Wednesday, December 31, 2008

On the Shedding of Blood

New Year’s Eve
Eve of the Circumcision and Name of Jesus
December 31, 2008
Luke 12:35-40

First let me say, “Happy New Year!”

Now we can get to the actual business of why we can wish each other a Happy New Year. It’s worth our noting that we’re in the House of God on the last day of the year. It’s worth noting that we’re here because we’re Christians. Anyone can wish anyone a Happy New Year, and we shouldn’t deny them that in any way.

But it’s also worth our time to be very specific about why this year ahead is a Happy New Year. It is because of the shedding of blood. It’s not because God will cause you to prosper financially, although if He does, you may certainly count that as a blessing. It’s not because He promises all your children will be healthy and successful, although you ought certainly to thank God if you receive those blessings. It’s not because He promises to bring to an end the wars of this world and the suffering people endure at the hands of tyrants, although anytime those things happen we may rejoice in God’s continued care for His creation.

The reason the new year will be blessed is because of the shedding of blood. The reason we are here is because of the shedding of blood. The reason we have existence in the favor of God is because of the shedding of blood. Not because He brings all wars to an end, because your children are free from sickness, and you have the financial capacity to care for your family. All of those blessings are wonderful, which is why they’re called blessings.

But without the shedding of blood they vanish before you know it. Is it hard to see how fleeting they are? We’re already here to 2009! Where has the time gone? We know at some point it will come to an end, perhaps sooner rather than later. We can rejoice in all the temporal blessings God gives us but we should do so asking Him that He would grant us the peace of always being mindful of and trusting in the eternal blessings He grants to us. Those come through the shedding of blood.

That’s why it’s going to be a Happy New Year. How does our Lord describe Himself in the Gospel reading? As one who serves. He’s not a servant. He’s the Master. And yet, He serves, doesn’t He? How He serves is by coming to those He serves. In the Gospel reading the description points us to His coming again on the Last Day to serve them one last time on this earth. The way He will do that is by taking them from the earth into the eternal glories of heaven. He tells us this beforehand so that we may be ready.

How do we get ready? We get ready by fixing our faith on the shedding of blood. The Bible fixes our focus on the shedding of blood of a specific person—Jesus Himself. He, the Lord, has served us by shedding His blood. The New Year coincides with the festival in the Church Year of the Circumcision and Name of Jesus. We know what circumcision is. There is shedding of blood involved. Even here as an infant, Jesus was already accomplishing His work of salvation, His work of serving us. The shedding of His blood as an infant in His circumcision points to the shedding of His blood on Calvary.

On the eighth day of life Jesus was given His name. Matthew says the reason for the name was because He would forgive His people of their sins. His name and its meaning is tied to the shedding of His blood at His circumcision. All of this points to His shedding of His blood on Calvary and why His blood was shed in that sacrifice. It was for the forgiveness of sins. That means eternal life. We are reconciled with God. It means in the new year we have new life every day. Because Jesus shed His blood you can wake each day in the new year knowing that you are forgiven.

The year ahead is a blessing God gives you to serve you. He came to serve by giving His lifeblood for you. When He comes on the Last Day He will serve you by welcoming you into His eternal home. In the coming year and throughout your life He serves you giving you in His Supper the very blood He shed on the cross. He does this because He has exhorted you to be ready for His coming on the Last Day. How can you be prepared if you’re left to your own will and ability? You can’t, but being forgiven and strengthened by Him serving you you can and will. The year ahead will bring unknowns, challenges, problems, and sadness. Rejoice that despite and even in those things you are forgiven, your Lord who shed His blood for you forgiving you each day and always. Amen.


Thursday, December 25, 2008

Why We Celebrate Birth

The Nativity of Our Lord
Christmas Day
December 25, 2008
John 1:1-14

We celebrate birth because with birth there is new life. Where there is new life there is opportunity. There is hope, there is joy. With birth there is the promise of tomorrow.

When life is taken away there is sadness. It seems to suck out our hope. There was potential for so much and now it seems to be gone. There are times where we are relieved that our loved one is now free from tremendous suffering, but when your child is lost in the womb or infancy there doesn’t seem to be any reason for joy or hope. When your loved one is taken in the prime of their life you try to make sense of it. We celebrate birth; we celebrate life—when that is taken away, there is sorrow and sadness. We easily know why we celebrate birth.

But often something happens after that. We celebrate life in the birth of our children, in the birth of our relatives’ and friends’ children. But what happens after their birth? Do we feel that same joy and opportunity as they grow and live their lives? You’re not aware of your own birth, but you’re very aware of the life you live. Do you have joy and see opportunity every day of your life? Or do you just live, trying to get by?

Christmas, Good Friday, and Easter are the three Christian festivals which most distinguish what God says about our lives in comparison with what we often think about our lives. Humans throughout history have sought meaning in their lives in countless ways. How else can you explain the thousands of religions and belief systems? People seek meaning in all kinds of ways, trying to accomplish joy in their lives, seeking to capture the opportunity of life.

Some people gain their significance through their work. Some seek happiness in their children. Some search for contentment in various religions. Some attempt to find meaning in their lives by trying something new, hoping it will give them the joy they are lacking. Although there is variety in these things there is one thing at the center of them: the person seeking fulfillment. We are by nature the center of our own lives. When all is said and done, we seek joy and meaning in ourselves. When a baby is born, guess who’s at the center of attention? The baby is who everybody talks about and ogles over. But as we grow, we continue to make ourselves the center of attention for ourselves.

It’s not that we shouldn’t celebrate birth and life. And it’s not that we shouldn’t seek to be happy and desire fulfillment. It’s that we’re going about it the wrong way. We’re looking inward, when God tells us that we ought to look outside of ourselves. Not by looking for meaning in manmade things, that’s the same as looking within ourselves. By looking at the specific way God gives us true fulfillment, ultimate joy, the greatest opportunity.

That’s why we celebrate Jesus’ birth. That’s why we give thanks for Good Friday. That’s why we rejoice in Easter. God tells us to get off ourselves and latch onto Christ. His birth, His life. Jesus’ birth gives true meaning to our birth. He was born that we may not die. Our birth is something indeed to celebrate, but there is only true opportunity in new birth. The Gospel reading gives true hope because of the second birth God gives us. It comes about because God chose to be born. Jesus was born of Mary so that we may be born of God.

We celebrate life, and we have every reason to. But there is the ultimate lost opportunity if our celebrating and search for meaning is joy apart from the one was born in a stable. There is the ultimate tragedy if our joy is not centered in the one who was born to live in order to die in our place and rise to guarantee us unending joy in heaven.

There’s a lot wrapped up in that little baby lying in a manger. The very Son of God. The salvation of the world. Hope that is secure because it’s hope in Him and not ourselves. True joy, because it’s joy in Him and what He has done for us, not what we seek to do. True life, because it is the life of God Himself, not just a temporal life. We celebrate life, but especially life in Christ. We celebrate being born, but especially being born of God. We celebrate Jesus’ birth because in doing so we celebrate His death and resurrection for our ultimate and eternal joy with God Himself. Amen.


Wednesday, December 24, 2008


The Nativity of Our Lord
Christmas Eve
December 24, 2008
Luke 2:1-20

What are you expecting this Christmas? You have expectations in your life, and certainly at Christmas. You might be expecting a certain gift you’ve been wanting. You might be expecting, or at least hoping, that things will turn better in your life. Whatever your expectations, you are here this evening. You’re here for a reason and you’ve come with your expectations. Are you here because you’re in the Christmas spirit? Maybe you want to get away from all the commercialization of the holiday season. Maybe you’re desperate to take a break from what the world says about Christmas and hear the true meaning of Christmas. Maybe you’re here because you want to hear, once again, that story we know so well of what Christmas really is. You might be here simply because it seems that’s what you should do on Christmas Eve.

Whatever your reasons, whatever your expectations, one thing you do expect is that you will hear that same Christmas story. The Christmas story in Luke starts off with these words: “In those days.” We live in an age where those words aren’t necessarily valued. People love to hear a good story, but some don’t have much regard for what has happened in the past. Especially so long ago and with so much religious baggage. When you come to church and you hear the words, “in those days,” do you find yourself feeling like you’re not hearing something relevant to your life? We know what happened in those days. What about in these days? What does what happened in those days have to do with our lives today? Shouldn’t we be hearing about what God is doing today? How can you know that God has a plan for your life today; that you’re not just hearing stuff that happened long ago and doesn’t apply to your daily life?

The first way is with the words themselves, “in those days.” The use of these words shows us that what is being told really happened. The events are historical. They are no less real than the events that happen today. They may not seem as relevant, but that doesn’t make them any less real. If they don’t seem real it’s because of your expectations. You expect that current events are real but past events, not as much. But as relevant as you think the events that happen now are, the real events that happen in our lives will not be any less real a hundred years from now when someone is hearing about them. They may wonder what they have to do with them, but they don’t have to wonder if they were real. The reason the events being historical matter to you today is because no one can take them away from you. They may deny them, but they can’t change the fact that they are real.

The second way the events of the Christmas Gospel are relevant to you is that they don’t just tell a story. The events are the Gospel itself. The Christmas story isn’t just a story about Jesus being born, it is the very bringing about of the Gospel. The Gospel saves you. There is nothing more relevant than that. What are you expecting? What is Christmas about? It is about salvation.

This is what you expect to hear, isn’t it?— Christmas is all about the spiritual... It’s about the promise of eternal glory in heaven... It’s about what Jesus does for my soul... We expect to hear these things and we so often pass them off because they seem so irrelevant. How does salvation help me now? How does it help me in my life?

Maybe Christmas for you isn’t all joy and good tidings. Maybe you hear the Good News of Jesus’ salvation for you and it falls flat. Maybe during the Christmas season there is sadness for you. Perhaps in the midst of all the joy and the hubbub you are falling into despondency. Maybe your holiday season has been marked in the past by the death of those close to you and your looking forward to this time of year is tempered by the reality of painful memories. Maybe the stresses of your life and of this time of year overwhelm you instead of bringing you contentment.

