Monday, November 30, 2009

Luke.19.28-40; First Sunday in Advent; November 29, 2009

And when he had said these things, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. When he drew near to Bethphage and Bethany, at the mount that is called Olivet, he sent two of the disciples, saying, “Go into the village in front of you, where on entering you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever yet sat. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ you shall say this: ‘The Lord has need of it.’ ” So those who were sent went away and found it just as he had told them. And as they were untying the colt, its owners said to them, “Why are you untying the colt?” And they said, “The Lord has need of it.” And they brought it to Jesus, and throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. And as he rode along, they spread their cloaks on the road. As he was drawing near—already on the way down the Mount of Olives—the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.” (Luke 19:28-40, ESV)

(from an outline by Rev. Harold Senkbeil, Concordia Pulpit Resources, Vol 17, 2006)

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

Oops! Is that right? That sounds like the reading for Palm Sunday not Advent. That sounds like preparation for Good Friday not Christmas. We seem to have skipped right over Christmas and dropped into Lent and Easter. Are you sure pastor you’ve got the readings right? Well, yes I do. The new lectionary (series of readings that go with the new hymnal) has made this small change for the beginning of Advent. It sets before Jesus going into Jerusalem to give his life on the cross for our forgiveness. It makes sure we have all our ducks in the right row, so to speak, as we approach Christmas. You see, the cross and the cradle are connected together. Christmas isn’t just a story about the birth of a baby; it’s the story of the birth of a particular baby. He is born for a certain specific task: to die for the sins of the world. But you don’t have to take my word for it, just listen to what the angels tell the shepherds:

And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:10-11, ESV) (Emphasis mine)

You see, the whole story of the birth of Jesus Christ is told for the purpose of telling us about what He did to be Savior of the whole world. It links together the cross and the cradle.

The birth of Jesus tells us a very important thing about Jesus. It tells us that he is completely human, completely flesh and blood. He was born just as every human being is born. He was a helpless infant just like every human being. It tells us that God didn’t just make some far out way of salvation for us, but He came to us in human flesh. That very same human flesh hung and bled and died on the cross. But to do that God had to take on human flesh, being born of a virgin, in a stable, in diapers, so that the law would actually apply to him. St. Paul says it like this:

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. (Galatians 4:4-7, ESV)

So we have the wood of the cradle on one end of the story, and the wood of the cross on the other. So today with the cradle in mind we look ahead to the whole point of the story, Jesus purposely going to the cross to give us peace.

First be clear that what Jesus does is not an accident. He knows where he is going. It’s his plan from the very beginning. That is just what he tells his disciples. They don’t like it. They don’t understand it. But Jesus makes his plan clear. And along the way the way he spends time with sinners in Jericho. These were the folks other folks only want to avoid, like blind people that he gave their sight, and Zaccheaus the tax collector who Luke tells us received faith in Jesus. You remember Zaccheaus hanging up in the tree to see Jesus, and Jesus telling him to get down because he was going to see him at his house. Along the way to die Jesus spends time with those he came to “seek and to save.” (Luke 19:10, ESV) And in our reading today he sets the dramatic stage for it all. He sends the disciples ahead to arrange things. You remember a colt “on which no one has ever ridden” you know the one that Jesus said would be there. The disciples go and find it just as Jesus said they would and they bring it and say exactly what they are told to day. “The Lord has need of it.”

It is all very dramatic and on purpose. Luke wants us to be clear about what Jesus is doing and who he claims to be. The donkey was an important symbol. By riding into town on it Jesus is claiming to be the new true king of Israel; the one King Herod was really afraid of; the one he tried to kill by killing every child under two years old in Bethlehem. And not only that but Jesus is saying by this very action that he is God come to do what God has promised to do all along, save his people. The prophet Zechariah:

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. (Zechariah 9:9, ESV)

And yet, riding a donkey is a very humble pose for God to enter a city.

And not only does Jesus know where he’s going, he knows exactly what he’s doing. He didn’t get killed by accident. The folks around him didn’t see it coming, but Jesus knows. They couldn’t understand why he would have to die, why (from their perspective everything he had done would come to an end). But Jesus knows it all. He sets his whole being toward the cross. He knew he had to suffer and die and be raised again according to God, the Father’s plan. He knew he was the sacrifice for the sins of the world, the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.

For our sake he 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)

The baby in the manger is headed for glory. And yet, it goes a way that we don’t necessarily like or understand. Did you hear on the news the other day about the Church that got in trouble for building a Christmas float with a crucified Jesus on it? People what to see the baby, you and I want to see the baby, but we like to put the cross out of our minds. Even if it is just for Christmas we think that we can put aside Christ’s sacrifice. It’s just as St. Paul said the cross is a public offense. But Jesus glory, his victory over sin, death and Satan only comes through the blood of the cross. We can never hear about it enough.

The disciples didn’t understand it either. Even though Jesus told them what was going to happen, they thought that march into Jerusalem was the beginning of Jesus sitting on the throne right there in their capitol city. Just like the crowds, listen again to what they were shouting:

“Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (Luke 19:38, ESV)

It must have been a surprise to all of them (and a let down) when he when straight to the temple instead of the palace. Jesus told his disciples that his kingdom was coming in full only on his return. Jesus’ road to glory passes through the cross. As his followers our road passes that way too. We enter the glory that Jesus has set aside for us only through much trouble and pain and death. St. Paul preached that very thing to the young churches he started “saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” (Acts 14:22, ESV) By the end of the week the king who rode into the city with cheers has other voices mocking him as he dies on the cross. Jesus is the sacrifice for their sin.

Hark! The herald angels sing,
"Glory to the newborn king;
Peace on earth and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled."

