Saturday, March 24, 2007

The Annunciation, March 25, 2007, Luke 1:26-38

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. (Luke 1:26-38, ESV)

(from a Sermon by Dr. James Lamb)

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

Well, I guess our pastor has just plain lost touch with reality. Here it is a few weeks before Easter and we’re talking Christmas. Maybe all that coffee has finally fried his brain. What’s this Christmas reading doing in the middle of Lent? Maybe you asked yourself that, just think what you would have thought if we’d have sung the Christmas carol I’d originally picked out! Today is actually a Church holiday called The Annunciation. And if you were listening very carefully to the reading you’d have realized that it’s not about the birth of Jesus, it’s not a Christmas text at all. It’s about Jesus’ conception. It about when the angel Gabriel came to Mary and announced that she was going to be pregnant with God. So let’s see Christimas day is December 25th… so if you count backwards 9 months you get… today! March 25th! The day the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she was chosen to be the Mother of God.

Now, since we’re not really used to talking about this day in this way (it doesn’t fall on Sunday all that often!) we should start with a review of exactly what’s going on here. Let’s look at Holy Scripture again and see what it says. Right there toward the beginning we see the angel announce to Mary two specific things. First, that she will conceive, that means, she will be pregnant. The second is that she will bear a son. Now the angel also makes very clear that this Son, this one conceived and born would be none other than God. “The Son of the Most High” So from the Gospel reading we see that this is a very special pregnancy, Mary is going to be the mother of God. Remember when it was all said and done, Mary rushed out of town to see her cousin Elizabeth, who was pregnant with John the Baptizer? Elizabeth said the same thing about Mary. If we just read a few lines farther we hear her say I am blessed because the “the Mother of my Lord” has come to me. Now that word that she uses “Lord” is the word used as a way to say God’s name in the Old Testament. Kyrie! It stands for YHWH, which is understood at the name I AM that God’s name given to the people at the burning bush. Now she’s calling this very tiny human being in Mary’s womb, Lord, God, YHWH, I AM.

I think it sounds a little bit strange to our ears. “Mary was pregnant with God.” But the church, in her writings in Scripture and creeds, has always confessed it to be true. Our Lutheran Confessions, that’s the Reformation documents that we confess because they correctly describe what the bible teaches, say,

“We believe that the Son of man according to His human nature is really exalted to the right hand of God because He was assumed into God when He was conceived by the Holy Spirit in His mother’s womb and His human nature was personally united with the Son of the Most High.” (Epitome p. 15, Art. 8, Tappert p. 488)

Various Christian scholars have said the same. Dr. Edward Koehler, who wrote a very popular LCMS commentary on the Small Catechism in 1946, says “The Word was made flesh, assumed, took on, a human nature. This happened at the conception of Christ.” (Small Catechism – Annotated c. 1946 Concordia Theological Seminary Press p. 141) Francis Pieper, a well-known theologian of the 1950’s writes, “For Scripture says, as already pointed out, not only of the grown man, not only of the adolescent boy, not only of the babe in its mother’s arms, but of the embryo in its mother’s womb that it is God the Lord.” (Christian Dogmatics Vl. II p. 84) The church understands that Mary was pregnant with God. It sounds strange to us but it’s been confessed by the church, it’s nothing new.

So here we are in Lent thinking about things we usually hear around Christmas time. How are we supposed to think about it today? Right here in the middle of our Lenten season. Aren’t we suppose to be just a little bit frowney… reflecting on our sins… giving up something we don’t want to give up… for Lent? Well, if you turn to the bulletin and read along with me the collect for the day that we prayed a little bit ago you can see how we understand the connection between the Annunciation and Lent.

We implore you, O Lord, to pour forth your grace on us that, as we have known the incarnation of your Son Jesus Christ by the message of the angel, so by His cross and Passion we may be brought to the glory of His resurrection; through our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen!

One theologian helps us to see it by saying, “Christ passed through all stages of our existence that He might fully remedy our unclean conception and birth.” (Dr. Francis Pieper)

Mary was pregnant with God. It sounds funny to us but it had to be true. Jesus had to be an embryo, our salvation depends on it. In confirmation class we study two questions: “Why did Jesus have to be God?” and “Why did Jesus have to be man?” This is part of the second questions. Jesus had to be a human being so that he could take our place.

Psalm 51 helps us see our problem.

Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. (Psalm 51:5, ESV)

And Isaiah adds:

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. (Isaiah 64:6, ESV)

Polluted garments… that’s pretty harsh… and that’s the good stuff we do. We need a savior who is just like us in every way, except sin… (Heb 4:15) so that he can take our place completely. That means, just like every other human being, it begins in the womb. As the theologian said, Jesus passed through all the stages of our life for us. He took our place from the womb to the tomb. He took our place from our sinful beginning to our sin-earned death. He replaces our polluted lives with his perfect sinless life. He was born just like us. He lived and talked and walked just like us. He scraped his knees as a little boy and cried on his mother’s shoulder like us. He studies God’s Word and worked with his earthly father like us. He ate and slept, sang and laughed… all just like us, that because he is one of us, born in a womb, a human being… and yet the Holy and Perfect God. Like us in every way… except without sin. Mary was pregnant with God… because that’s the way it had to be.

