Monday, December 31, 2007

New Year's Eve

Finding the Gospel at New Year’s

Introduction:  We come to the end of another year. 365 days have come and gone. In a few hours a New Year dawns. Why come to a service such as this? Is there something or anything spiritual or sacred about pausing to reflect on the events of the past twelve months? Where’s the Gospel in the phrase, “Happy New Year!”?

The Gospel is found in the observance of New Year when we pause and ponder the fact that God is timeless. He’s beyond time – He has a completely different vantage point then we do when it comes to the concept of time. We who are mortal only can evaluate situations from the perspective of past experiences and present circumstances. When we begin to consider the future our prospects and predictions can become suspect. True, the old adage tells us past behaviors predict future outcomes, which is somewhat accurate.

Even as I am speaking to you - at this very moment - the Hoosiers are playing in a bowl game in Tempe, AZ. Thirteen winless seasons produced much frustration. Will the recent past repeat itself producing a similar outcome next year? The future is uncertain!

In the New Year, we citizens in this country will elect a new president. My children have lived under Presidents BUSH, CLINTON, BUSH, CLINTON?  Will the pattern continue? Having only the experiences of the past and only the circumstances of the present can sometimes make our predictions concerning the future uncertain and unclear.

Our Savior who has the perspective and advantage of eternity is the only One able to guide our future as He has the past. He is the only One capable of ordering our days and directing our path. We shouldn’t be surprised at this. The Old Testament trumpets this message clearly in the simple yet profound words of the prophet Malachi when he tells us, “I am the Lord, I change not.” [1]

Our good and gracious God remains faithful to His promises in spite of our history and our past. His Word is much stronger than our weaknesses. God remains faithful to His promises in spite of our history of doubt and unbelief. Have there been moments in this past year in which we are not proud?

Have there been times in this past year of 2007 in which we have not acted as becomes a child of God? The Word defeats sin. The Word who was made flesh defeated sin and destroyed death at a cross on a hill called Calvary. 

For the eternal God knew - that the only way to save and rescue mortal man - was to come down to our level; to enter time and space to live and dwell among us. The eternal Son left His Father’s world and entered our world to redeem and save us. Thus writes the Psalmist, “Thou art the same and Thy years shall have no end.”[2]

There you have it! Finding the Gospel at New Year’s (and throughout the year) is remembering the reality that the Lord is timeless and He will not, nor cannot change. But if there is to be any change in us – if there is to be a future for us – we will have to abide by His will and His ways. Your destiny is to live and dwell with Him, not in a fallen world which is marked by time – but in His world, which is beyond the scope and limits of time and space.

The writer to the Hebrews explains to us clearly, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, yes and forevermore.”[3]  Jesus is the same yesterday – a clear reference to His time on earth where people became eye-witnesses to His ministry. The time for Jesus to be born was the right time. Everything was planned by the Father’s hand. The God who is timeless decided the time was right to send His Son Jesus into our world to redeem and save it.

These witnesses heard His words and marked His actions, they beheld His glory. They observed Him as He was made known to them - they produced a living testimony – The New Testament – preserved for us by the Holy Spirit for us to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest. We posses this testimony in the Scriptures today – use it!

Jesus Christ is the same today. Every word and every action, - everything - what those eyewitnesses said about Jesus is true. Has He not acted for you in this past year of 2007? Has not this single solitary life impacted you?  Where do we find the Savior today?  We find Him in those places only the Father has promised. We find Him in His message of the Gospel. We find Him in the reading of the Inspired Word. We find Him in the waters of Holy Baptism. We find Him in His Meal, in His Words of Absolution, and hidden away in our own hearts.

This good news about Jesus calms our fears, removes our doubts and gives us hope. Does the death of a condemned man seem compelling enough to offer atonement? Could His life and sacrifice really save you? This is the means by which we find peace with God and absolution for our sin.

Jesus is the same yes and forevermore. His promises will always be true. He can not undermine His character and good name. His credibility is at stake. Your future is His concern and His care. As we enter a New Year Godspeed dear child of God – fare thee well into 2008 – fare thee well. 

+Soli Deo Gloria+

[1] Malachi 3:6

[2] Psalm 102:27

[3] Hebrews 13:8

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Christmas 1

December 30, 2007
Christmas 1
Matthew 2:13-15; 19-23
God protects from danger
Joseph the friend of children

Introduction: In the afterglow of Christmas day, we confront the trauma of suffering, death-threats, and persecution of the helpless and innocent. Each of the Lessons for today remind us of just what kind of world to which Jesus came — a hostile world that did not only want him, but tried to kill him. In the Gospel, the holy family was forced to flee to Egypt to avoid death by King Herod.

The holy family flees to Egypt and returns to Nazareth. Matthew sees Jesus as the second Moses. He went to Egypt and by the direction of God was brought back to Galilee. Matthew emphasizes the fact that what happened to Jesus was a fulfillment of prophecy.

In today’s Gospel lesson Joseph proved to be a friend of the little child Jesus. What would have happened to the baby if Joseph had not been a willing worker for God? Here we see a great and profound truth: God’s concern compassion and aid come through cooperative believers. In today’s world of cruelty to and exploitation of children, God is still concerned about the threatened and the oppressed little ones. He works through His obedient servants to be friends to afflicted children.

Today we observe the marks of a friend of children. A true friend of children is one who…

1.      One who is open to God’s guidance – Vv. 13, 19-20 – “When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, ‘Get up,’ he said, ‘take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”   “After Herod had died, an angel of the Lord appear in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.”

Is not fleeing a bad situation and an act of cowardice? Why not take a stand, confront the enemy and fight it out? If Jesus is the Messiah, none other than the Son of God, why should he flee from a worldly king? Does God not have legions of angels to protect his newborn Son? There is a time to flee and a time not to flee. When Jesus was grown, friends urged him to flee from Herod who sought his life. But, Jesus refused to run and said, “Tell that fox....” In this case to flee was the right thing to do. There was no way at that time to oppose Herod. But, there will come a day, a day of return to battle the enemy. In World War II, MacArthur had to flee from the Philippines only to return later to conquer.

The king was determined to kill the baby Jesus. It tells us the kind of world a baby enters. It is a hostile world into which we are born, a world out to get us. Today a child faces “death” in terms of child pornography, child abuse by parents and adults, and incest. It is a rough and tough world with tyrants, murderers, and molesters.

The holy family stayed in Egypt until Herod “died.” Rulers come and go, but God remains. When ruthless dictators straddle the earth, the day is coming when they are no more. Where are those who frightened and cursed the earth in the twentieth century — Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, and Tojo? “This too shall pass” — things will get better if we have the patience to wait.
Transition: A true friend of children is one who…

2.      One who is aware of the world’s threats – V. 22 - “But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee…”

Archelaus was the son of Herod the Great. He ruled over Judea and Samaria for only ten years. He usually cruel and tyrannical and so was deposed.  Judea then became a Roman province, administered by prefects appointed by the emperor.

Jesus was born in a hostile world. Not only was there no room in the inn for his birth, but before he was two years old, he had to be carried to Egypt to escape death at the order of King Herod. Again, because Herod’s successor, Archelaus, was equally as dreadful, the family had to settle in Nazareth.

