Sunday, January 31, 2010

Septuagesima , Exodus 17:1-7

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 putting 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!

Hymns for today from LSB:
#785 We Praise You Oh God stanzas
#555 Salvation Unto Us Has Come stanzas
#648 Glorious Things of You are Spoken stanzas


Sunday, January 24, 2010


And it happened in Moses' going down from the mountain of Sinai, and two tablets of the testimony in the hand of Moses in his coming down from the mountain, and Moses did not know that the skin of his face shined in His words with him. And in Aaron seeing Moses, and all the sons of Israel, and look, the skin of his face shined, and they were afraid from coming near to him. And Moses called to them, and returned to him Aaron and all the exalted ones in the gathering, and Moses spoke to them, and after this all the sons of Israel approached, and He commanded them all which Yahweh spoke with him on the mountain of Sinai. And Moses finished from speaking with them, and he put upon his face a vail. And in Moses' going in before the face of Yahweh to speak with Him, he took off the vail until he came out. And coming out and speaking with the sons of Israel that which he was commanded, and the sons of Israel saw the face of Moses, for the skin of Moses' face shined, and Moses returned the veil over his face until he came to speak with Him.

There are really two ways that Christians worship...with God, or without Him. A few want to be where the glorious presence of the Lord is. But most don't really want it. That's why Jesus only invites three disciples up upon Transfiguration mount to behold his glory. Even they cowered at hearing God's voice. That's why God summoned only Moses to be up on Mt. Sinai before His glorious face. Even the reflection of God's glory on the face of Moses was too much for Aaron and the Israelites to bear.

Most folks want to worship without God's presence because they have a wrong view of heaven. They think that God is up there, and we are down here. So they worship in such a way as to try to get the LORD's attention. Lengthy prayers from the heart, personal testimonies and many songs of how they "feel" about God dominate their church service. You too may have a fondness for these things. But don't be fooled. All the words you pray, testify and sing won't bring you any closer to the glory of God.

You are blessed to worship with God's glorious presence in His word. Just like God spoke to Moses on the Mountain, and from the cloud to the three disciples, so too does the glorious God speak to you today! The worship service is chock full of God's word, from the liturgy which is 98% from the Bible, to the scripture readings, to the sermon which applies God's word to you. These are not our words, thoughts, or opinions. This is Jesus' message of love to you from the Cross of Calvary! Listen to Him!

A majority of people desire to worship without God being in their midst, thinking they can fashion for themselves a suitable substitute. While Moses was up on Mt. Sinai, the Israelites made a golden calf for themselves. Peter too tried foolishly to make temporary housing for glorious residents of heaven. Nowadays folks substitute fantastic mountain top kinds of experiences. Perhaps you want what's fun, exciting, interesting or fascinating to you in church. But don't be satisfied with such poor substitutes.

You are blessed to worship with God right there in your midst. Jesus once promised that when two or more are gathered in His name, that He would be there in the midst of them. You were given God's name at your baptism. The glorious presence of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit was with you there. It is no coincidence that your worship service begins in that same name of your Baptism, for God is with you today to do what He did then–to cleanse you of your sins and give you Jesus' holy righteousness.

Many simply choose to worship with God's absence. Like the fearful disciples wishing there were any place but in the Father's presence, and like Aaron and the Israelites who feared even the reflection of God's glory, people fear what worship would be like if God were really there. They don't like to be compared with a perfect, holy and righteous God there with them. Maybe you don't care for it when you are reminded that you sin and and fall short of God's glory. But you need that diagnosis of your condition.

You are blessed to worship with God's real presence. Your Lord comes to be with you fully in the sacrament of the Altar. Jesus comes to all of you with the fullness of his glory in Communion. He masks the glory of his body under the bread of His Supper. He hides the glory of His holy, precious blood in the cup of salvation. In a not-so-fearful way, your glorious Savior Jesus comes to you today to give you the fruits of the cross, His body given for you there, and His blood shed for your forgiveness.

Yes, there are two ways that Christians tend to worship. The foolish way, as though God isn't there and as if worship should be about what we get to do. And the blessed way, where your Lord and Savior comes to you with His glorious presence in His word proclaimed and in the actions of His sacraments. .

