Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

Baptism of Inara Fae Means

Readings: 1 Kings 19:1-8 | Ephesians 4:17-5:2 | John 6:35–51

Text: Ephesians 4:17—5:2

Everyone has desires and needs, ideals for which they strive, a sense of how it should be.  But do we stop and think where that comes from?

While humanity was originally created the image and likeness of God, sin has come into the world and deformed what began as a good creation.  And this is what we experience in our lives.  We have an idea of good versus bad, but there’s also a sense that something is missing. 

          26 Then God said, “Let us

         make man in our image, after

         our likeness. And let them have

          dominion over the fish of the

          sea and over the birds of the

          heavens and over the livestock

          and over all the earth and over

          every creeping thing that

          creeps on the earth.”

         27 So God created man in his

         own image, in the image of God

         he created him; male and female

         he created them.

                  (Genesis 1:26-27)

But then sin entered the world, and something was fundamentally changed about humanity. In biblical terms, we lost the image of God. Now, as descendants of the first man and woman, we bear the image of Adam (Genesis 5:3).  You could think of it like copies from a corrupted original, or forming something out of polluted material.

What God created as good is broken.  Got breathed life into man, but now that life is stolen away by death (sometimes quite prematurely).  He meticulously created the body with all the parts working together, but now there’s deformities and disease.

What God created as good is also corrupted: religion, the spiritual life before God, is used as a means for men to aggrandize themselves, exercise social control, and make themselves seem pleasing before God.  Rulership is abused to control and deprive others rather than serve them.  Both of these we see in Ahab and Jezebel seeking to kill Elijah because he called out their false worship (1 Kings 19:1-3).

Our ability to detect good is also skewed. The sensors have lost their calibration.  They can’t accurately detect where the plumb line should be.  The human conscience, which was made to tell right from wrong, is able to excuse what is contrary to nature, like when we justify slaughtering innocent lives and call it women’s healthcare, or construct artificial distinctions between biological and identity.  With these broken senses, objective truth is rejected in favor of what “feels right” or “makes the most sense to us.”  And finally, our appetites are for things that do not satisfy like when we look for all good in another person only to have our hopes dashed, and when we find more delight in our favorite TV shows than in pouring over the very words of our Creator.  In the Lord’s words of John 6, we “work for food which perishes, [not for] the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man gives to us.” (John 6:27)

This is what sin has done to humanity, and if we were left to our own devices, we would never discover the root cause.  We know people have tried to put their finger on it (just to name a few): the real problem is that we have unfulfilled desires so we must purge ourselves of all desire (Buddhist), cure this or that disease so that people live longer; eliminate racism by eliminating privilege of all kinds.  While these scratch the surface of the problem, all people are able to see is fogged by warped minds, wills, and emotions.  Remember those broken sensors.

But there is good news. There is rescue.  Our Creator has not just handed us over to our own groping in the dark.  The One who made heaven and earth and us in it, has come to our aid.  This is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, that He has done what humanity, what you and I, so desperately needed!  He came to reverse all that is wrong with us, and with the world.  But unlike our solutions that only treat the symptoms, He goes to the root cause.  “For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the Last Day.” (John 6:40)  And this He does by putting Himself in our place: He answered for our guilt, the evils we think, say, and do, with His own holy, innocent life.  God, who has been teaching atonement by a substitute from the get-go gives His Son as the truly innocent and all-sufficient substitute for the sins of all people.

God the Son takes death head-on by enduring it Himself.  He died so that He would save us from futile birth and his beautiful creation left in decay.  The Son rose because death had no claim on Him, and Jesus came the firstborn among many brothers (Romans 8:29).  This is the hope of all hope which the Gospel gives to all who believe: “the resurrection of the dead and the life everlasting.” (Apostles’ Creed)

But contrary to popular belief, being a Christian isn’t about “dying and going to heaven.”  God delivers this good news in a concrete way to us each day as we both live under the curse of sin and death, and in the hope of the resurrection and everlasting life.  The hope begins here on earth, today in our lives. 

It began today for Inara, where God gave her the rescue which she never could have found for herself.  Her Creator wants for her to be saved from the futility of life apart from Him, of living with the sin she inherited, and the sins has committed since.  He does not want her to be left to bandaid, rationalizing human fixes for her sin.  This is what people do when they feel the disparity between what their God-given conscience says and see something bad they’ve done.  But God, in His love, does not want us to drown in our guilt or sugar-coat it or drown out the nagging voice.

In love for Inara—and, really, for every person—He gives a new birth in Baptism.  Jesus Himself explains, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3-5)  We all recognize our natural birthday, but in Baptism, building on that natural birth to our parents, God gives a birth which is full of eternal blessings.  God promises something incredible: “He saved us…by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior.” (Titus 3:5-6)  A washing with the power to recreate and renew, to be the start of God’s restoration of humanity and the world with us.

The best way to see the difference the Gospel makes is in comparing it to the absence of hope.  After describing the ignorance, futility, and callousness of men and women without God, the Apostle Paul instructs us not by experience or what is popular, or even what is most traditional.  He points us to Christ:

         20 But that is not the way you

         learned Christ!— 21 assuming

         that you have heard about him

         and were taught in him, as the

         truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off

         your old self, which belongs to

         your former manner of life and

         is corrupt through deceitful

         desires, 23 and to be renewed in

          the spirit of your minds, 24 and

          to put on the new self, created

          after the likeness of God in true

          righteousness and holiness.

God begins that work of a restored human race in His Christians.  No doubt, we still have many vestiges of first birth, but living in the new birth we have from God, we depart from the ways of corrupt humanity, and put on the new self, the renewed version of you who God is busy restoring and pressing toward the new creation.

This is what humanity is meant to look like!  We might be tempted to tune that out, because we’ve heard so many human ideas of what this ought to be, but they’ve either been false hopes or incomplete.  So listen to this, with an ear open to your Creator:

         25 Therefore, having put away

         falsehood, let each one of you

         speak the truth with his

         neighbor, for we are members

         one of another. 26 Be angry and

         do not sin; do not let the sun go

         down on your anger, 27 and give

         no opportunity to the devil.

         28 Let the thief no longer steal,

         but rather let him labor, doing

         honest work with his own hands,

         so that he may have something

         to share with anyone in need.

         29 Let no corrupting talk come

         out of your mouths, but only

         such as is good for building up,

         as fits the occasion, that it may

         give grace to those who hear.

         30 And do not grieve the Holy

         Spirit of God, by whom you were

         sealed for the day of


         31 Let all bitterness and wrath

         and anger and clamor and

         slander be put away from you,

         along with all malice. 32 Be kind

         to one another, tenderhearted,

         forgiving one another, as God in

         Christ forgave You.

Do you hear all those ways God is restoring you and me?  You are not an island, but a member of one another so treat others with love and nipping resentment in the bud before it has time to stink and fester inside you.  Rather than grabbing for whatever you can get your hands on, as a renewed human being and child of God, you see property as something as something which comes from God who gives good gifts for our use and for us to share in times of need.  Your tongue is for building up others, not a weapon to curse and destroy.  And you see other people the way God sees them and you—as lives worth the precious blood of Jesus.  Remember, He died even for His enemies.

This is what God works in His children, working through the new birth He has given to Inara, and to you in Baptism.  Now, we won’t see this fully realized until the Resurrection, but it’s in progress.  And of course God forces no one into this, but He actually does give us a new heart to want these things, to delight in being what He has created us to be, and to hate what sin has done to us and the world.  So, with the gift of the Holy Spirit, Paul summarizes in today’s reading, saying: “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”  And our prayer is that this is what each of our lives would be: dying to the old way inherited from our natural birth, being forgiven for our failures, and living in the start of an eternal life before God, which is ours through Jesus Christ, our Lord and our Savior.  Amen.

Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

Readings: Exodus 16:2–15 | Ephesians 4:1–16 | John 6:22–35

Text: Psalm 145:10-21; Ephesians 4:1-16

God always provides.  This is something we acknowledge (most of the time) in our lives.  We prayed earlier in Psalm 145,

            15    The eyes of all look to you,

                        and you give them their

                        food in due season.

            16    You open your hand;

                        you satisfy the desire of

                        every living thing.