Transition: A true friend of children is one who…

3.      One who immediately obeys God – V. 14 - “So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt.”

The prophet Hosea {11:1} reminds us, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”` Originally God called the nation of Israel out Egypt in the time of Moses.  But Matthew, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit apples it also to Jesus. Matthew sees the history of Israel (God’s son) condensed in the life of Jesus (God’s unique Son)  Just as Israel as an infant nation wend down into Egypt, so the child Jesus went there. And as Israel was led by God out of Egypt, so also was Jesus.

Conclusion: The First Sunday after Christmas seems to tell us that, like Jesus, we are born in a hostile and threatening world, but that God is with us and will use the suffering for our good. We know that the Lord works through means. Joseph and Mary were the means by which Jesus was protected.  Thank God there are people in our own community, mind you, in this very congregation who like Joseph and March watch and work on behalf of others – true friends and guardians of children.

The Lord suffers in all the afflictions of His people. Because of His love, He feels what we feel, He hurts when we hurt, He suffers when we suffer. When the Lord called Moses, He said that He heard the cries of His enslaved people in Egypt. No one ever suffers alone, no one ever walks alone, no one ever dies alone. “In all their afflictions He was afflicted.”

+Soli Deo Gloria+

Tuesday, December 25, 2007


Christmas Day
Christ is Born
Luke 2:1-20

A common opinion holds that the events of  the first Christmas is only a story, a myth, a legend – something akin to the tale of Rudolph the red nosed reindeer. But consider how real Christmas really is – its concrete, it’s specific, it’s the real deal. Consider the realities of the Christmas event.

1.      Political factors: Caesar Augustus, Quirinius – Vv. 1, 2

The relation of church and state is a problem every generation faces. At the very beginning of Jesus’ life the state had its say. A “decree” from Rome gave Jesus’ parents a difficult time: a long, and difficult trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem at a time when the expectant mother needed to stay at home with family. The decree resulted in a stable for a delivery room and animals for attending nurses.

“Caesar” continued to be a problem for Jesus to the very end of his life. Jesus had said — “Render unto Caesar”; and so He was sentenced to death by one of Caesar’s men. Yet, on the other hand, the “decree” reminds us that Jesus came into a real world at a definite time and place. The incarnation is not a theory or myth or the product of human imagination. Christmas is rooted and grounded in time and space and in the events and context of history.

2.      Parents; Joseph, Mary – Vv. 4-5

At Christmas time God’s grace, that is, the undeserved love of God became a reality by the appearing of Jesus. He was just as real and human as you and I. He was born and placed into a real family. He lived with and among people. He learned a trade by His step-father Joseph, and was nurtured by His mother.   The grace of God became flesh that we might see, hear, and feel God as a reality. Christianity is not a philosophy, not a program of activity, not a code of ethics, but a person. He walked and talked, laughed and cried, lived and died. In Jesus we see the love of God and He came to live with and among people. At His birth we witness His immediate family.

3.      Delivery room: stable manger, child – Vv. 6-7

How does Jesus choose to make Himself known? Not in pomp and circumstance, not with grand fanfare and a flourish of light and sound. Instead, He chooses to be placed in a manger; the feeding trough of the animals. He is born in a stable, where beasts are kept. Not the place you would go looking to find the redeemer and savior of the world. Or, would you?

This is the amazing thing about our Savior - He chooses to be found in those places the world would least expect. He chooses to reveal Himself in those places the world considers unimportant. He chooses to exert His power in what an unbelieving world considers weak and of little consequence.

Seeing is believing. The shepherds found the Christ-child just as they had been promised. They sought out the infant and His parents where they were told to find Him.

Where do we find the Savior today? We find Him in those places only the Father has promised. We find Him in His message of the Gospel. We find Him in the reading of the Inspired Word. We find Him the waters of Holy Baptism. We find Him in His Meal, in His Word of Absolution, and hidden away in our own hearts.

If you are seeking Christ this Christmas you will find Him only in those places the Father has promised He would be found.  The Shepherds found Him – “just as it had been told them”. Why should you expect anything different?

4.      Witnesses – real people shepherds, you who have seen it again by those witnesses – Vv. 8-20

Sometimes we can feel quite alone despite of our many activities. Yet, the message of the Savior’s birth comes to us with the same joy and expectation. “For you is born this day a Savior.” This is the greatest revelation known to man. This news calms our fears, removes our doubts and gives us hope. The Good News of the Savior’s birth which is promised for all people was given first to a lonely people. This message is given to you this day as the Father’s gift.

The shepherds were the first to hear of the birth of a Savior. Was it not strange that God sent the angel to tell the shepherds? Why not announce it to the important and powerful people of the world? Why not to kings and generals? Why not to Pharisees and Sadducees? The shepherds of Jesus’ day had a bad reputation as thieves. They were among the very poor and usually classified with publicans and prostitutes. The poor seem to be God’s greatest concern. Jesus was born of poor peasants.

Later Jesus taught “Blessed are the poor....” As proof of His messiahship, He reported to John the Baptist, “the poor have the gospel preached to them.” Jesus’ birth is good news to the hungry, needy, deprived, and poor.

Conclusion: There was much excitement during the birth. You can see a nervous, frantic new father trying to be midwife to a woman having her first baby. Then came a group of shepherds asking questions and staring at the new baby in adoration. Later came the Wise Men. There was much talking, coming and going, chores to be done, and general confusion. While all this was going on, Mary His mother, pondered all these events and sayings.

What is the meaning of all this? Who is this new baby? What will he amount to? Christmas should be a time for reflection and meditation. For some Christmas is over in a day and then life goes on as before. If so, Christmas is only a mad rush and a state of confusion. For those who “ponder these things,” the cruel cross of Calvary always looms ahead of us - even on Christmas morning.

Does the death of a condemned man seem compelling enough to offer atonement? Could His life and sacrifice really save you?  The surroundings and the circumstances of His birth predict His death. They are the means by which we find peace with God and absolution for our sin.   

+Soli Deo Gloria+

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Advent 4

Advent 4
Matthew 1:18-25
The High Cost of Christmas

Introduction: Christmas is a costly even for many Americans. To buy gifts, they go into debt with is not paid off for months. Though Christmas may be costly to us, think of the cost to God. Jesus was a precious gift. It cost God His all while for us it only costs money!

Consider the high cost of Christmas –

I.    Cost Himself – “Emmanuel, God who is with us” V. 23 Through out the course of his Gospel Matthew will quote the Old Testament. This is the first of 47 times Matthew will consult the Old Testament to tell us about the Savior. This quotation is from the prophet Isaiah (7:14) 

At the time this prophecy was given originally it was spoken to king Ahaz as a sign not only that the Lord was with him but as a testimony that the Lord Himself would rescue king Ahaz from all of his enemies – even those who threatened to take his life.

The Lord who directed all of the affairs of His people sent His own Son into the world as the final fulfillment of all prophecy, for it was “God with us” in the fullest sense who came to be our substitute, to bear our sin, to die a death that we deserved.

God is very much involved in your salvation. He is not an absentee, runaway, Father. He does not abandon His people. To the contrary He has your well-being at stake. He involves Himself in your salvation. He orders your days and directs your path. He is very much involved in the lives of His children. Says the Psalmist, “O LORD, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD.  My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together…your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”[1]  Even before your parents knew you existed your heavenly Father knew all about you.  Your life is like a novel and the Father’s handwriting is on every page. The Lord knows your yesterdays and is planning your tomorrows. That’s how concerned He is with you.