Monday, January 18, 2010

January 17, 2010, Second Sunday after Epiphany, Exodus 33:12-23

And Moses said to Yahweh, "See, You Yourself say to me, ‘Bring up this people,' yet You Yourself have not made known to me that which You will send with me. And You Yourself have said, ‘I have known you in name, and also you have found grace in my sight.' And now, if You please, I find grace in Your sight, make known to me, please, Your ways, and I may know You, in order that I may find grace in your sight, and you regard that Your people (is) this nation." And He said, "My face will walk along, and I will give you rest." Then he said to Him, "If there isn't Your face walking along, do not lead us up from here. And in what may it be known then, that I have found grace in your sight, I and Your people? Isn't it in your walking with us and we will be distinct, I and Your people, from all the peoples which are on the face of the earth? And Yahweh said to Moses, "Also, this word which you speak, I will do, for you have found grace in My sight, and I have known you in name." And he said, "Show me, please, Your glory." And He said, "I Myself will cause all my goodness to pass over your face, and I will call in the name of Yahweh to your face, and I will be gracious to those which I will be gracious, and I will have compassion on those which I will have compassion." Yet He said, "You are not able to see My face, for no man is able to see me and live." And Yahweh said, "Look, a place with me, and you will stand on the rock. And it will be, in My glory passing over and I will place you in a cleft of the rock, and I will screen with My hand over you until I pass over. And I will remove My hand and You will see My back, yet My face, you will not see.

The third part of the Christmas cycle, the season of Epiphany is upon us. It is this unique season where Immanuel=God with us is manifest in the words & actions of Jesus. We know that God is with us, after all, we learned of His omni-presence back in Confirmation class. God is everywhere, and that includes being with us wherever we are. But Epiphany is about God actually showing that presence; and how God chooses to manifest His divine presence in Jesus may be a rather surprising thing!

The first thing we notice is how God doesn't choose to reveal his divine glory at the whim of men. He is no beck-and-call-God. Moses asked to behold God's glory on Mt. Sinai, but God says, "Not so fast, Moses!" Mary wanted Jesus to begin revealing His divine glory at the Cana wedding, but Jesus tells her that it isn't quite time yet. You too may want God to show Himself to you in some divine miracle, but He may be saying to you, "Not just now..." Be patient, for His ways are not our ways, after all.

God makes known to us His ways just as He did to Moses. His way of manifesting Himself to you today is through Jesus. Not with the pomp and circumstance we might desire. Jesus comes to be with you in the simplest way, in the plain water and words of your Baptism. In that sacrament, God is with us, cleansing us from all our unrighteousness, rescuing us from death and the devil, and giving life!

The second thing we note is how the LORD doesn't want to overwhelm us. We think we can handle all of the truth, but sometimes we aren't able to, just yet. Moses wasn't ready to see God's glorious face. The wedding guests weren't prepared as of yet for a flashy miracle either. Nor does God want you to be overwhelmed...just "whelmed". You may think you want Jesus to come to you in the most exciting and fascinating ways, but He knows best how *not* to come to you, as well as how *to* be with you.

Jesus' word reveals the very best way for Him to come to you. Your faith comes by hearing the gospel message of Christ's love for you from the cross. Your Savior comes to you in your ear each time you hear how He loves you enough to die in your place on Calvary's hill. Jesus comes to be with you whenever your sins are forgiven in Jesus' Name absolutely. Jesus' tender voice is heard in His word.

One more thing we recognize is that God comes to us in unusual and amazing ways. Moses never expected to be placed in the cleft of a rock to see the back-side of God pass by in front of him. The wedding guests were all pleasantly surprised to find such high quality wine available at the end of the wedding feast. You too may be wanting God to act and show Himself to you in a particular way, yet when the LORD does arrive, you ought not be disappointed in the way He chooses to come to you.

For the flesh and blood Jesus chooses to come to you in a special way, with His body masked under the bread, and His blood hidden in the cup of the Lord's Supper. He comes to be with you there for a single purpose–to forgive you your sins. And not just some sins, not the few sins you would offer to Him, but Jesus comes to take away all of your sins in Holy Communion, taking them to the cross.

