Monday, December 22, 2014

Psalm.116.15; Funeral of Beverly Ann Braymen; December 22, 2014;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston & Mount Ayr, Iowa;

Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.” (Psalm 116:15, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

There is nothing good about all of this. Death is a great evil. Today it has taken away a faithful wife, mother, grandmother, and a friend. And it has taken her away by surprise. We were not prepared to lose Beverly. You are still in shock. I don’t know how many people stopped by just to say how shocked they were when they heard the news. And when the shock wears off there will still be grief and loss. These last few days have been terrible days. There is not much I can say that is going to stop your tears from flowing. There is nothing wrong with weeping, Jesus himself wept when his friend Lazarus died. God hates death, as we hate it, and even more.

Beverly was very faithful in attendance in worship. She came to hear God’s Word proclaimed and receive God’s gift of forgiveness in the Lord’s Supper. I look forward to seeing her with Jesus when all the differences between people will be forgiven. You see, I’m confident in Bev’s being with Jesus right now. Not because she was such a great person. She was a wonderful person. How many hours did she sit at the hospital volunteering with you Tom? The truth is she was a sinner. You her family and close friends know that even better than I do. Sin leads to death. There is no more sure sign of being a sinner than your own funeral. But none of that really matters today. Today I’m confident in her salvation because of what Jesus has done. Nothing Bev did, as good as it was, measures up to the perfection required by God. Nothing she did, nothing you and I could ever do would be enough to make up for not loving God with our whole heart, soul and mind. But if that’s all that there was, our weeping would be in vain, our mourning would be even more terrible. We are not counting on what Bev did to bring her to live with God forever. We are counting on Jesus. She did.

She wasn’t even two weeks old when God adopted her as his child. Some other fallible pastor poured water over her head and said God’s name and hers. “Beverly Ann Otte, I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” God gave her faith that began to grow that very day. She confessed it publically at her confirmation after growing in faith through the hearing of God’s Word. And all through her life, her church life was important to her, because of what it means for her right now.

Beverly is with Jesus because he won forgiveness for her sin and victory over death through his cross and resurrection. She trusted in Jesus for that forgiveness. Now she is with him awaiting the resurrection of the body. She knew she didn’t have to do a bunch of good stuff to pass through death to life with Christ. Jesus has done everything necessary. His perfect life is counted as her perfect life. His death on the cross and his resurrection is counted as payment for her death and the eternal punishment for her sin. And so she has passed through death to life with Jesus. Beverly lived in that faith and confidence.

But there is even more. Shortly we will place her body carefully in the ground for safe keeping. Together you and me, Tom and Lisa and Dale and Gabe and Jessica and all of us living in faith just as Beverly, we will wait anxiously for Jesus to return. Because on that day God will call Bev out of the ground, just as he will for all those who have died in the faith. He will raise up this body and your body and mine. And we will live together forever with him. We will live forever with Bev. Her body that failed her will be made perfect. My fallible body and yours will be made perfect, too. It will be a joyous reunion.

That’s why, to God, Bev’s death is precious. Not because he loves death, far from that, he hates it. Her death is precious because she is precious to God. She has claimed precious by holy baptism. It is her connection to the baby born in the manger, who grew up to suffer and die on the cross, and rise again to new life proves that. He came to fix the sin and death problem. And he has. He came to fix this terrible separation and grief that we are feeling. And he has. Though for a while we suffer grief with the help of the Holy Spirit we can bear it. We can bear it because we know that it is short lived. Jesus resurrection promises it is so. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

1 Corinthians 13; Wedding of Dane and Jordan Wardenburg; December 20, 2014;

 

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

You know, I spent quite a bit of time thinking about how to work in a sports metaphor for your marriage. You know, Dane is QB & Jordan is Half Back; Pitcher, Catcher, Running a marathon, winning / losing a national championship… Couldn’t get anything to work the way I thought it might. So… I decided to drop the whole sports metaphor for marriage. It’s a good thing really, because the more I thought about it the more I realize that love and marriage aren’t a sport.

Love is a choice. Just look at what St. Paul says about love in the reading.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.

