Faith Lutheran Church Desboro

God Cares For His Church                                                                 

I Timothy 3:1-13. ESV
The Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost                                                                       

25/09/22.

 

            God cares for His Church. As a father takes care of His children and provides for his family, so God takes care of His family, the Church.

            In his Epistle, St. James says that God is the Giver of all good gifts (James 1:17). What gifts? Daily bread, family and friends, health and happiness, forgiveness for our sins and faith in Jesus for eternal life. Do you have good in your life? Thank God for giving His gifts freely. He cares.

            In the Church, God cares for our souls. His Holy Spirit works through the Bible, read, preached and taught, to convict us of our sins and to show us our Saviour (AC V:2). In Holy Baptism, the Father washes our sins away and adopts us as His children into His family, the Holy Christian Church. Baptism both kindles and strengthens our faith in Christ. In Holy Communion, the Father cares for us by strengthening our faith in Jesus, cheering us with Christ’s real presence. None of these gifts exists in a vacuum. God calls properly qualified men to deliver His gifts to us: forgiveness, life, and salvation. The personal touch from God in a person. To care for the Church, God calls Pastors.

            But not just anyone. Properly prepared men are vetted by the list of characteristics given here in I Timothy 3: monogamous, sober, content, gentle; good at teaching, organized, friendly. Some fifteen descriptives are listed here. Deacons who serve alongside Pastors in the Church are also bound by similar qualifications. Those whom God calls to stand publically to preach and teach God’s Word and to distribute His Sacraments as “stewards of the mysteries of God” (I Corinthians 4:1) are held to a higher standard. Through them, God cares for His Church.

            Notice how the Apostle St. Paul chooses his words carefully when writing to Timothy about the office of the ministry. A father “manages” (προiστημι) his household—that’s a strong word meaning “ruler” or “head.” A Pastor cares for (ἐπιμελέομαι) God’s Church (v. 5), a word emphasizing compassion and nurture. The Good Shepherd sends His undershepherds to pastor and care for the sheep and lambs of His flock with God’s Word and Sacraments. In good times and in bad. Through joys and sorrows. To speak Law and Gospel to those in caught in sinful error, when children are confirmed and when husband and wife marry. To rejoice with new parents when a child is born, and then reborn in Holy Baptism. To walk with God’s people with the Sacrament, His Word and prayer through the dark valley of death as this life gives way to eternal life in Christ.

            Pastors care.

            Which takes its toll on a man. Sin, struggle and conflict in the Church of God make for wrinkles, grey hair, and stress-related illness, especially when the Pastor takes these cares upon himself. In another letter, St. Paul lists the many things he has suffered as a minister of the Gospel, ending the list by writing, “and, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches” (II Corinthians 11:28). Pastors are sinners, too, in need of a Saviour. The cares of this calling take their toll on a man.

            Tempting those in the ministry to give up. “After awhile, I just stopped caring.” That’s how the sinful nature in us all can react to the continual pressure of the world and Satan’s temptations. That’s sin that says, “who cares?” to the needs of the world so busy destroying itself, to a world without Christ, to a world going to hell. Who cares? God cares!

            By giving Christ to His people. In His Word, Christ speaks to His Church. In Baptism, Christ washes the lambs of His flock. In Communion, Christ feeds our souls. As the ultimate, definitive answer to the prayer of the rich man in hell from Christ’s parable, Jesus has returned from the dead. The crucified and resurrected Son of God calls the world to repent of sin, to turn from the selfish path that leads to hell and to receive life through faith in His name. Now, the living Christ, Lord of the Church calls Pastors to go into the world  with His Word and Sacraments that all who hear might turn from sin and be saved in Him. God still calls men into the ministry.

            Because He cares.

            St. Paul begins this chapter by calling the office of the ministry “a noble task.” Based on this verse, Dr. C. F. W. Walther wrote, “The preaching office is the highest office in the Church, from which flow all other offices in the Church” (Thesis VIII). He writes, “This office [God] did not entrust to angels so that we must ask and expect their appearances, but He has established the word of reconciliation among men, and He wills that the voice of the Gospel, revealed by God, should resound through them” (Church & Office 2012, p. 184). A man in my previous parish who was new to the church said with a certain wonder, “being a minster really is a decent and honourable job.”

            Mom and Dad, can you see your sons going into Seminary to pursue a divine calling as a Pastor of God’s Church? Grandparents, would you encourage your grandsons to serve the Lord and His Church clad in the stole of a Lutheran Pastor as their life’s career?