And these are fitting words before sitting down for a meal, acknowledging that what we have, even if we bought it at Safeway, Winco, Walmart, is truly from God’s gracious hand, just as our Lord says, “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.” (Matt. 6:31-32)

God always provides.  It isn’t just a platitude, even if sometimes it’s used as a flippant way to brush off concern about how.  This is a truth, and it is the antidote to anxiety about our needs in this world.  As the Psalm continues:

          18     The Lord is near to all who

                call on him,

                     to all who call on him in


          19   He fulfills the desire of

                those who fear him;

                     he also hears their cry

                     and saves them.

          20   The Lord preserves all

                who love him

When we feel like the Lord is distant from our circumstances, He is truly near.  If we worry that He will fall short on what we need, He fulfills our needs, hears their cry and saves them from all danger.  When we are ready to throw up our hands, it is the Lord who preserves His people who love Him.

So all this we believe about God providing for all His creatures, and protecting us against anxiety and fear.  And while this is an area we’re particularly vulnerable to worry, there is also another big blind spot for Christians.  St. Paul writes to the Church in Ephesians 4:

            I therefore, a prisoner for the

            Lord, 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. There is one body

            and one Spirit—just as you

            were called to the one hope

            that belongs to your call—

            one Lord, one faith, one

            baptism, one God and Father

            of all, who is over all and

            through all and in all.

Even though he was bound in prison because of preaching that Jesus is the Christ, Paul’s own eyes had seen the mighty power of God at work in the Church.  He had heard the Spirit’s voice and witnessed His power to call through the Gospel of Jesus.  By the power of God, Paul had been thrown down on the road to Damascus and had his whole life’s work turned around (Acts 9).  The Churches had seen, that “He who once persecuted us is now preaching the faith which he once tried to destroy” (Gal. 1:23)  He was the instrument of bringing scores of Gentile unbelievers to know the One True God—from those visiting synagogues to even the jailer at Philippi (Acts 16).

Suffice to say, St. Paul knows something about the calling of God to belong to Him as beloved children, and the gathering of His children into one Church.  This is what befits those who are called by the Gospel: that we “walk in humility and meekness, with patience and bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (vv. 2-3)  This begins with realizing how gracious God is to call us into His Church, that there is no resume which made us rise above others.  Rather, there was a record of debt that stood against us, but God took this and nailed it to the cross (Col. 2:14). We walk in humility or meekness, because we are not looking to draw attention to us or brag about our accomplishments, realizing there is nothing for us to boast about except in Jesus Christ crucified for us.  And we are patient, trusting that all things happen as part of God’s eternal purpose.  Just as He numbers all the hairs of our head, not one soul will enter into judgment apart from His knowledge and desire to save them.

We recognize that one thing we all have in common is we are all sinners in need of mercy and each with our own weaknesses and needs.  So, we band together in mutual support, having compassion, praying for our brothers and sisters.  Together, we also rejoice in the other thing we all have in common: Our merciful God whose Holy Spirit has knit the Church together, and it’s a joy when we can share this common bond with other Christians, no matter by what path they came to this bond of peace.  Here is the truth that there are no denominations after this broken earth passes away, because “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”  And even though there are edifying reasons to be called Evangelical Lutheran, this is what we confess together, when we believe in “one holy, Christian [catholic], and apostolic Church” (Nicene Creed)

But this isn’t always what the Church looks like on earth, and that comes from the way we look at the Church.  The time it’s hardest to see this in the Church is when we doubt that the Church is truly God’s creation.  We think that it’s the work of our hands—our skillful manipulation, the pastor’s golden-mouthed sermons, having fun and engaging youth programs, what good stewards we are and how proud we are of holding no debt.  But what this leads to is the very opposite of what St. Paul describes.  Out of the church of our own hands comes a panoply of adulterations of Christ’s Church: We practice pride at what we have done or might do.  We are arrogant to think we can improve upon the Means of Grace God has appointed. We are impatient with the fruit of the preached Word, which leads us to think He’s failing in our time and place (or self-flagellation that we’re doing it wrong).  The church of our hands also finds more and more reasons to divide and ascertain who are “in” or “out” or who’s “doing church” the best.

Repent, all of us, for we have made an idol of God’s Church!  “Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster.” (Joel 2:13).   And in returning to our mighty and loving God, we see again that the Church and our place in it is 100% His work, even if it should be carried out by human hands:

          But grace was given to each

          one of us according to the

          measure of Christ’s gift.

          Therefore it says, “When he

          ascended on high he led a host

          of captives, and he gave gifts to


          (In saying, “He ascended,”

          what does it mean but that he

          had also descended into the

          lower regions, the earth? 10 He

          who descended is the one who

          also ascended far above all the

          heavens, that he might fill all

          things.) 11 And he gave the

          apostles, the prophets, the

          evangelists, the shepherds and

          teachers, 12 to equip the saints

          for the work of ministry, for

          building up the body of Christ,

God always provides for His Church from beginning to end.  And because this is God’s Church, we marvel at how He does this.  Just as we thank God for what He provides through government and grocery store, we also thank God for how He provides for His Church through human hands.  He ascended on high and gave gifts to men: the gifts which are needed for growing His Church: the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures (remember, these are the foundation, Christ Jesus being the cornerstone, Eph. 2:20).  He provides evangelists who preach this Word here and all over the world—some whose lives are devoted as missionaries (Paul, in addition to be an apostle was one), and others who share the faith in a number of ways in their daily interactions.  But the Lord isn’t done.  He also gives shepherd-teachers:[1] pastors who keep watch over people’s soul’s, study the Word, and teach all the saints (young and old).

Through these human workers, the Church is equipped, the work of ministry is accomplished, and the Body of Christ is built up.

          13 until we all attain to the

          unity of the faith and of the

          knowledge of the Son of God,

          to mature manhood, to the

          measure of the stature of the

          fullness of Christ, 14 so that we

          may no longer be children,

          tossed to and fro by the waves

          and carried about by every

          wind of doctrine, by human

          cunning, by craftiness in

          deceitful schemes. 15 Rather,

          speaking the truth in love, we

          are to grow up in every way

          into him who is the head, into

          Christ, 16 from whom the

          whole body, joined and held

          together by every joint with

          which it is equipped, when

          each part is working properly,

          makes the body grow so that it

          builds itself up in love.

Yes, it’s human hands which He uses, but it is the same Almighty Lord who is working in His Church.  When we read about the Acts of the Apostles, we shouldn’t wish for the glory days of years past, wringing our hands like old men who dream about what we used to be able to do.  With faith in the very same God, we believe that He is working in His Church in 2021 with the same powerful Word and Spirit as He did in generations before us.

In fact, we need to cling to this even more because we see the world gaining popularity and acceptance in its own wickedness.  With each passing generation, it takes more intentionality and perseverance to belong to this Christian Church.  If we look for the strength to do this in ourselves, there would be little to hope for.  One time several pastors were subjected to a presentation where the Lutheran church was compared to the Titanic sinking.  But this is not the fate of God’s Church, because even the gates of hell shall not prevail against God’s calling people to believe that Jesus is the Christ (Matt. 16:18).

But just as we have to work our jobs to have income, participate as citizens to have good government, and take care of our bodies to have good health, we also need to work in the Church.  In order for the Church to be strong, it is our duty to take hold of the treasures God gives us, to read His precious Word, be ready to share the reason for the hope with us, and support the shepherd-teachers in our midst.  So, this doesn’t exonerate us from work, but it does free us from worry.

So, to paraphrase the Lord Jesus, Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘How shall we be relevant?’ or ‘What can we do to make this old-fashioned religion last?’32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

In conclusion, let’s return to Psalm 145, and apply it to the Bread of Life, which our God gives to the world, and in which His Church delights:

            10    All your works shall give

                     thanks to You, O Lord,

                        and Your saints shall bless


            11    They shall speak of the glory

                     of Your kingdom

                        and tell of your power.

            12    to make known the children

                     of man your mighty deeds,

                        and the glorious splendor

                        of Your kingdom.

            13    Your kingdom is an

                     everlasting kingdom,

                        and your dominion endures

                        throughout all generations

            14    The Lord upholds all who are


                        and raises up all who are

                       bowed down.

            21    My mouth will speak the

                     praises of the Lord,

                        and let all flesh bless His

                       holy name forever and ever.