Your expectations are very different from wanting to hear Good News that your sins are forgiven. But if you see the words of our Christmas Gospel as not just the recounting of a spectacular story that happened back then, but as the very Gospel of life you will see that it impacts your life here, now, every day, for all eternity. You will see that your expectations fall pathetically short of what Gods expects to give you.

That Joseph was of the house and lineage of David means that you are one with him in being an inheritor of the promise of God that He will guard you in all things, whether danger or sadness or seeking. That Jesus was born in a humble manner, in a stable, means that your re-birth of humble manner, water connected with God’s Word, is birth to eternal life, not simply of life on earth. That ordinary shepherds were the first recipients of the news of salvation means that you and I never have to wonder if we are out of the loop with God. He wanted the shepherds to know, He wants you to know, He wants the whole world to know.

Expect, then, what God delivers to you. Salvation. Life. Forgiveness. Expect that it won’t always seem relevant, because your sinful flesh will always want something that makes your life easier and free from pain and loss and sorrow. But He expects to give you His gifts in the midst of those things. He delivered the Savior in a stable two thousand years ago. He delivers Him to you today in His Holy Gospel. He delivered Him to you in your Baptism. He delivers Him to you at this altar in the bread and wine.

Nobody expected Jesus to be born in such a way as He was. Nobody expected Him to suffer and die as He did. Nobody expected Him to rise from the grave. Expect what God gives you: His Son, your Savior. Amen.


Sunday, December 21, 2008

No Place to Call Home

Fourth Sunday in Advent
Thomas, Apostle
December 21, 2008
Luke 1:26-38

“the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”
Matthew 8:20

You’d think that if God is going to become a man He’d at least find decent living quarters. I’m sure the family He grew up in was loving and He was happy in His modest home. But when it came time for the Ministry, the three years of preaching, teaching, and healing, why was there no place for Him to lay His head? These are His own words: “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” Jesus was right at home being transient.

He wasn’t here for lounging around. He didn’t come to be served. He came to serve. He didn’t need a mansion. He’s God. He owns everything. He didn’t need a house, He came to earth to be among the people He created. To serve them, to save them. Why does He need a home for that? He is at home being among His people.

God dwells in the heavens, but He has come down to earth. He didn’t live the life of a king, though He is the King of all creation. He had nowhere to lay His head because He didn’t rest until He accomplished salvation. Then His rest was for three days in a tomb. But even there He was at home. Even after dying He was at home descending into hell to proclaim victory over Satan on his home turf. And yet, Jesus was not at home in the tomb because the tomb could not hold Him. Enough resting, Jesus walked out of that tomb so He could continue His work of salvation.

Oh, it was accomplished, all right. Now to the work of delivering it. He is still at home in the heavens. He is still seated at the right hand of God. But He still comes to earth. He loves to dwell among His people. He’s been doing that from the beginning.

In fact, King David has a problem with it. I’m in a palace and the Ark of the Covenant is in a tent. David thinks this is an insult to God so he’s got grand designs for a House just for God. It will be a spectacular temple, dedicated to the one true God, the one who deserves the very best building on the earth. And it was eventually done. God got His temple. And He was at home in the temple. But that wasn’t His home, in that He didn’t really need it. In fact, come forty years after Jesus’ ascension into heaven the temple was destroyed, and God was at home with that as well, because you can’t destroy God’s home. You can destroy a building. The house Jesus grew up in is no longer standing. But God is at home in His creation, even as He is the Lord of the heavens.

God is the Lord of the heavens, but is perfectly at home in humble abodes. When the Israelites wandered in the wilderness He dwelled in a tent. When Joseph and Mary reached Bethlehem there was no vacancy. No problem. God was perfectly at home in a stable. Among animals. Dirt. Smell. Probably cold. The nine months before His birth He was at home in the womb of Mary. Granted, as a human being He was not aware of His nine month stay in the womb, even as none of us were. But God was at home with that, to be one with us in humanity. To not just enter the world as an adult and avoid the being cared for, the puberty, the demands of making a living.

Our Lord was at home in being a Master who wraps a towel around His waist to carry out the work of the slave. Our Lord was content in being ridiculed and taken advantage of. He was at home in being rejected by the very people He created and reached out to in love. He did not long for a quiet, comfortable home to be in when He was beaten and bloodied and mocked. He was at home in suffering for the sin of the world, considering it joy to endure the punishment for our sin. This He is at home with: joy. Joy not of being the Almighty Lord of the universe, but of doing everything He could to save us so that we may be at home with Him.

The Son of Man had no place to lay His head because the Son of Man chose to lay aside His glory. The Son of Man chose to be the Son of Man even though He is the eternal Son of God. How can this be that God would choose to have no place to lay His head when we are so often worried about our material existence? It could be because we so often turn our energy toward our material existence whereas our Lord expends His energy in saving us for our eternal home in heaven.

The promises God gave to King David about how the Savior would reign come to pass in a remarkably unpretentious way. A girl is greeted by an angel and told that she will be the home of God for nine months and the very mother of God. Yet, the promises of God to David were that the Savior would rule. Mary was just trying to figure out how she would give birth being a virgin. The answer was simple: with God nothing is impossible. Mary still didn’t comprehend how God could accomplish such a thing, but she believed it. And we can believe that the promises God gave to David have been fulfilled in this action of God of moving into a very strange home: this earth.

We can believe that God continues to make His home with us, His people, in Baptism. He dwells in us. We are a very strange home for God, but then, Mary thought the same thing. May we believe as she did, not demanding comprehension but simply being grateful for a life of servant-hood to her holy Lord. The One who came in poverty of body and spirit, all in order that we may be rich in grace and mercy. That we may dwell in the mansions of glory in heaven. That we may see that that promise is as astounding as the ones to David and Mary, and yet, just as true and awesome.

This is not our home, in the sense that we don’t belong here forever. Heaven is our home. We’re transients like Jesus in that sense. Here on earth to carry out the work our Lord has given us to do. It’s easily lost in the Christmas season. The world wants to talk about Christmas spirit and love and ignores the glorious temple God chose to dwell in, the baby Jesus. The man who was spat upon and scourged. Who was charged as guilty and condemned to death and damned to hell by God the Father Himself. You won’t hear much talk of that at holiday parties, but here in the House of God it’s the only thing there is to talk about. You may hear that we’re all the children of God, but you won’t hear much talk about Baptism, the very way we become the children of God and are given a place at the Table of God in eternity.

If your joy of Christmas centers in the God who is at home in bread and wine you’ll be scoffed at or maybe just ignored as having strange beliefs. God is obviously at home everywhere since He owns everything, but loves to be at home in the water of Baptism and the bread and wine of His Holy Supper. Since He didn’t have a home, He instituted His Holy Supper at the home of someone else. He doesn’t need a home to save us, He just comes to us right where we’re at. In water with His forgiveness, in bread and wine with nourishment for our souls. He is at home in the flesh. Offering it on the cross for the sin of the world. Giving His Body and Blood to us right here at this very altar. It’s a nice altar, but it’s nothing fancy. And yet, He’s perfectly at home there. Inviting us to His Holy Meal in His Holy House. Preparing a place for us in His Heavenly Home. There’s no place like home. Thank God it’s not a fantasy. Amen.


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Prayers of Preparation: the Restoring God

Midweek in Advent 3
December 17, 2008
Psalm 126:1-6

The God who listens to us is the God who has favor on us. He hears our plea for mercy and forgives and saves us. He has favor on us because of His mercy. These are good things to know when it seems like God doesn’t hear us. It’s comforting to know when we wonder if God loves us. What it means day after day is that God doesn’t give up on you. He doesn’t leave you in the lurch. He stays with you no matter what.

Have you seriously messed something up? God doesn’t hold it against you. Have you strained a relationship because you made some assumptions instead of putting the best construction on things? The other person may hold it against you but God will restore you to Himself. Do you find yourself feeling far away from God? He will come near to you when you most need it.

Restoration. One of the most important things we need to know about is God’s work of restoration. During this season of preparation we need to know that God is a restoring God. Our whole lives are lives of preparation, we need God’s work of restoration. We are preparing ultimately for life with God in heaven. The people of God in the Old Testament were preparing for the actual birth of the Savior. Since He has already come we do not need to prepare for that. Our celebration of His birth focuses our attention on Christ. We prepare for our celebration of Christmas by meditating on the reason He came. He came for the cross. Christmas is ultimately about the cross. Without the cross there is no place awaiting us in heaven.

The Old Testament people of God placed their hope in the coming of the Savior. We rejoice that our hope is in the fact that He came. Our hope also looks to the future. To the day when He will return. We will not know glory until that day. That is why preparation is necessary. That is why we pray to our God who listens and ask for His favor upon us. His mercy and love restores us. We are brought back to His loving care. We too often forget the devastation sin wreaks on our lives. We are not in a right relationship with God when we are caught up in our sin. He is constantly calling us to repentance so that He may restore us.

We so often brush our sin aside. We often treat it as a minor defect. Our sin separates us from God. His restoration of us is a serious matter. We need it and He knows that. He also knows that only He can provide it. If He doesn’t act to save us we are eternally lost from Him. His answer to that is His Son. His salvation of us is His pure joy in giving us a gift beyond measure, Jesus the Savior.

The very fact that we can pray to our God in the midst of our sinful lives shows us that God is merciful to us and desires to restore us. He not only desires it, He acts on it. He brings it about. He turns our despair into hope. Our mourning into joy.

The next time we gather here mid-week we will be celebrating the birth of our Savior. It goes without saying that we rejoice in this miraculous event. It also should go without saying that we never cease to rejoice in it. It should go without saying that we never tire of praying to our God, because He never tires of listening to us, of shining His favor upon us, of restoring us to His eternal care. Our preparation is continual because our need is continual.

Our only hope is in the God whose love and favor, mercy and restoration is never-ending. Our only hope is in the God who sent the Savior, accomplishing salvation that never ends. Our only hope is in the God of Bethlehem and Calvary and the Word and Sacraments through which He comes to us. Our only hope is in the God of heaven who has heard, who has shown favor, who has restored us. This is why we believe and rejoice that His coming again on the Last Day will be a day of rejoicing and our ultimate restoration. Amen.


