Monday, February 23, 2015

Into the Fray for You

       Mark’s Gospel is filled with action from start to finish. As the shortest of the Gospels Mark narrows the focus to the ministry of Jesus from the days of John the Baptizer to Jesus’ resurrection. This first Sunday in Lent we cover some forty days in the verses comprising the Holy Gospel.

As if on cue Jesus goes to the Jordan River to be baptized by John. Immediately the heavens open and the Spirit descends upon Jesus as a dove. God the Father voices His approval upon His beloved Son.  Jesus is here for a reason. The entire Godhead, Father, Son and Spirit are united in this mission and task. Jesus came for several reasons. He was the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29).  He came to seek and to save that which was lost (Luke 19:10). Jesus appeared to destroy the works of the devil.  He also came to give his life as a ransom for many,

There is an urgency that runs through this text.  Once baptized, the Spirit literally throws Jesus into the wilderness. There the Son of God would spend forty days being tempted by Satan.  Forty is one of those numbers in the Scripture that mark a major movement in God’s work for you and me. It rained forty days and forty nights at the flood. The Children of Israel spent forty years wandering in the wilderness before entering the Promised Land. There they face many temptations and succumbed time and again. Even Moses disobeyed God in anger. He was not to lead the people into the Promised Land.

A greater than Moses is here.  Jesus is the Prophet predicted by Moses and the entire Old Testament.  Where Israel failed, Jesus would succeed.  Jesus eagerly met Satan in the Devil’s domain. The wilderness was far removed from the lush beauty of Eden. In many ways the desert wilderness is a monument to Satan’s destructive work in creation.  The Bible is clear in the fourth Gospel that all things came into being through Jesus.  Nothing was made apart from Him. All that our Lord made was good, very good.  Sin shook creation to its very core, even for the Son of God in human flesh.

The desert wilderness is a dangerous place to the uninitiated.  Plants are covered with spines to protect from predators trying to steal precious water from these succulents.  The fauna also is inhospitable to unwary humans.  Scorpions, rattlesnakes, vipers, insects and lizards pose serious threats should one encounter them unexpectedly. Imagine Jesus, by whom and through whom all things are made, now finds His creatures hostile to Him! So thorough is the corruption sin has brought into creation itself. Jesus is neither afraid nor put off by the wilderness. He eagerly begins his ministry by taking it directly to Satan and his earthly domain.

In both Gulf Wars, the United States began their assaults with what is known as shock and awe. Using stealth planes and long range missiles, the American military attacked the capitol city of its adversary and destroyed his strongholds with pinpoint precision.  Jesus could have used shock and awe in reclaiming His world and fighting Satan’s temptations.  He chose a different way. Jesus faced the devil in human flesh. The other Gospels tell us He did not eat for forty days. Jesus made himself vulnerable to the worst the devil had to offer. Still He did not sin.  Satan’s reign of terror began to crumble as the Lord retook control over what had been corrupted by the devil.

Neither Gulf War ended with the first air assault.  Ground troops followed to complete the victory. Jesus could have ended it in the wilderness.  Instead he conducted his own ground campaign disarming the evil one as he went throughout Galilee and Judea proclaiming: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). Step by step, village by village and countryside alike, Jesus undid the evil work of Satan. Jesus gave sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, speech to the mute, mobility to the lame and freedom from possession by demons.  Each act revealed that the Lord, the Promised Savior, had come unto His own to deliver and save them.

With the widespread decay of American life it appears to some that Satan is regaining control.  The Word of God remains powerful and able to liberate those in bondage to sin. Institutions like marriage and the family are undergoing dramatic changes.  Father, mother and children is no longer the norm.  America’s sexual mores are shaped by addiction to pornography that is far more universal and damaging than anyone cares to admit.  In a world were believers are beheaded and the deaths are recorded it seems that whatever gain Jesus made is reverting back to sin.

Fear not!  Jesus is here. He who was baptized in the Jordan River entered into the fray for you. Everything He did, He did for you that you may be His own, forgiven and redeemed.  Now is the time for believers to keep their heads and remain sober minded for the sake of our prayers. Now is the time for Christians to put faith into practice.  It begins within the family and church and flows into the world from there.  Above all keep loving one another earnestly for love covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8). Use what God has given you to the glory of His name and in service to our neighbor. That’s exactly what Jesus did for the human race throughout His earthly ministry.

