Advent 4 – "You Shall Call His Name Jesus" – Matthew 1:18-25 – 12/22/19

Way back in the beginning when there were just two people in the whole world… and really, how much damage can just two people do? But they did. “When the woman saw that the tree was good for food and to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate…”

She knew better. Adam, her husband, had told her not to eat of the fruit from this ONE tree for on the day that you eat of it you shall surely die. All he was doing really was giving her the Word of God.

So when the talking serpent said, “Oh my, doesn’t that look good,” she recited the LAW of GOD in good catechetical style – NOT “but my husband said…” “but God said…”

But instead of LISTENING to GOD’S WORD, she LISTENED to the word of the serpent – and by that UNHOLY WORD an UNHOLY THING was conceived in her, and she gave birth to SIN which separates us from the God WHO KNOWS NO SIN.

But our attention this morning is not so much on THE WOMAN as it is on THE MAN. Where was her husband while this was going on?

HE WAS RIGHT NEXT TO HER. “…and she also gave some to her husband WHO WAS WITH HER…” (Gen.3:6) He did NOTHING. He just stood there and watched as the serpent its unholy seed in his wife. “…and he ate.”

What a coward. What a wimp. He should have protected her. He should have thrown himself between his wife and the serpent and said, “OVER MY DEAD BODY.” But he did NOTHING and his NOTHING changed EVERYTHING.

And now this morning, we are being told that the woman is pregnant once again. But this time, not with the ‘UNHOLY’ word of the serpent,’ but with the HOLY Word of God. This time it is not a talking serpent but a talking angel that speaks. “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy – the Son of God.” (Lk. 1:35) Continue reading

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Advent 3 – "Patience In Prison" – Matthew 11:2-15 – 12/15/19


article_4_shutterstock.com_Last Sunday, we met John the Baptizer in the wilderness, calling people to repent. “In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

For John, repentance begins with “confession”. “Confession” is a legal word. Policemen and lawyers and judges are interested in getting a ‘confession’ from someone they strongly suspect committed the crime. Sometimes, all they get is ‘denial.’ Sometimes they get a ‘confession’ packed into a whole bunch of reasons and excuses – which I suppose, is supposed to move the judge to go easier on them.

But “confession,” pure ‘confession’ that is, simply says, “guilty as charged. I deserve whatever the punishment might be.”

So, last Sunday we probably missed the most startling thing in the entire reading. In response to John’s preaching, ‘repent!’…“Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, CONFESSING THEIR SINS.” (Matthew 3:2,5,6).

How do you like that? While everyone else is trying to grow the church by preaching a message that basically says ‘you have nothing to confess,’ ‘you should feel good about yourself just the way you are,’ and the churches are closing – John preaches – “Repent” and great crowds travel great distances to go to a church that’s in a pretty unpleasant place.

So you’ve got to wonder, what was it about John’s message that seemed to appeal to so many people? I know that times have changed – but people really haven’t. The discovery of electricity and the atom and the internet haven’t changed us as much as we think. And God hasn’t changed either. And so their situation before God was no different than ours. And so whatever it was about John’s preaching that appealed to them applies equally to us.

I think that the appeal is this. As surprising as this may sound, there is something about the call to “Repent” that is DEEPLY RELIEVING and even JOYOUS. To hear the preacher give us, not just THE COMMAND, but THE PERMISSION to admit that my thoughts are not God’s thoughts, and that my ways are not God’s ways – and that it’s not only WISE – but it is SAFE for me to CONFESS this – what a relief. There is real JOY in that!

For those who have grown weary of fighting that inner battle that is always asking the question, “did God really say…” only to hear that it’s OKAY to simply let His Word take every thought of mine CAPTIVE – what a RELIEF. What JOY, what REST there is in that!

