Thursday, December 13, 2018

Weekday Advent Service Three, December 12, 2018


Weekday Advent Service Three
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN
The Hymns of Advent
                        Jesus Came, the Heavens Adoring                   (LSB 353)
                                                                  Godfrey Thring (1823-1903, alt)

Jesus came, the heav’ns adoring,
Came with peace from realms on high;
Jesus came to bring redemption,
Lowly came on earth to die;
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Came in deep humility.
Jesus comes again in mercy
When our hearts are worn with care;
Jesus comes again in answer
To and earnest, heartfelt prayer,
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Comes to save us from despair.

Jesus comes to hearts rejoicing,
Bringing news of sins forgiv’n;
Jesus comes with words of gladness,
Leading souls redeemed to heav’n.
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Hope to all the world is giv’n.
Jesus comes in joy and sorrow,
Shares alike our hopes and fears;
Jesus comes, whate’re befalls us,
Cheers our hearts and dries our tears;
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Comforts us in failing years.

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Well, so far in our series of Advent Sermons we’ve looked at two fairly well known hymns. But tonight we’re looking at a treasure from our older hymnal (a hymn in that is in the new one but not in the blue one).  So, although it may be new to us now it is not a new hymn at all, in fact it was probably written around the time this congregation was just getting started.  It is a very strong Christ centered hymn pointing us in two directions at once.  You can see that very clearly if you look at the second word in verse one and verse two.  Jesus came… Jesus comes… now one of the great features of this hymn is that it very nicely sets out for us what Jesus did, what he does and what he’s going to do.  Jesus is clearly at the center of all the doing in this hymn, that’s what makes it a great one to study this evening.
Jesus came, the heav’ns adoring,
Came with peace from realms on high;
Jesus came to bring redemption,
Lowly came on earth to die;
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Came in deep humility.
This verse is deceptively simple.  It packs a lot into a very small package.  It sums up Jesus birth life, death and resurrection in such and economy of words that you can’t get it all in one simple reading.  One of the greatest things is how it reminds me of so many other hymns.  Phrases like came with peace from realms on high remind me of wonderful Christmas hymns like Angels from the realms of glory, wing your flight o’re all the earth and peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled.  When the hymn says Jesus came to bring redemption, I think about I know that my redeemer lives, what comfort this sweet sentence gives. Madison Master Singers sang right here in our church and one of the hymns they sang was a well known carol Infant lowly, infant holy for his bed a cattle stall; Oxen lowing, Little knowing Christ the child is Lord of all.  (another new hymn in our new hymnal) echoing the words from this hymn Lowly he came on earth to die.  Every time I read it, another connection to another great hymn pops into my head.  I think that’s because firstly, it is such a very well written hymn.  Secondly it does what all good advent hymns do, (actually what all good Christian hymns should do) it talks about Jesus and what he did.  His birth, perfect life, and death on the cross are all tied up in this small package.  It says what St. Paul said to the Philippians. 
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5-8, ESV)
All that is important because it sets Christmas time (that is Jesus being born in human flesh), the time we are getting prepared to celebrate, at the center of everything else the hymn is going to say.  It’s as if it says, “because He came from heaven as a humble infant, amid adoring angels singing God’s peace on earth, and because He has redeemed us by coming to die; You can be sure that when He comes He’s going to do this and this and this…”  And there’s that change from Jesus came to Jesus comes.  And the whole rest of the hymn is about Jesus comes. 
Jesus comes again in mercy
When our hearts are worn with care;
Jesus comes again in answer
To and earnest, heartfelt prayer,
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Comes to save us from despair.
There’s a phrase we chant on Sunday mornings together, it’s Lord, have mercy.  It’s a biblical phrase; it’s asking God for promised blessings:  For the peace of the whole world and for our salvation; for the well being of the church of God; for this holy house…  Lord, have mercy.  We get it from the bible.  In the accounts of our Lord from Matthew, Mark, Luke and John people make requests of Jesus using that phrase.  Every single one of them is asking for healing.  Lord, have mercy on me, cure my blindness; cure my leprosy; cast out this demon.  The hymn says Jesus comes in mercy when our hearts are worn with care.  I just love the way that’s said.  You can just feel the ragged places on your own heart as you’ve dealt with illness and death in your family.  We care when people we know are sick.  We pray for them with heartfelt prayer.  And Jesus answers by coming in mercy.  During advent we rejoice in knowing that when Jesus comes as he has promised and brings all history to its conclusion all sickness will end forever.  It will be a great day.  The hymn talks about that, but it also talks about now.  Through you and me, through God’s Word spoken to comfort the sick and dying Jesus comes in mercy.  Jesus comes in mercy when we help our neighbors and friends whose hearts are worn with the care, too.  It is one of the things that Jesus has called us to do in this community. 
Jesus comes to hearts rejoicing,
Bringing news of sins forgiv’n;
Jesus comes with words of gladness,
Leading souls redeemed to heav’n.
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Hope to all the world is giv’n.
The key to this very is the third phrase.  Leading souls redeemed to heaven.  I think it’s talking about death.  Oh I know that’s not usually a time we think about rejoicing, and yet, look at what it says.  Jesus comes… brining news of sins forgiven and words of gladness.  When we are standing at graveside we need words of gladness, words of forgiveness.  The hope for the whole world is the forgiveness of sins won by Our Lord on the cross that changes the sorrow of death to the joy of eternal life.  One of the prayers we say at funerals uses the words Comfort us with the certain hope of the resurrection to everlasting life and a joyful reunion with those we love who have died in the faith. When we are staring at our loved ones dead and in the grave we need to know that Jesus’ death means that the death we see isn’t forever.  Jesus comes in His Word right now to bring us that comfort and joy.
Jesus comes in joy and sorrow,
Shares alike our hopes and fears;
Jesus comes, whate’re befalls us,
Cheers our hearts and dries our tears;
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Comforts us in failing years.
The last verse we’ve sung tonight talks about Jesus coming in what’re befalls us.  It says he comes in joy and sorrow and shares alike our hopes and fears.  These words remind us of God’s great promise in Jesus to be with us always.  The last words he spoke to the disciples as he ascended into heaven was that very promise, And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20b, ESV) And St. John tells us Jesus promise in a different way, I will not leave you as orphans (John 14:18 ESV) Jesus is with us through the presence of the Holy Spirit given to us in Holy Baptism.  Every day when we rise we can begin each day weather facing joy or sorrow, hope or fear, in whate’re befalls us, with Jesus.  I like the way Martin Luther encourages us to start our day in the Small Catechism:
In the morning when you get up, make the sign of the holy cross and say:
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Then, kneeling or standing, repeat the Creed and the Lord's Prayer. If you choose, you may also say this little prayer:
I thank you, my heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, You dear Son, that You have kept me this night from all harm and danger; and I pray that You would keep me this day also from sin and every evil, that all my doings and life may please You. For into Your hands I commend myself, my body and soul, and all things. Let Your holy angel be with me, that the evil foe may have no power over me. Amen.
Then go joyfully to your work, singing a hymn, like that of the Ten Commandments, or whatever your devotion may suggest.
Jesus, Our Savior, indeed cheers our hearts, and dries our tears, to the end of the age, in failing years the hymn says.  We go through our life every day knowing we are not alone.
As Christmas draws near, we sing with the hymn, Alleluia! Alleluia! Because we are reminded again of Jesus, Our Savior; the one who was born in a stable for us, the one who died on the cross for us, the one who lives with us every day, and the one who, for us, is coming again.  Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Luke3v15-17, 21-22, 2nd Sunday in Advent, 2018


Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN
(from an outline by Mark Wangerin)
15As the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ, 16John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. 17His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” Luke 3:15-17 (ESV)
21Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, 22and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” Luke 3:21-22 (ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
I don’t know if you remember those old commercials for Coca-Cola. “It’s the real thing!” they said. They were saying that Coke was the real cola, and all the others were imposters. Right here in town we have Dakota Beef, packing beef that’s the ‘real thing’ without preservatives, chemicals, hormones, and steroids. ‘Organic’ food is very popular in grocery stores these days.  Increasingly people want only natural, real products. Only the ‘real thing’, no substitutes will do. The gospel lesson for today is also about ‘the real thing.’ But this real thing is much more important than a pound of ‘Dakota Beef’ or a sugary drink. The real thing St. Luke is talking about here is Jesus Christ our Lord.
Right away, as you read this lesson, you see people asking the ‘real thing’ question. They want to know if John the Baptist is the expected Messiah. “Are you the Christ?” They asked themselves ‘in their hearts’. It’s not really a strange question. John’s ministry was having an effect on people. There were large crowds, tax collectors, soldiers, religious leaders, coming to see who John was and what he was saying. It’s a very natural question for a group of people who are expecting something to happen to help them out from under the thumb of the Romans. At that time, they were not a free people. They lived in an occupied land. Foreign soldiers patrolled the streets and harassed them. Corrupt government officials over taxed them. It would have been easy for them to look back, remember how God delivered them from slavery in Egypt, and expect that God would do something great again. In their minds if they were looking for someone to take on the Romans, he was going to have to be a strong talking person. And the entire thing that John said only heightened their expectations. “Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?” he shouted to people. He let them know that things were going to change. And they were expecting a Messiah. All over in the Old Testament, their Bible, were prophecies that told them to be ready. John seemed to fit the bill. They wanted to know if he was the “real thing.”
But, John made it very clear. “No, I am not! No matter what you may think you are seeing, when the ‘real thing’ comes, he’s going to do greater things than I do. In fact, I’m so far beneath him, that I’m not even worthy to tie his shoes.” John was saying that compared to the real Messiah, he was only a slave. Slaves were the ones who had the job of tying and untying their master’s shoes. John says that the coming one, the real thing, would do much greater things than he was doing.
Even the thing that John was most known for was less than ‘the real thing.’ John says that the baptism he was doing was only with water, but the ‘real thing’ would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. John’s baptism was only in preparation of the ‘real thing’ to come. He shouted at the people reminding them that they were all sinful. “You brood of vipers! You need forgiveness that you can only receive from God.” The people responded to John’s message and were baptized in the water of the Jordan River. It was a baptism in response to God’s words of forgiveness. ‘The greater one’, ‘the Real Thing’ that John was preparing them to meet would have a different kind of baptism for the people, “with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
John’s message gathered crowds of people, but the ‘real harvest’ was in the hands of the ‘real thing’ to come. Just look at the words he uses to describe what the Messiah would do! The winnowing fork was used to separate the chaff from the grain. You probably know all about this the old way of doing the harvest better than I do. The stalks of grain were brought to the ‘threshing floor’ from the field. It was beat with boards to separate the grain and then the winnowing fork was used to throw it up in to the air so that the wind would blow away the chaff. The grain falls back to the floor. Notice how John says that the Messiah will ‘clear’ the threshing floor. He will thoroughly clean it; every piece of grain will be taken care of. All of the chaff will be burnt in the fire. It’s a real harvest to be done by the real messiah.
And the real Messiah comes.
21Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, 22and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” Luke 3:21-22 (ESV)
Jesus is baptized. After all of John’s preparation, Jesus is baptized. It is rather funny, that the way St. Luke writes it Jesus almost seems anonymous in the crowd. With all those people, Jesus was also baptized. And yet, Jesus baptism is a very important part of His ministry. It is the public proclamation of what He has come to do and that what He has come to do begins right now. And John the Baptizer isn’t even mentioned. Of course John is the one who baptized Jesus, but Jesus is the focus. John is the lesser. Jesus is the most important. John disappears and Jesus stands alone. The writer wants us to know that. And John would agree. In another place he says, “I must decrease so he can increase.”