Sunday, December 14, 2008

One You Do Not Know

Third Sunday in Advent
December 14, 2008
John 1:6-8, 19-28

“among you stands one you do not know”

The murder mysteries where everyone is in a mansion and no one can leave are fascinating. Everyone knows that one among them is the murderer, but no one knows who it is. John the Baptist said to the religious leaders that they did not know the one among them he was pointing them to. It was mystery. A mystery that was about to be revealed. We know who He is. They didn’t. But that’s why John the Baptist was there.

How do we know who Jesus is? The way we know is that He comes among us. No one can know who Jesus is apart from Him being among them. It is impossible for you to know Jesus apart from Him coming to you in His Word and Sacraments.

John the Baptist’s interaction with the religious leaders raises questions about Jesus, even though we who know who He is. How do we know who He is? Is there anything about what John the Baptist says to the religious leaders—who didn’t know who Jesus was—that applies to us? If so, how? What do we need to do in order for us to fully know Him?

Reason won’t help here. There is no proof that Jesus is who He says He is. Many people heard John’s proclamation and repented and were Baptized. Many did not. Both groups, though, did not know who Jesus was. John was the one who came to tell them. To point the way. John the apostle says that John the Baptist was “a man sent from God.” For all the crowds knew, he was just another eccentric preacher. For all the religious leaders knew, he was just another pretender.

There was nothing about John that made him special as the Messenger of Jesus Christ, the voice crying in the wilderness. It’s not that he was a powerful preacher, or that he was different, or that he had the credentials. No, it was nothing like that. It was simply that he was sent from God. It was nothing more than that he preached the Word of God. It was nothing else than that he pointed the way to Jesus.

John the Baptist is sent from God. He might have been tempted to think highly of himself for that fact. But being sent from God he realized that it really wasn’t important who he was. It was all-important who the Christ was that he came to point to. The religious leaders wanted him to talk about himself, they wanted to know who he was. But, nope, that’s not what he wanted to talk about. That’s not why he was sent. I’ll tell you who I’m not. And I’ll tell you about another person you do not know.

When John came on the scene no one knew who Jesus was. What does it mean to know Jesus? We cannot know Jesus apart from His revealing Himself to us. That is why He has come among us. We celebrate His birth at Bethlehem for the reason He was born at Bethlehem. Joseph and Mary knew their son. But did they really know Him? Did they look down at their cute little baby and see God? Did they know He was the Promised Savior who would suffer for the sin of the world?

We can’t get into the minds of those people back then. What we know is what we know. And we know who Jesus is. But do we look at the things He’s given us and shrug them off as insignificant? Do we hear His Word as simply a nice message? Do we treat our Baptism as something that happened to us so long ago—and we’re glad it did—but we’re not sure what impact it has on our lives day to day? Do we take the Lord’s Supper for granted, much the way we take many of our meals?

If you are staying away from the Gospel, if you are ignoring your Baptism, if you pass off the Sacrament as merely a ritual, you do not know Christ. These are the only ways you can know Him because these are the only ways He is among you. The religious leaders questioning John not only didn’t know Jesus, but when they were met with Him in the flesh they rejected Him.

What about us? We can handle the baby Jesus in the manger, the healing and preaching Jesus, the suffering Jesus on the cross, and certainly the Jesus who rose from the dead —but what do we make of the Jesus who comes among us in words and water and bread and wine? Is it really Him? It is really the Incarnate God, Jesus, coming to us in those simple ways? Is He really delivering to us in that Word and those Sacraments forgiveness of our sin and eternal salvation? Is He actually coming among us in those means, uniting Himself with us in those ways?

John would say yes. The one he pointed to would say yes. God’s Word says yes. All who point to Jesus say yes, who preach that very same Gospel of one among you who is your Savior. And, yes, you do know Him. You know Him because He is among you. Because He dwells among you in the flesh in His Word and in His Sacraments. You know Him because He knows you and dwells among you. You know Him because He has claimed you as His own in His Gospel, coming to you in your Baptism, coming to you in the Supper He prepares for you. You know Him because you have come to see as John the Baptist did that it’s not about you but always about the one he pointed to.

Jesus knew that when He came He would be rejected by many. That didn’t stop Him from coming. John stayed the course when they tried to steer him off course. There’s a reason God sent John. To show people the among-you-ness of the Gospel. That God sends people in the flesh to bring about salvation. John, coming to people to point them to the One. The One Himself coming in flesh, among us, to be the Gospel incarnate. Coming in the flesh to suffer in the flesh—His body sacrificed, His blood shed. Coming in the flesh in your very life, as you live and breathe by every Word that comes from the mouth of God; the flowing water of life in your Baptism; the Body of Christ sustaining you, His Blood coursing through your veins. He is among you and knows you, even as you know Him. The one among you will come again in glory that you may be with Him in glory forever. Amen.


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Prayers of Preparation: the Favorable God

Midweek in Advent 2
December 10, 2008
Psalm 85:1-13

Why dos our Lord look upon us favorably? Is it because there’s something about us that is favorable? Well, as a matter of fact, there is. What it is is that we have been created by Him. He created us because He loves to share the wealth. He owns everything and wants to spread around His abundance to us. He wants us to delight in His joy and glory.

So what it is about us that makes Him favorable toward us is not something of ourselves but of who we are. We are the crown of His creation. He looks upon us with favor even though we have not lived as who we are. He loves us even though we have spurned His love. That is the essence of His favor toward us, it is because of His grace and mercy, not because we deserve it. The fact is, we don’t deserve it.

His favor toward us is in view of Jesus Christ. When God created humans He loved them. Of course He did. When people have children, they love them. When God created us, He loved us. It came naturally to Him. So what was His reaction when Adam and Eve sinned against Him? Did He stop loving them? Did He give up on them? No, His reaction was the same. Love. Compassion. Favor.

But how can this be when He promised them they would die? How was it that He loved them when because of their sin they were separated from Him? The way it is is that His love moved Him to tell them that they were now separated from Him. If He would have ignored their sin they would have been lost forever. To truly love them, to truly help them, He had to confront them and their sin. This is favor. It is compassion which moves you to do those things that are hard, that seem unloving.

But this favor is in view of Jesus Christ, right? So what did that have to do with how God looked with favor upon Adam and Eve? It has to do with who God is. He is the Creator. As the Creator, He is the one who naturally loves us. His love for us moves Him to do all within His eternal power to care for us. In the case of our sin against Him, what that means is action similar to His first action of creating us. We could call it His act of re-creation. That action of God is done in His Son Jesus Christ.

It’s not something that only those during His life on earth and since then receive. God’s act of re-creation in Jesus Christ is for all people of all time. His favor is upon all because of the once for all sacrifice of Jesus. The prayer of the psalmist, and it is the prayer of all the people of God, that God be favorable to us, is a prayer that He would look upon us because of the righteousness of Jesus Christ. We pray He look favorably upon us because of the righteousness of Christ.

Those who truly desire life, eternal or otherwise, apart from Jesus Christ, desire life apart from God. He will always look with favor upon them but will never force them into His eternal presence. God’s sending of His Son, even as He first promised to Adam and Eve to send Him, is the sign that God is favorable toward all people. God didn’t explain away Adam and Eve’s sin, even as He doesn’t ours. But He did deal with it. He convicted them of their sin to bring them to repentance and the belief that Jesus is their only hope from sin and separation from God. He does the same with us.

During Advent we take time out to ponder the faithfulness of our Lord. In His favor He has blessed us beyond imagination. He promised to bring about salvation and did. He promises that the Savior He sent at Bethlehem will return once again—this time in glory. None of these things are for a select few. They are for all. We can take comfort that God does not favor some over others, that He loves all sinners equally.

Our prayers, then, are always that of sinners pleading to God for mercy because of Jesus Christ. Our prayers are always prayers of forgiven children who look to God in gratitude for His favor in Jesus Christ. The Psalm last week gave us comfort that when our prayers are raised to God, He hears us. He is the Listening God. We are also given comfort that He looks favorably upon us. He created us, He has made us righteous in His Son Jesus Christ. This favor He extends to us in His Word and Sacraments until that day when He will send His Son again to take us home to heaven. Amen.


Sunday, December 7, 2008

Continuing with the Beginning

Second Sunday in Advent
December 7, 2008
Mark 1:1-8

We know the way it begins: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. You’d expect the beginning to begin with the beginning. You’d also expect the story to move on from there until it gets to the end. But this story has no end. The story continues; it moves on from the beginning. But what it moves on to is other beginnings. Such as the one we have today in the Gospel reading. Mark tells us that what he is going to tell us is the beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

We might have expected talk about beginnings last Sunday when we actually began the new Church Year. But here on the second Sunday in the Church Year what is appointed is talk about beginnings. That’s because the story didn’t begin only at Genesis 1:1. The story doesn’t just continue, it continues with beginnings. That’s what this story is, a story of beginnings. There was never supposed to be an end. There was the threat of an end, if Adam and Eve decided they didn’t like the whole idea God set up of living forever in perfection and glory under God’s gracious hand. But even then, when they decided to bring it all to an end, God loved them too much to bring their blessedness to an end. So He created a new beginning.

That new beginning He brought about immediately upon their fall into sin. The beginning of the Gospel Mark is talking about in our Gospel reading was brought about way back there in the Garden of Eden. God promised to save them. He promised to send a Savior. Even though they wouldn’t die then and there, they were condemned in their sin and all their offspring would be born in sin. For the Gospel to be the Gospel, for it to be effective, it had to begin right then and there. When all their hope was lost God brought about hope from the beginning.

You can imagine that with this second chance there was relief on the part of Adam and Eve. Their children and grandchildren and many descendents were grateful that God didn’t bring it all to a halt right then and there when Adam and Eve chose the path of death. You can also imagine that there was much struggling with God and with each other, having inherited the sinful nature Adam and Eve chose for themselves. You can imagine what it was like to wake up each day and still be bound to that Old Adam you were born with. You can imagine what it was like to long for hope even as God gave hope to Adam and Eve when they were in utter despair.