“Peace on earth.” We sing. Jesus does all this to bring peace on earth. He breaks the bonds of sin to reconcile sinners to God. Just ask Zaccheaus! Jesus came down from heaven as a human being, born in a lowly stable. He did that to bring peace by joining God to man. He brought peace “on earth” by shedding his blood on the cross. He returns to heave to join man to God. He sits at the right hand of God declaring that human beings are now at peace with God again. In his Word he proclaims to you and me that we are released from the slavery of our sin.

Well, that’s all well and good, Pastor. Peace on earth that’s what everyone wants. But how can I have peace? What about me? When do I get peace? Life isn’t easy you know, Pastor. It seems to be for everyone else but not me. I don’t have what I need to live. Everything I do turns sour and worthless. The holiday stress only puts my family at each other’s throats. I doesn’t seem like I get to slow down and enjoy the good things in life? When does the ‘holiday spirit’ return for me since my husband/ wife/ father/ mother/ sister/ brother/ child died? The empty space at the table seems to suck up all the joy that should be here. What about some peace to wipe away the memories of the shameful things I’ve done that plague me at three in the morning? At least the baby in the manger story is a happy one. What you are telling me today, though Pastor isn’t a happy story. It’s the story of blood and pain. It’s a story of suffering and death. I get enough of that in my life without smearing the good feelings of Christmas with it.

When you look on the baby in the cradle and see also there the cross that is the best picture I can paint for you of God’s peace. It is God coming because you lie awake in sweaty guilt; exactly because you suffer the loss of love in death and struggle with living every day; because sin makes life a burden. That’s the problems that Jesus comes among us to resolve.

He brings peace from God and he brings it right here where you can so easily find it. We hear Jesus speaking words of peace right here. We call it the Gospel. The word means “Good News.” It’s not just good news because it tells us a sweet story, it tells us the good thing about Jesus, who came to our Savior; Jesus who was born into human flesh. That very same Jesus enters our hearts and minds through his Word and the water of Baptism and the bread and wine. He comes to you and me through faith and He comes to hold them us up when life is difficult. From the words he speaks into your heart He reminds you that even though things are hard, he makes sure it all works out for your good. He reminds us that God is in control of everything he even counts the hairs on your head. And that nothing can separate you from his love, even down feelings that seem to pop up this time of year. And He whispers in your heart the truth about love and death. That it isn’t the end it is only a temporary separation for those who live in faith. When we approach this altar and feast with Jesus we join in a heavenly feast that our missing loved ones are celebrating already; with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven. And when Satan reminds you that you’ve failed, usually while you lay sleepless in your bed, Jesus is here (in your heart) to calm your fears and remind you that he suffered and died to put away your guilt forever. That’s the peace that Jesus brings. That’s the peace that comes by his cross and cradle. That’s the peace that comes in the name of the Lord. Amen.

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

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

This is Going Around on Facebook, Twitter, and all...

Gotta Love the Muppets...

Phil.4.6-9; Thanksgiving; Nov 25, 2009

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, IA

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

At first I was going to preach on the Old Testament lesson for today. 10And you shall eat and be full, and you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. Wow! If that isn’t talking about Thanksgiving I don’t know what it is talking about. Eating and being full… in a few hours we’ll all be sitting (or sleeping) around the television having football dreams… with turkey and gravy on our breath. It’s a day for overeating. “You shall eat and be full” Cranberries, sweet potatoes and pumpkin pie… and family all together, all overeating. What better way is there to celebrate having everything we need then eating more than we should?

But then I read this text and I thought it had more to say to us today.

6do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. Philippians 4:6-9 (ESV)

Do not be anxious about anything… those are pretty nice words to hear, and I must admit it’s difficult especially for me. I’m an anxious person. I worry about the bills, I worry about my kids, and I worry about my wife. I worry about weather people are going to show up for meetings and bible studies here at church. Lots of nights I lay on my bed with the worries that go along with being Pastor for more than 400 people. I realized off the bat that if this text was talking to anyone, it was talking to me because I get anxious about things. And there are those words staring me in the face; Do not be anxious about anything…

Of course I’m not the only one who worries about things. To live is to worry. “That’s life!” we say, secretly wishing that it weren’t so. Lots of you worry about things that I haven’t even dreamed of. I don’t know what it is to worry about crops, or weather the hogs are going to survive the latest strain of disease that is coming over them. I don’t know what it is to worry about keeping a factory job when the management changes.

Running a business

Live on a fixed (decreasing) income.

Or the many things that are on your plate to worry about. Of course really we only worry because we care. The original word that Paul uses here really means to be “troubled with cares.” No one worries about people and things he doesn’t care about. And it’s good to care about people and things. St. Paul doesn’t tell us not to care about things that are going on. He says not to be anxious. Do you hear the word “anger” in “anxious.” Well, it’s in there in a way. They both come from the same root word. They are related. Did you know the word anger means “to strangle?” It means to be so upset that you want to strangle something. You’ve been there wanting to strangle something. I’ve been there wanting to strangle something. When we are anxious we get pushed to the brink, and those feelings take control out of our lives. But the text says, Do not be anxious about anything…

It’s easy to say, it’s easy to read it out, but to really apply it is something else entirely. Do not be anxious about anything… That’s something I’m just not sure I can do. Actually it sounds like something else to worry about.

Maybe Paul just didn’t have a firm grasp on reality. Maybe he never had to worry about anything. But a quick review of his life will tell you that that’s not true. From the time Jesus struck him blind on the road to Damascus and told him to switch sides and be His advocate to the world, Paul’s life was one anxious moment after another. Beatings, stoning, threats, shipwreck, “I bear on my body the marks of Christ.” He said. He knew what it was to suffer for Jesus every day. If anyone had a right to be anxious it was Paul. Instead he says Do not be anxious about anything… What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things. Paul knew what it was to be anxious, I’m sure he spent many anxious hours in his life.