Transition: How much did cost the Father at Christmas? It cost Him Himself. It cost Him humility.

II.     Cost humility – born of a virgin –V. 18 “This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph. But before they came together she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit.”

A.  There was no physical union during the Jewish period of engagement but it was a much more binding relationship then a modern engagement and could be broken only by a certificate of divorce. Although they were “pledged to be married” Matthew uses the terms “husband” and “wife” of Mary and Joseph before they were married. Finding his fiancĂ©e pregnant, Joseph, being a righteous man, planned to divorce Mary quietly. However, in a dream an angel explained to Joseph that Mary’s child was conceived by the Holy Spirit.

B.   Before her marriage to Joseph Mary was “found” to be with child. In Mary’s day, it was a bombshell! It meant a divorce by the betrothed resulting in public shame and disgrace. The family of the girl would lose face in the community. The adulteress could have been stoned to death. It took an angel’s visit to get Joseph to accept a pregnant bride. In light of this, we must appreciate and admire the courage and devotion of Mary in consenting to be the mother of Christ. She took God at His word. He didn’t hesitate in becoming the Lord’s handmaiden. In humble obedience she submitted to the Father’s will.

Transition:  What was this divine cost at Christmas? How much did cost the Father at Christmas? It cost Him Himself. It cost Him humility. It came at the cost of a cross.

III.   Cost the cross – “He will save His people from their sin” – V. 21 The name Jesus (“Joshua”) means "God is Savior" The son of Mary was rightfully called that, because "He will save His people from their sins" - Matthew 1:21

A.   This Jesus would do by saving them... From the GUILT of sin.

1.   By offering His blood as the atonement for their sins - But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!  Romans 5:8-9

2.   When one is washed by the blood of Jesus, He truly is their Savior. All of their sins, all of their transgressions, all of the faults and failings are forgiven and gone.

B.   From the POWER of sin

1.   By sending His sanctifying Spirit to help His people break sin's dominion. Without the Holy Spirit in your life it is impossible to please Him. But with His Spirit active and alive in you He is able to accomplish all that He desires for your.  You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. 1 John 4:4

2.   Paul writes of this in Romans 8.  Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation—but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it.  For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.  Vv.1,12-14

C.   From the CONSEQUENCE of sin

1.   From the wrath of God to come on the last day.

2.   Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! - Romans 5:9;

3.   Wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.  1 Thessalonians 1:9-10

D.   Ultimately, from the PRESENCE of sin

1.   When we depart to "be with the Lord" whether it is on the last day when He comes in glory or when He takes us by the hand and calls us individually to be with Him in glory.

2.   After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb.  They were wearing white robes and were holding    palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice:  “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”  Revelation 7:9-10

Conclusion: How much did it cost the Father at Christmas? It cost Him everything – yet it was priceless.  For in doing so He has won the world and redeemed everything in it.  

+Soli Deo Gloria+

[1] Psalm 139:1-5, 13

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Advent mid-week 3

December 19, 2007
Advent Mid-week #3
James 5:7-10
Patience in waiting for the Lord’s return

Introduction: Do we possess the virtue of patience during these days before Christmas? We have grown so accustomed to getting what we want, when we want it; instant information, instant coffee, instant TV pictures, instant service. We sometimes might expect God to respond in kind. We tend to forget that God has eternity while we have only time. God is never in a hurry as we are. He does not need to be in a hurry with eternity at His disposal. Our Epistle for this evening deals with the problem of Christ’s return.

Why does He not come now? It helps to be patient – if we agree that He will be worth the wait. The coming of the Lord often appears to be tardy. But James urges us to be patient and reminds us that the Lord’s coming is indeed near—if we can only perceive the Lord’s timing.

1. Know that He surely is coming – V. 8 – “You to, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.”  

For James, “patience” means not despairing over the return of Christ, which is “near” or “at hand” (NRSV footnote). When Jesus comes, these other problems are solved. Meanwhile, hang in there! Personal thoughts on patience will vary. “Be patient . . . (says James,) until the coming of the Lord." Patience is not something we seem to value anymore. We value speed and efficiency. When have you had to be patient? When has patience brought you something better than what you could have gotten right away? See how many times James uses the word patience? He mentions a farmer - what happens when crops are harvested too soon? I remember pulling up onions to look at them, and carrots, way too early in the season, 'just to check'. It usually meant bad news even when they were ready to be picked, that I could be patient...

2. Follow the example of the patient ones – Vv. 7, 10 – “Be patient, then brothers, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains…As an example of patience in the face of suffering take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.”

Since believers are suffering at the hands of the wicked rich, they are to look forward patiently to the Lord’s return. In two “Come now” paragraphs, James attacks the self-centered arrogance and the aggressions of the rich. Imagine both of these as enemies of his readers, who are tempted to put God aside and who are under the thumbs of the rich. Therefore, he says, be patient: the End is near and the arrogance of our pride and of the haughty rich will end. Those in verse 4:13-17 are probably within the community, as verse 15 suggests. But the rich in 5:1-6 seem to be outsiders. The “righteous one” probably refers to the poor ones who suffer from the rich oppressors. (The Old Testament tends to identify the “poor” and the “righteous.”)

In Israel the autumn rain comes in October and November soon after the grain is sown, the spring rain comes in March and April just prior to the harvest. Early rains came in autumn, latter rains in spring. Planting was in autumn, after the first rains had softened the ground.

James’ letter is deeply concerned with proper use of speech, as 3:1-12 shows. Probably a lot of grumbling stems from our impatience with life and with people. Patience is a core element in the serenity and peace sought by Christian mystics. In verse 9, the Judge is the coming Jesus, now on your doorstep! Hebrews 11:32-34 gives examples of prophets who patiently endured.

3. Accept the fact that He is coming to judge – V. 9 “Don’t grumble against each other, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door.”  In discussing patience, why does James insert a seeming incongruous thought about grumbling again­st one another in Verse 5:9?

When things don’t come to pass as you hope or expect, it’s tempting to blame someone else. Blaming others is easier than taking responsibility. Furthermore, when we are grumbling against one another, our focus is not on God’s reality and work in our lives but on the inequalities we see as we focus on those around us. James doesn’t qualify this. He doesn’t say, “don’t grumble unless you have a good reason to.” Wh­en we are grumbling, we are unable to receive God’s peace and we are unable to give (or receive) a blessing from another person. When we grumble we are not content with God’s work in our lives and in those around us.

“Grumbling” is not specifically prohibited in the ten Commandments. What does James say will happen if you grumble against a brother? (Genesis 3:11-19, Matthew 7:1-5, 25:31-46). By “grumbling” James means blaming someone else and not taking responsibility for your actions (or lack of action). And in this case, lack of action in forwarding the kingdom of God is probably the major factor. Remember, Christ the judge will come -- no ifs, ands, or buts about it -- and will judge each or us. And he will not let us get away with shifting the blame to others. 

Conclusion: We sometimes forget that God has eternity while we have only time. God is never in a hurry as we are. He does not need to be in a hurry with eternity at his disposal. In your preparations for the coming Christmas celebration recall that your Father is making all things new and has your destiny planed. With the Psalmist we can say, “My times are in Thy hands.”