You can see the need for a new beginning. And you can see that it’s needed every day. You can imagine all this and know the need for God’s hope because you live this existence every day, as all who have gone before you have. You know very well how deep it is as you see it on a daily basis in others and as you catch yourself doing things wondering what might have possessed you to do them. You know very well what it is like to hope for a second chance.

This is how the story goes in the Old Testament. God always going back to the promise—the promise of salvation, the promise of the Savior. The story progressing by going back to the promise, which brings about new beginnings. The people of God, just like us today, choosing that path that Adam and Eve chose, and God giving them hope, a new beginning. There are countless examples in the Old Testament, today’s Old Testament reading is one of them. The people of God are the people of God, but they need to be constantly given that hope, constantly given new beginnings.

So Mark begins his Gospel account in that way. He says the Gospel began this way: Centuries before, Isaiah prophesied the messenger to pave the way for Christ. John was preparing the people for a new beginning, he himself the product of the promise of a new beginning—that the Messenger would come. What does the Messenger do? He baptizes. Baptism is all about new beginnings. In Baptism you are given new life. So the way to prepare for the coming of the Savior was to show the people that this was all about new beginnings. Without repentance they would be left in their sins. They would be left for dead spiritually, so they needed a new beginning.

John came preaching. He came baptizing. He came talking about repentance and the forgiveness of sins. The messenger God sent to usher in the Messiah baptized with water. The new beginning would come shortly with the Messiah bringing a Baptism of the Holy Spirit. This is Baptism in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. This is God’s continuing act of creation in you. It doesn’t take us long for us to mess things up. Adam and Eve managed to take care of that shortly after creation. Our daily lives as Christians are new beginnings. Daily in repentance you are created anew. As He gave you a new beginning in Baptism, He continues to create in you new life daily in repentance and recalling your Baptism.

The Gospel is what saves you. The Gospel is what gives you new life daily. When the breath of our Lord expired on the cross the Holy Spirit took it to breathe it into you in your Baptism. The death of our Lord wasn’t the end, but a beginning. Your Baptism is the beginning for you. Each day in repentance you die to sin and rise to new life, to a new beginning. This is the story. You are very much a part of it because Jesus died for you. He died to give new life to the fallen world. It is the same hope He gave to Adam and Eve. The same salvation. The same joy that has no end. It is ever new and continues forever. Amen.


Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Prayers of Preparation: The Listening God

Midweek in Advent 1
December 3, 2008
Psalm 80:1-7

Advent is a season of preparation. That doesn’t mean we only prepare during Advent. It means that it is a time in the Church Year that reminds us that our entire lives are that of preparation. How you learn to prepare is by being formed by the Holy Scriptures. Your Lord prepares you to be prepared for Him. He mostly does this by giving you His Gifts. He provides for you and sustains you. He does this through His Gospel and His precious Sacraments.

But there’s even more. He also gives you things that you do in order to be strengthened by Him. One of these is the discipline of prayer. Being the giving God that He is our Lord teaches us to pray. He prepares us to pray to Him. One way He has done this is by giving us the Psalms.

In Psalm 80 we are encouraged to take heart that He is the Listening God. “Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel,” the Psalmist prays to his God. Why does he want God to listen to him? Because he needs salvation. He prays to his God who is like a shepherd. A shepherd leads his flock. He is the salvation of his sheep. He listens to his sheep. If the sheep are in trouble they will cry out in the hopes that their shepherd will hear them. Sheep who have a faithful shepherd count on their shepherd hearing them.

That is why the Psalmist prays as he does. His Shepherd is faithful. His Shepherd listens. His Shepherd is standing at the ready with salvation. In Advent we learn how to prepare for the way our Lord, our Shepherd, brings to us His salvation. The way He brings His salvation to us is by Himself saving us. A shepherd won’t call across the pasture to his sheep that is in trouble that everything will be all right. The shepherd goes to his sheep and gently pulls him out of being stuck in the fence.

Our Lord has listened to us. He doesn’t speak to us from the Heavenly Realms with soothing words. He comes to us in our need with His salvation, with Himself. So why do we need to be prepared for this? If He comes to us to save us, what do we need to do to get ready? We need to be prepared that it won’t be comfortable. Our Lord saving us doesn’t mean it will be pleasant. We need to be prepared that we are going to be relying on things that go against what seems should be the case. We need to be prepared for our Lord coming to us with His salvation in ways that we would never expect.

We so often treat the ways God comes to us with His salvation as afterthoughts. They are miracles, they just don’t seem like it because they seem so ordinary. We need to be prepared for the fact that when our Lord saves us He does it through humble means. Beginning with Himself. He is All-Powerful but comes in humility. He can do anything but comes as a baby. He alone is Judge but sacrifices Himself in the shedding of His blood. He has power to destroy the earth with a flood but saves you through ordinary water in Baptism. He is the Creator of the universe but feeds your soul with simple bread and wine.

This is where prayer comes in. This is how we prepare for our Lord to bless us in these ways. We pray that He would increase our faith so that we do not go through the motions in repenting of our sins and receiving the Body and Blood of Christ and hearing the Gospel proclaimed, but that we would hunger and thirst for them as if we were hungering and thirsting for water and food in the desert. When we pray that our Lord would listen to us, we pray for Him to prepare us for His coming to us with His salvation. Prayer is formed by our being in the Word of God. When we meditate on His Word He is preparing us for the ways He brings His salvation to us.

He listens to us in our need. The reason we need to be prepared by Him is that He understands our need better than we do. That is why we need to be prepared by Him. When we are prepared by Him then we are able to prepare for Him. We can take comfort in the fact that our God is the Listening God; but He doesn’t just listen to our story and have an understanding of what we want. He listens to us in the best way possible, listening with an ear toward acting toward us in the way that will bring about our greatest good.

His listening to us moves Him in action toward us in His Gospel and His Sacraments. If we doubt He’s listening, then we should turn even more to His precious Word and to our Baptism and to His life-sustaining Body and Blood. When we pray to our God to save us we can be assured He hears us, that’s why He’s given us Himself. That’s why He gives us His Gifts. We’re always in invited to pray and may always rejoice that He hears and answers us in His Son. Amen.


Sunday, November 30, 2008

Need to Know Basis

First Sunday in Advent
Andrew, Apostle
November 30, 2008
Mark 13:24-37

Beginning tomorrow the month of December will occur. Today is the last day of this month and after December it will be the first day of January. These two days, January 1 and today, have something in common: both days begin a new year. New Year’s Day, of course, begins the new calendar year and today begins the new Church Year. On January 1 we will look ahead, wondering what new challenges and opportunities the new year will bring. Some things will stay that same, but there will be new things that come our way. In the Church Year, we know exactly what will happen. We know the festivals and the seasons, when they’ll happen, what we’ll be celebrating and observing on particular days. The Church Year is all about what has happened.

The calendar year is all about what is ahead of us, what we will do. The Church Year is all about what God has done for us and what that means for us in our lives and for eternity. The reason God gave us the Bible is so that we could know what we need to know. Sometimes that means being aware of what we don’t know. Jesus is telling us in the Gospel reading of things that we know and of things that we can’t know. We will know when we’re in the End Times, but we don’t know when the end will come. Jesus lays out the things we will know and the things we won’t.

What we know is the signs of the times; that’s how we’ll know when we’re in the End Times. Looking at His description, what we know is that we’re in them. The end is near. Jesus is warning of us of the end and that it is near. He’s equally clear that we don’t know exactly when it will come. On that we’re on a need to know basis, and we don’t need to know. The angels don’t know either. I wonder if they spend time time wondering why they don’t know, that they’re in the same boat with us on this. I doubt not. Because they’re content. They’re on a need to know basis also, but content that they know all they need to know. Being in the presence of Jesus Christ is enough for them because it’s everything. The fact that He knows is enough for them. They know that His knowing, and His decision that they don’t need to know, is enough for them. And that should be enough for us, as well. We don’t need to know because our Lord has told us that we don’t need to know. If we did know, where would our need for trust in Him be?

Still, it’s hard, isn’t it? Children always want to know what they’re parents are keeping from them. We’re the same way with God. When He keeps something from us, that’s what we want. We’re not content with what He gives us—which is countless blessings.

Perhaps it will help us to know that Jesus speaks of that which He knows, so to speak. In other words, when He is saying that no one knows the hour of His Return in glory, He says that even of Himself! What?! He doesn’t know? How can that be? It seems to be a denial on His part of His deity. He is true God—we believe that, we confess it, He claims it. And yet, here He is, saying that even He doesn’t know when He Himself will return in glory on the Last Day. Remarkable. Even troubling. Why does He say it? And how is it true?

He says it because it’s true. It’s true because He is God and can do anything. Including becoming man. Including laying aside the full use of His glory and power in order to live on this earth as a man, in flesh and blood as you and I do. Including humbling Himself to be born of a woman and suffer at the hands of men like you and me. Including submitting Himself to the Heavenly will of His Father even though He is one with Him. Including placing Himself in the position of being on a need to know basis, although He Himself is true God of true God and knows all things in heaven and on earth.

Jesus is not just saying that you and I don’t know. Not just that the angels don’t know. He is saying that He Himself doesn’t know. He is saying that though He is very God of very God He has humbled Himself to lay aside the full use of His glory and power so that He could become one with human beings in order to save them. He is true God and true man. He is fully God and fully man. As God He knows all and can do all. As man He is limited, truly one with us.

That is how we are saved. Not by anything we do. Not in some grand fashion by the Almighty Power of God. We are saved by the humility of our Lord Jesus Christ. By His becoming flesh and living the moral life we have not; obeying God’s holy will in perfection as we have not; submitting His will to His Heavenly Father’s will which we certainly have not. It is not beneath Him to serve us though He has created us. It is not drudgery for Him to submit to the One with whom He is one so that we may be joined with Him in eternity. It is not remarkable to Him at all that He would humble Himself to be born of a woman and suffer in our place; only what makes perfect sense to Him: to do all within His power to save us—including serving us as the Lamb of God.