You know we are going to be anxious. We are going to worry about things. That’s not the point Paul is making. He’s not making a point about not being anxious. He’s making a point about what you do with those moments when they come.

You see, he says do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. He says when you are tempted to be anxious about anything, big or small, manageable or not, take them all to God in prayer. Make these things known to God. It’s not that he doesn’t already know about them making them known to him is for your sake. Talk to Him about them. Take it to the Lord in prayer. The song goes… anything and everything…

Now here’s the really important part. Look what God promises: And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Paul doesn’t say that the thing that’s making you anxious will go away. He’s saying that when you talk to God about what is making you anxious, your heart and mind will be kept on Jesus. In spite of your worry, God will give you peace about your relationship to Him.

You know, as well as I do, that when things are going well, when there is nothing to worry about Jesus gets pushed out of our lives. He moves from the absolute need pile to the need in reserve pile. When things are going well, we feel in control, we don’t think we need any help. And for lots of us that’s where we are most of the time. “No worries, mate!” everything’s just fine. Jesus gets left here in church or on our pillow after prayer, or on the shelf where He’s readily accessible when we need Him. There’s nothing like a good worry to get our perspective back.

Why do you think Paul says use prayer with thanksgiving? Pastor you don’t really mean that we should be thankful for our troubles, do you? That’s not really what we gather around that turkey table to talk about. We want to be thankful for money and good crops and good health and lots of family. We don’t want to be thankful for sickness and pain and trouble! But that’s what Paul is saying. “Look at what the things that make you anxious do. They turn you to God in prayer. They keep you looking at Jesus. They remind you of the consequences of your sin, and they remind you what God has done about our sin. And all that gives you peace.”

What do you think Paul is talking about when he says “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things”? He’s talking about Jesus. Who was more true, and honorable, and just and pure and lovely and…? After all, look at how much He loves you, and not because you are lovable and trouble free, but simply because of who He is, pure and lovely and commendable and excellent…

And there is nothing like trouble in your life to help you remember Jesus’ love for you and the trouble that He suffered for you. You know about the cross. You know how it was love that put Him there and love that kept Him there to die. He suffered more than we can imagine because the suffering that He took was the suffering for all of us. And with that suffering He brings peace. Isn’t it amazing that it takes suffering, pain and death to bring peace?

Well, anxiety is the opposite of peace. Anxiety is what we get because we don’t want to trust in God. Anxiety is what we get when we strike out on our own and push God away. Anxiety is what we get from separating ourselves from God. And that’s where we’d be if it weren’t for Jesus. But we are not separated from God. We may put Jesus on the shelf but He never gives up on us. On the cross Jesus suffered separation from His Father. God looked away from Him and allowed Him to die. It was what we deserved, but what He received. And with that separation gone forever, we never have to experience it. We are never out of God’s hands. We are always in His loving care. You see that’s peace, that’s the peace of God that passes all understanding.

And you know what else? That peace is true weather we feel it or not, because it’s not founded on our feelings, or our actions, or even our promises. That peace is founded on Jesus Christ. That peace comes from knowing and trusting in Jesus, because He is the one who ended our separation from God. Jesus is what makes it sure, no matter what the worry or anxiety is.

So when Paul says, do not be anxious about anything, what he’s saying is let your troubles turn you to Christ. Let your problems remind you of the cross. Take them all to God in prayer and you’ll receive peace. But it’s peace that’s more than just a feeling. It’s real peace that is found in Jesus Christ.

10And you shall eat and be full, and you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. And maybe, just maybe you’ll not only be thankful for the good things… maybe you’ll be able to be thankful for some of your troubles, too. Amen.

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

Monday, November 23, 2009

Last Sunday of the Church Year, November 22, 2009; Jude 20-25

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

You know we are on a journey. Our lives are going somewhere. In fact they are going toward eternity. It’s a journey that we are on, and one of the primary reasons we gather together here every week. But is seems that so often we are focused on today and what we need to get along every day rather then the destination. So every year at the end of November we concentrate on the destination. We think about eternity coming, and how that affects… at least how that should affect our travels in this life. The epistle lesson for today is about just that.

20But you, beloved, build yourselves up in your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit; 21keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. 22And have mercy on those who doubt; 23save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh. 24Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, 25to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. Jude 20-25 (ESV)

Imagine you are a pioneer crossing the great plains of America, in a small wagon train. The wagons drone along the prairie making slow progress every day. One day the forward scouts come riding into the group pointing ahead at smoke on the horizon. It’s a great prairie fire raging. It’s moving very quickly fueled by the dry grass and the wind. It’s moving far to rapidly to out run… there is no way around it… in fact there is literally no escape for anyone. Fiery death is approaching and will soon burn everything and everyone.

“There is no time to waste,” the leader of the groups shouts. He knows what to do. “Start a fire behind us, back there.” Some in the group object that the suggestion seems crazy. But there isn’t time and everyone pitches in and follows the instructions. “Quickly,” he urges, “It’s our only chance to survive!” Soon a fire is raging behind, and the situation looks even worse. There is approaching death ahead, and a blazing fire in the only line of retreat. By all appearance you are even more trapped then before.

But as you watch you see the fire behind moving away from you and leaving a burned patch on the ground; a dark smoldering barren area. “As soon as it cools,” shouts the leader get everything on that burnt patch! When the fire gets here it will go around us and we’ll be safe.”

The group act together supporting one another as they moved to the safe area. All the wagons, people and animals huddled together, fearfully watching the approaching firestorm. And just like the your leader said it passes around. Flames and smoke fill the air choking your lungs and terrifying everyone. But everyone stays put in the safety of the area that’s already burned. Between you and certain death is a patch of ground with nothing to burn. The fire can’t get to you. When the danger is over everyone has survived, and the journey can continue toward its goal.

