Maundy Thursday (Matthew 26:17-30)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR
Maundy Thursday + April 13, 2017
Text: Matthew 26:17-30
 
The Sixth Petition
“Lead us not into temptation”
 
Tonight, we continue the theme of our Lenten midweek services, taking a closer look at each petition of the Lord’s Prayer.  Tonight, we come to the sixth petition, “Lead us not into temptation” on the night in which Jesus was betrayed.
 
In Scripture, there are two kinds of tempting.  One is from God, and the other is from the enemies of God—the world, the devil, and sinful hearts.  The tempting or testing that comes from God is good, as James exhorts us, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials[1] of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”[2]  This is when the struggles, weaknesses, and failures of life result in a greater reliance on God.  It is confirmation of our faith, and the one who draws closer to God out of trial is even called perfect and complete!
 
But then there’s the other kind of temptation, which is addressed just a few verses later in the same chapter of James: “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.”[3]  Same word as in the Lord’s Prayer and what was called “trials” before.  In this case, however, the result is that someone loses trust for God, no longer fears Him, and even hates Him.
 
This is what happened for Judas, leading up to Jesus’ betrayal.
14 Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests 15 and said, “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. 16 And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him.
Temptation came to Judas, as Satan entered his heart,[4] and he was lead willingly into this evil.  Jesus knew beforehand that this would happen—that this must happen—to Judas.  But the more tragic thing than Judas’ sin was that he ended up losing his trust in God, despairing of His mercy and “seeing to” his sin himself by hanging himself. [5]  He could have repented and been restored, but he gave up on his Lord.
 
 
 
But Judas wasn’t the only one tempted that night.  Jesus told Peter, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”[6]  Peter also sinned against the Lord by denying Him three times.  The difference was that afterward, Peter was restored.  He grew in the awareness of his weakness—that his resolution to suffer with Jesus was prideful and his ability to keep watch was only as strong as his flesh.
 
And it wasn’t just a one-time battle for Peter or for any of us.  Peter had other times he was tempted, like when he gave into the circumcision party and refused to eat with Gentiles.[7]  But through the temptations with faith, God’s work in us is to keep us firm in faith.
 
So in this petition, we pray that we may have the steadfast faith of Peter, and be saved from the unbelief of Judas.  Truly the devil is a strong enemy, far more powerful than us.  He is able to snatch the Word of God from our hearts and blind us to the Lord’s faithfulness and mercy.  Our most heartfelt resolve cannot stand in the hour of testing. Even more, the great company of unbelievers would sweep us away from our faith in God. All of these stand against us persevering in the faith.
 
But One stands for us, who is Jesus Christ.  He prays for us, He fights for us, and He is greater than all who seek our fall.  And we pray that this Almighty Helper would never leave us to fend for ourselves—even for a single hour.
 
Even while we are attacked by these things, our Lord gives you special comfort and strength in His Body broken and His blood shed for you.  He offered His very life to make satisfaction for all of your sins, and He now gives that crucified and risen Body and Blood for you to eat and to drink.  Do not be afraid in the hour of temptation, for your Lord is near.  He was tempted in every way as you are, yet He is without sin.  He is gracious to forgive and restore you, and almighty to deliver you!
 
12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.[8]
 
Just as you eat and drink the fruits of His suffering, He is faithful to bring you to the fruits of His resurrection in glory. Amen!
 
[1] Same word in Greek as “temptation” in the Lord’s Prayer
[2] James 1:2-4
[3] James 1:13-14
[4] Luke 22:3
[5] Matthew 27:3-5
[6] Luke 22:31-32
[7] Galatians 2
[8] 1 Peter 4:12-13

Palm Sunday(Matthew 27:11-66)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR
Palm Sunday + April 9, 2017
Text: Matthew 27:11-66

In the Middle Ages, a new form of theater developed called the Passion Play.  It’s performed in many different ways and in different venues.  The point is that what started in the Church became a whole genre of performing art.
 
