Lent 4 – "The Works Of God On Display" – John 9 – 3/26/17


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Today’s gospel is all about ‘blindness’ and ‘seeing.’ It starts out with a man who is born blind but who ends up seeing more than what the human eye can see. Along the way we meet several people with 20/20 vision but who are really blind.

There is a familiar proverb which says, ‘seeing is believing.’ But this morning, the proverb is proved to be false. For as we will ‘SEE,’ there are many who SEE and yet will not BELIEVE. Seeing, they do not see. They have ‘seeing eyes,’ and yet they are blind.

As the account opens, the only one who SEES is Jesus. “As Jesus passed by, he SAW a man blind from birth.”

One of the symbols for God is a big eye. He is the ‘all-seeing’ God. It’s pretty significant that in the creation account in Genesis 1, we’re told that along each step of the way “God saw” what He made and declared it to be “good.” And then when He said, “IT IS FINISHED,” “He saw ALL that He made and it was very good.”

The man was born blind. For some reason, his eyes could never process the light that entered them. John opened his gospel with the grand announcement that “the true light that enlightens everyone was coming into the world.” “He passed by and SAW a man born blind.” (Jn.1:9)

The disciples with Jesus would have walked right by this man and never saw him. But now that Jesus has SEEN Him, so do they. But they don’t SEE him in the same way that Jesus ‘SAW’ him. All they saw was a theological conundrum to be discussed and debated. “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?”

I’m not sure what difference it would have made if Jesus had answered their question. What does it matter really? Unless they are wondering if they should pity this man for getting bad parents or withhold pity for him because he only getting what he deserves. Continue reading

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Mid-Week Lent – Psalm 38 – 3/22/17


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Needless to say, the 38th Psalm is not the cheeriest psalm in the psalmody. It is the psalm of a man who is experiencing great suffering – physically, emotionally and spiritually. And yet as dark it is, this is a psalm that is laced with courageous hope, centered in the Lord. And so it stands as a powerful witness for all believers in Christ of what faith in Christ looks like particularly in times of pain and suffering.

Verse 1-4:
1 O LORD, rebuke me not in your anger, nor discipline me in your wrath!
2 For your arrows have sunk into me, and your hand has come down on me.
3 There is no soundness in my flesh because of your indignation;
there is no health in my bones because of my sin.
4 For my iniquities have gone over my head;
5 like a heavy burden, they are too heavy for me.
My wounds stink and fester because of my foolishness…”

If the words of verse 1 sound familiar, they should. They’re actually the exact same words that we heard two weeks ago in Psalm 6. “O Lord, rebuke me not in your anger nor discipline me in your wrath.”

Listen to Luther again. “God chastens us in two ways. At times He does so in grace as a kind Father; and at times He does so in wrath as a stern Judge. Now when God seizes a person, the person is by nature weak and disheartened, because he doesn’t know whether God is taking him in hand OUT OF ANGER OR IN GRACE. In fear of God’s ANGER he begins to cry out: “O Lord, rebuke me not in your ANGER, nor discipline me in your WRATH.” “Let it be in GRACE; be a Father, not a Judge.” It’s not that he is asking to go unpunished altogether, for this would not be a good thing, but that he be punished as a dear child by his loving father.” Continue reading

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Lent 3 – "If You Only Knew" – John 4:4-26 – 3/19/17


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220px-Angelika_Kauffmann_-_Christus_und_die_Samariterin_am_Brunnen_-1796Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

“If she had only known.” Now there’s an epitaph you don’t want written on your tombstone.

Picture a family gathered around the hospital bed. “Any last words” comes the question. “If I had only known.” And everyone nods in agreement. ‘Yea, “IF HE HAD ONLY KNOWN.”

The sun rose, the rooster crowed, the man sleeping next to her snored. Just another day. “IF SHE ONLY KNEW.”

She got up, stretched, felt the familiar aches and pains. There were chores to do, meals to prepare, water to be hauled in from the well on the outskirts of town. Just another day. “IF SHE ONLY KNEW.”