You and I are on a journey. This is our wagon train, and all these people here are our traveling companions. That’s what the Church is all about. Traveling on our journey toward eternity, the Promised Land. Every day that destination gets closer. We are in this trip together. No single person, or family would dare travel the dangerous journey across the Great Plains by themselves. They traveled in numbers for safety and encouragement and strength. That’s what we do here, too. We gather for safety and encouragement and strength.

But it is a dangerous journey. There is fire all around us. Satan is very real and very active. He hates Christians with every fiber of his being. He wants nothing more than for you to leave the safety of the Church where he can drag you into Hell. And there’s more, the world that we want to live in is dangerous to us. It’s easy to get burned out there. So much of what’s around us dries up our faith. What’s worse is there’s nothing we can do about it. Satan is powerful. The world has great influence. The fire burns toward us and we are helpless to do anything. We can’t get away and we can’t put it out.

But Jesus knows what to do. He makes a way to escape. We know how he suffered for us. He suffered our punishment, the fires of hell, in our place. He hung on the cross and suffered God’s burning anger against sin. Satan attacked him. The world hated him. They dished out the worst they had to give and Jesus died. He gave his life for us, to give us a safe place to stand.

You see, the ground that we stand on here, in faith, is protected by Jesus. He gave His life for it. He spilled his blood on it for us. The fires of hell can’t get to us. Satan can’t harm us and the dangers of the world can’t destroy us.

But there all around us is the burning and raging fire waiting, wanting to get to us. Danger and death are there all around us. And the danger is real.

What do the fire look like? Actually we are enticed by it. It speak to us things we want to hear, things that sound so reasonable. “It doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you are true to your beliefs and do your best.” “All religions worship God in their own way.” “There are plenty of ways to get to God, just pick one and be sincere.” “Look within yourself. You are all you need.” But these are all lies. They lead away from the safety of Jesus, the only Way to God, our only protection. They say nothing about Jesus life, death and resurrection; nothing about forgiveness of sins that He won for us. And without Jesus there is no hope and no salvation at all.

There are other things in the flame that we are attracted to. We think we can play in the fire and not get burned. A little sexuality here and there never hurt anyone. You can see it every day in advertising. You hear it every day on the radio and around the coffee table. “Don’t be such a prude. Sex is fun and free. Marriage is old fashioned. People should be allowed to express themselves in any way they desire. Get with the times.” But that too, is a lie. Sex outside of marriage is pure fire that will burn you up. But how tempting it is… but how dangerous.

And in the fire greed calls to us. We want more and more and we’ll do just about anything to achieve our goals. Even stepping on our brothers and sisters to push our way to the top. The desire to have the best and have more than anyone is part of the fire. And the rumor mill is in the fire. It churns up stories about each other that we can’t wait to pass on. And the smoke of laziness that keeps us away from worship and God’s Word.

You see the fire every day, all around us, calling to us, attracting us, and lying to us. It is deadly dangerous. Not just because it’s there but also because we are so easily lured into it. We are so easily burned.

Now look around you at the ground you are standing on. It’s safe ground. But, unlike the burned ground from the story this ground is rich and full of life. In fact it’s full of new life. You see, Jesus already was burned in our place. He died for us but He didn’t stay dead. He rose again to new life. He’s with us here. He causes everything in this safe place to grow and prosper. He takes care of us even while the fire rages all around. That’s what Paul is talking about when he says “your most holy faith.” It’s faith in Jesus and what He has done for you and me. That’s what we are built up by. That’s what we are encouraged by. That’s the faith that we can live by and not be burned.

But we aren’t just standing here either. We are on a journey. We are going somewhere. And that somewhere is a place where there is no fire burning around us. That place is a safe place without the temptations that are all around. That place is the place that Jesus said He has prepared for us. And we don’t have to travel alone. We are on this journey together. Paul tells us to, “Travel together, hold each other accountable, love and care for each other, keep each other away from the flames.”

How do we do that? “By building each other up.” He says. You know how to do that. We do it all the time. Kind words are a great encouragement. Look out for each other. Reach out in care and concern when there is pain and hardship. See what needs to be done and do it. It’s not difficult. In many ways it’s just building on the friendships we already have. But building means to expand. And we also need to expand that circle of friendship beyond where it is right now. We need including other people in our friendships that we wouldn’t normally include. People here in our church and people out there in our community.

Secondly Paul tells us to pray. “Pray in the Holy Spirit.” Speak from your heart to God. Keep each other in prayer about all of life’s troubles, but especially about our faith. Pray for those whose church attendance is falling of. Don’t talk to other people about the rumors you hear, pray to God about them. Pray that we’ll keep our eyes on Jesus instead of the fire that is tempting us. Pray that we stand and walk together on this journey.

Finally Paul tells us to hate what is evil and corrupting. “hating even the garment stained by the flesh.” It’s hard to live in the world that promotes so much of what is evil. It’s easy to say, “I’ll just let that go this time.” It’s hard to stand up against evil alone especially when it seems as if everyone is doing it. We need each other. “No, I’m not going to let my children watch that, or do that. Yes, I’m going to do what God says is right instead of listening to the world.” Doing the right thing is always the right thing.

The fire is all around us but we are safe with Jesus. We are protected. He died and rose again for you and me. This journey we are in together is leading to a great and wonderful place that we can only begin to imagine. The journey isn’t easy, but our leader, Jesus, calls to us to keep in His love, in the safe place. As we travel we are to build each other up and pray for one another and hate the evil of the world. You know, this journey won’t last forever, in fact, it will be over soon. When it is we will enjoy the heavenly place that Jesus Christ has prepared for you and me. Amen.

