The Transfiguration of Our Lord (2 Peter 1:16-21)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR
The Transfiguration of Our Lord + February 26, 2017
Text: 2 Peter 1:16-21

On the Mount of Transfiguration, Peter, James, and John have a great experience.  They saw Jesus transfigured before their very eyes, so that “his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light.”  They saw Moses and Elijah speaking with Him, and heard the voice of the Father from the glory cloud.  Incredible!
But they did not do what people do today and write a book about their personal experience—Jesus is For Real or I Saw His Glory!  And they also didn’t write a book about how you too can have a mountaintop experience and see Jesus—Six Days to See Jesus, or In the Cloud: How to Listen to the Majestic Glory.[1]
This is what Peter wrote about the Transfiguration:
16 For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” 18 we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. 19 And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed[2], to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts
Peter doesn’t base his testimony on high and holy experiences.  He doesn’t base it on feelings of euphoria that he felt as the cloud covered them.  He certainly doesn’t suggest that believers should strive to attain the stature to be with Jesus in a way that others are not.
Instead, Peter points to the prophetic Word, the Scriptures—“to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place.”  In this way, the religion of Jesus is open to all equally—men and women, infants to elderly, new believers and those raised in the faith.  You don’t need to be Muhammad in a cave, Buddha under a Bodhi tree, or sense a “burning in your bosom” (Mormons).  Don’t believe the Gospel on the basis of something in you; believe the Gospel on account of God who doesn’t lie and His Word which is true.  “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased. Listen to Him.”  Hear His voice and follow Him.  The mark of a Christian is one who listens to God’s Word and believes what it says about Jesus Christ.
Many times we find ourselves looking for God apart from His Word.  Why does God let evils befall us?  Why doesn’t He shake our indifferent loved ones out of their unbelief?  If I could just feel God’s presence or have some sign from Him then I would be comforted!  Maybe if I worship God through ornate rituals I’ll grow closer to Him.  Martin Luther had a phrase for this.  When you look for God outside of His Word, what you find is that God hides Himself.  The so-called “hidden God” is not a comforting one, because there you find only a holy and mighty judge.  If you look for God in your emotions or reason or transcendent experiences, you are effectively building a Tower of Babel, making your own high mountain with which to commune with God.  But God will only reveal Himself through His Word, because He is the one who comes down from heaven—not the other way around.
If the Gospel were only open to those who had a certain mystical experience, it would truly be a sad thing.  This is what drives people to question their faith when they’re told they must speak in tongues to know they’ve been “baptized by the Holy Spirit.”[3]  This is what causes people to think they haven’t been with God if they can’t feel it in worship.  This is not Christianity; it is the devil’s church where the ancient serpent teaches people to look inside and despise the prophetic Word of God.
Jesus had an important message for Thomas when He said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”[4]  In that way, Jesus is encouraging all His brothers and sisters to be blind to what their eyes see.  Like blind people, the primary sense for our faith is hearing.  We find God in His Word—listen to Him, listen to the prophetic Word.  The flip side of that is don’t put your trust in your personal experience, because God does not promise to be there.
Truly, the experience of the Transfiguration was important for Peter, James, and John.  It was necessary for them to see it and bear witness that it happened.  But as Peter explains, “We have the prophetic Word more fully confirmed.”  The experience only confirmed what the Scriptures had said—that Jesus was indeed the Son of God, “the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily”[5] and that He is the one whom Moses and the Prophets spoke.[6]
In the same way, the different experiences you have may differ from other Christians, but all of them ought to more fully confirm what the Scriptures say.  If you look up at the cross at church and suddenly it hits you, “That was for me!”  Praise God because that is what the Scriptures say.  If you are moved to tears or filled with joy at one of the hymns we sing, all glory to God because it confirms what the Word of God says to you.  If you come through to the other side of a time of deep anguish and pain, instead of looking for what steps or sayings helped you along the way, give glory to the God who wasn’t lying when He said, “I will never leave you or forsake you” and “Cast your burden on the Lord, and He will sustain you.”[7]  In your testimony about Jesus, it’s not so much about sharing what Jesus has done in your life as your life being confirmation of what the Bible already said to be true.
With the devil and our sinful nature always trying to lure us into glorifying man instead of God, it’s a good thing Peter didn’t write a book about his experiences.  Someone might try and make him the first pope.[8]  But Peter won’t have it, because it isn’t about him or James or John.  It’s about Jesus, and the testimony that comes to each of us in the prophetic Word.  That is the lamp which shines in the darkness of the world and the darkness of our hearts, so that with Peter, James, John and every believer, we may truly see Jesus.  Amen.
μῦθος – narrative, more often than not false (especially with σεσοφισμένοις before it)
γνωρίζω – to make known (cf. Hebrew YDA, Ex. 24:12)
ἐξακολουθέω – Follow, pursue
the power and coming – Power and appearance (Parousia)
ἐπόπται γενηθέντες – We became eyewitnesses
μεγαλειότης – majesty (cf. Luke 9:43, while the crowds are marveling at the exorcism, Jesus tells them about His suffering and death)
We were with Him on the holy mountain – some religions of the world set apart the leader.  Muhammad was in the cave and heard from the angel.  Buddha his moment of enlightenment as he sat under the Bodhi tree.
But Peter and the other Apostles do not set themselves apart.  We have something firm, reliable, and certain: The prophetic Word
To which you do well to pay attention to – the religion of Jesus is not one of mountain-top personal experiences.  (quote from American Christianity on Mysticism)  It is for all people alike and comes through the Word.
His certain Word speaks to each of us, where as a mystical experiences are personal and vary.  Say we were to find God in an experience, each person would find their own version of God (like the Blind Men and Elephant metaphor of Indian origin).
But God is One and our Lord is true, and that is what He gives us in His Word.  We dare not venture beyond His Word unless we want to lose our certainty.
The dark place is our hearts and the world.
Peter, James, and John all saw it.  There were witnesses to back up each other’s story.  It truly happened.  Moreover, their testimony is recorded in three Gospels.
[1] There is something called the Gospel of Peter, but it was not written by Peter and it claims that Jesus felt no pain during his passion and that his divinity left his bodily “shell” before death (similar to the Quran’s claim about Jesus’ death).
[2] English Standard Version, 2016 edition.  Previous editions had: “we have something more sure—the prophetic word…” The Greek βεβαιότερον (bebaioteron) could be substantive (we have something more certain) or descriptive (the prophetic word [which is] more fully confirmed).
[3] The teaching of the Pentecostal churches, see also the movie “Jesus Camp”
[4] John 20:29
[5] Colossians 2:9
[6] Deuteronomy 18:18, 2 Samuel 7:12-14, Isaiah 52:13—53:11
[7] Joshua 1:9, Psalm 55:22
[8] The Roman church did.