+Soli Deo Gloria+

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Advent 3

Advent 3
Matthew 11:2-11
Evidence that Jesus is the Messiah
Let Jesus be Jesus

Introduction: If you come to the conclusion after examining and surveying the evidence of the life and work of Jesus that He is the Messiah, what are you to do about it? The disciples of John the Baptizer went back to report to John what they heard and saw, but was John convinced? The record does not say, but we believe he was satisfied that Jesus truly was the promised one. It is easy for us to make a confession of Jesus as the Christ, but we let it go at that. What is the implication of such a conviction?  If Jesus is the one who is to come then what? 

1. We should believe in Him as the Messiah.

It is a scary thing to notice how few people recognized and accepted Jesus for who he was. Some did. According to Matthew (2:1-18), the wise men did (and also Herod!). A woman with a hemorrhage (9:20). A Roman centurion (8:5-13). The Syro-Phonecian woman (15:21-28). Perhaps the crowd at the Triumphal Entry (21:1-11), believed - briefly, at least. The centurion at the tomb (27:54). The disciples? We're not so sure: "Some doubted" (28:17).

But what is scary is the number people who never did recognize Jesus and his Messiahship—the very people, one would think, who would have. Jesus' hometown neighbors (13:54-58). The cities of Chorazin and Bethsaida (11:21). Above all, the chief religious authorities, the scribes and Pharisees, who ultimately conspired to crucify him (26:1-5). Even in today's lection, John the Baptist. At the beginning, when he had baptized Jesus in the Jordan (3:13), John had been certain enough, but now, alone in his cell, as word gets through to him in bits and pieces about what Jesus is doing, he is not sure. Is Jesus the Messiah or not? Can we at last stop waiting, expecting, longing? Or must our hope, already taut and thin, be stretched even further?

The problem with God's anointed is that they so seldom turn out to be what people have been looking for. They do not say the things people have been waiting to hear or do the things people have been expecting them to do. God-called leaders like Moses are hard to follow. God-chosen prophets like Jeremiah are next to impossible to live with. It often turns out that what God's idea of a God-anointed leader and what humans' idea of a God-anointed leader should be are two vastly different things. God's own Messiah could be so, well, so offensive. That is, he could say and do some very un-messianic things. Such as forgive sins. Heal on the Sabbath. Ride roughshod over time-honored traditions and prejudices. Treat women with respect. Commend hardship and suffering. Although John is the only person we know of who actually blurts out the question, the odds are good that the question was asked many times by many people: Can this Jesus possibly be the promised Messiah?

We’re told that John the Baptist was at the time spending time in prison.  What about the kinds of prisons in which many persons in our congregations find themselves. What are the difficulties that persons are having in their lives? Inevitably, during this season of the year, we encounter people who do not share the joviality or the merriment of the season. Something troubles them: an addiction that only is heightened by all of the office parties; of memories of broken relationships; or of a missed opportunity for a better life. Now, because of these or other events, their hearts are broken. They are imprisoned. Their hopes have been dashed by the circumstances of life. With all that is proclaimed or heard at this time of year, these questions are pertinent to those who are in pain: "Who is this Messiah? Who is this Jesus who speaks to me in the prison of my own life? Can he speak to my situation, or do I have to look for another?"

Jesus does not come to meet our expectations, but to overturn them. John the Baptist served as the agent to address this at that time.

The question is still asked—needs to be asked. It needs to be asked because, as in John's case, it forces us to address the Christological question, quite appropriate for this season of the Christian year. Who was/is this Jesus? How is he our Messiah? In what ways does he meet our expectations? More important, in what ways does he offend? Through the years scholars of various stripes have insisted that the Christological question is an exceedingly difficult question to address—difficult because, more often than not, one's answer ends up reflecting one's own subjective needs and ideas. Even unintentionally, we are likely to modernize or domesticate or spiritualize or psychologize or de-radicalize the "real" Jesus, the Jesus of the Gospels. We are likely to be influenced by personal attitudes and outlooks. For example, today's "user-friendly" church may require a "user-friendly" Jesus. Or today's emphasis on ambition and success may lead us to discover a "success-oriented" Jesus—or as one ad puts it, "Jesus the Super-Salesman."

2.  We should join the cause of Christ – become a disciple.

In the biblical story, Jesus invites John to answer his own question—and provides the evidence. In an autobiographical sketch of only one sentence, Jesus summarizes his messianic mission: healing, restoring, preaching. There is not much here in the way of messianic glamour: the Romans still rule, God's people are still captive, King David's throne sits empty. So it is true, all the bells and whistles of popular messianic expectations are missing. In fact, so much is missing that Jesus has to conclude his little sketch with a back-handed warning (it is in the form of a blessing): "Blessed are those who do not take offense when I do not meet their messianic expectations."

3. We should continue His work through the mission and ministry of the Church.

In the biblical story, Jesus invites John to answer his own question—and provides the evidence. In an autobiographical sketch of only one sentence, Jesus summarizes his messianic mission: healing, restoring, preaching. There is not much here in the way of messianic glamour: the Romans still rule, God's people are still captive, King David's throne sits empty. So it is true, all the bells and whistles of popular messianic expectations are missing. In fact, so much is missing that Jesus has to conclude his little sketch with a back-handed warning (it is in the form of a blessing): "Blessed are those who do not take offense when I do not meet their messianic expectations."

Conclusion: The persons who did recognize Jesus, who gratefully received him as God's anointed, needed no warning. They simply accepted what Jesus had to give, no questions asked. They did not demand that Jesus be a Republican or a Democrat or help them feel good about themselves, or that he end abortion or punish environmental polluters, or that he join their denomination, attend their school, or at least drop by their country club.

The blind, the lame, the deaf, the dead, lepers and poor people—these did not insist that Jesus fit their Christology; they changed their Christology to fit Jesus. They surrendered to the Reign of God no matter what form it came in and no matter how Jesus offered it, mainly, of course, because they were in no position to do otherwise.

Unlike so many others, these were the persons who did not miss the Messiah when he came, because they took no offense at him or at his strange and confounding ways. They, so to speak, let Jesus be Jesus.

+Soli Deo Gloria+

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Advent mid-week 2

Advent Mid-week #2
Romans 15:4-13
The basis for hope: the coming of Christ

Introduction: We live at a time in which hope is in short supply. Many in this country are disillusioned and doubtful. We once hoped education would solve our problems. We no longer hope that ware will end war. Our hopes were raised when a new administration took over in Washington, but many are disappointed. Can a person hope in anything anymore? Now we are in the Advent season, one of hope for a new age through a coming Deliverer. Can this be an empty hope too? One thing is sure; there is no good reason to hope in man, but we can hope confidently in God. 

Tonight we consider the roots of our hope –

1.    The Scripture – V. 4 “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”

We can hope in the promises of Scripture for God is faithful. Here Paul defends his application of Psalm 69:9 {“zeal for Your house consumes Me…”} to Christ.

In so doing, he states a great truth concerning the purpose of Scripture. It was written for our instruction, so that as we patiently endure we might be encouraged to hold fast our hope in Christ. {See 1 Corinthians 10:6, 11; “These things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did…These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come.”}

2.    The coming of the Son of David – V. 12 “And again, Isaiah says, “The Root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations; the Gentiles will hope in Him.”

