Sunday, February 24, 2013

Lent 2

Become fellow-imitators of me, brothers, and watch those walking this way just as you have our type. For many walk, which many times I said to you, and now also crying I say, (as) the enemies of the cross of Christ, of whom the end–destruction, of whom the god–the belly, and the glory in their shame, the ones whose mind-set is on earth. For our commonwealth exists in heaven, out of which also a Savior we eagerly await–the Lord Jesus Christ, Who will transform our bodies of humility conformed to the body of His glory by the work of His power even to submit everything to Him. Therefore, my brothers, loved-by-God and longed for, my joy and victory-crown, so you stand in the Lord, loved by God.  

We are all headed for the very same goal in the end, for we know that our true and lasting home is with Jesus in heaven above. But as we eagerly await the return of our Savior to take us from this valley of tears and sorrow to be with Him in paradise, life here on earth can be difficult. Temptations abound as you walk this way and that in this world. You find enticements along many different sinful paths. So how do you stand firm against so many different, exciting yet dangerous sins at every turn?

The dilemma is a relatively simple one as St. Paul is inspired to spell it out for you. The problem is in the walking. Those who walk this path and that one are the enemies of the cross of Christ. You keep on walking where they lead you, and you’ll end up with nothing but destruction. Their god is their own belly, which means whatever feels like it satisfies them, that’s their goal. Drinking, promiscuity, drugs, gluttony, and the list goes on. The things of this earth which give temporary pleasure is their shame.

No, you might think that since the problem is walking in all the wrong places, that the solution would be for you to walk only in the right places. But you’d be dead wrong! While you remain of sinful flesh, this is impossible for you to accomplish. All your own righteousnesses are but filthy rags in God’s sight. So no, this problem of your law breaking cannot be solved by you striving at better law keeping.

Instead of walking, St. Paul is inspired to give you a different way altogether. You are to stand. Stand still. Stand firmly in the Lord Jesus. In Him you live, you move, and you have your being. So remain in Christ loved by God. Stop trying to walk your own way to heaven without the Lord, and simply stand on His promises. For Jesus walked the walk you never could. He walked the 1st and 2nd days, and on the 3rd day He reached His goal. Having died for you Good Friday, Jesus rose to life that 3rd day for you.

Your walk is in a humble, lowly, really in a humiliating body. For you walk thinking, “everybody fudges on their taxes, so why shouldn’t I?”, or “I could pass off that coupon that expired yesterday as though it is still good”, or “what does it matter if I cuss throughout the week, so long as I watch my tongue on Sunday morning”, or “they put all that ‘eye-candy’ on tv and in the movies so that people will watch, so I might as well ogle them”. But walking in this way is shameful as it leads to more dangerous sins.

Jesus’ walk was nothing like yours! He walked the walk of pure goodness, healing the sick, casting out demons from the possessed, curing the blind and deaf, and even raising the dead. He walked every day loving God His Father with His entire heart at all times, and loving His neighbor even more than He loved Himself. He walked the perfect walk you never are able to walk. He walked it straight to Jerusalem where the prophets were killed, to give His life as a ransom for you and for all people.

Yet there are some who think, “If only I can be more Christ-like, then I’ll make myself into a real Christian!” Hogwash! It is not when you first fix your walk that God loves you, but while you were yet sinners, that’s when Christ died for you. So throw out your WWJD bracelets, because where He went in His walk, you simply can’t go. Instead, if you are looking for an example to follow, look to St. Paul and the other Apostles of old, who realized that all they could do was to stand in the Lord Jesus.

For Jesus walked the walk of the Savior. He walked the only walk which could bless all people, which is why the people welcomed Him to Jerusalem with shouts of “Blessed is He Who comes in the name of the Lord!” Jesus came filled with blessings in the Lord’s name. Those blessings He came to you, showering you with them at your baptism in the Lord’s name, where He gave you forgiveness of your sins, deliverance and rescue from death and the devil, and eternal salvation to you who believes.  

