Sunday, April 28, 2024

Acts 8:26-40; The Fifth Sunday of Easter; April 28, 2024;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is a desert place. And he rose and went. And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet Isaiah. And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and join this chariot.” So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. Now the passage of the Scripture that he was reading was this: “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter and like a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opens not his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.” And the eunuch said to Philip, “About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus. And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he passed through he preached the gospel to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.” (Acts 8:26–40, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Look! Here is water, but it's not just plain water. It is water combined with God's Word. It is water and God's Word together as God commanded. This water, here in the font, is special cleansing water from God.
"It is nothing else than a divine water, not that the water in itself is nobler than other water but that God's Word and commandment are added to it" (Martin Luther, Large Catechism IV, 14).
The Ethiopian eunuch saw it as just that. God's precious gift of new life in the Savior who came in the flesh.

He was riding down the road in his chariot reading the Word from the Prophet Isaiah. Philip came jogging beside. He saw him reading and asked, "Do you know what you're reading? Do you understand what it is?"

"How can I unless someone explains it?"

Imagine Philip's surprise when the Ethiopian pointed to the text and read these words: “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter and like a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opens not his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.”” (Acts 8:32b–33, ESV) The Ethiopian read the words, but he didn't see the meaning. An Angel of the Lord sent Philip at that very moment to explain. And look at what Philip does. He puts Jesus at the center of the text. The eunuch was looking at all the pieces of the puzzle spread out on the table and Philip shows him the box. The picture that makes the puzzle clear is Jesus.

Philip was only doing what Jesus had done for them. Beginning with that very text, from the prophet Isaiah, he explained that the sheep that was slaughtered for the sins of the world was Jesus Christ. And then he moved on to the rest of Scripture and explained how it was all about Jesus.

Jesus had done the very same for them on his resurrection day. Remember the account of the disciples walking down the road to Emmaus. Two disciples were walking dejected at the death of Jesus. The resurrected Jesus appeared to them but hidden, they didn't know who he was. And he explained to them that all the Scripture was about his life, death, and his resurrection. All about his saving work for the forgiveness of sins for the whole world, even Ethiopian eunuchs.

So, Philip, directed by an Angel and led by the Spirit, taught the Word of God. And, when this government official from Africa saw a pool of water standing in the desert, he wanted what God was offering. He wanted forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ. He wanted the cleansing that was offered in the water connected to God's word. "What's to prevent me?" And the answer is: "Nothing!"

"All nations!" Ethiopians, Greeks, Australians, Brazilians, South Africans, Swedes, Germans, Norwegians, and even Americans. All are to be made disciples through God's work in Holy Baptism. God's word and command connected with the water in the font.

As we look at a baby born in a cattle feed trough. He is not an ordinary baby. He is the sheep to be led to slaughter. He is the one explained by Philip to the Ethiopian. He is the son of God, born in human flesh, sacrificed on the cross for the forgiveness of sin. And not just any sin, but your sin. Your baptism in this water is your connection to the one who was born in a stable and hung on a cross. In this divine water, by the power of God's word your sins are washed away, and you are forgiven. Because you are included in the “all nations” that are to be baptized.

You know your sin and your need. The law in God's word points it out to you. It shows itself as you fall short of your own expectations for your life. But we are not just talking about disappointment. You see in your own heart self-centeredness that prevents you from doing the right thing. You hear the words that come out of your mouth that are hurtful to even your family. You see the homeless man on the road and avert your eyes rather than help. You know the broken relationships that are scattered through your life. And you know your fault in their breaking. You know your regrets, the things that should have been. Your tossing and turning in the middle of the night wishing things were different. These are all falling short of God's expectations for your life. These are all breaking of his commandments, any one of which condemns you to eternal separation from him in hell.

There is no escaping what you deserve. But instead, you get the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger. You get the babe grown into a man hanging on a cross suffering the punishment of your sin. You get the water connected to his Word that promises that his death on the cross is your death and punishment. It is the power of the water and the word and the font. It is the power of Jesus for you. Amen.

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

Sunday, April 21, 2024

John 10:11-18; The Fourth Sunday of Easter; April 21, 2024;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;

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

We simply cannot comprehend the scandal of the cross. In our day, the cross is the definitive symbol of who we are. We have them everywhere. Here in church, the cross is prominent. Randy has multiple walls covered with them. We can’t imagine Christianity without the cross.

For early Christians, however, it was different. The cross was a symbol of Roman power. The Persians invented it, the Romans perfected it. They crucified hundreds of thousands. Many were guilty, and many were innocent. Some say barely a day went by without a crucifixion. It was a public humiliation, not only for the person who was crucified, but also for the nations who were under the thumb of the Romans. “We are in charge.” It was a billboard of Roman will. “Don’t do what he did, or you too will suffer.” No form of punishment was more feared because of the lingering death that came with it. The pure humiliation, the shame, the nakedness, the crowds of mocking people. Christians didn’t go around with crosses hanging around their necks, like we do today.

That is not to say that Christians didn’t talk about the cross. Very early, Paul writes
Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” (1 Corinthians 1:20–25, ESV)
When Paul talks about a stumbling block and folly it is really an understatement. The message of the cross was one of the most counter-cultural messages that could have ever been.

In fact, one of the earliest depictions of Jesus on the cross comes from graffiti. It is called the The Alexamenos Graffito. It depicts a man named Alexamenos worshipping a donkey headed person on a cross. The inscription says, “Alexemenos worships his God.” It is almost certainly meant to mock a Christian for worship a crucified God. The message was clear. “Alexemenos worships an ass who was crucified.” And remember this was carved in plaster 150 years after the crucifixion of Jesus. Depictions of Jesus on the cross prior to this have not been found.

Despite their unwillingness to use the cross as an image, it was still central to the Christian faith, as central as it is now. The crucifixion wasn’t denied, it was spoken openly, it just wasn’t depicted, well not with a cross anyway.

So, what image did the Christians use to depict the crucified Jesus? That brings us to our text today.
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”” (John 10:11–18, ESV)
It is Jesus, the Good Sheperd. Our text brings it out clearly. Jesus himself says, “I lay down my life that I may take it up again.” He is referring to his cross and resurrection. He is referring to his willingness to be crucified. “I lay down my life for the sheep.”

In the catacombs of Rome, we find many illustrations of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. Look at the images of Jesus on the back of the insert. One is from the 2nd Century. The other is much younger. But they have something in common. Our depictions of the Good Shepherd show him with a little lamb on his shoulders. Notice that these show a full-grown sheep, that’s 200 pounds of sheep. It’s not an easy load.
“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” (Luke 15:4–7, ESV) >/blockquote> Nowhere does the parable say it is a lamb. Imagine the difficulty in carrying a full-grown sheep on your back through rocks, thorns, and predators. Let alone the idea of leaving 99 sheep unwatched. That shepherd would return to a mess of scattered sheep. The answer to Jesus’ question, what man of you? is no one would do such a foolish thing.

It is a picture of Jesus on the cross. No man would do such a foolish thing. Jesus chooses the most painful, disgraceful, humiliating death. Just as the shepherd carries a full-grown sheep on his back, Jesus bears our sin on the cross. The burden of it is tremendous. The sins of every man, woman and child that ever lived and will ever live was carried on Jesus shoulders there. All our blatant sins, all our intentional sins, all our accidental sins, all our unknown sins, carried into death. The image is much older than the 2nd century too. Isaiah writes,
All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:6, ESV)
The burden of being fetched home falls on the shepherd. The sheep (and its iniquity, that is the guild of his sin) is laid on Jesus.

Today, look upon your Good Shepherd, there (on the cross). He bears your burden. His arms are spread apart willing to carry not only you, but all your burdens.
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28–30, ESV)
Come, he says. Come to the cross and give them all to me. I will take them gladly, willingly. The burden of sin you carry is now mine to carry.