Balancing the Scales with Grace (Matthew 5:38-48)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR
Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany + February 19, 2017
Text: Matthew 5:38-48

It’s the way of justice, the way of accounting, and the way of nature.  An eye for an eye, reconcile every transaction, every action has an equal and opposite reaction.  That’s fine for crime and punishment, economics, and science, but not fine when it comes to God.
In the Kingdom of Heaven, throw out all of your learning and experience of how things should balance.  Quit trying to keep track of what goes into which column.  It just doesn’t fit.
Here’s what happens when we do try to make the scales balance:
We think God blesses us because of our obedience.  When I go to church, everything just seems to go better!  That’s true as far the benefit of receiving the Word and Sacrament, but God is not looking to your faithfulness as reason to bless you.  Remember the catechism, “All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me.”[1]  Or even better in the words of our Lord, “He makes his son rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”
The other half of that is we ask, “What did I do to deserve this?” when things go bad.  We try to connect a broken down car, a rebellious child, or severe pain with some dark secret God has found out.  If God indeed renders back to a person according to what we deserve, woe to us!  As the psalmist cries, “If you should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?”[2]  Or for that matter, if God is putting out eyes, who could see?!  The Psalmist continues, “But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.”[3]
Rather than giving us what we deserve, this is how God handles our sins.  Look back to the Introit we prayed at the beginning of service:
“The Lord is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always chide,
nor will he keep his anger forever.
He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.” (Psalm 103:8-10)
Instead of scales, when it comes to the Kingdom of heaven, we should picture the beam of the cross.   Are you looking for things to measure up?  The cross is where God settles up with humanity: “In Christ God reconciled the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them.”[4]  That’s where God brought all things to bear.  All human sin met all God’s wrath and the end tabulation was mercy for God’s enemies, even more than that—adoption as children with a heavenly inheritance.
But because God has quelled His wrath and canceled your debt, He is neither out to reward you for your Christian walk nor search you out as a fraud.  Instead, He has become your heavenly Father through Jesus Christ.  What makes Him a Father is that He begets children—Jesus in fact and you through faith.  You have become a child of God, and that means more than being reconciled.  It means learning the ways of Your Father.
Living in the midst of a generation that demands its rights be respected and its personal whims be catered to, that is not the way of children of God: “Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you…Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
Why?  Because for God, He has set aside what people deserve and replaced it with the grace of the cross.  Out of the world, He has made a Kingdom of people whose worthiness doesn’t add up and who know a God whose abundant kindness is lavished on even His enemies.
By virtue of your Baptism, the cross which marked you as one redeemed by Christ the crucified also marks you as one who sacrifices for those who may not even fully appreciate it.  The cross marks you as one for whom it doesn’t add up.  It doesn’t make rational, worldly sense to not retaliate, to do good to bullies, to give to wretched beggars who can never pay you back.
Someone once wrote, “You cannot comprehend the deepest love God has for you until you realize that he has the same love for the person or people you most despise.”[5]  It’s true because that’s the love with which God loved you, and continues to bless you with all these undeserved benefits—“who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.”[6]
Rejoice and live as God’s children, seeing the world not through the eyes of justice but through the mercy of the cross.  He has even made you perfect before your Father in heaven, through Jesus Christ your Lord and Savior.  Amen.
[1] Luther’s Small Catechism, Creed, 1st Article (
[2] Psalm 130:3
[3] Psalm 130:4
[4] 2 Corinthians 5:19
[5] Attributed to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, but source is unverified.
[6] Psalm 103:3-5

St. Valentine (Circuit Winkel) (Matthew 5:38-48)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR
St. Valentine (Circuit Winkel) + February 14, 2017
Text: Matthew 5:38-48