Hymns for today from LSB:
#408 Come Join in Cana's Wedding Feast
#402 The Only Son From Heaven
#399 The Star Proclaims the Kings is Here

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Saturday, January 16, 2010

Sunday, January 10, 2010 Baptism of Our Lord

And Joshua arose in the morning, and he set out from Shittim, and came upon the Jordan, and the sons of Israel, and they lodged there before they went over. And it was from the end of three days, and the record-keepers went over into the interior of the camp. And they ordered the people, saying, "As you see the Ark of the Covenant of Yahweh your God and the priests of Levi lifting it up, and you, yourselves set forth from your place and you walk after it...And Yahweh spoke to Joshua, "This day I begin to make you great in the eyes of all Israel, which they may know, for as which I have been with Moses, I will be with you. And you yourself will order the priests who are lifting up the ark of the covenant, saying, "As you come upon the edge of the waters of the Jordan, in the Jordan you will stand."...And it will be as they rest, as the soles of the feet of the priests who lift up the ark of Yahweh, the Lord of all the earth will be in the waters of the Jordan; the waters of the Jordan will be cut off--the waters going from above; and they will stand in one dam. And it was in the people setting out from their tents to go over the Jordan, and the priests lifted up the ark of the covenant before the people; and as they came, those lifting up the ark upon the Jordan and the feet of the priests lifting up the ark were dipped in the edge of the water (and the Jordan overflows all of its banks all the days of harvest), And the waters going from above arose in one dam, much distance away, in Adam, the city which is alongside Zarethan, and those going to the sea of Arabah, the sea of salt, completely were cut off. And the people went over opposite Jericho. And the priests who lifted up the ark of the covenant of Yahweh stood on dryness in the middle of the Jordan, and all Israel went over on dryness until which all the nation finished going over the Jordan.

A popular scam-artist named John Edward is often seen on TV promoting his so-called ability to *cross-over* from here to contact those in the afterlife. He calls his program, "Crossing over" duping many into believing that you can communicate with loved ones in the great beyond. But we know that such *crossing over* is not possible. Even if it were, it would not be helpful as Jesus reminds us in the story of the rich man and Lazarus. For the crossing-over into the promised land is a one way trip, from which no one would ever want to even consider going back again.

Moses led the Israelites to the brink of the promised land, only to be forbidden from taking them across because of his sins. Instead, God chose Joshua to lead them in their crossing over the Jordan. But of course, it really wasn't Moses, Joshua, or any man leading the Sons of Israel into the promised land, any more than a charlatan can claim the ability to cross over into the afterlife. Only God can accomplish this miraculous crossing-over. He does it by being, Himself, in the middle of it all.

That's why Jesus, as God, repeats history here, placing Himself smack-dab into the middle of the river, just as He had done before in the ark of the covenant held by the priests. Jesus went into the Jordan this time to be baptized there, but don't be fooled. Jesus did this for the same reason Joshua commanded the ark of God's presence to go down into the middle of the Jordan–for an important crossing over. Back then it was the promised land of Israel, now the promised land of heaven.

You see, if the ark where God Himself dwelt didn't go into the Jordan first, no Israelite would have ever made it to the promised land. Likewise, if Jesus hadn't gone into the Jordan first, no believer would have ever made it to heaven! So important was this event, that the Father spoke from heaven, and the Holy Ghost made a rare appearance. God was pleased with what His beloved Son was doing there in the Jordan, for Jesus was allowing for sinful men to cross over into heaven by God's grace.

How? By Jesus' willingness to get down in the muck and mire of sin, washed into the murky waters of the Jordan. Jesus, Who knew no sin of His Own, was willing to be immersed into the sin of people. Jesus, the holy One of God, embraced that sin to fulfill all righteousness the day of His Baptism. For His ministry was one in which He actually sought to become sins, yours and mine, and to pay the price for our sin, the wages of which is death, at the cross of Calvary. His body given and His blood shed for you.

And that's what makes your own baptism effective. Your sin is washed clean from you there, and the font's filthy flood-water is poured out in full onto Jesus as He drinks that cup of God's wrath against sin at the cross. As Jesus becomes your sin, He gives up His Own holy righteousness at the cross and gives it to you in your baptism. By His death on Calvary, you have now crossed-over to the promised land! In God's forgiveness, rescue and salvation in baptism, you have crossed-over to life eternal in heaven.


