Wednesday, March 30, 2011

1 Peter 5:6-11; Weekday Lenten Service Four; March 30, 2011;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa;

Satan, hear this proclamation:
I am baptized into Christ!
Drop your ugly accusation,
I am not so soon enticed.
Now that to the font I’ve traveled,
All your might has come unraveled,
And, against your tyranny,
God, my Lord, unites with me! (LSB 594:3)

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen. ” (1 Peter 5:6–11, ESV)

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

Not so long ago I was visiting the zoo. I remember standing behind a large sheet of glass staring at a huge lion staring back at me. I couldn’t help but think the lion had in his mind something different than what I was thinking. In fact, I think he may have been drooling. We humans don’t think of ourselves as food. But there are many animals that would see us as an easy meal. Last year sometime there was a popular video on YouTube about a Japanese man who foolishly got out of his car at one of those drive thru zoos. He wanted a closer photo. The lions wanted a meal. His family watched helplessly from the car as the man was devoured.

This is the picture of Satan that St. Peter paints for us in the reading for this evening: Satan as a powerful, dangerous, hungry, prowling lion looking for something easy to eat. The man at the zoo would have been safe had he stayed in his car. I was safe as long as the glass was strong enough. But lions are dangerous. They will kill and eat should the opportunity arise. And that is Satan. He is looking to kill. That’s all that’s left of his nature. This is what Jesus says about him:

“…[the devil] was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. ” (John 8:44b, ESV)

Satan is a powerful, dangerous, hungry, prowling enemy. Be sure that he is your enemy. His only desire is your death. And we’re not talking about only your physical death here. We Christians have nothing to fear in that. He wants your eternal death. He would have nothing more than to drag you to hell. That’s what Jesus is saying. Satan is a powerful, dangerous, hungry, prowling enemy, bent on your eternal separation from God. He will do whatever he can to accomplish that. Luther carried this picture in his mind. In comments on Holy Baptism he wrote:

…it is no joke to take sides against the devil and not only to drive him away from the little child, but to burden the child with such a mighty and lifelong enemy.[1]

Saint Peter says the same thing. Satan is not to be trifled with. You are powerless to defeat him. Be sober-minded; be watchful. “Don’t get out of the car!” “Stay behind the glass!”

Satan is the accuser. That’s actually what his name means, that’s what he does. He takes the opportunity to plant doubt in your mind. When things don’t go well for you, when you are suffering, when you are lonely, when you are stressed by the trouble of the world, Satan is prowling around waiting for his chance to accuse. “God must be angry with you! Where is He in all of this? How can you love a God who would let you go through this? You don’t deserve this kind of treatment. You’ve been faithful to God. Why isn’t he faithful to you?” He knows what to say. He knows what your weakness is. He’s got the wisdom of thousands of thousands of years on his side. When the cares of the world go haywire you can’t help but listen. And you listen and fall into doubt and sin again. And Satan growls and digs his teeth in deeper. “I’ve got you now, you worthless Christian. You can’t even trust God for your simple little troubles. If you can’t trust him you are lost. If you can’t trust him you are mine!”

Satan, hear this proclamation:
I am baptized into Christ!
Drop your ugly accusation,
I am not so soon enticed.
Now that to the font I’ve traveled,
All your might has come unraveled,
And, against your tyranny,
God, my Lord, unites with me! (LSB 594:3)

Listen to Luther on Baptism again.

For the ship of Baptism never breaks, because (as we have said) it is God’s ordinance and not our work [1 Peter 3:20–22]. But it does happen, indeed, that we slip and fall out of the ship. Yet if anyone falls out, let him see to it that he swims up and clings to the ship until he comes into it again and lives in it, as he had done before.