We know what we’ve heard about Valentine’s Day since we were kids.  It’s about love.  But as with most things of God which the world gets a hold of, it gets turned into a human parody of the real thing.
The legend of St. Valentine is an example of a lot of “fake news” (as they’re calling it lately). It’s based on a story about a martyr with very little detail other than he confessed Christ before the Emperor and was killed for it.  It is also said that he healed his jailer’s daughter, resulting in he and his household believing in the Lord and being saved.  As for valentine notes, romantic love, and buying chocolates, these are all inventions of at least a century later.  But I doubt that Cupid will be standing in the unemployment line any time soon.
If the legend of the healing of St. Valentine’s jailer is true, it’s a beautiful example of what Jesus says in the Gospel, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”  That he would show compassion even to those who are about to carry out his death sentence!  What an example to follow!
What an example for pastors to follow!  When I was about to leave for seminary, Pastor Carl Fischer (of blessed memory) sat down with me to impart the single most important lesson he could from his many years of service.  He said, “Love your people.”  That was it, but there’s a lot in those words.  I couldn’t really appreciate that wisdom until after completing seminary and being bestowed with the yoke of the Lord.
Yet those words weren’t just Pastor Fischer’s, gleaned from years of experience.  They were the Lord’s words, and they are the Lord’s words to each of us.
Certainly You, Lord, were an example to us of how to love—bearing shame, punishment, and anguish all for things you didn’t do.  How you prayed from the cross, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do!”[1]  And it’s not even that your example of compassion made them realize the evil of what they were doing!
Yet You did it all out of true love—the kind of love which would sacrifice all for the ungrateful and cold, for even your enemies that never cease their hostility!
But how can we follow Your example, Lord?  It’s too much for lowly sinners, men of dust to achieve.  We don’t have it in us to bear reproach for your name and keep praying for the very people who insult You and walk away from you because of personal preferences or sins they don’t want to leave behind.  We don’t have the patience to wait for them to be converted and see the error of their ways and to apologize.  We would rather surround ourselves with friends and brothers than to seek out those who refuse to even talk to us.
Yet in spite of our weakness, You have made your Son to rise upon us who are evil.  You have declared to us through the mouth of a sinner, “Your sins are forgiven.”  You have displayed that love which transcends heaven and earth even to us.  Though we are unworthy to have you come under our roof, You graciously visit us in this place with your Body and Blood!  You have made us an example—as recipients of Your love.  We have known the example of Your love personally!
You have made us sons of our Father who is in heaven, and You create in us a clean heart and renew in us the joy of Your salvation.[2]  It’s Your love, Lord, not ours.  You put it in our hearts, and daily renew it.  Only through You can we love your people—not as our weak flesh would love, but with that love which has brought even your worst enemies peace and eternal salvation.  Amen.
[1] Luke 23:34
[2] Psalm 51

Humanity Recreated in Christ (Matthew 5:21-37)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR
Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany + February 12, 2017
Text: Matthew 5:21-37

Since Jesus said, “I have come not to abolish the Law or the Prophets, but to fulfill them,”[1] we are called as Christians to take a whole new look at the Old Testament because, since the Christ came, it’s no longer possible to rightly understand what God was saying unless we now see it through Jesus.
It’s enriching to look back on the Old Testament and see Christ foreshadowed—the true Passover Lamb being God’s own Son to save from death (1 Cor. 5:7), the serpent on a pole prefiguring Christ on the cross (John 3:14-15), or the flood imagery now fulfilled in the waters of Holy Baptism (1 Pet. 3:20-21).  It’s truly beautiful to see how God was at work in these places and others, and how in His Son the salvation wasn’t just for the Israelites, but for “everyone who believes in Him.” (John 3:15)  In the words of the Apostle in Colossians 2, “These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.”[2]
But a more challenging task is to see how the Ten Commandments are fulfilled in Christ.  Nevertheless, the Law is exactly where our Lord takes us after this revolutionary statement about the Scriptures.
To be sure, there are some misguided attempts to reinterpret the Ten Commandments.  One is to say that, because the Law is fulfilled by Jesus, it gives us permission to be law-less.  “You have heard it was said you shall not commit adultery.”  But I say to you, God didn’t know how much same-sex couples love each other and have committed, monogamous relationships.  Now go love whomever you feel like.
Another attempt to understand Christ and the Law is to say that He intensified the severity of the Law so that we ought to go hacking off limbs and immediately excommunicating anyone who has been divorced.
No, to rightly understand Christ fulfilling the Law, we have to see Jesus alone as the Son of God, Jesus alone as the Son of Man, and Jesus alone as Israel.  Starting with Jesus Christ, God establishes a new ethic for mankind.
This is what the new ethic looks like:

  • Men should not have wrath toward each other. Instead, they should come together reconciled because God Himself reconciled even His enemies to Himself.
  • Adultery and divorce are unthinkable because marriage is a reflection of the faithful and everlasting union between God and His Church.
  • Oaths are unnecessary for people who reflect the God in whom there is no variation or deceit.[3] Besides, the future is fully in God’s hands, isn’t it?

This ethic is altogether good.  But it’s also beyond our reach.  The interpretation of the Law cannot be adapted to fit the sinful Old Man.  There’s no reform school or boot camp you can send Old Adam to make him into the person the Lord describes here.  He can only be dealt with by the jailer, the butcher, and the devil.[4]  In short, the best thing that can happen to the old nature is for it to die.
When the Law is reexamined through Christ, it is not merely about outward action; it requires a new heart.  This new heart begins in Jesus, the Man free of sin, who needed no Law to rebuke Him.  Yet, God also promised through the Prophet Ezekiel that this would happen not just for His Son, but for all His people:
19 And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, 20 that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God.[5]
This is what happens in you through Baptism.  There in the font, God begins a transformation in you.  Think of it as a heart transplant that takes your whole life to complete.  When you are baptized into Christ, God takes away your old heart, the heart of stone that refuses to change, and it dies with Christ.  You are raised with Christ and given a new heart, a heart of flesh the way God always made flesh to be.  For the rest of your baptized, believing life, He is at work in you so that you are renewed after the image of your Creator—the image of Christ.
So, it’s not about changing our outlook or working harder to be more moral people.  We need more than a rulebook, as Paul points out in Galatians 3: “if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law.”[6]  We need righteousness, and that comes through the death and resurrection of Jesus.  The real difference is found in God’s work in everyone who is rooted in Christ by faith.
Now listen to these words as words that are fulfilled in Him and words that are fulfilled in you through faith:
21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. 23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. 26 Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.
27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.
31 “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
33 “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ 34 But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.
To Christ, who is our righteousness, be all the praise and glory.  Amen.
[1] Matthew 5:17
[2] Colossians 2:17; said after Paul discusses the relationship between circumcision and Baptism, as well as food laws (vv. 11-16)
[3] Romans 5:9-10; Ephesians 5:31-32; James 1:17
[4] Verses 25, 29-30, 37 (see footnote on “evil”)
[5] Ezekiel 11:19-20
[6] Galatians 3:21