            The Lord uses Pastors to care for His body, the Church. “After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church—for we are members of His own body” (Ephesians 5:29-30a NIV). As the Lord cares for His Church, He also promises to care for His ministers. As they preach and teach in His name, Jesus says to Pastors, “The one who hears you hears Me, and the one who rejects you rejects Me..” (St. Luke 10:16).

            Truly this is a noble task. For in this way, God cares... for you.

                                               Amen





Holy Hands                                                                                              

I Timothy 2:1-15. ESV
The Fifteenth Sunday After Pentecost                                                                        

18/09/22.

 

            Albrecht Dürer was a close friend of Martin Luther. His Christ-centred engravings and paintings are world famous.

            Albrecht Dürer came from a large family: he was one of eighteen children. Both he and his brother Albert wanted to study art, but their father could not afford to send both of them to school. The two brothers decided that at the toss of a coin, one of them would work in the mines to support the other while he studied at the academy of art in Nuremberg. Albrecht won the coin toss and went to Nuremberg, while his brother worked in the mines.

            For four years, Albrecht studied at the academy. His talent earned high marks. By the time of his graduation, Albrecht Dürer was bringing in a rich income from the works he produced. Now, it was Albert’s turn to hone his artistic craft. But, four years of manual labour had been hard on the young man. Broken bones and arthritis made his fingers stiff and twisted. His hands were no longer capable of producing the paintings, sketches and engravings he had dreamed about years before. “It is too late for me,” Albert told his brother sadly.

            Albrecht Dürer was so grateful for his brother’s sacrifice. One day, he noticed his brother kneeling, his work-worn hands folded in prayer. Dürer sketched his brother’s hands with palms together and fingers pointing toward heaven. Dürer called this tribute to his brother “Hands.” But this inspiring symbol of prayer has been reproduced around the world, even as figurines in our church, known as, “Praying Hands.”

            Several times in today’s Epistle, we are urged to pray. Prayer is not an option for us as Christians: God commands us to pray. Prayer is a priority. We should pray everywhere, for all people, especially for our leaders in positions of authority. God commands us to pray with holy hands, to pray for His will to be done. For this is His good and gracious will: that all people would be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (v. 4).

            Prayer should be a completely natural thing for us who believe in Christ and are baptized. But often, it is not. The knarled hands of Albrecht Dürer’s brother in his famous sketch certainly remind us that prayer is difficult. Luther called prayer hard work. Instead of committing our requests, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings to the Lord; rather than praying with holy hands, we are prone to take matters into our own hands. These hands are raised in anger. These are the hands that make threatening gestures in the car when road rage takes over. These are the hands that overeat, abuse alcohol, or other substances. These are the hands we raise to dispute and debate with others to win our point. These are the hands that were created to pray to our Holy God. But these hands are often put to unholy uses. Why? Why do we use our hands to do unholy things? Why don’t we call on God’s name in every trouble, pray, praise and give thanks? (SC I:4) Unbelief. We simply do not take God at His Word. If we believed that God hears and answers our every prayer, then we would to turn to prayer. First.

            But God’s holy will for us is this: His earnest desire is that we be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth. We cannot save ourselves by our fervent praying. We cannot use our unholy hands to come to the knowledge of the truth on our own. So God sent His Son to be our Mediator. When two people are in conflict, a mediator comes in to reconcile them. The God-Man, Jesus Christ is our Mediator, reconciling us unholy people to our holy God. Our Mediator raised His holy hands in prayer for us in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus, our Mediator, raised His holy hands to be nailed to the cross for us. With His holy hands uplifted and pierced through with bloody wounds, Christ our Mediator prayed for us: “Father, forgive them, for they know what they do” (St. Luke 23:34). God answered His prayer as Jesus breathed His last. Our Mediator became our Ransom (ἀντίλυτρον  v. 6). By His blood, poured out at the cross through His holy hands, His feet and His side, the Holy Son of God bought us back from the penalty of our guilt: from sin, death and hell. Christ rose from the dead and ascended to heaven where He continues to be our Mediator. Right now, Jesus lifts up holy hands in prayer before the Father’s throne for you and me, and all the world. For He wants all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (v. 4).

            Christ continues to lift His holy hands upon us through His called ministers. Pastors stand in the stead of Christ and speak in His name. When I pronounce you forgiven during the absolution, you must not think of this poor sinner. Rather, picture the holy hands of Christ raised to absolve and free you from your sins. When I speak the blessed words at the end of this service, you must not think of this poor sinner. Rather, receive the benediction of the Lord, whose nailed-pierced, holy hands are raised in blessing over you. The Lord of the Church has called me, a sinner, to distribute the treasures of heaven from my hands in Holy Communion. By this gift of His true body and blood, Christ our dear Lord makes us His holy people, unites us as members of His holy body, the one Christian Church.

