Faith Lutheran Church Desboro

God Will Complete His Good Work In You                                        
Philippians 1:6. ESV
The Second Sunday In Advent                                                                                    

05/12/21

 

            In 1827, Beethoven began work on his tenth symphony. Sadly, he was only able to complete parts of the first movement before his death. This became known as his unfinished symphony.

            This work that Ludvig van Beethoven began has now been completed. How? Computer software sampled other works of Beethoven, synthesizing his writing style using artificial intelligence to complete the first movement and to compose two additional movements. On October 9, the entire symphony was performed live in Bonn, Germany, the city where Beethoven was born. 194 years after he died, this good work that he began is now completed.

            That`s the promise in our text from Philippians this morning. Not computer-driven artificial intelligence, but God Himself promises to complete the good work He has started in you. The good work of faith that the Lord has begun in us at Holy Baptism He promises to bring to completion in eternal life. 

            What does that say about you and me right now? We are a work in progress: a combination of sinner and saint, each of us fights the good fight of faith to live the sanctified Christian life day by day. Some days, the fight is long, the prospect of victory seems far away. Indeed, if our salvation depended on us, we would certainly fail. We cannot call forth faith from our sin-soaked hearts. St. Paul reminds the Philippian Christians that God has begun this good work in us. Baptism is where this gift of faith began for most of us. Sadly, like the gift of marriage which God gives and mankind is able to break, the gift of faith can also be broken and destroyed by our efforts, our neglect, and our unbelief. Jesus taught this parable: “For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish’” (St. Luke 14:28-30). Do not let faith in Christ be an unfinished project in your life. Being laughed at and ridiculed by others is the least of our worries. Unless God continues His work of faith in us, we face everlasting discouragement. The devil discourages us to drive faith from our hearts; He uses discouragement to chase away the Holy Spirit. Without the Spirit's presence, God does not complete this work of salvation. In the hearts of many people, the devil has already succeeded. The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

            Sin leaves many loose ends. Christ was born to save us from an eternity of regret in hell. The manger in which the Infant Christ was laid pointed to the cross. The beginning of Christ's good work for us also pointed to its completion. At the cross of Calvary, Jesus declared, “It is finished” (St. John 19:30). The work of our salvation leaves no loose ends: the empty tomb of Christ proclaims our own resurrection that will one day leave our coffins empty. Jesus ascended to heaven, so that we will follow up to heaven where He leads on the last day. What else do we need to add to make this salvation complete? Nothing. In Christ, it is finished.

            This good work began in us in Holy Baptism. At the font, all the work that Jesus completed on your behalf was handed over to you. There, Lord began this good work in you. His Holy Spirit is with you to keep you in this true faith until faith is made complete in eternal life on the last day. The Spirit’s work is especially important when you face opposition from others: people in whom this good work of faith has not even begun. This opposition was what the Philippian Christians faced as St. Paul wrote to them. Later in this chapter, the Apostle wrote, “Let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that... you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind, striving side by side for the faith of the gospel” (v. 27). What is our manner of life, our conduct, our words, and actions are not worthy of the Gospel? That’s when the Holy Spirit lead us to see our sin, to repent in true, heart-felt sorrow and grief. That’s when, the Holy Spirit leads us to confess our sins. He then builds us up by Christ's Holy Absolution, His word of forgiveness. Jesus continues His work in you in His Holy Supper: where your faith is weak, He strengthens it with His true body and blood. The same gifts which have completed our redemption—the good work of eternal life, He serves to you on a golden paten, and in a golden cup. Through these means, God keeps His promise to you: completing His good work in you.

            Universities in California and Oregon asked 674 seniors the question, “Which activities of older people make them less anxious or less fearful of death?” The study concluded: “The only significant predictor that older people would be less fearful of death was regular attendance at church services.” What parts of the services eased worshipers’ anxieties? The familiar, repeated portions of the liturgy, the hymns, Scripture readings, all of which repeat over and over the Gospel promise of forgiveness of sins, life and salvation in Christ. Why do we need this Holy Gospel repeated again and again? We are a work in progress. God the Holy Spirit is working in us.

            “Be patient with me,” pleads a popular bumper sticker, “God isn't finished with me yet.” But one day, when our Lord Jesus returns, He will complete the work that is right now going on is us. In heaven, the good work of our salvation will be finished forever. 

                                            Amen






God Gives The Increase                                                          
I Thessalonians 3:9-13. ESV
The First Sunday Of Advent                                                                                          
28/11/21 

            International travel. Now that restrictions for non-essential travel have eased at our country”s borders, you can begin to think about visiting other places. Apart from all the things might like to take with you, think of all the essential items you need to take along. Maybe a checklist would be helpful to track all your necessities: things like a mask; any medications prescribed to you; vaccine credentials to allow you to enter public buildings; glasses, if you need them; cash and credit cards; your passport; sunscreen if your destination is hot and sunny. The list of things you need to take along can become quite long.

            What if you forget something? You might be able to find it along the way as you travel: a visit to the bank, to the pharmacy, or the shopping center to pick up what you lack.

            Pastor Paul writes to the Thessalonians: a new mission he initiated, still in its infancy, still in what they call the “honeymoon” phase. The Christians at Thessalonica were filled with enthusiasm now that faith in Jesus had taken hold in their hearts. Baptized into this Christian faith, they trusted in the Lord, not in their own good deeds for salvation. They grasped and understood the most important thing. But, some information was missing. Missionary Paul was eager to visit them, as he says, face to face and supply what was lacking in their faith (v. 10).

            How did Paul do this? What was his work? Preaching and teaching. Baptism and Communion. Just like us. Faith increases and abounds now in the same way: through Bible, font and sacramental meal. How does your faith grow? Through God’s Word, the Bible, proclaimed and explained from this pulpit, in Sunday School, Catechism classes, and Bible study. And, through that Word of God joined to water, bread, and wine in the Sacraments. So who supplies what is lacking in our faith? Not St. Paul, nor any other human being. God works through His called servants. God Himself gives the increase.

            We need this. Like the Thessalonians, our faith needs topping up, needs to be informed faith, needs constant centering on Christ our Lord. Our sins create gaps, weakness and doubts in our God-given faith. When we confess our sins, we admit our faith is lacking.

            Christ Jesus comes to us to supply what we need. Jesus filled the womb of Mary to be born into our world, supplying God’s rich grace, love and forgiveness to a world depleted by deceit, false belief and despair. The Child of Bethlehem took on human flesh so we can see God`s rich love for us, face to face. His love chose to suffer the lack of all things, even pouring out His holy, innocent blood for us and all the people of the world so that the Lord Himself might fill us. Where sin leaves us empty, Jesus comes to fill us with faith, hope and love. We can`t do this ourselves. God Himself gives the increase.

            Faith in Christ keeps us from trusting in ourselves. Faith in Christ, as we keep on growing in our knowledge and our trust in God, as His Word, the Bible, fills in the gaps in our understanding, this faith makes us forget about ourselves, our problems, and all that we don`t have, the things we lack. Instead, faith in Christ produces love in us: love for our fellow church members; love for the world.

            Faith in Christ erases the guilt of sin in us, washing away the stain of condemnation. In Jesus, His righteousness, His holiness, He establishes us, makes us stand firm, blameless for His sake, and prepared for His glorious coming.

            In one community, a particular lady had the reputation for keeping her cool in every situation. Her calm, contented personality caught the attention of her neighbour who was suffering terribly. Her life suddenly seemed to caught in a tailspin out of control. One day, she told herself, “I need to drop in her and find out the secret of her peaceful, happy life.” When the lady opened the door, her visitor said, “So, you are the woman with the great faith that I’ve heard so much about.”