For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. (Psalm 139:13, ESV)

You were knit together. Jesus human body was knit together. “Mary was pregnant with God, shows how much God loves human beings, how much he values human life. Dr. James Lamb likes to say that “You could have a sticker on the back of your neck saying, “Hand mane by God.” God was intimately involved in making the human body of Our Savior in Mary’s womb. He was intimately involved in your creation in your mother’s womb too. You are valuable to God because he made you. You don’t have value because of how well you can see or hear. You don’t have value because of how you look. You don’t have value because your life is free from pain. You have value because God loved the world in this way… He was conceived in a womb by the Holy Spirit…

…born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified dead and was buried, the third day he rose again from the dead.

His love for you made sure that your human body wouldn’t remain dead and buried in the grave either. You’ll rise to new live just as he did. That’s God’s love for you and all human beings. The small catechism says it:

I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord. Who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.

Now since we understand how God values our life and the life of all people from the very beginning of their lives, that is the very moment of conception, it’s appropriate to remind ourselves that the world around us doesn’t. Our part in it is that very often we’ve let it go on without standing up and speaking out clearly for the protection of life. And you know what I’m talking about. Abortion is not just a political issue that doesn’t belong in the church. It’s easier to avoid the whole issue and buy into the “choice” lie… “I’m personally opposed to abortion, but I must defend the right of a woman to chose.” That choice is only the “option” to kill that which our Savior bled and died to save. And not only that but we rarely talk about what that “choice” actually does to the mother.

Our love extends to where our Savior’s love goes. In some Sunday school letters to God one child wrote:

“Dear God, I bet it is very hard for You to love all of everybody in the whole world. There are only four people in our family and I can never do it.”

Loving human life, like God, is more than just being against abortion. It’s loving people in all stages and conditions. It means having compassion on those who have made mistakes. It means finding ways to help people avoid those mistakes. It means supporting young people to make good decisions, God-pleasing decisions, like saving themselves for the person they marry.

One thing we often forget is that abortion kills a child and hurts its mother. Women who are suffering guilt and pain as a result of a mistake like this don’t need our condemnation, they need our love. Jesus blood covers all sin even this one. Satan will tell them their sin is too big. Jesus says no. His holy and precious blood will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. People who have made wrong choices don’t need to hear the condemnation of the church; they need to hear about the Savior, not just once, but over and over and over again. Hey, that’s no different from you and me is it. Because we fail, because we sin every day, because we struggle with our wrong choices we need to hear about Jesus again and again and again.

In a few short days we’ll be ending our Lenten journey… the deep darkness and wonder of Good Friday, is coming, as is the unrestrained joy of Easter. All of it started, not really in a stable, but in Mary’s womb. Mary was pregnant with God. Jesus true God and true man was conceived in a womb. And right there, where we all began, He steps into the world to take our place, to save us from all our sins. Amen.

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

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Amazing Grace - Weekday Lenten Service 4, Psa 27:14,

The Fourth Sunday in Lent, March 21, 2004

St. John's Lutheran Church, Howard, SD

14Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord! Psalm 27:14 (ESV)

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

Wait for the Lord. I struggled a great deal with exactly what that means. Wait for the Lord. We don’t like to wait for anything. I get impatient when my family is suppose to get ready to leave the house, it seems as if there is always one more thing to do, one more trip to the bathroom. I’m ready to go and there I stand waiting. I know better than to go out to the car, I’ll be sitting and waiting twice as long. Waiting isn’t something I do very well. Aren’t we all conditioned by that light emitting box in our living rooms? Rarely do we ever have to wait more than an hour (or even a half) for any story to unfold. Oh, I know that lots of the programs now have story lines that continue from week to week. The networks have figured out that you’ll come back if they drag you along with a continuing story. But, that story line is always a part of a complete story for today’s episode. And just look at the popularity of DVD sets for a whole year of your favorites. Now you don’t even have to wait for that, but you can sit down and in marathon session get the whole season’s story line. How many of you have a bottle of wine sitting at home you are letting age to the appropriate age? Probably not many. In America, the wine experts complain, the typical aging of wine takes place on the car seat home from the store. Well, that’s typical of our waiting.

We don’t wait for anything. We don’t wait for marriage to have sex. We don’t wait 10 min for a hamburger (We should put salt and pepper shakers in the steering wheel.) We don’t want to wait for the traffic light to change, or for our tax refund. How long can you wait? Everything in our lives is designed to minimize the wait. Losing weight isn’t just talking about getting lighter on the bathroom scale. And here in this little text, at the tail end of a rather short Psalm, King David tells us to “Wait for the Lord.” Now of all the things we have to wait for, most of all we don’t want to wait on God.

“I’ve been that route,” you say. “I waited for God and my mother died anyway. I waited for God and the promotion I wanted passed me by. I waited for God and my girl friend started dating someone else. I waited for God and the pain in my body turned into chemotherapy. Waiting for God doesn’t mean that I’ll get what I want.” And that’s true. God never promises that he’ll give us whatever we want, and waiting on him doesn’t mean we’ll get what we want just because we wait.

We’ve all been taught that God answers our prayers with three different ways: “Yes, no, and wait.” I think we’d rather have “no” then “wait.” In fact, I think when the answer is “wait,” we most often go out and find our own answer. We lie ourselves into believing that if it makes me happy it must be God’s answer to my prayers. “After all,” we lie, “what God wants most is for me is to be happy.” The god that tells you that you can have it all, without waiting, is Satan. The god that tells you that what you want right now is what’s best for you is the world. The god that gives you whatever you want right now, in spite of the consequences, is yourself. Not wanting to wait on God is really all about rejecting him. It’s about refusing to let him be in control of our life. Wanting to be our own god.