Dump your sins at the cross. Not only the sin, but the guilt, and the consequences. Put them there on Jesus. Jesus, on the cross, removes them. He carries them as the Good Shepherd. Along with himself, he puts them to death. He frees you from them forever.

And how can you be sure this is done? Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, dead in the grave with your sin and guilt and burdens, rises from death. He does the impossible. After his brutal death on the cross, that would have been the end of any mortal man, he breaks the bonds of death. From Romans 6;
We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.” (Romans 6:9, ESV)
He has left your burden in the grave. He has died the death you deserve for it and risen to prove it is done. He will never die again. He promises that you too after your death, will live eternally with him minus your burden of sin. Jesus is the Good Shepherd who finds you when you were lost and bears you home. Amen.

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

Sunday, April 07, 2024

John.20.19-31; Second Sunday after Easter; April 7, 2024;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
19On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, "Peace be with you." 20When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you." 22And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld." 24Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord." But he said to them, "Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe." 26Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." 27Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe." 28Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!" 29Jesus said to him, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." 30Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. John 20:19-31 (ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

It's a week after Easter. We are still joyful, basking in the glow of that wonderful day. The flowers haven't faded. We're still singing Easter hymns (and we will for several more weeks!). Joy is still the overriding theme of our worship. That's not the mood of the disciples on that first Easter (at least not yet). It was third day after Jesus had been crucified. Mary had run to them saying that she had "seen the Lord." But, instead of being joyful, they were afraid, their minds were full of doubt. The news was too much to believe. Suddenly, unexplainably, miraculously Jesus passed through the walls and the locked doors stood among them. "Peace be with you. Shalom 'Alekem." The simple and common greeting may have gone over the Disciples’ heads. But it was anything but a simple and common greeting coming from the Risen Lord. After all, before his suffering and death, "peace" is what he said he would bring them.
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. You heard me say to you, 'I am going away, and I will come to you.' (Jn 14:27-28a, ESV)
And maybe they didn't quite see it just yet. But the peace that Jesus brings them was the direct result of the "It is finished" he spoke on the cross. The peace Jesus brings, he brings through his suffering and death. It is the peace that passes all understanding. It is the peace that comes from sins forgiven. It is the peace that comes from sinful people being reconciled to God. "God and sinners reconciled." We sing it in the well known Christmas hymn, but it would be a good hymn for today, too.

The disciples must have had their doubts. They didn’t believe what Mary Magdalene had told them. But now Jesus stood among them. He relieves their fear and doubt by showing them the wounds from his crucifixion. Only he would have those specific wounds in his hands and side. "See, don't doubt that it is me! Don’t doubt that I am alive. I'm the very same one whom you saw crucified, dead and buried." This translation says they were glad when they saw him. Maybe that's a little understating it. They were overjoyed. Just as Jesus promised, their sorrow was turned into joy. Their fear and doubt was turned to belief. His love for them, and for us, is unmistakable. It's proved by the nail marks. It's proved by the spear that pierced his heart. It was proved by his death. It is proved by his victory over death and the grave. This is the way that God shows his love for the world; that he gave his one and only son to die in our place, and to rise again from death, for us.

That is the joy that the ancient church celebrated. It was tradition in worship to say the words "Maranatha!" It means "Come Lord now." You can almost see them saying it even many years later with a pregnant pause in the expectation of Jesus appearing again, just as he did that day. That joy is also our joy as we gather in his name, and in the shadow of his promise. "Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am with you." Right here in the midst of our doubts (yes we do have them!) Right here in the midst of our sorrow and pain. Right here amid our illness and fear. Right here in the midst of our despair and guilt. Right here amid our insecurity and worry. He comes here, sight unseen, to bring us the peace of sins forgiven. He comes to bring us the joy of "God and sinners reconciled." Did I say, "Sight unseen?" Well, that's not exactly right, is it? When we gather together in his name, we are the Body of Christ. "As I was sent, so I am sending you." In our sorrow and our pain, we bring Jesus’ message of peace to each other. Amid our illness and fear, we bring Jesus’ message of peace. Amid our guild and despair, we bring Jesus’ message of peace. And it is a message that we have not just for those gathered in this room, but a message of peace for the whole world.

The disciples had doubts. Thomas even had doubts. He wasn’t there to witness Jesus’ appearance. We don’t know why he wasn’t there, but when the others tell him what they had seen, he refuses to believe, without proof. “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” (Jn 20:25, ESV) It would be easy to get down on Thomas for doubting. But really, he was only asking for what the others had already seen. They had doubted just as much as he did. Jesus removed theirs by an appearance, and he does the same for Thomas. A week later, on Sunday again, Jesus appeared to the disciples in that same locked room. “Peace be with you!” he said to them. And then specifically to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve but believe!” These amazing words of Jesus show us that even though he wasn’t there, Jesus knew what Thomas had said. He provides the proof that Thomas demands. We don’t know if Thomas took Jesus up on his challenge, but it seems that the sight of Jesus alone was enough for him. “My Lord and My God!” He says. It is a personal confession of faith that comes from the lips of the most skeptical disciple. They are directed to Jesus in such a way that they confess exactly what Thomas now believes. Jesus has indeed risen from the dead. Jesus is God.

“You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” Jesus confirms Thomas’ strong statement of faith. His previous doubts are swept away by the reality of the presence of the risen Lord.

It is easy to have doubts. Just look at the disciples. They had doubts, even Thomas had doubts. They were afraid and locked themselves behind closed doors. Thomas was separated from them when Jesus came. He had doubts, even in the presence of so many witnesses. He just wanted to see for himself. He wanted the big miracle. Even after they had seen Jesus, they had doubts about what they were to do, and how they were to do it.

We are tempted to think that we would have a stronger faith if Jesus would just appear right here in front of us, just as he did for them. And even if he doesn’t appear in person what if he would just appear in other big ways. When we are sick and suffering, we just want him to heal us. I once heard about a woman at the funeral of a strong Christian friend who died of cancer. “Wouldn’t it have been a powerful witness if God would have just healed her cancer?” Forgetting what a powerful witness the woman was in her acceptance of God’s will and her coming death. It is doubt that makes us want God to work the way we want him to work. It is doubt that says that we shouldn’t have to struggle in life. It is doubt that says we shouldn’t have to suffer. Doubt is the opposite of trust.

And that’s why we gather here in this place. Not because we trust perfectly, but because we doubt. You have doubts, I have doubts, all Christians, the disciples, and Thomas, and even St. Paul had doubts. It’s the Risen Christ who sets aside our doubts by coming to us. He shows himself to us in his word. The whole bible is about Jesus. When we hear it spoken to us Christ comes to us and strengthens our faith. He shows himself to us in bread and wine. In some churches the communion wafers have an imprint of Jesus right on them. Ours have a little cross. That reminds us that Jesus comes to us in his very body and very blood, right there in the palm of our hand. It’s the same Christ there that stood before Thomas and said, “touch me and see.” Right there in Holy Communion he says to you touch me and see; take and eat this is my body; take and drink this is my blood. He also shows himself to us in his body; his body that is seated all around you in your brothers and sisters in Christ. “Just as the father sent me, so I am sending you.” Jesus sends us to each other. Look and see Jesus in the concern and love that he shows you through your friends, neighbors, and relatives here. As we live and work and play together, we show that Christ is indeed among us.

“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” That’s me and you. We don’t have the benefit of seeing the Risen Lord in his glorified body like Thomas did, standing before us. But he is here none-the-less, and we are blessed. We are blessed because we have all that we need, in his word and sacraments. All that we need is provided by God himself and that is what makes it sure. After all if it were dependent on anything in us it would only be full of doubt.