83 In this way one sees what a great, excellent thing Baptism is. It delivers us from the devil’s jaws and makes us God’s own. It suppresses and takes away sin and then daily strengthens the new man. It is working and always continues working until we pass from this estate of misery to eternal glory.[2]

The image is this. You are stuck in Satan’s hungry jaws, his prey and prize. But God rescues you in Holy Baptism. Through word and water, through his powerful promises made sure for you in the forgiveness of your sins won by Jesus on the cross, he slaps Satan across the muzzle and makes him release you. “You can’t have this one.” He says. This one is mine. Saint Peter says it here:

Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 3:21,ESV)

Your sin is forgiven. The troubles you have in life have nothing to do with your eternal destiny. Through faith in Jesus Christ, through the promises of Holy Baptism, you are forgiven. Your sin does not enter into your relationship with God. The punishment for all your sin has already been paid. Jesus, your Savior, died for you and your sin on the cross. He suffered God’s judgment and your punishment there. Listen to the Saints of old:

He who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who is my adversary? Let him come near to me. Behold, the Lord God helps me; who will declare me guilty? Behold, all of them will wear out like a garment; the moth will eat them up. ” (Isaiah 50:8–9, ESV)

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. ” (2 Corinthians 4:8–10, ESV)

Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, 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 8:33–39, ESV)

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:6, ESV)

The promise is this. Satan, the accuser, is a powerful, dangerous, hungry, prowling enemy. But he has no power over you that you don’t give him. He is defeated. He is hell bound. His only power is hell. He tries to convince you that hell is yours. But it isn’t. “I am baptized into Christ.” Heaven is promised to you. God’s promises to you don’t depend on you overcoming your weakness, your temptation or your sin. Jesus Christ has done that for you. His life, death and resurrection are yours through faith in God’s water soaked promises to you. That means your suffering and trouble here on earth are not for you to overcome or defeat. They are yours to give to Jesus. They are yours to see his suffering on the cross for you. And… they are yours to see that you are not alone in your troubles. Your suffering helps you to see suffering in others and point them to Jesus. Amen.

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

[1] Luther, M. (1999). Vol. 53: Luther's works, vol. 53 : Liturgy and Hymns (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther's Works (102). Philadelphia: Fortress Press.

[2] Concordia : The Lutheran Confessions. 2005 (Edited by Paul Timothy McCain) (431). St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Psalm 51; Weekday Lenten Service Two; March 23, 2011;

Psalm 51; Weekday Lenten Service Two; March 23, 2011;

To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba. Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice. Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you. Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. Do good to Zion in your good pleasure; build up the walls of Jerusalem; then will you delight in right sacrifices, in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings; then bulls will be offered on your altar. ” (Psalm 51, ESV)

God’s Own Child I Gladly Say It  LSB 594 v. 2 2 Sin, disturb my soul no longer:
I am baptized into Christ!
I have comfort even stronger:
Jesus’ cleansing sacrifice.
Should a guilty conscience seize me
Since my Baptism did release me
In a dear forgiving flood,
Sprinkling me with Jesus’ blood?

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

You know how if feels. You toss and turn and worry. It’s a restless night. “Why did I say that? Why did I do that? I didn’t mean it. I could see how it hurt. I didn’t need what I got. I just couldn’t help it. I wish I could have that hour over again. I hope no one finds out that that was a lie. If I wouldn’t have been so insistent on my own way. How am I going to keep from loosing my friend when she finds out? If I could just clear my mind, I could get some sleep.” You know what a conscience is. You’ve had it plague you long into the night or wake you up from a dead sleep only to taunt you. Even years later you are tortured as the simplest thing brings up the memory. Worst of all your guilt, are the things you can’t change because the people you have hurt are dead. And so the plague of guilt steals your sleep, occupies your mind when there are other things that should be concerning you.

Guilt is repulsive. You’d do anything to avoid guilt and a guilty conscience. You talk yourself out of it. You avoid the people you’ve hurt. You’d rather end your friendship than face up to your issues. Amazingly, guilt drives you away from God’s house. I wonder how many of those folks that used to sit in our pews are not here anymore because of guilt. There are even stronger reactions. Denial of sin and guilt lead to outright denial of God. A god who considers that a sin is no god I want to worship.

And this gets to the real heart of the issue. What David knew, and confesses so clearly in this psalm is what all people instinctively know. All sin is really against God, and we are accountable to him. It is guilt that drives people to deny God. But as the scriptures say

The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds, there is none who does good. ” (Psalm 14:1, ESV)

David says it. “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.” It’s pretty amazing considering some of his sins. Uriah, the husband of his lover, lay dead on the battle field to cover up his little tryst. He made his most trusted general a part of it by giving orders for Uriah to be left alone on the battle field in danger. David had the affair because he was neglecting his soldiers. They were on campaign he was home pacing on his roof and peeping at Bathsheba while she bathed. And yet, David says his sin, all of it, is really against God and only. He uses the word bloodguiltiness. It’s repulsive, dirty, filthy, guilty, sin. It is against God because it separates us from him. It blocks him out of our lives. It destroys our relationship. Sin turns God from friend to angry enemy.