When we hear the Passion today, we might sit back as idle observers—as theater-goers.  We might want to say “Boo!” when the Pharisees come on, hiss at the Roman soldiers who mocked Jesus, and weep when Jesus is lashed and carries His cross to Golgotha.
 
But the Passion is not meant to be idly observed; it is meant to be participated in through faith.  This is your Lord’s passion, not a fictional character and not a stranger.  We are not just audience members, but actors in the drama.
 
When Pilate’s misunderstands and is mired in unbelief at the plain words of Jesus, that is us.  When he perceives that Jesus was delivered up on fake charges, sits on a judgment throne, and yet refuses to do justice, we do the same.  Pilate washes his hands in response to the pangs of guilt, hoping to silence the nagging voice of conscience but refusing to repent, and we’ve been there too.
 
In the Judgment Hall, the crowd thirsts for Jesus’ death.  They used their vote to free a murderer and condemn of the Giver of life, just as we have used our freedom to turn away and reject God’s ways.  Like the crowd, we would rather be God’s people without Him telling us what that means.
 
When Jesus is taken out by the soldiers, we are there too.  They proudly mock this suffering man, alienating themselves both from His cause and His agony.  Not only do they revel in the fact that they seem to be better off, but they rub that fact in and belittle Jesus.  If He’s supposed to be some kind of Savior, He must be useless because all this is happening to Him and He does nothing to stop it.  Like them, we would rather have glory, power, and visible success, rather than rejection, weakness, and suffering.
 
Then, there’s Simon of Cyrene, who was compelled to carry His cross.  Now it can’t be avoided. Jesus’ passion is not something to be spectated, but we are part of it.  St. Paul says, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?”[1]  We are marked with the cross in Baptism, and He calls us daily to take up our cross and follow Him.[2]
 
Truly, His cross was the greatest, for by it He saved the world.  But we should not be surprised when this world and this life of sin compels us to carry the cross.  Why can’t life be easier, people like us, justice be done?  These are the wrong questions to ask.  Rather, by faith we see what God is at work doing the suffering and death of Christ.  It is His Passion to save us.
 
So when we bear our own small crosses, trust that God will be glorified through this burden, agony, betrayal, or loss.  Mind you, how this will be is rarely apparent from under the cross.  “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”[3]  Jesus’ disciples couldn’t see what God was doing until Easter and Pentecost. So don’t try to look for a reason right away—it may well be hidden from you.  Instead, trust the good and gracious will of God for you: “For those who love God, [He works] all things together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”[4]  Believe in the God who saved you through death and resurrection, and know that in His love, He will also save you from every evil, that you might glorify Him.
 
This Holy Week, as we walk with Jesus to the cross, find comfort in what He has done, because it isn’t just a story to be read.  It’s a story to be lived, for by it you have life.  Amen.
 
 
 
 
 
[1] Romans 6:3
[2] Matthew 16:24
[3] Hebrews 12:11
[4] Romans 8:28

Lent 5 Midweek (Matthew 18:23-35)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR
Lent 5 Midweek – April 5, 2017
Text: Matthew 18:23-35
 
The Fifth Petition
“Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
 
Of all the professions there are, debt collectors have to be among the most ruthless in carrying out their job.  It’s not just in recent years, but collecting on outstanding debts goes back to the first time someone didn’t pay what they rightly owed.
 
This is the language in the 5th Petition.  What we know as “trespass” is actually a clarification offered by the King James Version (and Luther’s German Bible, Schuld).  To trespass against God’s command is to sin.  Yet, the original word is opheleima, Greek for something which is owed—a debt.
 
Debt collectors threaten, sue, and show up with tow trucks all to collect on what is owed.  They’re good at what they do, too.  Their work is so feared that even the mention of “being sent to collections” strikes fear in our hearts.
 
What the 5th petition tells us, however, is that God is a debt collector.  Our sin against Him is a serious, insurmountable debt.  “24 When [the master] began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. 25 And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made.”  Send out the repo man, call in every credit service from coast to coast, and throw him in debtor’s prison.
 