To hear that God is not like the judge or lawyer or policeman who offer to give you a lighter sentence if only you will confess – but that in Baptism, He completely and totally forgives you all of your sins and declares you to be innocent… well, no wonder then that “Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, CONFESSING THEIR SINS.” Continue reading

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Advent 2 – "New World Order" – isaiah 11:1-10 – 12/8/19


Saint_John_The_Baptist_Preaching_In_The_Wilderness_by_Anton_RaphaelWhen WWI was finally over in 1918, President Woodrow Wilson declared that the time had come to establish, in his words, “a new world order.” He proposed the
establishment of a League of Nations that would work together to maintain a safe and peaceful world, to the end that, the 1st World War would be the ‘war to end all wars.”

The dream of establishing a New World Order has been the dream of many. In 1928, one western European activist campaigned on the basis of the New World Order he would establish if elected. His name was Adolph Hitler.

In 1940, an author named H.G. Wells wrote a book titled, “The New World Order” in which he laid out a picture of an ideal world in which there were no national boundaries, where world peace was maintained by a world governing body.

On September 11th, 1990, as the Cold War was nearing its end, President George H.W. Bush addressed a Joint Session of Congress to share his vision of a New World Order. He said, "A hundred generations have searched for this elusive path to peace, while a thousand wars raged across the span of human endeavor. Today that new world is struggling to be born, a world quite different from the one we've known". Less than a year later, in 1991, as the Gulf War was launched, President Bush declared, "Now, we can see a new world coming into view. A world in which there is the very real prospect of a new world order. The Gulf war put this new world to its first test.”

Man’s attempts at establishing a New World Order can be traced all the back to the days of Noah when men and women set out to establish and safe and peaceful world in which to live by building a tower to heavens. And every generation since has had its own Babylonians, each with their own dreams and visions of what a New Order ought to look like and how it ought to be implemented – only to watch it crumble before their eyes.

Heck, we can’t establish peace and safety for all in our own nation – let alone the world; or even in our own family for that matter; or even in our own heart. Why would we ever dare to think we could establish peace and safety for all in the world?

But in our Old Testament reading, the prophet Isaiah points us to One who IS able to do just that – and who DOES establish a New World Order. He is the One whom every believer has been waiting for ever since God promised to send a Messiah to restore the whole creation to the perfectly safe and peaceful world that it was in the beginning.
Continue reading

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Advent 1 – "Knowing the Time" – Romans 13:11-14 – 12/1/19


ClockTime-Watches-NBS-1200x800Maybe it’s because I just spent the last couple of days in Chicago and rode the Chicago Transit Authority around town that I thought of the musical group “Chicago.” And maybe it was because our Epistle reading for today begins with these words, “Besides this, you know the time…” that I got to singing the song from The Chicago Transit Authority’s first album that went:

Does anybody really know what time it is?
Does anybody really care?
If so I can't imagine why we've all got time enough to cry.

Listen to what those words. “Does anybody really know what time it is? Does anybody really care?” And the implied answer is ‘no.’ Sure, people know what time the trains and the busses run and what time they need to be at work and what time they get off and what time they have to get the kids to this practice and that game. And life is being lived from one minute and one day and one week to the next. And there is never enough time. And the years go by and we look back and say, ‘where did the time go?”

“But does anybody really know what time it is?” Or have we never actually taken the time to think about a question like that? “Does anyone really care?”

Today, you and I are directed to think about ‘time’ to the end that we ‘understand what time it really is.’ In our Epistle reading we heard St. Paul exhort us, “You know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep.

If anyone should ‘really know what time it is’ and ‘really care,’ it is the Christian. The Church’s season of Advent is devoted to making sure that its members know what time it really is.

And St. Paul wants us to wake up before we OVERSLEEP. Time will not go on forever. There is an ‘end of time.’ And right now the clock is ticking and time is winding down. And “our salvation is nearer to us now that when we first believed. For the night is far gone; and the day is at hand…” (Rom. 13:11-12)
There is a day when time will run out and the time will be up. And that day is getting closer and closer when Christ will appear in the fullness of His glory to separate the sheep from the goats, the weeds from the wheat, the good fish from the bad fish. He is coming to “judge the living and the dead.”

And so knowing, the time as only the believer in God’s Word can know the time, we most certainly do “take time to cry.” We cry for ourselves because we have not managed our time the way that we should.