She walked the same path she had walked countless times. But on this same day, a man was also making his way to this same well. He was traveling to Galilee and he “had to pass through Samaria.”

“Had to,” not as in there was no other way to get there. But “had to” because there was this woman that He wanted to meet. We could just as easily say that He “had to” come all the way from heaven to earth just to meet her. “IF SHE HAD ONLY KNOWN.”

“Wearied as He was from his journey, He was sitting by the well.” “It was about the sixth hour.” That is, about noon when the sun is at its’ hottest.

When she arrived at the well, He was already there, sitting beside it. She says nothing to him. He speaks her. “Give me a drink.”

It’s one of those awkward moments. He’s a Jew and she’s a Samaritan and Jews and Samaritans were raised to be very distrusting of each other. Times that awkwardness by two – He’s a man and she’s a woman.

But He’s THIRSTY. It’s as simple as that. “Give me a drink.”

It doesn’t SEEM like a lot to ask really. But she thinks it is. Or at least she intends to make a big deal out of it. “How is that you a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?”

He answers, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” “IF YOU ONLY KNEW.”

“You’re excuses are all well-rehearsed. The social customs and religious issues and racial prejudices…
• your parents had a bad experience once with the church,
• all gods are all the same – who’s to say which one is right
• science has proved religion to be wrong.
Each one like a roadblock to keep Him from getting too close.

She wants to argue with him and show him how absurd he is. “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep.” For her, it’s a PRACTICAL MATTER. He obviously doesn’t have what it takes to deliver on the offer He has made her.

She wants to put Him in his PROPER PLACE. “Are you greater than our father, Jacob? He gave us this well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.”

But He wants to put her in her PROPER PLACE which is with Him in His Kingdom. “And he said, ‘whoever drinks the water that I give to him will never be thirsty again. The water that I give to him will become in him a spring of living water welling up to eternal life.’”

She wants to say, “HOW CAN WATER DO SUCH GREAT THINGS?” All she sees is plain water that whoever drinks of it WILL BE THRISTY AGAIN.

She doesn’t see that ONE GREATER THAN JACOB who gives Himself to her in, with and under this water and takes her into His Kingdom through the same.

“She said to him, ‘Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.”

She still sees no further than the physical convenience of not having to make this daily hike and carry this water. She thinks of him as someone who is interested in making her life easier. As if the latest technology and a little more luxury might actually be the answer she’s been searching for. “IF ONLY SHE KNEW.”

But maybe now, just because He has been so stubbornly persistent, just maybe it is this woman who is wanting to say, “NO, IF YOU ONLY KNEW…”
 IF YOU ONLY KNEW me.
 IF YOU ONLY KNEW how many times I’ve been hurt.
 IF YOU ONLY KNEW how many times I have been widowed, divorced, abused, abandoned.
 IF YOU ONLY KNEW that the man I am living with now is not my husband because he refuses to act like a man and make a commitment, to love me and cherish me, for better or for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health until death parts us.
 IF ONLY YOU KNEW how lonely I am, how empty, how tired, how THIRSTY I am.

“Jesus said to her, ‘Go, call you husband, and come here.’ The woman answered him, “IF YOU ONLY KNEW…” “I have no husband.”

“Jesus said to her, but I do know. You are right in saying you have no husband; for you have had five husbands and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.”

HE KNOWS HER. “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you.” (Jer.1:5) “I am the good shepherd. I KNOW my own… just as the Father KNOWS me and I KNOW the Father…” (John 10:14-15).

He knows us better than we know ourselves.
• He knows every wound, every scar, every shame, every guilt.
• He knows how stubborn we are, our prejudices and every excuse that we use to keep Him out of our life.
• He knows how lonely, how disappointed, how afraid we are, despite all of the modern appliances and conveniences that our money can buy.
• He knows how easily life takes control of us so that we are like prisoners who would love to be free but cannot say NO – this is the Lord’s Day.