            “No,” the woman corrected her neighbour. “I am not a woman with great faith. But I am a woman with little faith in a great God.”

            Faith trusts that God will do this: “He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness” (II Corinthians 9:10).

                             Amen






Here Comes The Son                                                                         
St. Mark 13:24-37. ESV
The Last Sunday Of The Church Year                                                                       

21/11/21
 

            The Leonid meteor shower: from November 6-20, on a clear night, you could see meteors, also known as “shooting stars” streaking across the sky. At the height of this meteor shower, last Wednesday, November 17, these heavenly fireworks put on quite a show, every four minutes on average, cutting across some parts of the sky.

            Can you imagine the heavenly signs that Jesus here says will signal His glorious return on the final day? All the stars will fall from the sky: like a massive, complete, final meteor shower. The moon will stop shining. The sun also will go dark. What will that look like? We’ve never seen it: the sky entirely black, without any light at all. Would it make you think of lights on stage: of that moment when the house lights are turned off: when every light goes dark just before the curtain is raised and the show is about to begin? When the sun is darkened, the moon no longer shines, and all the stars fall from the sky, every light goes out to make way for Jesus Christ, the true and only Light. When you see these signs in the sky, you know that the Lord is near. Here comes the Son!

            Even though we don’t know the date nor the time of His return (v. 32), our Lord repeats this fact: He is near. His return may come at any time. Like a fig tree whose tender branches start leafing out to show that the summer season is here (v. 28), so the Lord’s return is near. Like a man standing at the gates of the city (v. 29), so the Lord’s return is near. Like the master of a great house, away on a journey. His return will be without warning (v. 34-36), so the Lord’s return is near.

            Is this good news or bad? Joyous or scary? For the one who is not ready, the Lord’s return in judgment triggers dread alarm; a shaking both in body and in soul. The Old Nature, sin in us, leaves us unprepared to stand before the Righteous Judge when He appears on the clouds of heaven in all His glory. A life of good deeds and obedience to God’s Commandments will not take that fear away: we are unworthy servants; sinners asleep at our posts when the Master Christ returns. We cannot stand on our own merits when the Son comes.

            Only those who have faith in the Son, that is trusting in Jesus, and not in themselves, are worthy to stand before His judgment: awake, ready, and prepared for the glorious coming of the Son.

            Here comes the Son now. In His Word and in His Sacraments. “Heaven and earth will pass away,” Jesus warns, “but My words will not pass away” (v. 31). He makes us ready for His final coming. With His Word today, Jesus declares that we are forgiven every sin that would accuse and convict us in the coming judgment. “I forgive you,” says the Son of God, who gave His holy, innocent blood into death to earn that forgiveness. Like a tender branch of a fig tree, Jesus was nailed to the tree of the cross, judged for the world’s sins that He suffered for all people. Trust in the Son, crucified and resurrected for us gives us a clear conscience for the judgment that is coming. Baptized into Christ, we put forth the new growth of faith in Him, like leaves budding and sprouting on a tree. As we are being fed and nourished now by His holy Word and His blessed Sacraments, Jesus makes us ready for His coming.

            When the Son comes on the last day, what will happen? All people will see Him when Jesus appears on the clouds of glory before the whole world, both the saved and the damned. God the Son will send out His angels to gather His elect, all His precious, baptized believers in Christ from the four corners of creation. Those still living, together with the departed will be resurrected to live again with their bodies. When the Son comes, this will be a time of great joy for all Christians. Here comes the Son to deliver His people from all the tribulations we now face in this life: the Last Day will be the end of all temptations to sin, the end of every persecution from the world, no more mourning, crying, pain, nor death. When we see Him on the clouds, we will be with the Lord forever. “Behold the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away... They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever” (Revelation 21:3b-4, 22:5).

            Trust in the Son to make it so. He gives this word of promise: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away” 

                                                 Amen






When The Walls Come Tumbling Down                                         
St. Mark 13:1-13. ESV
The Twenty-fifth Sunday After Pentecost                                                                   

14/11/21
 

            The wall had to come down. My parents decided that the wall separating our kitchen from our dining room needed to be taken out to provide more access for entertaining when guests came to visit. We talked about it for a while. Then came the day when the wall came down. Everyone in the family took a few swings. Even though this happened more than four decades ago, I clearly remember swinging my Dad’s hammer into the wall, making quick work of the wallpaper, the drywall, and finally the 2x4s. It seemed wrong to be wrecking our home. But, it was fun. To make way for the new renovations, the wall had to come down.

            The walls had to come down. Jesus said so. What a shame! Fifty years before, King Herod had constructed the grand temple of God and the sumptuous buildings that now lay before the eyes of the disciples while they toured Jerusalem during Holy Week, mere days before Christ’s crucifixion. Herod had rebuilt the temple rebuilt to epic proportions: fifteen stories high. Its massive stones caught the attention of an unnamed disciple: those huge blocks decorated with gold, some more than ten metres long, six metres wide, four metres high. Such a stately building indeed looked like it would stand forever. How shocked the disciples must have been to hear that the temple would be destroyed: not “one stone upon another that will not be thrown down” (v. 2). “When?” asked Peter, James, John, and Andrew (v. 5-6).

            “Concerning that day or that hour, no one knows” (v. 32) the Lord would tell them later. But, the signs are there; signs warning that the last day, the end is drawing near. What signs? False Christs will pretend to be Jesus and deceive many (v. 6). There will be wars and rumours of wars (v. 7). Nations and kings will be in conflict.  Earthquakes and famines will ravage the earth (v. 8). Christians will stand trial before police, governments and other leaders (v. 9, 11). Close family members will betray each other (v. 12). Christians will be hated by the world for the sake of Jesus’ name (v. 13). What’s more, the Gospel will be preached in all nations (v. 10). The signs are there: when the walls of this present age will collapse in a heap.

            Before long, the Lord’s word warning the end of the temple was fulfilled. In the year 70 A.D., Roman soldiers marched into Jerusalem, sacking the city and levelling the marvellous temple of God: not one stone was left upon another. A tragic defeat for God’s people! The destruction of the holy temple points to a greater cataclysmic event: the destruction of the earth and all creation on the last day. As the Church year draws to an end, God in His Word teaches us that this world and everything on it will also come to an end. Christ’s teaching about the destruction of the temple reminds us that each of us one day will also fall down—in death. Remember that “you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19). This shocks us, just as the disciples were disturbed at the Lord’s words today. The walls of this life will come down, no question. So, repent! The walls of pride and self-righteousness cannot stand before the Lord who will come back in glory to judge us. Our walls must fall.

            As the walls come crashing down around us in the world and the bricks and blocks of our personal lives are falling, God’s Word today urges us to take our stand in the Lord Jesus Christ, faithfully confessing Him before others (v. 9). Endure to the end (v. 13).

            And, you will be saved. From all the turmoil that is surely coming. When the walls come down, the Lord is there for you. He is your refuge and strength (Psalm 46:1). When the beautiful walls of the temple were destroyed, One greater than the temple (St. Matthew 12:6) stood tall to take its place. “Destroy this temple,” said Jesus about His body, “and in three days I will raise it up” (St. John 2:19), He promised. For us and all the world, Christ already endured all the awful judgment that is to come upon the world for its sins, and ours. For us, the Lord Jesus was delivered into the hands of sinful men to stand trial before councils and synagogues, before Kings and rulers. The holy, innocent One stood to suffer the shame of our sins and the judgment we deserve when accusations of guilt were flung like stones against Him. Just like the Jerusalem temple was demolished, stone by glorious stone, so the life of Christ drained away from Him: drop by holy drop of His precious blood as He hung on the cross. For us, He died to save us from the coming judgment.