We can hope because Christ is coming again to set things right. Jesse was the father of David and the Messiah was the “Son of David”.  The Gentile mission of the early church was a fulfillment of this prophecy, as is the continuing evangelization of the nations.

3.    The God of hope – V. 13 “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

If we have God, we can hope. For God is a God of hope.  Any hope the Christian has comes from God. Paul will say in Romans 5:5 “And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit whom He has given us.” Your hope is not to be equated with unfounded optimism. To the contrary, it is the blessed assurance of our future destiny and is based on God’s love, which is revealed to us by the Holy Spirit.

It has been objectively demonstrated to us in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Through the Holy Spirit God has poured out His love in our hearts and His love for us continues to dwell in us.  Hope cannot be conjured up by man’s effort; it is God’s gift of the Spirit.  Paul will say in Romans 8:24-25 – “For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.” We are saved by faith, not hope. But hope accompanies salvation. Hope is our destiny, our future in Christ. Hope is the anchor of our faith. Hope is our assurance that a mansion glorious awaits us.

Conclusion:  We hold fast our hope in Christ. We can hope because Christ is coming again to set things right. If we have God, we can hope. For God is a God of hope.  Any hope the Christian has comes from God the One in whom we trust. 

+Soli Deo Gloria+

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Advent 2

Advent 2
Matthew 3:1-12
Prepare by repenting

Introduction: Is repentance only for the so-called “sinners” of our day? John the Baptist reminds us that religious people need repentance also. He called to the religious leaders of his day – Pharisees and Sadducees – to repent. John called those within the covenant to repent. Likewise we too need repentant hearts and lives.

Why do church people need repentance? They need repentance… IF they come as spectators of repentance. IF they fail to produce the fruit of repentance.  IF they fail to produce the fruit of repentance.  IF they trust only in church membership.  THEN they face judgment.   

1. Even church people need repentance - IF they come as spectators of repentance – v 7 “But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: ‘You brook of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?’” 

The Pharisees, [“hyper- Europeans” ] where  a legalistic and separatist group who strictly, but often hypocritically, kept the laws of Moses and the unwritten “tradition of the elders” In Matthew 15:1-3 we read,  Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked,  “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!”  Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? 

The Sadducees, [“Jesus Firsts”] were worldlier and politically minded, and were theologically unorthodox – among other things denying the resurrection, angels, and spirits. In Acts 23:8 explains for us,  The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, and that there are neither angels nor spirits, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all.

These words of John are hard for some to hear. For he is calling us back into repentance. He is calling us to repent of our sins and receive spiritual cleansing. Is the church today not also in need for a call to repentance? Consider the sins of the church today – pride, gossip, apathy, selfishness, materialism, moral laxity, strife. Even within the church there is a need to afflict the comfortable in the church today. 

Transition: Is there a need for repentance within the church today? There is a need for repentance if people merely come as spectators of repentance. There is a need for repentance if people fail to produce the fruit of repentance.

2. Even church people need repentance - IF they fail to produce the fruit of repentance – v. 8 “produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” What is the meaning of repentance? How important is it in our salvation from sin? Is it the same as godly sorrow? Must we admit or acknowledge our sins to be forgiven? What other conditions must we meet to be saved?  

What about faith and baptism? Should Christians ever repent or is it just for alien sinners? What are the fruits of repentance?

The gospel emphasizes repentance because repentance is essential to changing our attitudes and our life. Until we are willing to change our lives, God is not willing to forgive our sins!

If you have sinned, you must admit the sin and be sorry. Then you must make up your mind to change. Have you done so, or are you just expecting everything to be forgotten because you said you were sorry? Forgiveness comes only after a decision to change!  Remember, repentance is a decision to do what God's word says. When a person sees what God's word says but will not do it, that person is not showing true fruits of repentance.

There is a difference between repentance and the fruits of repentance. Sometimes people go through the motions of baptism (or of public confession), but do not truly repent. These people will never truly be forgiven until they first truly repent.

Other people really did repent and intended to change their lives, but never followed through. These people may have been forgiven the first time but now are back in sin. They need to repent again and this time produce the fruits of repentance.

The fruits of repentance require more than just deciding to do right "next time" or to "never do that again." To the extent possible we must attempt to go back and correct the harmful effects of our sins on other people.  This can be a difficult principle to apply because sometimes the effect of a sin cannot be undone (for example, murder). But it is a Bible principle and must be accomplished to the extent possible.

Transition: Is there a need for repentance within the church today? There is a need for repentance if people merely come as spectators of repentance. There is a need for repentance if people fail to produce the fruit of repentance. There is a need for repentance if people trust only in church membership.

3. Even church people need repentance - IF they trust only in church membership – v. 9 “And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.”

Faith involves more than just mere assent to certain historical facts. Even the devil has that kind of faith. You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? (James 2:19-20). Faith that saves is a faith that works. If it doesn’t work in your life, then it doesn’t work in your salvation, either.

Does that mean you work your way into God’s good graces or that you someone earn or merit salvation? Not at all. It is God who saves.

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, that no one should boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Your salvation comes through faith. It does not come as a result of your works. No one will ever be able to boast about their contribution to the work of their salvation. But that verse goes on to point out that your salvation is not an end unto itself. You were not saved BY good works, but you were saved FOR good works.

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:10).

You are God’s workmanship. He has does the work of creating in you a new life. The result of being saved is that you will walk in those good works for which you were created.

Transition: Why do church people need repentance? They need repentance… IF they come as spectators of repentance. IF they fail to produce the fruit of repentance.  IF they fail to produce the fruit of repentance.  IF they trust only in church membership.  THEN they face judgment.  

4. If people will not repent - THEN they face judgment – v. 10 “The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” {See Malachi 4:1 “Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and that day that is coming will set them on fire, says the Lord Almighty. Not a root or a branch will be left to them.”}

Forgiveness of sins is a dominant concept both the Old and New Testament. The word, “forgiveness,” comes from a Greek word, “let go.” God lets go of our sins; we are also to let go of our own sins and the sins of others around us.

There is the story of a zoo that was trapping monkeys. The zoo trappers placed coconuts underneath a coconut tree, and these coconuts had holes drilled in them. The holes were about the size of a tightly-squeezed-fist of a monkey. The monkey would squeeze its hand through the hole and grab the white coconut inside. The monkeys would find more coconuts and would do the same thing with their other hand and then their two feet. By doing so, their hands and feet became larger and they could not withdraw their hands and feet through the coconut holes.

The only way to become free was to “let go.” To let go of the white coconut inside the coconut shell.

Likewise with us. The only way to emotional freedom in life is to “let go.” To “let go” of what our mothers or fathers did to us in childhood.

To “let go” of all the mistakes that we have made in our lives. To “let go” of the accidents or tragedies that have happened to us or that we have caused. We never become free until we “let go.

We, as human beings, do not “let go;” but the Presence of Christ in us shapes our daily lives and heals us. The Spirit of Christ inside of us heals us, and therefore we gradually “let go.”

Conclusion: In this Advent season we prepare for the celebration of Christ’s birth through repentance. John, the Elijah of his day became the forerunner sent by God to prepare the way of the Messiah. We prepare for Christ’s coming at Christmas with not merely the words but the fruits of repentance.