Notice how nothing he says, says anything about the feelings of love. He’s not discounting the feelings of love, he just knows the truth about people. Feelings come and go. Dane and Jordan, today you have all those mushy, in love, feelings. Who wouldn’t! It’s your wedding day. You are surrounded by all your family and friends. Everything is focused on your love. It’s great. But, remember, love isn’t a sport. It isn’t just feelings. Love is action and those actions are lived everyday by choice. You could add a few words to every phrase of the reading and not change a thing about what it says. Love is patient and kind, even if it doesn’t feel like it. Love does not envy or boast, even if it feels like it. It is not arrogant or rude, even if you’re mad him Jordan. It does not insist on its own way, even though you will want to Dane. It is not irritable or resentful, even if you feel that way. It doesn’t rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth, even when it hurts. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things and endures all things, even when these things are the farthest things from your thoughts. It’s all about choosing to love instead of what you want to do in the heat of the moment. Deciding to love each other

…for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do you part…

So, just how successful are you going to be at doing this your whole marriage, your whole life together? Today it’s easy, tomorrow too, most likely. But what about when the money runs out, and Dane is on the road more than you think he should be? Or Dane how about when she’s working those extra shifts and you are sitting home alone? Or the toilet seat doesn’t get put down for the thousandth time and the dishes are stacked up in the sink? You are making promises today that you can’t possibly keep perfectly.

So, what is your marriage doomed? Hardly. That’s exactly why we are here, isn’t it. In this marriage service you aren’t just making promises. You are making promises in the sight of God and these witnesses and inviting your Savior to be with you in your marriage. It’s the most important thing you can do when you are married. You will fail each other, often. You need forgiveness for your failures. And that’s what Jesus brings. He was crucified, dead and buried and raised again to new life, for your sins, especially for the sins that you both bring to this marriage. Forgiveness is what allows you to move forward past the hurt. It is just a fact of life that you will sin against each other more than you will sin against anyone else. So you need to forgive each other more than you need to forgive anyone else. Jesus forgives you. In that forgiveness you can / will forgive each other. The key to living in forgiveness is to do what God says to do. Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. It is best to do it out loud in those very words. “Dane, I forgive you, in the name of Jesus.” “Jordan, I forgive you, in the name of Jesus.” Those exact words are the most important words you will speak after “I do”! Forgiveness changes things. Jesus forgives you and in faith, you will forgive each other.

Jesus is a part of your marriage and your life together. It’s the forgiveness. The author of Ecclesiastes says it like this:

And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” (Ecclesiastes 4:12, ESV)

God’s richest blessings on your marriage. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, Amen.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Psalm 126; Advent Service Three; December 17, 2014

Psalm 126; Advent Service Three; December 17, 2014;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston & Mount Ayr, Iowa;

When the LORD restored the fortunes of | Zion,*
we were like | those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with | laughter,*
and our tongue with | shouts of joy;
then they said among the nations,
“The LORD has done great | things for them.”*
The LORD has done great things for us; |we are glad.
Restore our fortunes, | O LORD,*
like streams in the | Negeb!
Those who | sow in tears*
shall reap with | shouts of joy!
He who goes out weeping,
bearing the seed for | sowing,*
shall come home with shouts of joy,
bringing his | sheaves with him.

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

This Psalm is one of the Songs of Ascent. When the people approached the holy city, Jerusalem on festivals they chanted these psalms together. They are Songs of Ascent because when you come to Jerusalem you have to go up the hill to the city, up mount Zion.

This particular psalm has another approach in view. Some six hundred years before Jesus, God’s people were conquered and sent into exile in Babylon. It was God’s discipline for their sin of rejecting him. After a great many years, God finally acted on their prayers for return and allowed a small band of them to come home. You can imagine this psalm being spoken by them as they climbed the holy hill once again. It was like a dream. They had waited so long. God had finally begun to fulfill his promise. Their mouths were filled with joy. God had done a great thing for them, they were glad.

And yet, not all was well. The land and the city were in rubble. There had been no crops sown for many years. The vast majority of the people were still back in Babylon. The psalm is a not only a prayer of joy for what God has done, but a plea for him to continue to do more. Bring the rest home! In this way it’s another one of the complaint Psalms, a lament. Those who were there had much hard work ahead of them. There would be sowing in tears. There was weeping for now, but great joy in the future with God’s promise.