            And, after temple of His body was destroyed, He raised it up to life again. Even the walls of death that surrounded the lifeless body of Jesus in the Jerusalem tomb came tumbling down. An angel from heaven descended to roll the stone door away from the empty tomb, laying this massive rock on its side. In Christ’s resurrection is the promise that we, who are baptized into Him, shall also rise to live after this life has crumbled and collapsed: resurrected into a life that is imperishable, unfading, permanent.

            Man’s first trip to the moon was in 1969, during the Apollo 11 mission. The massive rocket that carried the three astronauts into space, the Saturn V, lifted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida. In the iconic film showing the powerful ignition and liftoff, all of the structures for loading fuel, supplies, passengers and support for the  weight of the spacecraft are seen falling away, destroyed in the heat flames from the thrusting booster engines as ship rises from the earth, enters the upper atmosphere and speeds towards the moon. The launchpad towers came tumbling down as the ship flew safely into the heavens.

            When all the kingdoms of the earth have crumbled into dust, then the Lord will usher in a new creation: “Behold, I am making all things new” (Revelation 21:5) is His promise to His dear baptized believers. Christ is the cornerstone of that unshakeable kingdom. Jesus is our sure foundation, immoveable, eternal. Take your stand in Him. For “the one who endures to the end will be saved” (v. 13).

            Amen






Living Your Blessed Life Now                                                       
St. Matthew 5:1-12. ESV
The Feast of All Saints                                                                                                  

07/11/21
 

            In the comic strip, “Family Circus,” the little boy says, “Ah-Choo!” and his mother says, “God bless you!” Again he says, “Ah-Choo!” and again his mother says, “God bless you!” This goes on again and again. The boy sneezes a little louder each time. After the fifth Ah-Choo! his mother says, “You’re really pushing it.” The little boy looks at her and says, “I was just trying to be really blessed.”

            Over and over again in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus declares that His disciples are “blessed.” This is one of those church words with a specialized meaning. “Blessed” (μακάριος) means that God favours you. He has turned His smiling face toward you to pour His rich gifts, both spiritual and material upon you in every way. What a fitting Gospel reading for All Saints’ day! We are saints, that is, holy ones of God, all for the sake of Jesus, who died and rose again for us. That’s what we heard last week on Reformation day: that salvation is by faith alone, through the work of Jesus Christ alone. So, we are blessed in the Lord—blessed to enter the kingdom of heaven with all the saints in the life to come. But, we are also blessed as we receive God’s favour and forgiveness now in this life. We Christians are living our blessed life now.

            Hey wait a minute! When you picture your blessed life, what does it look like? A healthy body; success on the job; surrounded by people who love you; days filled with peace, happiness, contentment Yet, a good chunk of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount does not sound like the blessed life. Rather, more like those who are under a curse. The Lord preaches that His disciples are poor in spirit, not spiritual giants. We mourn the death of loved ones, family members, and friends. The disciples of Jesus are meek, not powerful and influential. We hunger and thirst for righteousness, because every day we sin and have that constant reminder that we do not have pure hearts, constantly falling short of the righteous requirements of God’s holy Ten Commandments. This part of our Lord’s sermon is hard to hear. Because we know from our everyday life that it is true—it sure doesn’t look like we are living the blessed life now!

            And, there are persecutions. As if our spiritual deficits, mourning, meekness, and yearning to be right with God were not enough, persecutions come, like the icing on the cake! When you do the right thing, obey the law, follow the rules, show mercy and help people in need, speak kind words to bring peace and reconcile those who are in conflict: while doing all the right things and you suffer for it, that’s persecution. Harsh words, even punishing actions come your way for doing good. Persecution of God’s saints is as old as the prophets. “No good deed goes unpunished,” as they say. Persecution comes from sinners living in a sinful world. And yet, the Lord urges us, His saints, “Rejoice and be glad” (v. 12). You are living your blessed life now.

            In Christ. For us, Jesus became poor in spirit, humbling Himself to come down from heaven and take on human flesh to be born of the Virgin Mary. For us, Jesus mourned sin in us and all the world: the thoughts, words and actions that have us headed for the just penalty of hell. For us, Jesus meekly took on the demands of the Law in our place, humbly submitting to the Ten Commandments in a life of perfect obedience. Jesus hungered and thirsted for us to be righteous saints, declaring us free from the Law’s demands, forgiven and righteous in God’s eyes for His sake. For us, Jesus was persecuted: giving up the blessed life on earth that He deserved so that He could suffer and die the cursed death on the cross. The crucified and resurrected Christ gives the kingdom of heaven as a pure gift to His saints, His dear baptized believers.

            Through faith in the Lord Jesus, we live in the sure and certain hope of the life that is to come. Even if our daily life looks like a burden, even a curse, the word of the Lord directs our eyes to the future, to see that glorious kingdom He has prepared for us. Are you poor in spirit, weak in faith, plagued by doubts? In Jesus, you are blessed now—the kingdom of heaven has come to you. Do you mourn for those dear souls who are parted from you in death?  Jesus, the resurrection and the life, comforts you with the sure and certain promise of a blessed reunion: together again with all the saints in Christ.  Are you meek, frail, powerless? In Jesus, you are blessed to possess all things on earth as an inheritance (I Corinthians 3:22). Do you yearn to be right with God? Jesus gives full and free forgiveness in His Word of absolution, in the Sacrament of His true body and blood. He satisfies your hunger. He takes away your thirst. We are alive in Christ: blessed with eternal life. Now.

            As they say, ‘Life is not a dress rehearsal.’ ‘Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today.’ God has created us in body and soul and He has given us life as a gift. Treasure this gift every day. In Jesus, we are saints now. He is preparing us for unending life in the kingdom of heaven. In Him, live your blessed life now.

            Amen






Behind The Masks                                                                                
Romans 3:19-28. ESV
Reformation                                                                                                                     

31/10/21.

 

            Tonight, millions of children will put on masks and go door to door to collect a ton of candy. Masks are part of a costume that helps them to be something they are not: a super hero, a cowboy, a princess, a villain or some other character. For more than eighteen months, masks have been part of our lives to keep us safe as we meet with others. Even in church, we wear masks to sing, pray and come to the altar to receive the Lord’s Supper. When you see someone wearing a mask, you wonder, “Who is behind the mask?” In theatre, actors use masks to pretend to be someone they are not. Sometimes when people are sad, they pretend to be happy—as if wearing a mask. When we face something scary, we cover our fears with a mask of bravery. Masks hide the identity of a person. When you have your picture taken for a passport, your health card or driver's license, you cannot wear a mask, or anything that will hide what you look like. Criminals sometimes wear a ski mask, or other face covering so they are not recognized while committing a crime.