But this text is about faith that cancels doubt. “These are written that you may believe,” he says, “that Jesus is the Christ, the son of God, and that by believing in him you may have life in his name.” That’s the Peace that Jesus brings to us. Peace that cancels our doubt. Amen.

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

Wednesday, April 03, 2024

Funeral Plan for Rev. Jonathan C. Watt - (Reposted)

image But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep. (1 Thess. 4:13–14 ESV)
A few years ago I wrote an article for the Lutheran Witness titled "Thinking About Your Funeral."  In keeping with that idea I am posting my funeral plan here.

My Funeral Plan

This reminder to my family and friends.  My funeral is not about me but about Jesus
It is important to understand that a funeral is a worship service. We do not worship the person lying in the casket; rather, we worship the One who died and rose again. Jesus Christ is the center of all Lutheran worship—especially a funeral—because Jesus’ victory over sin, death, and the devil is clearly proclaimed. The whole funeral service echoes this truth over and over, reminding us of what Jesus did for us at our Baptism. (The Lutheran Witness, Vol 126, No 8, p. 21)
At the present time the best expression of a Christian, Christ-Centered, funeral service is the Funeral Service found in Lutheran Service Book (p. 278ff).  It draws its flow from the life of the Christian beginning with Baptism (Placing of the Funeral Pall), flowing through God's Word (readings) , prompting a confession of faith (The Apostles' Creed), Prayer, and the Nunc Dimittis (Song of Simeon, Lord, now You let Your servant go in peace, Luke 2:29-32) the Hymn of departure in Christian faith.  The service is punctuated with Christian hymns, the believers faith in Christ as the only Savior from sin, expressed in song. 
The funeral takes place in the Christian congregation as the Christian's life flows from God's gifts through Word and Sacrament to life everyday.


image I am baptized.  Through this precious gift, God declared me to be righteous for the sake of Jesus Christ.  My sin was given to Him.  He bore my sins punishment on the cross.  His perfect life, lived perfect in thought, word and deed, all that he did and all that he didn't do, were given to me.  God's name was given to me.  Along with God's name come His promises, forgiveness, life, salvation and the promise of the resurrection of the body.
This wonderful gift of Salvation is clearly symbolized in the placing of the pall over the casket.  In Paul's words:
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. (Romans 6:3-5 ESV)

(I love the Lutheran Service Book Hymn (594) God's Own Child, I Gladly Say It. I addition to the hymns listed below it makes a wonderful funeral hymn.) 


As part of the church’s prayer book, a favorite Psalm can express the depth of our feelings, as well as confess our faith in a loving and merciful Savior. (The Lutheran Witness, Vol 126, No 8, p. 21)
Psalm 130 (ESV) - A Song of Ascents
1     Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord! 
  2     O Lord, hear my voice!  
         Let your ears be attentive
         to the voice of my pleas for mercy!  
  3     If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,
        O Lord, who could stand?
  4     But with you there is forgiveness,
       that you may be feared. 
  5     I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
        and in his word I hope; 
  6     my soul waits for the Lord
        more than watchmen for the morning,
       more than watchmen for the morning. 
7     O Israel, hope in the Lord! 
       For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
       and with him is plentiful redemption. 
8     And he will redeem Israel
       from all his iniquities.
I love the absolute contrast in this psalm.  The expression of grief "out of the depths..." and the expression of faith "with you there is forgiveness"; "I wait on the Lord" and "with the Lord is plentiful forgiveness."  Words that mourners will need to hear and speak.  Grief is mitigated by the forgiveness offered in Christ. 


The Old Testament reading reveals God’s plan of salvation for His creation. Like us, God’s people in the Old Testament trusted in the Messiah who would come to save them from their sins and raise them to eternal life. (The Lutheran Witness, Vol 126, No 8, p. 21)
Job 19:23-27a, ESV
23 “Oh that my words were written!
     Oh that they were inscribed in a book! 
24 Oh that with an iron pen and lead
     they were engraved in the rock forever!
25 For I know that my Redeemer lives,
     and at the last he will stand upon the earth.
26 And after my skin has been thus destroyed,
     yet in my flesh I shall see God,
27 whom I shall see for myself,
     and my eyes shall behold, and not another.
     My heart faints within me!
Job 19 is a clear expression of the physical resurrection that Christians look for when Jesus returns.  "and my eyes shall behold," in other words, with these very eyes, in this flesh and body, I will see Christ. 
The Epistle reading has several purposes. It can give a clear confession of our Christian hope in the Resurrection (1 Cor. 15:51–52). It can show that not even death can separate us from God (Rom. 8:38–39). It brings out the peace we have with God because of Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins (Rom. 5:1–6). And it can state how in death, through Christ, we gain everything (Phil. 1:21–23). (The Lutheran Witness, Vol 126, No 8, p. 21)
Roman 8:31-39
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 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 8:31-39 ESV)

This text answers the question that those at the funeral will be asking.  Why?  It answers it by saying that God's perspective is very different from ours.  Death seems like such a defeat, yet, through Christ God says it is not a separation from God. 
In the Gospel reading, Jesus comforts us with His own words, deeds, and prayers. “I am the Resurrection and the Life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live” (John 11:25). “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28).  (The Lutheran Witness, Vol 126, No 8, p. 21)
John 11:20-27
So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.” (John 11:20-27 ESV)
What better words than the words of Jesus himself? at a funeral? Jesus comforts Martha with the truth about who He is and why He has come. Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. His promises are true. He promises eternal life after death. He delivers on His promises.


The singing of hymns at a funeral service is the second part where the comfort of Christ is heard by those attending. Like the Psalms, hymns can express the depth of our faith. St. Paul says that through them God’s Word “dwells in us richly” (Col. 3:16). Your pastor may suggest that you select Easter hymns. Your favorite hymn may be beautiful, reflecting God’s work for us in Jesus, but Easter hymns speak so clearly to grieving hearts. (The Lutheran Witness, Vol 126, No 8, p. 21)
LSB 490 - "Jesus Lives! The Victory's Won" by Christian F. Gellert, 1715-1769 Translated by Frances E. Cox, 1812-1897
Jesus lives! The victory's won!
Death no longer can appall me;
Jesus lives! Death's reign is done!
From the grave Christ will recall me.
Brighter scenes will then commence;
This shall be my confidence.

Jesus lives! To Him the throne
High o'er heaven and earth is given.
I shall go where He is gone,
Live and reign with Him in heaven.
God is faithful. Doubtings, hence!
This shall be my confidence.

Jesus lives! For me He died,
Hence will I, to Jesus living,
Pure in heart and act abide,
Praise to Him and glory giving.
Freely God doth aid dispense;
This shall be my confidence.

Jesus lives! I know full well
Naught from me His love shall sever;
Life nor death nor powers of hell
Part me now from Christ forever.
God will be a sure Defense;
This shall be my confidence.

Jesus lives! and now is death
But the gate of life immortal;
This shall calm my trembling breath
When I pass its gloomy portal.
Faith shall cry, as fails each sense,
Jesus is my confidence!

(Text Public Domain)
Jesus lives! This is the cry of faith in the face of death.  I love the picture in the final verse.  Life is slipping away, the Christian trembles in the face of this terrible enemy.  But Christ's triumph over death changes everything.  Jesus is my confidence! is the cry of faith.  Jesus has defeated this enemy for me. I cannot stop death from taking me, but my Savior promises it is the the portal to life forever.
LSB 563 "Jesus, Thy Blood and Righteousness" by Ludwig von Zinzendorf, 1700-1760 Translated by John Wesley, 1703-1791
Jesus, Thy blood and righteousness
My beauty are, my glorious dress;
Midst flaming worlds, in these arrayed,
With joy shall I lift up my head.