But there’s a turn of events. They don’t show up at your door to make collection.  They show up at the cross of God’s own Son.  There, He makes full payment for your debts—the good you’ve failed to do and the evil you’ve gone right ahead and kept on doing.[1]  His holy blood is able to pay the price to settle accounts with God, and you come out debt-free.
 
But the grace of God is not like going to those companies that promise to wipe away your debt just to avoid the consequences, so you can go back to foolish ways.  That would be to abuse the Master’s kindness.  No, those who are truly repentant and grateful for the blood of Christ have a change of heart.
 
The children of God look at the load of debt—ten thousand talents, if you like round numbers—and they see the sacrificial loving kindness of God.  God, who had every right to demand great and frequent payment for our offenses, blotted them out of His ledger with the blood of Christ.  Then, they see the debts others owe them—financial, emotional, or spiritual.  If we’re thinking numbers, nothing can compare to the value of Christ’s redeeming work, but it far outshines whatever could be done to us.  If God in His infinite justice and righteousness, could forgive us our debts, how much less cost is involved to forgive our debtors?
 
God will not have His loving kindness treated lightly.  His Son bore the cost of the sins of the world so they could be taken away from us—“Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”[2]  If we, however, in our finite wisdom hold onto those sins and judge someone more harshly than God has judged us, we infuriate our Master.
 
32 Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. 35 So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
 
And of our many sins, carrying grudges and uncovering old debts is one of the most persistent.  We all have our own private collection agency.  So, in this petition, we not only pray that God would forgive this wickedness, but that He would give us clean and renewed hearts to pay our debtor’s accounts with the holy blood of Christ.  If we can do this, we will know what the love of God is which He showed us.  We will be able to genuinely live as citizens of the kingdom of heaven and never be cast out.
 
God help us!  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.
[1] Romans 7:19
[2] John 1:29, emphasis added

Fifth Sunday in Lent (Ezekiel 37:1-14, John 11:17-27)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR
Fifth Sunday in Lent + April 2, 2017
Text: Ezekiel 37:1-14, John 11:17-27

You’ve heard it said, “Seeing is believing.”  This works most of the time.  You wouldn’t buy a car if the dealer refused to show you the one you were buying.  You wouldn’t work long for an employer who promised you a paycheck but never actually came up with the money.
 
However, sometimes our faith—what we believe—is opposed to what we see.  Think of what we confessed in the Creed—we see God’s visible creation, but not His Son and what He did for us, and while we’ve seen a portion of the holy Christian and apostolic Church, we haven’t seen the Spirit or the rest of it.  Nevertheless, we believe in these things because God’s Holy Spirit is at work in us—His Word tell us this is all true.
 
Think about the valley of dry bones:
The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. (Ezek. 37:1-2)
Sight sees dry, dead bones.
 
Then the Lord asks a question: And he said to me, ‘Son of man, can these bones live?’ And I answered, ‘O Lord God, you know.’”  That’s faith’s answer, because what our eye sees and what our mind knows would say flat-out “No.”  But what the rest of the vision shows is that God is able by His Word to do what we may not see or yet see.  Even death itself is not too great an obstacle to God.
 
This is the same thing we see in the raising of Lazarus.  21 Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.’ 23 Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ 24 Martha said to him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.’”  It’s faith over sight.  Sight sees a lifeless body, a closed tomb.  Faith sees that God is able to do all things good—even if it should be to raise the dead.
 
25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”
 
There again the Lord asks a question.  It can only be answered with faith, by the Holy Spirit at work in a person’s heart.  Do you believe that God is Almighty, that He is who He says He is, and He can do what He speaks?
 
Faith answers affirmatively.  Yes, I believe because the Holy Spirit tells me God does not lie.  He is not limited in what He can do.  Everything which we confess in the Creed is true, even though we’ve seen very little of it.  All of the Bible is true, even though we may not fully understand some things, and haven’t seen others.  We believe that God has given us nothing but truth to cling to.
 