            The Apostle Paul writes about a mask in his letter to the Romans—not a mask of latex, plastic, wood, nor cloth. This mask is self-goodness. From Adam, through the patriarchs and prophets, in the days of St. Paul, Martin Luther, and still today, people have always tried to fool God with a mask. But it never works. God does not have to guess who is behind the mask. He knows. He can see. St. Paul writes that the whole world is guiltybefore God. Our good deeds do not excuse us. The all-searching eye of God sees through the gaping holes in our holy lives. Dr. Martin Luther challenged this flimsy mask of our own righteousness. To earn forgiveness from God by doing good, by loving acts, gifts, offerings, even paying to relieve the sufferings of others who died: all false teaching. Like making a mask of our good works to fool God. But His Word declares, “By works of the law, no human being will be justified in His sight” (v. 20). God sees our sins, past and present: our lack of love for others, our offenses against His Ten Commandments. No mask can cover it. God unmasks us to see who we really are. The Lord doesn't do trick-or-treat. He sees all the ways people try to trick Him. They will not get the treat of heaven. Try as we might, we always fall short of the perfection He demands. Luther saw this for himself. He knew all his good works were a thin mask God saw right through. His heart was crushed; continually aware of his sin and guilt. The more Luther studied the Word of God, the more he was convicted by his failures. His best attempts at obedience hung on him like beggar's rags in the presence of the King. What a miserable mask! When we try to defend ourselves, we are silenced. God sees through our masks. When we try to excuse our actions, God holds us accountable, together with the rest of the world. All the masks in the world cannot hide the truth.

            But now the righteousness of God, apart from the Law has been revealed, unmasked. This righteousness comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. God’s righteousness? Not our own, flimsy, pious masks of good works? That is perfect! Apart from the Law of God? Yes! Here in Romans, the third chapter, the gates of heaven opened up to Luther; angelic light pierced the dark mask of gloomy guilt covering him. The Word of God spelt the end of our  need for masks to hide from God, no masks to cover our guilt. For  in Christ, all our sins are taken away. His death does more than mask our damning sins. Jesus shed His blood on Calvary to take away all our sins: past, present, and future. Once and for all, God sent His Son into the world to be the perfect sacrifice for the sins of all people. Christ did not wear the mask of a human being. He istrue man. Jesus did not pretend to be true God. He is true God. As true man, He died. As true God, Christ took all the sins of the world upon Himself, and the punishment we all deserve. This profound, limitless, eternal love of God for us and all mankind was unmasked in the cross and empty tomb of Jesus Christ.

            Once Luther was freed of his false face of salvation by good works, he was filled with joy and ambition. Martin Luther faced danger, opposition and personal threats so that he could tell others this wonderful Gospel truth. Luther busied himself writing hymns, preaching sermons, travelling, writing books, lecturing, and keeping long hours. In the end, he virtually died of exhaustion. Does that mean that he boasted before God about his life of good works? No! Luther believed, taught and lived the faith he received: that God declares us to be righteous by faith alone, apart from observing the Law. Luther realized that we do not need to put on masks before God. We confess our sins to Him and each other. The masks come off. In confession, there is no hiding. But God is gracious for the sake of His Son, Jesus our Saviour, We hear that powerful Gospel: “I forgive you allyour sins.” The masks hit the floor. Our sins are gone. We are pardoned in the sight of God, reconciled to each other

            Luther was filled with joy because of God's love, righteousness, and salvation given to him In Christ. He had no need to wear a mask to try and fool God. Instead, Luther confessed that he himself was a mask of God. What does this mean? As if God were hiding behind us, acting through us. Not that we are pretending to be God. Instead, God works through us to serve others around us in love. Like an actor uses a mask to play a role, God uses His Christians, people like you and me to act out His love, and be shining lights in this dark world. Not to earn God's love, but because it is already ours in Christ.

            March 28, 2022. That’s the date, projected by our Province, when we will no longer need to wear masks, if current trends continue. When we repent and confess our sins, we drop our masks. Christ Jesus forgives us and makes us masks of God in this world.

            Amen




 

 

One Track Sight                                                                                  

St. Mark 10:46-52. ESV
The Twenty-second Sunday After Pentecost                                                            

24/10/21 

            Do you know someone with a one-track mind? That’s the opposite of a multi-tasker, the guy with lots on the go, one with many irons in the fire. On the other hand, if you have a one-track mind, your focus is on one task alone. Inventors, surgeons, musicians, entrepreneurs, and pro athletes will ignore other tasks that need to be done, neglecting the obvious chores to practice their craft, their skill, their speciality. Eight-time Grand Slam tennis winner Andre Agassi once said, “If I can focus on one shot at a time, I am very difficult to beat.”

            Bartimaeus had one-track sight. Even though he was blind, Bartimaeus focussed on his goal: healing from Jesus, He wasn’t deterred from this sight, even when the crowds tried to silence him.

            Bartimaeus sat by the road to beg for his living because he was blind. Eyes that are darkened, unresponsive to the light, incapable of seeing—that’s a picture of sin in us. John Newton, a former slave-trader wrote to describe the myopia of sin in his life:

            I once was lost but now am found,

            Was blind but now I see! (LSB 744:1)

Blindness—what a fitting picture of how sin, our sin, impairs our vision. Not just our eyes, but especially our hearts! Sin blinds us to the riches of God’s grace as He provides for us in both body and soul: giving us daily bread; forgiving us as often as we repent and are washed clean in His grace. Sin blinds us to the ways we fall short of His will—for we often don’t even know when we are sinning against God and others. “Forgive my hidden faults” (Psalm 19:12b NIV), the Psalmist King David prays. Sin is a blindness only God can cure.

            Even while his eyes were dark and sightless, Bartimaeus saw the way to be healed. When a crowd approached with the disciples and Jesus, this blind beggar perked right up. “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (v. 48), he shouted. The crowds did not welcome this noise, but told Bartimaeus to be quiet. He was not put off at all. His eyes didn’t work, but his voice was strong. Even more, Bartimaeus cried out for mercy, for help, for healing. The path to regaining his sight stretched out ahead of him. Bartimaeus stayed the course.

            How the world tries to silence the church! The crowds don’t want to hear Law and Gospel preaching. The world at large covers its ears to resist the pure teaching of sin and forgiveness from the Bible. The pressure is on for the Church to be silent instead of proclaiming the love of God for His sin-blinded creation in Christ. Don’t fall for the temptation to go the way of the world! Like Bartimaeus, train your eyes on this one, blessèd sight: Jesus, the Master and Saviour.

            In response to His pleas for help, Jesus stopped (v. 49). The whole procession of this great crowd came to a screeching halt. All for the sake of one man: this blind beggar, Bartimaeus. Then, Christ called him. The Lord showed how much He cared for this man. Excited, Bartimaeus threw off his cloak, sprang to his feet and ran to Jesus. As he believed, so it was done for him. Christ restored his sight. His faith in Jesus saw its fulfilment.

            What a marvel—the One who created us with all our members, including the wonder of eyesight, instantly restored the blind eyes of Bartimaeus. And still, he would see even greater things (St. John 1:50) . Newly healed, Bartimaeus went on to follow Jesus: into Jerusalem, to see his salvation accomplished by the Lord.

            Into the holy city, Jesus was welcomed with the same honorary title used by blind Bartimaeus: “Son of David!” Palm Sunday “Hosannas!” quickly turned to Good Friday calls for crucifixion. Yet, with one-track sight of His Passion, Christ Jesus had His eyes firmly fixed on the cross. There, the Lord suffered for the sins of Bartimaeus, for you and me and all the world. The Holy One died for the sins that blind us. The righteous Son of David rose to life again on the third day. He opens our eyes and our hearts with saving faith to see Him clearly as our one and only Saviour. Jesus lives now so that we follow where He leads. We follow Him all the way. Faith gives us one track sight: focussed on Christ.

            That’s hard. More distractions call our attention away now than in earlier years. Like this story a man tells about his daughter:

            One day my daughter—my only child—and I were playing games together in an activity book designed to bring daddies and daughters closer together. We asked each other the question, “If you could have any superpower, what would it be?”

            I wish I could tell you my daughter’s answer, but I can’t, because I wasn’t really there.