The Lord describes Christians in a variety of ways. You are the light of the world. A lamp is not lit to be hidden but to bring light that pierces darkness.  Darkness disappears when light shines.  Where the light of Christ shines, sin scurries for cover.  You are the salt of the earth. Salt is a multi-purpose mineral. It preserves, it flavors, it cleanses.  If it loses its saltiness then it is cast out as useless.  It might wind up as an ice melter on winter roads.  Jesus preserves His church to be an outpost of His kingdom where you live and work.  The kingdom of God is at hand.  Repentance and faith are in order, even for us.

We have a remarkable Lord, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Instead of abandoning us together with creation, He chose to visit and redeem you.  Jesus entered the world with a picture of you in His heart. You are the reason He was baptized. You are the reason He faced temptation. You are the reason He preached, taught and healed.  Jesus could not imagine heaven without you. He gave you godly parents, a pious spouse, faithful pastors and teachers to reveal His love for you. It is here in His Church that you are forgiven and strengthened to be the people of God. To Him be the glory now and for eternity, Amen!

Monday, December 29, 2014

Salvation in Sight

                In the name of Jesus Christ, God made man in human flesh, Amen.  The text for our consideration is the Gospel from Luke 2, especially these words from Simeon. “Lord, now you are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your Word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to Your people Israel” (Luke 2:29-32).  This is the Word of the Lord; thanks be to God!
                Scoffers mock Christians with statements like this. “If there is a god, why is there so much evil?” “Where is God to be found amid such turmoil today?” Or, as Africans lament: “God has left this place long ago.”  Christians stutter to offer a simple response.  Many times they say nothing at all or offer a weak apology rather than a clear proclamation of the truth.  In the afterglow of Christmas, answering these statements is much simpler than believers fear. St. John says it well: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us; and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
                The Lord who created all things by His almighty Word has visited and redeemed this world in which we live.  Jesus, God’s Word in human flesh, appeared that first Christmas in Bethlehem. We just celebrated that robust occasion.  The Lord dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.  Jesus spent over thirty years living on this earth in human flesh. True God and true man, Jesus came in fulfillment of all the prophecies predicting a Messiah, a Savior, and the Deliverer for the human race.  Now Jesus enters the temple in the arms of Mary with his step-Father Joseph.
             Forty days elapsed from Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem. As pious believers, Mary and Joseph carefully follow what the Law required.  The days of purification following birth were over for Mary. Jesus, the firstborn male, is considered holy to the Lord. A pair of turtle doves or pigeons is offered as a sacrifice for both. The gift they offer indicates the low economic position this young family experienced. They were by no means wealthy in the eyes of the world.  What happens next surprises Mary and Joseph, even as it confirms the divine nature of this child as both were told by the angel.
            Two veteran saints are in the temple that day. Simeon and Anna were devout believers waiting eagerly for the Lord to fulfill His Word in sending the long-promised Savior. Both were elated at the sight of Jesus in the temple. The Lord confirms through the mouth of two witnesses what the Shepherds heard and saw Christmas night. Jesus, the Son of David, is the Savior of the world. Simeon actually held the infant Jesus in his arms. Anna gave thanks to God and spoke of Jesus to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.
                Simeon was an aged man given a promise from the Lord that he would not see death until he had seen the Lord’s Christ. Simeon, as well as others, waiting for the Messiah to come was quite familiar with the Old Testament prophecies.  The book of Daniel is most helpful in discerning the time in which the Savior would arrive.  There was an expectancy among the people that time had come for the Lord to fulfill His Word.  Likewise Anna, a widow following seven years of marriage, and now eighty-four, was as a devout of a believer as one can be, accurately described Jesus to all who heard her voice.
                The infant priest, Jesus, enters the temple. Simeon filled with the Holy Spirit immediately recognizes Jesus as the Christ, the Savior of the world. The baby Jesus was SALVATION IN SIGHT.  God kept His Word, as He always does.  Here was the child prophets wrote about but longed to see.  Here was God in human flesh. One with His creation He comes to redeem and to save that which was lost. Simeon is so overjoyed that he cannot help but break out in Word and song. His own eyes saw the Lord’s salvation. Here was God, for His people, in His temple. Veiled in flesh the Godhead see! Hail the incarnate Deity! Pleased as man with men to dwell, Jesus our Immanuel! He whom the heavens cannot contain is embodied in Jesus, now in the arms of Simeon. The Lord’s redemption appears for all to see. King David’s greater Son is the glory of His people Israel. He is also a light for revelation to the Gentiles. Jesus is the Savior for the whole human race. Is it any wonder that Simeon and Anna rejoice?
                The Lord Jesus remains with His Church throughout all generations. He is with us always, even to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20). He is here in His Word and in His precious Sacrament.  It is no accident that the Church sings the song of Simeon after receiving the Lord’s Supper.  Here in bread and wine connected to God’s Word is Jesus with His body and blood.  With the eyes of faith, Simeon saw it all in the infant Jesus. By faith the Lord’s Christ, Jesus is here in bread and wine.  We get up from the table with the same song in our hearts and on our lips. Here is God who comes to His people. He is not distant or remote but alive and present through His Word in the hearts and lives of His people. Believers are a light reflecting the greater light of Jesus in sin darkened places.
                Amid the overwhelming joy of that day, Simeon also speaks sobering words to Mary.  It is hard to be neutral about Jesus.  His name draws praise from believers but cursing from His enemies. It was true then and is true now.  Simeon says to Mary: “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts will be revealed” (Luke 2:34-35).  The blessed cross is never far from Jesus or from a believer.  This side of heaven there is much controversy, opposition and rejection of Jesus that becomes violence in the hands of the Lord’s enemies. Wherever Islam borders Christianity there is an increase of bloodshed, kidnapping and murder of Christians.
             Christian babies and children are killed by ISIS in view of their parents. Young girls are kidnapped and forced to convert to Islam and become wives to their captors in Nigeria and other parts of Africa. The sword that would pierce Mary’s heart was watching her Son suffer and die for the sins of the world upon the cross at Golgotha.  It is dangerous to separate Christmas from Easter as if we could keep Jesus young, innocent and huggable.  Jesus came into the world for the very purpose of destroying the work of the devil. Yes, it would cost Him His life, but it would also make Him the Firstborn from the dead in the resurrection.  Amid seeming defeat God brings victory. He turns the worst evil into good for His people and to the utter frustration and exasperation of His enemies.
                    Many years would pass before Simeon’s words were fulfilled. We live in that fulfillment even as we await the return of Jesus on the Last Day to take us home to Himself forever. Your salvation is in sight. It is here, for you in Jesus Christ. “Your grace in lowliness revealed, Lord Jesus, we adore And praise to God the Father yield And Spirit evermore; We praise You evermore” (LSB 389:7). Amen