Jesus is the ‘real thing.’ And just in case people weren’t sure, the Holy Spirit makes an appearance, ‘in bodily form.’ St. Luke gives us this important detail.  The Spirit’s appearance here isn’t a secret thing only John and Jesus saw, but ‘bodily’ in the form of a dove (pigeon).  And also God the Father makes His appearance too.  He speaks from heaven.  “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased. You are the real thing. You are my promise of forgiveness of sins fulfilled.” We heard something similar to those words in the reading from Isaiah.  Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. Isaiah 42:1 (ESV) The work of the ‘real thing’ is the work of the Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
What is the work of the Real Thing? Well, it’s all spelled out for us in John’s simple statement that Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Just as the Holy Spirit was poured out on Jesus, so also he will pour out the Spirit on all those who are baptized in His name. In a few days we’ll be doing it again here… we will gather a family and newborn infant around this font and pour water on her head. And according to Jesus promise, in the same way that he was baptized, in the same way that the Holy Spirit came to him, the Holy Spirit will come to that child here. Our newest sister in Christ will begin their life of faith with baptism… a life lived in the shadow of the life Jesus lived for her.
And Jesus says that with the Spirit comes fire. John was really talking about God’s anger, His wrath over sin. That’s what the fire is. In the Old Testament, when it talks about God’s reaction to sin it talks about His anger burning. But Jesus was perfect without sin, he doesn’t deserve God’s anger and punishment, and yet it is placed on him. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. We fully see God’s anger, his disapproval of sin, the punishment that sin deserves, when we see that Lamb sacrificed on the cross. God’s anger burns against Jesus. The full force of His disapproval over human sin is poured out on His only son instead of you and me.  He actually turns away from Jesus and allows him to suffer the whole punishment of sin, the eternal punishment of sin, and sins wages death.  That’s the baptism of fire, the Baptize was talking about. The Spirit who descends on Jesus brings not only God’s favor but also God’s judgment. For you and me, for the person we will next baptize here, that punishment is also brought to us in the Baptism that is given in Jesus name. When Jesus is baptized in the Jordan river, when Jesus hangs on the cross suffering and dying, He stands in our place to receive the fire, the wrath, the anger of God over our sin.  We are baptized into his life, his death and his resurrection. That’s a baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire.
Jesus is the Real Thing. After he suffered the fire of God’s anger, after he bled and died on the cross, after he was place in a cave for burial, he rose again from death. The punishment, the fire of God was taken to the grave, but Jesus Christ rose again to life. That’s something only the Real Thing can do. It proves he’s no imitation Savior. It proves that the punishment he bore was paid in full. It’s proof to you and me, who are connected to him by the Baptism of the Spirit and fire, that the work that he did was finished, and pleasing to God.
Now what about you? Well, you are the Baptized children of God. You have been baptized with the Holy Spirit and fire. Weather it happened here, or over in the parsonage, at home, or even and entirely different Christian church altogether. That baptism in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit means that when you sin, when you fall short of God’s plans and desires for your life; when you hurt your neighbor; when you yell at your children for no good reason; when you act selfish when you know you should be helping someone else; you have a place to go. You don’t have to worry about God’s anger over your failure. When water was splashed over your head, your sin was washed away to Jesus. And God’s fire, his over your sin extinguished on the cross. That’s exactly why we confess our sins here. We are reliving our Baptism, seeing our sin, and seeing our Savior.
So, you can live differently. When you yell at your children, you can ask for forgiveness and move on to a better way of handling them. When you are selfish, you can set that aside and be helpful instead. You can serve by doing whatever God has called you to do in your everyday work. When you are hurtful you can do what is necessary to set things right again. That’s the Holy Spirit working in you through God’s Word. That’s Jesus the Real Thing motivating you to live a life more like his.
All in all, nothing else really matters, except Jesus Christ, the Real Thing. He, who was baptized in the Jordan, lived, suffered, died and rose again. John pointed to him as the most important. We recognize him as the most important thing in our lives. He is the beloved Son of the Father. Jesus Christ is the Real Thing. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Weekday Advent Service Two, December 5, 2018


