Lent 4 Midweek (Matthew 6:24-34)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR

Lent 4 Midweek – March 29, 2017

Text: Matthew 6:24-34

The Fourth Petition

“Give us this day our daily bread”

 

What is meant by the phrase “daily bread”? The first thing that comes to mind is food, the stuff we need day in and day out to live. That’s why Jesus puts it this way, and so many other places in God’s Word associate bread with all the necessities of life.[1]

 

In a capitalist society, we may think it would be better to say, “our daily dough.” Our minds drift toward money, because if you have money, that opens the way to the rest of our needs. With money, you can buy clothing, food, house, land, animals, vehicle, healthcare.

 

But—as has been said so many times before, money isn’t everything—if you don’t have a devout spouse or children, devout workers, devout and faithful rulers, good friends, and neighbors, self-control, even good weather, you won’t be able to keep or enjoy your daily bread.[2] The reality is we need far more than money (and the stuff it procures) alone, and far more than can be secured by making right personal choices and having the right man or woman in office.

 

That’s why this is a prayer directed to God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth. Without His governance over the world and His bountiful provision, all that we have would be lost to theft, disease, and decay—nevermind what the devil can throw against us (Job 1-2).

 

It may seem strange in the middle of a spiritual prayer to ask for such earthly things. It may even seem strange to pray for daily bread when Jesus tells us not to worry what we will eat, drink, or wear.  Yet, the earthly and the spiritual are intertwined.

 

Our hearts are tied up with the daily bread we have or don’t have.  When teaching on the 1st Commandment, Luther wrote, “He who has money and property feels secure, happy, fearless, as if he were sitting in the midst of paradise. On the other hand, he who has nothing doubts and despairs as if he never heard of God. Very few there are who are cheerful, who do not fret and complain, if they do not have mammon. This desire for wealth clings and cleaves to our nature all the way to the grave.”

 

The two vices of this petition are greed and worry. On the one hand, greed sees what we have as what we earned through our hard work or what we got away with cheating from another.

 

On the other hand is worry, that God doesn’t exist or God doesn’t care.  Another way to put it is to say that God’s existence and love depend on one’s perception of their life.  If money is plentiful, family is strong, and health is good, then God must be good.  If one or all of these things fall apart, it must be that God went on vacation.

 

The road between these two—and what Jesus commands us to pray for—is to acknowledge God as the giver of undeserved gifts.  “He makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”  “The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season. You open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing.”[3]  Such faith trusts His promise to provide, because He is a true Father—as He created our lives out of His goodness, so He will also sustain that life and supply whatever we need. “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Mt. 6:26).

 

Where there is faith in our Father in heaven, there’s no room for greed or worry.  “The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein.”[4]  How can we cling to what has been entrusted to us for a time?  31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.”  What place is there for worry when our lives and the lives of everyone we know are in the hands of a faithful, Almighty Creator?

 

All that’s left to do is thank and praise Him for these temporal benefits in light of the eternal, spiritual ones.  “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”[5]  Because of God’s tremendous love, we  receive all that God gives—whether plenty or scarcity—knowing for sure that He will do good for us in this life and bring us at last to our eternal rest.  Amen.

[1] 1 Kings 13:9, Prov. 27:27, Prov. 31:14

[2] See the full list in the Small Catechism, Lord’s Prayer, 4th Petition

[3] Matthew 5:45, Psalm 145:15-16

[4] Psalm 24:1

[5] Romans 8:32

Third Sunday in Lent (John 9:1-7)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR

Third Sunday in Lent + March 26, 2017

Text: John 9:1-7

Jesus and His disciples are walking to church one Sabbath, and on the way they find a pathetic sight: A blind man lying there begging.  So, they ask Jesus what’s probably been on the mind of every passerby: What did this guy or his parents do to end up in this situation?

 

But Jesus did not come to unlock the mysteries of God’s hidden wisdom by rooting out the causes from the consequences of sin.  “God sent His son into the world not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.”[1]  He came to be our Savior.

 

So, He says, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.”  Of course, he and his parents sinned—“no one living is righteous before you”[2]—but that’s not the point.  Jesus isn’t concerned with retribution for sin, but saving sinners out of pure grace.

 

He does what He came to do—“he spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud and said to him, ‘Go, wash in the pool of Siloam’ (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing.”  Jesus makes it look so easy, and suddenly this man’s affliction is taken away.  If only we had Jesus around today like this, think of how much cancer could be healed, deformed children made whole, or disabled people made to get up out of their wheelchairs.