We cry that we have far too often permitted time to manage us rather than managing our time, not using the time that we have to honor our Maker and our Redeemer as we should.

We cry that we seem to so easily lose track of time when it comes to those things that our Lord wants us to do – time in the Word, time in prayer, time to share the gospel with one who doesn’t know what time it really is and doesn’t really care. Continue reading

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Last Sunday – "Father, Forgive Them" – Luke 23:32-43 – 11/24/19


Peter_Paul_Rubens_-_Christ_on_the_Cross_between_the_Two_Thieves_-_WGA20235I have counted 21 Sundays now that we have been following our Lord ever since we heard that He “set His face to go to Jerusalem.” And today, on this “Last Sunday of the Church Year” we come to the end of the journey to Jerusalem. From here, the journey continues from “Jerusalem to Judea to Samaria and to the end of the earth” and “to all nations.” (Matthew 28, Acts 1:8).

Which is to say, there’s lots more to come – like – “Christ is risen!” “He is risen indeed, alleluia.”

And isn’t this also why we have been following Him so closely? After all, before we ever DARED TO set out on this journey with Jesus through the season of Pentecost, we had already followed Him through the season of Lent and Easter. And it was there, before we even began this journey to the cross, that we learned that His death was not the end of the road at all? We learned that there is more beyond the boundaries of the kingdom of this world. And we fully intend to follow Him there too.

The crucifixion of Jesus Christ is not only the door through which we see that there is more beyond death and the grave. But it is also the door through which we enter into heaven where the journey does finally ends at the destination that Jesus has been leading us to all along.

But as we have just heard, not everyone sees it this way. In fact, of those who we meet on today’s section of the journey, the vast majority reject everything that we have said, who may believe that there is a life after death, but that it most certainly does not proceed through the cross of Christ crucified.

But there is one man who is different than the rest. In fact, he is all alone in this crowd of mockers and he refuses to go along with the crowd. And I would recommend that we find ourselves in today’s gospel in the thief who is crucified with Christ that tradition has placed on Christ’s right, who hears the One in the middle tell him that ‘today – he will reach the goal of the journey.’ “Today, you will be with me in Paradise.”

Here is a man who has NOT been with Jesus on this journey as we have. As far as we know, he’s never met Jesus before today. We don’t know what crime he and the other criminal committed. But we know that it had to have been something serious enough to warrant the punishment of crucifixion.
We aren’t told how long they had been held in their prison cell. But on this day, a Friday, the guards came and led them both out to be crucified.

And as they carry the cross beam outside the city wall to the place of crucifixion, they see that there is another criminal headed to the same destination. This One has been flogged so severely that He is unable to carry the crossbeam to His cross. And so the soldiers have to force a bystander to carry it for him.

And with that, they have joined us on this journey with Jesus. Continue reading

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Pentecost 23 – "Your Redemption Is Drawing Near" – Luke 21:5-28


Today’s gospel reading is full of what any reasonable person would certainly call ‘bad news.’ It starts off with the bad news about the Temple in Jerusalem – as noble and impressive as the building is, it’s going to be destroyed.

And then it goes on to say that before that happens there’s going to be a lot of ‘bad preaching’ going on. And a lot of preachers are going to make a lot of false claims that they have no business making – such as, “I am He.” And “the time is at hand.” And it’s going to get very confusing for the believers who are going to have to be very discerning about what preaching they believe and what preaching they simply refuse to accept.

And then it goes on to say that while all of this is going on in the church, there’s going to be tons of turmoil going on in the world. “Nation rising against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.”

And then it goes on to say that while all of this taking place, there will be regular and ever increasing outbreaks of “famines” and “pestilence” “in various places.”

And then it goes on to say that even before all of this kicks into high gear, a general persecution against Christians is going to break out and believers are going to be arrested and imprisoned and put on trial for the sole reason that they confess Jesus Christ to be Lord – and themselves His follower.

