Sunday, February 21, 2010

First Sunday of Lent

And the snake was clever, more than all the living things of the field which Yahweh God made. And he said to the woman, "Indeed, for has God said you will not eat from all trees of the garden?" And the woman said to the snake, "From fruits of trees of the garden we may eat, yet from fruits of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God said, ‘You will not eat from it and not touch upon it, otherwise you die.'" And the snake said to the woman, "You will not die death. For God knows that in the day you eat from it, and your eyes will be opened, and you will be as God–knowing good and evil." And the woman, seeing that the tree good in what is eaten, and that it was lovely to the eyes, and desirable to make one counseled in wisdom, and she took from its fruit and she ate, and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate. And the eyes of both were opened and they realized that they were both naked, and they sewed leaves of a fig, and made for themselves girdles. And Yahweh God called to Adam and said to him, "Where are you?" And he said, "The sound of you I heard in the garden and I feared, for I myself was naked, so I hid." And He said, "Who announced to you that you yourselves were naked? From the tree which I ordered you to not eat from it, have you eaten?" And Adam said, "The woman that You gave with me, she gave to me from the tree and I ate." And Yahweh God said to the woman, "What is this you did?" And the woman said, "The snake deceived me, and I ate."

You would think that having the opposing team's play-book would guarantee success, but it doesn't. In the first Super Bowl, Vince Lombardi's Packers ran the same sweep over and over but the Chiefs couldn't stop it, even though they knew it was coming. The same thing happens to you with the devil. He uses the same play, over and over, and you fail to stop it. His play-book is a simple one. He always starts as he did with Eve, "Did God really say..." You know it's coming, but you are fall for it anyway.

When tempted, you fall into sin because Satan knows your weaknesses. First of which is your eye trouble. You foolishly assume that what your eyes see is really good. It isn't. Eve looked and on the surface, the fruit looked ok. You look at things superficially, and think, "What harm is there in that." Then you lust, you gossip, you covet, you lie, and you end up hurting others to get what you want.

God gives you His Holy Spirit so that you may walk by faith, not by sight. You look with faith, not from your eye-balls, but from your heart which trusts Jesus as your Savior. For in Holy Baptism, the sinful desires of your old heart are now gone. Greed, selfish passions, and stubbornness are a thing of the past as your now-sin-free-heart sees the desires of God Himself for you and for others! Your sins now forgiven in Jesus at the cross, you are set free to ponder anew the good and gracious will of God.

You give into the devil's temptations because, like Eve, you don't always know what is good. There is a way that seems right to you, but it is far from it. An action *feels* good, or an opinion *seems* good, but the consequences lead to destruction in the end. You want to trust the words of your thoughts, but by doing so you end up doubting the clear Word of God, by wondering, "Did God really say..."

God really did say--in Jesus Christ the very Word of God! Jesus proves that He is God's Word by undoing what Eve and Adam botched up so terribly in the Garden. Notice how Jesus answers each temptation of Satan with God's clear word. The Word of Jesus is sufficient to shut the devil up, and it serves you well. For the Gospel of Jesus proclaims you forgiven, declaring you to be no longer a sinner in God's sight, but now a holy child of God cleansed from your unrighteousness by His Word.

That snake-in-the-grass successfully tempts you whenever you forget your place. Eve wanted to be the same as God. She forgot that she was a creation, not like the Creator. You too fall into temptation when you act as though you are God. You do this when you make plans for your family, your church, or yourself without consulting God's Word. But acting as if you are your own Lord gets you in trouble.

Thank God Jesus didn't forget His place! His job as Eve's Seed was to crush that snake for you. He won a decisive battle against Satan in the desert by not giving in to temptation. But Jesus knew His place to crush the devil once and for all at Calvary. There He gave His body in the death that poisonous serpent inflicted on Him through sin. He willingly shed His blood for you at the cross, so that you may eat His body and drink His blood in the Sacrament of the Altar for your forgiveness and salvation!

Did God really say? Yes He did, in the victorious Word incarnate, Christ Jesus, your Lord and Savior.