He knows us and how empty we are unless He is in us – because this how He made us.
• And He knows that we don’t know this because we are blind.
• He knows how ignorant we are.
And He doesn’t wait until we get it. He doesn’t wait until we are ready for Him, because that would never happen.

“If you knew the gift of God and the one saying to you…” But we don’t. How could we unless He comes to us and speaks to us and opens our eyes and our minds and our hearts and MAKES HIMSELF KNOWN TO US?

And that is just what He does. From heaven to earth, He meets us at the baptismal well, one person at a time.
• And he gives us the gift of God, which is, Himself. His body given for you, His blood shed for you, and in the WATER and the WORD and the BREAD and the WINE, He opens our minds that we may KNOW HIM.
• For to KNOW HIM is like having ‘a spring of living water, welling up in you to eternal life.’

The English journalist Malcolm Muggeridge puts it like this:
“I may, I suppose, regard myself as a relatively successful man. People occasionally stare at me in the streets – that's fame. I can fairly easily earn enough money to qualify for admission to the higher slopes of the IRS – that's success. Furnished with money and a little fame, even the elderly, if they care to, may partake of friendly diversions – that's pleasure. It might happen once in a while that something I said or wrote was sufficiently heeded for me to persuade myself that it represented a serious impact on our time – that's fulfillment.

Yet, I say to you, and I beg you to believe me, multiply these tiny triumphs by millions, add them all up together, and they are nothing, less than nothing, indeed, a positive impediment when measured against one drop of that living water that Christ offers the spiritually thirsty, irrespective of who or what they are.”

“So the women left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, ‘Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?”

And “many Samaritans from that town believe in him, because of the woman’s testimony.” They said, “we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.”

No one can say of them, “IF ONLY THEY KNEW…”

As happy an ending to this story as this is, there is one detail that is still lacking which makes us wonder. Did Jesus ever get His drink of water? We’re never told that He did.

In fact, it is some time later, at the other end of his gospel, that John reports that as Jesus hung from the cross He cried out, “I thirst!” There on the cross, the One who is LIVING WATER is pouring Himself out for the life of His thirsty and dying world.

He asked her for a drink of water but pleaded with His Father that He would NOT have to drink from the cup that He was giving His Son to drink. “Take this cup from me. Yet not my will but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42). It is the cup of the Father’s wrath for all of her sins and ours that He is given to drink.

“He told me everything I ever did,” she said. He knew it all. And He TOOK EVERYTHING SHE EVER DID, and EVERYTHING THAT WAS EVER DONE TO HER, onto Himself and put it to death in Himself FOR HER LIFE.

He knows everything that YOU ever did and everything that has ever been DONE TO YOU. He THIRSTS so that you may “NEVER BE THIRSTY AGAIN.”

The Lord told Moses, “Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink.” (Exodus 17:6)

And then John writes, “One of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water.” (John 19:34) This is the “Fountain of water springing up into eternal life” for that thirsty Samaritan woman and her village, for Moses and thirsty Israel, for you and for me and for all who hunger and thirst for righteousness.

This is why “He had to pass through Samaria.” He wanted to meet this woman at Jacob’s well. It is why He has come to you and met you at the baptismal well that YOU MAY NEVER SAY – ‘IF ONLY I KNEW.’

Now may the peace of God which passes all human understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

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Mid-Week Lent 2 – Psalm 32 – 3/15/17

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The 32nd Psalm is attributed to David. The background to this Psalm is not given, but many believe that it was written by David as he reflected on his adulterous affair with Bathsheeba and his murder of her husband, Uriah. Psalm 32 is closely connected then to Psalm 51 which we considered on Ash Wednesday.