Maybe this is why Jesus mentioned the angels. As they are content, so we can be. What do they know? What they need to know. So with us. We know what our Lord has given us to know. We are indeed on a need to know basis and we give thanks that we know all that we need to know. We give thanks for the beginning of a new Church Year where we are guided on our lifelong journey of fixing our eyes on Jesus. Where we are constantly guarded in our faith with the holy Sacraments our Lord gives us. This is what we know: we know our Lord has saved us and we know how. We know the Holy Spirit gives us faith to receive that salvation through the Gospel and our Baptism and the Supper of our Lord. We don’t know how He works these things in us. We can’t quantify them or scientifically explain them.

But we can be content—we’re on a need to know basis. And just as our Lord was content in His sojourn on earth not even to know the day and hour of His Return in glory, so we can be content in not knowing the same. All we need to know is that He will indeed return in glory. All we need to know is that He comes to us often with His grace and forgiveness in the Gospel, our Baptism, and His Holy Supper. All we need to know is what the angels know: that they are in the presence of the Lord because He has welcomed them into His presence, even as He will us. Amen.


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Anything and Everything

Day of Thanksgiving
November 26, 2008
Philippians 4:6

What do you do when you’re in distress over what will happen or you’re not at ease with the way things are going? The Bible’s answer is, don’t be. “Do not be anxious about anything.” There are some things we might feel we ought to be anxious about—you lose your job, your relatives are causing you grief, you’re under a lot of pressure at work—but the word “anything” means just that, anything. Bad things will happen to you, of course. There will be things that will cause you hardship. But that is because we live in a fallen world. Our Lord in His infinite wisdom allows certain things to befall us. That doesn’t mean He wishes bad things upon us, but He allows them even as He uses them for our good.

This is why we aren’t to be anxious. About anything. Because if our Lord can—and He does—use things that cause us distress and unease for our good then being anxious about them will get in the way of His powerful work.

So if your natural response to difficulties is to worry, how do you stop worrying? How do you keep from being anxious and dwelling on your uneasiness? This is very hard, because it’s front and center in your life at the moment. The key is to look at the big picture. What you’re going through right now is temporal. It will not last forever. And, yes, that includes things that last your entire life. Nothing can take you away from God’s eternal care for you, not even struggles that seem never-ending.

Remember that what you experience in life, whether good or bad, will not remain. We’ve all heard the saying, “This, too, shall pass.” We normally think of hearing that or saying it when things aren’t going well. But it’s true of good things, also. If you’re going through a rough spell, remember, this, too, shall pass. However, if you’ve got a spring in your step because everything seems to be going your way, remember, this, too, shall pass. If it didn’t, you might think that everything is just fine, and before you know it, you’ve drifted away from God.

It’s in the hard times of life that God strengthens you. So don’t be anxious. Rather, let your requests be made known to God. It’s a simple thing, really. It just seems difficult, but that’s why they’re called difficulties. We often make the difficult times in our lives more difficult by worrying, being anxious, dwelling on our uneasiness. There’s a simple answer to this—prayer. Let your requests be made know to God.

It sounds easy. It is easy. So why does it seem so difficult? One is because we’re sinful. Two is because we’re often so busy worrying and being anxious. But a third reason may be the most difficult of all. We are not just to pray, to bring our petitions to God, but with thanksgiving. And it’s not just for the things we think we need or the things we want, it’s in everything. In everything we are to give thanks. When we’re so busy worrying, we can’t imagine how there’s any reason to give thanks in the midst of difficulties.

But the reason we must give thanks in all things, both good and bad, is because then our prayers aren’t just about what we want, but about what God wills for us. His will is perfect and His will is what is best for us. That’s why praying in thanksgiving is the solution for our being in distress and our uneasiness. When we give thanks to God in all things then our focus is on Him rather than on our distress and uneasiness.

Is this possible for us to do? We are only human, after all. It is extremely difficult for us to get our thoughts and emotions off our troubles and onto Christ. The truth is, it’s not possible. Our sinful nature is going to bring us down every time. But that’s where the thanksgiving comes in. We give thanks that though we are weak sinners, Christ has drowned our Old Adam in Baptism. What has come forth is a new creation that is forever united with Christ and His perfect life.

Christ in His suffering prayed to His Heavenly Father that His Heavenly Father’s will would be done. It’s hard to imagine Jesus giving thanks as He was sweating blood in the Garden of Gethsemane. But doesn’t the fact that He prayed His Heavenly Father’s will would be done show us that He was thankful for the suffering He was undergoing to bring about salvation? This was the focus of Jesus’ prayers and thoughts. In His distress He was not anxious or ill at ease but humble, prayerful, and thankful. In our distress we turn our thoughts and focus onto Christ and His suffering in our place. We know that all things we undergo in this life will pass, but our place in the Kingdom of God will remain. In anything and everything we give thanks because the one who endured all for us has given us reason to be eternally thankful. Amen.


Sunday, November 23, 2008

The One Thing

Last Sunday of the Church Year
Twenty-Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
November 23, 2008
Matthew 25:31-46

What shall we talk about? Today is the Last Sunday of the Church Year—what should be our focus on this day? We’ve come to the end of the Church Year —does it make a difference in your day to day life? Will it impact the decisions you make this week at work and in your home? Will it affect the outcome of the Chargers game tonight? Should we follow the Church Year like we do the weeks and months and seasons?

The Church Year is a guide, a help, a way to focus us on Christ and the salvation He brings in His life, suffering, death, and resurrection. In the case of the Last Sunday of the Church Year we are mindful that even as the Church Year has come to a close, so will this life. Our Lord will return in glory on the Last Day.

So what shall we talk about? If you knew that this were the last day on earth what would you talk about? If you knew that Christ was coming again in glory today and that you were being welcomed into the eternal glory of heaven this day, what would be your hope? There are many things to talk about; many things we could focus on. We could talk about doctrine. About how doctrine applies to life. About how to evangelize. How to strengthen our daily Christian life. The Church Year. The Bible. The different denominations in the Church.

Jesus Himself talks about a lot of things. But if you examine His teaching closely you will see that it all comes down to one thing. When all is said and done there really is only one thing. It’s the one thing that makes His Return in glory on the Last Day glorious. Jesus can’t help but talk about it because it’s the very essence of who He is.

It is the Gospel. With Jesus there isn’t an emphasis on moral living or steps to a better walk with Him or principles of evangelizing your non-Christian neighbors or ways you can get along better with your family. He may touch on those things. But those are not what He’s really teaching. No, it is always and ultimately the Gospel. The one thing that matters.

He does this in the Gospel reading for today, the Last Sunday of the Church Year, in which He pictures the Last Day, Judgment Day. Is His message to us that we ought to serve others because in so doing we are really serving Him and will thereby gain eternal life? Is His message to us that if we don’t serve others than really we’re not serving Him and will be punished eternally for that?

It may appear that way. But if that were it, then it wouldn’t be Gospel. And Jesus loves the Gospel. The one thing He always drives home is the Gospel. What is the Gospel? Why is the Gospel the main thing? How is this picture Jesus gives us of the Last Day teaching us the Gospel? Does the Gospel remove responsibility from us to live a moral and godly life? Does the Gospel take away our need to serve others?

All these questions are answered in the Gospel. The Gospel is, at its core, the suffering of Christ in our place. It is the action of God of saving us by forsaking His Son and welcoming us into His eternal Kingdom. The Gospel is the heart of the Bible. It is the heart of God. We cannot know God apart from the Gospel. We cannot be saved apart from the Gospel. The Gospel is the way God has restored His relationship with us.

Broadly speaking, it is God’s love for us. It is everything God has done and does for us to provide for us, care for us, and love us. But there is no Gospel apart from the suffering of Christ. We do not know the love of God toward us apart from the suffering and death of Jesus. Any attempt to appease God with our moral life falls flat, because there is no standard we can achieve that matches the sinless life and sacrifice of Jesus Christ Himself. That is what appeases God and draws His compassion toward you.

The picture Jesus paints in the Gospel reading is Gospel. It is not an exhortation to good works and serving others and pleasing God; although those things are certainly there, because those things flow directly out of the Gospel. But they don’t produce the Gospel. They don’t achieve salvation. They don’t catch God’s eye and make Him turn toward you in appreciation or with the intent to reward you. The problem we run into in interpreting the picture He paints is what we force upon it, not what Jesus Himself is giving us.

And what is He giving us? The Gospel. The one and only thing in which there is salvation. The one thing in which we have hope. The words that come out of His mouth to those on His right are these: “Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” The Kingdom the sheep on His right receive is not one that God has prepared in response to anything they have done or any morally upright lives they have lived. It is a Kingdom which was prepared before they were ever around. Before they even knew what it is to help someone in need. The Gospel has nothing to do with us doing good works when it comes to our salvation. We are not saved by good works, but we are saved for them.

That’s why He continues in this way: “For I was hungry and you gave Me food, I was thirsty and you gave Me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed Me, I was naked and you clothed Me, I was sick and you visited Me, I was in prison and you came to Me.” Jesus isn’t talking about what we do that gets us into haven. He doesn’t say, as the Word of God clearly says, Be perfect for I the Lord your God am perfect, that you were perfect. No, He talks about the small ways they served the least of these. You didn’t fix their problems, you simply helped them out in small ways.

This is the way it is with our Lord. His glorious spiritual blessings are given in simple ways. He comes to us in the nakedness of our sinful nature and clothes with His own righteousness in Baptism, just as He has done so today with Jeffrey. He comes to us in our spiritual hunger and feeds us in a simple way, with bread and wine, in order to give us His Body and Blood.

With God the one thing is never slippery, or general, or out of reach. It’s not just God’s love for you, but God’s love for you in Christ. It’s not just that God gives you His grace, it’s that God is gracious to you in His only-begotten Son. It’s not just that He would have you believe in true doctrine and learn the Scriptures, it’s that all of that doctrine and every Word of the Scriptures is bound up in the Gospel, delivering Christ to you.

