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Freed from Guilt September 17, 2017

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Genesis 50:15-21

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

September 17, 2017

 

Focus:  God forgives even our guilt.

Function:  That the hearers bear no grudges, either of their own guilt or another’s against them.

Structure:  Sermon Outline by Rev. Paul Philp.

 

Freed from Guilt

 

Our text today comes from the Old Testament reading out of the book of Genesis.  We find an account of eleven brothers who expect death.  They expect to receive the death penalty at the hands of the man second in command over all of Egypt.

Many years prior, when Joseph was still just a boy, he started to have dreams of authority, dreams that said that he would one day see his brothers bow down at his feet.  For one of the youngest of twelve sons, that was probably pretty enticing.  And he certainly gloated about it, on more than one occasion.

And while his father, Jacob, was perplexed by these ideas, his brothers weren’t very pleased.  Dad’s favoritism surely didn’t help, nor did that beautiful and luxurious cloak that dad gave to Joseph.  So, over the course of time, they grew to hate their brother, they came to despise Joseph.

Until one day when they saw an opportunity.  They were working out in the fields, and saw Joseph approaching and began to dream up ways to get rid of him.  To put an end to his gloating, to his favored status in the home.

At first, they were going to kill him.  But the oldest, the heir of the house, Reuben, convinced his brothers to spare Joseph.  And so, instead of killing him, they lowered him into a cistern, a giant hole in the ground, perhaps even a well.

The brothers then sat down for a meal, and as they were eating, they noticed a caravan off in the distance. A travelling group of slave traders related to their great uncle Ishmael.  The Scriptures don’t say where Reuben was, just that he wasn’t there and wasn’t aware.  And so, in his absence, the brothers decided to make a little coin, to make a profit off of their hatred.  Rather than kill Joseph, they could both get rid of him, and make some money.  It was a win-win, for them at least.

Obviously, they never expected to see Joseph again.  Nor did they care.  They were just willing to kill him, so they certainly didn’t care what happened to him as a slave in some other land.  So from the perspective of the brothers, we can skip over most of the life of Joseph.

Joseph is sold as a slave to Potiphar of Egypt and then winds up in prison.  After being God’s spokesman to Pharaoh in the interpretation of some dreams, Joseph is given a position of authority, as second in command over the land of Egypt.  He’s tasked with managing the abundance of food for seven years of feasting, that the people would still have food come the seven years of famine.

As the famine years began, food grew scarce.  And not just in Egypt, but even the surrounding lands, including the land of Canaan where Joseph’s father Jacob and the rest of his brothers lived.  So Jacob sends the brothers to Egypt, not just once, but twice to buy food for their family. It isn’t until their second visit that Joseph reveals himself to them.

Where would they be?  Having just seen their brother’s face, knowing what they’d done to him, and now the position of power and authority that he had over them.  The food was his.  He literally was in the position to watch them starve to death or simply have them killed.

But that’s not what Joseph does.  Instead, Joseph forgives and feeds them.  He even invites them to move down to the neighboring land of Goshen with the hopes of seeing his father again.  It’s been a good solid twenty years at least.

But after several more years pass, Jacob dies.  And the brothers fear Joseph, again.  They doubt his forgiveness to them.  They question if he wasn’t just being nice to them for the sake of dad, to keep the family together.  And now, with dad no longer there to protect them, they feared Joseph would get revenge against them for their wickedness.

That’s our text today.  They come up with a ridiculous lie to get Joseph to forgive them.  Their guilt from sins decades ago still haunts them.  For no reason.  Joseph has already forgiven his brothers.  And even now, they still live in that state of forgiveness.  There’s no grudge.  There’s no plot of revenge.  But again, Joseph had to speak kindly to them and comfort them, reassuring them of his forgiveness for them.

There are multiple angles of law in this text.  The first is guilt.  Guilt is the result of a conscience, of God writing His law, His commands upon our hearts.  And so when we sin, when we break God’s law, failing in our vocations, abandoning our responsibilities, we feel guilt.

This is what the brothers wrestled with, as do we.  We can all think of things in our past, mistakes made, friends hurt, neighbors neglected.  We aren’t really capable of forgetting our sins.  And the devil and our sinful flesh love to use this against us.

Many of us here today can identify one or more of those things that still make us feel guilty.  For the words you said to your parents as you rejected their authority.  For the pain you inflicted on your friend when you betrayed their trust.  Even for dumb sins we did decades ago.  We still hold onto that guilt.

Another law angle on this same topic, though, is: why?  What did the brothers actually fear?  They feared Joseph’s retaliation.  They couldn’t trust the forgiveness of their brother.  We’ve done that.  We’ve earned that.

We have held the grudges.  Sometimes for decades.  Sometimes dividing families so that they never speak again.  And so the person who feels the guilt of their sin fears coming to us.  They fear confessing their sin to us because we’ve held it against them before.  Because we’ve acted on revenge before.  Because we heard the words, “I’m sorry, please forgive me,” and we rejected them.  We chose to hold on to our betrayal and our hurt, and in our pride, we only furthered, only deepened the pain and the anguish and the guilt and the despair of our neighbor.

That’s what the brothers expected: revenge, punishment.  They expected it because it was what they were used to.  That was the way things work.  It’s still the way things work.  In this world.

But not before God.  Joseph is a type, a foreshadowing, of Christ.  The way he responded to his brothers, to their wickedness, and even to their guilty conscience was the way that Christ responds to us.  Joseph endured the pain and the loss and the suffering of his brothers’ betrayal.  He spent years as a slave, many in what we could only imagine being spent in miserable conditions.  But in doing so, he wasn’t plotting revenge.  He forgave his brothers.

Christ endured our betrayal.  It was our betrayal, our sin, our guilt that sent Him, willingly, that He willingly hung on the cross.  That He didn’t seek out revenge, He didn’t seek to get even, He only muttered the words: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)

Jesus Christ in His sacrifice for us overcomes our sins.  He took them from us.  He bore them upon Himself.  We are free.  We are freed from our grudges that we hold against others.  We can give them up.  Like Joseph, we are free to forgive one another and to break the shackles of hatred and despair.  We are free to be reconciled with all people.  Christ did that for us.