[1] See ESV footnote after “teachers”

Eighth Sunday after Pentecost (also Feast of St. James)

Readings: Genesis 9:8-17 | Ephesians 3:14-21 | Mark 6:45-56

Text: Genesis 9:8-17

When people hear about the Flood, people in our culture might picture a boat with animals sticking out windows, and several people aboard.  Other cultures record the same event: The Chinese have the story of the family of Fuhi, who lived during the time when the whole land was flooded to the tops of the mountains, and how only his family survived and whose three sons repopulated the earth.  The Babylonian stories recorded by Gilgamesh include a man named Untapishtim, who was instructed to build a large ship and instructed to take a male and female of each type of animal.  The Aztecs record the story of Tapi, a pious man, who was told to take his wife and a pair of each animal. The people laughed at him, but when the waters came, they climbed the mountains but could not escape. After the water had dried, Tapi released a dove which did not return.

The account of the Flood is universal, recorded by ancient people from all over the earth.  In the same way, what happened afterward is universally known: God set the bow in the clouds.  Rainbows are known the world over, a beautiful meteorological phenomenon which display the whole spectrum of visible light.  Even though this wasn’t articulated until the 13th and 17th centuries by Roger Bacon and Isaac Newton, the rainbow is something all people can see and appreciate.

But God tells us more about the rainbow than we can learn from observation:

12 And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: 13 I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.

The rainbow is more than a natural phenomenon; it’s God’s sign.  His signs are those things where He joins something physical to His promise.  In this case, the rainbow in the sky is tied to a covenant He makes with every creature of the earth, and especially with every human being who descended from the three families that came out of the Ark.  Even if you don’t know a lick about God, or make it your mission to destroy all things spiritual in the name of reason, you can still see the rainbow in the sky.

But today we will focus on what God says about the rainbow, and the covenant which He makes which every creature, even with every single human being.  Just as the rainbow is universally familiar, God speaks to every single creature: Never again will the Flood happen to destroy the earth.  And why would God need to say that?  Because the Flood happened because, “the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. 12 And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth.” (Gen. 6:11-12)  This is far from what God created the earth and human beings on it for.  Corruption from man’s wicked heart, violence in destroying the beauty of this world and the lives of people precious in God’s sight.  It would be unjust for this to go unanswered.  How could God remain silent?  So, He sent the Flood, and only righteous Noah and his family heeded the warning.  Noah, his wife, Shem, Ham, and Japheth, and their wives—eight souls, were the only ones who saved their lives on the ark [1 Pet. 3:20].

And after this great act of judgment, God left the rainbow as a reminder.  It’s a twofold reminder, actually.  First, He says, “When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh.”  When the eyes of men see the bow in the clouds, God will remember the covenant He made that day after Noah and his family left the ark: Never again will He destroy all flesh with water, even though, “the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (Gen 8:21).

The other side of the reminder is for God: “When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.”  When God sees the bow in the clouds, after every time it rains, He remembers this covenant with the earth.  It’s a covenant that assures the all people of the earth that rain will not lead to complete destruction, even though it once did.  It’s a reminder to God to be gracious to a sinful and corrupt earth.

What this teaches us is that a rainbow is far more than a simple, accidental interaction between sunlight and water droplets.  It is actually a personal promise which God makes between Himself and every living creature on earth.  It has personal meaning for every person, because it is God’s sign to every generation which follows the Flood until the Day Christ returns.

By the rainbow, God is preaching to every person: I will be gracious to you, even though you are corrupt from your youth, even though your heart is thoroughly filled with evil.  What people use this for is to put the Lord to the test.  Like teenagers who revel in what they can “get away with” without getting punished, people take the patience of God as license to do what they please.  That’s the dullness of the human heart, and the shamelessness from which we all suffer.  But God tells us about His patience in Romans 2: “Do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” (Rom. 2:4) 

And it’s not that people don’t recognize how dangerous a worldwide flood can be.  Otherwise, those many cultures wouldn’t have shared the account of destruction from above, and the fact that it was in response to the wickedness on the earth.  Every person can identify the danger of a flood, but the greater peril that the Flood tells us about is the peril of unbelief and the danger of unrepentance—the danger of hardness of heart.  If we think we’re safe because we “believe in God” or Jesus whatever we take Him to be, we’re gravely mistaken. St. James, whom the Church commemorates today, reminds us: “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!” (James 2:19)  No, a person actually needs to listen to what the One, True God says.  Our sinful flesh wants God to be there, but be silent.  We’d rather have a God who doesn’t speak, because then He cannot call us out for the evil of our hearts and actions.

But the God of heaven does speak, and He calls every single person not just to acknowledge He exists, but to repent of the evil of our hearts, our words, and our deeds.  This is the true peril, not of death by water, but eternal death in the fires of hell. 

What God means by His covenant, signified by the rainbow, is that He desires to all to repent and believe in the culmination of His riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience—His Son Jesus Christ who came as the universal Savior.  God makes no distinction between people, and just like the rainbow, His gracious work goes out for all people, speaking to them while they live and calling them back to fellowship with Him.  When He sees His bow in the clouds, He remembers not only the covenant He made with every person, but the covenant He made in the blood of His Son, and this is the new covenant which He has makes with you.

In Holy Baptism, He also delivers you through the waters: 18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, 19 in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, 20 because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. 21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.” (1 Peter 3:18-22)

His patience and kindness do remain until the Last Day, so that what He wants for all people would come about: that all who hear His voice and fear His judgment also believe that on account of Jesus Christ, He has put away your sin.  This is what His covenant with the earth is meant to lead all people of the earth to: To see His patience as a call to the waters of Baptism.  There, the water is judgment for our sin, putting it to death, and salvation for the Christian.

This is God’s meaning for the rainbow, which supersedes any meaning man can apply to it.  If man should say the rainbow is merely a random process that just happened to come out of chaos, God has taught us better to see Him actually active in His creation and speaking to every person.  If man should use the rainbow as a political and ethical symbol, what God does with it is better: He desires the salvation of all people, regardless of the way their sinful heart bears fruit.  He is patient and kind toward people, no matter how much evil they delight in, because it’s His desire and His power to work to call them away from destruction and to eternal life through His Son.  When you see the rainbow, remember the God who made the rainbow and gave it meaning for Himself, for you, and for every person.  Never write someone else off as a lost cause, because God hasn’t.  Let His Word be on your lips, so that the wicked person sees that there actually is a God in heaven who judges.  And when God works terror in their conscience, be ready to share the mercy God in Christ.  But even if that shouldn’t come immediately, pray for divine patience with them, just as God is patient toward them.  Remember this, when we see the world continuing on its evil course, that despite it, God is still speaking to them[1] with His unchanging Word.  He will continue speaking until the very Last Day, when it’s not the door of the Ark that will be shut, but the door of heaven.  Until then, we pray for God to deliver us from the works of our flesh, the deceit of the devil, and the wickedness in the world.  He truly will.  Amen.

[1] Another irony is that the United Church of Christ, a very progressive nominal Christian group, has the slogan “God is still speaking” which undermines the inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture.  But even more true is that God is still speaking, with His authoritative and unchanging Word to call sinners to repentance and faith in His Son.

Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

Readings: Jeremiah 23:1–6 | Ephesians 2:11–22 | Mark 6:30–44

Text: Ephesians 2:11-22

Tick, tick, tick, tick goes the rollercoaster as it climbs its way to the sky.  For a moment, there’s the feeling of exhilaration and weightlessness at the top.  But you know that in just a split second, you will be hurtling down—maybe even lower than where you started!

In chapter 1 of Ephesians, we were privileged to receive a glimpse into the heavenly counsel.  From the heights of the highest heaven, we heard, “[The Father] chose us in [His Son] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ” (Eph. 1:4)  But like the Transfiguration, none of us is able to stay for long without being yanked back into our present reality.  Chapter 2 gives such a whiplash to the depths of each person’s earth-born condition: “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”

It would be no wonder if you screamed at such a drop!  But God does not leave us in the depths of our depravity.  Two words signal us being lifted up out of grave: “But God,” as in, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:4-6)

All of this is apparent from a heavenly perspective, and made known to us by the Holy Spirit speaking in the Word.  It isn’t clear from our experience.  When we go out from this place, we live in the same world as the “rest of mankind,” suffering all the same troubles and mortality.