That’s the one thing we have that will get us through on the Last Day. It’s the one thing we have that will remain when all else is destroyed. It’s the one thing we have when we’re tempted to look in satisfaction at all that we’ve done and instead say with the sheep on His right, “Lord, when did we do those things to you?” and look to those simple ways in which our Lord comes to us with forgiveness—Baptism and His holy Supper. For with Him, it’s always about the Gospel. By this Gospel it is the same with us and we see today, on the Last Day, and for eternity that it is always about Christ. Amen.


Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Difficult God

Twenty-Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
November 16, 2008
Matthew 25:14-30

The First Commandment says it all: You shall have no other gods. The fact that God has to say that to us shows us that we do, in fact, have other gods. We put all kinds of things before God, including ourselves. God also says that His thoughts are not our thoughts, His ways are not our ways. It stands to reason that we are not going to view God the way we ought to. That our sinful minds cloud a true understanding of who He is. It’s no wonder that we may say and believe things about Him that are offensive. We have to be careful, we want to believe and say what is true about Him.

The first two servants didn’t state anything about why they did what they did. They just said, Here you go, Master, you gave me so much and I made this much more. It was the third one that felt compelled to explain what he thought of his master in order to explain why he did what he did. We assume that what he said is wrong.

But what happens when the master agrees? What happens when, when Jesus is telling us a parable and teaching us about who God is, and that He obviously is the master of the parable, the master himself agrees with the assessment of the unfaithful servant? He is a man who reaps where he has not sown and gathers where he has scattered no seed. The third servant was bold, or perhaps foolish, to tell his master what he thought of him. But the master isn’t angry at the servant for speaking in such a way about him, he’s angry precisely because the servant did know that his master was that way! Since you knew I’m this way, why did you do nothing?!

The servant knew what kind of master he had. But that’s not the kind of master he wanted. Better not to take a risk and face his wrath than to take a risk and possibly fail, and, who knows what kind of reaction he’ll get then?! The servant is not dealing with a patsy here, but a difficult master. One who has expectations, one who makes demands. And one who does not let one off easy if those expectations and demands are not met. He’s a difficult master, because there’s always that warning hanging over your head when he entrusts you with what is his.

If you want an easy god, you’ll have to look outside the Bible. The Bible famously says that God is love. And it’s true, God is love. But God is also difficult. You think love is easy? Love is difficult. You think it’s easy for God to love us? Not because it’s hard for Him to love us, but because we try so hard to go against Him that it makes it tough for Him to shower His love upon us. So what does He do? He goes into stealth mode. As Isaiah says, He does His alien work, His work that doesn’t come naturally to Him. But nothing will stop Him from loving us, reaching out to us.

When the Bible gives an endless list of the characteristics of God—His love, His mercy, His grace, His patience—we can be thankful for the great God we have. But what do we do with the God who is difficult? What should we expect from the God who reaps where He has not sown, and gathers where He has scattered no seed?

With God the way is never easy. It’s always difficult. Why did God bring about salvation in the way He did? Why was there humility and weakness and suffering and difficulty marking the action of Jesus in saving mankind? Why didn’t He make it a lot easier on Himself? Why did He go through all that? Why is it that He places expectations and makes demands on us knowing that we can’t meet them?

The parable describes the difficulty involved here. The first two address him as “Master.” And that’s it. Master, you gave me this, here’s what I turned it into, and here you have it back. The third one also addresses him as “Master,” but then goes into an explanation of how he views him. Who does God want to be to us and for us? He wants to be our Master. A master who gives. A master who entrusts to us His possessions. What about when it gets difficult, when He reaps where He has not sown and gathers where He has not scattered? There are many He spreads His gifts to that we may balk at. You mean, them? He wants to love them, those that do in public what is shameful to do in secret? He wants us to go to those people over there who want nothing to do with God and tell them that He loves them?

Our society is rapidly normalizing certain things. It has long been going the path of relativism. I’m okay, you’re okay. Don’t judge me and I won’t judge you. Let’s be tolerant of others. Can’t we all just get along? And so things that aren’t part of the natural order become normalized and then even good. As Christians we see that relativism is the slippery slope not to tolerance but to decay.

But what’s difficult is the Gospel. It’s difficult to see everyone the way God sees them. To rejoice that God loves them in the same way He loves us. In the way in which He sends His own Son as the one who delivers them from their sin even as He does us. In a way in which we are humbled by the fact that we are as undeserving of God’s unconditional love as they are. That we are just as heinous in our thoughts, words, and deeds as they are. God shows no partiality. We have fallen all short of the glory of God, and the soul that sins will surely die.

When the master gives, He gives. True, to some servants he gives more and to some he gives less. But when the two return with what has been entrusted to them and that more was produced, he didn’t give different rewards. It was the same: you have been faithful over a little, I will set you up over much. Enter into the joy of your master! There is no partiality, only joy! They each receive of the abundance of the master.

The third servant receives the opposite of reward, punishment. The first two servants realized that they in no way deserved what had been entrusted to them. When what they had been given bore fruit, they likewise believed that they in no way deserved it or owned it. It was still, as it always had been, the property of their master. The third servant, on the other hand, wanted to have nothing to do with a difficult master, who reaps where he hasn’t sown and gathers where he hasn’t scattered.

What about you? Who do you want God to be? Do you begrudge the grace of God for all? Does it not seem right to you that God pours out His grace upon everyone, no matter who they are or what they have done? If so, then you have met the God who is difficult. He will never forsake His own. He has created everyone in His image and will do everything to redeem us. Even the difficult path of giving over His only-begotten Son. Even placing Him on the altar of Calvary. Even forsaking His own Son so that we may enter into the joy of our Master.

There is nothing more difficult than the Gospel. It is the one thing that truly causes offense. That God would say to sinners—you, me, and everyone—there is nothing you can do to be saved. But not just because you don’t have that ability. Because it has already been accomplished. When your Lord and Master returns on the Last Day to settle accounts, you will simply offer to Him what you have. It is what He has given you in your Baptism, His own righteousness. Here, Lord, what is yours, and look at the fruit it has born! He will in joy welcome you into His eternal joy! Amen!


Monday, November 10, 2008

Stewardship Is Watching and Waiting

Twenty-Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
Commitment Sunday
November 9, 2008
Matthew 25:1-13

One of the reasons it’s hard to listen to a stewardship sermon is because you think you know what you’re going to hear. We know what stewardship is, what new or challenging thing can we hear about it? If we hear the same old thing, that everything we have is from God and we give back to Him out of thanks, how motivated will we really be for giving to God and making godly use of our time and talents?

As you might expect, Jesus has some things to teach about stewardship. In the parable He tells in the Gospel reading He shows us what stewardship is. Stewardship is watching and waiting. A steward of God watches. A steward waits.

Our natural reaction in talking about stewardship is what we must do. How much should I give for my offering? How much time have I put in in serving in the church? How have I used my talents to serve in the church? But too often we’re left with a lot of talk about sanctification and stewardship and very little talk about Christ. He might simply be an afterthought. We know He has saved us—do we feel we need to move beyond that to what we must do, how we should live?

The antidote to this is Christ. Not just talk about Christ—Christ. Christ is our life. He is our salvation and He is our life. In the parable we don’t just learn how we are to be good stewards. We don’t just learn how to live in a godly way. We receive Christ in this parable.

It’s apparent that Jesus is the Bridegroom of the parable. He’s the one the virgins are waiting for. He’s the main one. He’s the one coming so that the party can get into full swing. So how do we get from needing Christ as our sole hope for sanctification and godly stewardship to that actually happening? How does Christ as the Bridegroom actually help us here?

We shouldn’t be focusing on those virgins, but on the Bridegroom. What happened to Him? He was delayed. Why was He delayed? Because He was waiting. Why was He waiting? Because in His waiting He is instilling in us faith. In His waiting He is strengthening that very faith.

We naturally look at the virgins and say, How is it that they are, so that we may learn how we are to be, what we are to do? But this is the problem, we get in the way. This parable, as all the parables are, is about Christ. And not simply about Christ, but delivering Christ to us. If we’re going to talk about sanctification and stewardship, where will it go? Whatever you give as an offering, should you give more? Whatever time you spend serving others, you should spend more? The problem with this way of thinking is that it is all about you. But the parable of the Ten Virgins is not about the virgins but about the Bridegroom. He’s the one they’re waiting for. He’s the one who’s coming. He’s the one that’s at the center of the action. How He impacts them is what is at issue.

Jesus never tells us what to do and then leaves us to it. He is no Master who commands and wields a punishing rod when we slip up. He is rather the Master who upon commanding us then stoops down to serve us. No doubt Jesus was disappointed in the disciples as they couldn’t keep their eyes open in the Garden of Gethsemane shortly before He would be arrested. But Jesus doesn’t ream them out. Rather, He serves. He accomplishes what they could not. He stays awake. He watches and waits. He prays. He bends His will to His Heavenly Father’s will.

We are not to learn to watch and wait from the five wise virgins. But from Christ. And not even simply to learn. Isn’t Christ in the parable proclaiming Himself to us? And in that proclamation aren’t we becoming like Christ? Isn’t the only way we can bend our will to our Heavenly Father’s through receiving a new will in Christ? Isn’t the only way we would live as Christ would have us live through being formed as a new creation in Christ?

The way of the five wise virgins is the way of faith. They lived by faith. They waited. In the same way the disciples fell asleep in the Garden of Gethsemane, even when the wise virgins fell asleep, they were sustained in their faith that the Bridegroom would come. Just as the Garden of Gethsemane was not about the disciples but about Christ, the parable of the Virgins is not about them but about the Bridegroom. Even when He delayed His return, they were ready with their lamps and extra oil. The problem is not that He is delaying, but with being unprepared for it. Everything is bound up in the delay. The reason the virgins have to wait is because the Bridegroom is waiting to come back. All the virgins were the same in that they were expecting the Bridegroom. But the five who were foolish were different in that they didn’t expect there to be a delay. If He’s going to come back, why would He delay? So when Jesus Himself delays He teaches us that we are to watch and wait.