 

But the greater miracle than healing a man born blind is the faith which is the result of this encounter.  That work of God is even greater than the miraculous healing, and that’s at the center of what Jesus says: “We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

 

There were many people who were healed during Jesus’ ministry, but there are also times where He wasn’t able to heal.  Did that mean His almighty power was limited?  No, the limitation was on the part of the people: “And he did not do many mighty works there because of their unbelief.”[3]  It’s true that Jesus is the source of healing.  He is the one who opens the eyes of the blind, makes the paralytic take up his mat and go home, and forgives sin.[4]  Yet in every case, healing comes through believing the Word of Jesus.

 

Work while it is day means that Jesus and His disciples worked while there was opportunity.  That is, where there is faith.  In the night of unbelief, the works of God cannot be done.

 

 

Where there is unbelief, we will be stuck on the questions, “Why is this happening to me? What did I do wrong?”  It’s true that it’s happening because we are sinners living in a fallen world.  But there’s no comfort in that.  There’s also no healing unless we’re brought out of the darkness of our earthly, sinful hearts which blame God for treating us unfairly and holding out on us when He could make things so much better.

 

Jesus is the one who is the one Sent into the world to save the lost and open your blind eyes, that you might glorify the work of God.  The greater miracle for you is the Holy Spirit’s work of faith.

 

Harold Buls once wrote, “Don’t ask backward, but forward”[5]  Our sinful, unbelieving heart looks backward to how things might have been or should have been different.  Where there is faith, however, God turns our eyes forward to hope for an expect what He will do to deliver us.

 

What we see as fundamentally wrong and broken beyond repair, God sees as an opportunity to save—to display His work.  False accusations, sudden death, mistreatment, or abuse—when we experience things like these, we despair because our help on earth has failed.  The courts have ruled against us, people have taken what rightly belongs to us, and the doctors can offer no cure.

 

“I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”[6]  He who created heaven and earth knows very well how to deliver you from whatever evil.  He knows the way to comfort you in sadness, restore what is lost, and strengthen you to endure the temporary pain and withstand the spiritual assaults of the devil.  Where there is faith in the God who saves sinners, there the works of God are displayed.

 

In our darkness, the weakness of our faith, cry out, “I believe, help my unbelief!”  The same Savior who brought faith to the blind man will also answer you.  Never think that God is powerless to save or that He somehow overlooked you.  “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”  Commit yourself into His care, and He will deliver you in His wisdom and out of His love.  Through this faith, may the works of God always be displayed until that last Great Day.  Amen!

 

[1] John 3:17

[2] Psalm 143:2

[3] Matthew 13:58

[4] John 9, 5:1-17, 8:3-11

[5] http://pericope.org/buls-notes/john/john_9_1_41.htm

[6] Psalm 121:1-2

Lent Midweek 3 (Isaiah 46:8-11)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR

Lent Midweek 3 – March 22, 2017

Text: Isaiah 46:8-11

 

Third Petition

“Hallowed be Thy Name”

 

God does whatever He wants.  Unlike us, He is not bound by anything or anyone—“I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it.”  Absolute power corrupts absolutely—when it comes to men.  But God is not like us.  He is altogether good.  He does not lie or deceive, He does not wish harm even for His enemies.  So, God’s autonomy isn’t something to dread—unless you’re His enemy.

 

On our part, our will is not only constrained by being a creature, but our natural hearts are bound to sin.  Our flesh wants its own way over against God’s—God promises to be our only help in time of need but we want a backup plan; He wants us to speak the truth in love about our neighbor, but we’d rather share those truths which boost us up; God gives everything we need, but our heart says we can’t live without a newer and different life.  Because of sin, we have a will that runs counter to God’s.

 

But this cannot go on forever.  The Lord does what He wills and if we try to oppose Him, we will surely lose not only the contest, but our very lives.  “Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?” (1 Cor. 10:22)

 

How can our human, sinful wills be aligned with God’s?  This can only be through the one Man who brought peace between God and sinners—Jesus Christ.  If there was understandably any time for a Man’s to argue with God about His will, it was when Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Betray a righteous Man?  Condemn an innocent Man to death?  Surely not!  41 And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, 42 saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” 43 And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. 44 And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.”

 

But it was God’s will that sinners should be saved.  “By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.” (Isaiah 53:8-10)  The will of the Lord does prosper: That your sins are forgiven, that you have become God’s own dear child, and that you have the hope of a blessed eternity.

 

So this is a prayer that we, even in our weakness, have grace to acknowledge God’s will to be good for us and all the world.  We pray against our sinful nature, which will oppose God’s will, egged on by the devil and the world.  We pray that the devil and the world would be brought to an end, that God’s Name would be called upon by pure hearts, and that His Kingdom would grow and reach every part of the earth.