It no wonder when you struggle with your sin and guilt, when it disturbs your soul you want to find relief. Where do you turn? David shows us.

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice. Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.

He turns to the injured party and asks for forgiveness. He turns to the only one who can forgive. He turns to the only one who promises to forgive. God forgives completely. But you shouldn’t think he just forgives out of some forgetfulness. Sin and guilt are repulsive to us but even more so to a perfect, holy, and just God. There is no way to forgive sin and guilt without the shedding of blood. Anything else would not be justice. It’s clear that this is true. We shout in disgust when the guilty go free on a technicality. But when our own case is before the judge we look for the same possibility. The fear of punishment is what gives guilt its force, its ability to taunt and trouble us. If God is the perfectly just judge, how do you know that when you turn to him, as David did, that you are not running straight to punishment? How do you know you are not running directly to the angry judge?

That’s what the hymn says so nicely.

Sin, disturb my soul no longer:
I am baptized into Christ!
I have comfort even stronger:
Jesus’ cleansing sacrifice.
Should a guilty conscience seize me
Since my Baptism did release me
In a dear forgiving flood,
Sprinkling me with Jesus’ blood? (LSB 594:2)

It isn’t just spouting wishful thinking, either. It’s paraphrased these words from Saint Peter:

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, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him. ” (1 Peter 3:18–22, ESV)

What it says is the flood of Holy Baptism washes your sin onto Jesus. He suffers and dies, the righteous (that’s him) for the unrighteous (that’s you!). Baptism, this “life-giving water, rich in grace, and a washing of the new birth in the Holy Spirit”, now saves you. It saves you from God’s anger and punishment over your sin. Your sin washed onto Jesus is carried by him onto the cross where he is punished in your place. Your sin paid for in full by the perfect sacrifice for sin. This is how Baptism saves you. It’s not the water, it’s the word, it’s the work of God in and with the water. It’s the promise of sins forgiven because of Jesus. It is the release of your punishment because Jesus was punished for you. All this given to you through God’s promise, his name, washed over you with water, that dear forgiving flood, sprinkling me with Jesus blood.

There is nothing in the world more sure for you than God’s promise to you in Holy Baptism. Your wet head proves it. You were washed. You were cleansed. Your sin was washed away in that forgiving flood. Jesus life, death and his resurrection are yours. Amen.

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

Sunday, March 20, 2011

John 3.1-17; Second Sunday in Lent; March 20, 2011;

Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. ” (John 3:1–17, ESV)

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

Everyone wants to make sense out of life. As we live and work and play we want there to be meaning. The problem is it isn’t always clear; meaning isn’t all that easy to find. It’s difficult to find meaning in watching people swept away with their houses by a giant wave. It’s difficult to find meaning in a struggle against nuclear power gone haywire. There just isn’t an easy answer. No one can say they know exactly how the death of those thousands of people fits into the over all plan for life on earth.

Gas prices continue to climb as revolution erupts in the Middle East and Africa. Are the rebels good guys seeking democracy or are they bad guys looking for an in for Sharia Law? Why can’t world leaders take a stand while hundreds die? What does all this unrest in that eternally unstable part of the world mean for us? It’s difficult not to be frightened and confused when with all this going on all over the world. What is it all about? No one can really answer the question. But many people try.

With all these questions about why floating around, this entire struggle, it’s easy to feel lost and in the dark. If only I could find the key to understanding these problems… If I watch just one more hour news coverage, I’ll understand what it’s all about. Just one more expose about mad dictator … Just one more interview with Japanese woman who saw her whole life swept away in angry muddy water… then I’d be able to make sense out of it all. And everything would fall into place. But it never happens. It’s like wandering around in the dark hoping to find the path. It is very danger dangerous to bump around in the dark. We so easily stumble into dangerous places. But we can’t see where we are going; the way is hidden from us. The key to understand the whole thing is hidden from us in the darkness.