Weekday Advent Service Two, December 5, 2018
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN
The Hymns of Advent
Comfort, Comfort, Ye My People         (TLH31 / LW28 / LSB347)
                                                        by Johann Olearius, 1635-1711
                                     Translated by Catherine Winkworth, 1829-1878

Comfort, comfort, ye My people,
Speak ye peace, thus saith our God;
Comfort those who sit in darkness,
Mourning 'neath their sorrows' load.
Speak ye to Jerusalem
Of the peace that waits for them;
Tell her that her sins I cover
And her warfare now is over.
Yea, her sins our God will pardon,
Blotting out each dark misdeed;
All that well deserved His anger
He no more will see or heed.
She hath suffered many a day,
Now her griefs have passed away;
God will change her pining sadness
Into ever-springing gladness.
Hark, the Herald's voice is crying
In the desert far and near,
Bidding all men to repentance
Since the Kingdom now is here.
Oh, that warning cry obey!
Now prepare for God a way;
Let the valleys rise to meet Him
And the hills bow down to greet Him.
Make ye straight what long was crooked,
Make the rougher places plain;
Let your hearts be true and humble,
As befits His holy reign.
For the glory of the Lord
Now o'er earth is shed abroad,
And all flesh shall see the token
That His Word is never broken.


Grace and peace to you from Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ
I love this hymn, but sometimes I wonder if we really need to sing it.  When I look at the way we live everyday, especially at this time of year, I don’t see the need what this hymn says, that is comfort.  I heard on the radio that the average person will spend over $800 on Christmas presents this year.  That’s over 100 bucks on family and about $60 for friends (each!).  And you know what I already said about those “Christmas Sale” flyers in the newspaper.  I’ve a weakness for them.  They present us with things we just can’t live without.  They tells us what will make our life better, more comfortable.  Today’s answer to fear, grief, pain and trouble is spending. 
God rest ye merry gentlemen let nothing you dismay.
Remember things are still on sale from now till Christmas day.
Just spend some cash and soon you’ll find some comfort on its way.
O buying of comfort and joy, comfort and joy, O buying of comfort and joy.
Do you remember the Peanuts Christmas special “You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown?”  Sally Charlie’s sister writes a letter to Santa Clause.  “I’ve been especially good this year, so my list is long, please note the size and color of each item and send as many as possible.  If this is too much trouble just send cash, tens and twenties.” 
“Good grief!” Charlie Brown reacts.
Well, that’s the way we live.  If you don’t deny it, I won’t either.  Every day we act as if money is the answer to all our problems.  We act as if we can just buy our way into a more comfortable life.
But you and I are influenced by all this, too.  Sally is us.  You know what happens.  You’ve got to have what’s new.  The beautiful Christmas tree you bought this year instead of reusing the plastic one is a fire hazard at Christmas time because you couldn’t wait till after Thanksgiving to get one up.  The new extra expensive Christmas Ornament ends up glass shards on the carpet that the vacuum cleaner won’t pickup, but they very readily stick into your fingers.  Grandma says (and I’ve heard this from quite a few grandmas), I just don’t know what the (great) grand kids like so I just give cash.  Then they can get whatever they want. 
And that’s just at Christmas time, it goes on all year.  The cell phone you got last year isn’t up to snuff anymore.  Oh, you can make calls with it and all, but it doesn’t take the great pictures with a high pixel count, you to get on to the web to do your shopping, but it is a bit slow, and whatever else they do now.  The new car costs twice as much to maintain as the old one, and you don’t dare to open the hood ‘cause you couldn’t fix anything there anyway.  You’ve a kitchen cabinet full of gadgets you couldn’t live without that you’ve used just one time. 
Ah, you and I both know that the truth is none of this stuff brings comfort.  And these kinds of things are just the tip of the ice burg as far as our lives go.  It’s just at this time of year, our brains go cloudy, it must be the twinkling lights, or the cold temps, or something.  We all know none of that stuff brings any kind of lasting comfort.  Life is hard and the only break from it, the only comfort we’ll really get is death.  Look at the hymn again. 
Comfort, comfort, ye My people,
Speak ye peace, thus saith our God;
God is saying that he wants us to have comfort, and He never gives anything half way.  When He says to give comfort, He’s talking about the real thing.  The kind we know need when the lights go out; when rust takes over our possessions; when we get tired of taking care of the things that are suppose to take care of us; when towers fall on top of people and kill them; when accidents strike without warning; when we are personally staring down death; that’s when we need God’s comfort not the joy to the world feelings we have this time of year.  They are mostly just a very thin covering.
Jesus strips it all away and gets right to the heart of the matter (as he always does!).  When some people were talking about how Pontius Pilate killed some Galileans because they defied him, He said,
“Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:2-5, ESV)
And there it is a clear need for comfort.  You and I are no better than the folks who die every day by accident, or the folks killed by forest fires, or those killed in tsunamis or earthquakes or even car accidents on Highway 61.  That because the world is a dangerous place for sinners (that’s what Jesus says!).  I just doesn’t matter how much stuff you’ve got, or how much money, or property.  Sinful people, (and here you can insert your own name) need to be on guard.
So, I guess we do need comfort, don’t we?  I think we do need this hymn because it reminds us where real, true, and lasting comfort can be found.  And, not only that but it speaks God’s words and promise of comfort right into our ears and it says That His Word is never broken.
Comfort, comfort, ye My people,
Speak ye peace, thus saith our God;
Comfort those who sit in darkness,
Mourning 'neath their sorrows' load.
Speak ye to Jerusalem
Of the peace that waits for them;
Tell her that her sins I cover
And her warfare now is over.
The hymn recognizes our need, speaking back to God what He says about us.  We are under sorrows’ load.  But peace waits for us (whenever hymns like this one speak of the OT Church using terms like Jerusalem or Israel, we can apply it directly to us the NT church, baptized Christians).  The problem with the world for sinners is sin.  God promises peace to us because He covers over our sin.  The warfare against the sinner’s greatest enemy, God, is over.  That means that the troubles we experience in life can’t be punishment. 
Yea, her sins our God will pardon,
Blotting out each dark misdeed;
All that well deserved His anger
He no more will see or heed.
God pardons and blots out sin.  He doesn’t see it anymore.  It’s not because He sweeps it under the carpet and ignores it.  That wouldn’t really take care of it would it.  Dirt under the carpet must be taken care of sometime or another.  No, for God to blot out and pardon sin, for His anger to be no more seen, sin must be dealt with in the only way that sin can be dealt with… suffering. 
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, (1 Peter 3:18, ESV)
So, God no longer sees the need to punish us for our sins.  They were suffered away by Jesus on the cross.  He was righteous but suffered for the sins of the unrighteous.  That’s you and me.  Now the hymn continues:
She hath suffered many a day,
Now her griefs have passed away;
God will change her pining sadness
Into ever-springing gladness.
How is pining sadness turned into ever-springing gladness?  Especially when we consider that our sadness, our troubles, our sufferings haven’t ended since the cross.  All those things that I talked about are true for us.  Life is still difficult and full of sorrow and pain.  So, what’s the point of all this talk of comfort?  Just like that old commercial asks, “Where’s the beef?” we ask, “Where’s the comfort?”
St. Paul:
For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort. (2 Corinthians 1:5-7, ESV)
St. Peter:
But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. (1 Peter 4:13, ESV)
What they are saying is this.  The comfort of God is this.  The trouble we’ve got every day isn’t as punishment for our sin, but to turn us to Jesus. 
Hark, the Herald's voice is crying
In the desert far and near,
Bidding all men to repentance
Since the Kingdom now is here.
Oh, that warning cry obey!
Now prepare for God a way;
Let the valleys rise to meet Him
And the hills bow down to greet Him.
This verse lands us squarely in Advent, standing right next to John the Baptizer, who is preparing the way for Jesus.  God is coming in the flesh Blotting out each dark misdeed.  God is coming headed for the cross.  God is coming to restore His control over the world and remove sin and all its consequences forever.  So, what’s this repentance that the Baptizer is calling for?  Repentance is simply recognizing that because of our sin we’ve got trouble; because of our sin we’re in trouble.  Life doesn’t work the way God intended.  We don’t work the way God intended and He’s the only one who can fix it.  Said simply, we are sinners in need of a Savior, God in Human flesh, Jesus Christ.  Our sin and all that we suffer because of it prepare us for His coming when they turn to God, through Jesus Christ, for forgiveness.  That’s what repentance is.
So, John says “Prepare for His coming.”  He was talking about Christ in the manger.  We are also looking forward to His coming again.  When He does he’ll bring everything that He accomplished to full completion.   That is, through faith in all that Jesus did we have all His promises and all the comfort we need right now.  The comfort of knowing that:
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, …
We could add in here, “nor any kind of trouble, little or big, nor any kind of failure, nor any kind of pain or sorrow,”
… nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:37-39, ESV)
That’s the comfort this hymn of Advent talks about.  And it ends looking forward to all that God promises yet to come in Jesus.
Make ye straight what long was crooked,
Make the rougher places plain;
Let your hearts be true and humble,
As befits His holy reign.
For the glory of the Lord
Now o'er earth is shed abroad,
And all flesh shall see the token
That His Word is never broken.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.