God’s action to raise sinful people up from the depths of spiritual death also has another effect: Reconciliation and reunion among all who call upon the Name of the Lord:

(From today’s reading): 12 Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

Not only was there a drop into the grave, but in sin, we are also separated, far off, alienated, even from God in the world. And this is what our experience is: Blinded by sin, people find reasons to separate from one another.  Whether it’s divisions of class, skin color, or nationality, mankind has shown itself to be an expert at xenophobia, or even xenocide (killing the alien).  But, in fact, the root of it all is that we were strangers from God (the root xeno means alien or stranger).  Without God, we were without hope because we could only look to this broken mess of a world for salvation.

Yet, just as God reached down into the grave to raise us up, He also reached out to us who were far away and alienated from Him to bring us near by the blood of Jesus Christ. 

14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.

And this division was expressed in the peculiarity of God’s people Israel.  God Himself was the One who set them apart, distinguished by the commandments and ordinances given through Moses.  They were set apart from all the other nations, not to intermix and keenly aware of the foreignness of the rest of the human race.

All of this, however, was an illustration of the divide between a holy God and the corrupt human race.  Our alienation from God resulted in enmity with each other, but God put an end to this with His own kind of violence.  Notice the words used here: “He has broken down in His flesh the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing the law of commandments”…”killing the hostility.”  It was by the violence of sin and rebellion against God that He worked peace with His rebellious human creatures.  God broke down the dividing wall of enmity by fulfilling the promise made against Satan on behalf of our parents, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between her Offspring and your offspring.” (Genesis 3:15)  The Lord abolished the condemnation of the Law by putting Himself under its judgment on our behalf: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin” (2 Cor. 5:21).  By being killed under the judgment of a sinner, He destroyed that enmity for us who in fact deserve the title, “sons of disobedience” (Eph. 2:2). 

In the wake of God’s violence (His Son nailed to the cross), alienation (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken Me?” Matt. 27:46), and killing the hostility (“It is finished” John 19:30), the rollercoaster ride is finished because heaven and earth are united, Jews and Gentiles are part of one redeemed human family.  The Church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord. (LSB 644, st. 1)

Now this passage also addresses a concern some have about a topic called “Replacement Theology,” which says that the Christian Church has replaced Israel in God’s plan, so that after Pentecost, anything referring to Israel is allegorized and actually refers to the New Testament Church.  Lutherans are accused of subscribing to this.

But what Lutherans actually subscribe to is what Scripture teaches, and it’s clear from Paul’s explanation that while Israel may have come first in time, the Gentiles who were far off were brought in and made part of God’s holy people.  It’s too simple to say that the Church replaced Israel, as if God didn’t really mean it when He spoke of an everlasting covenant.  Rather, in calling non-Jews by faith, God was fulfilling the promise of the covenant He made with Abraham, “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Gen. 12:3)  Israel is also called Abraham’s offspring, and Paul makes it very clear—when false teachers were confusing covenants—27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” (Gal. 3:27-29) God gave the commandments to show His holy will for humanity, but that by itself saves no one; Israel of all people showed just how much the Law couldn’t justify much less fix our sinful condition.  They showed how much they needed the Christ to be the Lamb of God!  They, along with all the families of the earth, are blessed because God has united His original covenant people in the covenant-now-fulfilled in Christ, and people of every nation through the new covenant in the blood of Jesus.

For all who benefit from the covenant in Jesus’ blood, the blessings prove true, so that we can rejoice as the “daughter of Zion” (Matt. 21:5) and citizens of the “Jerusalem from above” (Gal. 4:26).  God has always wanted, and still desires the descendants of Israel to repent of their idolatry and see the Messiah He has sent, but He won’t save them apart from the Way, the Truth, and the Life [Jn. 14:6]—who is Jesus Christ.  So Paul continues,

17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.

This is the true reality for the Church: Peace with God, united together as fellow citizen with the saints and members of God’s household.  God preaches peace to us, and assures us of this truth.

While that rollercoaster ride is finished, our experience preaches another story.  For each of us, we struggled against the passions of our flesh which rear their ugly head in addiction, enmity, fits of anger, sexual sins, dissension, and rebellion against authority (to name a few).  Sometimes we are able to restrain our flesh, and other times we utterly fail.

The experience of the Christian Church on earth is similarly fraught with failure.  As one of four churches in town who bear the name Lutheran, it’s pretty clear how much we fail to live in that unity for which our Lord prays in John 17:11: “Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.”

If the future of our faith and the future of the Christian Church in the world depended on us, we would all be doomed.  But it is forever God who, out of His great love, saves us from destruction.  “Though with a scornful wonder, the world sees her oppressed/ By schism rent asunder, by heresy distressed/ Yet, saints their watch are keeping/ Their cry goes up, ‘How long?’”  The saints, and fellow members of the household of God rely on God’s faithful work.  His Church is:

20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

We can take comfort in God’s work alone.  It’s Him who pulled us up out from spiritual death and on the road to hell.  By grace we are saved through faith…”and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” (Eph. 2:9)  Why should we think that once He’s brought us near, that He’s going to leave it up to you to stay?  He has made you alive in Christ so that you know the heavenly perspective, the eternal view, and most of all that He brought you near and made peace by the blood of Christ.  You are baptized into Him.  Your sins are forgiven.  You have peace with God.  We have peace with God, and union with all the saints in Christ who believe this blessed Gospel. This is what God is bringing to pass, but will only be seen on the Last Day.  Until then, we hope in God, who alone is able to achieve this.  Remember, that it is only He who is able to bring people out of unbelief, up from the grave, and set them in the heavenly places to praise Him for eternity.  All glory and thanks be to God forever! Amen.

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

Readings: Amos 7:7-15 | Ephesians 1:3-14 | Mark 6:14-29

Text: Ephesians 1:3-14

What does God want to happen?  Well, get comfortable, because this is going to take a while.

 In all seriousness, God’s will is not an easy topic for us to consider because it’s so much greater than we can comprehend.  The Creator of Heaven and Earth rarely ever tells us what He’s doing in any given moment (He doesn’t post photos on Instagram).  There’s a lot that He does without involving or consulting us.  In response to that, we might say, “Well, God’s going to do what He’s going to do, so our part is just to deal with it.”  But that’s missing what God does make known about His heart and what He’s doing.

This first part of Ephesians is an ideal example of this.  Even though God is “the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God” (1 Tim. 1:17), He reveals some tremendous good news to you and me.

The Holy Spirit moved St. Paul to open this letter with this prayer, which is neatly organized around the Holy Trinity: What God the Father does, what God the Son does, and what God the Holy Spirit does (vv. 3-6, 7-12, 13-14).  Each portion concludes with a statement of praise: “To the praise of His glorious grace…to the praise of His glory…to the praise of His glory.”

And in these more manageable chunks, you and I are able to see the tremendous plan and work of God to reach His goal:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.

For us, we’re used to thinking about planning and preparation in terms of years. An Olympic gymnast has been practicing since she was 3 years old.   A successful businessman has been building his resume and reputation since his teenage years.  It depends on personal aptitude, decisions our parents made, resources we had or scholarships we received.

But how long has God been working toward achieving the goal of someone’s salvation? “He chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world.”  Literally from time immemorial, before God even said, “Let there be light,” (Gen. 1:3) His decision was to save you in body and soul through His Son, and that you would be counted as holy and blameless before Him.  Out of His magnificent love, He actually foreordained it all to take place—ancestry, events in world history, your place of birth, forming you in your mother’s womb, decisions of your parents, pastors and others who have shared the faith with you, experiences you’ve had including even some of your mistakes[1]—all of it, behind any scenes men are aware of, God worked it all so that you would be adopted by His grace.  Incredible to think that that and more was all orchestrated by the Almighty, for you to have the right to call Him “Father!”