            With holy hands, we pray to the Holy One, our loving Triune God. Not only does Christ command us to pray. Our dear Lord Jesus makes our prayer effective before the Father in heaven. Having our consciences free from all guilt by the blood of His Son, we are eager to speak to our God in prayer as dear children ask their dear Father (SC III:2). When we pray, we speak with confidence, believing we will be heard, praying in the name of Christ, because of His merit. Especially, our text reminds us to pray for our leaders in Church and in the government, that we might live quiet and peaceful lives. As we place holy hands together in prayer for others, God answers by taking care of the world. The reason the world was still turning when you and I woke up today is this: God has heard and answered the prayers of His Church. The world continues on because of His grace and mercy: the Lord wants all people to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth (v. 4).

            Fold holy hands together. Pray for others. With confidence! End your prayers with a resounding “Amen,” that is, yes, yes, it shall be so (SC III:21). Since Jesus Christ makes us holy.

                                                                                                                                               Amen






First And Last                                                                                            

I Timothy 1:15. ESV
The Fourteenth Sunday After Pentecost                                                                    

11/09/22.

 

            I’m first! When they count up the ringers in horseshoes, if you’re first; if you’ve got the most ringers, there’s no questioning your ability. One or two might be just dumb luck—just a fluke. But if you’re at the top of the list, you’re a master—how proud to be first!

            Paul was first in line—as a sinner! “Chief of sinners” as we sing. Because he persecuted the Church.

            What a strange personal testimony! Kind of a strange thing to write as he begins his Epistle to Timothy—as an aging, retiring Pastor writing to instruct young Pastor Timothy as a candidate for the pastoral ministry. “Here’s my credentials,” says Paul, in effect, “I’m a first-rate sinner.” Can you imagine trying to recruit new students to our seminaries today with that kind of campaign? “Come and study the Bible with us—our professors are first-rate sinners.” Yet, that’s exactly the way that Paul begins his letter to Timothy.

            Why?

            To uphold, glorify and praise the saving name of Christ the Lord. “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners of whom I am the foremost” (v.15). The grace and mercy, the patience and love of God for Paul and for every sinner in the whole world is vividly displayed against the ugly background of our sin.

            Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—the Son of God did not take on flesh of the Virgin Mary and walk the earth for perfect people, for those who have it all together, for those who have never done, said nor thought what God forbids. Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners (v. 15; St. Matthew 9:13).

            Thank God for that! Because that’s you and me. There are no perfect people. We are the sinners He came to save. First in line, or coming up last at the end—we “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). The holy Law of God is like the upright, metal bar hammered into the sand of the horseshoe pit. God created us to be perfect in our words and actions (Leviticus 19:2 St. Matthew 5:48), to get a ringer every day, every hour, every moment. But we fall short of God’s demands for perfection.  We speak unkind words to our families or neighbours, and we land to one side. Our minds fill with selfish lust, greed for gain or faithless worries, and we overshoot God’s perfect standard. We put ourselves first, instead of placing God as number one in life, and we go spinning out of the pit of God’s will altogether. Chief of sinners? First and foremost to break God’s Law? We may not have sinned like Paul. But each  one of us knows where we have missed the mark.

            So, Christ sets it right for us. Jesus knows where we have failed. But He is perfect. In every way, the Lord always hit the mark—His life was a perfect game, a ringer every time—every day, every hour, every moment. Who is righteous according to God’s Law? Jesus is Head, Chief, foremost: first!

            Yet, Christ made Himself last for us: to save us. This is His grace and mercy: to take the place we deserve because we are sinners—to go to the end of the line—cursed and judged by God as the Chief of sinners (Galatians 3:13), guilty of all that we have said and done and thought: as “a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent” (v. 13). Jesus was nailed to the cross; that rigid, upright  post with its cross beam; that instrument known by the world first and foremost for its shame; chief and worst among all the ways to be condemned to die. Although perfect, Christ was condemned. Although first among all the people of the world, Jesus made Himself last. “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (v. 15). Yet even there, through His lowly death, Christ Jesus won the victory. His cross is a ringer for us. On the third day, Jesus rose again: “the first born of the dead” (Revelation 1:5), “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (I Corinthians 15:20) in death. Those who believe in Jesus, will also beat death, and will rise again with their bodies the same way He has. Through faith in Christ, He gives eternal life as a gift (v. 16).