Doubt and unbelief will put limits on what God can do—sometimes thinking He can only do as little as our own imaginations.  “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.’”[1]  All looks lost, and judging by man alone, it may well be.
 
God’s people Israel today say can’t bring the people of this generation to faith.  We need to spice things up to “get the young people.”  They’ll only come if you throw out the liturgy and model yourself after a rock concert.  We believe in market analysis and hearsay from false prophets and hypocrites who claim to know the Scriptures but deny the power of God.
 
God’s people look to themselves and say, “I’m tired and worn out from all that I’ve been through.”  I believe in the doctors who tell me all that’s wrong with my health, and the gurus which tell me I need to take some “me time” and focus on myself for a while.  I believe in my calendar which is packed with far too many “important” things to fit in serving my neighbor or taking up a job at church.
 
Yet faith comes first, then sight.  Look and believe what God did to dry, dead bones.  Look at what He did to a man dead in the tomb for four days!  Why do we doubt that He can sustain His Israel, the Church?  Why would we believe He’s more at work where we see impressive things happening, and not at work everywhere His Word is preached—including Bethlehem?
 
We are people who have the gift of the Holy Spirit, who joy in the forgiveness of sins, who are members of the holy Christian and apostolic Church.  We are God’s people, and our hope is in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.  Death is an easy thing for God to overcome by His Word.  So, can He not also dispel our sloth and hopelessness?
 
Even though we do not see the dead raised, we believe that His Word goes out and accomplishes His purpose.[2]  He calls the weary to rest, He convicts the indifferent, He raises those in spiritual death.
 
Now, come you weary people of God, to the feast which your Lord has prepared for you at His table.  This is the Body and Blood of your Risen Lord, and by it He will strengthen and preserve you in body and soul to life everlasting.  And faith says: Amen.
[1] Ezekiel 37:11
[2] Isaiah 55:9-11

Lent 4 Midweek (Matthew 6:24-34)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR
Lent 4 Midweek – March 29, 2017
Text: Matthew 6:24-34

The Fourth Petition
“Give us this day our daily bread”
 
What is meant by the phrase “daily bread”? The first thing that comes to mind is food, the stuff we need day in and day out to live. That’s why Jesus puts it this way, and so many other places in God’s Word associate bread with all the necessities of life.[1]
 
In a capitalist society, we may think it would be better to say, “our daily dough.” Our minds drift toward money, because if you have money, that opens the way to the rest of our needs. With money, you can buy clothing, food, house, land, animals, vehicle, healthcare.
 
But—as has been said so many times before, money isn’t everything—if you don’t have a devout spouse or children, devout workers, devout and faithful rulers, good friends, and neighbors, self-control, even good weather, you won’t be able to keep or enjoy your daily bread.[2] The reality is we need far more than money (and the stuff it procures) alone, and far more than can be secured by making right personal choices and having the right man or woman in office.
 
That’s why this is a prayer directed to God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth. Without His governance over the world and His bountiful provision, all that we have would be lost to theft, disease, and decay—nevermind what the devil can throw against us (Job 1-2).
 
It may seem strange in the middle of a spiritual prayer to ask for such earthly things. It may even seem strange to pray for daily bread when Jesus tells us not to worry what we will eat, drink, or wear.  Yet, the earthly and the spiritual are intertwined.
 
Our hearts are tied up with the daily bread we have or don’t have.  When teaching on the 1st Commandment, Luther wrote, “He who has money and property feels secure, happy, fearless, as if he were sitting in the midst of paradise. On the other hand, he who has nothing doubts and despairs as if he never heard of God. Very few there are who are cheerful, who do not fret and complain, if they do not have mammon. This desire for wealth clings and cleaves to our nature all the way to the grave.”
 
The two vices of this petition are greed and worry. On the one hand, greed sees what we have as what we earned through our hard work or what we got away with cheating from another.
 
On the other hand is worry, that God doesn’t exist or God doesn’t care.  Another way to put it is to say that God’s existence and love depend on one’s perception of their life.  If money is plentiful, family is strong, and health is good, then God must be good.  If one or all of these things fall apart, it must be that God went on vacation.
 