Not taking the oil is as if to say, Okay, Jesus, come on back, I’m ready. But you’re not ready. You’re not ready because you want Him back on your own terms, not on His terms. That’s why He makes you wait. It seems foolish to take the oil. Why would you need it? He’s coming back, don’t you trust that He’ll do so? And if He does, it only stands to reason that it will be soon, why would He delay?

But the faith is in the bringing of the oil. Trusting that He will return even if it’s much longer than was expected. That there’s purpose in His delaying things. That it’s actually for good. There was time before to get oil to bring along. But instead of taking the time to do that, the foolish ones just went. Then, when they realize they need more oil, they spring into action. At this point, it’s too late.

When the people jeered Noah for building a huge boat when there was no rain in sight, let alone any kind of storm or flood so that it could actually float, Noah simply watched and waited. God delayed His action, but Noah kept the faith. When the fateful day came, he and his family entered the ark and the door was shut. No one else could come in and they were lost. In the same way, the five foolish virgins were shut out of the wedding feast and were lost.

Watching and waiting is the life of the Christian. The Christian lives by faith, not by what he must or must not do. He lives by faith because Christ has been born in him and is alive in him. The Christian has life in Christ and lives by Christ. Watching and waiting.

Like the child in Confirmation Class who can’t see the purpose for going over and over the Catechism in order to memorize it but who sticks with it because the Holy Spirit is working through that memorizing to produce understanding and strengthen faith. Watching… Waiting… The Christian faith isn’t grasped in a simple way, in a short period of time. It’s a laborious process of memorizing, learning, growing.

Like the Christian who is spending every spare moment caring for her elderly mother who is getting to the point of needing to be on life support. So much energy is spent on alleviating her pain, trying to make her comfortable, strumming up encouragement to fend off despair, wondering and praying what good God is bringing out of this. Watching… Waiting… Struggling with coming to terms that God’s blessings often come through struggles.

Like the man who is finding it hard to trust God when the economy is hitting him hard and thus his family. Waiting and watching, praying to God that He’ll get him through, that he’ll be able to take care of his family. Believing, but praying in his unbelief that man does not live by bread alone but by the very Word of God.

Like the Christian who does what Christians always do, praying for our government; praying for our leaders. Watching and waiting. Content to continue to serve our society in the various vocations God has called us to. Patiently dispensing with illusions that we Christians can change society to be godly and God-fearing, where life is cherished from the womb to the death bed. Rejoicing in the call to continue with the one message that has always been true and that goes beyond the issues we face as a society. The Gospel changes people’s hearts—including ours—not policies.

Stewardship is not about how much money you put in the offering plate. You can always give more, or be expected to give more. You’ll always be encouraged or guilted into putting more time into helping others. Stewardship is not those things. Those things come out of watching and waiting. Stewardship is patience, believing that Christ will come to you and in His own good and gracious time. Stewardship is rejoicing that His delay doesn’t mean He doesn’t care but that He instills in us a reliance on Him through His coming to us in His Word and Sacraments. Our Lord is delaying in coming again in glory, but there is no delay in coming with His forgiveness in His Word and His Holy Supper. It is good to wait on the Lord. To watch and wait and rejoice in His serving us and giving us salvation. Amen.


Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Way of God

All Saints’ Day [Observed]
Commemoration of the Faithful Departed
Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
November 2, 2008
Matthew 5:1-12

I invite you to join me on the way. It’s the way the saints who have gone before us walked. It’s a way that’s not immediately appealing. It’s the way of God.

Jesus said of Himself: I am the Way. He wouldn’t have said that had He meant that the way we are to go is so that we may be blessed. This is the way many people hear the Beatitudes. If you are poor in spirit, blessed are you. If you mourn, you will be comforted; if you are meek, you will inherit the earth; and so on. What Jesus says is, “Blessed are those who are such and such a way.”

The Beatitudes are not commands. They’re not even exhortations on how we should be and should live; although there’s as an aspect to them that certainly implies this. What they are are descriptions of who the people of God are. The people who are on the way. The people of God are the people of God because of Christ. If the Beatitudes were conditions of how Christians should be there wouldn’t be any Christians. But they are descriptive of Christ. He alone is truly poor in spirit. He alone is truly meek. He alone is the Son of God.

When God gave the Ten Commandments to His people, He didn’t say, “You’d better live this way or you’re not My people.” What He said was, “You are My people—now this is how My people live. They have no other gods. They do not misuse My name.” And so on.

We are the people of God because He has made us His people. Because of the Son of God we are sons of God. Because Jesus Christ alone is righteous and paid for our sinfulness we are declared righteous. And thus we are on the way. The way of God.

But we run into a buzz saw, don’t we? Those Ten Commandments really nail us to the wall, don’t they? They have a way of convicting us when we see that we don’t live in the way God would have us live. Staring in the face of the Ten Commandments, we are found wanting.

But this is God’s way. His way is the way of Repentance. The Ten Commandments drive home that we fall short of the glory of God. The Law impresses upon our hearts and minds repentance. A turning to God. A realization that we are our own god, that we really don’t want to live the way God would have us live. We’re very comfortable living the way we’d like. All those important things in our lives we don’t want just to be important, but left free from God’s intrusion with His curbs and rules. We’re insistent on our First Amendment rights of free speech, telling God to take hike when He insists we don’t use His name for common exclamations. And while many of us are comfortably in the habit of being in His House on Sunday mornings, we resent the constant badgering that we ought to be in His Word daily and in the consistent study of His Scriptures in Bible Class.

It’s hard enough at times to honor our parents. But God really puts us to the test when He adds government to honor and obey. For most of us it would be easy to go through life without murdering someone. But with God it’s always deeper than that. We can’t even hate, or even think ill of others. And with God it seems a never-ending litany of rules and restrictions: not just adultery or homosexuality, but living together outside of marriage and lust; not just stealing, but taking advantage of others; not just lying about others, but spreading things around that are meant to be private; not just not envying what others have, but helping others maintain what they have.

If this is a mirror, we see that we most definitely do not fit the description Jesus paints in the Beatitudes. So how is it possible? It is possible in what the Beatitudes are: not just statements of blessing—words of blessing Christ speaks to us and in the very speaking of them bringing them about in us. This is the way of God. It is the way of faith. He brings us to repentance so that we may walk the way of faith. Faith is that realization that without God and His eternal love for us in His Son Jesus Christ we are without hope. We are left to our own devices, and through the Ten Commandments we see where that leaves us.

But the way of faith is the way of trust. That when God says He will bless us He will bless us. That when He says we are His people, we are His people. That when we are poor in spirit, in mourning, meek, peacemakers, persecuted, that these are not bad things but good things. It takes faith to realize that and believe it. It takes faith to rejoice in these things. Because Satan would have us believe that these things are pretty weak and pathetic. The world mocks us that we are to rejoice in things that don’t bring us immediate gratification or wealth or prestige or security. Our sinful flesh rages against such boring things as being in the Word of God or rejoicing when we are vilified for our holding faithfully to that very Word of God.

How it is that you can rejoice in such things? Because what God would have you do, how He would have you live, what He gives you is not conditional. The very faith He demands is the very faith He gives. The description of who we are as the people of God is not simply a description—it is a gift. It is what God Himself brings about in His very speaking of it to you and me. He doesn’t tell you how He wants you to live and then leave you to it. He doesn’t tell you how He wants you to live and only then He’ll bless you. He brings about what He says. When He says to you that you’re blessed, you’re blessed. When He speaks His forgiveness to you, you’re forgiven. When He says you’re His son or daughter, you’re His son or daughter.

And that is the way of God. Holy living is not, You’d better live in such and such a way and you’ll be blessed; or, so you’ll be blessed. Holy living is the gift of God. Holy living is what we pray for in the Lord’s Prayer. His will is done through His Son Jesus Christ. His Kingdom comes through His Son. Our daily needs are met because He has reconciled Himself to us through His Son. We are forgiven and forgive others because it is no longer we who live but Christ who lives in us. We are delivered from temptation because Christ has been tempted in every way as we are and yet without sin. We are delivered from evil because Christ has conquered evil. He is the Victor over sin, death, hell, Satan, and our sinful flesh.

His blessings overflow. They began in Baptism and are nurtured and sustained in His Absolution and His Holy Supper. The way of faith is the way of the cross. Righteousness is at the center of the Beatitudes. That means that Christ is at the center. We hunger and thirst for righteousness—which means we hunger and thirst for Christ. This is the way of God. It’s a way that may be disconcerting at first. It may be disconcerting all the way. The way of God is not our way. God’s way never makes sense to our limited minds and our selfish sinful flesh. But the way of God is not something to aspire to but to be received. This done for you, my dear friends in Christ, in Christ. By Him, because of Him, through Him. He gives you eternal blessings in His Holy Supper. He gives you Himself.

That’s what you need. That’s why when He gave you the Beatitudes He wasn’t saying, Here, get these straight and then we’ll talk. He was saying, Here is My gift to you: Here I am. This is the way of God, Christ for you. Amen.


Sunday, October 26, 2008

Will You Please Get Out of the Way?

Reformation Day [Observed]
Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
Sunday, October 26, 2008
Matthew 11:12-19

I think it’s fair to ask the question why we still cleebrate the Reformation in our day. Is it because we want to honor Martin Luther? Celebrate sixteenth century German culture? Lutheran theology? Maybe it’s a reason to have another festival on the Church Year calender, or a party, which we will be later on today with our Oktoberfest.

If these are the only reasons we’ll be celebarting Reforemation Day then we should get rid of the festival. Because the Reformation is not primarily about these things. It’s about us gettting out of the way. That’s what today’s Gospel readng shows us, as if it’s saying to us, will you please get out of the way? The Reformation is nothing if it’s not about Christ. The Reformation is all about Christ, which means that we need to get out of the way.

Some may think the Reformation is about Martin Luther. In a similar way, some might think that the ministry of John the Baptist was about John the Baptist. But what these men did was not about themselves. It was always about Christ. God sent them to point people to Christ. You could describe their message as, “You need to get out of the way.”