Sunday, February 14, 2010


And Yahweh spoke to Samuel... " Fill your horn with oil and walk. I will send you to Jesse of Bethlehem, for I have chosen from his sons to Myself, a king... And Samuel did that which Yahweh said... And it occurred, in entering, and he saw Eliab, and he said, "Indeed, the anointed of Yahweh is before Him." And Yahweh said to Samuel, "Do not look on his appearance nor at the height of his stature, for I reject him, for not what man sees, for man looks at the appearance, and Yahweh looks into the heart." And Jesse called Abinadab and made him pass by before the face of Samuel, and he said, "Likewise in this one Yahweh has not chosen." And Jesse made Shammah pass by and he said, "Likewise in this one Yahweh has not chosen." And Jesse made 7 of his sons pass by before the face of Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, "Yahweh has not chosen these." And Samuel said to Jesse, "Are these the boys?" And he said, "Still there is left, the youngest, and look he is tending the sheep." And Samuel said to Jesse, "Send and take him, for we will not sit until he comes here." And he sent and made him come, and he himself–red with beautiful eyes and good looks. And Yahweh said, "Rise, anoint him, for this is he!"

God makes the strangest choices, sometimes. He chose young, inexperienced David to be Israel's King. He wanted a hateful church-persecutor named Saul to become Paul, who writes the beautiful love chapter of the bible. He selected a blind beggar as the best witness to identify Jesus as the merciful Son of David. None of these would have been elected by popular vote, to be sure. I suppose that's why God's church is not a democracy, but, rather, it is a kingdom ruled by His choices alone!

First and foremost, we don't like the fact that God is in charge, making all the decisions. You might be tempted to think of it as *your church* subject to rule of people. But the most popular opinions ought never rule the day in God's church. For God doesn't want his church fractured into a smug majority and a resentful minority. He desires His church to be one, according to His good and gracious will alone!

That's why the church is the new Israel. Like the Israel of old was ruled by kings like young David, the church today is ruled by Jesus, the Son of David. And Christ your Lord rules over you the best way possible–not with the rules of His Law. Jesus came to fulfill that law as Israel-rolled-into-one in your place. No, your Savior rules over His church without rules, but with His agape love instead. Not romantic love, but the love God has toward you, a love manifest in Jesus' death for you on the cross.

Next, we struggle with the complete illogic with which God makes his decisions. We want to assess our talents and skills to see how many gifts there are for God to choose from. Then God frustrates us by choosing those who are foolish, weak, despised and completely lacking of any abilities whatsoever! What gives? It may seem to you that God doesn't have a clue about what He is doing...

God doesn't choose according to outward appearances. He chooses according to the heart. He chose weak little David and made him into a mighty king. He chose hateful Saul to make him into the love-proclaiming Apostle Paul. He chose a blind man as the star witness to identify Jesus. All because God knew what would be in their hearts–faith! God has chosen to give you that same faith at your Baptism, causing you to see clearly from within your heart that Jesus is your Savior from sin.

Finally, we become frustrated that God's decisions tend to steal all the glory. We want our qualities to shine before men, yet God chooses not to use them. You may want your efforts to be acknowledged before men, but Jesus says to pray, fast, and do charitable works privately without a soul ever knowing. "Why can't I be the one in the spotlight?" you wonder, so that you can boast and brag, just a bit...

God has chosen the spotlight for Himself alone. He chose to be the one, at the front and center of your salvation. He did it out of mercy, because the sight wasn't a pretty one. It was Jesus body lifted up to death on a tree. It was the gory sight of His blood shed for you at Calvary. There the glory of God shines most brightly, that bloody cross drawing all men to Jesus. He gives you that same body given unto death, and that same blood shed for you there, for you to eat cross drink for your forgiveness and life eternal!

Yes, God makes some odd choices, to our way of thinking...but praise the LORD that He does so! For by God's careful selections, He draws you away from yourself & your navel-gazing, to lift up your eyes and see the Lord's Anointed, Christ Jesus. Your confidence is no longer in your supposed strengths, but in the love of God manifest in your King, the Son of David, Jesus, the Christ!