There was another man who felt this way. He was trying to understand the struggles that were going on around him. Something unexpected was happening and he was in the dark, groping for answers. Nicodemus wanted to know who Jesus really was. He was looking for the key to understanding Him. We hear about him in the verses immediately preceding the Gospel for today, in fact Chapter 3 is all about a discussion between Jesus and Nicodemus.

Nicodemus came to Jesus, at night, in the dark, to talk, to understand, to shine light on the darkness in his mind. “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who comes from God, no one does the things you have done without having God with him.” What he was asking, what he dare not really say was, “Jesus, who are you really? What makes you tick? What makes you do things like driving all the sacrifices out of the temple? What makes you say things like ‘destroy this temple and I’ll rebuild it in three days’? I’m in the dark and I want to know what all of this means.”

But, Jesus gives and interesting answer. He tells Nicodemus that it is not that he lacks the key to understanding. “If you are not born again you can’t understand the things of God.” It’s not a matter of knowledge; it’s not figuring out the puzzle, it’s not finding the light switch. What is born of the flesh is flesh.” The flesh only gives birth to evil things. Human beings are sinful. You feel like you are lost because you are lost. You feel in the dark and dead because you are dead.”

That’s were we find ourselves, too. The bible tells us that we are evil. It’s not just criminals and the mad dictators. There’s more than enough evil and sin in even our hearts. We can try all we want to shield ourselves from the light God’s law and hide our evil from Him, but it penetrates us and shows our most secret sins… the lust, the greed, the self-service… It sends us cowering back into the cover of darkness.

We don’t need just some secret knowledge to help us. It isn’t knowing some key to life that brings light to our darkness. The key is looking to the one who is the Light. All the knowledge in the world won’t help us make sense out of the darkness, and trouble in our nature and war torn world. If we are missing the foundation, the One and True Light, we will stumble around in the darkness all our lives.

Light has come into the world.

That’s what Jesus told Nicodemus. “Light has come into the world.” He said. That’s the Good News. We blindly search for meaning, and God has provided what we need to survive, to avoid the dangers in the darkness. We don’t have to crawl up a high mountain to get knowledge from some guru, to find the secret to life. Jesus was lifted up for us to plainly see.

Just like Moses lifted up the snake for the Israelites to be saved from their snake venom. Jesus saves us from the darkness in our hearts. He is lifted up on the cross for our sins. He dies our death there, he dies because of sin, the evil in us goes into the darkness of death with him, and when he comes to life again darkness is changed into light.

Our attempts to make sense of life find completion in Jesus Christ. He is the light of the world, the way the truth and the life. We have seen Jesus lifted up, we have seen God’s answer to all the questions of sin, death and destruction in life. God gave us this light not by taking us out of it but by coming into the darkness himself. He came, in Jesus, and was enveloped in the darkness of our death. He was oppressed by the darkness of our evil, and lived among the darkness of our ignorance.

We look to Jesus Christ, lifted up and crucified. He shines the light of forgiveness from the cross into your dark heart and makes it light again. He dies for you, goes into death’s darkness where you should go, but don’t have go to anymore. When the light of day, shined into the dark tomb on Easter morning, Jesus ended the reign of death in your life. The brightness of Easter, the Light of the promise of life is yours, through Baptism, in the name of Jesus.

We don’t live in the darkness anymore. The light of Jesus, lifted up, still shines on us to bring light to our darkness. Even though darkness is all around us, even though we struggle to understand what’s going on in the world. What does it mean that there is war in Iraq? Why do people want to kill us? All of that darkness threatens us every day, but we live as “children of the light.” We know the answer for a world that is still groping around in darkness, looking for meaning. We have seen the Way. We have seen the Light. It is Jesus Christ. Amen.

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

Monday, March 14, 2011

Joel 2:12-13; March 9, 2011; Ash Wednesday;

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

“Yet even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster. (Joel 2:12-13, ESV)

Dear Christian friends;

Everything good, every positive thing the church has ever done begins with repentance. That’s what the prophet Joel is urging for us tonight. Return, repent, revive… God is gracious and merciful. He restores and rebuilds. Repentance is the first step to anywhere for the church. That’s because repentance first requires an accurate assessment of where we are, who we are and what we are. That’s what Ash Wednesday beings. That’s what the season of Lent is about; repentant joy in a Savior from sin and a realistic soul searching for the reason for this season.