On Sunday we heard about a parable that Jesus told. In it we hear about some folks who weren’t very good at waiting. There was a man who had two sons. The younger one told him he wished he were dead. Give me the money that is mine when you die, I can’t wait for that day. The father divided his property between the sons. The younger son couldn’t wait to get out from under the thumb of his old man. Within a few days he had gathered up all that was now his and went as far away as he could go. He partied. He laughed. He loved. He spent it all, every single dime. And when it was gone, every single dime, a famine came over the land, and since he had nothing left, he was trouble. He found a menial and degrading job, where he worked just to have a little bit to eat. And even that wasn’t worth anything. No one there offered to help him in any way. When he was at his lowest point he came to his senses. He thought about his father and decided he could get back in his father’s god graces if he returned home and told him he was sorry. “Even the workers on my father’s farm are treated better than this. Maybe I can talk my father into letting me work for him. I’ll go back to him and tell him, “Dad, I’ve sinned against heaven and against you. I can’t be your son anymore, but could I work for you as a hired hand?” Again he wouldn’t have to wait or work for himself to make things better. So he set out on his way home.

Since the day the son had left the father had been looking out and waiting with eager expectation for his son to come home. Every day he would stand looking out on the road for the first glimpse of his son. So when the son was still a long way off, the father saw him and ran out to meet him. He had been waiting. He ran to meet him with open arms to welcome him home again.

“Father, I’ve sinned against heaven and against you. I’m not worthy to be a member of this family anymore…” but the father, who had been waiting, didn’t allow him to finish. He called to the hired hands and told them to do everything necessary to welcome the son back into the family. He put the best robe upon him. He forgave him for all that he had done. The days of waiting were over. His lost son had come home again.

Amazing grace how sweet the sound,

That waited for a wretch like me,

I once was lost, but now am found,

Was blind but now I see.

That’s looking and waiting with eager expectation. The father stood at the road, looking out, waiting to forgive.

God, the Father, has already forgiven you. You have already been restored to the family. He was waiting for you with eager expectation at the baptismal font. There he embraced you and kissed you. He put His best robe, the robe of the perfect life of Jesus. It isn’t what you should receive from God. Instead you should be turned away. That’s what happens on the cross of Jesus. Jesus is turned away. He receives the punishment for your sins and you receive the life that he lived perfectly. God’s love for you is so great that he allows Jesus to die in your place. There is no waiting for forgiveness for you. It is done even before you ask. “Most Merciful God, we confess that we are by nature sinful and unclean. We have sinned against you in thought, word and deed…” and he interrupts and says, “I forgive you because of Jesus.” He forgives even your sin of not wanting to wait. He forgives even the sin of worshipping your own desires. It is all forgiven for the sake of Jesus.

Where guilt is great and sin abounds,

There God’s great grace is poured,

And fervent prayer form saints resounds:

“I wait for you, O Lord”

“I wait for you, O Lord.” It seems impossible. We hate to wait. But we do wait on the Lord. We do it because we know he has our best interest at heart. It’s not like waiting for a hamburger at the drive through. We don’t have a relationship with the clerk. We have a relationship with God. Our relationship is based on what he has done for us. Through baptism into the life, death and resurrection of Jesus we are a part of God’s family. That is sure, not because of anything we have done but because of everything He has done. He has shown us that he is faithful. Jesus death on the cross didn’t end in his death. He defeated death by rising from the grave alive again. That’s why the psalmist can say, “be strong, and let your heart take courage.” We are connected to Jesus resurrection through faith in him. What is his is ours, his robe of perfection, his living again. Our sin is paid for and our death isn’t the end. We will live forever with the Lord.

By grace we’re saved, through faith alone;

That mercy contemplate.

Bring all your needs before his throne

As for the Lord you wait.

The God who sacrificed his only son to make us his sons and daughters sometimes asks us to wait. We have God’s promises that no matter what happens it all happens for our good. (Ro 8:28)

31but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. Isaiah 40:31 (ESV)

And that’s God’s promise, too.

Wait for the Lord. Be strong and let your heart take courage, wait for the Lord.


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

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Amazing Grace - Weekday Lenten Service 3, Psalm 25:6


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

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.

I once was lost but now am found,

Was blind but now I see.

“I once was lost…”, left behind, ignored, abandoned, forgotten. I’m not sure that’s what the hymn writer had in his mind when he penned those words, but that’s how it seems to fit with the Psalm verse we read with it at the beginning of the service. “Remember me! O Lord.” It says.

"Remember your mercy, O Lord, and your steadfast love, for they have been from of old." (Ps 25:6, ESV)

Have you ever felt forgotten? A birthday that came and went without a card or letter, or phone call or even an eMail? Sitting and longing for that phone to ring bringing news from a living-away-from-home child? Wanting someone, anyone to visit you after an absence from church? It happens all the time. People get forgotten. People feel lost and alone. There is no fear like being forgotten.

There is a movie that’s a few years old now, called “Toy Story.” It’s about toys that live in the room of a child named Andy. In the movie, Andy and his family are moving. The toys are all very concerned about being forgotten and left behind when the family leaves. So to prevent the worst thing that can happen to a toy, they pair up into “moving buddies.” “The last thing I want is for a toy to be forgotten,” one of the toys says. No toy wants to be ignored by a child.

Human beings do lots of things to try to prevent being forgotten. Some donate money to hospitals, Sanford Health was Sioux Valley. Some donate money to the church. Others build networks of friends and colleagues, the more the merrier. The idea is that the more people you know the less likely it is that you’ll be forgotten. But no matter what people do there is still the risk of being forgotten; there is the risk of being alone and lost.