The road between these two—and what Jesus commands us to pray for—is to acknowledge God as the giver of undeserved gifts.  “He makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”  “The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season. You open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing.”[3]  Such faith trusts His promise to provide, because He is a true Father—as He created our lives out of His goodness, so He will also sustain that life and supply whatever we need. “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Mt. 6:26).
 
Where there is faith in our Father in heaven, there’s no room for greed or worry.  “The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein.”[4]  How can we cling to what has been entrusted to us for a time?  31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.”  What place is there for worry when our lives and the lives of everyone we know are in the hands of a faithful, Almighty Creator?
 
All that’s left to do is thank and praise Him for these temporal benefits in light of the eternal, spiritual ones.  “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”[5]  Because of God’s tremendous love, we  receive all that God gives—whether plenty or scarcity—knowing for sure that He will do good for us in this life and bring us at last to our eternal rest.  Amen.
[1] 1 Kings 13:9, Prov. 27:27, Prov. 31:14
[2] See the full list in the Small Catechism, Lord’s Prayer, 4th Petition
[3] Matthew 5:45, Psalm 145:15-16
[4] Psalm 24:1
[5] Romans 8:32

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

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR
Third Sunday in Lent + March 26, 2017
Text: John 9:1-7

Jesus and His disciples are walking to church one Sabbath, and on the way they find a pathetic sight: A blind man lying there begging.  So, they ask Jesus what’s probably been on the mind of every passerby: What did this guy or his parents do to end up in this situation?
 
But Jesus did not come to unlock the mysteries of God’s hidden wisdom by rooting out the causes from the consequences of sin.  “God sent His son into the world not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.”[1]  He came to be our Savior.
 
So, He says, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.”  Of course, he and his parents sinned—“no one living is righteous before you”[2]—but that’s not the point.  Jesus isn’t concerned with retribution for sin, but saving sinners out of pure grace.
 
He does what He came to do—“he spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud and said to him, ‘Go, wash in the pool of Siloam’ (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing.”  Jesus makes it look so easy, and suddenly this man’s affliction is taken away.  If only we had Jesus around today like this, think of how much cancer could be healed, deformed children made whole, or disabled people made to get up out of their wheelchairs.
 
But the greater miracle than healing a man born blind is the faith which is the result of this encounter.  That work of God is even greater than the miraculous healing, and that’s at the center of what Jesus says: “We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
 
There were many people who were healed during Jesus’ ministry, but there are also times where He wasn’t able to heal.  Did that mean His almighty power was limited?  No, the limitation was on the part of the people: “And he did not do many mighty works there because of their unbelief.”[3]  It’s true that Jesus is the source of healing.  He is the one who opens the eyes of the blind, makes the paralytic take up his mat and go home, and forgives sin.[4]  Yet in every case, healing comes through believing the Word of Jesus.
 
Work while it is day means that Jesus and His disciples worked while there was opportunity.  That is, where there is faith.  In the night of unbelief, the works of God cannot be done.
 
 
Where there is unbelief, we will be stuck on the questions, “Why is this happening to me? What did I do wrong?”  It’s true that it’s happening because we are sinners living in a fallen world.  But there’s no comfort in that.  There’s also no healing unless we’re brought out of the darkness of our earthly, sinful hearts which blame God for treating us unfairly and holding out on us when He could make things so much better.
 
Jesus is the one who is the one Sent into the world to save the lost and open your blind eyes, that you might glorify the work of God.  The greater miracle for you is the Holy Spirit’s work of faith.
 
Harold Buls once wrote, “Don’t ask backward, but forward”[5]  Our sinful, unbelieving heart looks backward to how things might have been or should have been different.  Where there is faith, however, God turns our eyes forward to hope for an expect what He will do to deliver us.
 