Still yet, it’s not just our grudges that He forgives.  It’s all of our sins.  And so that guilt that you’ve been carrying around since you were seven, that guilt is on Him.  He carries that burden for you.  You don’t have to.  If you’re still carrying it, pray.  Ask the Lord to take it from you.  Ask the Lord to grant you reconciliation, to bring forgiveness into your broken relationship, with whoever that may be.  Ask the Lord to wipe away all grudges and all guilt.  Because He has and He does.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, hear the beautiful words of the Apostle Paul as he greeted the church in Corinth:

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge— even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you— so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

 

“Our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord.”  In Christ, you and I are guiltless.  He took them, all of it, for us.  For you and for me.  As Joseph’s brothers came to realize that his forgiveness was genuine, and they trusted in him again, so we too, can know that in Christ’s death and resurrection, that His forgiveness of all our sins is genuine.  And we are indeed guiltless.

 

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From Him, Through Him, and To Him August 27, 2017

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Romans 11:33-12:8

Proper 16

August 27, 2017

 

Focus:  God tears down the prideful but builds up the humble.

Function:  That the hearers offer themselves as a living sacrifice through service to their neighbor.

Structure:  Walking through the Text.

 

From Him, Through Him, and To Him

 

One spring, two ducks and a frog became close friends on the small, local lake where they lived.  As summer came and the heat of the sun began to dry up the lake, the ducks grew concerned.  They could fly somewhere else to find a new home, but what of their friend, the frog?  After thinking for a while, the ducks came up with an idea.  They decided to share a stick by each grabbing an end in their beaks.  The frog could then hang on to the stick with his mouth as they flew him away to a new home.

While they glided over a nearby farm, the farmer looked up and was amazed at the ingenuity.  “Hey, what a great idea!  Who came up with it?”  And as the frog opened his mouth to yell out, “I did!” well, let’s just say he croaked.

There’s an old saying that pride comes before the fall.  And this is something that Pastor Fritsch spent some time last week exploring in his sermon on how the Scriptures teach us to think about racism.

We looked at the Tower of Babel, where the goal of the people was to build a tower so high, that they would make a name for themselves.  That the world around them would look to them and their power.

And it’s always been this way.  The early church around the fourth or fifth century came up with what we now call the Seven Deadly Sins, based largely on Paul’s writings in Galatians 5.  But of these seven sins, they identified pride as being the chief sin, and the one that leads to all the others.

And this is still the way it is today.  While we as Lutherans don’t normally talk about the Seven Deadly Sins, we do currently live in a culture that’s built on pride.  From the view of capitalism, companies take pride in their work and in their products, and even in their bottom line.  We see their statements of self pride become ads, slogans, and even t-shirts we pay them to wear for them to advertise for them.

On a social level, pride in equality, pride in our differences, pride in our progress.  On a national level, pride in our military, pride in our government, pride in our institutions.  Patriotism or national pride.

On a more personal level, we are taught from childhood that we should take pride in ourselves and our own accomplishments.  We are taught individualism, that we have to stand up for ourselves.  That we have to work for what we want.  If you want something in life, you have to take it.  That we should be proud of who we are.  That we are all special. We are taught that whatever we believe to be true is true.  We must believe in ourselves.

We can debate any particular one of these.  Maybe there’s a place for some, maybe not.  And not everyone is taught each of these things.  But my point in listing them out like I did was just to show you how much pride is a part of our worldstory in this culture.  Really, in any culture.

But our epistle reading today calls us out of pride and into humility.  The last part of chapter 11 is a helpful reminder: we’re not God.  We can’t even figure out all the secrets of nature and our existence.  We don’t know what’s inside a black hole.  We can’t cure every disease.  We can’t even agree on whether or not the earth is overpopulated. Or apparently, flat.

There are limits to our existence, limits to what we can accomplish, limits to who we were made to be.  The turning point verse of this particular pericope today is 11:36 – “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things.  To Him be glory forever.  Amen.”  The more I pondered that one phrase, the more richly I saw it.

FROM HIM – Things flow out of God.  All things come into existence because of God.  Here we can truly cherish the beauty of creation and the beauty of life.  These things are gifts from the Father, from God Himself.  Your hands, your hair, your feet, your lungs, your ability to breath, and walk, and run, and laugh, and cry.  These things are all from Him.

And while sin and pride may not come from God, He does have the answer to them.  He watched us, He watches us, as we revel in ourselves, in our own pride, in our own ability, in our own institutions.  And as we live day by day not even giving Him a thought, what did we get from God?  Was it wrath and destruction?  Far from it!  From God, we received life and salvation.

God sent His Son Jesus Christ to be our Savior.  A gift, from God.  His response to our sin and our pride and our death is forgiveness, forgiveness that flows from the pierced side of Jesus Christ, from the nail scarred hands, and from the scourged flesh.  But coming down from that cross is not wrath, but love and life in Jesus.

THROUGH HIM – John introduced his gospel account, the third verse by saying that “All things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made.”  John connects Jesus to creation.  It wasn’t just the Father’s act, but it was an act of the Trinity.  We were made in the likeness of God, in His image, through His speaking.  He spoke, we live.

A favorite verse for many people also uses this language.  “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”  Philippians 4:13.  Now, granted, this verse is usually taken out of context.  What Paul was actually saying to the Philippian church was that through his trust in God alone, he could face any challenge this sinful world had.  Beatings, imprisonments, going before Caesar to tell him he’s not God.  Enduring times without food, times with plenty of food.  Times of great need, times of abundance.  With faith in God, Paul knew that whatever came, good or bad, through faith in God, Paul could point them to Christ.

And that’s the last turn of the phrase.  TO GOD – Where do all the verses of Scripture point us?  Where does all of creation point?  All of these things are meant to point us to Christ.  To God.  As we talk about liturgy, every part of the divine service used by Lutherans around the world points us to Christ.  Nearly everything up here points us to Christ.  Bonus points if you catch me after church and tell me what doesn’t!

Everything that we are as the people of God is to point others to Christ.  Think about that for a moment.  Why are we commanded to love our neighbor?  Is it so we can all get along?  Is it so they can live a happy life?  Is it so we can benefit a little bit, reap the rewards of a good relationship.  I have sweet tooth by the way, just gonna leave that here.