Bold shall I stand in that great Day,
For who aught to my charge shall lay?
Fully through these absolved I am
From sin and fear, from guilt and shame.

The holy, meek, unspotted Lamb,
Who from the Father's bosom came,
Who died for me, e'en me t'atone,
Now for my Lord and God I own.

Lord, I believe Thy precious blood,
Which at the mercy-seat of God
Forever doth for sinners plead,
For me--e'en for my soul--was shed.

Lord, I believe were sinners more
Than sands upon the ocean shore,
Thou hast for all a ransom paid,
For all a full atonement made.

When from the dust of death I rise
To claim my mansion in the skies,
E'en then, this shall be all my plea:
Jesus hath lived and died for me.

Jesus, be endless praise to Thee,
Whose boundless mercy hath for me,
For me, and all Thy hands have made,
An everlasting ransom paid.

(Text Public Domain)
I have come to really love and appreciate this hymn only recently.  One man, not a member of my congregation, came express his faith in Jesus for the first time in my hearing.  He was dying and during my visits to him, this hymn is what he wanted to hear.  It expresses what faith in Jesus is, a dependence on Him, totally for salvation.  It fits so well in a funeral.  I especially like how it begins as the funeral does:
Jesus, Thy blood and righteousness
My beauty are, my glorious dress;
This is a picture of the Funeral Pall being placed over my casket.
LSB 708 "Lord, Thee I Love with All My Heart" by Martin Schalling, 1532-1608 Translated by Catherine Winkworth, 1829-1878
Lord, Thee I love with all my heart;
I pray Thee ne'er from me depart,
With tender mercies cheer me.
Earth has no pleasure I would share,
Yea, heaven itself were void and bare
If Thou, Lord, wert not near me.
And should my heart for sorrow break,
My trust in Thee no one could shake.
Thou art the Portion I have sought;
Thy precious blood my soul has bought.
Lord Jesus Christ,
My God and Lord, my God and Lord,
Forsake me not! I trust Thy Word.
Yea, Lord, 'twas Thy rich bounty gave
My body, soul, and all I have
In this poor life of labor.
Lord, grant that I in every place
May glorify Thy lavish grace
And serve and help my neighbor.
Let no false doctrine me beguile
And Satan not my soul defile.
Give strength and patience unto me
To bear my cross and follow Thee.
Lord Jesus Christ,
My God and Lord, my God and Lord,
In death Thy comfort still afford.
image Lord, let at last Thine angels come,
To Abram's bosom bear me home,
That I may die unfearing;
And in its narrow chamber keep
My body safe in peaceful sleep
Until Thy reappearing.
And then from death awaken me
That these mine eyes with joy may see,
O Son of God, Thy glorious face,
My Savior and my Fount of grace,
Lord Jesus Christ,
My prayer attend, my prayer attend,
And I will praise Thee without end.
(Text Public Domain)
I've selected this hymn for the last verse.  It is a prayer of faith.  A confession of the hope of the resurrection. 

To the Preacher

 "When we listen to a funeral sermon, we listen to hear that this is one who was Baptized. The rest is chaff." Norman Nagel.
Your pastor’s primary task in the funeral sermon is to preach Christ crucified. His message may be made personal by showing how faith in Christ was revealed in your life. But remember, while your pastor may relate stories of your life during the sermon, that is not the reason for his preaching. The proclamation of God’s Word at your funeral service is to point those who grieve to Jesus and the hope that is found in Him alone.  (The Lutheran Witness, Vol 126, No 8, p. 22)
My confirmation verse is:
But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:33, ESV)
image Pastor, you may use my confirmation verse for the text of the sermon or another of your choosing.  The funeral sermon is to be especially about Christ.  Jesus is the center.  His life, death and resurrection for sinful men, of which I am one, are the main and only point.  Preach the law in its sternness (you'll never get a better example than my dead body lying in front of everyone as the wages of sin) and the gospel in all its sweetness, this funeral service is packed full of images you can use.

I have arranged for burial rites at Zion Lutheran Church, Worms, NE

This is my funeral plan.
Rev. Jonathan C. Watt, pastor, Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa
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Monday, April 01, 2024

1 Corinthians 15:1-23; The Festival of the Resurrection of Our Lord, Jesus Christ; March 31, 2024;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;

Χριστός ἀνέστη – Christ is Risen, He is risen indeed!

Paul lays out the Christian faith carefully and completely, almost Creed like.
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:1–2, ESV)
He says, in which you stand, and if you hold fast, that’s faith. Faith from preaching. He goes on to say exactly what that faith is… what that faith is grounded on what is of first importance.
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.” (1 Corinthians 15:3–8, ESV)
Notice he doesn’t expect a leap of faith. It is faith founded on a fact. Jesus was dead. The Romans didn’t leave anything to chance. If a criminal was sentenced to crucifixion, they carried it out with deadly precision. Paul says that Jesus died on the cross and was buried. But that he also rose on the third day. With the added detail, in accordance with the Scriptures. It was no accident. God had planned it from the very beginning. He had in mind you and me and all sinful people. We all suffer from sin. Jesus’ death and resurrection are the solution.

He goes on to give more details. Jesus appeared after his resurrection. And not only to a select few. That would be simple enough to account for. There were those, Peter, James, and all the apostles. But he appeared to five hundred at once. There was no keeping it secret. Five hundred witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection are astounding. It was five hundred people that could attest to the resurrection, say they saw Jesus, and could describe it in detail. Paul challenges his readers to check it out. You can ask around; these folks are available! In a court of law, five hundred witnesses are overkill. They won’t ask more than a handful to testify to establish the truth. Paul establishes the truth of the resurrection through, not only his eyewitness account, but an overwhelming number of people. There is no supposition here. Paul is stating a reality that Jesus did, physically, in time, rise from the dead. No leap of faith, no metaphors, no “spiritual resurrection”, only a real physical resurrection of Jesus Christ. Your faith is founded on a fact that most of the world ignores and refuses to believe.

But Paul says even more. If Jesus is proclaimed as crucified, dead, and buried, how can people say there is no resurrection of the dead? Do you see what he is doing here? Jesus’ resurrection is a promise. He didn’t only rise for himself. He promises resurrection to you. The proof is in the pudding. Jesus rose he can and will raise you. When you put your faith in Jesus’ actions at the cross and the grave, you place it firmly in the hands of someone who has done it.

Paul makes the case stronger.
But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.
There is no Christianity, without the resurrection. He uses the word “vain” κενός in Greek. It means “empty”; “without content”. If preaching is without content, your faith is also without content. You may as well go home and do something else with your life. He makes it plainer.
If our preaching is in vain, and our faith is in vain, we are lying. Misrepresenting God. That is to say that God has said or done something he didn’t do. That’s called blasphemy!
We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised.

He uses another even stronger word. Μάταιος. It means meaningless because it is deceptive, and ineffectual. Deceptive for the lie, and ineffectual because your sins remain. And the dead in Christ who have been deceived by the lie are also lost.
For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.” (1 Corinthians 15:16–18, ESV)
As for those who say, “It doesn’t really matter if Christ was raised from the dead. It’s what it means to those who believe.” Paul answers.
If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1 Corinthians 15:19, ESV)
It isn’t that his resurrection means nothing for this life. It indeed means everything. His death and resurrection are freedom from sin, death, and hell. But if it isn’t real all the evil that the world does to Christians is worse. It hadn’t happened yet, but all the disciples but John were martyred, they died for their faith. No one would die for what they knew to be a lie. All Christians who die for the faith then deserve only pity.
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” (1 Corinthians 15:20, ESV)
But in fact… Paul leans on the truth of the matter. Jesus has been raised. Firstfruits is the first of its kind. Because of Jesus all will rise from death. It is as sure as his rising. You and I, your neighbors, your friends, your family, all the dead will rise. Jesus defeats death for everyone. For those who believe an unbelievable blessing awaits. For those who do not... eternal punishment.