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Lessons from a Storm


IMG_2194 This is the cross that sat atop the steeple of St. John Lutheran Church in New Minden, IL.  It came down as a result of the F4 tornado that passed through town around noon on Sunday November 17th. During cleanup operations the cross was found crumpled on the ground.  It is bent but not broken.  The center of the cross caves inward.  You can almost picture the face of Jesus in the bulge where the cross bars meet.  It was on another cross nearly two millennia ago that the Son of God absorbed all unrighteousness into Himself as He hung cursed on the tree.  Jesus cried out in anguish:  “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me!”  Here Jesus experienced what it was like to live without the providential arm of God the Father.  Here he tasted hell in all of its fury.  Shortly after He cried out again.  “Father, into Your hands, I commit my spirit”.  Though forsaken for a moment Jesus entrusted Himself into the hands of His heavenly Father, confident that He would live, even if He died.  Three days later He was raised bodily from the dead.  He lives nevermore to die.  In Him we Christians live, move and have their being.  In Jesus all things are held together.  Jesus lives. Because He lives He says that you will live also.

Some thirteen homes in New Minden suffered damage from the storm.  Most face the daunting task of rebuilding their homes and sorting through what possessions are salvageable.  Vera Mills helped her 102 year old mother,Loretta Weihe, reach the basement safely. There they heard the snap. crackle and pop of the twister hitting their house.  They heard the loud bang the chimney made as it crashed to the floor.  Down the road Ray and Eunice Hausler reached the bottom step going into the basement when the storm carried off their home.  All are incredibly grateful to be alive.