+Soli Deo Gloria+

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Advent mid week 1

Advent Mid-week #1
Romans 13:11-14
The day of salvation is at hand

Introduction: In our text this evening St. Paul speaks of the “Hour” as an opportunity. Paul considers Jesus’ return as the chance to share Christ and this occasion is just round the corner. The time is at hand. The return of Christ will happen quickly – in an instant – in the blink of an eye – in a flash!  In this passage Paul looks at the return of Christ as an opportunity. The hour of Jesus’ return is an opportunity for us to awake form sleep, to live in the light of day, to cloth ourselves with Christ.

What St. Paul would say to us this night – size the opportunity -

1. Seize the opportunity to awake from sleep v. 11 “And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.” 

The time of salvation, the closing period of the present age, before the consummation of the kingdom - is this “present time.”  Now is the time for action, now is “the hour.” The full realization of our salvation will come at the second coming of Jesus Christ. This is not a new concept. Scripture speaks of this in many places.

·       Romans 8:23; “Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”

·        Hebrews 9:28; “Christ was sacrifices ones to take away the sins of may people; and He will appear a second time not to bear sin, but to bring salvation, to those who are waiting for Him.”

·       1 Peter 1:4-5; “[we] have an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade – kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.”} 

The time is “nearer now” then it was before.  Every day brings us closer to the second advent of Jesus Christ. Every day that passes brings us closer to that glorious day when we shall take a walk – from one end of the kingdom to the other. We walk - from the kingdom of grace - to the kingdom of glory.  We step over from earth which is fixed and limited - to heaven - which is beyond time and space.  

Transition: Seize the opportunity to wake form sleep. Seize the opportunity to live for the day.

2. Seize the opportunity to live as in the day – v. 13 “Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy.”

Shopping, lively Christmas parties, getting the family together, a lovely tree, good food, and fun - Is that all there is to Christmas? You don’t have to be a Christian to have that kind of Christmas.

What is the real significance of Christmas? St Paul would remind us in his letter to the Galatians that at just the right time God sent His Son that we might becomes sons and daughters of God. {Galatians 4:4-7}  The Father sent Christ to the world at the right time – “When the time had fully come.”  At just the right time this same Jesus will return as Judge and King. Now is the time of preparation – here is the key – if we are prepared to welcome Him when we commemorate His birth we will be ready when He returns to judge the earth. In all of our preparations for the season keep your eyes heavenward.  

Transition: Seize the opportunity to wake form sleep, to live for the day, to put on Christ.

3. Seize the opportunity to put on Christ – v.14 “Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about who to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.”

St. Paul would remind us in Galatians 3:27; “for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” Paul exhorts believers to display outwardly what has already taken place inwardly – including practicing all the virtues associated with Christ. In our daily lives we shine forth the light of Christ by our works. By our words and actions we prove that our religion is “for real”.

There is perhaps no greater deception than this: that being in Christ is a benefit to us. Do you want to partake in the new creation? Leave YOU behind. Is this not the true message of Christmas? God became flesh and inhabited this world, walking among us. Love and Faith demonstrated Holiness and Healing.

Then Jesus, the Christ, lifted Himself up as a sacrifice for us, so that through His death might come new life for every man and woman; be it boy and girl, or those about to leave this world for the next. Jesus died so that we might live. He killed sin and the darkness so that we may walk in liberty within the light.

God’s Christmas tree was the cross, and the Gifts were those which came out of Christ’s crucifixion. Salvation. Sanctification. Confession. Repentance. Restoration. Resurrection. So Christmas is not about receiving. It is not about food and drink and festivity and caroler in front of the door or gift-giving behind the door. Christmas is about Death. And Resurrection. And Hope. And Faith. And Love.

Conclusion: We work while it is day. When you cut wood you heat twice. We prepare for the season and for our entrance into glory. Believer in Christ – now is your opportunity. Make the best of your time now while it is day - for night will come when no one will work.  

+Soli Deo Gloria+

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Advent 1

Advent 1
Matthew 24:37-44
Be ready for the unexpected day of Jesus’ return

Introduction: Vigilance is needed because the return of Christ will be unexpected for many living in this world.  It is a common failure among some people to ignore the signs of the times of impending disaster. It is confirmed at the time of an earthquake or hurricane. Such events were well documented and demonstrated in the storms of Katrina and Rita two years ago and in recent forest fires in California. 

People didn’t think things could get that bleak. They didn’t leave when they were suppose to and then it came to a point when evacuation was impossible there was no escape. At first they would not leave then they could not leave.  Some refuse to heed the warnings and so they suffer the consequences of the storm.

Vigilance is the price of preparedness.

1. Danger of preoccupation – V. 38 “For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark;”

For the people of Noah’s day it was a case of business as usual. They just did not think of a possible flood. The warning signs were all about. Noah would preach judgment, the approaching flood, and continued to build the ark. His message fell on deaf ears. The people were preoccupied with the business of living.

Some might lay the same claim against us Christians especially in this Advent season.  “You keep talking about Jesus coming back to this earth,” they say. “It’s been 2,000 years, He hasn’t returned.  Maybe you’re just a little preoccupied with all this talk of Jesus and His 2nd coming”. And yet, in this world people are constantly thinking about their future. They plan for retirement, they pre-arrange for their funeral, they make provisions for financing their children or their grandchildren’s education – planning, investing, saving for future events years in the making. Yet, they fail to make provisions for their immortal soul. What’s the difference? Some have a different set of priorities in life.    

Why all this concern?  Because there are people living even in our own community “without a prayer”.  They are living their day to day lives “without a prayer” of tomorrow or of their future destiny. They are missing – missing from fellowship – missing from a relationship with the Savior – mission from spiritual union with other believers. They are on the outside looking in – and they don’t even know it. 

You and I make provisions for the eventual return of Jesus Christ. Like Noah we speak about the eventual return of Christ and His visitation and we build and invest in ministry now. We work now to in making disciples for the kingdom for there will come a time when opportunities will cease and there will be no more time or hours to work but only night.   

Transition: There is the danger of preoccupation of time. There is also a danger in the danger of judgment.  

2. Danger of judgment – Vv. 40, 41 “Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.”

One will be taken into glory and the other will face judgment. The one taken was prepared for the Lord’s coming. For the other, it was too late. Their time of grace was wasted. How many shattered lives? How many misspent years attempted to gain the whole world only to have lost their soul?

The coming day is not to be put off. What words can more strongly describe the suddenness of our Savior’s coming! Men will be at their respective businesses, and suddenly the Lord of glory will appear. Women will be in their place of employment, but in that moment every other work will be laid aside, and every heart will turn inward and say, “It is the Lord! Am I prepared to meet him? Can I stand before Him?” And what, in fact, is the Day of Judgment to the whole world, but the day of death to every one?  This the Savior reminds us, “Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come” (Matthew 24:42 -KJV)

Transition: There is the danger of preoccupation, the danger of judgment, and the danger of the unexpected.

3. Danger of unexpectedness – V.43 “But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have left his house be broken into.”

A thief strikes when least expected. A Christian needs to live on the alert for Jesus’ coming. There needs to be a heightened awareness. Christ could return at any moment. Or, His return may be delayed.  No one is certain of the day or the hour.  Pay attention!  