Not at all.  We are to live our lives loving our neighbor not for our good, but for theirs.  We love our neighbor to point them to God.  To Christ and Him crucified for them.  This is where Paul is going, both in the Philippians verse and here in Romans.  This is why chapter 12 is all about not pride, but being humble.

Paul calls on us, as brothers, as children of God, to sacrifice ourselves.  Not in a gruesome, bloody way, but in love.  True love is giving of yourself for the benefit of another.  I’ve become convinced recently that that’s the definition of what it means to be a man.  To give of yourself.  Self-sacrificial love as Christ gave Himself up for us.

Whether it’s racism last week, pride today, or any other topic, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”  Our worldstory, our very identity as Christians is not as Americans, but as children of God.

And it’s a humble identity, as we realize that everything we do points others to Him.  As Paul writes in his letter to the Corinthian (10:31) church, “whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”  And so he continues to instruct his fellow Christians in this section.  He comes as clearly as he can in verse 3 that we should be humble, that we should put others before ourselves.  That we should love our neighbor.

It took me a long time to overcome the individualisms that I’d been taught.  It almost stopped me from being a pastor.  And I mean that, I had spoken to the seminary, to the proper people about leaving my first trimester.  I had a foot out the door.  I just couldn’t understand original sin.  I didn’t get it.  It wasn’t fair or just for me as an individual to be blamed, held accountable, and punished on account of something I didn’t even do.

And even today, I know that individual pride still lurks in my life, and still clings to me as I try to live to the glory of God.  I see it in my life, in my home, in my work, and I truly rejoice that God sent His Son to die for all of us.  That in Christ all of our sins are forgiven, all of our punishment, paid for.  All of our death, defeated by an empty tomb.

Paul spells this out.  What does this look like?  What does it look like to be the people of God?  We are the body of Christ.  Each and every one of us is a part, a member, of the same body.  Paul gave this speech more than once, to more than one church.  Maybe you’re a hand, maybe you’re an eye, or an ear.  Each person has their own place within the body.  Not as a thing of pride, or a “You owe me one.”  No.  As an interdependent family.  We, as the people of God, trusting in Him for all things, live life together, as a church, as a community, doing all things to the glory of God.

Whatever vocations you have, God is working through you in those various roles in your life to share His love, His provision, His forgiveness, His Son with the people around you.  And so Paul encourages us to do our vocations precisely as they are.  If serving, serve, if contributing, be generous, if leading, do it with zeal, with passion.  Do all to the glory of God.

 

 

When in Doubt, Shout Out! August 13, 2017

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Matthew 14:22-33

Proper 14

August 13, 2017

 

Focus:  God saves His people even in their doubts.

Function:  That the hearers worship the One and only God of heaven and earth.

Structure:  Rev. Dr. Andrew Bartelt’s outline.

 

When in Doubt, Shout Out!

 

This section of Matthew’s gospel account actually begins with an interruption.  We’re trying to focus on the ministry and life of Jesus Christ, but on multiple occasions now, the life and ministry of John the Baptist has broken in to the history of Jesus and His disciples.

It starts in the third chapter, as John the Baptist is doing what God sent him to do.  John is preparing the way for the people to see Christ.  He’s living in the wilderness, preaching about repentance, teaching the people, baptizing anyone he could, and even rebuking the Pharisees.  But at that point, Jesus arrives, and John disappears from Matthew’s account.

We don’t hear about John again until we get another interruption.  Jesus is teaching His disciples a series on the cost of discipleship: that they will be persecuted, that Christ’s gospel will cause divisions, but that the disciples should have no fear, and that the good news of salvation is theirs.

And then messengers come from John.  We learn at this point that John’s been arrested and is likely doubting his faith.  “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”  The words Jesus sends back speak to who Jesus is and what He’s come to do.

“Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”

 

Jesus is declaring to John and John’s followers the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy in Isaiah 35.  The promise of a new creation is here.  Jesus is bringing it to us.  And at this, John disappears again.

Until we come to our chapter today.  At the beginning of chapter 14, again Matthew interrupts his telling of Jesus Christ by inserting something about John.  And this time, it’s his death.  Jesus and the disciples come to learn that John the Baptist has been beheaded at the command of King Herod.

There were already doubts as to who Jesus was and what He was doing.  And now, one of the most loyal followers of Jesus has been killed by this ruthless, false kingdom.  Where is this kingdom of God?  Where is this new creation?  Who are you Jesus?  And why don’t we see any progress?

The answer that Matthew provides to his reader is three-fold.  Three things that Jesus will immediately say and do that shows His authority, His rule over this creation, that His kingdom is already here.  We see the feeding of the 5,000, the walking on water and calming the storm, and the healing of the sick with just a touch of His garment.

First, our gospel account from last week.  No longer drawing on the prophecies of Isaiah, Jesus connects Himself directly to Yahweh.  He takes the Exodus account of the Israelites and He inserts Himself into it.  Just as God fed the Israelites in the wilderness after they fled Egypt, so now Jesus feeds the crowd of 5,000+ with table scraps.

And in our account today, Jesus proves that He has the authority over creation itself, to even defy the laws of physics, which He created.  Just as He did to save His people in the parting of the Red Sea, now Jesus shows His authority over wind and wave again.  Our text today isn’t about you being able to walk on water or do supernatural things.  Our text today is about who Jesus is, and how He saves us even from our doubts.

Because Peter is, and the other disciples.  They’re doubting.  They were facing a storm, but the text is specific.  The storm was battering the boat, but the disciples weren’t afraid yet.  Sure they were stressed, but they’re trained fisherman, this is what they do. Fear doesn’t enter the account until the disciples see a figure approaching them on the water.  It is their encounter with the God Man Jesus Christ, whom they still don’t fully know or trust.  They call Him a ghost, and they cry out in fear.

Jesus encourages them to have courage and faith.  But they still doubt.  Even Peter’s question is doubt.  He’s asking for a sign, a “prove it” moment.  “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”  And then even when Jesus consents and answers Peter’s demand for proof, it still isn’t enough.  Peter steps out on the water and begins walking towards Jesus.  But as soon as he remembers the wind and the storm, he stops trusting in Christ, doubting the Lord again.