But the Psalmist is asking for something more than just to not be forgotten. The toys didn’t want to be lost because they didn’t want to be ignored. That’s really what the Psalm is saying, too. “Pay attention, God. Don’t forget your mercy and love for me. Look on me.” It’s like that last phrase we use every worship service here. The “Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make his face shine on you…. Turn your face toward me,” we say. “Don’t ignore me God. Remember me!” And we say it to remind us that God promises to pay attention to us; to remind us that we are not alone; to remember that we are remembered by Him.

But there is a danger in having God remember us. When God turns His face toward us He sees everything. He sees all the good we do, and He sees all the bad we do. He hears all the good things we say, and all the lies we tell. He even knows the good things we think about, and the awful things in our mind. And in fact, God is the one who sees everything we do in relationship to himself. He sees straight into our hearts and sees that in reality everything we do is sinful.

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. (Isaiah 64:6, ESV)

John Newton understood what that means. ‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear…” He wrote in beloved hymn. When we consider God paying attention to us, and our sin, we realize that we have good reason too fear. King David was a man who struggled with sin. He was boastful and proud. He was led astray by adultery. He paid the price for his sinful nature with the death of his beloved children. When David thought about God remembering him and his sin he said:

"For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight." (Ps 51:3-4a, ESV)

And our text has that in mind too, because it goes on to say, "Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions." (Ps 25:7, ESV) “Remember instead, your mercy. Pay attention to me in mercy.”

God has a track record of doing just that. When the Noah, his family and all the animals were loaded into the ark and God had closed the door. They were afloat in the water of the flood for 150 days. The bible tells us that “God remembered Noah and all the animals in the ark.” (Gen 8:1) He paid attention to them, cared for them and had mercy on them. While He destroyed every other living thing on the earth, because of sin, He had mercy on the eight humans and the animals. It’s not just that He thought about the from time to time He protected and directed and cared for them.

Where guilt is great and sin abounds,

There God’s great grace is poured,

And fervent prayer from saints resounds,

“Remember me, O Lord.”

So, how do you know that God remembers you, in mercy, instead of seeing your sin?

In the movie “Toy Story” one of the toys that is almost lost comes to his senses and remembers that he belongs to Andy because Andy has written his name on him. The toy remembers who he belongs to because a big “A N D Y” had been scribbled on his foot in big bold letters.

And you have God’s name scribbled on you in big bold and wet letters. That’s how God promises to remember you. A little over a week ago we gathered together to begin our Lenten journey at this rail by receiving a sign in ashes. Those ashes weren’t only a sign of our sinfulness, but they were put on us in the shape of a cross. That cross was just the same as the sign of the cross made upon your forehead and upon your heart to mark you as one redeemed by Christ the Crucified. That’s the same sign of the cross given to you in baptism, and it’s shorthand for the name of God.

“But that’s too simple to be sure, it’s too ordinary. I’d really like God to do something really spiritual. Like a glowing face, or lightning or thunder or a warm fuzzy feeling deep in my heart. Water in a man’s hand is too simple to really be God remembering me.”

That’s one of the great things about Baptism. It just doesn’t leave any doubt about who God is dealing with. Do you want to know if God remembers you, if God is paying attention to you, and looking upon you? Ask yourself this: Did make me promises in Holy Baptism? Was it water connected to God’s Word that made my head wet? Was God’s name spoken over me? You can’t get any more specific than that. In Baptism God is working through His Name and water. And were God puts His name He promises to be. He put His name on you and He promises to be with you, and look upon you and remember you.

And what about those sins? That’s what the water reminds us of. They are washed away because of Jesus. When God puts His name on you He gives you everything Jesus earned for you. He remembers you in mercy and love because He turned away from Jesus and allowed Him to suffer and die on the cross in your place. It was a very real and physical death, a very real and physical punishment for sin. It’s God’s name on you that makes that punishment yours. It’s simple really. His death in your place. His name on you makes it yours. Oh yeah, don’t forget that He didn’t stay dead. Not only did Jesus die a real physical death He also rose again in a real physical body. And when the time comes, when Jesus comes again, He will transform your lowly body to be like His glorious body (Phil 3:21). And that’s yours through Baptism, too!

It’s simple and easy to identify because God knows how simple and easy we need it. Just think, God uses water and His word to make you His, and remind you that He remembers you and because of Jesus He has taken away your sin. He has used water to put His name on you. Every day you turn on the tap to get a drink of water, you can say “Remember me, O Lord.” Every day as you wash in the shower as and see that dirty water going down the drain, you can say, “Remember me, O Lord.” When you wash the dog and you pour the dirty water out on the ground, or you wash the dirt from your hands in the sink, you can say, “Remember me, O Lord.”

God remembers you. He has put His name on you, and with His name comes everything Jesus Christ did for you.

For all my sins Christ did atone,

That I might ransomed be.

Now leave me not, my God alone;

In love remember me. Amen.

Amazing Grace? Yes, not lost but found, not forgotten but remembered. Amen.

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

Friday, March 09, 2007

Matt.6.25-34 Consecration Sunday Resurrection Lutheran Church, Sioux Falls, SD

Matt.6.25-34 Consecration Sunday Resurrection Lutheran Church, Sioux Falls, SD

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

My brothers and sisters in faith at Resurrection Lutheran:

It’s my privilege to be here and bring you the Good News of Jesus Christ today. Thank you for the invitation to speak to you today as you celebrate Consecration Sunday. I bring you greeting from one of the oldest congregations in the district, your sister church, St. John’s, Howard.