 

We also pray that God would renew our hearts, especially our wills.  That He would “create in us clean hearts, and renew a right spirit within us.”  That our desires and delight would be in those things that God delights in—showing mercy to the weak, loving even our enemies, defending the cause of the poor, and bringing His love to whatever callings we have on earth.

 

So we pray, and so God hears our prayer, that each day we be conformed to the image of our Savior who—even at the prospect of His passion—said, “Thy will be done.”

 

In the words of Hebrews 13: “Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.”

Third Sunday in Lent (John 4:5-26)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR

Third Sunday in Lent + March 19, 2017

Text: John 4:5-26

Jesus gives us a good conscience before God by

hearing our confession and forgiving our sins.

  • The Samaritan woman was doubly guilty.

Samaritans were outcasts of Israel, the prodigals who had set up a rival temple in Samaria.  “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.”  They knew they were wrong in God’s sight, but they were too proud to repent and come back. Besides, even if they did, who in Israel would receive them?

 

  • That’s her ancestry, but her own life is a mess too.

She herself had sin she was hiding from others (but not from God).

She comes to the well when nobody else is around to stare at her or confront her.  13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.”

She needed to be free from human fixes for sin, because they cannot solve the real problem.

We too look for human fixes, spiritual Band-Aids if you will—harmful ones like drugs and alcohol, cutting and fits of rage; constructive ones like psychotherapy and antidepressants.  But none of those can touch the soul and address our spiritual condition.  They leave us guilty before God if they are our only solution.

 

  • Jesus gave her living water.

The way to peace with God is through confession of sin:

16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” 17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.”

 

Psalm 32:3-5: “For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.”

 

Confession can’t be substituted—either by working harder, avoiding personal contact, or by staying away from church.  These things only make things worse.  They draw out the guilt unnecessarily and leave room for Satan to give you reasons why you can worship God in the privacy of your home.

 

25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”

The absolution which Jesus brings also can’t wait and dare not be uncertain—“Perhaps God forgives me, or I’ll find out if I get into heaven.”  The woman wanted to put absolute truth off until Messiah comes, but Jesus was no prophet.  He was God, and the words which He speaks actually do bring salvation.

 

The words of Jesus gave her peace with God, as is evidenced by her going and proclaiming him publicly to her neighbors.

 

28 So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, 29 “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” 30 They went out of the town and were coming to him.

 

  • Jesus gives you living water.
    • He is well aware of your sin. He knows your depravity better than you do (or want to admit).  “O Lord, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar.” (Ps. 139:1-2)
    • A peaceful conscience with God can’t come in the privacy of your own thoughts. The Word of God comes from outside of you, and is best delivered when it is spoken to you by someone else.  That Word is able to speak peace to you when your heart can’t: “Whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. 21 Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God.” (1 John 3:20-21)
    • This is also why Jesus instituted confession and absolution:

20 …he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” (John 20:20-23)

Here in the words spoken by a pastor, your Lord points you back to His death and resurrection, to your Baptism.  In the waters made living by the Word of God, you died to all of your sin, and you were raised to eternal life.  Just as we sang in the 3rd stanza of Rock of Ages:

Nothing in my hand I bring;

Simply to Thy cross I cling.

Naked, come to Thee for dress;

Helpless, look to Thee for grace;

Foul, I to the fountain fly;

Wash me, Savior, or I die. (LSB 761:3)

Thanks be to Jesus for that blessed washing away of sins.  Amen!

Lent 2 Midweek (Luke 11:14-23)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR

Lent 2 Midweek – March 15, 2017

Text: Luke 11:14-23

The Second Petition

“Thy Kingdom come”

 

Martin Luther wrote about this petition: “Just as God’s name is holy in itself and yet we pray that it may be holy among us, so also his kingdom comes of itself without our prayer and yet we pray that it may come to us. That is, we ask that it may prevail among us and with us, so that we may be a part of those among whom his name is hallowed and his kingdom flourishes.”[1]

 

This is a prayer for there to be a Christian Church, for us to be a part of it, and for the reign of God to extend to every place.

 

A common question to ask is, Where is the Kingdom of God?  The Israelites knew where to look—the tabernacle and, later, the Temple.  God dwelt upon the mercy seat of the Ark of the Covenant.  If you were part of Israel, you were in the Kingdom.  After Israel’s unfaithfulness and subsequent exile, the Temple was destroyed.  They had a terrible quandary—where is the Kingdom of God to be found if there is no temple?  So, they built a second temple (the Book of Ezra details this).