But as he plunged into the sea, in a mixture of confusion, fear, doubt, and faith, Peter cries out “Lord, save me.”  Which, happens to be what Jesus’ name means, “He saves.”  And that’s precisely what Jesus does.  To this poor brother of ours, mired in a mess of both faith and doubt, Jesus saves him.

And as they step back onto the boat together, for the second time in Matthew’s gospel account, Jesus calms the storm.  He shows His pure authority as the Creator of creation to control even the waves, as Job recorded, “Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed.”

When Jesus calmed the storm back in chapter 8, it was amazement on the face of the disciples.  They were wowed by first article of the creed stuff, by God being the author of creation.  “And the men marveled, saying, ‘What sort of man is this, that even the winds and sea obey Him?’”

But now, we see a change.  This time, the disciples respond in light of the third article of the creed.  They confess their faith. “And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’”  Jesus again identifies Himself as the God of the Old Testament, revealing Himself as Yahweh of the Exodus who parted the Red Sea, showing mastery over the waters of creation in order to save His people.

Our connection to this text isn’t about walking on water or performing miracles.  Our connection to this text is that we also have a mixture of doubts and faith.  We do not trust in the Lord for our daily bread, for good weather and government, or for a roof over our head.

We talked about this in Bible class just last week.  When it comes to your need for protection, where do you turn?  When it comes to your need for someone to provide for you, where do you turn?  When it comes to your need to be loved or to belong, where do you turn?

Every government in human history has tried to set themselves up as the answer to those questions.  They aren’t.  They’ll disappoint you time and time again.  We turn to our spouse or family for these things.  But even they can’t actually meet them.  We trust in other things, like money, or politics, or our own abilities.  But it is truly a struggle to trust in Him alone.

We also have “prove it” moments as Peter did.  If God would just heal me, I would go to church every week.  If only God would get me out of this financial disaster I’m in, I will be generous to others.  If God would just do ______, I will know that He is truly God.

We get where Peter’s coming from because we’re right there with him.  Whether it’s fear, suffering, darkness, despair, or maybe even martyrdom, we find ourselves drowning in our sin and crying out “Lord, save me!”

And, He does!  That’s what Matthew is teaching the Jews as they walk through this entire section. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God Himself.  He’s not just a man, but He is our living Lord.

And by His death on the cross, He’s answered our call of distress.  He reaches down into the pit of your despair, into the treachery of our sins and our doubts, with the gift of forgiveness.  Forgiveness spoken to you in His Word through Absolution.  Forgiveness washing over you in His Word through the waters of your baptism.  Forgiveness welling up inside you as a living water, through His Word in the Lord’s Supper.

Jesus Christ suffered and died on the cross to defeat sin, death, and the devil once and for all.  But even more precisely than that, He then gives that victory, that forgiveness, that life to you through His Word and sacrament.

So when you have doubts, when your faith is twisted in confusion, you can know precisely where to shout, “Lord, save me!”  Right here.  Right here where His promises are proclaimed, and you have His assurance of forgiveness and life.  You can see it, you can hear it, you can touch it, you can even taste it.  Here in this place, we’ve joined with the disciples in seeing Jesus for who He truly is, the Son of God, our Lord and Savior.  And to Him alone we give our worship and praise.

Compassioned Boldness August 6, 2017

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Romans 9:1-5

Proper 13

August 6, 2017

 

Focus:  God gave everything in His love for us.

Function:  That the hearers share Christ’s bold compassion with their neighbors.

Structure:  Parallels.

 

Compassioned Boldness

 

Just how far are you willing to go?  How much are you willing to sacrifice for those people you hold dear?  The loved ones, those closest to you.  Your spouse, your children, your best friend, your parents.  How much would you give of yourself to ensure their wellbeing?

What if we change the person, to say, the person sitting a few pews either behind you or in front of you?  How much would give up of yourself for that person?  Would it be difficult to say that you’d give up just as much?

What if we change the person again, but this time, to the person who lives three doors down from you, whether that’s apartments in a hallway, homes on a block, or for you farmers, about a mile, how much would you be willing to give of yourself to care for that person?  For your neighbor?

And if you’ll allow, let me push this one more time.  How much would you be willing to lay down of yourself for the person you despise the most?  The person who has caused you the most harm, or the most embarrassment?  The person who has literally stolen from you, belittled you?  What would you be willing to give that person?

In America, we have a logical worldview on this subject.  What I mean by that is the way we look at others, the way we treat others, makes sense.  We understand.  We understand if you love a good friend who loves you.  We understand if you are angry with the person who’s been gossiping about you.  We understand if you want revenge when someone has done great harm to you.

But the problem is, this logical, American way of thinking isn’t Christian.  This isn’t what Jesus taught.  It isn’t how He instructed His disciples to live.

Instead we get a fascinating text today from the letter Paul wrote to the church in Rome.  “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.  For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.”

Many of you still remember The Titanic movie, but even more of you still remember the story.  This giant vessel crashing into an iceberg and plunging into the depths of the ocean.  The people flooded to the lifeboats, but there weren’t enough.  So what happened?  Well, in that time in our culture, men sacrificed themselves.  The women and children got the first seats.  The men offered their lives to save others.

That’s an extreme example from our history.  But it pales in comparison.  Paul just said that he would willingly trade places.  That if he could, he’d give up not just his life, but his everlasting life if it meant his Jewish brethren would come to know Christ, and receive everlasting life.

Now, you and I, and Paul, we know this isn’t how it works.  It’s not a seat on a boat, it’s not something Paul could trade, or even sacrifice.  But it’s a powerful statement and illustration.  The Apostle Paul was a Jew.  Born a Jew, raised a Jew.  Studied under the best teachers they had.  He was one of them, and he was in a position to be one of their leaders, if he wasn’t already.

And then it all changed.  On the Road to Damascus, when Christ appears to Paul and strikes him blind, and directs him to go on into the city where he will receive further instructions.  Paul, before losing his sight, saw the resurrected Christ.  Or, at the very least, heard His voice.  And upon reaching Damascus, the Lord sends Ananias, who heals Paul and baptizes him.  And Paul is saved.