Pastor Jacob Mueller, the oldest son of Rev.Tim and Dawn Mueller put everything in perspective regarding the tornado.  The path of the storm was headed straight for the crowded section of the village. Then it suddenly turned north and east where it heavily damaged a convenience store and four homes before crossing Highway 127 to the church. Pastor Jacob Mueller noted that it was so much like God to avert the suffering of people by directing it to His home, the church.  No doubt the injures and fatalities would have been greater if it the storm remained on its original course.

Look again at the recovered cross from the steeple.  Bent but not broken. It looks like someone punched it in the center.  Now the head looks down with arms eager to embrace. At Golgotha on the tree of the cross, Jesus suffered death and abandonment so that you and I may live and never be forsaken.  The members of St. John and people of New Minden have this in metal on the cross recovered from the fallen steeple.  Thanks be to God for His mercy and grace!

Friday, November 8, 2013

Timeless and Unchanging

A message bsed upon 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5

How can I be sure in a world that’s constantly changing?  This question was put to song some forty-five years ago in another tumultuous decade. Nothing has slowed since.  The world around us is changing more rapidly than ever.  At the turn of the 20th century it was believed that the body of human knowledge doubled every century.  Today the doubling of knowledge takes place every twelve hours!  It is impossible for anyone to keep up with this increasing depth and breadth of information.  The proverbial jack of all trades is being replaced by specialists in every field. Change is everywhere.  It is relentless. It threatens to sweep away everything in sight.  Is anything sure and certain?  How can I be sure in a world that’s constantly changing?

The tides of change impact Christendom too.  Mainline church leaders have been abandoning Biblical teaching for decades. They deny the virgin birth of Jesus Christ, His divinity, His bodily resurrection and His physical return in judgment on the Last Day. Universalism, the belief that everyone will be saved regardless of what they believe has gained traction among many denominations. Clerics as diverse as the three most recent popes, Billy Graham and emerging church leader Rob Bell deny that Jesus Christ alone is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

Sociologists of religion declare that the church is dead.  Something different will serve the burgeoning Christ-less spirituality of this present age. Modern scholarship prides itself on its skepticism of the faith once delivered to the saints (Jude 3).  Programs you see on the History Channel, Discovery and TLC do not promote Biblical Christianity. They recycle ancient heretics and their false teachings into alternatives to the faith that you have learned.  Unbelief, misbelief and disbelief dislodge faith and certainty.  How can I be sure in a world that’s constantly changing?

None of this is new.  Satan, the dark prince of this world, has sowed seeds of doubt, unbelief, cynicism and skepticism widely.  He has many willing helpers.  Whenever you hear the question “Did God really say?” Stop. You should be able to detect the scent of sulfur emanating from these words.  “Why do you ask?” is an excellent follow-up. What follows is usually a denial of God’s Word and a particular belief based upon the Scriptures. The assault on marriage and the family are current examples. The debate is not so much about same-sex marriage as it is a sweeping effort to discredit religion and the family as we have known it since Eden.

What is new is the abandoning of the faith as handed over to us by our forefathers.  Early Christians became a leaven through which the culture was permeated and became largely Christian.  We are heading in reverse. Public figures deny our religious heritage and seek to replace it with anything but Christianity.  We are on the verge of an era when Christianity will be oppressed by ideologies as diverse as Islamic Sharia Law, humanism and Marxism.  It’s happening now in Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East.  North America is next. Christian persecution is rampant in Egypt, the Sudan and Pakistan.

       The answer, the mission challenge, is before you.  SFrom infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.  All Scripture is breathed out by God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the  man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:14-17). The grass withers, the flowers fall but the Word of the Lord endures forever (Isaiah 40:11). Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:7). The Lord does not change His mind based upon the latest poll numbers of public opinion (James 1:17).

       The mission of the Church is not to scratch the itching ears of a wicked and perverse generation. Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God (James 4:4)? We live in the time when people do not endure sound doctrine (2 Timothy 4:3).  The answer is not to accommodate, change or let the world write the church’s agenda.  Paul introduces this section of Holy Scripture by charging Pastor Timothy “in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus who is to judge the living and the dead at the appearing of His kingdom” (2 Timothy 4:1).  In other words, you are accountable to the Lord for the conduct of your ministry.  He will require that accounting when He returns.

       Therefore, “Preach the Word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.  As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2 Timothy 4:2-5).