And then it goes on to say that if you think that this religious persecution is going to be limited to ‘society’ or ‘the culture’ or ‘the world,’ which is the way that we like to keep this all very vague and general and faceless – you’ve drastically underestimated the ‘bad news.’ This is in fact going to get very, very personal. “You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends…” It doesn’t get any more personal and close to home than that.

“Some of you they will put to death.” And those who are spared death may wish they weren’t because they “will be hated by all for my names sake.”

And then it goes on to say that just when you thought things couldn’t get any worse, an army is going to attack the city of Jerusalem and it is going to fall and the fall and the best thing you can do is to run. And woe to those who can’t run!

And then it goes on to say the creation itself is going to start coming apart at the seams and national and international disasters are going to happen on such a scale that they will leave people “fainting with fear and foreboding at what is coming on the world.”

That is our gospel text for today. Have a nice day. Continue reading

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Pentecost 22 – "What Is Eternal Life?" – Luke 20:27-40 – 11/10/19


The-ResurrectionIcon-of-Victory-byzantin-icon-6It was all the way back in July that we got the Word that Jesus “set His face to go to Jerusalem,” and we set our face to follow Him. We took a two week, side trip to visit the Reformation and commemorate All Saints. But now we’re back on the road with our Lord again.

BUT WAIT A MINUTE! HE’S ALREADY THERE. Not only is He already in Jerusalem, but it’s Holy Week and He’s only days away from that collision with the cross that He had been on from before the creation of the world. Wow! See what taking your eyes off the road even for just a moment can do?

Every stop on this journey with Jesus has been for our instruction in this faith so that we might know what it is that we believe and believe it more confidently – so that our doubts might become the thing that is called into question and proved to be false – rather than our faith.

Today’s stop on the journey is all about ‘eternal life.’ Do you believe that there is such a thing? And if you do, what is it that you believe about ‘eternal life’?

St. Luke writes, “There came to Jesus some Sadducees, those who deny that there is a resurrection…” The Sadducees represent that demographic of society who believe in God and in the Bible, at least parts of it, and believe that religion is a ‘good thing.’ If more people read the Bible and lived according to what it says, ‘this world’ would be a better place.

But ‘this world’ is as far as it goes. To go so far with ‘religion’ to claim that it offers a person ‘SALVATION’ and a ‘LIFE AFTER DEATH’ – is to go too far. There is no ‘after-life’ or ‘eternal life’ and therefore no such thing as ‘heaven’ or ‘hell’ for that matter. When you die, you’re dead. End of story. After death there is nothing – oblivion. This was the firmly held belief of the Sadducees of Jesus’ day. And it’s also the belief firmly held by many people in our own day – and maybe you know some of them.

But you are not one of them.
• At least, not if you mean what you confess when you say – “And I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come,”
• or “I believe in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting,”
• or if you mean it when you pray “…for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever and ever,”
• or as breathe that sigh of relief when you receive the blessing at this railing that the body and blood of Christ that you just ate and drank would, “strengthen and preserve you unto life everlasting.”

So, what is this ‘eternal life’ that is SO MUCH MORE than a hypothetical curiosity or a theological fine point, that is the very foundation of our hope for the future and therefore for the present also, that determines how we live our life and how we face our death.

What is ‘eternal life’? Continue reading

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All Saints – "The Joy of the Church Victorious" – Rev. 7:9-17


All-SaintsThe Festival of All Saints is really the most comprehensive of all of the Festival days on the church’s calendar. It’s the celebration of Easter and the resurrection of those who have not only died with Christ but who have also been raised with Him and are with Him where He sits at the right hand of God in heaven.

All Saints is the celebration of the successful outcome of the Great Commission and Pentecost where the apostolic commission to baptize and teach all nations results in
“great multitude which no one can number” from every nation, race, culture and language.

All Saints also draws us into the 2nd Coming of our Lord and that blessed and everlasting life where bodies are reunited to their souls – and the chaff is separated from the wheat – and all hunger and thirst perfectly satisfied – and the scorching heat of the temptations to sin and the tears which flow from one false hope and broken promise and terrible nightmare to another are over forever and ever – and there is only light and life and hallelujahs – and the “sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing to the glory that shall be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:18).