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

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Listen to Higher Things Radio

Pastor Watt Interviewed on Higher Things Radio

Join Pastor George Borghardt each week in his latest and greatest project, Higher Things Radio to learn more about the Gospel and Jesus Christ delivered for you! Pastor Borghardt's new program will air on Pirate Christian Radio Thursday evenings, so tune in your web browsers and check him out. If you miss him, don't worry we'll be podcasting his show right here from the Higher Things website! Each week on Pastor Borghardt's new radio program he'll be interviewing your favorite catechists and columnists from Higher Things. In addition, Pastor Borghardt will be cold-calling his friends up with your questions in a special segment called, Is this a sin?. Send in your questions today to

The Resurrection of the Body, Pastor Watt
Listen here

Thursday, November 19, 2009

You Pointy Ear-ed, Green Blooded Freak!

Missouri "Worship Wars"

LCMS logo-(2c)-stack copyHere we are rapidly approaching 2010. Our synod faces critical changes in structure and governance, and budget shortfalls that are beyond the comprehension of most of the members of our churches. When all is said and done I believe the heart of our (LCMS) troubles still lie in worship practice. The competing factors are pulling the church in multiple directions and I fear that the only thing left for Missouri is the the birth of multiple tiny groups of churches that will refuse to be in fellowship with each other. Maybe it is the only solution left to us. The coming year, I believe, will see the determination of these issues.

But I hold out hope for the Missouri Synod. After all it is the synod of my birth. We are at our heart traditional, liturgical, practical and faithful to the Lutheran Confessions. At our heart we confess the faith of our fathers. (In spite of some who insist that this isn't our grand-father's church see "Through the Ages . . ."  At our heart we know that all worship must find its center in Jesus Christ Crucified for the forgiveness of sins. We know the best way to worship is to speak, sing and chant the same texts as the faithful church has done over generations. At our heart we bring the Word of God to the world from our unique (Biblical!) law and Gospel perspective. At our heart we revel in the confession of the faith that has been handed down to us in the Lutheran Confessions. On the surface is the foolishness described by Phillip Magness in an article by Terry Mattingly (Mattingly and the Lutheran Worship Wars

"What I found out is that we're a lot like Forrest Gump's box of chocolates," he said. "It says 'Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod' on the sign, but when you go inside you have no idea what you're going to get. ... Some of our churches are playing with the structure of the liturgy and some are playing with the content and our whole synod is trying to find out how to draw some boundaries."

As one pastor in the synod has said, "Now is the time for Confessional Lutheranism."  The world is unsettled and unstable.  People are looking for stability.  The message of God's great love for sinful people shown chiefly in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross is the message we have.  It is the message the world needs to hear and see.  What we need to show is a traditional, liturgical, practical, confessional worshipping community that clearly and uniformly presents Christ.  The best way to do that is the way the faithful church has done it: Word and Sacrament administered according to Christ's command; Hymns, songs and spiritual songs that clearly confess God's work for us in Jesus Christ; Preaching the law in its full force to crush the hearts of the faithful as well as the unbeliever AND the Gospel in its full force to sooth broken hearts with the comfort of Jesus Christ.  there is no church body that can do all these things at the same time as well as the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod.  God grant it for Jesus Sake.


Pastor Jonathan C. Watt

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church

Creston, Iowa

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Academia vs. Business

How true it is! This is exactly why the "ivory tower" exists.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

God Whisperers - Lutheran, Confessional Radio that is as Good as it is Strange.

Listen on Pirate Christian Radio Monday at 2pm Centeral Time.

or on the God Whisperers web page

Lutheran Radio sure has taken an interesting turn. :0)

Here's the latest commercial.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Hebrews 10:11-18; Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost; November 15, 2009

11And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. 14For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. 15And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying, 16“This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,” 17then he adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” 18Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin. Hebrews 10:11-18 (ESV)

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

Hope looked at the dirty pile of clothes lying on the floor by the washing machine. It was a mountain that never seemed to go away. Every time she attacked the hill, every time she rallied her forces to conquer it; the hill sprouted anew. Instead of getting smaller it grew taller or wider or someone would dump a basket from the upstairs bathroom onto it. It was a hopeless task. It would never be done. Nothing she could do would ever end the job. It was “laundry everlasting”; dirty shirts, shorts and socks that multiplied. And yet, Hope persisted. The job was there to be done; she was the one to do it.

That’s a picture we can understand, “laundry everlasting.” We know it because it’s in all of our houses, maybe not so much for those whose children are grown and gone, but it was true for you, just as it is for those of us whose children are helping to build that mountain of never-ending work. But it’s a job that has to be done.

In a way, that’s what the writer of Hebrews is talking about here in this text. 11And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. He’s talking about the priest offering sacrifices for the Jews every day in the temple. There were sacrifices for every type of sin. There were burnt offerings made for general sins, there were offerings for unintended sins and mistakes, there were offerings for sins that required restitution. The blood of bulls, lambs, rams, sheep, goats and turtle doves spilled every day over and over again to take care of the never ending mountain of sins that God’s people committed. And these offerings were made repeatedly, many times a day, and yet the people’s sins were always before them. Each offering wasn’t an answer to sin because each sin required a new sacrifice. Before one sacrifice was finished a new one was required. The mountain of sin couldn’t be assaulted by sacrifice because no amount of them would ever make a dent in it. Every time a sin was removed by sacrifice a new batch was added to the festering pile. “Sacrifice everlasting.” A task that had to be done yet was never finished. That’s exactly why the priests stood, they were to be attentive to the task, and to sit was to say the job was done. An endless stream of blood from bulls and goats could never get the job done. They could never take away sins.

Do you see your sins this way? I think the mountain of dirty laundry might help us to see it. Every time we wear our cloths we leave them dirty. It’s not just dirt on the outside, but sweat and oil from on the inside. If they lie around the house they begin to smell. We can’t help it, it’s the way our bodies work.