This incredible accomplishment of God was achieved through the Beloved, His Son, Jesus Christ.  This is the name the Father declared at the Jordan River when all Three Persons of the Trinity announced the mighty divine work: 16 And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; 17 and behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’” (Matt. 3:16-17)

In the Father’s Beloved Son, Paul continues:

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

If the first part of the prayer about the Father’s work blew us away, the awe only intensifies here.  It would be a fine, reasonable thing if God worked to save the right kind of people.  You know, the “diamond in the rough,” those gems who people say restore their hope in humanity.  But that’s not how it really was.  “Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6-8)  And Christ Himself said to the upstanding chief priests, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you.” (Matt. 21:31) and after He had called a ruthless thief named Zacchaeus to salvation, He said, “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:10)

So where do you measure up?  There have been those who said that God elected people in view (technical term: intuitu fidei) of the faith they would have in the future.  The trouble with that logic is that either God saves people because of their own merit, or He could be accused of stacking the deck and rigging the whole game.  But the truth is more incredible than that: We are all natural-born slaves to sin, the Devil, and death (John 8:31-36).  None of us could work off our debt or escape from sin which ruled over us.

And this is where we need to realize that this isn’t just a measure of our morals.  Here, the sober person has no advantage over the drunk; the faithfully married over the sexual deviant; the nurse over the abortion doctor.  God’s Word makes it clear: “The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.” (Psalm 14:2-3)  Sin has permeated all of us from the heart outward.  It may flare up more in some than others, but it’s “out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22 coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” (Mark 7:21-22)  It doesn’t matter how right you feel, or how you compare to the next guy: You and I and every person is liable to the righteous judgment of God.

But God, seeing that, paid the price of your debt, and purchased your release: “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace.”  Completely undeserved, without even the thought of repayment, God in His love, has done this for you.  This He pours out upon you “in all wisdom and insight” because He also knows your heart and when you need to hear it, and how this good news will get through to you.  All of this together is the mystery of His will that He makes known to the Christian.  It was hinted at before, in types and shadows like the Flood, the Exodus, and the Temple, but the real deal when one knows and believes what God has done for him or her in Christ.  This is your treasure today.

But there is so much more to come!

11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory.

Zooming back out to the wide shot of God’s eternal purpose, you learn that God’s children also have an inheritance to look forward to.  It takes our mind away from the present worries and discouragement we feel, and the temptation and weakness we know all too well.  This inheritance gives us the confidence of Psalm 46:2-3: “Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.”

But at this point, you might say, What beautiful words these are, but how can we be sure of this?  These “spiritual blessings in the heavenly places” seem far less concrete than the world in which we live, putting food on the table and meeting the needs of those around us.

13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.

When you make a big purchase, like a house or a car, you’re asked to put a significant amount of money down. It gives assurance that you will make good on paying for the rest of it.  Well, far greater than even the purchase of real estate (which can burn up) or a car (which can break) is the inheritance of eternal life which God has secured for you.  In order to give you surety about His intention to complete your redemption on the Last Day, He gave you a “guarantee” or more accurately, a “down payment.”[2]  The Holy Spirit is the down payment which a Christian has from God.  Even though the Spirit is compared to a down payment, this is far more than a business transaction.  He seals the Christian with the Holy Spirit.  Seal marks authority and ownership, as it’s described in Revelation 7:3: “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.”  Your salvation is far too important to God—who created, redeemed, and sanctifies you—to leave up to your own ability.  So He commands His angels concerning you; He preaches His saving Word into your ears; He hold back the Last Day Judgment until all who would believe do. 

Through His work, the Holy Spirit both assures us of the truth of all the Father has promised in Christ (John 15:26), and keeps us in that one, true faith, because “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Phil. 1:8)

All that brings us back to where we started: What is God’s will?  There are many details we’re not sure of.  Yet, from this portion of His Word, He tells us that in every generation, every circumstance, for every person, it is our God’s will that every sinner heed His call to repent and believe, and that He whose eternal plans are fulfilled in your life, will also bring those to completion at last and for all eternity.  Consider this every time you ask the Lord, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” because hopefully now you can better appreciate what He does in answer to our prayer.

With all this our view, hear the benediction from St. Jude: “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, 25 to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.” (Jude 24)

[1] Consider the genealogy of Jesus Christ in Matthew 1:1-17, including the twists and turns in the lives of those through whom God preserved and brought forth His Son according to the flesh.

[2] Also could be translated as pledge or earnest money (ἀρραβών, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon)

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

Readings: Exodus 24:1–11 | 2 Corinthians 12:1–10 | Mark 6:1–13

Text: Exodus 24:1-11

In his day, Jesus of Nazareth made quite a name for himself. As being the one who healed those who were sick and afflicted, and casting out demons. At the very worst there were those like in Nazareth, who didn’t receive him, and he could do no many. Not many mighty works were done among them. But crowds were drawn to where He was, and they did follow. They came in great hope and expectation.

Well, as these crowds were gathered around Jesus at the beginning of his ministry in Matthew’s gospel, the beginning of Chapter 5, it says

“Seeing the crowds, Jesus went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him, and he opened his mouth and taught them.”

Well, this is the picture of Jesus that we’re more accustomed to. Jesus, the man who is also the Lord God, may be somewhere in the background. But I’m afraid that something is lost If we start our journey with Jesus with a modern caricature of him: Jesus, the man as our role model, or Jesus the man our life coach.  When you struggle to run the race, it’s this Jesus who Pats you on the back and gives you a glass of water and encourages you that it’s OK. You’ve got this.

You can see how absurd this can get when we go in that direction.  Well, thank God we actually read our Bibles and we have a clearer picture of Jesus, don’t we? We know that Jesus was no mere equal among men. He wasn’t just the brother of James and Joses and Judas.

We’ve read Exodus, haven’t we?  And we’ve seen God from a very different angle.

“Then he said to Moses, come up to the Lord, you and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and 70 of the Elders of Israel, and worship from afar. Moses alone shall come near to the Lord, but the others shall not come near, and the people shall not come up with him.”

This is clearly different from the Jesus who is surrounded by crowds who were thronging about him and who at sometimes he even had to get in the boat to avoid being crushed. Instead, here on Mount Sinai, God is not to be approached, certainly not touched.  The Lord establishes these boundaries around his holy presence. The people could not even touch the mountain lest they die.

The priests could come a little closer. They could handle the holy things of God, but only according to God’s explicit command.  Yet, even Nadab and Abihu, who were there that day, later perished when they offered strange incense before the Lord. (Numbers 10) Only Moses was permitted to see God face to face, and even in that, Moses exposure to God and his presence had to be mitigated, as it says in Exodus 33:

“Moses said, please show me your glory. And he said, I will make all my goodness passed before you, and will proclaim before you my name. The Lord and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy, on whom I will show mercy. But, he said, you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.

And the Lord said, behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock. And while my glory passes by, I will put you in the cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand, until I have passed. By then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.”

But why was this?

God’s presence is deadly. To sinners, as we’ll sing a little later in Holy, Holy, Holy (LSB 507). The Lord also says in Ezekiel 18, “the soul who sins shall die.”

And part of us knows this in our conscience. But there’s also a part of us that has greater say because of our sinful nature. That doesn’t really believe that we’ll die in God’s presence.  When we’re faced with something that we know is wrong, we put this unbelief into practice. God doesn’t really mind if I fudge the numbers a little bit on my taxes. After all, they’ll only waste it! Right?  How could he care if I made way too much food and had to throw out the rest? It can’t be too important to God.  And what does it matter if I go to a church with a little false doctrine? Maybe it won’t hurt me, or I know better than that.

The things which happened to Israel were written down, so we would know how real this is. From 1 Corinthians 10: “do not be idolaters, as some of them were as it is written. The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play. We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and 23,000 fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the destroyer. Now these things happen to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction on whom the end of the ages has come.”

God gave all of these very clear warnings about sin and the deadliness of sin. And it didn’t seem to reform the people.

But what God did do is he established sacrifice so that he could dwell in the midst of his people. The covenant that he established through Moses. There was a covenant established through death of a substitute: “Behold, the blood of the covenant, that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.”

These sacrifices that are described in Exodus and Leviticus, in gory detail, show this. These poor innocent animals, having their throats cut their blood drained out their bowels taken out, their fat burn on the altar. And what did they ever do to deserve that? we might ask. Well, it wasn’t preparation for your 4th of July barbecue!

It was the Lord giving this picture of what it takes for sin to be atoned for. We think in our conscience that we can somehow make up for the bad that we’ve done that we can silence that guilty voice in the back of our head by doing more good or just ignoring it.  Or maybe following someone who says that we’re good who maybe wears a collar and looks official and seems to act for God.