It all begins here at Ash Wednesday. So far we’ve carefully examined our lives using God’s law the Ten Commandments. When we are honest with ourselves and not doing what comes natural to our sinful nature (like blaming others for our failings, making excuses, or exceptions for ourselves) we find we are far lacking of what the Commandments, and God requires. When you listen to each commandment as it piles on top of the previous one it destroys our self delusions and crushes all hope of living up to the demands. And then with all your sin hanging out the death blow comes “Remember, oh man, that dust you are and to dust you shall return!” Death is coming for you. It is the wages of sin. And death means judgment and God is a severe judge. Keeping the commandments is a pipe dream. If we don’t fall into the thousand generations because we don’t keep the commandments, we surly fall into the third and fourth generation facing punishment. And right there on your face is the sooty smudge to prove it.

All of this is the first part of confession that we read in Luther’s Catechism. It’s the “we confess our sins” part. It doesn’t only mean to add up the cost of our particular sins. It means also to “plead guilty of all sins, even those we are not aware of.” That is, to say about ourselves what God says about us. We are sinners who sin. We sin in thought word, and deed by what we have done and left undone. We do not deserve anything God would give to us, let alone forgiveness.

And here we stand, before God, with nothing to offer but our sin, pleading for mercy,

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. (Psalm 51, ESV)

And then, there is the second part of confession. It is the pronouncement of what we don’t deserve. We call it absolution. It is a wet word. Do you hear “solution” in it? It is the drowning of our sinful nature again in Holy Baptism. Martin Luther says that Baptism

…indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.

It isn’t some kind of magic, but a connection to God’s grace and mercy. It is God abounding in steadfast love. It is the gift of Jesus on the cross.

When we go to God with our sins in hand he doesn’t forgive because we repent. He doesn’t forgive because we are sorry for our sin and don’t want to sin again. He forgives because of Jesus. That’s what Holy Baptism is a connection to Jesus. Without Jesus even repentant sinners would have nothing but God’s anger.

Jesus is God’s answer to his anger. Get out the Self Examination Sheet again. Look over the questions again, especially the one where you see your own failure. Mark them with a little cross. Because where you failed Jesus did not. The questions that are your downfall are Jesus’ victory. In fact, that’s exactly what righteousness means, “keeping God’s commandments perfectly.” On every single question (and more) Jesus answers correctly. He keeps the commandments to their fullest and deepest meaning. And Jesus doesn’t just do it right, he is perfectly righteous in every thought, word and deed. It is so utterly true that God the Father says of Jesus, “This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased!” And to prove to you that this is true for Jesus, after Jesus was … crucified, died and was buried. He descended into hell. The third day He rose again from the dead (Apostles’ Creed). No history is more important that the resurrection of Jesus Christ. He conquers sin by conquering death. The wages of Jesus death is life. This is why God is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. On the cross innocent Jesus is put to death as the greatest sinner of all time. Every commandment is piled on him. One after another the wages of the broken commandments are heaped on Jesus. Sinless Jesus carries our sin through the cross into death. His righteousness is enough to cover it all. The punishment for sin is done to death in Jesus Christ.

And now, dear Christian, the connection: It is for you. Jesus life. Jesus death. Jesus resurrection. For you, all of it. Trust God to be gracious and merciful to you because Jesus did all this for you. God relents from disaster because Jesus was the disaster for you. Cling in faith to Jesus. Rejoice in Jesus as your forgiveness in the face of your confession. Jesus is the absolution. And it is right here at the font. The old Adam drowned. The new man rising. Jesus death and resurrection. Your death and resurrection. Your confession of sins. God’s gracious and merciful forgiveness. That’s Holy Baptism for you.

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. ” (Romans 6:3–7, ESV)

In this Baptism God claims you as his own child. The hymn says it: “God’s own child, I gladly says it, I am baptized into Christ!” This is what it means. This is repentance. Sin and forgiveness coming together for me in Jesus Christ. Poured over me with water and God’s Word. Confession and absolution are that Baptism re-visited, remembered, repeated every day. The drowning of our sin again and again and the raising of a new child of God. Amen.