            “Daddy?” she asked.

            “Just a second,” I grunted, “I need to respond to one thing.” My eyes were glued to my phone, my fingers tapping away.

            By the time I looked up, she was gone. I had just blown a special moment with my daughter. I had allowed something on my phone to distract me.

            These days, many distractions clamour for our attention. As he called for Bartimaeus, Jesus calls for you and me. We hear His voice in our Baptisms, in the water and Word of God, the Lord calls  you by name. Take heart (v. 49). Be happy. Keep your eyes on the One who cares for you. Jesus leads us to life eternal.                                                                                             Amen​

 

 

 

 

 

Who Can Thread The Needle?                                                        

St. Mark 10:23-31. ESV
The Twenty-first Sunday After Pentecost                                                                   

17/10/21

 

            A square circle

            A four-sided triangle

            Two mountains without a valley between them

            Swimming across the Pacific ocean

            Walking on the moon

            Swallowing while breathing

            Licking your elbow

            Keeping your eyes open when you sneeze

Putting toothpaste back into the tube once you’ve squeezed it out. 

What do all these things have in common? They are impossible! 

Richly Impossible

            Like a rich person getting into heaven. “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” (v. 23). Wealth brings with it great boasts: ‘If I win the lottery, I will have it made: I will be happy and never have to deal with any problems.’ Wealth promises to fix everything. Somebody’s not happy? Buy them out. Even God should give special treatment to those with money, says the way of the world. Not true!

            Just before our Gospel reading today, a rich young man who met Jesus illustrates for us the Lord’s teaching here. Money and the worry that goes along with it build up accretions on the soul. Wealth can hold us back, holds our hearts, and becomes an idol, as it was for that rich young man. This surprised the disciples: they were “amazed at His words... exceedingly astonished” (v. 24, 26). Shouldn’t a rich person be the first one through the gate? A person with wealth was favoured by God, they figured. That’s why he had money!

            But no. Wealth won’t buy your way to heaven. And not only money. Our good deeds, family ties, political pull—nothing else you do, think, or say will get you to heaven. Like money and property, it just gets in the way, blocks the path to God, and shuts the door to paradise.

            You know what would be easier?

            “Easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle” (v. 25) . How’s that for a visual? The camel is one of the largest beasts living in Palestine; the eye of a sewing needle is one of the smallest gaps you can just barely see. Yet here, Jesus says that passing that animal, complete with his humps, through a needle’s eye is easier than trusting in your wealth or whatever have you to get to heaven. “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him” (SC II:6). In a nutshell: “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God” (v. 27). 

Mission Impossible

            Jesus specializes in doing the impossible. The Lord knows us very well: He knows how easily we set our hearts on wealth. That’s why Christ set His sights on Calvary, the cross of sacrifice that would strip Him of life itself, making Himself poor for us that we might have eternal riches. He knows that we cannot pass through the gate of heaven by our own merits, or works; our wealth or goodness: “small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life” (St. Matthew 7:14 NIV). So, He, the Lord Christ passed that way for us: through death, through the grave, even through hell itself. Jesus was raised to life again, ascended to heaven into the presence of the Father for us. Who can thread the needle? Not us. Only Jesus. Follow Him. Where He leads

            “I am the door,” says Jesus, our Good Shepherd. “If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture” (St. John 10:9). Heaven is not about putting camels through needles. The way to heaven is not to get rich. The way to heaven is not to boast about how you have no money The way to heaven is not to trust in our good deeds. Trust in Jesus alone, His sacrifice on the cross, the wealth of His forgiving grace, life and heaven itself. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life,” promises Jesus. “No one comes to the Father except through Me” (St. John 14:6). 

Only Rich If Detached

            So, what about wealth? Faithful believers we read about in Sacred Scripture include rich folks like Abraham, David, Zacchaeus, Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea, Matthew the Evangelist, Cornelius, and Lydia. How did they make it through the gate to the kingdom of God? By His grace. They possessed all their wealth, money and earthly goods as if they were not theirs to keep, as stewards to manage them for awhile before giving them up. They were truly rich because they were detached.

            Remember that tag on upholstered items like cushions on couches? The tag says, “No good if detached.” The Christian use of money and property is just the opposite: we are only rich if we are detached: to use our goods without setting our hearts on them: to use what God gave us to care for the needy and to spread the Gospel. For a time is coming for each one of us when we will have to pass through the needle’s eye of the grave—that narrow gap will not allow us to take one thing from this life, not even one thin dime into the kingdom of God. But, we are okay with that. We already have everything. In Christ we are rich forever.                                                               Amen

 

 

 

 

Safe And Sound                                                                                   

St. Luke 17:11-19. ESV
Thanksgiving                                                                                                                   

10/10/21
 

            All be safely gathered in

            Ere the winter storms begin; (LSB 892:1).

            I love that line from the opening hymn we sang today for Thanksgiving. I picture fields of rich crops that had sprouted in the spring, grown tall and lush all summer, now brought into barns, silos and granaries The blessing of the Lord upon wheat and barley, upon soybeans and corn, now harvested and stored safely against the threats of snow, wind and rain. Thanks be to God! Safe and sound.

            At home, once the wood is brought into the woodroom, every piece thrown in and carefully stacked in rows, as we did a week ago yesterday, there’s a wonderful feeling that comes along with that. A winter’s worth of wood heat to find shelter even during the coldest winter storm. Thanks be to God! Safe and sound.

            Think about that phrase. Safe: that is, rescued, delivered from danger, out of harm’s way; sound: that is, of sound body, hale and healthy in mind and spirit, body and soul. Safe and sound.

            The ten lepers in the Gospel for today were neither safe nor sound. Outcast, terminally ill, dying while they lived. Leprosy was a death sentence in the first century. Contagious. Incurable. Cutting a person off from the rest of society. Not safe from stormy weather, from hunger, nor from ridicule. Bodies entirely unhealthy. Unsound.

            Enter Jesus. In answer to their pleas: “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us” (v. 13), He sends them to the priests—the Chief Medical Officers of the day. On their way, all ten lepers were healed. Their leprous bodies suddenly whole, cleansed, physically sound. And away the nine went to the safety of their lives, their families, their homes—all those people and places they had been missing so badly during the days of their quarantine. Outwardly, on the surface they were safe and sound.

            Only one of the former lepers came back to thank God in worship at the feet of Jesus. Only one was healed right through: cleansed of his leprosy and cleansed of his sins. How do we know? Jesus says so: “Your faith has made you well” (σῴζω  v. 19). Healed in his body. Forgiven in his soul. Thanks be to God! Safe and sound. For time and eternity.

            How easily our hearts can follow those nine lepers—at Thanksgiving, and all our lives through—to chase after what sustains our outward, physical lives, while neglecting the needs of our souls. “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (St. Luke 12:15 NIV). The rich man who built bigger barns to hold on to his massive grain harvest was called out of this life once all was safely gathered in. Foolishly, he gathered earthly treasure, but was “not rich toward God” (St. Luke 12:21). The nine lepers were safe and sound—healed by the Lord and right back into the flow of life. But where was faith in Jesus: the saving faith that filled the heart of the thankful Samaritan? Beyond turkey and time off, besides home and family, a blessing greater than dry grain and cordwood is God’s gift of forgiveness that shelters our souls against the judgment for our sins after this life.