Sin is kind of the same for us. It’s the way our bodies work now. Every time we do anything sin is a part of it. When we do good for someone, we hope someone sees us so we get the credit. When we are sitting alone we think about things we shouldn’t think about. Men think thoughts about women. Women think thoughts about men. We want what isn’t ours to have. And we take by deceitfulness what we can’t get legally. We cheat when it really doesn’t even matter. And we lie when lying isn’t even necessary. If we had to make sacrifices for each and every sin, the mountain of dead animals would stack to the top of the steeple for each one of us. “Sacrifice Everlasting” is what would be required. Your mountain of sin; my mountain of sin can’t be reduced by blood. Even your own blood spilled wouldn’t be enough to pay the price.

And that is really the point. That’s why God commanded the sacrifices. He wanted His people to see the effect of sin in a very graphic way. He wanted them to see that blood was necessary; lots of blood. He wanted them to see that death was necessary; lots of death. And He wanted them to see that nothing they could do would take away their sin. Not the blood of thousands, not anything they could do with their own hands. The mountain of sin grows every moment, and it requires death and blood.

12But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. It says. Christ offered for all time a single sacrifice. It was one sacrifice that stood in the place of the thousands. One time for all sins, one man, one God, crucified, dead and buried. God wanted the people to know that the sacrifice of His Son was greater than all the blood ever spilled in the temple. His one single sacrifice for sins was not just one sacrifice is was “Sacrifice Everlasting.” It is the complete sacrifice for sin. The life of God given for the sins of the world. The life of a bull or a goat or a lamb has value. The life of a human being has great value. But none of them can pay the price for the sins of even one person. But the life of God is priceless. The life of God is eternal. The life of God is immeasurably high. That’s the life that Jesus Christ gave on the cross. That’s the life that is enough to pay for sin. In fact, the life of Jesus Christ is more than enough to pay for all the sins of the whole world no matter how long the world goes on, no matter how many people live and sin. The life and death and resurrection of Jesus is a price that is so great, no mountain of sin will ever be as tall. Jesus assaults the mountain of human sin with such force that it evaporates in to nothingness. And he sat down at the right hand of God. The job was done, and Jesus sits down. The text says 14For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. It’s talking about you and me, perfected by Jesus’ sacrifice, for all time. Job done, once and for all.

And as usual that’s not all the text has to say to us. Holy Spirit also bears witness to us. The fact that we even see this mountain of sin, this every growing dirty laundry is God’s work in us through the Holy Spirit. I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds. As we live and work and play every day God has given us His law. That law is like a mirror that shows us that every time we turn around that we’re adding to our pile of sin. The law says don’t commit adultery, which we may not do physically, but even the thoughts in our minds condemn us. The law says don’t steal, we may not actually get around to taking things that don’t belong to us, but the desire condemns us also. We don’t like it but actually that condemning law is really the gift of God, it is the working of the Holy Spirit in our hearts and minds. Jesus himself said that he came to help the sick. And the law that God has placed in our hearts shows us every day that we are very sick. And just like that ever growing mountain of laundry no matter how good we try to be we can’t remove our own mountain of sin. That’s really what the law is all about. It’s not there to tell us how to clean up our own act. It’s not there to tell us how to get right with God again, its primary purpose is to show us the mountain.

Now if that were all, we’d have a pretty terrible life, never living up to what we can’t live up to. Helpless and hopeless, we have nowhere to turn. But we can turn to God. And the Spirit is at work there, too. “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” It’s not that God is forgetful. He doesn’t remember our sins because He has taken care of them. He has paid the price that we can’t pay. He has done the work necessary to remove the mountain of sin. It’s not because of a thousand sacrifices made in the temple; it’s because of the One Sacrifice. It’s not because we’ve done it right and gotten our act together, it’s because God Himself, made it right, in Jesus Christ. That One Sacrifice brought to us more forgiveness than we’ll ever need. 18Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin. There is nothing more that needs to be done. No more blood spilled on stone altars. No more good works to set us in good standing. There is no longer anything to do, because Jesus Christ has done it all for us.

Here is where Jesus gives that wonderful gift to us; forgiveness for that mountain that we can’t handle. Every day we add to it and every day Jesus removes it. He does it here in His Word and Sacraments. Over and over again, it never ends. One Sunday is just like the last. We say: “For the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us, renew us and forgive us, and lead us….” And your Pastor says: “in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” And it is so because of that Jesus promise. And the next Sunday we say it again: “For the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us, renew us and forgive us, and lead us….” And your Pastor says: “in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” But we don’t do this over and over because it doesn’t work. We do this over and over because it does. We do it over and over again because Jesus has already removed the sin by His blood. We do it over and over again because we need to be reminded over and over again. We need to hear it to receive it. We need to hear it to believe it. It’s done! I’m forgiven because of Jesus. “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” That’s what it’s about really its “Forgiveness Everlasting.” Amen.

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

Monday, November 09, 2009


Saturday, November 07, 2009

Mark.12.38-44; Twenty Third Sunday after Pentecost; November 8, 2009

And in his teaching he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” (Mark 12:38-44, ESV)

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

This text is coming just a week early. Next Sunday is “budget” Sunday. We’ll gather in the fellowship hall and make plans for what we are going to spend next year. By that decision we are going to show what’s important to us and what’s not so important. We shouldn’t be surprised that God actually has something to say on this topic. We claim the Reformation idea of Sola Scriptura, that is Scripture alone determines how we live and act as a church. God’s Word tells us what is important and what is not. And here it is in black and white, plain simple language from the lips of God himself. A stewardship sermon!