            All this Christ did to put us first. No one is excluded from His love. Jesus calls every sinner to Himself the way that He called Paul: turn from sin, believe and be baptized. If God saved Paul, the Chief of sinners, through the work of Christ, won’t he also convert and save those who don’t believe now? If the Lord turned Paul around, won’t He also do the same for your friends and mine who don’t know Him? “The grace of our Lord is overflowing” (ὑπερπεονάζω v. 14), superabundant, divinely rich. There is great joy in heaven each time a lost sheep repents, turns from his straying ways and is found by the Good Shepherd, Christ (St. Luke 15:7).

            Chief of sinners. Almost sounds like Paul is boasting about his sin. Whether it’s horseshoes or hockey, any competition can lead us to boast about being the biggest, the best, proud to be first. There’s no way St. Paul boasts that he is a sinner. Why does call himself foremost among sinners? Big sin needs a big Saviour.

            Sin puts us last. Jesus puts us first.

                                                                                                                                               Amen






Love Others In Christ                                                                              

Hebrews 13:1-8. NIV
The Twelfth Sunday After Pentecost                                                                          

28/08/22

 

            Love your neighbour as yourself. Here, in Hebrews 13, God urges us to show brotherly love to each other in the Church. Four loving actions all flow from the words of Christ as He sums up commandments 4-10: “Love your neighbour as yourself” (St. Matthew 22:39).

           God’s command for us to love is His Word of law. Like all of God’s laws, we cannot save ourselves by doing them. Jesus has kept the law perfectly for us. Although undeserved, Christ gives us forgiveness of sins, salvation from death in hell, and eternal life as a free gift to all who believe and are baptized. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (v. 8). His Word to us does not change, nor does His undying love for us. Christ is faithful and true to His Word. He is our motivation, the drive behind our love for one another. The brotherly love of Christians springs freely from our hearts because of Christ’s love for us. Jesus loves the Church with His very life. He laid down His life on the cross in the ultimate expression of His love. With this faithful, sacrificial, unchanging love of Jesus for us in mind: love others in Christ.

            Our Epistle gives four examples by which we can show Christ’s love to others: first, by caring for strangers; second, by remembering those who are in prison and those who suffer; third, by honouring marriage with pure lives; fourth, by being content with what we have. May God’s Holy Spirit move our hearts to show this love in our own homes and lives. Follow our Lord’s Maundy Thursday command, “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another” (St. John 13:34-35).

            Love (charity) begins at home, as they say. There is where we first show love: by opening up our homes. Verse two calls this “hospitality” (φιλοξενία), helping people in time of need. Our modern hospitals have grown from the humble and loving beginnings of Christians who opened their homes to needy strangers, like the injured traveller in the parable of the Good Samaritan (St. Luke 10:34). Long before modern hotels, travelling was dangerous and uncertain. Christians living when this Epistle was written were driven from their homes by persecution, and needed to find safe shelter. Out of love for Christ, Christians opened their homes to show loving hospitality to strangers. Heaven knows the kind of people they took in! Abraham entertained angels in Genesis, and so did his nephew Lot. Will you be eating with angels when you open your door to strangers? Who knows? Still, our Lord guarantees a greater Guest comes to our house when we welcome a stranger out of love for Him: “I was hungry and you gave Me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited Me in, I needed clothes and you clothed Me...” (St. Matthew 25:35-36a). Welcoming a stranger, feeding, clothing and taking care of his needs is really doing all these things to Jesus.

            Serving Christ extends beyond the walls of our homes, and outside the company of strangers who need our help. Jesus goes on to tell us, “I was sick and you looked after Me, I was in prison and you came to visit Me” (St. Matthew 25:36b). Loving care for those suffering in the hospital, in the nursing home, or in prison are also ways that we show love for Christ. How? Come to their side. Pray with them. Sing with them. In Christian love, we imagine, ‘What would it be like to be sick, in prison, in need?’ Jesus Christ became as we are, humbling himself to death and the grave that we might sit with Him at the feast of heaven.

            We love others by respecting and honouring the marriage bond. A chaste, pure and decent life shows love for others. “Therefore what God has joined together,” Jesus declared, “let man not separate” (St. Matthew 19:6). God warns He will judge those who are unfaithful to their spouse by committing adultery; He will judge single people who despise marriage by practising sexual immorality. God hates adultery (cf. Malachi 2:16), the exact opposite of His character as our faithful God. We can depend on His Word; He will never change, for “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (v. 8). In Christian marriage, husbands and wives have the great privilege of modelling God’s love for us to the world. For Christ loved the Church so that He laid down His life for her (Ephesians 5:25).