You have asked me here to talk to you about stewardship. Whenever we talk about stewardship in church we can be a little bit uncomfortable. That’s because one important part of Christian stewardship is how we handle the money the Lord has given us, particularly how we support the work of the church. Whenever we talk about giving to the church it strikes us very close to our hearts… right in our wallets. Also, we know that whenever we talk about money there’s bound to be conflict. You know how the saying goes, stick a two of South Dakotan’s in a room to talk about money you’ll have 3 opinions on how it should be spent. And don’t forget the other old idea that lots of people think, “the only thing the church talks about is money.” Well, we’re going to talk about Christian stewardship today because congregations that never talk about Christian stewardship end up always talking about money.

We do have to talk about money in the church, because the church needs to pay its bills. You have a beautiful building to pay for. The city doesn’t provide you with electricity and water for free. You pastor has hungry mouths to feed. He needs to be paid for the work he does here. St. Paul says:

Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.” (1 Timothy 5:17-18, ESV)

These needs are all a part of giving to the church. But we don’t give to the church because the church needs the money. We don’t give to the church so that the church meets its budget. We give because as Christians, we need to give. We give because we have a need to rely on God, and God alone, in everything. We give because God is the gracious supplier of all our needs.

When we don’t have a proper view of stewardship, when we spend all our time talking about money, we are missing the most important thing we are to be talking about in Church. You see, Jesus tells us that here in the church we are to be focused on one thing and He will take care of the rest. I’m not saying, nor is our Savior, that if we do the right thing the budget automatically fall into balance. I don’t see that He promises that anywhere in Scripture. Your church here may always have some struggle with its budget just as you struggle with your budget at home from time to time. What Our Savior does promise is that He will take care of us. He promises that all things happen for our benefit.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28, ESV)

Jesus wants us to trust Him. He wants us to realize if we struggle to meet our budget, while we are focusing on what’s most important, it’s ok, because in that struggle we learn to be dependent on Him. Jesus says it in this way in Matthew Chapter 6, which is the text I have chosen for our meditation today:

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 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? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. (Matthew 6:25-34, ESV)

Today the part of this text that I really want to focus on is: Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. There are some questions here that I think come up when we look at this very short and simple passage. What is God’s righteousness? What is God’s Kingdom? What is it exactly that we are to seek after? St. Paul says it in a very clear way:

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. (1 Corinthians 2:1-2, ESV)

The church, that’s me and you, the Baptized Children of God, are to be focused on Jesus Christ and Him Crucified. We are to be focused on the forgiveness of sins that comes to us through Jesus Word and Sacraments. That’s the message, the Good News, that we are to be about, proclaiming to the world. If you want a mission statement for the church that talks about that very thing, well Jesus gives you one of those, too.

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20, ESV)

Baptizing and Teachings. Word and Sacrament. Seek ye first, the Kingdom. That’s what we are to be about. That’s what we are to be doing.

Ok, so when we talk about doing this work of the church, baptizing, teaching, preaching, etc. it’s only natural to talk about the financial means the church uses to do it. When we talk about the money the church needs to carry out its mission, it’s easy to be tempted to worry about making ends meet. It’s only natural as a caring human being. Your pastor isn’t immune to worry. I’m not immune to worry. You are not immune to worry. At home you worry about paying your bills. You worry about getting your kids through school. The same thing happens at church. Although being a small church has many advantages that you love, being a mission congregation means that you don’t have the resources of an established congregation. So you worry about where the money is going to come from to pay the bills. You worry about how that is going to effect your mission to reach out with the Gospel. It’s not all wrong to have concerns about these things, except that is, when these things and these worries get in the way of the Cross. I would not be fulfilling the office that God has placed me in, my brothers and sisters in Christ, if I didn’t tell you that when that happens it is sin. And it’s easy to get caught up in that sin. I get caught up in it and so do you. God may never grant this church to have all the resources of a larger church. He may never grant that this church have an easy time meeting its budget, but that’s His call, not mine, not your Pastor’s, and not yours. We just have to get around the idea that if we have it easy, we are under God’s blessing and if we struggle we don’t have God’s blessing. Well, it’s like the hymn:

I lay my wants on Jesus; All fullness dwells in him;

He heals all my diseases; My soul he does redeem.

I lay my griefs on Jesus, My burdens and my cares;

He from them all releases; He all my sorrows shares.

(Lutheran Worship, 366)

How about an example from Luke’s Gospel:

Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42, ESV)

How easy it is to get tied up in the work that’s necessary to keep things going, and miss the main thing. How easy it is to get tied up in how to pay the bills and forget that the reason we pay the bills is because we come to this place to see the one thing necessary, Christ Crucified. There’s no better way to put it than the way Martin Luther says it in the Small Catechsim:

I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.

“That I may be His own” just think about that for a moment. Jesus Christ comes, is born a human being, “that I may be His own.” Jesus lives on earth, walks the roads of the Middle East “that I may be His own.” He hangs on the cross, and suffers not just the physical suffering of that punishment, but also the spiritual suffering that our sins deserve, “that I may be His own.” He ascends into the cloud up to the throne of God, the Father, and prays for me there, “that I may be His own.” He comes here in His Word, in Water connected to His Word, and in His very body and Blood, in with and under bread and wine, “that I may be His own.” His own to serve Him in worship. His own to serve Him with the time that He gives me. His own to serve Him with the talents that He gives me. And even His own to serve Him with the money that He gives me. That’s Christian Stewardship. That’s giving to the church for the all the right reasons.