            Only Christ Jesus makes us safe and sound in body and soul, for time and for eternity. How? The Holy One—God’s sinless Son took on the leprosy of our sins. Out of divine love for a world caught in the pandemic of sins against His holy Ten Commandments, God the Father sent His dear and only Son to bring us back to Himself. Instead of receiving Jesus as a gift with thanksgiving, the world despised and rejected Christ the Saviour. As if sent into a leper colony outside the city, Jesus was condemned to die in isolation with  other criminals outside Jerusalem. There, the Holy One of God poured out His pure and innocent blood into death for the sins of the world. By His blood, given and shed for us for the forgiveness of our sins, we are cleansed. Not by our works, our witness, nor our worthiness. But by the Word and Sacramental working of Jesus, we are restored, healed, and made alive both on the inside and out. Safe and sound.

            We cannot expect everyday to be sunny, warm, 22º C and 70% humidity. Storms will come. The same is true with our trust in God. Satan, the world and our sinful nature blow in upon us unexpectedly: like a fierce winter storm. What to do? Take shelter in Christ. Hide in His wounds. Find refuge in His resurrected life. Like hunkering down behind the thick stone walls of a castle fortress. “He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken” (Psalm 62:2). 

            In Jesus alone, we are safe and sound.

            Amen

 

 




What God Has Joined Together...                                                     

Genesis 2:18-25. ESV
The Nineteenth Sunday After Pentecost                                                                    

03/10/21

 

            The sanctity of marriage.

            “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (v. 24, St. Mark 10:7). Both our Old Testament reading from Genesis and our Lord Jesus in today’s Gospel praise highly the blessèd and holy estate of marriage.

            So, it might sound as if some glory is being taken away from that God-given estate when a couple talks about “getting hitched.” Maybe not.

            “What therefore God has joined together (συζεύγνυμι) ,” says Jesus, “let not man separate” (St. Mark 10:9). God joins a man and woman together as husband and wife in marriage, just as the Lord God brought Eve to Adam in the Garden of Eden (v. 22). “Joined together” is one word in Greek, with the word “yoke - ζεγος” in the middle. So picture this: when the Lord God joins a man and a woman as husband and wife, they are “yoked together.” That’s quite a visual: “two people have agreed to become yoke-fellows, to bow their necks under the same yoke, to draw the wagon of life together to share, under God’s rule and blessing, all joys and sorrows alike” (Kretzmann, NT. Vol 1, p. 219). God hitches them up. The Lord fashions and creates the bond. He designs it for life. That’s a good thing. A holy and sacred bond: marriage.

            For God joins a man and a woman in holy wedlock, bound together within this blessèd yoke of marriage. Three distinct purposes, all good things, the Lord brings from this union:

➀ “the mutual companionship, help, and support that each person ought to receive from the other, both in prosperity and adversity”

➁ “that man and woman may find delight in one another;”

➂ “the procreation of children who are to be brought up in the fear and instruction of the Lord” (Lutheran Service Book—Agenda, p. 65) .

            Marriage is a good thing. The bond that joins a man and a woman is God’s idea, stretching back to the Paradise of Eden, before sin was in the world. Still now, the yoke of wedlock is a great blessing: to individuals personally, to families of parents with their children, to society as a whole and to the world.

            Sadly now, this is also true: many a cross has been laid upon this holy estate (The Lutheran Agenda, p. 36). What God had created good, our sin has often made into something heavy, burdensome, not good. In a sinless state, the first couple could face each other not wearing a stitch of clothing, and yet have no shame (v. 25), in the delight and intimacy of one flesh (v. 24). Together. From that perfect bliss and harmony in Eden enjoyed by the first couple, the Pharisees in the Gospel ask Jesus how easily marriage can be ended in divorce. While children are the hoped-for blessing from God upon married couples, the disciples in the Gospel quickly send the infants and toddlers away from Jesus, depriving them of His loving touch and blessing. What God has joined together in the holy bond of marriage and family life, sinful man is able to separate, divide, destroy. Why? Hard hearts (St. Mark 10:5) says Jesus. The result of tearing up the bonds formed by the Lord is always sadness, heartache and loneliness. A picture of eternal isolation in hell caused by our sin. Not good (v. 18).

            No, it is not good for us to be alone: for man, woman, or child to be isolated, forsaken, standing alone under the judgment for our sins. So God the Father brings His Son to us. Not for judgment, in anger and punishment, but in His divine love and compassion, to take away the guilt and shame of our sins. As God brought Eve to Adam, bone of his bones, created from Adam’s rib (v. 21, 23), so God the Father brings His Son to us and to all the world, made like His brothers and sisters in every respect to share in our flesh and blood(Hebrews 2:14, 17), born in Bethlehem as the holy and sinless Child of Mary. Christ’s coming to us at Christmas gives great joy to the world, just as Adam joyously welcomed Eve as his helper, companion and wife. Marriage is a wonderful gift of God to the world, even now, in this sad, fallen and sinful state. For by this union of husband and wife, the Lord points the world to His even greater gift: where He joins Jesus, the heavenly Bridegroom to His dear bride, the Church. In love, the Father gave His Son to cleanse and purify us from all sin (Ephesians 5:25-27). Jesus died on the cross to take away the sinful guilt of parents and children. He rose again from the grave to welcome baptized believers into His loving embrace: married and single, divorced and widowed, those very old and newborn children.

            In marriage, God joins a man and a woman in one flesh. Earthly marriage is a picture of that blessèd union joining Christ and His bride, the Church (Ephesians 5:32). Earthly marriage ends when death parts us. Where God has joined Christ and His Church, this bond lasts forever. In the Bible, heaven is frequently described as a marriage feast that has no end. In the Formula of Concord , this blessèd union is described like this: “[Christ] is our Brother, and we are flesh of His flesh and bone of His bone. He has instituted His Holy Supper for the certain assurance and confirmation of this, so that He will be with us, and dwell, work, and be effective in us also according to that nature from which He has flesh and blood” (FC VIII:79). Here, the Heavenly Groom gives His bride a foretaste of heaven.

            True, it is a sad fact that the Lord’s gift of marriage is often despised, and that many crosses have been laid upon those whom God has joined together. Yet, here’s the hitch: He keeps pouring out His blessings on husband and wife as they find delight in each other in the intimacy of the one flesh union, with the help and support they are able to give one another in good times and in bad, and, where the Lord chooses, the blessing of children. Best of all, this earthly estate of marriage shows the world an example of God’s love: that the heavenly Father has joined Christ to His bride, the Church, for all time.

                                                                                                                                                Amen

 

 

 

 

 

Cancer Free                                                                                             

St. Mark 9:38-50. ESV
The Eighteenth Sunday After Pentecost                                                                    

26/09/21

 

            I’m no doctor. So, as a patient, when you become ill and go to the doctor, treatment for your illness might fall into one of three categories. The doctor might direct you to undertake a change of lifestyle as a cure: proper food, exercise, and rest. Perhaps, your illness may be best treated with medicine, and the doctor prescribes the proper dose. A third line of treatment is surgery. If you suffer from a mass that is identified as cancer and it is possible to operate, the doctor may refer you to a surgeon who will remove it before it can do you any harm. In this most radical of the treatment options, the end goal is simple: cut out the cancer.

            Jesus calls Himself the great Physician (St. Matthew 9:12). He is the Doctor for our souls. In today’s Gospel, it sounds like He is proposing radical surgery: when offensive sin (σκανδαλίζω) has infected your hand, your foot, or your eye, Jesus says, “cut it off” (v. 43, 45, 47). Christ has a hard word for us today! But, know this: the Lord here is not urging His followers to practice self-amputation. The spiritual Doctor knows that we would not be better off without an offending hand, foot, or eye. If we lost one, we would still have the other, and our sin would still be with us. Remember, the cause of sin is not in our limbs, but in the heart (St. Mark 7:21). That’s the target of the great Physician’s surgical talk today: a radical repentance that cuts sin out of our hearts and lives, out of our words and actions.