 

Then several hundred years went by without a prophet, and John the Baptist came preaching, “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand!”[2]  Suddenly, God’s dwelling place was different, because it was now in the flesh of His Son.  The Kingdom of God was no longer located in a place or a nation on earth, but found those who believe that Jesus Christ is God come in the flesh.[3]  This Jesus said, “The hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.”[4]

 

The Church, the Kingdom of God, is found where the faithful are gathered around God and His living Word.  It’s not a denomination, not a building, not the pope.  All of those are of human origin, but the Church is solely the work of the Holy Spirit—“The wind blows where it wishes, you hear its voice but you do not know where it comes from or where it is going.  So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”[5]

 

The Kingdom of God is the only place where God is known as Father.  Outside the Christian Church—outside this faith, you’re on your own.  There is no certainty of grace, no forgiveness, no sure and certain hope of the resurrection, and not even true love for God.

 

But we pray that this Kingdom of God would come to us, that just as God has made a place where gathers His children, we would be counted among them!  “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”[6]  So we pray that God would make us like little children.  In this, we pray against our “wise” adult ways which would set bounds on His Kingdom and say it only comes to people we approve of.  Whenever this happens, it spirals into a convoluted partisan mess.

 

God has made us Christians by His power, not our decision.  His Holy Spirit has called us into this Church by the Gospel.[7]  Therefore what makes us genuine Christians is God’s gift of faith.  So we pray for ourselves that our minds and hearts would be conformed and submit to God’s holy Word, like little children

 

And it would be a sad thing is the Church were only us who are alive today.  Thankfully, God doesn’t think as narrowly as we do.  When we pray for God’s Kingdom to come, it’s also that it many more in the world would be brought in.  We pray that people who have never heard of Christ would believe in Him, that those who have forsaken the faith would return, and that each successive generation would proclaim the excellences of God to the next.

 

All of this would be a dreadfully impossible task if it were left up to human strength and wit.  But this is what drives us to fear that the Church is shrinking in the world or becoming obsolete.  Human wisdom would say that we need to freshen up the faith and make it “speak” to the new generation.  We need to meet the flighty felt needs of those who are presently church members so they decide to keep on coming.

 

God says to stop right there.  Pray for His Kingdom to come, and He will do all this.  It may seem impossible, unlikely, and perhaps even unpopular.  But we pray in this petition that God would make it so because it’s not too much for Him.  His Holy Spirit has the power to convert the erring, confirm the strong, and to build up those who are weak.  It all happens through His Word preached in and through His Church.

 

So this petition is a prayer for the Holy Spirit to work.  He has made the Church out of you and me and all who are called from far off.  He keeps us in that true faith, and He gathers people of every nation to repent and believe that the Kingdom of God has come near to them.

 

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

[1] Large Catechism, III, 50

[2] Matthew 3:2

[3] 1 John 4:2-3

[4] John 4:23

[5] John 3:8

[6] Mark 10:15

[7] Romans 10:14-17

Funeral of Helen M. Vorderstrasse (Luke 23:33, 39-43)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR

Funeral of Helen M. Vorderstrasse + March 15, 2017

Text: Luke 23:33, 39-43

Someone told me this week, “Helen remembers everything she forgot.”  Because she has been granted rest from her labors, free from the effects of sin and death, she remembers all that vascular dementia covered over.  But, these past 4 years did not define who she was.  They were like a shroud, cast over her.

 

In the words of Ken, she was beautiful—the only daughter in a family of boys, a wife, a mother, a leader, a friend, a servant.  This is who she was and this is how we remember her.

 

She is beautiful because she is still living, no longer with us but with her Lord Jesus Christ.  She is with Him in paradise not because of how beautiful a person she was to us, but because the Lord remembered her.

 

42 And [the criminal] said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

 

Helen wrote in one of her journals, “I have no recollection of anything…Lord, help me.”  The Lord answered that prayer.  He answered it by remembering what He did in the waters of Baptism on July 23, 1948 when she was baptized in this congregation.  “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”[1]  She was united through faith to her Lord, so that His death was her death, and His resurrection is also hers.  And the Lord never forgot that promise and grace which was Helen’s through faith.

 

Through Baptism, God remembers His mercy.[2]  Yet in remembering His mercy, God also forgot: “This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people…I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”[3]  In Jesus Christ, crucified, dead, and buried, God remembers His mercy and forgets all our sins.