       We enter the mission field with eyes wide open.  The field is precisely where God has placed you.  It is fulfilled in your home, neighborhood, church, school, vocation, community and through your mission offerings to the outermost parts of the world.  Each of us knows people who are living contrary to the Word of God.  All of us know people who would benefit greatly from the forgiveness of their sins.  Repentance and forgiveness remain the heartbeat of Christian mission.  To reprove, rebuke or exhort has gone out of favor.  That’s a national problem today.  No one wants to say no to anyone.  The result is a generation that refuses to be held accountable. Who will step up and be the adult when adults abandon their God-given role?

       This is why the Scriptures call for pastors to be sober-minded with complete patience and teaching. Endure suffering.  It’s remarkable that most of us haven’t suffered for being a Christian to this point.  Regardless, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.  An evangelist is one who brings the forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ name. This is vital for those convicted of guilt by rebuke, reproof or exhortation.  Jesus remains the Savior of the human race.  There is no other name under heaven by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12). Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life the only way to God the Father by the power of the Holy Spirit (John 14:6).

       St. Paul writes: “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people will and imposters will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived” (2 Timothy 3:12-13). “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1Timothy 4:16). These remain the timeless and changeless Word of God.  How can I be sure?  God is faithful even if we are faithless.  The Word of the Lord endures forever, Amen.

This Present Darkness

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places (Ephesians 6:12).

As Daylight Savings Time reverted back to Central Standard Time, darkness falls one hour earlier. Coupled with overcast skies and stormy weather the hours of light are retreating.  So it is for this sin sick world.

Tuesday afternoon the present darkness turned deeper.  Illinois became the fifteenth state to legalize same-sex marriage. People celebrated. The media rejoiced. The clear Word of God was ignored. Listen to the Holy Spirit as you read the following.

"So God created them in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Genesis 1:27-28).  So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while He slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man He made into a woman and brought her to the man.  Then the man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:22-24).

Jesus confirmed this Biblical truth.  He added a comment regarding the dissolution of marriage.  “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matthew 19:26).
The holy apostle writes under inspiration of the Holy Spirit. “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For His invisible attributes, namely His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to Him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.”

“Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever, Amen.”
“For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those contrary to nature, and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in them the due penalty for their error.”

“And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know and God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them, but give approval to those who practice them” (Romans 1:18-32).
The darkness deepens.  Can it overcome the light?

“For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.  For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.’”

“Where is the one who is wise?  Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ, crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to the Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weariness of God is stronger than men.”

“For consider your calling brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong. God chose what is low and despised in the world , even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of Him your are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord’” (1 Corinthians 1:18-30).

The Light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it.

“…all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and imposters will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.  But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”

“I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with complete patience and teaching.  For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2 Timothy 3:12-4:5).

Even as the darkness deepens in the twilight of this world, Christians look forward to the dawning of the eternal day when Christ appears in radiant glory.

Jesus Christ is the Light of the world, the light no darkness can overcome.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Word at Work

The following is a mission festival sermon preached at St. Mark's Lutheran Church, Steeleville, Illinois on the 21-22 of September 2014.  The text was from Acts 16:6-15.

In the name of the Father, Son +, and Holy Spirit, Amen.  The text for this mission festival weekend is recorded for us in Acts 16:6-15.  This is the Word of the Lord.

The prophet Isaiah reminds us that God’s ways are not our ways, nor are our thoughts His thoughts.  The Bible is replete with accounts of the Lord doing the unexpected in unusual situations.  Paul, Silas and Timothy determined to bring the Gospel to Phrygia, Galatia and Bythinia.  They were prevented from doing so by the Holy Spirit.  A vision of a man from Macedonia calling for help motivated the apostle to cross the Dardanelles. For the first time intentional evangelistic work took place on the European continent. It began in the Roman colonial city of Philippi.

On the Sabbath day Paul’s entourage went outside of the city to a place along the river where people gathered to pray.  The number included Jewish women married to Gentiles who retained the faith they received in childhood.  Timothy came from such a household in Lystra.  He could relate to these faithful Jewish women and their children.  The number also included Gentile women. Among them was Lydia, a woman from Thyatira.  The Lord blessed her mightily through Paul’s preaching.