Distinguishing Law and Gospel (Matthew 5:13-20)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR
Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany + February 5, 2017
Text: Matthew 5:13-20

C.F.W. Walther once wrote, “The true knowledge of the distinction between the Law and the Gospel is not only a glorious light, affording the correct understanding of the entire Holy Scriptures, but without this knowledge Scripture is and remains a sealed book.”[1]  The Gospel reading today is a wonderful illustration of that.
13 “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.
14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
It’s commonly thought that these words are instructions on how to be a good disciple.  What a strong presence the people of God are in the world!  Gee, the world ought to be grateful to have us.

  • Actually, these are some of the harshest words of Law because they show us how far we miss the mark, individually and as the Church.
  • The Law always accuses us because it exposes our sin. “By works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.”[2]
  • Because of our sinful flesh, the Law gives no power to do what it commands. It can only bring looming judgment and destruction.  Even if the Law commands us to love God and our neighbor as ourselves, it has no power to change our heart.  In fact, it can only arouse our sinful rebellion: “The Law…said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died.”[3]

What Jesus says next is the nail in the coffin for all those who aspire to be salt and light on their own:
17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
The seriousness of God’s Law has not changed one wit from Old Testament to New.  Anyone who tells you that God has become more friendly just because you don’t see fire and brimstone falling from the sky is being a false prophet.
That also means that heaven is no more within our reach than it was before.  Jesus did not come to show us a better way to live, or to unlock for us the power to meet the Law’s demands so we could escape its peril.
Jesus came to fulfill the Law in the only way that could help sinners—by being condemned by it as a sinner.  Jesus became all of your sin, as it is written, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”[4]
That’s the Gospel: not that God has lessened the force of the Law, but that He has answered it for us in His Son.  Think back to the beginning of the service with Confession and Absolution.  The exhortation was, “If we say we have no sins, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us, but if we confess our sins God is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”[5]  That’s from First John chapter 1.  A few sentences later, John writes, “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous One.”[6]  The only way to enter the Kingdom of heaven is through faith in Him.  
It’s on account of all this that our Lord and Savior says, “You are the salt of the earth…You are the light of the world.”  Your saltiness is not that you are more righteous than the rest of the earth, but that you have been called by God to repent and believe in His Beloved Son.
You are the light of the world not in and of yourself, but you have been joined to the true Light of the World.[7]  He has exposed all the darkness of your heart and works, and knowing them all, He shed His blood for you.  Through Him working in you with forgiveness (a clean conscience before God and grace for those who sin against you), mercy (acts of love for your neighbor), and hope (fearless in the face of earthly turmoil and even death), those around you will give glory to the Father in heaven.  Amen.
What Jesus is saying here is that those who follow Him, Christians, are the thing which preserves the earth.  If they lose their Christ quality, they’re no different from any of the rest of the world.  As the light of the world, God’s children are held up as an example to the people of the world as emissaries of their heavenly Father.
Now, the traditional application of that to us is that we should always be distinct from the world, and that we should live in a glass house, lest God’s reputation be tarnished by our bad example.  So, go out there and be good Christians!  Amen.
What that gave you was nothing but Law.  Do this and God will be pleased; don’t do it and you won’t measure up.  Now, there are two ways to respond to the Law: pride or despair—either you hear the Command and say, “What a good boy am I!” or “I’m so terrible, why even bother!”  If you’re proud of your Christian “walk,” this next part is for you:
17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
When Jesus came, the Law didn’t get any easier; it actually got harder, even impossible for us to keep.  So, strange as it sounds, when you hear God’s Law, He intends for you to despair—not of ever being received by Him, but of gaining His favor by anything in you (your good intentions or your noble works).  This is why St. Paul speaks so harshly to the Galatians: “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery…I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.”[8]  Strong words!  As strong as “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees you will most certainly not enter the Kingdom of heaven.”
The only way to have a clean conscience before God is to trust in someone else.  Think back to the beginning of the service with Confession and Absolution.  The exhortation was, “If we say we have no sins, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us, but if we confess our sins God is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”[9]  That’s from 1 John chapter 1.  A few sentences later, John writes, “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous One.”[10]
The Righteous One is a title that only Jesus can bear.  He is the Man born without the inherited sin, and He is the only Israelite who ever kept the Law of God in both letter and spirit.  These next couple weeks, the Gospel readings will be from this section of Matthew, called the Sermon on the Mount.  Jesus is the only one who has a right to point fingers at us and preach the Law because He is never implicated by it.  But again, this is still the Law to you.
The Gospel is that this Righteous One was counted guilty on your behalf.  He who is the epitome of righteousness and a true Son of God, was counted the most wicked sinner who has ever lived.  He was condemned as an idolater, a blasphemer, an insurrectionist, a murderer, an adulterer, crucified with thieves, stirring up people with his lies, and covetous of the position of others.[11]  He was condemned for you, and for all the evil of your heart, lips, and hands.
It is through the gift of faith in Him that God looks at you and passes over the just sentence.  Though your unrighteousness reaches to the heavens, you are counted as righteous as holy Jesus, your Savior.  “Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness.”[12]  Put your name in there, because it’s true: “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered, Blessed is the man against who the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.”[13] (Nothing to hide from God about)
It’s through this working of the Word through Law and Gospel that God makes us salt and light.  You are the salt of the earth not because you never make a misstep, but because you, a sinner, repent and believe in Jesus Christ.  You are the light of the world because God has made you part of His new creation of little Christs.  It’s His light shining through you (forgiveness, hope, prayer)
But as soon as we run into the idea that we are the light and salt, Jesus sends in the Law.  Oh, you think you’re all that and a bag of righteous potato chips?  I am more.  You think you’ve kept the Commandments?  While you drifted off during the sermon about how great a hamburger would be, My heart never wavered from My Father—even for a moment.
Look to the Righteous One (expand on Confession and Absolution verse, 1 John 1-8-10).  He’s not only the guilt offering for our sin, but also the substitute righteous one, the perfect Law-keeper.
[1] Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel, Thesis IV
[2] Romans 3:20
[3] Romans 7:7b-9
[4] 2 Corinthians 5:21
[5] 1 John 1:8-9, quoted in LSB 151
[6] 1 John 2:1 (see also v. 2)
[7] John 8:12
[8] Galatians 5:1, 3-4
[9] 1 John 1:8-9, quoted in LSB 151
[10] 1 John 2:1 (see also v. 2)
[11] John 8:48, 58-59; Luke 23:5; Mark 15:7-11; Matt. 27:38; Luke 11:53-54; Matt. 27:18
[12] Genesis 15:6
[13] Psalm 32:1-2