This is the perfect song for Advent. It’s a reminder that we are not just preparing for a quaint family holiday, the reason for the season isn’t that we gather together and exchange love and presents. The baby in the manger is the beginning of the return from exile. We huddle around the crèche because it is the beginning. The angels sang, “God and sinners reconciled” because God was present among sinful people to do away with sin and death and the power of Satan. Christmas is God becoming flesh in Jesus Christ. God, in Jesus, born in a manger. God, in Jesus, feeding at his mother’s breast. God, in Jesus, growing in wisdom and stature to be a full grown man. God, in Jesus, living and working with his family. God, in Jesus, preaching and teaching. God, in Jesus, arrested and beaten. God, in Jesus, crucified dead and buried, under Pontius Pilate. God, in Jesus, paying the eternal punishment for all human sin on the cross. God, in Jesus, dead and buried. God, in Jesus, raised from the dead on the third day. All of that, God, in Jesus, reconciling sinners, bringing them home to God himself from their exile to sin.

So the laughter we experience as we gather with our families is part of the joy we rightly feel because of God and Sinners Reconciled. Joy to the World. Oh, Come Let Us Adore Him, Gloria in Excelsis Deo! All that we will sing in a few short days. It fits well with the first part of the Psalm. In some ways it is like a dream for us also, too good to be true. When we see the depth of our sin, when we know what sin does to us and to those we love, and we realize the rescue God has made for us. We sing for joy!

And yet, not all is well. Death, the wages of sin, still haunts us, breaking our joy. There is more of Jesus to come, even though he has totally captured the victory and yet there is more to do. In the psalm we call on God to finish it. The crucified, baby in the manger has risen from the dead has done great thing for us, and he promises to do even more. We weep now, but we will renew our shouts of joy even louder when the sky is filled with Jesus and his holy angels returning. We lament our sin and suffering. We long for a time when human beings can really live together in peace on earth. St. Paul says it:

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” (1 Corinthians 15:20–26, ESV)

Tears turned to joy. Weeping turned to shouts of joy. Jesus “making all things new” (Rev 21:5, ESV). And so we repeat or Advent Prayer. Come, Lord Jesus. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Isaiah 40:1-8; the Second Sunday in Advent; December 7, 2014;

 

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston & Mount Ayr, Iowa;

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins. A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” A voice says, “Cry!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the LORD blows on it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.” (Isaiah 40:1–8, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Comfort, comfort my people. Don’t we all like comfort? Don’t we all need it at sometime or another? Rudolf Bohren (Prof. of Theology: University of Heidelberg) said, “A human being needs comfort. The nursing child crying in its crib, the old man clinging to a beloved hand as he dies; the one coming into the world, the one departing from the world, both need comfort. Beginning and end help us to sense that the need for comfort is simply a part of being human.” The problem is that comfort is always suspect. Even people of faith find it difficult to always trust when we receive comfort. Maybe that’s because we’ve so often heard shallow words of comfort from well meaning people; words that don’t really bring any comfort at all. We often find ourselves testing words offered in comfort to make sure that they are not some kind of swindle and hoax.

This text that Isaiah writes, God’s Word to us today, says “Comfort, Comfort.” It’s double comfort that is to be given to God’s people. It’s double comfort to be shouted from the mountaintops. But if the comfort here is to be real comfort and not some phony replacement, we’ll need to understand what is really being said here. And Isaiah helps us here in this text to understand just that.

Comfort implies a helper.

We all know the real difference between true comfort and comfort that really isn’t comfort at all. Job’s comforters were really comfort at all. In fact he was burdened by their comfort. We don’t need that kind. Nor do we need the pat on the head, “There, there, it will be all right in the end.” Especially when we know that it won’t just be all right. In Psalm 87 the psalmist says, “for you, O Lord, have helped me and comforted me.” Help and comfort go together. Imagine the nurse who only talks to her patient but never touches them, never holds a hand, or changes bedding, or bathes, or gives medicine. Of course that nurse would be of no comfort at all.

“Comfort” is a very strong theme in the book of Isaiah, especially after this text in Chapter 40. Here God in continually calling out to his people with comfort. It is interesting to note that in all of these verses God is the one who does the comforting, and his people are always the ones who are comforted. God’s comfort always restores and helps, and Isaiah speaks the words as if the comfort that is offered is a done deal, already completed.

Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth; break forth, O mountains, into singing! For the LORD has comforted his people and will have compassion on his afflicted.” (Isaiah 49:13, ESV)

For the LORD comforts Zion; he comforts all her waste places and makes her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the LORD; joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the voice of song.” (Isaiah 51:3, ESV)

“I, I am he who comforts you; who are you that you are afraid of man who dies, of the son of man who is made like grass,” (Isaiah 51:12, ESV)

Break forth together into singing, you waste places of Jerusalem, for the LORD has comforted his people; he has redeemed Jerusalem.” (Isaiah 52:9, ESV)

Comfort is addressed to the heart.

The word translated from Hebrew into English as “tenderly” might also be translated, “straight into the heart.” Comfort must reach the human heart to be of any comfort at all. It’s easy enough to put off condemnation from other people. When someone says to me, “You’re a sinner!” I can say back to them “Same to you!” and even Satan’s accusations can be rebuffed with a word. “You are the father of lies, a professional trouble maker, I don’t need to listen to you.” But if my trouble come from my own heart, if my condemnation comes from right in here, then what help is there for me if the comfort doesn’t also reach right in here. It is only a message spoken “tenderly,” or “straight to the heart.”

By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything.” (1 John 3:19–20, ESV)

Here is a real message of comfort from God, it is most of all a message that the warfare is over. We are no longer God’s enemies. Our sins have been paid for… in double! Isaiah says. That doesn’t mean that we can sin all we want because it’s been taken care of. It means that the power of sin to destroy us has been destroyed. It’s just that it is foolish to let the very thing that has been destroyed destroy us from inside our own heart.

God says, “Her sin has been paid in double.” None of us can say that we have suffered more than we have sinned. There was in fact only one human being who could rightly claim that, because he had not sinned at all and yet he suffered the punishment of the whole world’s sin. No matter how great our suffering is we still deserve even more. The law is never satisfied. If we are guilty of breaking one little part we are guilty of breaking it all. But, God has taken care of that for us. Jesus Christ satisfied the law, perfectly. Jesus Christ suffered under the law and satisfied the requirement for punishment completely. God’s grace, God’s underserved love for us, is that he takes our punishment on himself in Jesus, and he gives to us His perfect life. That is comfort spoken straight into our hearts.

Comfort from God breaks through all obstacles

There are times when we suspect that God’s comfort is only words. When God is strangely silent when evil is so outspoken. There are times when God’s inaction makes us suspect that he is powerless, or that he doesn’t really care, or worse yet, doesn’t even exist. Make straight the way of the Lord. Isaiah says. Every valley raised up and every mountain made low. Nothing can stand in God’s way of dealing with sin. A way is going to be prepared for Him. God comes to deal with sin. He comes before people can even come to him.

Comfort is the reassurance that although humans fail, God’s word stands forever.

Life is short play hard, is hardly a phrase of great comfort. But, isn’t that what Isaiah is saying here?

A voice says, “Cry!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the LORD blows on it; surely the people are grass.” (Isaiah 40:6–7, ESV)

“Comfort my people, tell them that they are withering grass and fading flowers.” It isn’t what we even want to hear. But according to this text it is part of our comfort to remember it always. We are never to forget that death is built into everything we do, and there is nothing we can do about it. You and I will face death. We will face it with others, and we will face it for ourselves. That fact alone has a way of changing our minds about what is important, and what is not.

But there is comfort in knowing that death is not the end for us. For us, the resurrection looms also in our future, beyond our death. The breath of God that withers is also the breath that God will use to revive us. Grass has its season, but the life that God gives is eternal. That is comfort to us, whose flesh is but grass.