 

God was faithful to Helen her whole life through.  He is faithful in His promises to you, too.  In the distractions and mess of daily life, you may have forgotten the Lord who purchased and won you on the cross and claimed you in Holy Baptism.  In forgetting what God the Father did, you might think all He can remember are your sins.  You may be ashamed that you have forgotten of God.  But He remembers His mercy and what He has done for you.  God is faithful.  God remembers His mercy for all who fear, love, and trust in Him.  He remembers the salvation He has wrought for you, the living hope, and the imperishable, unfading inheritance He has laid up for all who hope in Him.[4]  He forgets all your sins, because He has taken then from you, and nailed them to the cross.

 

Therefore, through Christ we are privileged to pray, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”  And He surely does.  Amen.

[1] Romans 6:3-5

[2] Luke 1:72

[3] Jeremiah 31:33-34

[4] 1 Peter 1:3-9

Second Sunday in Lent (John 3:1-17)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR

Second Sunday in Lent + March 12, 2017

Text: John 3:1-17

“For God so loved the world.,.,” (you know it, finish it!)  This passage contains one of the most beloved verses in the Bible, the Gospel in a nutshell.   Let’s go deeper, though.  Hearing these words of Jesus in context opens us up to the full depth of what it means to not perish but have everlasting life, and what that gift cost.

 

God granting eternal life to all who believe is not to be thought of the way H&R Block advertises tax refund money.  God is not holding out on people, waiting for them to unlock the right way to discover everlasting life.  The way He gives eternal life to mortal, sinful people is not just a matter of making a change in His records.

 

Eternal life is a costly gift.  We understand that preserving someone’s years is a costly thing.  A couple weeks in the hospital is likely to cost more than a family makes in a year.  But after all that money is spent, you still only have mortal life.

 

Instead, the Lord purchased and won eternal life not with gold or silver, but with His holy precious blood and His innocent suffering and death.[1]  In order to gain eternal life, He bore rejection by all, the agony of body and soul, the nails, and death.  This is what it cost to undo the power of sin and death so that “everyone who believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”

 

How is this gift bestowed?  Jesus compares it to the bronze serpent in the wilderness.  “as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”  On Jesus’ part is the bloody agony and death, on our part is the faith which looks to Him.  Yet even that believing is God’s work,[2] for no one can see the Kingdom of God unless he is born again by God.

 

Then there’s the flip side of eternal life.  What would we have if we had no Son of Man on the cross in which to trust?  We ought to look back to the account of the bronze serpent in Number 21:5-9:

 

And the people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.” Then the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. And the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you. Pray to the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.

 

What came first was the people’s impatience and rebellion against God and His servant, Moses.  God gave them what that sin deserved: death.  They perished in their sin instead of reaching the Promised Land.  Yet, God in His mercy commanded a way of salvation: raise a bronze serpent on a pole and every bitten rebel who looks upon it will live.  Though they rebelled, God forgave them and gave them life in the Promised Land.

 

The same is true for each of us.  We are children of Adam and Eve, whose rebellion we heard about last Sunday in Genesis 3.  “In the day you eat of it, you shall surely die…My Spirit shall not abide with man forever but his days shall be 120 years…Death spread to all because all sinned.”[3]  The bite of the fiery serpent has touched us all, and we deserve temporal and eternal death.

 

Yet God in His love sent His own Son to be lifted up, nailed to the tree of the cross, that every sinner who looks at Him in faith should not perish—should not die under the wrath of God, should not be condemned to hell with the devil and his angels—but have eternal life.

 

But for all who refuse to look upon the Son of Man, who turn away from His voice and deny both that they have rebelled and the fiery serpent’s bite, they shall perish.  Sure, they may seem to be alive today, going about their business, enjoying family time, eating and drinking.  But without faith in the Son of Man, they will surely perish.  Their good things will come to an end, and their eternal inheritance will be the fires of hell.  “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”

 

But God gives eternal life to all who believe.  When you reach 100 years old, it’s a milestone.  You get a letter from the President and everyone wonders what your secret was to such a long life.  What would you say if you met some of the patriarchs before the Flood?  Methusaleh, what’s your secret to such a long life of 969 years?  I don’t know, my father Enoch only walked with God for 365 before God took him.[4]

 

Eternal life is not something we can measure by the standards we know.  We need a new way of thinking about eternal life.  It’s not just an extension of status quo life as we know it.  Maybe that’s a shortcoming of the word “everlasting” as King James English translates it.

 

Eternal life is a present possession of all who believe.  “Whoever believes in Him has eternal life”—not “will have,” but has eternal life.  You and I, and all who belong to the Lord through faith have eternal life already.