What we see as fundamentally wrong and broken beyond repair, God sees as an opportunity to save—to display His work.  False accusations, sudden death, mistreatment, or abuse—when we experience things like these, we despair because our help on earth has failed.  The courts have ruled against us, people have taken what rightly belongs to us, and the doctors can offer no cure.
 
“I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”[6]  He who created heaven and earth knows very well how to deliver you from whatever evil.  He knows the way to comfort you in sadness, restore what is lost, and strengthen you to endure the temporary pain and withstand the spiritual assaults of the devil.  Where there is faith in the God who saves sinners, there the works of God are displayed.
 
In our darkness, the weakness of our faith, cry out, “I believe, help my unbelief!”  The same Savior who brought faith to the blind man will also answer you.  Never think that God is powerless to save or that He somehow overlooked you.  “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”  Commit yourself into His care, and He will deliver you in His wisdom and out of His love.  Through this faith, may the works of God always be displayed until that last Great Day.  Amen!
 
[1] John 3:17
[2] Psalm 143:2
[3] Matthew 13:58
[4] John 9, 5:1-17, 8:3-11
[5] http://pericope.org/buls-notes/john/john_9_1_41.htm
[6] Psalm 121:1-2

Lent Midweek 3 (Isaiah 46:8-11)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR
Lent Midweek 3 – March 22, 2017
Text: Isaiah 46:8-11
 
Third Petition
“Hallowed be Thy Name”
 
God does whatever He wants.  Unlike us, He is not bound by anything or anyone—“I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it.”  Absolute power corrupts absolutely—when it comes to men.  But God is not like us.  He is altogether good.  He does not lie or deceive, He does not wish harm even for His enemies.  So, God’s autonomy isn’t something to dread—unless you’re His enemy.
 
On our part, our will is not only constrained by being a creature, but our natural hearts are bound to sin.  Our flesh wants its own way over against God’s—God promises to be our only help in time of need but we want a backup plan; He wants us to speak the truth in love about our neighbor, but we’d rather share those truths which boost us up; God gives everything we need, but our heart says we can’t live without a newer and different life.  Because of sin, we have a will that runs counter to God’s.
 
But this cannot go on forever.  The Lord does what He wills and if we try to oppose Him, we will surely lose not only the contest, but our very lives.  “Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?” (1 Cor. 10:22)
 
How can our human, sinful wills be aligned with God’s?  This can only be through the one Man who brought peace between God and sinners—Jesus Christ.  If there was understandably any time for a Man’s to argue with God about His will, it was when Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Betray a righteous Man?  Condemn an innocent Man to death?  Surely not!  41 And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, 42 saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” 43 And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. 44 And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.”
 
But it was God’s will that sinners should be saved.  “By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.” (Isaiah 53:8-10)  The will of the Lord does prosper: That your sins are forgiven, that you have become God’s own dear child, and that you have the hope of a blessed eternity.
 
So this is a prayer that we, even in our weakness, have grace to acknowledge God’s will to be good for us and all the world.  We pray against our sinful nature, which will oppose God’s will, egged on by the devil and the world.  We pray that the devil and the world would be brought to an end, that God’s Name would be called upon by pure hearts, and that His Kingdom would grow and reach every part of the earth.
 
We also pray that God would renew our hearts, especially our wills.  That He would “create in us clean hearts, and renew a right spirit within us.”  That our desires and delight would be in those things that God delights in—showing mercy to the weak, loving even our enemies, defending the cause of the poor, and bringing His love to whatever callings we have on earth.
 
So we pray, and so God hears our prayer, that each day we be conformed to the image of our Savior who—even at the prospect of His passion—said, “Thy will be done.”
 
In the words of Hebrews 13: “Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.”

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

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR
Third Sunday in Lent + March 19, 2017
Text: John 4:5-26

Jesus gives us a good conscience before God by
hearing our confession and forgiving our sins.

  • The Samaritan woman was doubly guilty.