Church in the Wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:18-31)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR
Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany + January 29, 2017
Text: 1 Corinthians 1:18-31

We know a lot of stuff about the Bible, and about the Gospel, right?  We know God, or we’d like to think.  Maybe a better way to put it is in the words we just confessed in the creed: I believe in one God—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  When it comes to the Infinite God who dwells in unapproachable light, what we as creatures think we understand isn’t really that much.  That’s because, as Paul quotes from Isaiah 29, God says that He will humble our knowledge so that He can teach us His own:
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” (Isaiah 29:14.  Literally, God says He will utterly destroy[1] the wisdom of the wise, and He will reject and render void[2] human understanding.)
But in order that we better comprehend what this looks like, let’s turn in the Old Testament to the story of Naaman, the Syrian.  Turn to page 311 in the pew Bible and follow along: 2 Kings 5:1-14.
In foreign affairs, if you’re going to another nation, seeking something great, you would go to the King.  There’s a protocol for these things.  Start from the top, one nobleman flattering another noble with an official letter.  In proper foreign relations, you would also bring some kind of expensive gift to honor that leader and thank him for his benevolence.  Instead, poor, sick Namaan almost starts a war.
Moving from the realm of politics to religion, Naaman dutifully goes to see Elisha the prophet to be healed.  Now, granted, this isn’t the great prophet Elijah; it’s his successor.  But maybe he’ll still be able to do something.  Now, we all know that when a holy man does something related to his god, he chants obscure things, perhaps burns an offering, and draws on arcane powers to heal whatever is sick.  Instead, Elisha’s messenger opens the door and relays the message to go wash in the muddy Jordan seven times and be clean.
After being embarrassed and almost starting an international incident, Naaman is himself insulted because his visit to the “prophet in Israel” looks like such a bust.  It doesn’t meet his expectations of what a religious encounter should be.  What kind of wild goose chase did this little Israelite girl lead me on!
But this isn’t a story about what is reasonable or rational.  It’s a story about God and the powerful working of His Word.  Thank God for Naaman’s servants who pointed out, “My father, it is a great word the prophet has spoken to you; will you not do it? Has he actually said to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?”
So, St. Paul writes,
20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
God humbles us by His wisdom, and brings what we think we understand into submission under His Word.  Yes, we know the foolishness of the cross and how those who refuse to believe think the Gospel is a crutch for the weak.  But sometimes we approach God with our reason like Naaman, only to have our thinking turned on its head.
Consider what pastors are.  We would like them to be sagely, omnipresent, mindreaders, great orators, and by all means grow the church exponentially.  After all, doesn’t Church history have great examples of the apostles and saints?  People came from miles around to hear Martin Luther preach, and people still fondly remember the great oration of Billy Graham.  Isn’t there a holy glow around the pastor you had growing up, who always seemed to be there at just the right time?
Yet like Naaman experienced, you don’t get Jesus or St. Paul in the pulpit; you get a messenger.  You get an ordinary man.  Nevertheless, the Lord has put His Word in your pastor’s mouth, and about this man the Lord Himself says, “The one who hears you hears me.”[3]  Because God puts His Word in this man’s mouth, He also says that you should obey him because he keeps watch over your souls, that you should show him double honor, and give this man just wages for his labors (Hebrews 13:17, 1 Timothy 5:17-18).
And because God has put His Word there, He promises to do great things—in baptizing and administering the Lord’s Supper, in teaching Bible study and confirmation, in shut-in visits and your pastor’s prayers for you.  In this ministry, God will accomplish more than we can imagine because the “foolishness of God is wiser than men.”
Another place that God surprises us is regarding worship.  To us worship should be directed toward God with our praises, our voices, and our works of devotion.  “How great is our God, sing with me how great is our God…”  It should be majestic, yet also give us a tingly feeling that God is among us.  Worship should set us on fire like the finale of a rock concert, motivate us like going to a pro-life rally, and give us the sense of unity you get from going to a candlelight vigil.
But what has the Lord actually said?  “Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven….For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”[4]  God is where His Word is preached and believed.  There heaven is opened to contrite sinners, the Holy Spirit is at work bringing forth faith and its fruits, the Body and Blood of God’s Son are received on our tongues, we sing the Word of God and meditate on His eternal truth, and we build one another up in humble yet powerful ways by sharing His Word.
Our German ancestors in the faith had a name for this.  They called it Gottesdienst (God’s Service), which is where we get the name Divine Service.  Worship is God’s service to us, not the other way around.  Remember, this is what it means to remember the Sabbath rest: God speaks, and we listen.  We rest from our labors and take our rest in His great acts of salvation and His continued work in us by His Spirit.  It may not look flashy or feel exciting.  It might not give you the nostalgic feelings you crave, but believe that God is at work in this place because that’s where He promises to be with His powerful Word.
Naaman’s understanding of God’s ways was put in its place, but in seeing God at work, he was blessed.  In hearing the Word of God and believing, he received even more than he was seeking.  He would have been happy to go home without leprosy, yet he also went home believing in the true God, restored in flesh and spirit.
So it is for us, when God humbles us.  Even our finest hopes and dreams of what God could do for us pale in comparison to what He does for us through His Word.  Heaven touches earth and we hear the voice of God in this humble setting, He opens His ear to hear our prayers and answer us, we are invited to share in the praises of the heavenly host, and we are joyfully invited to sit at the Lord’s Table and receive the very Body and Blood of Jesus Christ which was offered up for us.  So let God’s Word do His Work.  Our response of faith is simply, “let it be to me according to your word.”[5]  In that faith, you will truly be blessed.  Amen.
[1] ἀπόλλυμι destroy utterly, kill, slay, and of things, to destroy, demolish, waste (Perseus Greek Study Tool)
[2] ἀθετέω “cancel, render ineffectual” (Perseus)
[3] Luke 10:16
[4] Matthew 18:18, 20
[5] Luke 1:38