            We love others by being content with what we have. Love of money crowds everything else out of our lives. Jesus declared, “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money” (St. Matthew 6:24). These words were written to Christians who had nothing: all their property, confiscated because they were Christians. At any time, God’s gifts may be taken from us. We dare not put our faith in money or anything in this world. Yet God, the Giver of everything we have, is always there for us. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (v. 8). How can we be content and free from the love of money? Trusting in God's faithful, unchanging promise to us: “Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you” (v. 5).

            How do we love others? As God first loved us! The Apostle St. John wrote in his first letter, “God is love. Whoever lives in love, lives in God and God in him” (I John 4:16). Our life and hope is in Christ Jesus. Our Lord pours the love of God into us in His very body and blood in His Holy Supper. Here, we abide in God, and in His love for us through the living Lord Jesus Christ. So we love others in Christ.

                                                                                                                                                Amen.

 




Who Loves You?                                                                                  

 Hebrews 12:4-24. ESV
The Eleventh Sunday After Pentecost                                                                        

21/08/22

 
            Who loves you?

            God loves you!

            Like a member of the family. God loves you like a son.

            He loves you enough to discipline you. Well, that doesn’t sound very good. Yet, discipline is a sign of love. Discipline says to kids running through traffic on a busy road; to the guy playing with matches; to the alcoholic whose drinking is ruining her life and others: to all these, discipline says, “Stop it!” If the Lord didn’t care about us, He would not bother to discipline us. “Discipline” (παιδεία) comes from the (Latin root) word for “disciple.” As His dear son, God disciplines you. He doesn’t want you to hurt yourself. He loves you.

            However, it is not easy to see discipline coming from love. A comedian once commented that you should never discipline your child in anger (which is true). “So, what does that mean?” the standup then joked. “Should you wait until you are in a good mood, then tell your son, ‘Hey, I feel great. Come over here so I can punish you.’” Yeah. Raising children is hard. No child likes being disciplined. Fact is, nobody like being told, “no.” So, when God disciplines us, we sin when we reject His love. How? When we regard it lightly (v. 5), laugh it off, making a joke about His work in our lives, complaining as if such discipline were not coming from God. We sin by rejecting God’s discipline, allowing that “root of bitterness to spring up and cause trouble” (v. 15) for our souls, and hurting our Christian witness to others. Our sin rejects God when He disciplines us for our good. With Israel of old, we stand under the judgement of Sinai’s commandments, a place of “blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest” (v. 18). Like Esau, who despised his place in the family. Rejecting his favour as firstborn son, he “sold his birthright for a single meal” (v. 16). Like him, we sin by despising God the Father, rejecting His gifts of love, undisciplined, to go and do our own thing. In our sin, we say “no” to God’s love.

            And yet, God the Father keeps on loving us. For us, wayward, straying, fatherless children, God disciplined His one and only Son. Jesus, true and natural Son of the Father was punished for you and me although He had done no wrong. Ever. In this, see how much God loves you! You and I, who rightly tremble with fear (v. 21) at the threat of Almighty God’s condemning Law at the foot of Mount Sinai have now come to Mount Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem, the glorious home of all saints, angels and God your loving Father, all because God’s Son died for you on Mount Calvary: disciplined to His death so that we might be saved. In this, see how much God loves you! Each and every time your sins condemn you, like the blood of Abel, slain by his brother, cried out from the ground for revenge (Genesis 4:10), the holy, life-giving blood of Jesus, poured out on the cross pleads for your forgiveness (v. 24; I John 1:7) before the ears of God our loving Father. The blood of Jesus “speaks a better word.” For you. The Father hears. He forgives. See how much God loves you!

            “God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). God disciplined His Son Jesus to bring us into family, the holy Christian Church as His dear sons: first-born sons blessed to inherit all the riches of the Father. In Christ, God the Father gives heaven to us as a gift. With Bible, Baptism and Communion, the Lord “lifts up your drooping hands and strengthens your weak knees, making straight paths for you,” healing every place where your sins have left you lame, disjointed (v. 12). God disciplines to heal because He loves you. In love, Christ went to the cross, the grave, hell, was raised and ascended into heaven. “The Lord disciplines the one He loves” (v. 6).

            Who loves you? God does!             
                                                                                                                    Amen