Luke.21.25-36; The First Sunday in Advent; December 2, 2018;


Luke.21.25-36; The First Sunday in Advent; December 2, 2018;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Here we are just after the busiest shopping day of the year. Thanksgiving turkey is still on your breath. Your eyes are still glowing from staring at the Football screen. The Christmas decorations are going up everywhere. Soon the church will be decked out in green boughs and candles. I guess it is official the Christmas season has started. There’s going to be parties. The “eating too much” and “Setting your bathroom scale back” season has begun, with Thanksgiving. There’s going to be wish lists made up, Christmas cookies made and maybe even a little more snow. I’ve heard lots of opinions on the weather, will it be a good year or a bad one? Soon everywhere you look people are going to be smiling, saying “Merry Christmas!” They’ll be busy doing their necessary Holiday errands. For the dark of winter, Christmas seems to perk just about everyone up. Christmas day is one of those things that just about everybody looks forward to and prepares for. After all, it’s Christmas.
Of course, in the Church the season we are about to start isn’t the Christmas season at all rather it is Advent. That’s why after Thanksgiving we’ve put the blue paraments on the altar and not the white ones. For Christmas we use white. Advent is just a little different from Christmas. The Church celebrates Christmas after December 25th, after the birth of Jesus. We spend the weeks before Christmas preparing for Christ’s coming. The radio is playing Christmas carols already, we generally hold off until January. It’s not because we are scroogy… after all the Christians have been celebrating Christmas longer than anyone. You know, it’s our holiday. It’s the birth of Jesus Christ. Shouldn’t we be the ones to say how it’s done?
The word Advent means coming. And that’s exactly what we’ll be doing, waiting for Jesus coming. Over the years the Church has come to realize that it’s better not to jump right to the manger at Bethlehem, but rather to take some time in anticipation. Advent is all about anticipation.
But exactly why do we want to spend the time waiting that everyone else is spending at the party? Why do we want to think about other things when everyone else is having fun? Well, that’s exactly what Jesus is talking about in this text.
34“But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. 35For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. 36But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.” Luke 21:25-36 (ESV)
One of my favorite comic strips is “Agnus Day.” It’s an unusual strip that matches the readings we do every Sunday in church. It always features two sheep, Rick and Ted. Rick is a sheep after my own heart because he’s always holding a cup of coffee. But unlike me he always knows what to say. This week Ted asks Rick about the word dissipation in the text. And Ted gets it right.
Dissipation: That’s what the season isn’t about: seeking fulfillment in the joy of the season. And as Rick the sheep says, “when you wear yourself out chasing things that never really satisfy.”
Just think about it. Isn’t that what the season that lies before us has really become? Isn’t that what most people are really starting up on right now? Isn’t that what you and I are starting right now? You know the feeling that I’m talking about. You’ve probably gone through it all again and Friday was the “big shopping day.” You think you should be happy. You think the Christmas carols should “get you in the Christmas spirit.” But they don’t seem to work. You concentrate on buying the perfect gift. How many of you have some of your “Christmas shopping” done? After all the ‘real’ joy of the season is in giving, right? But you wonder what people are going to give you. You know the empty feeling you have when you open your own presents. And how often have you seen the same disappointed look on others faces as they opened gifts from you. So, you sit down to Netflix to key up and watch one the myriad of “Christmas specials” and feel good Christmas themed programs. But it doesn’t really seem to make any difference. Your family is coming together for the holiday because that’s an important part of the season. But there’s always a fight of some kind or an argument leaves everyone angry or disillusioned. As the season goes on instead of getting easier to focus it gets harder. And all your ‘Christmas cheer’ has up and left. And long about the double digits of December you start to look for the end. You wish it was all over and you had everything done. Of course, you can’t say anything to anyone, you don’t want to ruin the season for anyone else, because they all look like they’re having such a great time. And maybe some of them are, but you really wonder if anyone else is feeling the same way you are. Well… they are; lots of them. You’ve heard about the “holiday blues” they strike more people than you might think. But you just put on a brave smile and pretend that the holidays are your favorite time of the year. No one wants to be The Grinch.
You see. Jesus knows what he’s talking about. Dissipation: chasing after things that never really satisfy. The reason why all that stuff surrounding this season feels empty is because it all really is empty. Ultimately this time before Christmas isn’t about decorating your house. It’s not about creating family memories. And it’s not even about getting our hearts ready for Christmas. It’s about Jesus. It’s about God doing something about our loneliness. It’s about God doing something about our despair. It’s about God doing something about the pain in our hearts. It’s about God doing something about our sin broken world. It’s about what God has done is Jesus.
It’s become an old cliché but it’s still one of my favorites Jesus is the reason for the season. Christmas is about Jesus. Of course, you agree. It’s about Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. And that’s right, but if that were then end of the story we’d be right back where we started. So, what if another baby is born into this world. So, what if Shepherds visit him. So, what… The story of Christmas isn’t just a sweet story about the birth baby; it’s about what that baby has been born to do.
The manger of Christmas is empty if we don’t see the shadow of the cross over it. It is on the cross that Jesus gives us the reason for the season. That baby in swaddling clothes doesn’t stay a baby, he becomes a man. And he’s not just an ordinary man; he is God himself in human flesh. He is God coming to take the emptiness out of life by filling it his own life. Because everything in life that is apart from God is meaningless. You know it because you’ve felt it, every time you get caught up in the hustle of the season and forget about Jesus. You feel it every time you take your eyes of the cross or see just the manger and forget the cross.
Remember the cross of Jesus is for you. It’s where Jesus takes the pain and suffering of sin and buries forever in death. He feels the emptiness of life lived apart from God and he cries “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” Why have you forsaken me? That kind of empty death isn’t yours anymore. What awaits you after death is a resurrection, just like Jesus. He rose from the dead and you will rise from the dead, too. That’s his promise to you in Baptism. And hey, that’s his promise to you in Christmas.
But I want you to see one more thing. Advent isn’t just about waiting for Christmas. It is, in fact, waiting for something much greater and even better than Christmas. Jesus is coming again, and this time it’s not going to be in swaddling clothes. This time he’s coming in power and glory. He is going to raise me and you from our dusty graves to life again. No day of joy that you have ever experienced is going to match the joy you’ll feel standing before Jesus in your resurrected body, seeing Jesus face to face. Every time we prepare to celebrate Christmas by thinking and focusing on Jesus we are thinking and preparing for that day. And that’s just what Jesus means when he says Watch yourselves!
So, Happy Thanksgiving, Happy Advent, and Merry Christmas! Get ready Jesus is coming. Prepare yourselves by remembering what he has done for you. Do some shopping, hang some lights, eat some Christmas cookies. Jesus is coming soon. Amen.
The Peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.