But that comfort isn’t cheap. It was paid for in the coinage of Jesus own holy and precious blood. That’s the price that assures us that our sin, and our punishment is forever paid. Why is it that we so often parcel out forgiveness in little increments? That is hardly how the Bible talks. “Your sin is paid in double!” shouts Isaiah. God’s forgiveness is total and complete. It is the comfort above all comfort and that is how we should receive it, in full. With Jesus Christ there is no sin that is too great that he cannot forgive it. There is no life to far gone that he cannot restore it. That is what we confess. “I a poor miserable sinner…” That is what we are, but the problem with the General Confession is that we become “generic sinners.” We are indeed guilty of breaking specific commandments. You are a murder. You are a thief. You are despiser of God’s Holy Word. We all break God’s commands daily; sometimes openly and sometimes secretly in our hearts. “in thought, word and deed.” We say. There is here today God’s words of comfort to you, spoken straight to your heart. Jesus Christ speaks his word of forgiveness to you. “In the stead and by the command of my Lord, Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins.” You have received double for all your sins. There is more than enough forgiveness at the foot of the cross to cover them all, and more than enough to bring you comfort straight to your heart. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Isaiah 64:1-9; The First Sunday in Advent; November 30, 2014;

 

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston & Mount Ayr, Iowa;

Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence— as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil— to make your name known to your adversaries, and that the nations might tremble at your presence! When you did awesome things that we did not look for, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides you, who acts for those who wait for him. You meet him who joyfully works righteousness, those who remember you in your ways. Behold, you were angry, and we sinned; in our sins we have been a long time, and shall we be saved? We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. There is no one who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities. But now, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. Be not so terribly angry, O LORD, and remember not iniquity forever. Behold, please look, we are all your people.” (Isaiah 64:1–9, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Isaiah has a dream, and it is a big one. God’s people are mired in sin. They are ignoring him, but more importantly they are ignoring God. His dream? That God would show himself in power and fix everything. He knows already that judgment is coming. He is afraid for the people. You do not trifle with God’s anger over sin. When the one who made the heavens and the earth displays his anger, there are earthquakes and lightning and fire and darkness and the rivers boil. A little of that would go a long way to the people seeing their sin and confessing. Isaiah makes no bones about it, the people are sinful. Even the good stuff they do is polluted like a bloody rag. Their sins make them dead and dry like a leaf that will just blow away in a breeze. But the people don’t see it, at least they won’t confess it. They refuse to call upon God’s name for mercy. Their sin has blinded them to their need for forgiveness. Isaiah confesses for them and then begs God to be the merciful God that Isaiah knows he is. There is no other god who acts in mercy toward those who wait for him. What that means it that those who stand in faith, those who wait for God to act in mercy toward them, those who see their great need for forgiveness, are given mercy and forgiveness. Isaiah reminds God that his people are his children. They were created by him, just as he created everything in the very beginning. Please temper your anger, Lord. He says. Lord, have mercy! He says. Look at us in mercy and forgive.

What could be better at Advent? We get a bit confused because we think Advent is all about the little baby in the manger. But it really is about waiting for God to act. Isaiah was waiting for God to act in mercy, to come and fix everything. He wanted God to come in person. And he did. He came in the manger in Bethlehem, the little baby that the song says doesn’t cry. But Advent is about his coming for a purpose, it is Isaiah’s dream. Jesus comes to bring mercy for those who are caught in sin. But Jesus also comes to bring God’s wrath against sin; lighting and thunder and earthquakes. Jesus is God who acts. The baby goes to the cross. There is the full anger of God played out. God, the Father, turns his face away from Jesus, his Son. Jesus quotes Psalm 22. His words on the cross are haunting. “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1, ESV) The Psalm continues to make the point.

I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; my strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death.” (Psalm 22:14–15, ESV)

It is so much like what Isaiah wrote.

There is no one who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities.” (Isaiah 64:7, ESV)

It is God, coming in Jesus. It is Isaiah’s dream, only better. Isaiah wanted the law to convict the people. Jesus comes and stand convicted for the people. He takes on God’s wrath in full. God executes justice on the cross, all justice for all time, for all people. It is the awesome thing that we didn’t look for. Forgiveness of sins when we were not calling upon his name, but enemies of God instead.

but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.” (Romans 5:8–10, ESV)

God does it, he pours out his great wrath on Jesus so that his people can have Isaiah’s dream, so that he can:

Be not so terribly angry, O LORD, and remember not iniquity forever. Behold, please look, we are all your people.” (Isaiah 64:9, ESV)

We are God’s people. Made so by God’s name placed on us in Holy Baptism. Made so through faith in the baby made sacrifice for us. And yet we are sinners, too. Isaiah’s dream needs to be re-read again. We live our lives not calling upon God’s name, but trying our best to get along without him. We do our good deeds for our own benefit. Sin spoils everything. Even the good things we do are polluted by false motives. We need God, himself to come and be present and fix everything. We need Isaiah’s dream again.