Now, this didn’t sit well with his old Jewish friends, teachers, and well, any of them.  And Paul began to suffer at their hands.  His own list in 2 Corinthians 11 is astounding:

“with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. 24 Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. 28 And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.”

 

Beaten, and not just with fists.  The lashings, the stonings, the imprisonments and torture that Paul endured at their hands.  And yet, instead of wanting revenge, instead of wanting to see them get what was coming to them, which would have been a very natural reaction, what did Paul want for them?  He wanted nothing more than to see them know Christ and be forgiven for all the pain and all the wretchedness that they had caused.

There was no grudge to be found.  In fact, just the opposite, compassion.  Paul would give up his spot for them if it worked that way.  Praise be to God that it doesn’t work that way.

Because God’s plan is infinitely better.  God’s plan was that His own Son Jesus Christ would step down into this world, taking on flesh, becoming a man, born of the virgin Mary.  That this Jesus, this Son of God would then at the hands of God’s own people endure beatings, and lashings, and even a death by crucifixion.  And that as He hung there upon the cross, rather than free Himself or call down His Father’s wrath, Jesus called out, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34).

Even in His dying breaths, Jesus was accomplishing what He came to do.  To forgive all people.  To forgive every man of every time and every place.  To forgive every sin committed past, present, and future.  That Christ did not hold a grudge against the wickedness of mankind, but gave His life in our place.  Spilled His blood so that we would not have to.

This is the gospel!  That you and me, in spite of our sins, in spite of our brokenness, in spite of our open and obstinate rebellion against God: you are forgiven, you are saved!  The compassion that Jesus had for His people led Him to be so bold that He would even willingly die for us.

The compassion that the Apostle Paul had for the people around him, even those we would consider his enemies, enabled him to be so bold that he would continue to preach the good news of Jesus Christ and the forgiveness of sins and the life everlasting in His name.  Paul didn’t cower, he didn’t step back and wait for God’s wrath.  He went to the people who needed forgiveness, who needed love, who needed a Savior, and He gave them the good news.

We are forever grateful that this good news has been proclaimed to us.  And to 2 billion other people alive today who have heard the good news and believed in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.  And it’s not just those living, but the countless men and women that heard and shared this same gospel proclamation in the generations from Paul to us.

And so it is that this same good news overflows in us.  We share the love of Christ with our neighbor.  We look upon them, no matter who they are or what they’ve done, with compassion.  And it is this compassion for them, as it did for Paul, that leads us to be bold.  To proclaim the truth, to proclaim forgiveness and life in the name of Christ.  To our spouses and children.  To our best friends and parents.  To the people in the pews around us or the neighbors down the way.  To the very people who have done us harm.  We give of ourselves, we sacrifice of ourselves to give these people the opportunity to hear the good news of Jesus Christ.  To hear of the forgiveness of their sins and our sins.  To hear of the gift of life that is for all people.

A Triumphant Promise July 16, 2017

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Isaiah 55:10-13

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

July 16, 2017

 

Focus:  God’s Word always accomplishes His purpose.

Function:  That the hearers come to the feast.

Structure:  This is true in this way…and in this way…and also in this way, with thanks to Dr. James Voelz.

 

A Triumphant Promise

 

For many of us, faith comes easily when things go well.  When our family is healthy, our economy strong, our jobs secure, these things can be a boon to our faith.  We see God’s hand at work, we see His blessings in our lives and we rejoice.

But along this way of thinking, faith becomes difficult when the work of God is no longer obvious.  When we can’t see His plan of salvation unfolding in our lives or in the lives of those we love, our faith can be challenged.

This was almost always the case for the people of Israel.  While we won’t focus on their wilderness wanderings, you can find a good dozen examples of this challenge there without much effort, today we are focusing later on in their history.  The prophet Isaiah is called to proclaim the Word of the Lord unto His people in the eighth century BC.  He is their prophet, the bearer of God’s Word.

The people no longer saw the work of the Lord in their midst.  And because they couldn’t actively see Him working, many had given up hope, even stopped believing in God altogether.  And paired with their unbelief was a vast display of wickedness, of disobeying the commands of God.

Isaiah’s writings that we have today are written both prior to the exile of the Israelites, and also during their exile.  That on account of their wickedness and their unbelief, God used the Assyrian army to put an end to this faithless nation.  They were captured; their homes were destroyed; men, women, and children led off in slavery and servitude into a foreign and hostile land.  Chapters 40-55 are written to these people to give them back their hope; to call them to look to the Lord, to look to Yahweh for their comfort and their deliverance.

Isaiah in our text today gives us this good news:  “so shall My word be that goes out from My mouth; it shall not return to Me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”

The Word of God does not return empty.  It does its job; it fulfills its purpose.  This Word to the Israelites in captivity was this:

Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price… Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David. – Isaiah 55 verses 1 and 3

 

The exiled Israelites hear an invitation, an invitation to a feast where money is no object.  Whoever is thirsty, whoever is hungry, let him come, let him be gathered to the Lord’s Table.  They are invited to come, to trust in God, and to enjoy His gifts.

And in this same invitation, God gives His Word to them of a brand new covenant.  They had made a covenant with God before, which they broke, which explains their exile.  And yet, here God is in the midst of their time in exile reaching out with His Word offering a new covenant, offering a covenant without end, offering them life.

Part of this promise of life and of a new covenant was the promise of a Messiah, mentioned any number of times in the writings of Isaiah, the promise of a Savior, of one who would deliver His people from their enemies.  Which brings us forward in time again to the time of the 1st century, to a land now controlled by Rome.

Those who carried on in the traditions of their fathers from long ago, those people were still called Israelites.  Despite their struggles to believe, there was restoration to those who put their hope in God.  There was comfort again.

But as we have moved forward many generations, once again that hope is scarcely found.  These people have lost sight of the work of God in their midst, of His saving hand so graciously upon them.  And as they struggled against the tyranny of a Caesar and his men, many set aside the promise of a Messiah.

At least, that is, until One came.  And when the true Messiah came, Jesus Christ, the Son of God Himself, taking on flesh to deliver His people, the people saw their hope restored.  The promises of God were grasped again, and they began to long for God’s kingdom to come.