Weekday Advent Service One, November 28, 2018


Weekday Advent Service One
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN
The Hymns of Advent
Lo! He comes with Clouds Descending             (LW 15 / LSB 336, tune)
By: Charles Wesley
Lo! He comes with clouds descending,
Once for ev'ry sinner slain;
Thousand thousand saints attending
Swell the triumph of his train:
Alleluia, alleluia!
Christ the Lord returns to reign.
Ev'ry eye shall now behold him
Robed in glorious majesty;
Those who set at nought and sold him,
Pierced and nailed him to the tree,
Deeply wailing, deeply wailing, shall their true Messiah see.
Those dear tokens of his Passion
Still his dazzling body bears,
Cause of endless exultation
To his ransomed worshipers.
With what rapture, with what rapture
Gaze we on those glorious scars!
Yea, amen, let all adore thee,
High on thine eternal throne;
Savior, take the pow'r and glory,
Claim the kingdom for thine own.
Alleluia, alleluia!
Thou shalt reign, and thou a lone!

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Tonight we are starting an Advent series based on a few great Advent hymns.  The question you might ask is why do we even have Advent hymns, or why do we even have Advent at all?  Why don’t we just jump right from Thanksgiving to Christmas just like the rest of the world does?  (Halloween?)  Well, we could.  Christmas is a very important part of our faith.  The old German traditions really emphasis that.  How many of you when you were young put up your Christmas tree on Christmas Eve?  How many opened presents then too?  How many of you were involved in a Children’s Christmas Eve program?  You see, Christmas is really very important to us.  After all if Jesus isn’t born a human being on Christmas Eve He couldn’t have died as a human being in our place on Good Friday and He couldn’t have risen from the dead in human flesh either.  Christmas marks the beginning of it all.  That’s why we sing with Angels the song of Christmas all year, Glory to God in the Highest!  But what’s the value of Advent?  What’s the value of delaying the celebration of Christmas?  What’s the value of singing these Advent hymns?  Well, that’s what this series is all about.
Tonight we are going to look at this wonderful hymn Lo! He comes with Clouds Descending.  It really covers a very important part of Advent, which is not just looking toward the stable but to the time in our future when Our Savior will come again.  It’s all about the anticipation of Jesus coming. 
One of the problems we face as Christians is that we’ve gotten our focus off of the most important thing of our faith.  It’s only natural for us because that’s the way life is for us.  Every day we struggle to survive.  We have to work day in and day out to make a living.  It’s a good idea to make plans for the future but you and I know that they are shaky at best.  Anything can happen to change the plans we’ve made.  “The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray.”  The old saying goes.  So we focus on the here and now: instant credit, instant gratification, instant access, and instant breakfast.  And no where is it more pronounced than at the “holiday season.”  We are bombarded by images of stuff to buy that’ll make us happier and we are encouraged to get it now.  If you’re like me you look through the Christmas sale flyers and instead of seeing gifts for others you see stuff that you’d like to get on sale!  We are just like the little girl who goes Christmas shopping but isn’t happy unless she gets something for herself, too.  With all the activity we are put to rush.  Hurry up to do Christmas Shopping in Deluth, hurry up to go to the Christmas concert, hurry up to catch the parade, hurry only 26 shopping days left!  It’s as if speed is supposed to get us get the most enjoyment out of the season.  What it really accomplishes though is a “me centered” approach to it all.  Oh, we might drop some coins in the red kettle as we walk by to appease our conscience, but what we want is to have ourselves a merry little Christmas… now!
Well, Advent isn’t like that.  That’s why we take things a bit slower here one Wednesday nights.  That’s a part of what Advent is all about.  We slow down and contemplate who we are before God.  We step out of the rushing world for a few minutes and think about Jesus and what He’s done for us.  We focus on the fact that Christ is coming, and exactly what it means.  On these little holiday ‘vacations’ we have two things to think about in Jesus coming.  First, the one are very anxious to hear and to celebrate; the coming of baby Jesus, born to Mary and Joseph in a stable.  It’s the sweet Away in the Manger story of God as a helpless infant.  Now the second, which is no less important (maybe even more), we aren’t always that anxious to talk about is the emphasis of our Advent hymn this evening.  It’s Jesus second coming.  When He comes to judge the living and the dead, as we confess in the creed.  In our rush to celebrate Christmas we usually forget that our Lord is indeed coming again. 