Bringing Us Out of Darkness into His Light (Isaiah 9:1-4)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR
Third Sunday after the Epiphany + January 22, 2017
Text: Isaiah 9:1-4

One of the first works of God was to separate the light from the darkness, and making a distinction called Day and Night.[1]  The difference between light and dark is a matter of contrast.  For our life, we need contrast to tell the difference between one thing and the other.
The difference between light and darkness has a spiritual significance for us, too.  The Lord chooses to associate Himself with the light:
“God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5)
“The Lord is God, and he has made his light to shine upon us.” (Psalm 118:27)
That means where there is God, there is also light.  Conversely, God shuns the darkness, because darkness means the absence or rejection of God:
“The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep.” (Genesis 1:2)
“Stretch out your hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, a darkness to be felt.” (Exodus 10:21)
The Lord describes rejection at the last day as, “[being] thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 8:12)
So it’s for more than poetic eloquence that the Prophet Isaiah writes,
The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
               those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shone.
For God, light and darkness are a matter of being in His presence or cut off from Him.  They signify grace and sin.  Those walking in darkness are blinded and cast out by sin from the presence of God, wandering and lost.  Their company is the demonic and their destination is the grave.  Even more tragic is that this darkness is so deep, “a darkness to be felt” in the inner being of man, that they don’t even recognize it.  Even in the created light of high noon, a darkness dwells within our hearts that nothing on earth can illuminate.
But to these darkened sons of Adam, the Light of God has dawned!  To the shepherds who stood out in the cold night, an angel shining with God’s glorious light appeared and declared, “To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord.”[2]  To crowds of people who know only that something is dreadfully wrong with creation, the voice of the preacher says, “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand!”[3]
Behold, with eyes opened by God, and see the light of God’s salvation: Jesus Christ!  The Light of God has shone upon us, and we are glad!
     You have multiplied the nation;
you have increased its joy;
                       they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as they are glad when they divide the spoil.
                    For the yoke of his burden,
and the staff for his shoulder,
the rod of his oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.
Rejoice, because God has brought us back to Himself!  “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son.”[4]  We have been moved out of darkness and sin to light in the Lord, so that now God calls us children of light, imploring us to walk in the light.[5]  We must work the works of God, for night is coming when no one can work. Nevertheless, as long as He is in the world, Jesus is the Light of the world.[6]
Ah! But we still need contrast.  As our life in the light of the Lord continues, we lose sight of the contrast with the darkness.  We forget what a tremendous contrast there is between darkness and light, between sin and grace.  Perhaps you’ve never sounded the depths of darkness and you’ve always grown up around the light.  You just can’t understand how people can live without God, although they seem content to walk in the darkness.
Maybe the darkness is attractive because it doesn’t look that bad.  Remember Eve who judged by her reason that the tree was good for food, a delight to the eyes, and desirable to make one wise.[7]  But once she stepped into darkness, she fell headlong out of light and grace.  St. James warns us (4:4), “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?”  But we make excuses for imitating the world’s ways—it’s not that bad for young men and women to engage in debauchery at parties, okay for old men and women to sit around and gossip about others (after all, it’s true, isn’t it?), or to badmouth our elected officials because it’s our First Amendment right.
Yet even with that contrast from the world firmly in place, darkness is still in our hearts.  Now that we are light in the Lord, we look for contrast other places.  Sure of our ability to judge good from evil, we start to find contrast within the sons of light.  That’s what Paul was seeing in the Epistle reading:
10 I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. 11 For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. 12 What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.”[8]
We take it upon ourselves to draw lines among Christians—west versus east, orthodox versus liberal, young versus old, contemporary versus liturgical.  But it is God who first separated the light from the darkness, and He alone has the right establish contrast and to judge good from evil.
But God graciously brings us out of even the darkness of our hearts.  The same one who divided light from darkness, heaven from hell, brings us back our own transfer out of darkness.  He reminds us where the lines really are drawn—“the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”[9]  It’s with His Word that God works not only to bring us out of darkness and death, but He continues to keep us united in the one Name which has been put on us in Baptism.  The water and the Word brought into the light, and in this Christian Church, you have everything good which God promises—the forgiveness of yours sins, the love and patience which are gifts of the Holy Spirit, and the hope of everlasting life.
Rejoice in your God and Savior who has taken you from the darkness, to live forever in the glorious light of His Kingdom! Amen.
[1] Genesis 1:4
[2] Luke 2:11
[3] Matthew 3:2
[4] Colossians 1:13
[5] Ephesians 5:8
[6] John 9:4-5
[7] Genesis 3:6
[8] 1 Corinthians 1:10-12
[9] 1 Corinthians 1:18