            What sin? Today, Jesus denounces this sin: leading another believer in Christ astray. Of course, all sin is bad, damning, cutting us off from fellowship with God and other Christians, rightly condemned by the Lord’s 10 commandments. But, to betray the trust of weak Christians, abusing them, taking advantage of “little ones” so that their faith is destroyed by doubts; such an offense spreads  the disease of sin from one person to another. Just as cancer when it spreads, the sin of leading the vulnerable astray is cancer to the body of Christ, the Church of God. Christ commands an abrupt stop to this spread: sink it in the sea; cut off the offending member. Repent! Stop sin in its tracks. Or, like cancer, it will spread. The cancer-like spread of sin doesn’t end with our bodies dying. Worse, Jesus warns that soul and body will suffer in hell, “where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched. You don’t want to go there.

            That kind of radical repentance is beyond us. The Lord Jesus must work this work of faith in our hearts. For us, Christ was cut off from His Father. At the cross, Jesus was left alone to die: forsaken by the world, forsaken by His disciples, and forsaken by His Father who turned His back on the Son. When we look to the suffering Jesus, you and I can see just how serious sin is; at the foot of the cross, we learn how deeply God loves us. The Father sacrificed His Son to cut the sin out of us. The holy hands and feet of Christ were nailed to the cross for the sins we have committed with our hands, and for the trespasses we have chased after with our feet. The precious blood of our Lord flowed down His forehead from a crown of thorns to sting in His eyes. His holy blood atoned for the many sinful sights our eyes see. For you and me and all the world, Jesus bowed His head to have the millstone of our sins hung around His neck. Christ chose to be thrown into the dark depths of the sea of death to save us from dying eternally. Our Lord descended into hell to spare all who trust in Him from ever having to go there. Jesus was cut off from the Father and the world at the cross to save us from perishing forever.

            All who repent of sin and have faith in Christ are saved from hell. All who repent of sin and have faith in Christ enter life, the kingdom of God (v. 43, 45, 47). By His cross and empty tomb, our sin and its deadly effects are cut out of us. We are free from the cancer of our sins!

            When we confess our sins, God performs radical surgery, removing the cancer of our sins from our hearts. Like David sings,  “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. I acknowledged my sin to You, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,’ and You forgave the iniquity of my sin” (Psalm 32:3-5). When God forgives us in Christ, at His word of absolution, or forgiveness, we see the cancer of our sins sink down into the depths, never to return to us again. David, sings anew, “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His steadfast love toward those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does He remove our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:11-12).

            How great is that? Like hearing these words from your doctor: “You are cancer free.”

            Amen

 

 

 

 

 

Can You Hear Me Now?                                                                       

St. Mark 9:30-37. ESV
The Seventeenth Sunday After Pentecost                                                                 

19/09/21
 

            “Can you hear me now?”

            Have you heard someone say those words? Maybe you’ve said it: “Can you hear me now?” The cellphone signal starts to drop. There’s a bad connection on the landline. Waves of scratchy static  cover the voice you are straining to hear. You can make out some of the words, but the message is just not quite getting through. You hold your phone outside the car window, hoping to get better reception; you climb to higher ground; you adjust your handset to speak right into the receiver.

            “Can you hear me now?”

            How Jesus must have felt like that: as if He were talking on a cellphone that was continually cutting out and losing the signal. “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill Him. And when He is killed, after three days He will rise” (v. 31). Plain words. Simple meaning. The heart of Christ’s mission to the world. The very core of our faith; the foundation for life and for eternity. The death and resurrection of Jesus.

            That was His message. The Teacher teaching His disciples. Rabbi instructing His students. But, the signal dropped. Like a missed call. “They did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask Him” (v. 32). The prophet Isaiah saw that this would happen. He prophesied: “You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed” (St. Matthew 13:14b-15a). Of all people, you would expect the disciples would hear and understand Jesus. Sadly, no. For already, once before, the Lord had told them that He was going to suffer, die, and rise again (8:31). And after today’s prediction of His Passion,  Jesus would again tell them a third time that the cross and empty tomb was about to happen (10:33-34). As if the Lord were saying to His disciples, “Can you hear Me now?”

            Well, no. They didn’t. The mission of Jesus wasn’t on their minds. They were holding a different, lively discussion amongst themselves along the way: ‘Who was the greatest?’ On their minds, they were picturing crowns and thrones, not the cross and tomb. Who was the greatest, first after Jesus? Not that they told the Lord. They kept silent when He asked. They felt guilty. The disciples were not paying attention to Jesus.

            That’s sin. That Old Adam, sin-in-us, keeps us from hearing the Word of the Lord, His message of Law and Gospel from the Bible. So many distractions close our eyes to the Word of the saving Gospel: from glorious plans for greatness, to our Facebook feed; from the state of the weather, to what’s for dinner. No matter what stops up our ears, hearing is crucial. Salvation is by faith alone: a saving faith in Jesus that comes from hearing the Word of God  (Romans 10:17). If we don’t hear, we cannot be saved.

            So, Jesus keeps calling.

            Three times, Christ clearly told His disciples about His saving death and resurrection. Sunday after Sunday, from this pulpit, the Lord continues to call out with the saving Gospel of His cross and empty tomb. Let the one who has ears hear!

            Here’s the Good news: the Son of Man was delivered into the hands of men and was killed on the cross to open our ears to hear, to take away the guilt of sin in our hearts. He died for us! After three days, Jesus rose to life again to give life to our bodies after we die and are buried. He rose again for us! God Himself came down from heaven to earth, taking the very lowest place by His shameful death and burial to raise us up from the dust of the earth to be resurrected to everlasting life in heaven. Jesus made Himself last to put us first!

            So, hear this: baptized believers in Jesus are the children of God. Through that water-bound Word of God, the Holy Spirit gives us heart-felt humility that forgets about getting glory for ourselves, and instead puts the needs of other people ahead of our own. Like the wonder that fills the face of a small child, the Holy Spirit gives us childlike faith that trusts in God our heavenly Father and holds fast to His promises. Today, Jesus speaks His Word of blessing into our ears, and joins His real presence to bread and wine to wrap His loving arms around us.

            Look around you. God’s children are seated all around you in these pews. Receive one another in the name of Jesus. And receiving each other, you are receiving the Father in heaven.

            Jesus is calling. The Lord speaks salvation into our hearts. To God’s children He calls: “Can you hear Me now?”
                       Amen

 

 

 

 

Love For The Truth                                                                                     

I John 4:1-11. ESV
The Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost                                                                       

12/09/21
 

            “I take out the garbage because I love you.”

            He looked deep into his wife’s eyes and said those words before hauling the trash bin and recycling to the end of the lane. Sure, he brought her flowers now and again to show his love for her. He would surprise her with a bracelet or a pair of earrings on a special occasion. But taking out the garbage, week in and week out, this was a labour of love. Not that he delighted in this chore: packing up the stinky, messy trash. No, he did it for her.

            “I take out the garbage because I love you.”

            St. John says a lot about love. The Apostle tells us that God loves us in Christ. When we trust in God’s love, we will love other people. This Scripture invites us to love the truth. What is truth? Just this: that God sent His Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. That’s how He shows His love for us. Christ crucified and raised from the dead is the truth that saves us. When we ourselves believe this, we love the truth.