So, let’s take a look at the hymn.  Lo means look, something important is happening.  That’s what we’re going to say when Jesus does return just as He left, in the clouds.  It’s reminds us of the disciples standing up on the hill after Jesus ascended.  They weren’t getting busy and the angel had to give them the swift kick to get started.  “Hey, He’s gone but He’s gonna come back just like He left.  So get busy!”  They said.  It’s the next line that sets the whole hymn in its proper contexts, because it gets right to the cross.  Notice how it sets Jesus death on the cross front and center.  It’s like it says, all that we are going to sing about, we can sing about because Jesus was once for every sinner slain.  If you want to know how to decide if a hymn is really a good one, that’s what you look for.  Christ crucified (1 Cor 1:23), and then (just like this one) what that means for you and me.
This hymn beautifully paints the picture of what it means for us.  We’ll be among the thousand thousand rejoicing in the salvation won for us by the coming King, Jesus.  Using the language of St. John’s revelation:
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:9-10, ESV)
As they say in the commercial, “I just doesn’t get any better than this.”  That’s what we’ll say to each other on that wonderful day to come.
No Advent hymn would be complete though without describing our need for salvation.  This one does it in verse 2.  At first it would be easy to push what it says away from us and on to those who were responsible for the actual driving of the nails.  But it is fair warning to us, lest we sell out Jesus to the prevailing culture.  We are responsible for nailing Jesus to the cross.  It’s is my sin.  It is your sin that He is pierced for.  That sinfulness is reason enough for to be found deeply wailing.  We don’t deserve to be among the thousand thousand but among the damned.  In fact, we are guilty of selling out Jesus every day.  We go about our busy Christmas schedule only paying lip service to Jesus.  Instead of Jesus born for us to be crucified for us we think of Jesus as a cute story to inspire gift giving, and better relationships (peace on earth) among people.  When Christmas is really about our relationship to God, and what He does to restore it.
That’s where the next verse comes in.  This hymn just won’t let us get away from the cross.  Those dear tokens of his Passion are the wounds in His hands, feet and side.  These are the marks of His crucifixion for our sin.  It is exactly what God had done to redeem us, to set us free from the sin that would condemn us.  You see, without the bleeding and dying that the marks remind us of the Christmas story would be an empty celebration.  Jesus comes as a baby to die, and that’s why the joy.  We are the ransomed worshippers who see those marks as our Salvation.
You might not know it but up here on our altar we have a constant reminder of exactly what this hymn is saying.  You can’t see it but you should know that it’s here.  On this white cloth that covers the surface are five embroidered crosses.  (Some altars have them caved into the surface)  Why do you think there are five of them?  That’s right five wounds: two hands, two feet and the side.  It’s a reminder of those glorious scars.  And even more important that out of those wounds flowed Jesus blood.  Some pictures of the crucifixion have a stream of blood flowing into a chalice.  It’s here on this altar that Jesus gives to us in His very body and blood.  We gather around this table to receive the forgiveness that was purchased by the wounds that we see.  There is no more personal way to receive the ransom of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins that to open your mouth and receive Him there.
The hymn ends where history ends.  Jesus reigning on His eternal throne.  It’s really is the goal of our faith.  When Jesus return sin and death and Satan; pain and trouble and worry; evil and persecution and suffering will all come to an end forever.  Advent is a time when we can look forward to that great time.  And this hymn can help us to say it in an unforgettable way.  Amen.

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

Jude.20-25; Last Sunday of the Church Year; November 26, 2018;


Jude.20-25; Last Sunday of the Church Year; November 26, 2018;
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN
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 speaks 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.” Some Christian Pastors are even calling or for “Deeds not Creeds.” 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.  People who used to be in our church but have quit coming for one reason or another.  And if you are expecting that it’s just the pastor’s job to do that you’re missing a very good opportunity to share your faith with someone you know.
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.