Paul talks about how this is so. Death came into the world by one man, Adam. Through his rejection of God, came sin. With sin came the curse of death. Through Jesus all will be made alive. Forgiveness accomplished on the cross by his suffering for sinners.
For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. (1 Corinthians 15:22–26, ESV)
It is why we are Christian. It is why we are here. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. Death destroyed. Death done in. Death and all its awful consequences cast into the dark pit of the tomb.

For us death is a constant companion. It stands in the open in our lives. We try to ignore it, but we can’t. Death strikes expected and unexpected. It takes young and old. Healthy and unhealthy. Workers on a bridge, those alone, those in public. Cancer, accident, murder, it is all the same. Death is the one core principle of human existence. It is the one common experience age to age, place to place. No one gets out of life alive. It is our number one enemy.

This is the wonder of Jesus. He performs many miracles. But the resurrection is his greatest. Every other one points to it. Healings, blind people see, and the dead are raised. He answers the greatest problem we have. Paul says, The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

That enemy has his power in sin. It is sin that pushes death. We constantly sin and deserve only death. But that is answered in Jesus. His cross is the punishment your sin deserves. He takes it on himself into death. He dies your death to sin. He buried it in his grave.

And every day, your sinful nature drags you back there. He drags that slimy thing from the pit and puts it on you like a royal robe. And the consequences continue. Every day through repentance and faith, Jesus strips the sin from you again and casts in back where it belongs.
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:8–9, ESV)
His resurrection is the vindication of God, that what he has done is true and real for you. This is the conquering of death. This is the destroying of death. The enemy is vanquished.

It is true, that you will still die (unless Jesus returns first). There are still consequences for sin. Families break down; Couples divorce; Children go astray; Friends become unfriendly; you will die. We still live in a veil of tears of our own making.

The truth of the resurrection is the answer to it all. After your eyes close in death, on the last day, you will open your eyes and see Jesus. You will see everything clearly without a veil. Jesus will take you by the hand and raise you to your feet. And you will stand in your perfect body and see him with your perfect eyes. It won’t be the same sin drenched earth, but a new heaven and a new earth, free from sin’s hold. Alleluia will be your voice, as you gather with all the faithful of Christ.

It does matter that the resurrection of Jesus Christ was a real event in history. All that we believe depends on it. Amen.

Χριστός ἀνέστη – Christ is Risen, He is risen indeed!

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

Mark 14:22-26; Holy (Maunday) Thursday; March 28, 2024;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
And as they were eating, he took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. And he said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly, I say to you, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.” (Mark 14:22–26, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Mark continues to be terse. His account of the Lord’s supper could fit on a postage stamp. There is no “do this in remembrance”; there is no “forgiveness of sins”; Only the broken bread and blood of the covenant. Liberal scholars, of course, say these things were added as the Supper grew in importance among the budding churches. We need not concern ourselves with that. Mark doesn’t mention these things because Jesus will fill them out in action, with his broken body, with his blood shed on the cross. All done for the forgiveness of your sin, and mine, and in fact, the whole world’s sin. This simple meal, as part of the more elaborate Passover supper, is Jesus’ last will and testament. The words were spoken carefully with their full meaning. In the setting of the Passover, Jesus is drawing a parallel to the Passover Lamb that was the covenant between those who were under Egypt’s slavery and their God. The slaughter of the Lamb and its blood on the doorposts of their homes would ensure they were freed from slavery. But more important, they were spared from the Angel of Death who would kill the first born of every household in Egypt where blood was not present.

There is no “this is like my body” or “this is like my blood”. No faithful Passover participant would take it that way, especially after the horrible events that began that night. There was no fake blood that would work on the doorpost. You couldn’t splash wine in its place and not expect the Death angel. It was a covenant of blood; real blood was required. In the old days, two parties who made a blood covenant would kill and animal, separate the bloody body in two and both walk between it as if to say, “If I break my promise to you, may what happened to this animal happen to me.” It is a deadly serious covenant. Jesus, himself, becomes the blood sacrifice for his covenant. The bread is his body broken on the cross. The blood is his blood shed on the cross. The covenant is between the people of the whole world and God himself. Jesus’ blood brings them together. Jesus’ blood restores their relationship.

Paul, in 1 Corinthians, which was written before the Gospel of Mark, says,
I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” (1 Corinthians 10:15–16, ESV)
The Lord’s supper is your participation in the blood covenant. Not only is Jesus body and blood present in the Supper, but it must be present. There is no way for you to participate in the promises of the covenant without access to the means by which it is established. Arguments about how this is possible are moot. Jesus is and must be present in his body and blood in the sacrament, or you have no part in the covenent. From the book of Hebrews.
For when every commandment of the law had been declared by Moses to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, saying, “This is the blood of the covenant that God commanded for you.” And in the same way he sprinkled with the blood both the tent and all the vessels used in worship. Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” (Hebrews 9:19–22, ESV)
Forgiveness of sins is the primary gift in the covenant. Other Gospel writers say, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. Luther says about the Supper,
What is the benefit of such eating and drinking?
Answer: That is shown us in these words, “Given for you” and “shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” This means that in the Sacrament forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are given us through these words. For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.
How can bodily eating and drinking do such great things?
Answer: It is not the eating and drinking, indeed, that does them, but the words, which are given here, “Given … and shed for you, for the forgiveness of sins.” These words are, beside the bodily eating and drinking, the chief thing in the Sacrament. The person who believes these words has what they say and express, namely, the forgiveness of sins.
It is faith in the words, faith in Jesus’ presence that bring the benefit to you. How else can what Jesus did on the cross be brought to you more directly than through his real present shed blood.

Faith brings us to the cross. Faith brings us to the Sacrament for participation in the blood covenant of Jesus. Faith realizes the forgiveness of sin, as real as the blood of the covenant shed for you. Amen.

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

Hebrews 5:7-9; The Fifth Sunday in Lent; March 17, 2024;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him.
Grace and peace to you from Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Well, that's interesting reading isn't it. It talks about Jesus the source of salvation for all who obey him. So, I guess we'll all we have to do to be saved is obey him. Well, that shouldn't be too hard for us. After all we are here today aren't we. It's those out there who aren't keeping the commandments that have the problem. We do well, I think. We park here on Sunday; we pay our dues to keep the church up and running. When something needs to be done here in this building, we do it. That sounds exactly like that reading, doesn't it. We obey Jesus so we can be saved right? That's pretty good news, isn't it.