The distinction between these two Psalm can be understood like this: In Psalm 51, David writes, “Have mercy on me O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgression. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!” This was probably written while David was still terribly tortured by the oppressive guilt of what he had done – before the prophet Nathan fingered him – making him aware that David wasn’t hiding a thing from God. God saw it all. “You are the man,” says Nathan. David replied by confessing his sin. “I have sinned against the Lord.” And immediately, Nathan pronounced the ‘Absolution,’ “the Lord has put away your sins, you shall not die.” (2Sam.12:7,13)

Psalm 32 now, is the recalling of the experience of a man who tried to hide his guilt from others, from himself, and from God – all unsuccessfully. BUT it is also, most importantly, the Psalm of a man who knows the relief and joy of God’s forgiveness for his sin. So this Psalm is both instruction for us to learn from as well as a prayer for us to use – because even if our crime is not like David’s, we all share the same experience of guilt as he describes here.

I invite you to read the Psalm aloud with me as we go.
Continue reading

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Lent 2 – "Nicodemus Is Born Again" – John 3:1-15 – 3/12/17


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Michelangelo_Pieta_FirenzeThe setting for our gospel reading is the Passover Feast in Jerusalem. The verses just previous to what we heard were these:

23 Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing.

ONE of the ‘MANY who saw the signs that He was doing” was a man named Nicodemus.

“This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.’”

We wonder, what was Nicodemus’ interest in Jesus? What did he want to learn and why? Curiosity and interest is not the same thing as belief and trust. The fact that he came to Jesus ‘by night’ probably means that he didn’t want anyone else to see him associating with Him. Continue reading

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Mid-Week Lent 2 – Psalm 6 – 3/8/17


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The 6th Psalm in the Psalmody is attributed to David. Unlike the 51st Psalm that we heard last week where the context is almost certainly that of David’s transgression with Bathsheba and her husband Uriah, the story behind this Psalm is unknown. Personally, I’ve always felt that those Psalms in which the background is unknown makes it all that easier for me to apply it to myself. The backstory to this Psalm, like many, could very well be MY story and yours.

Again, I’ll invite you to recite the Psalm aloud with me as we go.

Verses 1-3
“O Lord, rebuke me not in your anger, nor discipline me in your wrath.
Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am languishing; heal me, O Lord, for my bones are troubled.
My soul also is greatly troubled. But you, O Lord, – how long?”

Luther begins by putting the prayer of the psalmist in its proper perspective. To hear this psalm properly, we need to keep two things in mind.

“First,” says Luther, “in all trials and affliction, man should first of all run to God; he should realize and accept the fact that EVERYTHING IS SENT BY GOD, WHETHER IT COMES FROM THE DEVIL OR FROM MAN. This is what the psalmist does here. In this psalm he mentions his trials, but first he hurries to God and accepts these trials from Him; for this is the way to learn patience and the fear of God. But he who looks to man and does not accept these things as from God, becomes impatient and a despiser of God.”

One of the things that makes Luther’s theology unique is the way that he refuses to compromise the sovereignty of God – particularly in the face of trials and afflictions. Many want to separate God from trials and afflictions saying that do NOT come from Him – which is to say, as much as God would prefer otherwise, there are some things that He simply has no control over. “God didn’t make it to happen – He only let it happen,” or something like that.

Others give God the credit for bringing the trials and afflictions that OTHERS experience, but conclude that it’s because they deserve it. God is punishing them for their sin. We’ve all heard the accusations that certain diseases and disasters are God’s punishment for some particular sin. But this weakens the all-atoning sacrifice of Christ crucified – as though He didn’t atone for ALL SIN and that God’s wrath for all sinners wasn’t COMPLETE EXHAUSTED in Jesus.

Luther however sees things differently. God is in complete control and NOTHING happens apart from His will. Listen to Luther again. “He should realize and accept the fact that everything is sent by God, whether it comes from the devil or from man.”

This is Luther’s ‘theology of the cross.’ God works through suffering and pain to bring us to faith and trust in Him. No one is able to understand the way of God by contemplative thought or academic study. Just as God did His greatest work though the suffering and even death of His Son, so He brings all under the cross that He may bring us to Christ and the life He gives. It is in the actual experience of suffering and dying that God works to bring us to faith in Christ.