            Which means that we reject the lies. When St. John urges us to love one another, he does not mean that we should be gullible. Loving others does not mean agreeing with everyone, believing everything that you hear. “Beloved, do not believe every spirit,” he writes, “but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (v. 1). Now more than ever, we need to test the teachings that we hear.  Not everyone who claims to speak for God speaks the truth. Like counterfeit money is worthless, there are counterfeit teachers: false prophets who spread a worthless, counterfeit message about God. Already in John’s day the spirit of the antiChrist was in the world. This antiChristian power has only grown over the centuries.

            The Pot of Gold box was passed around. “Pick one—but only one, mind you—any chocolate you want.” The boy took the box and read the description of each one carefully: hazelnut, nougat, coffee, strawberry creme, caramel. Which one should he take?

            Choosing truth and rejecting lies is not like choosing a chocolate. Candy can leave a bad taste in your mouth. False teachers lead away from Jesus and leave souls in hell.

            How can you love the truth and reject the lies? How can you recognize false teaching about God? The Apostle gives us this simple, but critical test: anyone who does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not from God, but antiChrist. To deny the God-Man, Jesus Christ and His saving cross is to rip the beating heart out of the truth, given to us by God. Every one of us has the duty to reject lies when they are taught in the name of God. Every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we ask our Father in heaven to protect us from “anyone who teaches or lives contrary to God’s Word [and so] profanes the name of God among us” (SC III:5).  It may not seem like the loving thing to do. But love for the truth—for the truth of God’s love for us in Christ—will give us courage to condemn error as false and damning.

            We, as members of the Lutheran Church, must be ready to defend the truth against error. The Apostle St. John wrote to churches who loved the truth: congregations who fought false teaching and paid a heavy price. People accused them of being unloving. Their faith in the love of God was shaken to the core as former members left the church to join the world. Cherished brothers and sisters left to follow false teachers. Their love began to grow cold. Do you love God? Are you ready to reject the world’s lies and love the truth? With each passing day, it looks like the world is gaining strength; that false teaching is winning out over the truth; that Satan’s lies are more popular than God’s love. Yet consider what is at stake: those who believe the devil’s lies will lose heaven and wind up in hell. Love for others makes us love the truth.

            And this is the truth: “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (v. 4). Our eyes tell us that the world is winning: it looks like Satan is the most effective at marketing his product. But turn your eyes to God’s Word. Listen to what He says to us: “Little children, you are from God and have overcome them” (v. 4). No matter how fierce the fight against Christ and His people, God is greater. His love is stronger. We confess this before the world at Confirmation. Christ Jesus lives in our hearts by faith; He has poured His rich Holy Spirit into us in the water of Baptism; He gives His body and blood to be a part of us. In Him, we have the victory. “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (v. 4).

            We love the truth; for this is the truth: “God is love” (v. 8). We stand on the side of truth, we fight for the truth, we listen and believe the truth because only the truth reveals God’s love to us: the powerful, saving, deathless love of God for us in Christ. False teachers deny Christ, teaching us to trust in ourselves, to save ourselves. God in His Word tells us His unparalleled love for the world in Christ. Out of love, the Son of God, Jesus Christ came into our world in the flesh. His holy life was lived for us. He died on the cross to save us from our sins. He died for the world. Here, we see the love of God in action: He gave up His dearest and only Son to save us from the devil’s lies, from the guilt of our sins, and from an eternity of hell. This makes us love the truth: “God is love” (v. 8).

            How do we love others? Doing household chores. Speaking a kind word. Praying for them in time of need. We love because God in Christ first loved us. That’s the truth.                      

 

                                                                                   Amen

 

 

 

 

 

His Salvation Still Shines 

Psalm 125 ESV
Church Anniversary                                                                                                       

29/08/21
 

            “What are you doing that other churches are not?” What program are you following to have success at Desboro?” Twenty years ago, a lady asked me that over coffee at a Hanover Circuit function. She was saddened and frustrated to see losses in her own church and across the East District generally. Although we do have our own problems, to her, things looked pretty rosy here in Desboro.

            “No special program,” I answered her. “We just preach the Gospel. Anything good that happens here comes from God.”

            The answer then, is the same answer today, two decades later. The Church exists and continues, the Church stands or falls by the proclamation of the Gospel. 

It’s All About Jesus

            And, the Gospel is this: the good news of God’s love for the world—the world on its way to perishing in hell forever because of its disobedience, that is, sins of breaking the Ten Commandments. To save  us from perishing, God the Father gave His perfect Son Jesus into the shameful agony and death of the cross to remove our sins’ horrible penalty.

            Now here’s the good news: faith in Jesus, who died, but rose to life again, saves us. Trust in the Lord Jesus gives us life forever in heaven. Through faith, Jesus saves both notorious scoundrel and respectable citizen. Christ Jesus gives us this saving gift apart from what we say or do: through the faith worked by His Word, the Bible, delivered to us in our Baptisms, strengthened by Jesus as He comes to us in Holy Communion. This Gospel message was preached, taught and believed by Christians at this church 125 years ago. Like a light shining in a dark place. 125 years later, the same Gospel is  now preached, taught and believed by Christians here in 2021. His light still shines. 

On Us

            The light of salvation in Christ Jesus shines on us. His gracious love is like the sun and the rain that makes the crops grow (Isaiah 55:10-11; St. Matthew 5:45b). “I am the light of the world,” (St. John 8:12), Jesus declares in the Gospel of John. The light of His salvation shines us in the grace our Baptisms, poured out on us in water and the Word of God: “to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death and to guide our feet into the way of peace” (St. Luke 1:79). 

In Us

            The light of salvation in Christ Jesus also shines in us. In His Word, the Bible. The word is preached into the air, enters our ears and finds a home in our believing hearts. St. Paul says it like this: “The word is near to you, in your mouth and in your heart (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:8-9). Jesus also joins His Word to bread and wine so that the light of His salvation is in us, that is in our very bodies. Again, St. Paul writes: “Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit within you” (I Corinthians 6:19). And, by the very act of receiving the Lord Jesus Christ with all His gifts here at the altar, the light of His salvation shines through us. “As often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (I Corinthians 11:26).

Through Us

            After 125 years, the light of salvation in Christ Jesus still shines through us. The Lord has blessed us so richly by His grace, His free and undeserved favour in Christ. We are not just to keep these blessings to ourselves, but to bless others. Like light shining in the darkness, the light of Christ shines through us into the lives of friends, neighbours, coworkers and all the people we meet. “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvellous light” (I Peter 2:9). Through Isaiah, God says, “I will make you as a light for the nations, that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6). His salvation shines through us. 

Surrounded

            For this great task of shining the light of salvation into the world, the Lord promises that He is with His people. The Psalm writer, approaching Jerusalem for the Passover festival looks at the landscape of Palestine and pictures God’s loving protection. Mountains surround the holy city, Jerusalem, forming a natural barrier. Just as the city of Owen Sound lies nestled between two ridges of the escarpment. Protected. So, God protects His people. The twin guards of His Word and Sacraments surround us: we are shielded from attacks on our faith from the devil, world, and our sinful nature. In the centre of Jerusalem, the temple itself was constructed on the rock: Mount Zion. Storms of life may try to shake us. Those who trust in Lord stand strong. The Lord is the mountain. He cannot move.

Still

            The light of salvation in Jesus still shines. Even though there have been so many changes in the church and world over the last 125 years, know this for certain: the future of the Church depends on God, the Lord of the Church, not on us. “Through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Spirit is given. He works faith, when and where it pleases God in those who hear the good news” (AC V:2). Jesus promises, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away” (St. Matthew 24:35).

            The light of His salvation still shines.

                                                                                     Amen