Today, we give thanks to God for all whom the Holy Spirit gave new life through the gift of faith in Jesus Christ – and were preserved in the one, true faith until they breathed their last. We give thanks to God for bringing these loved ones and friends of ours, and for all the saints, who from their labors rest – in to the perfect rest of eternal life in heaven. Continue reading

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Reformation – "Don't Jump!" – Romans 3:19-28 – 10/27/19


luthers-rose-amanda-dosterTen people are trapped on the roof of a 20 story high burning building. The only way to safety is to jump across a 25’ chasm onto the roof of the adjacent building. One person jumps 10 feet and falls to his death. Another jumps 12 feet and falls to his death. One jumps 15 feet and falls to his death. One gets a running start and pushes off the edge of the building and jumps 20 feet and falls to his death. “There is no distinction. All fall short…”

It does no good to compare one person to another. One may have jumped twice as far as another. One may have tried a lot harder than another. One may have been much more sincere than another. One may have worked all his life getting ready for this jump while another never gave it a thought until the very last minute. “There is no distinction. All fall short…”

And do you want to know the really crazy thing about all of this? The really crazy thing is that we keep trying to make the jump. We are all incredible optimists when it comes to estimating the human potential to save ourselves. We think that if we just do this or do that, if we try harder, if we are more sincere, we’d be able to make it. If we use this program, if we elect this person, then we’d ALL be able to make it. But “there is no distinction. All fall short…”

There are basically two ways that we try to make the jump. The first way is the way of the way of ‘self-righteousness.’ We’re convinced that there is a God and that He will judge us on the basis of our ‘goodness,’ or at the very least how our goodness compares to others. And so we try as hard as we can to be as good a person as we can be hoping that it will be enough to get us across the chasm safely.

The second way we try to make the jump is by ‘denial’. Not ‘self-denial’ but ‘sin-denial.’ Who says it’s ‘sin’ anyway? What used to be called ‘sin’ has been exposed as nothing more than a plot by the powerful to keep the masses in their place. The times they are a ‘changin, God will have to adjust. There’s no reason to jump at all – the buildings not really on fire.

But “there is no distinction. All fall short…” Continue reading

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Pentecost 19 – "The Authority of The Bible" – 2 Timothy 3:14-4:4 – 10/20/19


55-inspiration-scripture-God-breathed“Jesus love me, this I know…” There’s a note of confidence in a statement like that. “Jesus loves me, THIS I KNOW…” How do you know? Because you’re just so loveable that He just can’t help Himself? Because you feel His love in your heart? Because you’re so healthy or wealthy or happy – the sure signs that Jesus must love you? No! “Jesus loves me, THIS I KNOW, FOR THE BIBLE TELLS ME SO.”

So, what makes the Bible so special that it has the authority to “bring to nothing” those feelings in your heart, and your pious opinion of yourself, and the circumstances of your life, and to say that all of this counts for nothing?

Or to put the question another way, why can you say, ‘Jesus loves me this I know….”, even when you DON’T FEEL His love in your heart; even when you’re NOT VERY LOVEABLE at all; even when the circumstances of your life ARE IN THE PITS?

The question is, what gives the bible the ‘authority’ to demand that it have the ‘final say’ in everything that it says?

In our Epistle reading for today, Paul writes to young Timothy, who is a pastor in the church, giving him strict instruction to Timothy is to preach the Bible, because the bible and only the bible, “is able to make one wise for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.”

That’s a bold claim to make. There are lots of books out there that promise that they are able to make one wise for attaining wealth or true happiness or marital bliss or getting into the right college or cooking a delicious dinner.

But a book that “is able to make one wise for SALVATION…” Now, that’s a bold claim to make. As bold as the claim that we just made, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the bible tells me so.” We want to know, what is the basis for a bold claim like that about the Bible?

Paul explains, “all Scripture is breathed out by God…” Continue reading

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