And Jesus comes. Word, water, bread and wine. He is here. He is present here just as he promises to be. And he comes for forgiveness. We confess our sin along with Isaiah. Please temper your anger, Lord. Lord, have mercy! Christ, have mercy! Lord, have mercy! Look at us in mercy and forgive.

… in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

… take eat this is my body … take drink this is my blood… for the forgiveness of all your sins.

God present in an awesome way we would never expect. Forgiving our sin through his very presence.

And that’s not all. Advent is about God coming to fix everything. He is coming yet again. He will fix everything then, by first destroying all that is corrupted by sin.

Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” (2 Peter 3:11–13, ESV)

It is God acting in mercy for those who wait on him. Sin and suffering, death and disease, done in. So we wait for God to act for us. And while we wait we act in holiness and godliness. That means serving the world as it needs to be served. Doing our daily work for the sake of our neighbor. Proclaiming the Good News of Jesus who forgives sins through his cross and resurrection and return. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Colossians 1:9-14; Thanksgiving Eve; November 26, 2014;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston & Mount Ayr, Iowa;

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:9–14, ESV)

(From a Sermon in Concordia Pulpit Resources, Volume 17, Part 4, Series C)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

There’s the story of Johnson and Jackson.

“Say, Johnson, don’t you recognize me?”

“Of course,” was the cold reply.

“Well, aren’t you going to say hello?”

“Hello,” an un-enthusiastic response.

“Aren’t you being a bit ungrateful Johnson?” Jackson replied, “When you were ill two years ago, who paid your doctor bills?”

“You did.”

“And this summer, who saved you from drowning when you got a cramp?”

“You did.”

“And you can pass by without even a greeting?”

“Well, sure,” said Johnson. “But what have you done for me lately?”

There is always the danger on Thanksgiving that we praise God with our words and appetites, but snub him with our thoughts and actions the days following the holiday, and the rest of the year. It’s like Johnson and Jackson. I don’t think any of us is quite that ungrateful. But, it is easy to be thankful when we have in view God taking care of a crisis, or the table full of the Thanksgiving feast. But thankfulness is forgotten unless we see God active “lately”.

Paul suggests that our life should be one of perpetual Thanksgiving.

But our Thanksgiving will be weak and short-lived if it is not based on something real. St. Paul tells us that our gratitude toward God is a matter of being “filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding” (v9).

What does that mean? The three are linked together; knowledge, spiritual wisdom, and understanding. Our knowledge of God grows as we read and hear his word. It’s why God has given this place so we know when and where to hear it. We observe God’s hand in history. We see God at work in nature. And he’s there in our lives. In all of that we understand more clearly. As we understand him more clearly our attitude towards life changes. We become wiser in seeing God all around. As we become wiser we become more thankful. We see God’s blessing in everything. And as we see God’s blessing that produces Thanksgiving.

Our national personality believes that we are independent and self-sufficient. Sometimes our Thanksgiving is more like “Thank you God that we don’t need you like other people do!” Just think about how dependent we really are. One person I know was stuck in Las Vegas at the airport as no planes were flying into St. Louis Monday and Tuesday. He’s hoping to be home by Thanksgiving. How many of you have enough supplies set aside to feed your selves for even a few weeks should the need arise? We are dependent on God who works through supply lines and people. Our sinful nature is selfish. We would rather be independent then dependent, especially on God. We see the blessings all around us as things we provide for ourselves. We work hard so God blesses us with the things we have. Other people are lazy they deserve what they get. What we fail to see is God working all around us. He works in the truck driver who brings us food. He works in the farmer who grows it. He works in the baker who makes it. And he works in our employer who gives us a job so that we can buy it. We are utterly dependent on God working through other people to give us everything we need.