In his Heidelberg Disputation of 1518, Luther says that God works under the OPPOSITE as we expect. He hides Himself in trials and afflictions and therefore it is THERE that we are to look for Him. He writes, “thus an action which is alien to God’s nature results in a deed belonging to his very nature: he makes a person a sinner so that he may make him righteous.” Continue reading

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Lent 1 – "The Temptation of Jesus" – Matthew 4:1-11 – 3/5/17


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The text for our consideration this morning is the gospel reading that we just heard and we’ll recite it again as we go.

temptation-of-christ-1872b1“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” Vs.1

That little adverb “THEN” may be the most important word in this whole account. When is ‘THEN? “THEN” is right after Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River where the Holy Spirit descended and landed on Him in the form of a dove and the voice of the Father declared, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

“THEN,” still dripping with the majestic word of His Father and the Holy Spirit whispering into His ears, “Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”

HOW STRANGE IS THAT? I mean, doesn’t our Lord teach us to pray to Our Father Who Art in Heaven – “Lead us NOT into temptation”? But here the leads Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted.

HOW STRANGE THAT JESUS CHRIST NEEDS TO BE LED INTO TEMPTATION? Who is this for whom temptation to sin is so foreign and unthinkable that He needs to be led by the Spirit into it?

I don’t know about you but I don’t need anyone to lead me into temptation. I can find it easy enough all by myself and even if I don’t go looking for it – it knows how to find me – and its ALWAYS finding me.

Adam and Eve were simply going about their business tending the Garden when a talking serpent said ‘hello.’ It tracked them down – just like it tracks you down – talking serpents with clever words and catchy slogans and questions that make you think, and wonder, and builds your confidence in yourself so that you believe you can handle yourself just fine, and before you realize it you’ve been had – because you never actually read that Bible that you’ve got at home that you’ve been saying now for how long that you’re actually read – and now you wonder, what could be the harm – I mean really?
No one has to lead us into temptation. We are surrounded by it and know right where to engage it just fine – all by ourselves.

But God the Holy Spirit has to lead God the Son into temptation – with the approval of God the Father, “That’s My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Continue reading

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Ash Wednesday – "The 7 Penitential Psalms" – Psalm 51 – 3/1/17

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Of the seven penitential psalms, Psalm 51 is probably the one we are most familiar with. I’m sure as we spoke it together there were several verses that you recognized because they are used in some of the orders of services that we use. The background to this Psalm, the story of King David’s despicable behavior with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband Uriah is one that we are familiar with as well.

It was the same for Luther. He lectured on this Psalm to his students at Wittenberg, not only in 1517 and 1525 but again in 11 lectures in 1532. To his students Luther says, “I cannot promise that I shall lecture satisfactorily, for I admit that I have not fully grasped the Spirit who speaks there. Still it gives us an opportunity and a basis for thought and study, so that I can become a student with you and await the Spirit. Whatever He gives, we shall receive with thanks.”

Luther found that this Psalm got to the very heart and soul of the message of the Scriptures and the Christian faith. “Man is guilty of sin and condemned, and God is the justifier and savior of man the sinner.” That’s what it’s all about in a nutshell. The proper use of this Psalm is, on the one hand, “to show us our sin more deeply and show more clearly the root of wickedness of sin.” And on the other hand, that by seeing ourselves before almighty God as we truly are, “we might understand the nature of grace” more accurately.

Luther says, “Here is a description or definition of God that is full of comfort: that in His true form God is a God who loves the afflicted, has mercy upon the humbled, forgives the fallen, and revives the drooping. How can any more pleasant picture be painted of God? Since God is truly this way, we have as much of Him as we believe.” (LW 12:406)

Today we will consider verses 1 through 15. I’d invite you to recite the verses aloud with me as we go. Page 7 in the worship folder. Continue reading

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Transfiguration – "The Jesus We Need" – Matthew 17:1-9

Sermon by guest pastor – Rev. Charles St.-Onge, pastor of Ascension Lutheran Church, Montreal, Quebec and LC-MS Mission Facilitator to the Caribbean.