And even though these people got it wrong, even though they thought a deliverance from enemies meant a rescuing from the hands of an imposing, earthly king, the Word of God being fulfilled, the Word of God accomplishing its purpose, didn’t depend on them.

As the true Messiah, the true and ultimate deliverer of His people, Christ came and willingly died.  From a worldly perspective it made no sense.  But His enemy to be defeated was not of this world.  The enemy to be defeated was sin, death, and the devil.  This could be done by no champion of the sword.  This could only be done by the Son of God Himself, laying down His life to fulfill a promise, to succeed in His purpose.

Before His death, Jesus once again spoke of this new covenant.  He entrusted it to His disciples, that we would take and eat of His body, take and drink of His blood, and that in so doing, we would receive the very forgiveness of our sins.  That in that body and in that blood, that Christ so willingly shed the very next day, all the sins of man, all the triumphs of the devil, would be destroyed.

The feast Isaiah foretold long ago broke into this world in the form of Christ’s body and blood.  Of bread and wine where money is no object.  Where forgiveness and deliverance and restoration all take place at the Lord’s Table.

So now as we proceed to jump forward another twenty centuries or so, we find ourselves in similar shape.  We find ourselves like the Israelites in their exile, or the Jews in their Roman occupation, we find ourselves waiting.  We have the very Word of God, a Word that He has promised does not go unfulfilled.

And yet, we find ourselves struggling.  We have an unease among us.  A despair.  We hear of an entire generation of people, the so-called millennials, who’ve lost sight of God’s Word, and of His promises, and so they’ve abandoned His house. Which has led the current leaders of the church to worry and fret over the church’s future.  Who will takeover?  Will the church still exist?  But these doubts fall short.  It isn’t just the millennials.  It’s not unique to any one generation of people.  Not much has really changed since the pre-exiled Israelites.

We, too, live in a time of challenge.  We watch as the leaders of the nation we live in and would seek to honor, seek themselves to dismantle Christendom.  They mock God and pretend He doesn’t exist.  They seek to mislead His people, to cause them to doubt His Word, and to doubt His salvation.

For generations, predictions of the death of the Christian church have rung out over and over again.  And each time, these predictions fail.  Because they are not God’s.  They are not His Word, and so they indeed go out, and they return empty.  Whether the millennials return to God’s house in droves or not, the Church of God cannot be destroyed.  Whether there is only one or billions of people hearing His Word, the Church of God cannot be destroyed.  Because the Word of God goes out and accomplishes it purpose.

And so we wait.  As generations before us, as generations even before them.  We hear the Word of God, these promises given to us, and we wait.  In the history of His Church, we have seen these promises fulfilled.  We have seen the Word of God go out, and we have seen it accomplish its purpose.  The promise of a grand feast that knows no bounds.  The promise of a covenant, of life everlasting that cannot be silenced or cut off.  We have heard the invitation.

Allow me to extend to you the invitation to join me here in this place next week for that same invitation, to partake of a heavenly meal.  For it is not just the restoration of a small nation of people.  It is the restoration of all people. Of all who put their hope and their trust in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

We wait for the Parousia, that is, the second coming of Christ, when all things are restored to the way they were created to be.  We wait for the completion of the promise in and through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  His Word, His promises to you, have been proclaimed, and they do not return empty.

The feast Isaiah foretold long ago broken into this world in the form of Christ’s body and blood.  Of bread and wine where money is no object.  Where forgiveness and deliverance and restoration all take place at the Lord’s Table.  The invitation is yours, and I’ll see you there.

 

 

What I Want to Do I Do Not Do July 9, 2017

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Romans 7:14-25a

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

July 9, 2017

 

Focus:  God does it all.

Function:  That the hearers confess their wretchedness unto the Lord.

Structure:  This is the problem…this is the response of the gospel, with thanks to Rev. Dr. Joel Biermann.

 

What I Want to Do I Do Not Do

 

Our epistle reading today has to be one of the clunkiest sections in all of Scripture.  It’s a tongue-twister.  Give it a try yourself, read the text aloud as quickly as you can and see how you do.

When some people read Paul’s writings here, they say this can’t possibly be him.  The person being discussed is a wretched failure of a disciple.  He knows what he should do, but he doesn’t do it.  He knows what he shouldn’t do, and those are the things he does!

Others read this as a good excuse.  “See, even Paul couldn’t do it, so why should I bother?  I might as well just do whatever I want.”  Paul’s failures here are used as an excuse to sluff off, to stop trying.

But while this text most certainly is about Paul, it’s not just Paul, is it?  We develop habits in our lives.  I want to get up at this time, go to sleep at this time.  This is the week where I finally kick that bad habit that’s been nagging me for years.

We set goals for our marriages, for our families.  I will love my spouse always.  Without hesitation, I will forgive them when they fall short, as I pray they will do for me.  You look to milestones in your relationship with your children, confirmations, graduations, grandchildren.  You plot out goals in your career, goals in your friendships, goals in your hobbies.

And all of these goals are meant to push you.  To push you forward, to make you stronger, wiser, more faithful, whatever it may be.  And so you attack.  You work and you work, and you work.  You put in the extra hours, you sacrifice.  The goal is right there before you, and yet, you can’t quite reach it.

In fact, you fall flat on your face miles short of the prize.  The average New Year’s resolution is a bust fifteen minutes after we wake up on January 1st.  Okay, maybe that’s made up, but you know exactly what I mean.

Failure is our common lot.  It’s what we do.  We put solid, good, faithful things in front of ourselves, and we want to do them.  But no matter how hard we fight, no matter how hard we try to achieve them, we don’t.  This isn’t just Paul, is it?  It’s each and every one of us.

So, how is it that the person who wishes to be faithful, who earnestly seeks to serve God and to serve his neighbor ends up in such a train wreck?  Haven’t we been called to be disciples?  In our baptisms, haven’t we been cleansed, our sins washed away, the Old Adam drowned?  Weren’t we made new?

