the same thing happened in the New Testament. But God always leaves a faithful remnant.

Fast forward to today. God has replanted His vineyard in the Christian church. He has blessed it richly with His Word of Gospel love to be proclaimed, and with His forgiving actions in the sacraments. But how have we reacted to all God has done for us? In many circles, the Christian faith is all but absent in the churches. Crosses disappear and the message of forgiveness of sins is shunned, lest people be offended. God's sacramental acts are replaced with what man wants to do.

The hope we have is that we may yet remain the faithful remnant of God, even in these trying times. When almost all the tribes of Israel were destroyed by Assyria, the one tribe of Judah remained faithful and true. When the Pharisees & Sadducees rejected Jesus, some so-called-sinners received Him by faith and were saved. In this era of tolerance and lack of accepted truth, will you be able to stand fast & firm in your God-given faith, trusting & relying on Christ Jesus no matter what happens?

By God's grace, you will. For just as the psalmist prayed for a second chance for his nation, so too has God given you a second chance at life, already! For you have tasted the first death when you died to sin in holy baptism. There, you were buried with Christ Jesus by baptism into His death. Sinful you perished that day, your old Adam drowned & killed in the waters of the font. For,as Jesus didn't stay dead in the tomb, but raised Himself to life, you are raised in Christ through baptism to a new life!

Like a replanted vine, you have been restored, revived to life again, a life that is now everlasting! In that life you are fed with something better than three square meals a day. You are nourished with the spiritual food of Christ Jesus' body and blood for your forgiveness. And it is no dead body on which you feast, nor lifeless blood which you drink in communion, for it is the ever-living body of Jesus from God's right-hand, and the life-giving blood which flows from His veins which you receive.

The Son of Man, Christ Jesus, is the Genuine Vine into which you have been grafted unto life eternal. His Father's face now shines upon you for Jesus' sake. For you receive His loving grace each time the Pastor pronounces your sins forgiven in the Name of your Triune God, upon which you call. The Lord smiles upon you with that forgiving grace which is delivered to you from the Pastor, as from Christ Himself–the complete, the total, the absolute forgiveness of your Savior Jesus.

You have already been given a second chance at life. Though you forfeited your first chance, since the wages of your sin is death, you are blessed to walk now in newness of life with Christ Jesus. By His grace, though you have tasted the 1st death of your sinful self in baptism, you need never taste of the second death. For when your last hour comes, you will sleep in Jesus to awaken in heaven. Amen.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

September 21, 2008 Proper 20A

"If Yahweh was not on our side...may Israel now say: If Yahweh was not on our side; in the rising against us of men. Then alive they would have swallowed us; in heat their anger against us. Then the waters would have washed us away; the stream would have swept over upon our soul. Then would have swept over our soul, the boiling waters. Blessed Yahweh; He has not given us to be torn in pieces in their teeth. Our souls as birds have flown to safety; from the mouth of the fowler's snare. Our help–in the Name of Yahweh; He made heavens and earth."
Psalm 124

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you really needed help? Perhaps you were failing history, or unable to finish a task at work. Maybe you were so behind on your bills that your debt was mounting. Or you may have bungled a relationship so badly that there was nothing you could do to smooth things over. At such seemingly hopeless times, all we can do is swallow our human pride, and sometimes begrudgingly, ask an outside source for the help that we so desperately need.

So it is with your salvation. There you are in a predicament in which you truly need outside help. God has given you His commandments to keep, but you've failed to love Him with your whole heart, nor have you loved your neighbors as yourself. You know that you've sinned against God & man, and that the wages of your sinful works is nothing but death–eternal death. God's Law convicts you so that you turn away from yourself, outwardly seeking help the only place it can be found–in Jesus!

But exactly how much help do you need? Some foolishly think that all you really need is a good jump-start from God. If Jesus does enough for you to get the ball rolling, you can take it and do all the rest. Some mistakenly think that this is what grace is. Just a shot-in-the-arm from Jesus to infuse in you just enough get-up-and-go to do the right things. Then, if you haven't done enough good to cancel out your sin, perhaps God will give you a second chance, some absurdly hope. But that's not grace.

God's Grace in Jesus is a complete rescue, like a bird facing certain death is freed from the fowler's snare to fly away completely free. No cooperation there. The help God offers is hardly just a booster shot. It is the complete cure! For Jesus cleanses you from all of your unrighteousness, from all of your sin in Holy Baptism. There you are rescued completely, delivered from death and the devil. Why? Because God is just that generous to do it all for you, completing your salvation in Christ Jesus.

Others are foolish enough to consider that they must strive & struggle to do enough on their own first, before God will intervene. Such people believe that you must try your best to be good enough first in order to merit God's favor. If you strive hard enough toward perfection, then, and only then do these folks believe God will have mercy on your soul, and make up the difference in the end. Once you've earned God's help by your own efforts, only then, they believe, will God come to your aid.

This foolish Method does not merit God's grace. Jesus' parable today makes that clear. Whether one worked hard, or hardly at all, God's gift was the same. For sometimes, in God's kingdom, the last are first, and the first–last. God does not show partiality. He is on someone's side only because He wants to be, not because they have earned it. This is the gospel message, that God wants all to be saved & come to the knowledge of the Truth, Who is Jesus, Who died for you on the cross so that you may live!

Still more believe that it's too good to be true that God does all the helping. Surely He would want us to meet Him half way, they foolishly think. These folks are willing to let Jesus do all of the work so far as grace is concerned, but seek to rob God's job when it comes to faith. They would turn God's gift of faith into a work of man, a decision of human will, a conscious choice, or a sincere commitment to Jesus. Their confidence is in their invitation to Jesus to come into their heart and be their Lord.

Puffed up with pride that they have found Jesus, these people are surprised to find out that it is He that found them! Jesus chooses to give his gifts of faith & grace according to His will, not man's. He finds the lost often before they even realize that they are lost! He seeks them out for work in His kingdom, work He gives not as drudgery, but as joy!. For He has already done the harshest work, giving His body to death on the cross & shedding His blood there, for us to eat & drink for forgiveness.

So what do you do when you are in great need for help with your salvation? Nothing! For you are saved by grace through faith, not of works, it is the gift of your most generous God! For your salvation is not about what you do, but it is all about the help of your God, Who is on your side, to give you life!