But even more than that we are dependent on God for our spiritual needs. That sinful nature that refuses to see God as the giver of all good gifts, also thinks that our sin is small. We see other people as sinners, but ourselves is basically good. We forget that sin is the symptom of not trusting in God for all that we need. Un-thankfulness is the sin that believes that we don’t need God. The things that we do that our sinful are a result of not living in a perfect relationship with God. Sin is the result of not seeing God as the owner and provider of all things. We selfish and thankless human beings have no way to escape punishment. We have no assurance in ourselves of any outcome except eternal hell. It is only because God provides forgiveness through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ that we have any answer to our spiritual needs. Through the work of the Holy Spirit we are called to believe and kept in the faith. We are constantly and utterly dependent on God’s grace and mercy.

This is something that Jesus did as he lived his human life. Everywhere he went he saw God’s blessing. He gave thanks for food. He gave thanks for people. He saw God, the Father, behind all that was around him showering down gifts for the needs of everyone. He himself is the gift that brings forgiveness. He lived a life in perfect relationship with God, seeing God in every blessing and being perfectly thankful. And then in his death of the cross he suffered the punishment of eternal separation from God for our sin, especially our un-thankfulness. The gift of Jesus is that these things are ours though faith. The Holy Spirit works in Word and Sacrament to give faith that what Jesus did, his perfect life for us, and his replacement sacrifice for us, is indeed for us. Through that faith Jesus’ perfect life is ours. Through that faith, Jesus death and punishment are ours. It is only our selfish independence that prevents us from it. God give is freely. We receive it as pure gift. Once again God providing all that we need. Jesus has

has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

So, our thankfulness begins there. Jesus, our Savior, give us forgiveness. Through forgiveness we receive a relationship with God again. In a right relationship with God we see his blessings showering down on us, everywhere. Then a life of thankfulness flows to God, the giver of all good things. Amen.

The pace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

1 Corinthians 15:20–28; the Last Sunday of the Church Year; November 23, 2014;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church; Creston & Mount Ayr;

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. (1 Corinthians 15:20, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

There it is. All laid out right in front of you. Christianity in a nutshell. Jesus Christ risen from the dead. In fact, back just a few verses before this text you find out how critical the issue of Jesus’ resurrection is. Listen to what it says:

And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1 Corinthians 15:17–19, ESV)

So that says, no resurrection of Jesus, no resurrection of you and me, no Christianity.

Do you realize what this actually means? If there is proof that Jesus is still in his grave, then we are all wasting our time this morning. All of Christianity hangs in the balance. It’s actually in the Creed (http://catechism.cph.org/en/creed.html). It’s all stated as fact, at a particular time. Some folks have said that the most important words of the Apostles’ Creed are “suffered under Pontius Pilate.” Pilate was a real person in real history. Jesus was a real person in real history who actually suffered crucifixion under a real Roman government in a real place at a real time. And, more importantly, rose from the dead in a real place and time. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pilate_Stone) Now, you might not think this is important, but St. Paul says differently. Other religions are based in unverifiable or mythological events, or even founded on people that can’t be shown to have even existed. Our faith isn’t like that. Christianity is uniquely historic. It claims to be just that. And in fact in many places in the New Testament, the writers encourage people to check that what is claimed about Jesus is what actually happened. (Acts 26:26, 1 Corinthians 15:1-11) Everything that we believe about Jesus is verified to be true because Jesus rose from the dead. It isn’t even an arguable point. If Jesus is alive, what he says is true. It is Jesus himself that hangs his whole reputation on his resurrection. (See Matthew 13:38-42, Matthew 17:22-23, Matthew 27:62-63, Mark 8:31, Luke 11:29-32, John 2:13-22) When the Jews asked for a sign that he was who he said he was, Jesus says to wait for his resurrection. After all, who are you going to believe? Centuries of scholars who are dead in their grave, or the one who came out of his grave alive again?

So the question is: How do we know Jesus is risen? God doesn’t leave that to chance. He doesn’t put the answer in your heart so you can feel that it’s true. That’s what the other false religions do (i.e. Mormons and their “burning in the bosom” to verify that the Book of Mormon is true, http://carm.org/are-you-mormon). He gives you something objective, outside of yourself, to rely on. It’s written down in a historically reliable text. Of course, I’m talking about the Bible. We in the faith believe that it is God’s Word and therefore perfectly reliable. But did you know that the New Testament in particular is the most historically verifiable document from the ancient world. There are more copies and fragments of the New Testament than any other documents in ancient history. Everything we know about Ancient Greece, Rome, Homer, Aristotle, Plato, and the Trojan horse, all of it is based on very much less historical record than what happened to Jesus Christ and his followers. (http://carm.org/manuscript-evidence) If you deny the accuracy of the New Testament then you have to deny everything we know about the ancient world. The copies were made closer to the originals in time, and there are more of them than any other. For example: We have only 600 ancient copies of Homer’s Iliad written down many centuries after the events and the copies many centuries after that. We have over 20 thousand copies of the New Testament, from copies made within 100 years of the originals that were written within 30 years of the events.