Let's look at the ten commandments. I'll bet we can find that we keep each one well. Well mostly anyway. You shall have no other Gods before me. You haven't got a shrine to Vishna set up in your garden do you ____? You haven't sacrificed any of your children to Molech lately have you ____? Right? Good. I think we got that one in the bag. You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God. Right. Well, that's easy to keep. Just gotta bite my tongue when the hammer hits my finger. I can do that... I think. Remember the Sabbath day... Check. church, as I said, commandment kept. Not too bad off in the obey category are we. Out of these first three I think we can say we keep them most of the time. We obey. Right. And this passage says that Jesus is the source of salvation for those who obey. Let's go on. Honor your father and mother. Ok, that one can be tricky sometimes but you gotta admit we usually do the right thing by them when we get older. You shall not kill. Well, it's a good thing pheasants and deer don't count but only people. I haven't shot my spouse in the back. No problem with this one. You shall not commit adultery. The older you get the easier this one is. After all older folks never think about sex. God's gotta be happy with us on this one, isn't he? How many of you out there have been married more than 10 years? 20? 30? 40? Yeah! Good job. We've really got that commandment handled. You shall not steal. The police haven't been at my door for theft. None of you've knocked off the corner pantry, yet right? ...Bearing false witness. That means we don't lie. You haven't told any big ones lately, have you? The little white ones are called “white” for a reason. Lies have to hurt someone before they count, don't they? And finally, those last two. You shall not covet.... I'm not exactly sure what coveting means, but I do know my neighbor doesn't deserve half the stuff that he's got. He never worked a hard day's work in his life. I'd be so much happier if some of his junk was mine. Nothing wrong with that. Since I deserve it. So that's the ten. And overall I'd have to say that when the scales of justice are set out with the good stuff, we do on the one hand and the few little problems we have the “the Ten” we do pretty well. And even if there's a few things on the downside we're sure a far sight better than lots of folks are. Especially those who never darken the door of a church. So, we're in like flint. Jesus gives us salvation because we obey. Right? Well, isn't that what the passage says?

Maybe we'd better take a closer look at what Jesus says. Look here in Matthew 5:19-20

Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

I don't like the sound of that.... and listen to this!
You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.' But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, 'You fool!' will be liable to the hell of fire.
That can't be good. I may not have killed anyone, but I’ve been mad at some folks lately.

I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

Ouch! That's pretty strict, isn't it? Who can keep that commandment. You'd have to be dead! And look, Jesus goes on here extensively. And none of it sounds good at all. Divorce... breaking promises... payback... Jesus hits them all, or should I say hit me and you with them right between the eyes. And then he caps it all off with this zinger.
You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Did you hear that? Perfect! If we expect Jesus give us salvation because we've obeyed him, we must be perfect. Well, that's not going to happen. I'll never be perfect. You'll never be perfect. No one is perfect... not your grandparents, not your parents, not your children. So where does that leave us when we hear a passage like this one.
[Jesus] became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him.
That's not good news at all, in fact, its terrible news, there's no way we can be saved that way.

But that's what it says, isn't it? Well... maybe not. Let's look again.
In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications... he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him. ...he became the source of eternal salvation. It's not that he gives eternal salvation only to those who obey him. That's just what we think. That's what we want it to be. We'd rather paddle our own canoe. We'd rather have something to do with our salvation. We want to get some of the credit for saving ourselves. We'd rather be our own source of power. Instead, it says that Jesus is the source. That means that salvation comes from him. He is the source. He obeyed the Father perfectly. All those little ways we talked about how we break the commandments? Not Him! Ever. He earned salvation perfectly. When Jesus says You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. He's talking about something that only he can do, something only he did! That's why He is the source! You get everything you need for salvation from him.
Just think about the parable of the sheep and the goats. Remember, Jesus separates the sheep from the goats. And then he tells the goats of all the great stuff God counts to their credit.
For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.
And how do they react?

“When? We didn't know we did that stuff for you?”

St. Paul answers the question.
for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. (Gal 3:26-27, ESV)
Perfect Jesus is the source of all your good works. When you were baptized, he was put on you. You were given his perfect life. He fed the hungry. He clothed the naked. He visited strangers. He is the source of all your good works. It's a gift from him through the work of the Holy Spirit given to you when the name of God was spoken over you in Baptism. And the Holy Spirit through that Word of God gave you faith.

And what's more, now the stuff you do every day God actually sees as good works. That's because the sin that tags along with everything we do is taken away by Jesus. You know what I'm talking about. We haven't killed anyone, but we certainly have been angry with them. We haven't had an affair with our neighbor's wife but... yea you know. So, he gives you his good and perfect life, so that in God's eyes you can be perfect, and then he takes the sin that dirties up everything you do, and he kills it. He kills it on the cross.

Here we are right back to the cross again. It just seems like we can't have a single day in church without ending up here. And that's good. Because here is where Jesus finished all that he needed to do to be the source of your salvation. Here is where he perfectly completed what God asked him to do. Here is where we see that he not only fed and clothed and watered people who needed it but gave his very life for them. He went above and beyond the call of duty... for you. He is the source of your eternal salvation.

And... he's the source of your good works. Since your sin is nailed to that cross the normal stuff you do every day, taking care of your kids, paying the bills, cheering up a friend who is down in the dumps, making an extra straight furrow in the field, etc... all of it is good stuff, counted by God as obeying Him.

Hey, the bible passage is right! We do obey, and Jesus is the source of our salvation. Amen.

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

John 3:14-21; The Fourth Sunday in Lent; March 10, 2024;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
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. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”” (John 3:14–21, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

So, what is this very familiar text doing in Lent? “God so loved the world…” If you know only one verse of the bible by heart, this is it. You have seen the sign at Professional Football games, “John 3:16”. It is a beautiful and loved verse. It is the Gospel in a nutshell. It tells us everything we need to know about God’s love for us.

It is important that the pericope begins by talking about how Moses lifted up the snake in the desert. The children of Israel had fallen into sin and God sent poisonous snakes to remind them that he is their God. He also provided a way for them to be saved from them. Moses made a bronze snake and placed it on a pole in front of the people. Everyone who looked at it would be healed from the snake bite. John, the Gospel writer, ties this snake to Jesus. Just as the snake was hung before the people to save, Jesus also must be lifted up on a cross to save.

The passage continues,
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

Now you have heard me say before the “so” here is not “so much” but rather “in this way”. In other words,

God loved the world in this way, that he gave his only Son.

Here is the tie to Lent. God loved the world in this way, that he gave, that is sent Jesus into the world for the purpose of hanging on the cross for the sins of the world. Think the Apostles’ Creed.
And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. He descended into hell. The third day He rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. From thence He will come to judge the living and the dead.
That is the sending, the giving. Creed tells us the facts of it. The facts are what we believe happened. It doesn’t tell us the meaning. The meaning is received through faith. That God sent, Jesus did, and we believe that it is for us.

John makes it clear.
that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
Whoever is inclusive. Whoever has faith, believes what Jesus did is for them is saved to eternal life. In Greek it is the word πᾶς it means “all” literally saying “all the ones who believe”. The emphasis is on faith. The “in him” means in Jesus, and what he had done, all of it. You can’t separate Jesus from God’s sending, God’s giving. Jesus lifted up on the cross.

In Lent then we contemplate what it means to have faith in Jesus for us and our response. Lent is a penitential season. We ask ourselves how do I react to what Jesus did for me. We are called to the cross with our sin. Jesus suffered for them all. We dump them at the feet of Jesus. He forgives all of it. This is all included in the word “believe”. Believe means not only to hold it as true for me, but also how that truth is reflected in my life. Peter says in the Book of Acts,
Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you. (Acts 3:19–20, ESV)
And Paul reflects.
For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (1 Corinthians 1:18, ESV)
The cross of Jesus is power to allow God to change your life. He does that through repentance, which is a gift of faith. The Holy Spirit convicts you of your sin. He empowers you to go in repentance to the cross and receive the forgiveness found in Jesus only. Paul says again,
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 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.” (Romans 6:1–4, ESV)
Paul urges you not to continue in your sin. He points to the promises made to you in Holy Baptism, as God’s sign to you guaranteeing forgiveness.

The cycle begins again. Sin, repentance, cross, forgiveness, peace. Not because God is unfaithful, but because you are unfaithful. Lent is about recognizing that cycle and seeing God’s hand at work in that cycle every day. That is walking in newness of life, living in the forgiveness of Jesus. Amen.