Has it ever happened to you that you read a passage in Scripture and you think it says something and then you come to find out that it really says something else? That happened to me with what Jesus says in the Gsopel reading: “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.” I had always took this as “from the days of the beginning of the Church until now” God’s Kingdom has suffered violence. The history of the Old Testament bears that out. But what Jesus actually says is that in the short time between John the Baptist coming onto the scene until now, when Jesus was speaking these words. This was just a short period of time, a few months, maybe a year or so. Of course, it’s true that the Kingdom of God has suffered violence from the beginning. But it’s as if Jesus is saying, as much violence as has been suffered in the Kingdom of God, you’d think it would stop when the Messiah has come on the scene. But no, it’s just the opposite.

That’s because people weren’t getting out of the way. The whole purpose of this is to see Jesus. Take John, for example. Jesus said that “the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John, and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come.” So was it about John the Baptist? Was his role as God called him to be the Forerunner of the Messiah about himself? No, Jesus says that he’s Elijah. It’s not about John, it’s about Jesus. John knew that he had to get out of the way. He wasn’t sent for himself, he was sent to call people to get out of the way and point them to Jesus. That’s why he said of himself that Jesus must increase but I must decrease.

This is what Jesus wants us to hear. He who has ears, let him hear, He says. What are we going to hear? Will we expect Jesus to tell us what we’d like to hear, or what He has to say? Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of Christ. If we get out of the way then we will hear. If we’re in the way we won’t be hearing what He has to say, which is that it is in Christ that we have life. Not by hearing what we want to hear about ourselves. That’s getting in the way. We need to get ourselves out of the way.

What does Jesus say about those people He’s talking to? “But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’” They know the rules, but even though they want to play the game, they want to play by their own rules. When children are calling others to play along with them the others refuse because they don’t want to play by the rules. If a dirge is being played, then mourning is called for. If festive music is played then dancing is in order. But people don’t want to get out of the way, they want things on their own terms. So do we wonder why we need to talk about Reformation? Are we any different than the generation that Jesus spoke to in our Gospel reading? Don’t we need to get out of the way also?

If we look at John the Baptist and Jesus we see what it means to get out of the way. John came not for himself but to point to Christ. And yet that’s not what everyone saw. For his strange ways, some accused him of being demon possessed. On the other hand, Jesus came and He certainly couldn’t be the Messiah, as He said He was, because He didn’t live in the circumspect way that the Messiah ought to. He’s no Messiah, He’s nothing but a glutton and a drunkard. And look at the kind of company He keeps, He associates with disreputable people. In each case the problem was that people couldn’t get out of the way. They wanted John the Baptist on their own terms. Jesus, on their own terms. When we refuse to get out of the way, we miss Jesus.

Oh, we might see Him. But we will miss Him. We won’t see Him for who He is. Because we won’t see our true need for Him. “Wisdom is justified by her deeds.” Because this is not about you. It’s not about me. It’s about us getting out of the way. True wisdom is Wisdom incarnate, wisdom in the flesh. Jesus Himself is wisdom made known to us and it’s by His deeds on which all of this turns. If we simply get out of the way we will see this. We will see that getting out of the way is the only way.

How do we do it? Do we stop coming here, into the House of God? That might seem a logical way to “get out of the way.” But no, this is right where we need to be. It might seem like an odd thing to do, to preach to the choir. But the choir is exactly who needs to be preached to, along with everyone else, of course. Why do we, who are here week in and week out need to be exhorted to be here week in and week out? Because we need to get out of the way. The way to do that is in being in the place where you’re not doing the work. Where you are receiving. Where God is gracing you with His gifts, blessing you by His action—through Word and Sacraments—by getting you out of the way and getting Himself into your life. So that it’s all about Him, not about you.

It’s most fascinating that when it’s all about Christ, and not about us, that with Christ it’s all about us, and not about Him. When He served, when He suffered, when He died, it wasn’t for Himself. It was for you and me and the world. If we get out of the way we’ll see that. We’ll see Him. For who He is. For what He has done. For who He has called us and created us and saved us to be. Amen.


Sunday, October 19, 2008


Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost
Sunday, October 19, 2008
Matthew 22:15-22

It seems that the Church Year, which has been around for a lot longer than our country, has brought us a timely topic in the Gospel reading. Jesus’ famous saying to render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s shows that God has something to say about our relationship to government. A timely topic with the election just weeks away and our nation facing a financial crisis. The Bible is clear that we are to obey government. God has instituted government for the good of society. Taking Jesus’ teaching on giving to the government what is owed it and to God what is owed Him doesn’t help us out much in who to vote for and how to get through the financial crisis.

There’s something bigger going on here. You and I could each give a list of all the big things going on in our lives. At the same time, we collectively are facing an onslaught of issues and disagreements and views on how best to run the country. For months we faced skyrocketing gas prices. When it seemed we were finally getting a break from them we were hit with a meltdown on Wall Street. Last year we were reeling from out of control fires, as if we hadn’t gone through enough three years before. As some are again flaring up around the region we wonder if we’ll be hit again. People are facing uncertainty with employment or with the value of their house, or if they’ll even get to keep their house. We live in uncertain times on the world stage with wars that don’t seem to have an end in sight and economies crumbling around the world and the continual threat of terrorism.

Sometimes the big problems may not seem to press down on us. They may not seem to affect our day to day decisions. The relentless pace of our lives may give us more than we can handle without having to worry about what’s going on in the world, let alone the nation. If we’re struggling with problems with our kids, facing stress at work, in conflict with our neighbors, constantly bombarded with health problems, we may wonder when we’ll get a break. When you’re living in a fallen world, the problems you face can seem relentless. When you’re surrounded by sinners along with yourself there will be no end to difficulties.

But Jesus has something to offer you. And it’s much more than a trick for knowing how to walk into the voting booth on November 4 or whether to buy or sell stocks. He has something to offer you in the barrage of difficulties you face.

If we weren’t flies on the wall, as the Holy Spirit has allowed us to be with Matthew’s comment that the Pharisees were trying to bring Jesus down, we might think that the men who came up to Jesus posed a legitimate question. In the same way, if Jesus weren’t God and had simply taken the men’s words as they stood, He would have had reason to believe that they were asking Him a fair question. After all, isn’t what they said about Jesus true? “Teacher, we know that You are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and You do not care about anyone’s opinion, for You are not swayed by appearances.”

It’s true: He’s genuine, He’s the real thing. And, yes, He does teach the way of God faithfully. At the same time, He is not swayed by the mere opinions of people. He is God. He is a Rock when it comes to being the source of truth and acting on it. The question they ask is indeed a legitimate question. We have those same kinds of questions today. The campaign this year has shown that there are many disagreements about the role of government in society. Even among us Christians, what does it mean to obey government while still being faithful to God?

The men who approached Jesus weren’t interested in His opinion. They didn’t care about His teaching on the matter. This was one more attack on Him, one more attempt to bring Him down. The religious leaders were relentless in their attempt to get rid of Jesus. And He knew it. His answer silenced them. They couldn’t believe it. They had been foiled again. How could they bring this guy down? Matthew says that they left Him. Did that mean that their relentless pace was finally slowed down? No, it means that they left Him at that moment. They would emerge again at an opportune time. We know that they would finally be successful in bringing Jesus down as they would arrange things so that He’d be hanging on a cross by the end of the week.

No, the relentless pace continued. Jesus’ entire three year Ministry was a constant barrage of attacks from them, of being tempted by the devil, and of facing struggles and problems. I don’t know how you’re feeling today, and how you’re doing with all that’s going on on the big stage of the world and the nation or in your personal life, but I don’t imagine it’s any worse than what Jesus had gone through in His Ministry.

What was different is why He went through it. You’re stuck. Sometimes you can’t get out of the mess you’re in. When life’s relentless pace seems to kick it up a notch, you may feel like you’re just hanging on. Jesus put Himself in the thick of the problems and sin of this world. When you’re struggling to overcome a habit that’s causing you heartache, before you can get a leg up on it, new temptations overcome you. If the issues facing our society are enough to cause you to despair, you may wonder what hope there is for you to be a Christian. When all the little things in your personal life pile up so that you’re racing like mad to put out fires here and there, you may wonder if there’s any solace in the new life Christ has given you.

Don’t walk away from here today glad that you have a better attitude about how you’ll vote or what you can better do to manage your money. Walk away from here rejoicing that you have received what Christ gives you. And that is Himself. With everything God commands us there is a blessing involved. When Jesus says to render to Caesar what is Caesar’s we can rejoice that God cares enough about us that He doesn’t leave societies to their designs but institutes order for the well being of people and the punishment of those who cause others harm. Before you wonder about our government, just think about the government of Jesus’ day, the government of Caesar—he declared himself to be God. When we pay our taxes we also have the opportunity to pray for our government, pray God to guide and bless our leaders, that they would lead in a godly way.

When Jesus enjoins us to render to God what is God’s we can rejoice that no matter what condition we live in, whether we live in a free country or not, all that we have is from God. Blessings in this life are granted freely by God because He loves us. But if the relentless pace of life has you wondering if there’s more to life than simply trying to keep your head above water, then know that rendering to God what is God’s means that all who we are and what we have is from Him because He has reconciled Himself to us. It’s easy to put blame on others or government for our problems, but we are too often like Caesar, putting ourselves before God. If the financial crisis has you down, do you trust that God will keep you in His care—no matter what? When you’re facing one thing after another in your personal life and you just want it all to go away, are you refusing to rejoice in the blessings God gives you even in the midst of trials?

Let us not test God. Let’s instead render to Him the confession due Him. Confessing our sins, acknowledging our lack of trust in Him, seeking our solace in Him alone. The relentless pace of problems in our lives is unmatched by the relentless pace of God in loving us and serving us. Rendering to God what is God’s is done through the Son of God. Living in peace is not being free from difficulties but in thanking God for salvation in the one who was marred beyond recognition. When all you see around you is things falling apart, look to see the one who is in the center of it all, the precious Lamb of God, the Son sent by the Father to rescue us not from financial collapse or even sickness but sin and hell. Our country may rise or fall, but God has prepared a place for you in heaven which will remain. God is relentless in His love for you, His unfailing love upholding you through the temporal things and gracing you in His presence for eternity. Amen.