Maybe I’ll just say it this way: You and I know that everything is God’s. He created the world and everything in it, including you and me. He gives things to you and me to take care of us, and so that we can take care of our neighbors. It is beyond my understanding that He then lets us give some of it back to Him and He uses it what we give to give us the forgiveness of sins, and eternal life. It used to be so much clearer. In the old days, people gave their offerings, not in cash, but in kind. So piled up in the front of the church would have been hams, and corn and bread and milk and wine. The pastor would take some of the bread and some of the wine and carry it up to the altar for the Lord’s Supper. And the gift that was given by God’s people came back to them with the body and blood of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins, and life, and salvation.

Now I want you to stand up and look around you. You see this church. It’s a beautiful building; it’s been well taken care of. You’ve been good stewards of this gift. What a blessing it is. See this Baptismal font. I had water put water in it today just as a reminder of what happens there, a reminder of the lives that have been brought into the family of God. Look on the altar and see the chalice. In it is some wine, and near it bread, where very soon Our Lord will come to us in His very body and blood for the forgiveness of sins. Let that also remind you also of what God does here through that gift.

All of this is God’s gift to you… and he gives you a part in it. The gifts that you give He gives to you. The question you can ask yourselves today, as you think about the gifts that God has personally given you and how you are going to support what he does here is this: Do you need what God gives you in this place? Do your friends and neighbors need what God gives in this place? Do your children and grand children need what God gives in this place? Does this community, this state and the world need what God gives in this place? If the answer is “yes”, then recognize the work of the Holy Spirit in you right now.

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:33, ESV)

He’ll guide you in what you can do to support the work that He does here. He’ll provide you with all you need to do the work He has for you to do out there. Amen.

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

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Amazing Grace - Lent 2, Weekday Service, Joel 2:13

Joel.2.13 – Amazing Grace

First Sunday in Lent, February 25, 2007

St. John’s, Howard, SD

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

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound

That saved a wretch like me.

I once was lost, but now am found,

Was blind, but now I see.

It’s a well known hymn to all of us. And a greatly loved one, for many a favorite. You may know the story behind its beginning. John Newton composed it about himself sometime between 1760 and 1770. His tomb stone tells the story. “John Newton, clerk, once an infidel and Libertine, a servant of slavers in Africa, was, by the rich mercy of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, preserved, restored, pardoned, and appointed to preach the faith he had so long labored to destroy.” And preach it he did, until he was 82 years old with failing sight and memory. When someone suggested he retire he is reported to have said, “My memory is gone but I remember two things: that I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great Savior.” I think it is true that those who most feel the burden of sin can most appreciate the grace of God, found in His forgiveness.

When I read a passage like 13bReturn to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. Joel 2:13b (ESV) I often find myself saying “Return? But I’ve never left. I’ve been a Christian all my life. Saved through the work of Jesus, given to me in baptism when I was so small I can’t even remember it.” In fact, as often as I’ve sung the words “a wretch like me,” I don’t think I’ve ever really taken it to heart. I don’t think I’ve ever really felt wretched. Not like John Newton, slave trader anyway. Or like the woman who came to the Pharisee’s house where Jesus had been invited to eat. She poured very expensive oil on Jesus feet and wiped it up with her hair. The other guests were appalled because she was a ‘sinner.’ Maybe she was a prostitute or something like that. “If this man were really a prophet he wouldn’t let a woman like that touch him.” Simon, the owner of the house, thought to himself. Jesus said, 41“A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” (Luke 7:41-42 ESV) “Well, the one who had the large debt cancelled, I guess.” Was answered. “Yes you are right.” Jesus said. And then looking at the woman he said, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. 46You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” (44-47) And Jesus forgave her, not because she had washed his feet but because she had come to him in faith asking for forgiveness. “Your faith has saved you.” Jesus told her. She would have understood the hymn and the words “saved a wretch like me.”

So, have you been forgiven much? Do you really think of yourself as “a poor miserable sinner,” like we confess most Sundays here? When I say to you “Return to the Lord, your God,” do you say to yourself, “Return? from where? from what?”

Oh sure, it’s easy to point to John Newton, or the woman at Simon’s house and say they needed to return. But have you ever heard yourself saying something like this: “Return? Me? But, I’ve been church attender all my life. I’ve always believed.

I come every Sunday, weather I feel like it or not. I’m actually here on Wed night, too! And I’m pretty generous with the collection plate, too. Never mind that my heart isn’t always here with me, or that my mind has wandered off to this afternoon. (It’s not my fault if Pastor’s sermon is boring.) Never mind that lots of times I leave church feeling like I’ve wasted my time, because all I accomplished was ‘going through the motions.’ At least I’m here. I know other folks who need to “return” here. People who haven’t pressed a pew in months, or even years. Or how about those folks who use church attendance as a way to get what they want. I’m not the one who needs to return.”

Or if I said “Return to the Lord your God.” Would you be likely to say something like this: “God is first in my life… well mostly anyway. He knows how busy I am with school and sports and work and family. What’s a missed church meeting here and there. What are a few absences from worship or bible study? My family is my priority. God did give me all these blessings (or at least he knows how hard I worked to get them) I’m sure He’d want me to enjoy them. If God’s really my friend and my buddy He won’t mind being put on the back burner for a while.”