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

John 2.13-22; The Third Sunday in Lent; March 3, 2024;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.” (John 2:13–22, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Well, this has been one of those winters. No, not the typical hard North Shore winter. The un-typical mild Grand Marais winter. Despite all the troubles in the world, here at home we've had what seems more like spring for the last 3 months. It feels as if it is just about time to get outside and start cleaning up the yard, tilling your garden, and more. It's even been warm enough lately to open the doors of the house and let out the stale air. It's time again to start thinking about cleaning the house, spring cleaning.

Today’s text is about Jesus’ cleaning house. It’s important to note that this isn’t the only time he has done this. St. John records this account in the first part of his Gospel, and the other Apostles tell us of a similar time during Holy Week. And considering the condition of things in the temple, and what was going there every day, it wouldn't surprise me if Jesus did it there every week. Jesus comes to the temple and doesn’t like what he sees, so he cleans house.

We don’t see this picture of Jesus very often; whip in hand, raised voice, overturning tables, driving people away. The only way to describe it is that Jesus is angry. Don't let anyone every sell you the picture of Jesus meek and mild. Jesus argued with the scribes and Pharisees. Jesus called demons to account. Jesus was a force to be reckoned with. Here in the temple, he's downright aggressive. But he's doing more than just spring cleaning. He's repurposing the temple. He's cleaning the "Father's House" and pointing to something beyond.

Another thing to notice about this text is when it happens. It's an important point that it’s Passover. Before Passover the Jews clean house. Everything is cleaned and the whole house is searched for yeast, and all of it is removed. Yeast is a strong symbol of sin and before Passover the Jews remove it from their houses to symbolically remove sin from their lives.

The Passover is a major holiday for those in Israel, in Jesus’ time, as well as today. Jerusalem was crowded to capacity. Every room was full, the streets were crowded, there was joy in the air, but also tension. Whenever there are large crowds of people there is always the possibility of trouble. Roman soldiers patrolled the streets. Since every family was required to slaughter their Passover lamb in the temple, it too was very crowded. Other sacrifices were also required during that time.

When Jesus entered the temple, he found a market place. It’s not that he’s against free trade. The market itself was even understandable. People would have to exchange their money. If you’ve ever traveled out of the country, you know what that’s all about. The people in town for Passover came from all over the Roman world their money needed to be exchanged. But even more than that, all Jews were required to pay the temple tax. It couldn’t be paid with Pagan money. That doesn’t mean that people weren’t being taken advantage of, they probably were. Whenever you gather people around business transactions greed pops up its ugly head.

But Jesus anger isn’t necessarily aimed just at the moneychangers and their greed. After all they provided a necessary service that was required by the Law of Moses. His anger seems to be about something else.

There are also tables of people selling animals for sacrifice. (No one from PETA was there to complain!) They are also providing a necessary service. It’s difficult to travel with animals. People needed to be able to buy what was necessary for sacrifice. And remember they had to be perfect without blemish. Who would want to carry a lamb all the way from Egypt, a journey of several weeks, just to find that it didn’t pass inspection? It was better to buy one that was already certified. All in all, there’s nothing wrong with the practice of buying a sacrifice for the temple. Of course here too there were probably abuses, and inflated pricing, because the sellers had motivated buyers. But again, Jesus isn’t necessarily driving the animal sellers out of the temple because of their greed.

Here’s the picture I want you to put in your mind. Think of the property all around our church. Imagine it all enclosed with a high wall, all the way around the perimeter. That whole area is full of tables and people and animals. You’ve got bulls, and sheep and goats and doves in cages. People have come from Duluth, Minneapolis / St. Paul, Kansas City, Denver, all the way here, by the hundreds. They’re outside the walls and inside. There is a steady stream of animals being brought in, also by the hundreds. People are packed together, there’s arguing, haggling, bleating, cooing, and mooing. Imagine all that noise, and worse, imagine the smell. It’s a huge mess. And here inside the church people are tying to pray, and sacrifice, and worship.

Jesus cleans house. We can understand why. But remember it’s not just that he wants to get rid of the noise, the smell, and the mess. He’s not necessarily angry that people are buying and selling. He’s not necessarily angry that you can’t hear yourself think to pray. There is something else that troubles him even more.

With all the commerce, the buying and selling, people had gotten the impression that you could buy your way into God’s presence. It was a system that seemed to imply that if you paid enough money, got a perfect enough animal, had the right kind of cash, you could get in to see God. “My Father’s house is not a market!” Jesus shouted. This is not a place where business is done—not a place to exchange money, or buy and sell lambs for sacrifice, or cashing in on the worship of God and commercializing worship with Him. This is a house of prayer; a place where we meet God, not in a barnyard or bank. It’s not a place where money of any kind buys anything! When we come here, God looks for faith, not at your checkbook. He doesn’t care how much you give, or how perfect your lamb is.

Jesus is making a very important point about the worship of God.
“If you want to come to God, you don’t need money, you don’t need an animal sacrifice, and you don’t even need the temple… anymore. I am the temple! God has come among you. I am here to take you to the Father. It doesn’t require all this mess, the blood of these animals. It requires my blood. It requires my death. The death of God’s very own Son, on the cross.”
Jesus cleans house. He pushes it all aside and out of the temple, the moneychangers, the pigeon sellers, and the sacrifices, too. He comes to replace it all. He earns our way to the Father. He is the final and complete sacrifice for the sins of the whole world.

“Destroy this temple, torture me, beat me, crucify me, and kill me, and I will come alive again in three days. Everything you see here in this temple of stone, is right now being replaced in the temple of my body.”

And there’s something else we should pay attention to here. God’s House, this house that Jesus is cleaning is a house of prayer for “all nations.” That’s what St. Mark says Jesus shouted. Remember that the temple had some strict rules about access. Jewish males could go into the temple proper, but women and Gentiles were left to do their worship in the outer courtyard; out there on our parking lot, out there among the animals, the noise, mess, and moneychangers. You see, Jesus isn’t just cleaning house for the Jews. He’s making room. He’s opening the house up to all nations. He opens it for every person: Jews, Gentiles, rich, poor, sick, and well; farmers, factory workers, bikers, teachers, auto-mechanics, and children. The temple, that is Jesus Christ, is for all people. “Go and make disciples of all nations.” Jesus commanded.

Is it time for us too to clean house? Remember God isn’t interested in your money; he’s interested in finding faith. He doesn’t want perfect sacrifices that are empty; he wants your faith to be focused on him. He wants this house of prayer to be open to “all nations” people from all walks of life, people from all social classes, and races. When Jesus cleans the temple, he opens it up for all people. And he doesn’t just clean up the temple; Jesus Christ cleans up the whole world. His life, death and resurrection are about cleaning up the mess of sin. His blood cleans the mess of sin in your heart and mine. His blood cleanses the sin of everyone who believes in him, the Jew, and the Gentile. When people have faith in the work of Jesus Christ they have access to the Father, through him. There are no more outcasts, no second-class citizens, no one who is beyond help and hope.

Isn’t it good to know that you don’t have to deal with moneychangers for access to God? Isn’t it nice to know that Jesus guarantees your access to the Father by his death? Jesus cleans house. He cleans the temple. He cleans your heart. He cleans mine. He gives us forgiveness. He cleans us a way to God by removing our sin. Amen.