Why is it then that the Old Adam remains?  Why can’t I do the things that God wants me to do?  Martin Luther in his Preface to the New Testament explained it this way:

“Then he [Paul] shows how spirit and flesh struggle with one another in a man.  He uses himself as an example, in order that we may learn how properly to understand the work of slaying sin within us.  He calls both the spirit and the flesh ‘laws’; for just as it is in the nature of the divine law to drive men and make demands of them, so the flesh drives men and makes demands.  It rages against the spirit, and will have its own way.  The spirit, in turn drives men to make demands.  It rages against the spirit, and will have its own way.  The spirit, in turn, drives men and makes demands contrary to the flesh, and will have its own way.  This tension lasts in us as long as we live; though in one person it is greater, in another less, according as the spirit or the flesh, and he fights with himself until he becomes wholly spiritual.” – Luther’s Works (Fortress Press, 1960), 376-377

 

It’s a back and forth.  A battle between the old and the new. The new man, the new creature is here.  Through the work of the Holy Spirit in His Word and the water at your baptism, God made you new. He freed you from your slavery to sin, rescued you from the pits of death and despair.  You are His.

And yet, the old man remains.  He is your nagging shadow, the thorn in your flesh that just simply won’t leave you alone.  Sometimes he gets the upper hand and convinces us that we want our sin.  Other times, daily drowning our old Adam by remembering our baptism is an easy task.

You are simultaneously a fallen sinner, and justified in Christ.  We are both broken, and restored.  Paul was both chief of sinners and the lead apostle of the church to the Gentiles.  This is the reality that you live in each and every day.

This section from Paul rebukes two extremes which I highlighted at the start of the sermon.  The first is the idea on the one end that we can achieve perfection in this life.  Because we have been set free, because the old Adam is drowned, because we are a new creation in our baptism, we can do the works of God.  And if we can do them, then we must be able to reach the point where we can do them without failure.

Despite the fact that Paul already was teaching against it, and the Lutheran reformers taught against it, this idea is still prevalent among Christians today.  The Catholics call it the consecrated life.  The Methodists talk about it as full salvation, entire sanctification, or being perfected in love.  These teachings lead Christians to despair.  “You should be able to be perfect, so why aren’t you?  What’s wrong with you?  Don’t you have faith?”  “Why can’t I do this?”  This idea simply isn’t what the Scriptures teach.

But neither is opposite end, the idea that we, as Christians, are free from the law and can do whatever we want.  You may hear people talk about their “Christian liberty.”  The Reformers called these people “antinomians.”  People without a law.   In this case, you end up with, at best, mediocre discipleship.  There is no striving any more to do what God has laid before you to do.  This too, isn’t what the Scriptures teach.

Again, let’s hear from Luther as he wrote his commentary on Romans:

In this way, then, you should understand chapter 7, where St. Paul portrays himself as still a sinner, while in chapter 8 he says that, because of the incomplete gifts and because of the Spirit, there is nothing damnable in those who are in Christ. Because our flesh has not been killed, we are still sinners, but because we believe in Christ and have the beginnings of the Spirit, God so shows us his favor and mercy, that he neither notices nor judges such sins. Rather he deals with us according to our belief in Christ until sin is killed.

 

As we cry out together with the Apostle Paul, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” we have an answer: “Thanks be to God–through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

God looks not on our sin, but on His Son.  This is the gospel, the good news to you and to me.  Jesus Christ’s death on the cross, paid for your sins in full.  Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the tomb rescues you from the old Adam within you that seeks to drag you down into the pit of hell.

God does it all! Forgiveness and life are His gifts to you, each and every day. This text that strikes us as so confusing is actually very simple. The Law of God is good. We’re thoroughly evil.  God is supremely gracious to us.  Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, strive to keep the Law, remember your baptism, and cling to the promise that it isn’t up to you.  But no matter how well or poorly you do these things, know that salvation is yours already in Christ alone.

While We Were Enemies June 18, 2017

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Romans 5:6-15

Second Sunday after Pentecost

June 18, 2017

 

Focus:  God spilled His own blood to save even His enemies.

Function:  That the hearers rejoice in God.

Structure:  Walking through the Scripture.

 

While We Were Enemies

 

That thunderstorm we had right at the beginning of the week was a doozy.  Nearly two inches of rain, the skies colored a dark greenish gray, lots of rumbling thunder.  I know I didn’t want to step out in it, even though it happened at the time that I would normally leave the office!

That storm claimed one of my neighbor’s trees.  Split it in half right down the middle.  And thankfully, even though it fell on his house, the damage was nothing beyond a dent in his gutter.  But just like I didn’t want to go out into the storm while it was still raging, neither did my neighbor.  That tree stayed there for a while until the storm had passed.  Then a couple of neighbors gathered together, cleared the debris, and cut down the rest of the tree.

I bring this up because we know that word “still.”  It didn’t make sense for him to fight while the storm still pounded us.  Just like it doesn’t make any sense to grieve the Twins season being over when they’re still in first place.  Just like it doesn’t make any sense to forgive your neighbor while he’s still actively, intentionally harming you.

This is Paul’s choice of language in our text today.  And he uses it three times.  “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.”  Now, we can’t understand this one.  This is part of the hidden will of God.  Why was 1st century Jerusalem the chosen place and time for the appearance of Christ?  Surely, had He come today, how many more people could have had the opportunity to see Him with all of our technological advances?  But it was the right time.  And I’m prone to believe that even if He’d come today, He’d have met the same fate.  Because we were weak.  We didn’t understand the things of God.  We didn’t know God.  And so we killed His Son.

The next verse makes sense in context.  “For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—“  Pit those two examples against each other.  The righteous person being the one who has faith in God and is neither afraid nor ashamed to share both the Law and the Gospel with his neighbor.  How many of your neighbors love it when you tell them they’re wrong?  And the so-called good person is the one that the world views as good.  While few people would willingly die for the speaker of truth, there are some who would die for the false heroes of this world.

But that’s just it.  We’re neither.  You and I were, in the next “still,” still sinners.  We weren’t righteous, nor were we good.  And yet, in spite of this, Jesus Christ willingly laid down His life for us.

He poured out His blood, willingly, upon the cross, even asking the Father to forgive those people who nailed Him to it.  And it is now in this blood of Christ that we are justified.  Justification, how are saved?  How are we made right again in the eyes of God?  Paul puts it simply, “we have now been justified by His blood.”