As always God’s timing is perfect. The state is dropping jobs like raindrops. The government is threatening to take over health care requiring all of us to sacrifice more of our income in taxes. Our aging building seems to need more and more attention. It appears that time and talents will be stretched even more thinly than this year. But Jesus has a solution. Do what the widow did. Actually this fits with the advice you might receive from one stewardship consultant. When he is asked what portion of income we should give to the church, he points to this passage and says, “We should give it all.” By now you must be squirming. Well the truth is I’m squirming. Very few Christians don’t already struggle with the guilt of feeling that they don’t give enough to the church. And at the same time most of us feel that our neighbor could certainly give more than they do. And what about all those folks who belong here but don’t attend? Shouldn’t they still support the church? Well pastor, here’s a real good example of why we don’t want you to talk about money from the pulpit. Someone is going to be offended. Someone is going to think we only want money. Someone is going to quit giving the little bit they give and then we’ll be in trouble. So keep it simple pastor, just leave money out.

Well, that would be fine with me. You probably don’t realize how uncomfortable it is to have the food on your table dependant on the charity of a small group of people. You may not realize how humbling it is to be the biggest expenditure in a very limited budget. None the less the text is here to be heard. And Jesus tells us some very important things here. It isn’t just talking about giving to God’s Work in this congregation, he also teaches the proper perspective of living as God’s people.

Well, just look at the contrast here between the Scribes and the poor widow. These scribes are good looking on the outside. They were very respected by the people around them. They wore clothing that everyone recognized. They were shone respect on the street and in private parties. They got the best seats, they were asked to pray and, it seems, they were paid by the word. Everything they did was for the attention of others and, very likely, God himself. The place where Jesus sat there in the temple was a testament to this attitude. Rich folks didn’t give quietly and privately. They made a public spectacle of it all. Any day you could go to the temple and see it.

The widow is a different subject. Outwardly, she would most often be ignored. We would probably pass her by ourselves. And her gift is small. Take two pennies out of the offering plate and that’s a hundred times more than she gave. If you took those two small coins and put them on account at LCEF there would be no quarterly compound interest payment to the budget. Quite simply what she gave wouldn’t even buy a paper clip.

But that shows you exactly what’s going on in her heart. She faithfully gives. And Jesus calls it “more” than all the rich people gave. Her gift is more than the coins. She gives all she has. When she leaves the temple she doesn’t know where her next meal is coming from except that God will provide. She is actually giving of her whole self.

Those scribes are different. Their hearts are self focused. They crave the attention that their gifts bring. They give with a false pretense of humility. They give to get there names inscribed on those little plaques. They prefer that their money be spent on something that will out last them, stained glass windows and such. They give because they expect God to give back more than they give. They give to show other people how much God has given them. They give to show that they are better than people they don’t like. They give because they don’t want there name to be near the bottom of one of those lists that show how much people give in the church. They give because they want other people to judge them by what they give. Wait am I talking about those scribes or am I talking about us?

Oh that’s not very comforting is it? What did Jesus say about those attitudes? “Beware! Look out! They will receive greater condemnation.” We must confess our sin. We fail to give it all. It’s the commandment again. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind and all your money! We may want to be like the widow having our heart in the right place, having our checkbook in the right place but how often do we fail? How often do we place our own needs above the needs of others and the work of the church? How often do we rate each other with dollar signs?

Do you want to know what Jesus is really pointing to here? Notice what he says about the widow. She gave everything. Just a few verses before this text Jesus is asked, what is the most important commandment. Listen to his response:

Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31, ESV)

You can’t miss the picture here. She trusts God and gives her last thin dime for the sake of other people. Jesus points her out not for the sake of giving her credit, but for the sake of showing us himself. What she does is a picture of Jesus. He gives everything. He gives his life, his self sacrificing for the sake of others. During his earthly life he has compassion on people who need help. He heals, he teaches, he comforts. He gives his death, his sacrifice on the cross in payment for the punishment that we self centered, poor stewards should have. He gives his resurrection, his new life to us too. Our old sinful nature crucified, dead and buried, and our new nature that truly does want to give to God all that we have and are. We have been set free from our sin, our death and the power of Satan over us. Our sin is forgiven. We are washed clean in the blood of Christ. Our “greater condemnation” is hung on Jesus. Jesus shows true love by giving all he has for even me! For even you! In our baptism we get his life, death and resurrection, are new creations in Christ. We want to hear his word of forgiveness. We want to receive his forgiveness, spoken and in his meal at the altar. And we want to serve our neighbors with all that we have.

So how’s that for stewardship. We give because Jesus gives to us first. What you give is between you and him. What you give includes everything you have, the life you give to your family, your work, and… yes, the church budget, too. Amen.

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

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Matthew 5:1-12; All Saints Day; November 1, 2009

Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:1-12, ESV)

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

One of the most difficult things in preaching is to use a very familiar text. First of all, a familiar text is likely to float right by your ears without being heard. “Oh, I know this one. I’ve heard it before.” We say. Our brains turn off, “there is nothing new here, nothing I need to know about this text, and I’ve heard it all before.” It can be a real problem, as far a preaching is concerned. Secondly, since we’ve heard the text so much, since we’ve heard it preached so many times we “know” what it’s all about. We’ve already heard what this one means. I remember what Pastor so-and-so said about it. But, in spite of these ‘difficulties’ I’ve decided to preach on this text anyway. So let’s all put away our preconceived notions about these Beatitudes. Let’s forget that we’ve heard lots of sermons on what Jesus said here. Try to find something new, together…

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

Let’s picture this crowd, that Matthew describes to us. A few verses earlier he said,

So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, epileptics, and paralytics, and he healed them. (Matthew 4:24, ESV)

These are the people that are all around in the crowd. Some have traveled days to reach this very spot, just to catch a glimpse of the man who might heal them. Over there is a crippled man. He walks with a stick because each step causes him great pain. Over there is a woman with sores on her skin. The kind that never stop itching, never stop getting infected. Gathered together on the outskirts of the group, avoided by everyone are the Lepers, close enough to hear and see, and not far enough for the crowd. And there are the poor; children whose daily meal consists of a dry crusty piece of bread and a small portion of water. It is a very great crowd… they’re noisy, calling out to Jesus for help, pleading with those around them to take them to him. You can’t escape the smell of sweat, dirt, and sickness. But, they have all come; they have come because they have no where else to turn. They are in desperate need, alone and outcast, looking to Jesus for hope.