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

Mark.8.27-36; The Second Sunday in Lent; February 25, 2024;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him. And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” And he called to him the crowd with his disciples and said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? (Mark 8:28-36, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Jesus says those very important words, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” I know how we most often think about what Jesus means here. We think he’s talking in general about the bad stuff that happens in our lives, on a regular basis. Like when a friend is troubled by a part of their life they can’t seem to resolve, we try to give them comfort by saying, “Well, we all have our crosses to bear.” Or we say it to try to be of help a Christian who is suffering from a long-term illness. Well, Jesus isn’t talking about the regular everyday troubles that we go through here. He’s not even talking about the things that happen to us because we’ve screwed up and must suffer the consequences. The cross he’s talking about here is the cross of being a theologian. Now I know you don’t usually think of yourselves as theologians, but you are, in fact everybody is a theologian. All a theologian is, is a person who talks (Logos) or thinks about who god (Theos) is or isn’t, or what he is like. It’s like the psalm says:
The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” (Psalm 14:1, ESV)
Everyone is a theologian, and Jesus is here saying that there are two kinds of theologians in the world, those who carry a cross and those who don’t. Our name sake, Martin Luther made a fine point on this. He says people are either Theologians of the Cross (good theologians) or Theologians of Glory (bad theologians). And as it turns out this difference helps us to understand very well the difference between Christianity and every other religion in the world. And it also helps us to focus on what is important in our lives. And it all comes very clear in this text.

Peter begins by making the wonderful confession of faith. “You are the Christ.” Jesus asks about what people are saying about him. The disciples have a list. All of them are very complementary of Jesus, placing him in a very high category. If Jesus had been a sinful man like you and me, he would have gotten swelled up with pride, to be considered on par with the prophets that were mentioned. But of course, Jesus doesn’t sin. In fact, we see him doing something that sounds very strange. He says, “Don’t tell anyone about this.” We might wonder why he doesn’t want the word to spread, but we don’t get to think about it very long. Right away he gathers his disciples together and begins to tell them about nothing less than the cross.
And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. (Mark 8:31, ESV)
And now Peter who made the great and true confession of Jesus shows his true colors. He shows he doesn’t really understand what Jesus is all about. He shows he doesn’t know what it means to be a Theologian of the Cross. He rebukes Jesus. Now that’s a word we don’t use too much anymore. But to rebuke means to put in place. Think of it in terms of the way you and I think. Someone says something that we don’t agree with, and we use our tongue to take them down a peg. Put them in their place. That’s what Peter thinks he’s doing. “Jesus, you don’t know what you are talking about!” This is you and me. Peter is doing only what people do naturally. He’s being a theologian without a cross. After all that’s what he doesn’t like about what Jesus is saying. (Mark makes sure we know it’s not just a misunderstanding about what Jesus said. He adds that important detail, “And he said this plainly”). Peter is perfectly happy with Jesus being “the Christ” unless it means Jesus’ suffering and death. “Not on my watch!” He says.

It’s hard to blame him either. Things were just starting to look up. Lots of people were gathering around the numbers looked good. He was well set as the top of the twelve. Jesus new kingdom was going to have Peter as an important person in it. People were going to be looking up to him. That’s exactly what a Theologian of Glory is. It’s not God’s glory that’s in focus. It’s self glory. That is how you and I think, too. We put ourselves at the center of our god-thinking, our theology. We think we can figure out stuff about God by how our life is going. If stuff is going well, if we have all the money we need and even extra for stuff we don’t need, we think that God is blessing us because he’s happy with the way we are behaving. What we are doing is bringing God down to our level. We think he works the way everything else in life works. You know; the American work ethic. If you work hard, you’ll have nice things. The football hero gets the prom queen. The good student gets good grades, goes to a good school, and gets a good job, a trophy wife, a SUV, 2.5 kids and a weekend house in the cities and one overlooking Gunflint Lake. All this, we think, shows God smiling down on us. Or maybe this is a little closer to home. If the church is working the way we want it to work, if there’s no conflict, if the budget is balanced, if there’s a bunch of new members looking to come in, if everyone feels good about what’s going on here, if we get the new church built, then God is blessing our congregation.

All this thinking, this Theology of Glory gets us thinking about faith in the wrong way. We go to church to gain God’s favor. As if sitting our butts in on the chair pad earns us brownie points. If I pray hard enough and have enough faith, God will take away my cancer. Conflict in the church means God isn’t happy with us. Well, none of that stuff has anything to do with the cross that Jesus says we have to bear, if we “would come after him.” It’s thinking like Peter. It’s a Theology of Glory. It’s putting our thinking, our interests, our sinful hopes and dreams, and our sin-stained attitudes at the center instead of Jesus and the cross that he bled and died on. The definition of sin is man turning in on himself.

If that strikes a little too close to your heart… so did Jesus words to Peter. “Get behind me Satan!” He said. You are not setting your hearts on the things of God but on the things of man. In Martin Luther’s words, “You are being a Theologian of Glory not at Theologian of the Cross.”

As I said before, every other human religion is based on a Theology of Glory. A very basic way to think if that is this: “do good things for your god and he will do good things for you.” It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, or any other religion you can name. They are all the same. It even affects Christian churches and preachers like Joel Osteen, Rick Warren. Only true Christianity is different.
For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. (1 Corinthians 1:18-25, ESV)
The foolishness of God is the cross of Jesus Christ; the Theology of the Cross. What exactly is that theology, that god-talk, all about? Well, instead of thinking that we can change God’s attitude about us by what we do, we, that is the Theologians of the Cross, see that there’s nothing we can do that changes God’s attitude toward us. Everything we do is polluted by sin. Yes, I did say everything. Remember, “We are by nature sinful and unclean.” Sinful trees produce sinful fruit. It’s our sinful nature that only deserves God’s present and eternal punishment, and nothing else. We can’t work our way into God’s good graces. He doesn’t work that way. And more importantly we can’t tell if God is happy with us by the way things look in our lives. It’s like St. Paul says, God hides himself in weakness and foolishness. One pastor I know says it like this:
God, Who is all-powerful, hides Himself in weakness. God, Who is all wise, hides Himself in foolishness. God, Who is living, hides Himself in death. (Rev. Todd Wilken, the new Issues, Etc. Journal - Vol. 2, No. 1; The Theology of the Cross: Cross-Shaped Theology)
Well, that’s just not the way our nature wants God to be. We’d have had Jesus born in a mansion. We’d have had him march on Hell’s Doors with his multitudes of armies. We’d have had him crush Satan’s head in an obvious, glorious way.

Ah, but we are followers of Christ. We do bear the cross. Jesus told the disciples not to tell anyone because they hadn’t seen the cross yet. Peter missed it even when Jesus spoke about it plainly. We Lift High the Cross of Jesus Christ. Our Savior is the one who showed us who God is by His death on the cross. We don’t have to look at how the world is treating us to see what God thinks about us. We haven’t and can’t please God by the things we do, but Jesus did please God once and for all. That’s the foolishness that is so difficult for us to see and understand. That God would send His only Son, in the flesh to suffer and die and rise again, for me… for you. God isn’t pleased with us because of anything we do, but because of what Jesus did. If we want to see God’s favor, we look the cross. If you want to know about your relationship to God, you don’t look at your “blessings,” instead you look at God’s promises through the cross of Jesus.

So, what does the Theology of the Cross look like in your life? Not like we’d expect. And sometimes not even like we want. Sometimes it looks like suffering. We get sidetracked from our hopes and dreams by some unforeseen problem. We must depend on other people for help. We must trust that God knows what He’s doing and put our lives in His hands. God’s Word points out our sin, and we know we can’t change our lives for the better. At the foot of Jesus’ cross we drop the burden of it. Life is hard and we wonder where God is when we need Him. We cling to God’s promises made by an adoption of water on our head and His Name received upon our forehead and upon our heart. We drag our sinful nature to the Lord’s Table and God pours forgiveness into us with Jesus’ body and blood. People want us to tell them about our faith and we don’t talk about our faith, our experiences, or our testimony, instead we tell them about Jesus.
“I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit…”
It’s really a matter of getting ourselves out of the picture and putting Christ Crucified at the center. This is who we are going to be. Christians who know nothing but Jesus Christ and him crucified. That’s who we are as Theologians of the Cross. Amen.

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