 

That means death’s power over us is empty.  “Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.”[5]  Because God, who raised Jesus from the dead, has given us eternal life, we live even if we should be taken by God.

 

That’s why Enoch is significant.  We might say he lived only 365 years before God took him, but what does that matter?  Whether he lived on earth or with God, he had eternal life.

 

It’s the same for us when we’re smitten with dreadful illness and even when our bodies succumb to death.  What does death matter?  It’s an empty shadow.  Painful? Yes, but it is powerless over the one who has eternal life.  So our prayers for those who are sick are to the end that God preserves them in faith that they keep the gift of eternal life and their Savior’s victory over the grave.  The prayer is not necessariy answered by restoration of health, but by keeping them in the true faith until they are delivered from evil and lie down in their grave.  Our prayer for those who have wandered from the faith or are in doubt is that they would believe so that they too would not perish, but also have eternal life.  Amen.

[1] Small Catechism, Creed, 2nd Article, alluding to 1 Peter 1:18-19

[2] John 6:29

[3] Genesis 2:17, Genesis 6:3, Romans 5:12

[4] Genesis 5:21-24, 27

[5] Psalm 23:4 KJV

Lent I Midweek (Matthew 6:9)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR

Lent I Midweek – March 8, 2017

Text: Matthew 6:9

 

The First Petition

“Hallowed be Thy Name”

 

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

 

There are countless descriptions of the Name of God in Scripture—Alpha and Omega, Blessed and Only Sovereign, Firstborn of the Dead, Immanuel, King of Ages, Lord of Glory, Our Righteousness, The One Mediator, the True Vine.[1]  Each of these is holy because they describe the Triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and His most exalted work.

 

Now, it seems strange of us to pray that God’s Name be made holy, because that’s what “hallowed” means.  After all, God’s Name is holy in itself.  God is the I AM, and doesn’t depend on us to make or keep Him holy.  This is why you don’t see Christians going around blowing up marketplaces in the name of their God.  God would be holy, even if nobody acknowledged that.

 

But God’s Name isn’t in a shrine up in heaven simply for adoration and greatness for its own sake.  God takes His Holy Name and graciously bestows it on His people.

“24         The Lord bless you and keep you;

                25      the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;

                26      the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.

27 “So shall [the sons of Aaron] put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.”[2]

God put His same holy Name upon you when He received you in Baptism: “I baptize you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matt. 28:19)  In the act of redeeming, forgiving, adopting, and renewing fallen human beings, God shows His Name to be true (all the titles above mentioned).

 

But this prayer is for each of us, that God and His works would be glorified by us and through us.  It’s a prayer that God would be manifest in the Church.  We who bear the Name of God are the very ones who are called to display God to the world which is turned away from Him.  Thus, St. Paul writes,

 

“I urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:1-3)

 

The Name of God sets us apart as people who are to reflect Him.  But how often we fail in this!  Our sinful flesh turns us from humility to intractable pride.  Gentleness is replaced with brute force.  Patience is fine as long as God works on our time table.  Instead of bearing with one another, each chooses his own way and writes off those who disagree.

 

So we must pray God, who made us His own, to give us grace.[3]  We pray that He would blot out our ungodliness and give us His Holy Spirit to live lives which are according to the image of Christ.  That means no longer thinking or acting like the unholy people of the world.

 

A holy people are humble and reverent before God.  They don’t complain about how God treats them—whether he sends them momentary good or evil, because He has sworn eternal good despite what we deserve.  “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”[4]

 

A holy people are gentle toward others.  They don’t try to force their own way because God in heaven knows how best to order the world and because even against those who are evil God can quickly bring down even the mighty.  “He has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate.”[5]

 

A holy people are patient.  Even when they see the wicked prosper, the terrorists gain ground, the LGBT movement infiltrates the schools—they entrust these things to God’s longsuffering toward wayward sinners.  He knows how well to bring sinners to repentance and to deliver over His hardened enemies to their lusts.[6]

 

This is what it looks like, with God’s help, to rightly bear the holy Name of God.  So we pray not to add to God’s holiness, but that the glory, riches, and power of God would be shown to the world through us.

 

This happens not just with holy lives, but also through the pure preaching of God’s Word.  To pray for His Name to be hallowed is to pray against false doctrine and to support faithful ministers of the Word.  It’s only through the truth of the Gospel that we know of God’s Name and receive it on our foreheads and in our hearts.  God’s Name will continue to be holy, but thanks be to God that Name has come down to dwell among us, that Jesus shed His blood for us, and that He has received us as His own people.