“Return to the Lord your God…” Jesus told this story. There were to men who went to church to pray. One said, “Lord, I’m glad I’m not like other folks. I attend church. I give my money. I put you mostly first. Thank you for making me a good believer.” The other wouldn’t enter the sanctuary. He knelt in the janitor’s closet. “Lord, I’m a sinful person… help me to Return to you.” It’s hard not to be the first guy. We’ve been so blessed to have been given the faith. We’ve been so blest to have a church where God’s Word has been preached clearly for so long. And yet our old sinful nature swells up with pride so easily. It doesn’t take much to compare ourselves to the likes of the woman at the party or the previous life of John Newton and think that we come out ahead. The truth is we’ll never come out on top of sin. It’s in our hearts to stay and leads us to places we don’t want to go.

You and I are always have the need to “return to the Lord our God.” And while it may seem like it’d be easy to remove them from our life, they aren’t. When God says “Return” He means “Return all the way. Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect!” Jesus says. And we can’t be perfect. 14O Jerusalem, wash your heart from evil, that you may be saved. How long shall your wicked thoughts lodge within you? (Jeremiah 4:14 ESV) The place that we need to return from is right here in our hearts. We’d like to compare ourselves with other people. We like to point out their sin and their short comings. We are good a pointing the finger of guilt at other people. But we hate it when it points at us. All the things we do, the gossip, the pride, the selfishness, are only symptoms of what sin really is. The real blackness is something that you can never get rid of. In the words of Martin Luther, “we daily sin much and deserve nothing but punishment.” (Fifth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer) That’s what the Hymn means by a “wretch like me!” David had it right in Psalm 51. “Create in me a clean heart, O God.” He knew only a radical heart transplant free from sin. He knew unless his heart was changed with a new and clean one, all he could expect form God was eternal death and punishment. No matter which evil person we point to, we are just as sinful, just as guilty, just as deserving of God’s punishment. “Return to the Lord your God!”

You know there is another way to say that word “Return.” It’s a bigger word, and it even has a bigger meaning. And it’s a good word for Lent. The word is “Repentance.” Repentance means to turn away from evil and turn toward God. But there is more to it than that. It really has two parts. First, there is the acknowledgement of sin and sorrow over it (contrition). It’s knowing we are sinful, that we sin every day. It’s hearing God’s Word that cuts us to the quick; that accuses that sinful nature of it’s certain reward for sin. “It’s not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick.” If you don’t see the need for your medicine you won’t take it. If you don’t see the sin that is in your heart you won’t see the need to get rid of it. And the second part of repentance is faith. That’s turning toward God because you believe that He has is the only one who can do anything about your sin. It’s looking for Jesus on the cross and standing where the blood shed for you can wash away this in that is in you. That’s the “for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love” There’s a hymn we sing that goes like this:

Where guilt is great and sin abounds,

There God’s great grace is poured,

And fervent prayer from saints resounds:

“I call upon the Lord.”

In fact, if we didn’t believe that God has done something about our sin, that sin that lives in our hearts, what would the point be of even being here? We do turn toward God, because we know that he promises to forgive. 8If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:8-9, ESV) Those are repentance words, a lot like the words of Newton, “I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great Savior.” Those are “returning” words. We know we are sinful and we turn to God who we know is faithful.

You know that finger pointing that we like to do. Well there is a way that we should do it. In fact, there is a way that God allows. When we are convicted by our own sin, when we see the blackness in our hearts, and we know there is nothing we can do about it, we get to point to someone else. When we feel guilty for our sin, we get to point to someone else to take the punishment. It’s like we get to say, “He did it.” And Jesus takes the blame even thought He didn’t do it. “Not me, Him.” We say when we are in trouble for our sin. Jesus became guilty of sin, even though He never sinned in His whole life. He was punished for the sins of the whole world even though He lived perfectly from the first day He was born. 21For our sake [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV)

I don’t want you to get the impression that God is letting sin go easy. He doesn’t just sweep it under the rug. For God, sin is serious business. It is deadly serious. All through time God has shown over and over again how sin means death. It’s because sin is a matter of the heart, that only death can remove it. The shedding of blood is required to pay for sin. Jesus shed His blood in a brutal and violent death on the cross. Abounding in steadfast love? Yes. Jesus is God’s abounding love, that He endured even that kind of a death for you. Amazing Grace? Yes amazing. Not only because it comes to “wretches” like you and me, but because of what He did to show it.

That brings us back to “Return to the Lord your God.” It’s only our short sidedness, or our pride, or our selfishness that tells us that we don’t need to “return.” Sin is our constant companion. It always threatens us. And so we “Return” to God, we repent. The author of Hebrews says it this way: 22let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. (Hebrews 10:22-23, ESV) We “return” because He is faithful. We “return” because He forgives. We “return” for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.

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

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Second Sunday in Lent, March 4, 2007, Luke 13:31-35

St. John’s Lutheran Church, Howard, SD

At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” And he said to them, “Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course. Nevertheless, I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following, for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.’ O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! Behold, your house is forsaken. And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’ ” (Luke 13:31-35, ESV)

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

What’s really going on in this text… I mean the first thing we see is the Pharisees trying to protect Jesus’ life. Can we really believe that they’ve had a change of heart after all that Jesus had done and said about them? Do they really care that Herod wants to kill him? More likely they’ve egged Herod on to get him riled up. Luke tells us that members of Herod’s household were following Jesus, and Herod wanted to see him. The Pharisees had plenty of reason to want Jesus dead. He called them foolish, hypocritical, greedy, rotten, dead men (11:39ff). He told people not to listen to what they were teaching. I don’ think these guys are going to have Jesus’ best interest at heart in telling him to leave the area. Maybe they think if he goes somewhere else they can go about there business in peace. But of course Jesus won’t have any of that he’s on a mission. He said before.