So you are left with nothing else to do than to take your stand in the Lord Jesus. You stand in His love as He feeds you His body and blood at His supper table. You stand, loved by God, awaiting His return.


Sunday, February 17, 2013

Lent I

Near you is the statement, in your mouth and in your heart, that is the statement of the faith which we are proclaiming, because, if ever you confess in your mouth the Lord Jesus and you believe in your heart that God raised Him out of death, you will be saved. For in the heart--to believe unto righteousness, and in the mouth--to confess unto salvation. For the scripture says, “All who believe upon Him are not put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the Same is Lord of all, bestowing riches unto all the ones calling upon Him; for all whomever calls upon the name of the LORD will be saved.  

“Calling upon God’s name.” Seems simple enough. We Christians pray in God’s name. We call Him by name “Our Father, Who art in heaven.” We can ask things of Jesus directly. Jesus even promises that anything we ask for “in His name” He will grant. But I once asked for a new bicycle for Christmas in Jesus’ name, and there wasn’t one under the tree. Maybe you’ve attached God’s name to a prayer, and it didn’t occur. So there must be something more to it when we call upon the name of the LORD.

This “calling on the name of the LORD” must be something pretty important. When Luther ‘splains the 1st petition of the Lord’s Prayer, He lists calling upon the Lord’s name in every trouble as the first good use of God’s holy name. Yet it must be something more than simply attaching God’s name to a prayer, like a desperate soldier might do in a foxhole. We should consider calling on the Lord’s name.

Calling on the name of the LORD means something to God. It means that He keeps His promise to come and *act*. Now, if you were to smash your thumb with a hammer and shout out God’s name, He keeps His promise to be there with you, but might just make it throb a bit longer until you realize that you shouldn’t use His name so carelessly. But if you cry out to Him in earnest prayer when you want help, God promises to come with all the blessed fruits of the Holy Spirit to bless you in time of need.

The Lord’s name is also connected to one specific act of your God. When you came to the baptismal font, you were washed not only with water, but with the word. With an utterance or statement from the mouth of God’s Minister, you were baptized. This word was no less than God’s Own name, of Father, Son and Holy Ghost. That day, God named you with His Own Name, adopting you into His heavenly family. You have joined the royal household of He Who reigns above! Heaven’s riches are now yours!

So, having been named with the Lord’s name, that Word uttered at your baptism is near you. It is in your heart, where by that Gospel statement the Holy Spirit created faith in you. This word is also in your mouth, so that you may utter it as your confession of the faith you share with all believers in Christ Jesus. You confess the Lord Jesus with your words, along with all believers, as you do when you recite the creed in church. God gives you to speak words of faith as a believer in Christ Jesus.

Yet you know that your words aren’t always those of faith. Sometimes what comes out of your mouth doesn’t sound very Christian at all. You curse, you swear, you speak faithless words about luck or fate instead of confessing God’s rich blessings. You talk as if you trust your favorite team, or your political party, or yourself more than you rely on God. Instead of words of great confidence in God to see things through, you speak forth doubts, grumblings, complaints and uncertainty about the future
But it isn’t just the words of your mouth which betray your lack of faith. It is your actions which give you away as well. You behave as though God didn’t matter, and as if you mattered the most. You haven’t showed love to your God from your whole heart, and you haven’t always cared for your neighbors as you’ve cared about yourself. When other people see the way you are throughout the week, would they consider you to be one of those Christians who calls upon the name of the Lord?

So you’ve failed God with your words, with your deeds, and even in your heart of hearts. What can you do now? All that remains is to call on God’s name for His mercy. For there is salvation for all who call on the name of the LORD, and that includes you. For calling on God’s name is nothing other than calling on God to keep the promise He made when He baptized you in that same name. He promised forgiveness, rescue, and salvation that day, and Jesus is still your Savior from sin, death and satan today.  

For the name of the Lord upon which you call is the name of Jesus, your Savior. He is the One Who suffered every temptation of the devil, yet without a single sin. As a perfect sacrifice, He willingly went to the cross to suffer death for you. By His resurrection from death He justified you forevermore.