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Lent – 2017

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Repentant Peter

Mid-Week Lent Services – Wednesdays – Noon and 7:00pm.

    The season of Lent begins this Wednesday, March 1st, with Ash Wednesday.

    “The placing of ashes on the forehead is a sign of penitence and a reminder of human mortality.” (Treasury of Daily Prayer, CPH, 2008, p.10) The ashes remind us that we are from dust and to dust we shall return. Thankfully ashes are not the only mark we bear. In Holy Baptism, we have been marked with the sign of the cross. The cross marks us as “one redeemed by Christ the Crucified.” The ashes will wash off but the mark of the cross is permanent.

    Lent is a 40 day stretch of time that the church has set aside for the believer to carefully examine his or her faith and life under the cross of Jesus Christ. Lent is a time for special attention to learning and growing in the faith, for repentance and prayer, and even for fasting for the purpose of sharpening self-control and our reliance upon the Holy Spirit.

    Weekday services are a particular feature of the season of Lent. Mid-week services in Lent provide a time for the believer to retreat from the busy world to a quiet and focused attention on God’s Word, confession and prayer. Mid-week services during Lent will be held on Wednesdays at Noon and 7:00pm.

    The theme for this year’s season will be “The Seven Penitential Psalms.” In anticipation of the celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation this year, we will lean on Luther’s commentary of these seven psalms. (The very first book that Luther prepared for publication was his commentary on the seven penitential psalms in 1517. He added some revisions to this in 1525.)

    Please post the Mid-Week Lent card in your home for reminder and reference to the psalm that we will consider each week.

    May God grant us a holy Lent,
    Pastor Nielsen

    Sermon Approach for “The Seven Penitential Psalms” for Mid-Week Lent, 2017

    Martin Luther began his teaching career at the University of Wittenberg by lecturing on the Psalms. (1513-1516) Interestingly, later in Luther’s teaching career, he once again focused on the Psalms. For Luther, the Psalms expressed the very heart and soul of the believer’s life in Christ.

    Luther’s very first publication was his commentary called, “The Seven Penitential Psalms,” published in 1517. He would later revise and republish this work in 1525. “Among my first booklets I also published at that time the seven penitential psalms with an exposition. And although I still do not find anything wrong in it, yet I often missed the meaning of the text. This usually happens to all teachers at their first attempt…. Now however, since the gospel has reached high noon and is shining brightly, and I also have made some progress in the meantime, I considered it good to publish the work again, but improved and based more accurately on the right texts. I commend all my readers to the grace of God. Amen.”

    In the mid-week Lenten series, we will lean heavily on Luther’s 1525 commentary. I would like to have you hear Luther as much as is possible. In fact, I’d like to let Luther do most of the talking, to the point that I’ll let you know when it’s me and not Luther who is speaking rather than the other way around, (“I would only add…” “let me also say…” or something like that.) I’ll also do some rewording and rephrasing where necessary and lots of editing since Luther can get pretty wordy.

    Needless to say, learning about Martin Luther is not the primary objective in these sermons. The ultimate goal of every sermon is to hear our Lord speak to us through His holy prophets and apostles so that the Holy Spirit may work His mighty work of repentance and forgiveness and renewal in us. I hope that you will find this Lenten season to be just such a time for strengthening of faith and growth in grace. I’m confident that Luther has the same goal in mind.

    Over the next 18 months we are all going to be hearing a lot about the 500th Anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation. (Luther’s posting of the 95 Thesis in Wittenberg was October 31, 1517.) My hope is that we will not only hear a lot about the Reformation and Martin Luther, but that we may also hear a lot from Luther himself, whose knowledge of the Bible and unique personality has a great deal to offer believers in every generation. Luther’s commentary on the Seven Penitential Psalms is an excellent place to begin. If you would like to read the actual text of the commentary, you can find it in “Luther’s Works: Volume 14. Concordia Publishing House”.

    Pastor Nielsen

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