So the documents are accurate, but does that mean that the writers are telling the truth. The writers claim to be witnesses or close associates of witnesses of Jesus life, death and resurrection. But maybe they made it all up. Well if they did, they are going against Jesus clear teaching that lying is a sin (John 8:44). It is also important to note that the Gospel accounts of Jesus life are not identical. They are from 4 different points of view. Any judge will tell you that identical testimony points to lying, it’s call collusion (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Collusion). Also, the disciples don’t tell a very flattering account of themselves. People don’t usually lie to make themselves look foolish. And there are a great many external non-Christian sources that verify the events written in the Gospels. Archeology it the friend of the testimony of the writers. Over and over again the details in the New Testament have been verified by archeological finds. And another thing; the documents were circulating within the lifetime of other witnesses, both hostile and friendly. There is no record of hostile witnesses denying what was written. They had motive, means and opportunity. The Jewish religious community could have spoken out against what was written if it was a lie. But they didn’t.

Now look at where we are. Faith is not required to see that the disciples recorded what Jesus said and did. Faith is required to see that what Jesus said and did is for me. But we can see that what was written is an accurate record of Jesus life and words. So what about what he did and said? He says that his is God. In fact, he is God in human flesh. He says that he has come to bring forgiveness to the world, and to restore a perfect creation. But anyone can claim to be God. Usually we lock people up who do that. The author C.S. Lewis said that Jesus’ claim makes him a lunatic, a liar, or God (http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/6979-i-am-trying-here-to-prevent-anyone-saying-the-really C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 1952). So, what makes Jesus claim different? Once again it is the resurrection. Jesus basis all that he say on his resurrection, he predicted it and pointed to it as proof. He was crucified, dead and buried. The disciples recorded in gory detail what happened to Jesus on the cross. The events leading up to his death, are in fact, the bulk of the discussion of the Gospels. And they were public, “Not done in a corner.” According to the writer of Acts (Acts 26:26). The disciples on the Emmaus road were surprised that anyone wouldn’t have heard of what happened to Jesus. There can be no doubt that he died on the cross and was buried in the tomb. And then, the writers describe seeing him alive again. If you are dead at point A and alive at point B, then what you have is a resurrection. One of the first Creeds of the church was "Χριστός ἀνέστη!" Christ is risen! "Ἀληθῶς ἀνέστη!" He is risen, indeed! It wasn’t wishful thinking, or some made up hope. It was based on eyewitness testimony. When the disciples were writing the Gospels, people who saw Jesus alive after his resurrection were still around. And the disciples encouraged investigation. The grave is empty. The enemies of the church only had to produce a body to disprove everything that was written. No body was produce even though many people had good reason to discredit the disciples.

All this is to say what St. Paul says.

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. (1 Corinthians 15:20, ESV)

Jesus is exactly who he says he is. He didn’t do some pointless miracle to prove it, he rose from the dead. It is, in fact, the most important miracle that could ever be done. Death is in your sight. It doesn’t matter if it happens by accident, disease, or old age. It is the most real and basic problem with your life. You are facing death. God says, it is sin. You sin, so you will die. And not only death but eternal punishment in hell. So serious is sin that God cannot tolerate any of it in his presence.

But Jesus is the first fruits of the resurrection. He was dead on the cross, then he rose from death. He says that his death is the total payment for your sin. And he promises resurrection for you. Someday soon, Jesus will appear again. And he has promised on that day he will destroy death. Actually, he’s already done it. He died and rose from the dead. In that truth he promises to do the same for you. He is the only one in all of history who can say it and mean it. It is what our faith is about. And it is founded on Jesus. His life, death and resurrection. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.