Sunday, January 3, 2010

Christmas 2 Matthew 2:13-23

And Israel pulled out and all which was his, and he came to Beer-sheba and sacrificed sacrifices to the God of his father, Isaac. And God spoke to Israel in the visions of the night and He said, "Jacob, Jacob." And he said, "Here I am". And He said, "I Myself am the God, God of your fathers; do not fear from going down to Egypt, for into a great nation I will make you there. I Myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I Myself will you bring you up, indeed, I will bring up. And Joseph will place his hand upon your eyes." And Jacob arose from Beer Sheba, and the sons of Israel lifted up Jacob their father, and their small children, and their wives, in the wagons which Pharaoh sent to exalt him. And they took their livestock and their possessions which they acquired in the land of Canaan and they came to Egypt, Jacob and all his seed with him; his sons and his sons' sons with him, his daughters and his daughters' daughters, and all his seed he brought with him to Egypt.

I couldn't wait to grow up, when I was a young child, primarily because I thought that when I became an adult, I could then walk wherever I wanted to walk, and go wherever I wanted to go. I quickly learned that it wasn't like that. You have to take into consideration the needs of friends and family, and you must heed the will of those over you like the government or your boss before you go anywhere.

Adding to all the people you must take into account before you take a single step, there is also God to think about. Once you become a Christian, His will becomes primary for you. Just as Jesus prayed at Gethsemane, His disciples today echo His sentiments, "Not my will, but Thine be done." As it turns out, the steps you take and where you go, aren't really your decisions, as a Christian. For God determines where you go, having prepared good works for you to walk in, each step of the way.

That was true for believers as far back as Jacob. God had given him the new name *Israel* and had given him that promised land named after him. Then, God told him to leave the promised land and go down to Egypt. Not just him, but every single member of his family. Going from the promised land to a foreign land of a potential enemy? Didn't seem to promising. But God directed their steps all the way down to Egypt with the promise that He would go with them and bring them back out again.

Some New Testament believers received the same directions from God. Mary and Joseph likewise took there relatively small household down into the foreign land of Egypt to protect the young boy Jesus from Herod's wicked plans. God then instructed them to return when the coast was clear, leading them back home once more. This fulfilled what was prophesied for Jesus, that out of Egypt God would call His Son. The Israelites in Egypt in the Old Testament were a type of Jesus in the New.

These parallel stories teach us much about our walk with God, primarily that it is always to be *with* God. Jesus promises to be with His Own people. He remains with you to guide your walk on the straight and narrow path each step of the way of your life here on earth. And those times you wander off the path like straying sheep, your Good Shepherd comes to gather you up into His arms to return you to safe ground, with both a stern word of admonishment, and with a comforting word of caring.

These stories remind us that our walk with God seems difficult and challenging at times. God leads you down a few dark roads you wouldn't choose to travel. The Lord directs your steps along paths you would never choose to go on your own. But don't be deceived by how things seem at first glance. For you know that your God does not allow anything beyond what you can handle, and in your weakness, He is your Strength. You are God's Own, purchased at the cross and brought into His family at baptism.

These stories about walking with God also teach us that He is the one who directs our footsteps. We may think that we choose to come to be with Him in church today, but really, no one comes to the Father unless Jesus draws him. We ask ourselves what we can do to get more folks in church on Sunday, but that's not the right question. Since it is the Holy Ghost who gathers folks around Word and Sacrament, we ought be asking what *God* would have us do, what steps/gifts He has for His church.

Your walk with God is never promised to be an easy one, this side of heaven. But you do have the promise of His protection each step of the way, as He promises to come to be with His people even if only two or three are gathered in His name. He gathers us together as He has this day, to receive the blessings. We do well to go with Him where He leads, to the font as baptized children of God, to His preaching/teaching to listen to the one thing needful, and to His Table to feast on His body and blood.

Hymns for today from LSB:
#918 Guide Me O Thou Great Redeemer
#385 From East to West
#729 How Firm a Foundation, O Saints of the Lord