Conclusion: In the verse just prior to our text, {V. 37} Jesus reminds us that the time of His return is unknown to men. “No one know about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”  Those who spend their time attempting to predict the date are like those who spend their hours attempting to break the bank at Vegas. Yet, know this; the date in time has been fixed.

“Oh, the Places You'll Go!” – happens to be the last book written and illustrated by children's author Dr. Seuss. A young boy, referred to simply as “you,” initiates the action of the story. Dr. Seuss tells us “The Waiting Place” isn’t fun for anyone. Here people wait for other people...for people just waiting. Waiting for a train to go or a bus to come, or a plane to go or the mail to come, or the rain to go or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow or waiting around for a Yes or No....waiting…is a part of life. And no, it isn’t fun. In life we wait - for anything and everything - even second chances.  In Advent it seems as if the saying or slogan is “Ready, set, Wait!”  Yet, vigilance is the price of preparation. Be on your watch. The end will come according to the Father’s appointed hour.

+Soli Deo Gloria+

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thanksgiving Day

Thanksgiving Day
November 22, 2007
Luke 17:19 “Rise and go your way, you faith has made you well.”

Introduction: Two miracles take place in the healing of the ten lepers. Nine receive physical healing, but one got both physical and spiritual healing. It is the latter that we who are healthy need. Jesus said to the Samaritan that he was healed by his faith. Were not the other nine healed even without faith? Jesus is referring to the spiritual miracle that took place in the foreigner. “Well” comes from the word “save” and “wholeness”.  This second miracle made him whole in terms of gratitude - which was the outward sign - of his well-being inside.

Consider the Double Miracle

I.        What you are saved from – Ingratitude. This is illustrated by acts of selfishness, taking things for granted and negativism. 

A.     Selfishness. Sinful humans with their own agendas plans and attitudes crowd out a spirit of thanksgiving. We live in a land of plenty. We live in a time of so many opportunities. We live in an age in which there are countless advantages for us to succeed. Do we consider the needs and concerns of others or do we think and operate only for ourselves?

B.     Ingratitude raises its ugly head by taking things for granted. On this day of Thanksgiving we are challenged to contemplate our blessings. This past week when our students at Wyneken assembled for chapel I gave them an assignment. It’s an assignment which each of us should take.  Make an assessment of the blessings you have received. Recall those people the Lord has placed in your life – who have become a blessing to you. Then simply say “thank you!”  This helps us from taking things for granted.

C.     Negativism is also a cause for ingratitude. True we all have challenges in our lives. There are plenty of hurdles placed before us. There are enough voices in our world which simply say “no, you can’t!”  What should our attitude be? Thanksgiving is thanks living. If we truly live blessed and thankful lives negativism is eliminated from the equation.

Transition: We are saved from ingratitude. We are saved for gratitude. 

II.     What you are saved for – gratitude. How do we demonstrate an attitude of gratitude?  We do this by counting our blessings, recognizing God as the one who blesses us, and praising Him for His goodness.

A.     Counting your blessings – V. 15a “one of them when he saw he was healed, came back.”  This one lone leper realized his life had been saved. He saw He had been saved. There had been a change, a huge change in his life. Did he move on? Of  course not. He returned to give thanks.

B.     Recognizing God as the one who blesses us.  Vs. 16 “He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him – and he was a Samaritan.” This miracle had not happen by chance. It wasn’t luck, or fate, or his good fortune. It was the God and God alone who had healed him. It was God and God alone who had had mercy upon him. It was God and God alone who had intervened in his life. A change had taken in his life and he knew it.

C.     Praising God for His goodness – V. 15b “praising God in a loud voice.”  With such a change taking place in his life this leper returned to thank the God. He praised the Savior for the blessings he had received. How do we make thanksgiving a way of life? We do more then come to a worship service – in service we praise the name of our Lord. As God has blessed you – be a blessing – to those people in your life.

Conclusion: What you are saved for? We are saved for an attitude of gratitude. How do we demonstrate this attitude of gratitude?  We do this by - counting our blessings, recognizing God as the One who blesses us, and praising Him for His goodness. A blessed Thanksgiving in Jesus’ Name.

+Soli Deo Gloria+

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Thanksgiving Eve

Thanksgiving Eve
November 21, 2007
1 Samuel 12:24
Serve the Lord

But be sure to fear the Lord and serve Him faithfully with all your heart; consider what great things He has done for you.”

Introduction: It could be said that Samuel lived and served during a time of transition. He was the last judge to serve Israel as the nation desired to be ruled by a king. Although he resisted a monarchy nevertheless the Lord instructed Samuel to give the people a king.  By divine appointment Saul was brought into contact with Samuel, and Samuel was directed to anoint him as Israel’s first king.

At king Saul’s inauguration Samuel called the people to renewed faithfulness to the Lord who not only had given them a king but who had carried them through many perils.

As we gather together this night to celebrate yet another Thanksgiving Samuel’s words are quite fitting: “But be sure to fear the Lord and serve Him faithfully with all your heart; consider what great things He has done for you.”-1 Samuel 12:24

At this time of Thanksgiving Samuel reminds us:

I.        Consider what great things He has done for you.

A.     Just consider the blessings God has showered down upon you. These blessings come indeed without our prayer. Luther in His explanation to the 4th Petition reminds us that He provides for us daily. Each and every day the Lord has made it His business to provide for His children – just as you provide for your children.  Our daily bread includes; “everything that belongs to the support and wants of the body, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home, field, cattle, money, goods, a pious spouse, pious children, pious servants, pious and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, discipline, honor, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like.”  

Interesting enough, Luther also encourages us that in our prayers we should ask the Lord to lead us to know and understand this reality – namely - that He is the one who supplies our needs and then to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.

B.     What follows the 4th Petition? Naturally it’s the 5th Petition. The Lord provides for our physical needs. He alone provides for our spiritual needs as well. 

When we petition God to forgive us Luther again would reminds us; “We pray in this petition that our Father in heaven would not look upon our sins, nor on their account deny our prayer; for we are worthy of none of the things for which we pray, neither have we deserved them; but that He would grant them all to us by grace; for we daily sin much and indeed deserve nothing but punishment. 

So will we also heartily forgive and readily do good to, those who sin against us.”  
We need the Lord’s direction in our life for only with His strength are we able to heartily forgive and readily do good to those who have sinned against us! By ourselves we cannot do this. By His grace it becomes a reality in our lives.   

Transition: Once we have considered the wonders of His love we are moved to serve Him with our very lives.

II.     But be sure to fear the Lord…

A.     “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” is the way wise King Solomon instructs us in Proverbs 1:7.  Samuel and the wise king reach the same conclusion; - we need a loving reverence for God that includes submission to His lordship and confidence in His promises.

B.     Conversely, we are to reject any sort of foolishness. The fool; by definition - is that individual who hates knowledge and correction of any kind.  

Furthermore they are quick to quarrel, they are complacent, and they trust in themselves rather than in God.

Transition: Luther explains that proper respect for God is attained when we are to fear, love and trust in Him above all things. With a proper attitude toward God we can now help and serve our neighbor.

III.   Serve Him faithfully with all your heart.

A.     Best applied with the acronym - “JOY” - Jesus – others- you. Easy to put to memory – it takes a lifetime to live it daily in our lives.