The Psalms remind us that unless the Lord builds the house, the laborers build it in vain.  Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchmen stay awake in vain (Psalm 127:1). Without God’s blessing we can do nothing that lasts.  Jesus says: “I am the Vine; you are the branches.  Whoever abides in Me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you to bear fruit and that fruit should last” (John 15:5, 16).  These words are humbling. We cannot come to faith on our own.  It is the Lord who opens ears to hear, eyes to see, and hearts to believe.  It is the Lord who works through His Word to accomplish His purposes in those who hear the Gospel.  God alone receives credit for what happens with Lydia.  “The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul” (Acts 16:14).

 Lydia was deeply moved by the Word of God. She learned that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the World. He gave His life into death for the forgiveness of her sins and the sins of all people.  His resurrection opens the kingdom of heaven to all who believe.  Lydia and her household were baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection. Immediately she invites Paul, Luke, Silas and Timothy to stay at her home.  She expressed gratitude through hospitality.  Lydia generously shared her resources for the spread of the Gospel.  Her home became the first house church in Philippi.

One hundred and fifty years ago German Lutherans were intent on bringing the Gospel to Ethiopia.  In the days before the Suez Canal they had to travel three fourths of the way around Africa to reach the nearest port to their destination.  The emir favored Islam over Christianity and refused to allow the Lutheran missionaries to disembark.  The ship set sail, retracing their original route.  The first port that opened to them was Durbin in the British province of Natal on the southern edge of the continent.  The Lutheran missionaries moved inland and began evangelism among the Zulu people.  Progress was slow.  The Zulus were a strong and powerful nation.  They are proud and reluctant to adopt the way of outsiders.

One missionary spent twenty years preaching the Gospel.  Twice his home was burned to the ground as tensions erupted between the British and Zulus. In that time he could count one baptism among the natives. The Germans persisted.  Today we have Lutheran brothers and sisters in Africa.  We share one Lord, one faith, one baptism. Together we are recipients of God’s mercy, grace and blessings through His pure Word and blessed Sacraments.  God is faithful.  His word will not return to Him empty but will accomplish the purpose for which it is sent.  The Holy Spirit creates faith where and when He wills in those who hear the Gospel.  It is the Lord who opened the minds of the apostles so that they could understand the Scriptures (Luke 24:45).  The nineteenth century missionaries who initially saw little return from their labors sowed seeds that have matured thirty, sixty a hundredfold and more.

St. Mark’s Lutheran Church and School have been serving the people of Steeleville for almost as long as Lutherans have been evangelizing in Southern Africa.  At times the work flourishes and prospers. At other times such as Word War I, a German speaking congregation was not popular when the United States was at war with Germany.  Your forefathers remained faithful to the Word of God even as they adjusted to preaching and teaching it in English during the next two decades. Word is at work in both circumstances.  Faith takes God at His promises and trusts that He will keep everyone of them.  Anyone can steer a boat on a clear, warm, sunny day.  Under a dark sky with wind and waves buffeting the boat and obscuring vision one must trust the compass and follow the chartered course even if every muscle and fiber in their being screams otherwise.  To give into temptation may result in serious injury and even loss of life.

The front line of mission work is wherever God plants His church.  Mission work continues in South Africa, Botswana and Swaziland.  It takes place in Steeleville, Randolph County and Southern Illinois.  The Word that changed Lydia’s heart in Philippi changes hearts wherever it is heard and believed.  Each person is different. Some come to faith and mature rapidly.  Others are much slower to grow and bear fruit.  Like the missionary in Natal with only a single convert one does not give up but persists in doing the very things the Lord has given us to do.  This is faith at work and faithfulness in duty.

Americans are fascinated with large numbers and demonstrable growth.  It is presumed that success depends on these outward and visible dynamics.  The Lord uses a different metric.  He calls His pastors, teachers and churches to be faithful. Faithful in attending the Divine Service, receiving the Lord’s precious body and blood, hearing the Word of God and talking about it with our families when we rise and retire, eat and travel.  The Word works.  It did in Philippi.  It does in South Africa.  This is the Word that has been preached to you (1 Peter 1:25).  Lord, I believe, help my unbelief, Amen.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Humble Service

      Many find it hard to be humble. Humility does not come easily since Adam and Eve sinned in Eden.  The devil’s temptation appealed to their pride. He insinuated that God was holding out on them.  If they would only eat the forbidden fruit they would become like God. Furthermore they would gain knowledge of good and evil.  They succumbed. Humanity has been vulnerable to pride every since. Instead of serving God and looking out for the welfare of others, people focus on themselves. The sixteenth century Reformers of the Church saw sin as people being turned inward rather than outward.  People have been navel gazing ever since Eden.