Pointing to the Lamb of God (John 1:29-42)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR
Second Sunday after the Epiphany + January 15, 2017
Text: John 1:29-42a

Jack Friday in Dragnet was famous for saying, “Just the facts, ma’am.”  Whenever they would interview a witness, it undoubtedly happened that they would trail off into personal experiences and opinions about the suspect.  But what is needed from a witness is just the facts.
John the Baptist is that kind of witness.  Just the facts: “Behold, the Lamb of God!” “This man ranks before me, because he was before me.” “I baptized with water.” “I saw the Spirit descend and remain on him.” “This is the Son of God.”  It’s not important what John thought of Jesus, or if John could give a testimony about what Jesus did for him.  These facts are enough to make John the right kind of witness for God’s purposes—“that He might be revealed.”[1]  John’s ministry is no-frills with nothing to attract you to himself.  As John the Evangelist wrote, “He himself was not the light, but came to bear witness about the Light, that all might believe through him.”[2]  John was just a voice crying in the wilderness and a finger pointing to the Lamb of God.
It’s important who John is pointing to also.  Jesus is the One God has appointed to save the world.  Nobody and nothing else can be the Lamb of God, the true Passover sacrifice, the ram caught in the thicket which God provides.[3]  Jesus is the Savior of the world because only He takes away the sin of the world.
It’s important for us to get this right too, because there are others who masquerade under the name Jesus.  There’s the ecumenical Jesus who comes with the message that we should forget about our different readings of the Bible and embrace all things spiritual.  There’s the feel-good Jesus who encourages with out-of-context Bible verses and promises to help us be better people.  Then there’s the Jesus who is the worst kind of friend to have—a yes man.  He just pats us on the back and affirms us in every choice we make, even if that choice is to leave church in favor of more free time on the weekends.
The trouble with all of these false Jesus pictures is that none of them takes away sin.  They all leave us in our sins.  They make a mockery of God’s righteous judgment and turn the crucifixion and resurrection into an obsolete fairy tale.
John’s office was to proclaim Jesus to be the Lamb of God.  He himself did not know Him, but nevertheless He was God’s witness.
Only the Jesus whom God sends is the genuine article.
Only He take away sin
This is His chief aim—to make us whole and right before God.
Then everything else falls where it may, our mind and body restored.
Jesus continues to be the same Lamb of God who is proclaimed by us.
There’s no need to set up a fancy, side-door Jesus who gets people in the door through something completely unrelated.  This is not how people come to know Jesus.  It might be how they get to know Christians, but these things don’t contribute to saving faith.
The Lamb of God is proclaimed simply by pointing to Him and saying who He is and what He does.
This Jesus, the Son of God is the Messiah, the one who takes sins away.  He gives my conscience peace by His absolution.  He gives me confidence in my baptism that even death cannot steal me away from Him and the Kingdom He’s promised.  His Body and Blood give me strength to face my trials because He endured suffering and death and overcame them.
And hearing that, the Spirit will work faith when and where it pleases God (John 3:8).  No tricks, no gimmicks.  You and I are merely witnesses who are known by God and used by God to point to Jesus.
[1] Reveal comes from the Greek root of the word epiphany.  The season of Epiphany is about God giving epiphany of His Son as the Savior of the world.
[2] John 1:7-8
[3] John 19:14-18, Genesis 22:10-14

Baptized into Grace (Matt. 3:13-17)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR
Baptism of Our Lord + January 8, 2017
Text: Matthew 3:13-17