But the truth is, and the truth that our conscience tells us, is that sin demands a just retribution, and that’s what you see in the animals that are offered on God’s altar.

The difference came though when Christ did. John the Baptist looked to Jesus and said, “behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” And Jesus himself said later in the beginning of his sermon on the Mount. “I have not come to abolish the law given by Moses or the prophets But to fulfill them.”

So, behold, Jesus Christ. The righteous one. Who was Scourged, who was made to bear his own cross, bleeding, scorn, suffocating and dying. This isn’t some grotesque Netflix movie; this is what your sin and my sin justly deserve.

The Covenant under Moses was established by the blood—blood that was thrown on the altar and blood which was thrown on the people—and the blood, that of God sacrifice sanctifies what it touches. You have been sanctified by the sacrifice of God’s own son, the Lamb of God, who willingly went to the cross and suffered these things for your sake, so that you would not suffer them for yourself.

And his blood has been poured out on you. You have been baptized into his death and resurrection, and so all of that scourging and flogging, and rejection of Christ of Christ, calling from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” was for you.

All of those punishments have already been poured out upon the son of God for your sins. And that is how God wants to receive you through faith in this Christ who was offered up as your lamb as the one who was offered for the sins of the world. And that we may approach him believing and trusting in that Word.

God put all of it on him so that we could receive that piece so that we could stand in his presence in the presence that is even greater than what the children of Israel that day saw, it says in our reading that they saw God, “they saw the God of Israel. There was under his feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone like the very heaven for clearness.”

And while we might want some heavenly vision, we actually have something better because Jesus says in John Chapter 20, “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed,” and that’s us.

God calls us out of our own imaginations to behold the Lamb of God, Who walked in Nazareth, Who ascended into heaven, and Who will come again in glory. We see a greater glory of God there in the flesh of Jesus Christ.

And even better than the presence of the Moses and the priests and the Elders of Israel. They ate and drank in God’s presence, and he didn’t lay his hand on them.

But we have something even greater than that. When Jesus our high priest, “On the night in which he was betrayed took bread, He broke it and gave it to his disciples and said, take eat this is my body which is given for you. And in the same way also he took the cup after supper, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, drink of it all of you. This cup is the New Testament, the new covenant, in my blood, which is poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins. This do as often as you drink it in remembrance of me.”

In remembrance of the Lamb of God, who has offered up for your sins. The Lamb of God, who was raised for your justification, who gives you hope when your life is about to end. When the lives of your loved ones end, you know that it’s not actually over, because Jesus says, “whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.” And we believe this.

We believe that God has made his dwelling among us in his son, Jesus Christ. And that dwelling place is forever. It will not pass away.

And today we have the privilege of eating and drinking with God in his peace. And receiving that strength that he gives through this blessed sacrament.

And now the peace of God, which passes all understanding. Keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, Amen.

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Readings: Exodus 19:1–20 | 2 Cor. 8:1–9, 13–15 | Mark 5:21–43

Text: Exodus 19:1-20

How do we get to know one another?  Through a common bond at church or school?  That foundation of friendship, or in the case of our spouse of romance and affection, sets the stage for what we know about the other person.

What’s the basis on which we know the Lord?  For Israel it was the covenant.  Each time He introduces the covenant to His people, He starts with what He has done: “You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.”  The way the sons of Israel came to know the Lord was through His saving work.

  • We, like them, come to know Him through His saving work.
    • What’s the first way you came to know Him? Baptism as a child? Becoming acquainted as an adult in need of forgiveness?  Daily reminded of your dependence on His grace?
  • This sets the tone for His conversation with us:
    • But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (1 Peter 2:9-10)
    • Just like the people of Israel, we have been called to belong to God, and we come to know Him through His mercy to a scattered human race, lost in darkness.  But in Christ, we have a new identity: Child of God and child of light.
  • Even though we know His saving work more clearly, we still struggle to apply it day to day.
    • The Israelites were quick to say, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do.”  But did they really know to what they were committing?
    • In our confirmation vows, we pledge—with the Lord’s help—to remain faithful unto death and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall way from the Lord.  What trials we face that we couldn’t fathom ahead of time.
  • What can be done? 
    • The same thing which the Apostles did: “strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” (Acts 14:22)
    • When things get hard, should we give up and think we made a mistake by pledging our lives to God?  Or is that the very time in which the Lord wants us to give up on ourselves, our strength, our ways, our plans.  Rather, we ought to commit our lives to the God who made heaven and earth, and who graciously cares for us all.
  • He instructed the Israelites to consecrate or set themselves apart.
    • At that time, it meant to wash their garments, not touch the mountain, and to not go near a woman.
    • For us, we have a better washing, the waters of Baptism to which God called us again today: “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God.” (1 Peter 3:21-22)
    • While the Israelites were warned from touching the mountain, through the blood which Jesus offered, we are actually invited near to Him:
      • 18 For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest… 22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, 23 and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. (Hebrews 12:18-24)
      • That’s because the mountain to which we are called is not Sinai, but Calvary where the blood of Jesus was poured out for the sins of all.
  • The Israelites were to prepare themselves by not having intimate relations, and our bodily preparations—while not required—also prepare us to turn our full attention to what He is saying.  The Small Catechism urges us, “Fasting and bodily preparation are certainly fine outward training. But that person is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words: ‘Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.’”
    • Fasting from food may be helpful, but we ought to set aside whatever would detract our hearing of God’s Word.  Sometimes there’s some vocational conflict, like a parent who has to redirect their children in the pew, or a job that occasionally keeps you away from worship but otherwise provides for your family.
    • Bodily preparation is common sense things, which we apply to other areas of our life.  We get sleep before tests or long trips; we put down the phone while we drive.  How much more attention the Divine Service deserves, because this is the very place where heaven touches earth!

In Jesus Christ, we have come to a greater mountain, not one covered in thunder and smoke, but one where the once-for-all sacrifice for sins was made.  That took our sins away and the fear we have that God will condemn us.  Even though we do not see the consuming fire of God, may the Holy Spirit keep us in reverent fear and faithful devotion to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Readings: Exodus 17:1-7 | 2 Corinthians 6:1–13 | Mark 4:35–41

Text: Exodus 17:1-7

One of the perpetual pains of the Christian is that we must move on from the place where the Lord feeds us.  But it must happen because the place is temporary, and even the green grass (Mark 6:39) upon which the Lord fed the 5,000 withers and fades away.  The journey of this life must move on, and we must be dismissed from the Lord’s Table to go back into the world with all of its troubles.

So also, the Israelites moved on from the place where the manna was first given (although it went with them each day and met their need in the wilderness).  As much as we may look for permanent change, a lasting glimpse of the perfect, it also isn’t found among us.  You would think the people who saw manna and ate the quail which God provided on demand would have settled the matter: The Lord is God, His desire is for our good—to save and not to kill.

But as the people went out tribe by tribe from Sin, they came to a dry place called Rephidim.  But, the very name Rephidim is a reminder of the Lord who spreads His protection over His people, who supports and gives them aid.[1]  Willfully ignorant of what the Lord has already done for them so far, they attack Moses, demanding water, even accusing him of being the one who brought them out of Egypt to kill them.  They choose to attack the Lord’s servant in a way that makes Moses sound like a heartless monster: “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?”  Moses, you monster! Think of pain you’re causing mothers and shepherds!

This is what’s called an ad hominem attack—an attack against the man—and it’s unfortunately more common in the Church than we’d like to admit.  Before the rabble, Moses looks like a heartless jerk because of how one small part of the story is cast.  But the grumbling is actually just a mask for something else, and Moses puts his finger on it: “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?”  Surely there is no human prophet, apostle, or pastor who is without fault, but the attacks against the man in the office are more often than not a symptom of a faltering faith.

Many times, people have griped to me about some fault they saw in a previous pastor.  But behind the would-be flattery (He didn’t do it my way, but I’m sure you see things my way), is a challenge not to who is in the office, but a disagreement with God and putting Him to the test.