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

Friday, March 11, 2011

From the Synod President–Japan Earthquake Relief

LCMS type burggray JPEG 300 dpi

Dear brothers in Christ,
As you are well aware, a deadly tsunami struck the coast of Japan in the early hours this morning.  Hundreds of people have lost their lives and many more are missing. As the morning progressed, the lethal waves moved across the Pacific Ocean striking other land masses in their path.  While the full effect of the tsunami is not yet known, the losses are expected to be great.  
We have been in touch with our missionaries and partner church leaders in the affected parts of the world. At this time, we have been assured that our missionaries in Japan and the presidents of the two Japanese Lutheran churches are safe. We will continue to closely monitor the aftermath of the storm, and our disaster response team is preparing to respond. 

We encourage you to visit the LCMS website,, often for periodic news updates. Also, we will be posting links to worship resources later today that may be suitable for use this Sunday or at another appropriate time.  
In closing, please join me in prayer for the victims of the tsunami and their families. I would suggest the Litany. And let us also during this Lenten season make use of the historic discipline of caring for the needy (Matt. 6:2-4).

God is our refuge and strength,
    a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
    though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea.  Psalm 46: 1-2
In His peace,
Rev. Matthew C. Harrison, President
The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod


Monday, March 07, 2011

Matt.17.1-9; March 6, 2011; Transfiguration

And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only. And as they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, “Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.” (Matthew 17:1-9, ESV)

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

Lord it is good for us to be here.

Sometimes, I think if things would just stop for a moment and I could catch my breath everything would be all right. If only for a moment, I weren’t so busy then I’d have the strength to go on. There is so much these days to keep us busy. If I projected a community calendar up on the wall here we’d all see how busy we all are. School and church, and county, and family activities. There are meetings just to plan meetings to make sure all the planning is done. All of these activities keep us running, from morning till night. It hardly seems we have time to sit and take a break. And that’s just adults, add to all this busyness our Children’s schedules; basketball games; play practices and and music contests. All of it builds to a crescendo headed for the end of the school year. How many miles have you put on your mini-van (or should I say mini-taxi) this year for school events? There is so much to do… sometimes we just want to catch our breath, sometimes we just want it all to stop. There’s an old commercial about a family at breakfast. There’s food spilled on the table, kids dressing and eating as they head out the door, mom frazzled, and dad in a daze. How well does this picture fit your family? Sometimes, we all need a “time out.” At time to catch our breath, a time to recharge, a time to stop and just be still.

Maybe we need a time-out like in basketball. I like basketball. Especially when a game is close, and there’s lots of tension and the outcome of the game is uncertain. The players are at a fevered pitch, battling for control of the ball, giving all they have for a few seconds of possession. Sometimes tempers rage, sometimes panic. Everyone in the crowd is focused on the floor. Emotion flows out of every pore, of every player. People in the crowd sit at the very edge of their seat, ready to leap into the fray and help. But, sometimes in a game like that its best to try to calm the players down, let coolness prevail and cancel the panic. Sometimes, a good coach knows, it’s time to take a time out. During a time out, the action can almost completely stop. The ball, that was the focus of so much attention, bounces slowly to a stop on the floor and is ignored. The refs talk about the weather and last nights NBA scores, and the crowds sit down and take a drink of pop or finish off that last bit of popcorn. The coach gathers his players around him, and gives a few instructions, and the players breathe deeply and recharge. It’s only a few seconds, but during that brief few seconds, life goes into slow motion, time drags out to a slow crawl. Then the buzzer interrupts, and the time-out is over, the crowd returns to its feet, the congregation of refs breaks up, the players take a deep breath and return to the floor, and the game picks up again… soon everything is back to where it was, the focus, the action and the passion. Some of the players are more focused, maybe just enough for an advantage in the game.

Today is Transfiguration Sunday. It’s a kind of a time-out. Here we are still with the lingering joy of Christmas. The altar has been covered with white, for the joy of Christmas, we’ve been talking about all kinds of wonderful things like, Epiphany (when the Magi visited Jesus), Jesus Baptism, and of course the gifts that God brings to us because of Jesus. But ahead of us is Lent. Soon the colors turn dark purple. There’s sorrow ahead as we begin a walk onto the dark shadow of death. There’s guilt ahead as we contemplate our sinfulness and the great cost the Jesus paid for us. Lent begins a contemplative season when we think about these kinds of things instead of the joy of Christmas. Standing here right now and looking ahead, it’s good to be here, at this little time-out after Christmas, before Lent.