B.     Thus we have the call to faithful service. God has given you a vocation to serve God and your neighbor faithfully in this generation. Each has a divine mission to serve God as we serve our neighbor – no one can be called to any higher service – what you do for Jesus as you serve your neighbor is your mission field!

Conclusion: With sincere and thankful hearts we consider the great things the Lord has done; we fear the Lord and serve Him faithfully from the heart.

When we begin to do this thanksgiving become a habit – it becomes thanks living. A blessed thanksgiving - to each of you - in Jesus’ Name.

+Soli Deo Gloria+

Sunday, November 4, 2007

All Saints

November 4, 2007
Genesis 32:22-30

Sermon by Seminarian Chris Hull

In the strong name of our crucified and risen lord, Jesus Christ, Amen.

Let us pray.  If God Himself be for me, I may a host defy.  For when I pray before me, my foes confounded fly.  If Christ, my head, and master befriend me from above, what foe or what disaster can drive me from his love, Amen.

Your brother is coming with four hundred men behind him.  This is the news Jacob receives from his servants.  Jacob knows that Esau is not coming to give him a hug and butterfly kisses, but to chop off his head.  Why not, Jacob had stolen Esau’s birth rite and taken his blessing from his father Isaac.  He then ran from Esau and became a wealthy man under Laban.  Jacob has the birth rite, blessing from Isaac, and worldly goods, and yet he still fears his brother Esau. He sits alone waiting for day break when he will see his brother and possibly face his death.  In this moment, God appears in the form of a man and wrestles with Jacob.  God, the God who created the world and destroyed it in the flood, becomes a man and wrestles with the flesh of Jacob.  God cripples him, blesses him, and leaves Jacob with no fear of death, for after God, what can man do.  God cripples us his saints in order that he may bless us and forever destroy the fear we have of the devil, world, and our own sinful flesh.



            God wrestles with Jacob.  He does not come down in Jacob’s time of need and give him courage, nor does he send his angels to destroy Esau and his small army. Instead, he grapples and struggles with Jacob and his fear of Esau.  Jacob fears his brother and does not trust the promises of God.  God promised Jacob that his children would be as numerous as the stars in the sky.  How can he have many descendants if Esau kills him?  This is the question running through Jacob’s head.  He doubts the promise of God and therefore fears his brother.  He does not fear God, but instead fears the flesh and death.  Therefore, God struggles with Jacob in order to wrestle him away from his fear of death.

            We do this same thing today.  God has promised us everlasting life through the waters of Holy Baptism, yet we still go through this life in fear of sin, death, and the devil.  We fear that next bill in the mail, or that interview we have with the boss to see if we are needed for work through the next year or possibly that exam next week; instead of placing our trust in God that he will provide all that we need to support this body and life.  Like Jacob, we fear those things that do not have power over us.  We fear the devil and his temptations and the world with all its pressure.  We pray to God to take all these things away, but like Jacob, God will not tell us to run away from our troubles in life. God will instead come down and wrestle with us in order to take us away from these fears and instead trust in Him.


             While God wrestles with Jacob, He brings Jacob into submission by crippling him.  Jacob is winning the match and God must do something in order for Jacob to stop using his physical body in order to survive life.  God therefore places his hand on Jacob’s hip and dislocates it.  Jacob is left with a limp for the rest of his life.  He is left with a mark to show that God has humbled him and left him in total reliance on His promises.  Jacob cannot run away from Esau as he did before, but instead must face his brother and have faith that God will not let him die.  Jacob cannot trust in his strength, wisdom, wit, wealth, or any other human tool to overcome the wrath of his brother.  He must trust that God will protect him.

            As Jacob, we pray to God to be faithful to us, yet we still wish to fight our own fights.  We want to bring our own weapons to whatever challenge that comes upon us. When the devil tempts us, we actually believe that we can overcome him by our own reason and strength.  When the world weighs down on us, we think that we can lift that heavy burden with our own power and might.  However, we cannot do this because of our own sinful nature that only wants to give into the temptations of the devil and fear the persecutions of the world.  However, as Jacob, God dislocates our human reason and leaves us crippled.  God cripples us, not by placing his hand on us physically, but by placing the mighty hand of the Law on our hearts and minds. God brings us the Law to cripple us and show us that we cannot face the world and the devil on our own, because we cannot do anything but sin and give into the pleasures of the world.  God not only cripple us, but he kills us.  

God kills us by drowning us in the waters of Holy Baptism. God kills us so that we have no fear of the world and its trials and we are not overcome by the devil and all his minions. God leaves the mark of the cross on our foreheads and upon our hearts so that we may know that we are his and not our own.  We are Christ’s and he shall never abandon us in our hour of need.  He will wrestle us away from the snares of the devil and the burdens of the world.  We need only remember our crippling moment in our baptism, where God killed us and brought us back to a new life, and we may bow our head to the world and have no fear, for Christ has overcome the devil and the world for us.


            Jacob continues to cling to the body of God, demanding a blessing.  Jacob knows that he is weakened by the crushing blow to his hip and knows that only with the blessing of God is he able to face his brother and fear no ill.  Jacob proclaims his reliance on God and prays for a blessing.  God, who has wrestled with Jacob and crippled his leg is gracious and blesses him.  This was the point of the wrestling match the entire time.  God did not come down to challenge Jacob or to cripple him, but to bless him.  He blesses Jacob because Jacob is a weak sinful being.  Jacob is blessed by his birth rite, by his blessing from his father Isaac, and by the gifts given to him from Laban.  More importantly, Jacob received the promise from God that his descendants will be as numerous as the stars in the heavens.  Nevertheless, God continues showering blessings upon Jacob because he loves him.  God wrestles with Jacob and cripples him so that he may receive the blessing and the promise of the Savior.

            God continues wrestling with us today.  God does even more for us this day than he did for his servant Jacob.  God not only leaves us needing his grace, he leaves us in need of his life giving breath.  God struggled with the flesh by sending his only begotten son into the flesh.  Christ wrestled with the sins of man and overcame the devil, the world, and our sinful condition. He overcame the devil with every nail driven into his hands on the cross.  He created the world anew when his precious blood drained from the tree onto the cursed ground.  Christ forever destroyed our sinful flesh when he resurrected gloriously from the tomb on the eighth day.  Christ struggled with the flesh and won the victory.  As God struggled with Jacob in order to bless him, so Christ struggled with the flesh in order to bless you.  We do not struggle because Christ has already struggled with us and has wrestled us away from the fear of death.

            Be comforted saints of God, for Christ continues blessing you today.  You         receive the birth rite of Christ as you die and resurrect with him through the waters of holy baptism.  On your foreheads bright and glorious shines the witness of Christ’s cross. Christ Himself comes to you this day in his very body and blood in order to grant you peace and forgiveness so that you may have the strength to face the snares and wickedness of the devil.  God has wrestled and struggled with you and now he blesses you as his own child.  Know that as you wrestle with the pains of the world, God struggles to wrestle you away and bring you into his blessed Gospel of light and release.  Christ has wrestled with the devil, killed sin, and death, and therefore now blesses you with the gift of inheritance and everlasting life.  You now have no need of fear, for you walk with the cross of Christ before you and the world can do nothing to you.  Amen.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost.  As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end, amen.