“The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” (Luke 9:22, ESV)

He says it in a different way this time,

And he said to them, “Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course. Nevertheless, I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following, for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.’ (Luke 13:32-33, ESV)

It’s that third day part that interests me today, but we’ll get back to that in a moment. Suffice it to say, for the moment, that Jesus tells the Pharisees “No! I’ll not be distracted from my purpose.”

I think the voice of the Pharisees is a voice that we’ve heard before in this Gospel. In fact, Luke has us considering this voice as a critical beginning to Jesus ministry. The very first words Our Savior speaks in this Gospel are in response to this voice. It’s back in Chapter 4. After Jesus was baptized, he was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by Satan. It’s an odd kind of statement, that Jesus was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan. You’d think that the Spirit would lead him to avoid that stuff altogether. Instead, out there in the desert all by himself Satan comes after him with an attack of words. “If you are the Son of God, make these stones bread and eat.” He means something like this. “You’re hungry. Eat up. You don’t have to go through with God’s plan. You can make up one of your own. An easier one. One without pain and trouble. One without suffering. One without hunger. These people aren’t worth it.”

When he says, “I’ll give you everything you’ve ever wanted, just worship me.” He means something like this: There’s an easier way to get the whole world. You don’t have to follow this plan of suffering. Set it aside and I’ll give you what you are looking for.

And when he says: “If you are the Son of God jump off the top of the temple. He’ll rescue you from death and every one will see that you really are who you say you are.” There’s an easier way. You don’t have to suffer and die for these people who won’t believe in you anyway.

Make no mistake Satan doesn’t have Jesus best interest at heart. Neither does he have yours and mine at heart either. He simply wants Jesus to fail in his mission. He just wants his control of the world to go on forever. All he wants is for Jesus to set aside God’s plan to save the world, to save you and me. When the temptations are all over Luke writes these words:

And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time. (Luke 4:13, ESV)

If you’ve ever wondered what he meant by a more “opportune time” listen to the words of the Pharisees again: “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” Sound a little like Satan, “Don’t go to Jerusalem. Don’t do what God has planned for you to do. These people aren’t worth your death. It’s not worth all this trouble.”

And that’s when Jesus says,

“Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course. Nevertheless, I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following, for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.”

In other words, “I’ll not step aside from my plans to go to Jerusalem to die, and you Satan can’t stop me.” And thank God that’s exactly what he did. He “set his face to go to Jerusalem” even when he knew that it would mean his death. But that’s why we are here today, isn’t it; because Jesus went to Jerusalem; because he wouldn’t be turned aside from God’s plan; because it was the only plan that God had made for our salvation.

If it had been me or you, we’d have been turned aside long before this. You know what happens when Satan brings temptation before you. You fold up like a dying flower. You know God’s plans for your life, they’ve been very clearly laid out for you in the Ten Commandments. We don’t have to go through them step by step to find your fault (although it is a very good practice). Remember Jesus says you don’t have to do anything against them to actually break them they are already crumbling in your heart when you just want to do what they tell you not to do. Jesus didn’t avoid temptation because he could handle it. Jesus stood up to Satan’s clever words because he had a bigger and better plan in mind, God’s plan, the one that would benefit the whole world. We can’t. We don’t. When Satan tempts us with the riches of the world we can’t wait to open our hands and grab hold of them. When Satan says eat this bread we eat it with gusto regardless of the consequences. When Satan says “just check it out and see if God really means he’ll defend you in everything. Go ahead put God to the test.” We complain when our world crumbles and we’ve got a little trouble in our lives instead of smooth sailing. We wonder why it fells that God has abandoned us to illness, and pain when the trouble in our lives is often self-inflicted. “I don’t deserve this!” We say, when we well know what we deserve is much worse.

It’s what we deserve that sent Jesus to Jerusalem to die. It’s what you deserve that made Jesus set his face to Jerusalem to suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed.

St. Paul describes it well,

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. (Ephesians 2:1-3, ESV)

He was talking to a group of Christians just like you and me.

That’s what Jesus death on the cross changes for you and me, forever. We go from being children of wrath to being beloved children. Jesus didn’t just defeat Satan in the desert. He totally put away his power over people when he died on the cross. Satan scowled at him there too. “If you are the Son of God come down from the cross. Save yourself. These people aren’t worth the trouble and the pain and the sacrifice.” But in Jesus eyes you are worth it. He did suffer for you there. He put away the punishment for your sin. You’re tempted and fail every day and Jesus blood covers that sin. He died instead of you. He suffered God’s anger, instead of you. He was rejected by God, instead of you. Your sins, no matter how great, can’t stand up to the blood of God spilled out on the cross.

That’s where we get back to the third day thing I told you we were going to talk about. Well, it’s actually Paul who gets to the point.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— (Ephesians 2:4-5, ESV)

Alive together with Christ… the third day… get it? He’s talking about his resurrection from the dead. He’s talking about Easter. He’s talking about new life. He’s talking about victory over Satan’s words. He’s talking about a new life in him. In Paul’s words:

[God] raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:6-7, ESV)

And just to make sure we get it:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9, ESV)

It’s a good thing it is God’s free gift, isn’t it? ‘Cause you and I both know where we’d be left it were left up to you and me… wallowing in Satan’s promises… Satan’s lies… living our lives as if we were the only ones who mattered… well, that still happens doesn’t it. And that’s where that forgiveness comes in again. Ah, Jesus saves us from that, too. He brings forgiveness that rebuilds and restores. He gives forgiveness that lets us set aside the hurt and start again. It’s all there for you at the cross… the cross in Jerusalem. Amen.

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