What does it mean to put God to the test?  Well, first it’s good to mention that tests aren’t always bad.  The Lord often puts us to the test, as I mentioned last week.  He tests what’s in our hearts by the trials He sends.  And faith which trusts in God’s promises and steps out in faith and a desire to please Him puts God’s faithfulness to the proof.  But putting the Lord to the test is when our sinful hearts hold onto the idea that we know better than the Lord in how He has arranged things.  In the Israelite’s case, it’s the Lord who’s made a mistake by bringing them into the wilderness, rather than teleport them straight from Egypt to Canaan’s shores.  How dare He cause us to hunger and thirst!  It’s the same attitude that says, how come God has arranged things this way in the Church and my life?  Why’s it so important to belong to a congregation when I might not like everyone in it?  I’ve worked so hard to live a good life, Lord, why do you keep making things so hard on me?  Why have you brought your faithful people into this time where seemingly nobody cares about your Word and they instead celebrate pride in something which you abhor (June is “LGBT Pride Month in the world)?

But putting the Lord to the test, versus trusting what He says is found in the outcome.  The heart that wants to put Him to the test is already in unbelief (toying with it, or perhaps even well on their way to being gone).  But how great the danger is!  Should we find ourselves in this unbelief, we’re on the precipice over the fires of hell!  And even though we may be unaware of this, the Lord knows full well and is crying for us to turn, lest we die.  Listen to His plea, while we will hear His voice, in Psalm 95:

      Today, if you hear his voice,

          do not harden your hearts, as at


as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,

          when your fathers put me to the


and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.

     10     For forty years I loathed that


and said, “They are a people who go astray

in their heart,

and they have not known my ways.”

     11     Therefore I swore in my wrath,

“They shall not enter my rest.”

It’s the hard heart which brings so much trouble and spiritual death.  Once the heart is hard, the Word of God, whether it’s in the pages of Scripture or preached by His messenger, the hard heart refuses to hear.  And it comes in a number of forms (let these be a warning to us!): avoiding the one who preaches (plugging our ears to what the Lord would say); choosing a different, adulterated Gospel that tells us that God is okay with us; joining the multitude of other jilted former Christians who can share stories of how they “used to go to church” but moved on.

Despite our unbelief, the Lord’s purpose remains unchanged: To turn us from unbelief to faith.  His Holy Spirit, at work in the Word, is able to save us from this abysmal end.  Today is the day He preaches to you, and if you hear His voice, thanks be to God because His saving work is being accomplished in you!  That day, He did give the people water at Massah and Meribah, but the Lord God refused to help them along in unbelief.  That would be tantamount to handing them the rope with which to hang themselves.

Instead, He sends His Spirit-filled Word to save us from our unbelief.  This is why He gives us His Holy Spirit: “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me…I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away.” (John 15:26—16:1)

The Apostle to the Hebrews explains,

Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, again he appoints a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted,

                        “Today, if you hear his voice,

                        do not harden your hearts.”

11 Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. 12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

14 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:6-16)

We can be eternally grateful that God give us over to our times of weakness and unbelief; but with a dedication greater than any on earth, He is always calling to us and calling to all who would hear His voice.

Let us pray:

O God, You justify the ungodly and desire not the death of the sinner. Graciously assist us by Your heavenly aid and evermore shield us with Your protection, that no temptation may separate us from Your love in Christ Jesus, our Lord. O God, protect the tempted, the distressed, and the erring, and gently guide them. By Your great goodness bring them into the way of peace and truth. Graciously regard all who are in trouble, danger, temptation, or bondage to sin, and those to whom death draws near. In Your mercy draw them to Yourself; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

[1] Brown, Francis, Samuel Rolles Driver, and Charles Augustus Briggs. Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977.

Funeral Sermon for Lenora P. Hanna (Schmidt)

Funeral of Lenora Pauline Hanna – June 17, 2021

Text: Psalm 139:7-18, 23-24

“In the Uncertainty of This Life, God is the Solid Rock upon Whom We Stand.”

This is where Lenora was raised.  She was born May 31, 1956, but soon after born from above by God in the precious waters of Holy Baptism in this congregation (at the old church on 2nd street).  Wally and Jean raised her in the Christian faith, and nearly 14 years later, Lenora made her own confession of faith on May 17, 1970 before this altar.

When young people make this confession before the congregation and, by God’s grace, vow to remain faithful to God until death, none of us knows what the future years will bring.  This life is full of uncertainties: future plans changing drastically, grave illness for a beloved spouse, marriages broken by divorce or death, and life ending suddenly.  All this and more are the things which break our bodies and crush our spirits.  Some of them come on gradually, and others hit out of the blue.

When these tragedies come, we long for some kind of answer, some comfort in understanding why, so that we can have some glimpse of good coming out of the evil.  But more often than not, the answers don’t come, or they’re not satisfying.  That isn’t to say God isn’t able to bring good out of evil [Genesis 50:20], but in the moment, we don’t know how that can be.  Why, when things were going so well—when she loved her family, she loved her job, had plans for a big family birthday party, when she had joined her sister, Betty, in coming back to church regularly, and was even looking forward to retirement next September—was Lenora’s life cut short?  The only answers we can find leave us weeping.

But there is still certainty even in this hour.  It doesn’t come from the chance and changes of one’s life, in the choices one makes or potentially dodging hereditary disease.  That certainty is from the Lord God who says to His children: “But now thus says the Lord, He who created you, O Jacob, He who formed you, O Israel: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.’” (Isaiah 43:1)  The Lord called her through His servant, Pastor Kratzke, as he said, “Lenora Pauline Schmidt, I baptize you in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  There in the baptismal waters, Almighty God gave her a treasure that outshines anything this world can imagine: union with His Son, Jesus Christ, in His death for all her sins and sharing in His victory over death!  God the Father adopted Lenora, and gave her the privilege to be called His beloved child.

Even though we don’t have answers for why Lenora’s life was ended so soon, God has given this sign to us: Lenora died on June 10th, the very day she was baptized in the Name of the Jesus 65 years earlier.  By this, I believe, the Lord is pointing us to where we can have certainty in these times: in His sure work that forgives sins, restores peace with God, and assures us of an open heaven and the resurrection to everlasting life.

In the midst of our days and because our sin darkens our understanding, we don’t always recognize and appreciate what a gift is delivered in Baptism.  It’s far more than a sterile, ancient rite of the Church.  It wasn’t appropriated from other religions just to have something unique to do.  Baptism is a gift which the Lord Jesus gave to the world after He died for the sins of all and broke the power of death and the devil.  Baptism is the good news, the Gospel of God, delivered through water, as the Apostle Paul tells us:

“For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:3-7)

God chooses to become the Heavenly Father of His children, and in that He is no slouch!  Earlier this morning, we prayed together a portion of Psalm 139, which beautifully illustrates the God who claimed Lenora in Holy Baptism.  And before I read it, I also want you to know that this isn’t just about her.  This is true for every one who believes in God’s work.  Lenora saw to it that her children were each given this very same treasure: Kenneth on April 3, 1982; Joseph on April 22, 1984; and John on December 26, 1999.

 So, listen to how intimately acquainted God, who made Himself your Father, is deeply concerned with each of His children’s lives:

7Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?

8If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!

9If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,

10even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.

11If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,”

12even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you.

13For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.

14I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.

15My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.

16Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.

17How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!

18If I would count them, they are more than the sand. I awake, and I am still with you.

No matter how far one has strayed, how estranged one has been from God their Father, how you may have even despised your Creator and the Lord who redeemed you with His blood—as many days as you have on this earth, God never stops seeking you.  He has known you since before your parents even did, and He knows your inmost being, and your life from beginning to end.  So knowing this treasure which God the Father desires for each of you, stop neglecting it, resisting it, and going on in darkness.  On that road, the only thing that’s certain is death which leads to judgment and hell.  That would break your Father in heaven’s heart, Who has done so much that you might know everlasting life.

The All-powerful Creator of the universe is seeking you out to keep you through this life, passing through the Judgment Day, and into eternal life.  This is how He is able to call you back when you stray, strengthen you when you’re ready to fall, wipe away your tears, and raise you from your graves.  And the conscience who trusts in this Gospel can gladly say,

23Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!

24And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!

Thanks be to God! Amen.