Jesus and his disciples took a time-out, too. He had been instructing them about what was ahead of them; sorrow, suffering, and even his own death. It was Peter who spoke up for all of them. “No, Lord, none of that will ever happen to you!” “Yes, it will.” Was Jesus reply, “Yes, it must.” And the disciples were left scratching their heads, trying to understand. Everything was going so well, everything was so focused on the people around them, the healing, the feeding, it didn’t make sense for all of that to change. Jesus knew what was ahead. Jesus knew how things would go from then on. So He gathered Peter, James and John and headed for the hills… for a time-out. That’s what they needed; Time to recharge, time to reflect on what had happened the past, and time to focus on the task ahead. I don’t know what the three disciples expected, probably not what they saw: “and he was transfigured before them there.” It was a metamorphosis. Jesus face glowed bright, and his clothes. And God’s representatives appeared, Moses and Elijah. And they were talking to Jesus. It was, I’m sure a glorious site, a heavenly site. Here was Jesus in the company of Moses and Elijah, the great prophets of God. What a wonder! Peter and his companions didn’t want the sight to end. This may have seemed to them as the pinnacle of their time with Jesus. But, in truth it was only a time out. But they didn’t want the timeout the end.

Peter says, “Lord, it’s good to be here. Let’s stay and never let this end. We can live here in all this glory, in all this light. Here in the company of Moses and Elijah. Let’s forget about what’s ahead. Let’s forget about all that you have told us about, the suffering and especially the death.”

But without all of those things that Peter wanted to avoid, and not think about, without the suffering there would be not death, and without the death, there would be no resurrection. And without the resurrection there would be no restoration of human beings to God. What Peter wanted to avoid was the very purpose for which Jesus came. It was through pain and death that he would restore human beings to God, and through his resurrection that he would give them hope for the future. Jesus and his disciples couldn’t stay there on the mountain. God had a plan…

There are times when we all think like Peter. “It’s good, Lord, to be here…” I’m satisfied with things just the way they are right now. I’m satisfied with my faith. I don’t really need it to grow beyond where it is right now. That growth may come with pain and suffering, it’s good to be here right now without it.

I’m satisfied with my prayer life where it is right now; I don’t need to speak to God about all that’s happening in my life. He knows more about it than I do anyway. I’d rather continue to deal with these things myself.

I’m happy drinking the milk of your word. I don’t need to be in bible study, I don’t what to have to chew on the meat, and think about what may still be wrong in my life. I don’t really want God to poke around in my life, and show me sins that I’m become comfortable with.

I’m satisfied with my congregation where it is. We don’t need to change anything. We don’t need any more activities to fill my calendar. We just need to get things back to the way they used to be.

There is always the danger of loving the moment, being satisfied with the status quo…. Living in the timeout. Change can be painful, and moving forward always requires change.

Peter wanted to hold on to the glorious vision of Jesus Christ on the mountain. Moving from there meant pain, suffering and death. But, what God wanted to give Peter and his friends, what God wants to give us is the greater Glory of Christ. The glory we find in a stronger relationship with him. A relationship that was begun when Jesus Christ suffered died and rose again for us, a relationship that will find its completion when he returns again to claim us as his own. When we want to stay in the status quo we are locked in our sinfulness, instead of looking to the forgiveness that Jesus Christ has won for us.

When the cloud came to the mountain, Peter, James and John were faced with the presence of God. They fell to their faces in fear. They knew they were sinful people only deserving God’s wrath. The wonderful, heavenly vision couldn’t be theirs without Jesus Christ. The wonderful, heavenly vision couldn’t be theirs without what Jesus was about to do. They couldn’t stay there. The timeout was over.

The cloud left them… time began again. It was time to move forward… forward with God’s plans… forward to suffering… death… but also forward to Resurrection and Life!

The timeout is nice, but the game goes on, life goes on. The timeout isn’t the game, there’s so much more to do. God’s plans for our future require change. They may even include suffering. But, forward we must go. Forward into Lent to contemplate what Jesus has done for us… forward to an uncertain future, but armed with the vision of the transfigured Christ. Armed with the knowledge of what he has accomplished for us. Amen.

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