If you follow the news, it can be overwhelming—shootings, bombings, betrayals of trust, and political unrest (just to name a few).  One common theme in all of these is the thirst for justice.  We want to see ISIS destroyed, school shooters disarmed, and drunk drivers driven off the road. When we are attacked, robbed, betrayed—we want blood.  Terrorist attacks, a child is taken advantage of, a spouse is found to be unfaithful—we want vengeance.  It’s even irksome when we hear that the shooter was killed in the act because we want to see them face the penalty their crimes deserve—and slowly.
For as deep-felt and powerful as our anger is; God’s is more intense.  God is out for blood too:
Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image. (Genesis 9:6)
I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me. (Exodus 20:5)
Smoke went up from his nostrils, and devouring fire from his mouth; glowing coals flamed forth from him. (Ps. 18:8)
The soul who sins shall surely die. (Ezekiel 18:20)
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. (Romans 1:18)
As much as we would like God’s wrath to be directed out on all those people, God shows no favorites.  “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming.” (Colossians 3:5-6)  Every one of us has aroused the wrath of God, by our actions, our words, and even the thoughts of our heart.
In the Passion of Christ, the wrath of God against sin was unleashed.  The sun withheld its light,[1] the heavens which once opened to declare Him the beloved Son of God were closed and silent,[2] and the cup of God’s wrath is drunk down to the dregs.[3]  It is the day the prophets foretold:
That day is the day of the Lord God of hosts,
a day of vengeance,
to avenge himself on his foes.
       The sword shall devour and be sated
and drink its fill of their blood.
       For the Lord God of hosts holds a sacrifice.[4]
Yes, vengeance!  Yes, blood!  But look at that last half of the verse.  All the righteous wrath of God against ungodliness was borne by Jesus.
“Thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”  When Jesus receives baptism in the Jordan, He takes up all of the unrighteousness of men, so that in exchange the baptized receive all His righteousness.  That means all the wrath against them is removed.  God no longer holds their sins against them because justice has been done—on the cross.
After an atrocity is carried out, we often wonder why God allowed it to happen and didn’t destroy the guilty.  Where is the wrath of God against Islamic militants who slay Christians?  Where is the Sodom and Gomorrah fire and brimstone over immorality in our country?  Where was God when that maniac shot up the airport in Ft. Lauderdale?  It’s because of Jesus that God does not immediately destroy the wicked.  Instead, He is longsuffering and preaches to all, wanting them to turn from their wickedness, repent and live.  In the Old Testament lesson, we heard that “He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law” (Isaiah 42:7), but justice on the earth is the justice of Christ crucified to save the sinners.
That says something to us too, as those who are baptized into Christ.  God, the Righteous Judge, has satisfied His vengeance.  Where, then, is there room for our anger and our thirst for blood?  If God is patient toward those who are foolish or those who persist in their evil, how can we go beyond Him?  How can we hold a grudge, when God went to such lengths to forgive even the whole world?
In that way, it is fitting for us to fulfill God’s righteousness, by living in His beloved Son.  By acknowledging that God is patient even the most hardened of sinners, we confirm that He has put away our sins.
[1] Isaiah 13:10
[2] Deuteronomy 11:17
[3] Psalm 75:8
[4] Jeremiah 46:10

Funeral of Dale Bruce Gray (Isaiah 40:27-31)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR
Funeral of Dale “Bruce” Gray – January 5, 2017
Text: Isaiah 40:27-31
Dale Bruce Gray had a long and rich life of 87 years.  He had a long life of marriage to Alice, married for 65 years and 5 days.  Bruce had a long life of faith, baptized and confirmed as an adult in February 1954 in this very congregation.  He had a rich life in this congregation, raising his boys and working on many projects through the years including the building of this sanctuary and work on the parsonage.
This long and rich life was a gift from His God, who purchased and won Him from the cross and adopted Bruce as His own child through faith.  The Lord says this about His children:
29    He gives power to the faint,
and to him who has no might he increases strength.
30    Even youths shall faint and be weary,
and young men shall fall exhausted;
31    but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
       they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint.
The Lord gives power to the faint, and increases the strength of those who have no might.  We might say that it was unfair that such a man as Bruce was riddled by such poor health these last several years.  If the Lord is doing what He says here, it seems like His servants should be healthy and vibrant.  They shouldn’t have to go on this rollercoaster of being in and out of the hospital every few months.
We get led astray, however, when we measure the Lord by what we observe in His servants—whether by the condition of someone’s body or by how much they did in their life.  What matters above all—and the reason we are gathered here—is not the man Bruce, but Bruce’s God—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
“The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.”
It’s true that we have strength in ourselves, a strength of mind and body.  Every person has a measure of strength that comes from being alive, whether or not they call on the Lord.  With that strength, we achieve many things during our lifetime.  But that strength wears out, gets riddled with disease, forgets things, grows old, and dies.
But when are baptized and believe in the Name of Jesus, we put on His strength—the strength of the “everlasting God who does not faint or grow weary.”  It is He who created heaven and earth, who created us and first breathed into our nostrils the breath of life, who knit us together in our mother’s womb, and who daily provides all we need for this body and life.  This is the God who gives power to the faint and renews the strength of those who wait for Him.
It’s a strength that is given to God’s children through faith, no matter what the changes and chances of this life bring, whether poor or strong health, a great or a feeble mind.
It’s an unwearied strength because it comes from our God.  We have it by the faith God has given us.  It’s about this strength that St. Paul wrote in Romans 8, 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”[1]  All of these seem pretty powerful.  But why are they incapable of destroying us?  They are not able to wrench us away from the Lord because He gives us His strength.  He is the God who overcame all things by the death and resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ.  It’s with that strength that God preserves His children in their Baptism throughout this life.  And with that strength, all who are in Christ will have the strength to rise from their graves and live with the Lord in eternity.
The day Bruce passed, Alice asked me how is she going to live without Bruce.  The strength to do it will come from the God who was Bruce’s strength and hers.  Do not be afraid and do not despair; the Lord is the everlasting God and He renews your strength, through every trial, even unto eternal life.  Amen.
[1] Romans 8:38-39