Third Sunday after Pentecost

Readings: Exodus 16:1-31 | 2 Corinthians 5:1–17 | Mark 4:26–34

Text: Exodus 16:1-31

Normally, the sermons follow the theme for the day set by the lectionary.  The lectionary is the schedule of Old Testament, Psalm, Epistle, and Gospel readings for a given day.  It’s a great tool which the Christian Church has used for centuries in conjunction with the shape of the Church year.  But I want the opportunity to teach the whole congregation the lessons which the group has been learning in Sunday Bible study. 

St. Paul teaches us that, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” (2 Timothy 3:16)  As we’ve been studying Exodus, it’s become clear that this has application for God’s people in every age—especially ours where Biblical literacy is even worse than English literacy.  What was recorded in the Old Testament isn’t to be forgotten, but rather viewed through the Cross.  St. Paul also explains, “These things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.” (1 Cor. 10:11)  Sadly, many of you have fallen into the habit of minimizing Sunday to the Divine Service alone, and neglecting the lessons of Bible study.  If there is some way we can make it so more of the congregation is present at Bible study, I’m all ears.

But I also don’t want you to miss out on the lessons which our Lord and Savior gives us in these Scriptures.  So, over the next four weeks, we’re going to sit at the feet of Jesus, while He teaches us from how He led the sons of Israel in the wilderness.  Our first stop comes after the Lord has brought out His people from Egypt.  With a strong hand and a mighty arm, with the might of the Ten Plagues, the Lord judged Pharaoh and made distinction between the Egyptians and the sons of Israel.  After the Lord brought them through the Red Sea on dry ground, but drown the host of Pharaoh, they saw their former oppressors dead on the side of the Red Sea and they sang: “Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea.” (Exodus 15:21)

With that refrain two months fresh in their minds, they come to the Wilderness of Sin.[1]  The whole congregation begins complaining: “Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”  Yes, this is the same group who possibly still had dust from the bottom of the Red Sea on the bottom of their sandals. They are actually thinking that death in Egypt as slaves would be preferable to their current situation. 

How quickly our affections turn away from God!  It’s easy to praise Him while things are going in our favor.  But that isn’t faith (or at least it isn’t faith which is being exercised).  It’s easy to confess that He is our God when He is doing things we like.  But, in order to see what’s really in our hearts, God makes things get hard and painful. Is He still going to be your God, or just an afterthought when your health fails?  When your mixed marriage goes south, are you going to choose to serve Him or please your spouse?  You may have everything you could want right now, but what about when the money dries up?  It’s in these wilderness times when the Lord exposes either the strength—or more often the weakness—of our faith.

We might want to look down on the Israelites and call them foolish because we can look on the facing page of our Bible how God had delivered them.  But never underestimate the weakness, forgetfulness, and fickleness of their sinful flesh and yours.

But listen to how the Lord responds to their grumbling!  No doubt it’s with far more patience that some of us would:

“Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather daily.”

Here in the wilderness, the Lord provides for the people in a visible and miraculous way.  He gives this miraculous bread from heaven.   He did this to teach us about His character is as our Father in heaven. Yet how often do we find ourselves doubting that?  We have so much knowledge of the resources we have at our disposal, that we get the idea we’re more in charge of our destiny.  As a testimony of this, we try to control procreation, engineer away scarcity, and trust that medical science can cheat death for us.

God allows this illusion to deceive us for a time, but then the reality hits again.  God hasn’t changed between then and now.  He still is ever the Creator of Life, the One who wisely provides for the needs of all, and Him who keeps our going out and our coming in forever more [Ps. 121]  What changes, like the Israelites, is our attitude toward His provision.  Now, we’re able to know far more about what He provides.  But what we do with that information is the problem: We worry.  We doubt He will provide enough.  We think the future depends on our calculations. 

14 And when the dew had gone up, there was on the face of the wilderness a fine, flake-like thing, fine as frost on the ground. 15 When the people of Israel saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. And Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat.

In order to humble us, God’s provision is a given in a way that we can only give Him glory.  The very name manna comes from their wondering what this bread was.  Try as we might 1make to be masters of our life (piously we call our fretting and hoarding “good stewardship”), God will show us that He is the one who provides what He will provide.  “Give us this day our daily bread” He teaches us to pray.  He puts it that way for a reason: so that every day, we would realize that everything in life is in His care.

The manna was a visual of this: They gathered what they needed each day, and when it came to the Sabbath rest, He provided for that as well.  And God continues truly to provide for all our needs.

Today, we’re no longer tested with not being able to get things on a Sabbath day, as nearly everything is available 7 days a week.  We are still tested, however, on two points, so that the Lord would know what is truly in our hearts:

First is the modern freedom of the Sabbath, that we are not forced to rest or socially pressured to go to church.  When we’re given the choice, the devil and our sinful flesh are right there with excuses.  It’s been a pretty good week.  I’ve got family coming in town and I don’t want to seem a bad host.  I’ve just got so much to get done, how can I stand to lose half the day?  And you can look around to see what that freedom has resulted in.  Our daily life is just so much more satisfying that we want more of it, and lose our appetite for the good portion which will not be taken away for eternity.

So the lesson from God providing double on the day before the Sabbath is that we too ought to plan our week around the rest He gives us on Sunday.  He says, “See! The Lord has given you the Sabbath” (v. 29) because it is actually His gift to provide us with more than the stuff we need to keep this temporal life rolling.  He is saying our lives are built on being children of God for eternity as well as today.

The other test of our hearts is what we do with the daily bread we receive from God, especially the money. There are so many expenses, so many ways to spend money from coffee stands to good deals online, that it seems to us there’s never enough money for everything.  Our deceitful hearts focus on how much money, but don’t notice the priorities we choose.  The Patriarchs Abraham and Jacob, before they were ever commanded, freely chose to give a tenth of what they had to the Lord. For Israel, that translated into sacrifices, temple furnishings, and provision for the priests.  Today, the money which God’s people offer to Him carries on His work in this congregation and the Church at large.  When it comes to giving, St. Paul recalls the manna as assurance that God’s provision is more faithful than we can judge: 13 For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness 14 your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. 15 As it is written, ‘Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.’” (2 Cor. 8:13-15)

And finally, together with all these lessons, the manna itself recalls the full provision of God which became manifest in His Son, Jesus Christ. This is the dialog that happened after the Feeding of the Five Thousand in John 6:

31 tOur fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’ ” 32 Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34 They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” 35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”

In this way, it comes back around so that we see ourselves as those for whom God is providing in the wilderness.  We are just as needy…and prone to foolishness…as the Israelites.  But with the Holy Spirit’s help, He makes us mindful of how desolate this world is in comparison to the glories which are to be revealed to us in the age to come [Rom. 8:18].  He also makes us mindful of true hunger and its remedy. The Israelites had hungry stomachs, which the manna satisfied.  But underlying that is the spiritual hunger we feel.  And in that, we’re not all at the same place.  Some of us are acutely aware of our spiritual hunger and take heart in what the Lord says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” (Matt. 5:6).  Others are more comfortable and feel as though they’re fairly strong.  And to all those called by the Gospel, He gives not just bread, but “The bread of heaven which gives life to the world…I am the Bread of Life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in Me shall never thirst.”  This is what He is doing for you when He feeds you at the altar.  “What is it?” Manna?  “Take eat; this is My Body, broken for you”  “Take drink; this is My Blood, shed for you.”  It is both miraculous and tangible, and in this holy food, He feeds you with what you need for the nourishment of your soul.

From this account of the Bread of Heaven, we learn how our Father in heaven rebukes our grumblings and our doubts, and yet in steadfast love provides for us.  Recognizing this, may we receive our daily bread with thanksgiving!  But still more He shows us the spiritual wilderness in which we find ourselves, and cares for our souls.  In response to His glorious grace, let us stand and sing the prayer, “Feed Thy Children, God Most Holy” on page 774.

Feed Thy children, God most holy;
Comfort sinners poor and lowly.
    O Thou Bread of Life from heaven,
    Bless the food Thou here hast given!
As these gifts the body nourish,
May our souls in graces flourish
    Till with saints in heav’nly splendor
    At Thy feast due thanks we render. (LSB 774)

Text: © 1941 Concordia Publishing House. Used by permission: LSB Hymn License no. 110004659

[1] This is a proper name. It’s just a coincidence that it matches the English word.