Words like meekness and humility are okay for someone else but they are not the most desirable traits one picks for himself. After all, “This is the ME generation.”  Narcissism is on the increase.  “What do I get out of this?” “What’s in it for me?” People use these questions to weigh their decisions, participation or expenses.  If the personal benefits are not clear many people decline involvement. Traits of lending a hand to a neighbor on a project are a vestige of bygone days.  Some families still do this but with the dramatic collapse of the nuclear family this is also not as common as it once was.  If someone is meek society considers them weak.  Perhaps they suffer from an inferiority complex and low self-esteem. A humble person is one that others feel they can walk all over, just like they would a doormat. It’s easy to understand why humility and meekness are less desirable traits in our modern world. 

Have they ever been popular?  The Pharisees saw themselves as pious laymen determined to fulfill every demand of the six hundred plus laws they placed around the Ten Commandments.  This left them open to the charge of hypocrisy when their actions did not match their intentions.  Pride was a very real temptation for them as was their failure to love their neighbor as themselves. Jesus is in the home of a ruler of the Pharisees.  Jesus continues to challenge their thinking with mercy, grace and compassion.  These were traits He did not see often among them. They, in turn, did not see Jesus as the Savior but instead were intent on catching Him in hypocrisy.

It was a Sabbath Day when no work could be done by faithful Jews and Pharisees.  Jesus used the Sabbath previously to teach and to heal.  They watched him carefully within this home.  A man was present who suffered from dropsy.  This is a term you do not hear much anymore. It refers to the retention of fluids by the body. You may know it by the term edema. It is associated with a couple of things including kidney problems or congestive heart failure.  Dropsy can make a person very uncomfortable. Jesus asks the scribes and the Pharisees if it was lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not.  They refused to answer.  Jesus healed the man and sent him on his way.

Jesus presents them with a practical problem.  “Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?” (Luke 14:5).  They could not reply to Jesus without exposing themselves to the charge of hypocrisy.  Jesus demonstrates a true servant’s heart.  He put the interest of this man and his health to the forefront.  Rather than leave the man in this condition any longer than necessary, Jesus healed him.  The answer to the question Jesus raised was, “Yes, of course, if my son or an animal fell into a well, I would waste no time getting him out.” To leave them where they have fallen might be a sentence of death before the Sabbath was over.  If the scribes and Pharisees affirmed this they could not trap Jesus with this healing.

The Lord Jesus observes human activity with great interest.  He notes how they competed with each other for the seat of honor at the table.  Instead of thinking that you are the guest of honor, be content to take a lowly seat.  The host will correct the arrangements if necessary.  It is better to be brought up from a lower spot than to be humiliated and moved to sit with the rest of the crowd.“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 14:11).  This is affirmed in Philippians two:  Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests but also to the interests of others (Philippians 2:3-4).

Putting others first, ahead of Himself, is the way of Jesus Christ.  Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who though He was in the very form of God, did not count equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  There God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:5-11).

Jesus practiced what He preached.  As closely watched as He was, His enemies could not agree on a single charge against Him when He was on trial before the High Priest.  Jesus put your interests ahead of His own.  He didn't become a man, suffer, be crucified, died and buried for Himself.  He did it for you.  He took your place and mine. He took our punishment and gives us love.  He bore our transgressions and gives us forgiveness.  He absorbed our selfishness in exchange for His mercy and grace.  He did this not only for you and me but for sinners everywhere of all time and places.

When Jesus spreads out His table before us in the presence of our enemies, He knows that we cannot pay the cover charge or tip, let alone the cost of the entrĂ©e.  Sinners, tax collectors and prostitutes are numbered with the poor, crippled, lame, blind and those in prison.  We cannot repay Jesus for what He has done.  At best, we “pay it forward.”  Having received mercy, we show mercy.  Receiving grace we are graceful to others.  Forgiven of our sins, we forgive those who trespass against us.  This is loving your neighbor as yourself.  This is looking out for the interests of others ahead of your own.  This is the way of the cross, the way of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, He makes humble service chic and desirable, Amen.