And what if you had come, too. What if you and made a day’s journey… or was it two. The time has all blended together, and you can’t rightly remember. The crowds have pressed in on you, and carried you along. So you couldn’t have gotten away, even if you wanted to. But you didn’t want to leave, because you too, have a need. It could be an illness that is bearing down on you, making life unbearable? … Taking away your freedom, your independence? … Causing you pain that you don’t understand? Maybe it’s wondering if you are really going to survive the economy. Will there be enough money to make a living? Will my family survive? Doubts and fears of what will happen to them, if you can’t provide. Or you are suffering over death. Pain that sears up inside you as you remember how it felt to be next to that loved one who is now gone… angry that you have to go on alone. Or you may be haunted by a sickening, painful feeling that won’t leave you alone. A remembrance of something dreadful, pain that you caused someone else or actions that shattered a friendship.

What ever you need, the feelings eat away at your sleep and they interrupt your daylight. You try to forget, but you can’t. And that is why you are here standing before Jesus, one of many in the midst of the crowd, looking to him in the hope, that He can do something about your pain.

Every eye is on Jesus, who has positioned himself to be seen. Every ear is open as silence falls over the crowd, waiting for his words to come. You watch him as his eyes drift from person to person, as he lovingly inspects them. The silence is deafening, and the anticipation grows… finally Jesus speaks:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3, ESV)

There is a long pause, as the words float through the crowd, placing themselves in each ear, and making their home in every mind. “Blessed… happy…. fortunate are those who know that they have no where to turn.” The words couldn’t have been better chosen. The crowd, and you, know instantly that Jesus is talking about you… and he has said that the kingdom of heaven belongs to you. You look around you, especially at the man who is leaning on his stick. His illness makes you feel like moving away, and yet Jesus words echo in your mind. “The kingdom of heaven is yours.” You wonder how it can possibly be… and Jesus continues.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. (Matthew 5:4, ESV)

Mourning you understand. The emptiness left by death… the alone-ness… the isolation. You have felt it many times as you gathered around the body of a loved one who has died. You know exactly how it feels. Death separates. And that’s what mourning is, separation. And yet Jesus says, you are blessed even though you mourn, because you will be comforted. As Jesus continues you realize that he is speaking as if something is now different than it has been before. … The meek inherit… righteousness is honored… people receive mercy…. and people who are pure in heart see God. These words don’t describe the world as you have known it. You have seen meek people, and they don’t inherit anything but dirt, righteousness is not honored, and mercy is seldom seen. Jesus must be speaking of a new kind of Kingdom. He is talking about a Kingdom of God. And, even more than that, he is speaking as if it is already here, right now... As if he is bringing it.

As the crowd dissipates, as everyone trails home, you wonder about all that you have heard. Especially how the Kingdom of God can be here, how all the things that Jesus said could be true, and yet, there is still insult, and evil, even against the people of God. Jesus had even backed up his words with actions. He went through the crowd and they had seen him heal; and heard him speak. And yet even as Jesus brought comfort, mercy and peace, there still had to be more. The suffering remains, but “great is your reward.”

Still, today we ponder the same realities as the crowd that stood before Jesus that day. We come to him, poor in spirit, with no where to turn. Our sins always before us, ever causing division between us, ever causing unintended pain. We plead to him, “Create in me a clean heart!” And we mourn. Look at the list of those who have gone before us… three pages long and growing. The separation, the loneliness, and the pain, caused by our sins and theirs. And the persecutions… we also see them. Today is the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. Our hearts and prayers go out on behalf of those who are suffering directly for their faith. More Christians have died for their faith in the last decade than the first 19 centuries of the church. Still, two thousand years later, and all that Jesus spoke about is still true, and yet he calls us blessed. At times it seems as if his death meant nothing at all.

But it is his death and resurrection that mean everything. Especially for us. Jesus did in fact bring with him the kingdom of God. He rules over it completely. And he rules over it for us. Especially for us, who are poor in spirit, especially when we realize that we have no where else to turn.

Because of his death, when we turn to him with our sins. And then he says, “I forgive you. I will cast your sins into the sea of forgetfulness, and remember them no more. If I have forgotten them they need not trouble you any more!” When we turn to him in our sickness, he says, “I love you. My death and resurrection mean that even as your illness drags you toward your death, I have taken away its victory. I have claimed you. You will not be given more than you can bear.” And when we turn to him in grief, he says, “Why do you seek the living among the dead! I’m alive. These my children will live again. Their separation from you will not last much longer. I am coming again soon. We will all be together again.” And when we cry out to him for those who suffer because they will not deny him, he says, “This evil will not stand long. I am coming soon!”

“Blessed are you.” Jesus says. “Because the Kingdom of God is yours. I have assured it, with my life. I have shown it to you by healing the sick, freeing the captives, and raising the dead. I have promised all this to you, and I seal my promise in my very own blood, given and shed for your forgiveness.”

It was on that hillside, in those words so familiar to us, that Jesus tells us what the kingdom of God is like. It was there that he told us that it had indeed come to us. And it was there that he pointed ahead to the time when he would come again and bring it in its fullest sense, forever. Amen.

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