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

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

She herself had sin she was hiding from others (but not from God).
She comes to the well when nobody else is around to stare at her or confront her.  13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.”
She needed to be free from human fixes for sin, because they cannot solve the real problem.
We too look for human fixes, spiritual Band-Aids if you will—harmful ones like drugs and alcohol, cutting and fits of rage; constructive ones like psychotherapy and antidepressants.  But none of those can touch the soul and address our spiritual condition.  They leave us guilty before God if they are our only solution.
 

  • Jesus gave her living water.

The way to peace with God is through confession of sin:
16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” 17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.”
 
Psalm 32:3-5: “For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.”
 
Confession can’t be substituted—either by working harder, avoiding personal contact, or by staying away from church.  These things only make things worse.  They draw out the guilt unnecessarily and leave room for Satan to give you reasons why you can worship God in the privacy of your home.
 
25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”
The absolution which Jesus brings also can’t wait and dare not be uncertain—“Perhaps God forgives me, or I’ll find out if I get into heaven.”  The woman wanted to put absolute truth off until Messiah comes, but Jesus was no prophet.  He was God, and the words which He speaks actually do bring salvation.
 
The words of Jesus gave her peace with God, as is evidenced by her going and proclaiming him publicly to her neighbors.
 
28 So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, 29 “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” 30 They went out of the town and were coming to him.
 

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

20 …he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” (John 20:20-23)
Here in the words spoken by a pastor, your Lord points you back to His death and resurrection, to your Baptism.  In the waters made living by the Word of God, you died to all of your sin, and you were raised to eternal life.  Just as we sang in the 3rd stanza of Rock of Ages:
Nothing in my hand I bring;
Simply to Thy cross I cling.
Naked, come to Thee for dress;
Helpless, look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Savior, or I die. (LSB 761:3)
Thanks be to Jesus for that blessed washing away of sins.  Amen!

Lent 2 Midweek (Luke 11:14-23)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR
Lent 2 Midweek – March 15, 2017
Text: Luke 11:14-23

The Second Petition
“Thy Kingdom come”
 
Martin Luther wrote about this petition: “Just as God’s name is holy in itself and yet we pray that it may be holy among us, so also his kingdom comes of itself without our prayer and yet we pray that it may come to us. That is, we ask that it may prevail among us and with us, so that we may be a part of those among whom his name is hallowed and his kingdom flourishes.”[1]
 
This is a prayer for there to be a Christian Church, for us to be a part of it, and for the reign of God to extend to every place.
 
A common question to ask is, Where is the Kingdom of God?  The Israelites knew where to look—the tabernacle and, later, the Temple.  God dwelt upon the mercy seat of the Ark of the Covenant.  If you were part of Israel, you were in the Kingdom.  After Israel’s unfaithfulness and subsequent exile, the Temple was destroyed.  They had a terrible quandary—where is the Kingdom of God to be found if there is no temple?  So, they built a second temple (the Book of Ezra details this).
 
Then several hundred years went by without a prophet, and John the Baptist came preaching, “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand!”[2]  Suddenly, God’s dwelling place was different, because it was now in the flesh of His Son.  The Kingdom of God was no longer located in a place or a nation on earth, but found those who believe that Jesus Christ is God come in the flesh.[3]  This Jesus said, “The hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.”[4]
 
The Church, the Kingdom of God, is found where the faithful are gathered around God and His living Word.  It’s not a denomination, not a building, not the pope.  All of those are of human origin, but the Church is solely the work of the Holy Spirit—“The wind blows where it wishes, you hear its voice but you do not know where it comes from or where it is going.  So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”[5]
 
The Kingdom of God is the only place where God is known as Father.  Outside the Christian Church—outside this faith, you’re on your own.  There is no certainty of grace, no forgiveness, no sure and certain hope of the resurrection, and not even true love for God.
 
But we pray that this Kingdom of God would come to us, that just as God has made a place where gathers His children, we would be counted among them!  “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”[6]  So we pray that God would make us like little children.  In this, we pray against our “wise” adult ways which would set bounds on His Kingdom and say it only comes to people we approve of.  Whenever this happens, it spirals into a convoluted partisan mess.
 