Sunday, February 7, 2010 Sexigesima

And in their journeyings, all the assembly of the Sons of Israel, from the desert of Sin, departed according to the voice of Yahweh; and they camped in Rephidim, and there was no water to drink for the people. And the people disputed with Moses and they said, "Give to us water, and we may drink." And Moses said to them, "Why do you dispute with me? Why do you try Yahweh?" And the people thirsted there for water, and the people grumbled against Moses and they said, "Why now, have you brought us up from Egypt, to kill me, and my sons, and my livestock with thirst?" And Moses called out to Yahweh, to say, "What will I do to these people? Yet a little and they will stone me!" And Yahweh said to Moses, "Go over before the people and take with you from the elders of Israel, and your staff which you struck upon the Nile, take in your hand, and walk. Look, I will stand before your face there, on the Rock on Horeb; and you will strike on the Rock, and will come out from it, water; and the people may drink." And thus, Moses did in the eyes of the elders of Israel. And he called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, over the dispute of the sons of Israel, and over their trying Yahweh, to say, "Is Yahweh in our midst? Surely He is absent!"

God provides. That's not just a platitude we say when one suffers loss. God does provide: clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, a spouse and children, property, animals, and all you have. That's just some of the earthly stuff! He daily and richly provides all you need to support your body and life. God also provides you with blessings from above: redeeming you and bestowing life eternal in heaven!

"This is old news Pastor..." True enough. But the God Who provided for the Israelites of old, and for the Jews of Jesus' day is the same God who provides for you now. But the Israelites grumbled about how God would provide for them, and Jesus tells a parable about those who complained about receiving the same reward from the Vineyard Owner. Guess what? Human nature hasn't changed much over the years. You still find yourselves tempted to murmur and dispute about how God provides.

When we don't understand just how God is providing, we begin to doubt His providence. Church attendance is down, the participation of members slows and offerings dwindle, so we wrongly assume God is failing us. He isn't. But we foolishly want to take matters into our own hands, as though God needs our help to sustain and grow His church. He doesn't. He only requires you to be faithful to Him.

God sustains His church with simple water. Not unlike the water from the Rock in the desert. Jesus blesses His church in the life-giving water of baptism. It gives life because it is water connected to and comprehended with God's Own life-giving word! This water not only cleanses you from sin, but it also quenches your thirst as well. As a sinner you thirst for righteousness, and in trade for your sins (which Jesus took upon Himself in death on the cross). He is the Rock who gives you His righteousness!

When we don't recognize the ways God is providing, that's when we begin to take it up with God's man. The Israelites argued with Moses about how God didn't seem to be providing for them. The workers in the parable grumble to the foreman about their pay. Even today, God's man takes the brunt of the member's complaints. "Why can't we do it this way, or that way, Pastor?"

God's man can say nothing other than what the LORD has given him to say. Your pastor has been given the Law of God to proclaim you guilty as a sinner. But your pastor has also been given the message of the gospel, which declares the grace of Jesus to you this day! It is my privilege to proclaim to you that Jesus loves you so much that He gave up His life on Calvary's hill to save you. According to the voice of the LORD, you are proclaimed to be forgiven today, in His name.

When we fail to comprehend exactly how God provides for us, we are tempted to try puting God to the test. "Where were you God, when that earthquake hit Haiti?" "Where were you God, when that person I loved so much died right in the prime of life?" With such questions, we put God on trial, accusing Him of being absent, just because He allows things we wouldn't have. But he isn't absent.

Your God is here for you, a very present Help for your needs. He's not absent, just because He allows suffering. He is present in the very suffering itself, as Jesus was at the cross. He was really present there to save you from that unholy trinity of sin, death and the devil. He is really present here and now, with the same body given and blood shed, in the bread and wine of the Lord's Supper to forgive you! Jesus is here now to provide the blessings of heaven in His word proclaimed and sacraments received!