 

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

 

 

[1] Rev. 22:13, 1 Tim. 6:15, Rev. 1:5, Matt. 1:23, 1 Tim. 1:17, 1 Cor. 2:8, 1 Cor. 1:30, 1 Tim. 2:5, John 15:1

[2] Numbers 6:24-27

[3] Deuteronomy 9:4-7

[4] Romans 8:32

[5] Luke 1:52, also sung in the Magnificat after the sermon.

[6] Romans 1:24-25

The Ever-Effective Weapon Against the Devil (Matthew 4:1-11)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR

First Sunday in Lent + March 5, 2017

Text: Matthew 4:1-11

Doctors who fight infections are all too aware that having just one weapon isn’t enough.  Viruses and bacteria each respond differently to medication.  Sometimes a strain comes along that refuses to respond to treatment.  Then, newer, stronger, and more innovative means must be developed.

 

But this is never the case with the Word of the Lord!  Thanks be to God for that!  His Word always accomplishes its intended result (Isaiah 55:11).  The chief spiritual enemy we have is the devil.  But no matter how cunning he is, he will never grow resistant to God’s Word.  The Word will always cause the devil to flee, as we hear today in the Temptation of Christ.

 

Context is important for the Temptation.  In all three synoptic Gospels—Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the Jesus’ temptation comes immediately after His Baptism where He is declared to be the Son of God.  Satan comes not to congratulate Him or bow down before Him, but to try to make Jesus fall like he had made the first man and woman fall.  The Serpent had gotten all mankind to fall by appealing to their reason—“sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned,”[1] The tempter instead chooses instead to appeal to Jesus’ divinity—command these stones to become bread, throw yourself down, and gain the glory of the kingdoms of the world.  Do it for your own glory, and don’t trouble yourself with this human race.  They won’t appreciate what you do for them much anyway.  But Jesus, the Son of God, wouldn’t have it that way.  “if many died through one man’s [Adam’s] trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many.”[2]  The devil was not successful in making Jesus fall, and that victory is given to all who are in Him.

 

The devil tempted Jesus because He is the Son of God, and he cannot stand to have a child of God not be condemned to sin and death.  Satan likewise tempts everyone else who is a son of God through faith.[3]  “Woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!”[4]  It’s not much comfort right now, but one way you can know for certain that you have a true faith in Christ is that you will be assaulted by the devil.

 

The devil is a truly powerful enemy over humanity.  It may be—even as children of God with the gift of the Holy Spirit—that we don’t notice the devil overtly.  In our weakness, we probably won’t be able to put our finger on the temptation the way Jesus does in the Gospel.  Nevertheless, the effect of the devil’s work is still evident.  Just like many diseases are identified by their symptoms, the devil’s temptations can be seen by their resulting sin.

 

The Tempter draws the Lord’s children away from the Word—the only medicine that can heal them and drive Satan away.  You might hear someone say they had a falling out with people at church. Yet, when the end result is them not hearing the Word you know who’s really behind it, causing those emotional wounds to fester.

When your children’s future seems like such a noble goal that you would rather see them at tournaments where scouts are than in the Divine Service where Jesus is, remember that Satan promised Jesus the kingdoms of the world and all their glory.

One of the devil’s favorite tricks is to convince you that you’re so strong in your faith that you can leave any kind of Bible study or devotions behind.  You got confirmed, so you don’t need to pick up a Bible again, right?  Trouble is, there’s no end to the things he can convince you to believe when you only think you know what God’s Word says.

 

The devil’s tactics have not changed from the time of Adam and Eve, to the Temptation of Christ, to this very day.  He is still the same evil angel who aims at the destruction of all who cling to God by faith.  But just the same as that hasn’t changed, God’s Word is still the antidote against his temptation.  St. John tells us, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.”[5]  The work of the devil is seen in doubt and unbelief, robbing us of the salvation which Christ brought into the world for sinners.  But in His birth, His Baptism, and yes, His temptation, Christ destroys the works of the devil.

 

He destroyed them that day by overcoming where Adam and Eve had fallen, and standing in our place as the faithful and holy one.  He won the victory for all who believe through His innocent suffering and death, breaking the sting of sin and the power of death.  He continues to overcome through the Holy Spirit in you, bringing that Almighty, life-giving Word to your mind and heart.