God has made us Christians by His power, not our decision.  His Holy Spirit has called us into this Church by the Gospel.[7]  Therefore what makes us genuine Christians is God’s gift of faith.  So we pray for ourselves that our minds and hearts would be conformed and submit to God’s holy Word, like little children
 
And it would be a sad thing is the Church were only us who are alive today.  Thankfully, God doesn’t think as narrowly as we do.  When we pray for God’s Kingdom to come, it’s also that it many more in the world would be brought in.  We pray that people who have never heard of Christ would believe in Him, that those who have forsaken the faith would return, and that each successive generation would proclaim the excellences of God to the next.
 
All of this would be a dreadfully impossible task if it were left up to human strength and wit.  But this is what drives us to fear that the Church is shrinking in the world or becoming obsolete.  Human wisdom would say that we need to freshen up the faith and make it “speak” to the new generation.  We need to meet the flighty felt needs of those who are presently church members so they decide to keep on coming.
 
God says to stop right there.  Pray for His Kingdom to come, and He will do all this.  It may seem impossible, unlikely, and perhaps even unpopular.  But we pray in this petition that God would make it so because it’s not too much for Him.  His Holy Spirit has the power to convert the erring, confirm the strong, and to build up those who are weak.  It all happens through His Word preached in and through His Church.
 
So this petition is a prayer for the Holy Spirit to work.  He has made the Church out of you and me and all who are called from far off.  He keeps us in that true faith, and He gathers people of every nation to repent and believe that the Kingdom of God has come near to them.
 
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
 
[1] Large Catechism, III, 50
[2] Matthew 3:2
[3] 1 John 4:2-3
[4] John 4:23
[5] John 3:8
[6] Mark 10:15
[7] Romans 10:14-17

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

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR
Funeral of Helen M. Vorderstrasse + March 15, 2017
Text: Luke 23:33, 39-43

Someone told me this week, “Helen remembers everything she forgot.”  Because she has been granted rest from her labors, free from the effects of sin and death, she remembers all that vascular dementia covered over.  But, these past 4 years did not define who she was.  They were like a shroud, cast over her.
 
In the words of Ken, she was beautiful—the only daughter in a family of boys, a wife, a mother, a leader, a friend, a servant.  This is who she was and this is how we remember her.
 
She is beautiful because she is still living, no longer with us but with her Lord Jesus Christ.  She is with Him in paradise not because of how beautiful a person she was to us, but because the Lord remembered her.
 
42 And [the criminal] said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
 
Helen wrote in one of her journals, “I have no recollection of anything…Lord, help me.”  The Lord answered that prayer.  He answered it by remembering what He did in the waters of Baptism on July 23, 1948 when she was baptized in this congregation.  “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”[1]  She was united through faith to her Lord, so that His death was her death, and His resurrection is also hers.  And the Lord never forgot that promise and grace which was Helen’s through faith.
 
Through Baptism, God remembers His mercy.[2]  Yet in remembering His mercy, God also forgot: “This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people…I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”[3]  In Jesus Christ, crucified, dead, and buried, God remembers His mercy and forgets all our sins.
 
God was faithful to Helen her whole life through.  He is faithful in His promises to you, too.  In the distractions and mess of daily life, you may have forgotten the Lord who purchased and won you on the cross and claimed you in Holy Baptism.  In forgetting what God the Father did, you might think all He can remember are your sins.  You may be ashamed that you have forgotten of God.  But He remembers His mercy and what He has done for you.  God is faithful.  God remembers His mercy for all who fear, love, and trust in Him.  He remembers the salvation He has wrought for you, the living hope, and the imperishable, unfading inheritance He has laid up for all who hope in Him.[4]  He forgets all your sins, because He has taken then from you, and nailed them to the cross.
 
Therefore, through Christ we are privileged to pray, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”  And He surely does.  Amen.
[1] Romans 6:3-5
[2] Luke 1:72
[3] Jeremiah 31:33-34
[4] 1 Peter 1:3-9