 

It’s not that you’ll be inoculated by a single dose of the Word of God, but in each temptation the Lord will show you His power to save you even in your filthy weakness.  Mark how the Lord responded to Adam and Eve: He didn’t tell them they would do better next time, but that He alone would save them: “He will bruise your head and you shall bruise His heel.”[6]

 

So it is true for you as well, as a dearly beloved, baptized child of God.  The devil is strong, but the Word within you is stronger—“The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart.”[7]  Arm yourself with that Word.  We can’t praise the Lord enough for how accessible His Word is to us now.  Study it, meditate on it, learn it by heart.  Study your catechism.  It may seem like the very basics, but it is the very Word which sends the devil running.  You will be blessed, not because you can suddenly go toe-to-toe with Satan, but because he will flee from you when you have God’s Word guarding your heart.  May He grant such a victory even to us, through Jesus our Lord.  Amen!

 

[1] Romans 5:12

[2] Romans 5:15

[3] Galatians 3:26

[4] Revelation 14:12

[5] 1 John 3:8

[6] Genesis 3:15

[7] Romans 10:8

Ash Wednesday (Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR

Ash Wednesday + March 1, 2017

Text: Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

 

The Introduction

“Our Father, who art in heaven”

 

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

 

During this penitential season, we will turn our eyes to something which is integral to our life as Christians: prayer.  You heard Jesus’ instructions in the Gospel about what prayer should not be, namely where it should not be aimed.  In these midweek Lenten services, we will go through, petition by petition, and learn from Jesus how to pray.

 

These first words, sometimes called the introduction, Our Father who art in heaven, teach us about the basis for all prayer.  Before any words come out of our mouth or heart, we should know who we’re asking.

 

It’s plain to all people who acknowledge the existence of God that God is eternal, almighty, and even the creator of the universe.  But that knowledge alone is not comfort.  God may be almighty, but if He isn’t happy with you that immediately becomes a frightful thought.  But through Jesus Christ, God the Father becomes your Father.  As Jesus told Mary after His resurrection, “I am returning to My Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” (John 20:17)

 

So, God is almighty, eternal, and so forth, but best of all, He is also for you.  Through the certainty of your Baptism, God has made Himself your Father.  “In Christ Jesus you are all sons of God through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal. 3:26-27).  Out of love God took the initiative to adopt you as His dear child in Baptism.  He does not renege on His Word, so when you go to Him, it is as a beloved child. That means when we go to God, we don’t have to bend His ear or get enough people behind us also praying.  God’s heart is moved by His love for His children.

 

This also takes the guesswork out of whether God will hear us when we go to Him in prayer.  Prayer is not the same as wishing or hoping into a void.  God our Father invites us to come to Him with our needs and hurts, our joys and thanksgiving.  “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.” (Ps. 50:15)

 

Even though Jesus advises that we each go into our room and pray in secret, He also says that prayer is very communal.  Even with the opening words, “our Father,” we are reminded that it is not us against the world, or even “me and Jesus.”  As children of the heavenly Father, we are part of a whole body of believers.  Within this Body, we are all children calling upon the same Father, none of us better than another and none of our prayers “more effective” than another’s.  Someone once wrote, “The weak should know that God is no less their Father than the Father of Mary, John the Baptist, and Paul.”[1]

 

As members of this Body, we also direct prayers not just to our personal needs but the needs of the whole family of God—even of the whole world.  If God is our Father, we are surrounded by many brothers and sisters.  So in teaching us to pray to God, our Lord also teaches us to love and care for one another.

 

With the words, “who art in heaven,” it’s important to know why Jesus adds this.  Later in Matthew 23, Jesus tells us, “Call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven” (v. 9).  Our Father in heaven is one of a kind and to be distinguished from any earthly father.  He is above all other fathers in majesty, so we owe Him the greatest reverence of all—more than we show our own family and even all rulers of this world.

 

God the Father is also above all in power, so we approach Him not hoping He can do something, but knowing He can do all things.  The prayers we bring to Him will not overwhelm Him, even though we ask for the salvation of the world, for Him to provide for each person, and for deliverance from all the deadly evils which surround humanity.   He is Almighty to save in any and every disaster that befalls us in our life, or in the wider world.  Nothing slips His notice, and nothing is beyond His loving work.

 

When we hear that God is in heaven, we might think that’s far away.  But, heaven is simply God’s dwelling place, not a matter of distance or how far we have to travel to reach Him.  “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” (Ps. 46:1)  Even though He dwells in unapproachable light, remember that He willingly sent His Son to share our flesh and now He is our Advocate.  That’s why another psalm says, “The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on Him in truth” (Ps. 145:8).

 

“Our Father who art in heaven” teaches us about God adopting us by grace in Holy Baptism, they teach us that God wants to hear every desperate cry, and that He wants us to trust in Him to preserve all His children through the ills of this life until we receive our inheritance of eternal life.

 

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

[1] Martin Chemnitz, The Lord’s Prayer