But that’s not the end.  God didn’t sacrifice His Son as some half-baked scheme that gets us partly to heaven.  No, not at all!  God sacrificed His Son as the full plan of our salvation.  That’s the third “still” Paul uses.  “While we were enemies.”  Rebeling against God, slaying His Son, cursing His name.  And in this, He chose to save us, to reconcile us, to restore our relationship to Himself.  In His blood, you not only have the forgiveness of your sins, a marvelous gift indeed, you also have the gift of salvation, of life that knows no end.  Because God didn’t leave His Son in that tomb.  But raised Him to new life, just as He will for you.  That’s a promise that you know He will keep.

In verse 11, Paul states the obvious.  On receipt of this good news, we rejoice.  We rejoice in Christ for all He has done for us.  That while we were still weak, sinners, and enemies of God, He sacrificed everything to show His great love for us.  This means many things.  Rejoicing means we take comfort in knowing that God set us free from sin, death, and the devil.  It means giving thanks to God for all these wondrous gifts that He so richly and overwhelming gives us.  It means trusting in His promises and receiving them regularly as our source of hope in this life.

Another way by which we rejoice is that we share.  For example, let’s say I had twenty tickets to tonight’s Twins game as they clash with the second place Indians.  And, for whatever reason, I hand you all twenty.  You can’t possibly use all twenty tickets, there’s just one of you.  So, what do you do with the other tickets?  Pause.  You spread the gift around.  You invite family, or friends, or anyone off the street who can make the trip to see the game.  You want to share your gift with others.

That’s how God’s love works, too.  He so richly and generously showers us in His love that we love our neighbor.  As new creations in Christ through our baptisms, this is what we do.  We take that gift of forgiveness, and we forgive our spouse when they wrong us.  We forgive our coworker when they fail to complete the task that we were counting on them to do.  We forgive our neighbor when they gossip against us.  And in all of this, we forgive them out of Christ-like love.  Not because they’ve earned it, not because they deserve it, simply because God forgives us, so we forgive one another.

This is one of the most profound ways by which we can tell our neighbors about Christ.  And they are in need of Christ just as much as we are.  That’s the twelfth verse of the text today, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.”  Each and every one of us is in need of God’s love, forgiveness, and salvation in His Son.

Sometimes we get tangled up by the next two verses.

13 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.

 

These verses Paul simply uses to show the power of sin.  Even when the people hadn’t known the law, sin still reigned, and the result, the consequence of sin, that is death, still came upon all people.  Death reigned even before Moses presented the people with the law.

Paul then sets up for us the idea that Adam and Jesus are connected.  And we talk this way.  The first Adam, the former Adam, and then there’s the second Adam.  The sin of the first Adam brought sin and death upon all mankind.  Everyone he was supposed to care for.

15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many.

 

As I was leading the new member class this past week, we were looking at the Ten Commandments.  And right at the end, the close of the commandments, Luther includes the words God spoke just after the first commandment:

for I Yahweh your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. – Exodus 20:5b-6

 

So often we get caught trying to figure out why God holds grudges for three generations.  But that’s not the point.  The point of those words is that God’s love and mercy far outweigh His wrath.  Just like we see in 1 Timothy 2:4, “[God] desires all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.”

This is what we see in our closing verse together this morning.  Adam’s trespass, his sin of neglecting his wife before the devil neglects all of creation which was entrusted to his care.  We indeed carry the weight of original sin in this broken world.  But how much more grace in Christ is there?!

The free gift of salvation from Christ given to you by His cross and empty tomb overcomes your sin, your death, your wretchedness.  It doesn’t cancel it out so you have to try to do good.  It conquers it.  Christ’s love and sacrifice for you defeated your enemies.  And this statement is true for all people.  Trust in His promises dear brothers and sisters in Christ, and know that His gifts are yours.  So we rejoice and give thanks.

 

Magician with a Wand in the Sky June 11, 2017

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Genesis 1:1-2:4

Holy Trinity Sunday

June 11, 2017

 

Focus:  God speaks unto us the absolution of our sins in His Son Jesus.

Function:  That the hearers treasure their sins forgiven in the spoken words of Absolution.

Structure:  Illustration and application.

 

Magician with a Wand in the Sky

 

The pain of loss is still fresh.  Several of you may still be quite bitter about the whole ordeal.  On Saturday afternoon, May 20th, the lady Gophers’ softball team tested their mettle against the Alabama Crimson Tide.  And a true pitchers’ duel ensued, with just two hits through the first seven innings of play.

But as the pitchers tired, the bases got a little more crowded, and as they entered the bottom of the ninth in a still scoreless game, Alabama managed to load up the bases with two outs.  Stepping back on the hill with the count at three 3-1, Gophers’ ace Sara Groenewegen delivered a beautiful pitch, right over the plate, just above the knee.

But instead of hearing the umpire holler “strike,” the ump declared the pitch a ball, which walked home the only run of the game and put an immediate end to the Gophers’ season.

That was it.  No protest could be had.  No hope for overturning by replay, the declaration of the ump made it truth, made it history.  Even if no one else agrees, that pitch will forever be a ball.

So what does this have to do with us today?  It’s not the game itself that I want to focus on, it’s the act.  It’s the umpire’s ability to create reality with a mere word.  Because this is what we see in the Scripture today, and this is what the devil calls into question today.

In our Scripture today, from the very beginning of God’s revealed Word to us, we have His account of how He created the world.  I thought about playing around with the lights in here, but let’s face it, it’s summer, and even if I tried turning off the lights, it’d still be light.

It’s Trinity Sunday, we could easily stop and just focus on the verses that speak to God in three persons, as we see the Spirit of God hovering over the waters, as we see God speak in the plural, although that could still just be the “royal” pronoun.  We could look to John 1 or elsewhere in the New Testament where Christ Himself is credited with creating the world.

And yet there are several aspects of this small piece of Scripture that I found under fire and challenged by fellow Christians just this week.  God’s command to Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply causes a great deal of distress for American Christians today as it gets in the way of some of things we’d rather be doing.

But it’s not there either that I want to focus today.  I want to turn instead to an issue that strikes at the very heart of your faith.

Three years ago, the Pontiff of Rome, Pope Francis, declared that God is not “a magician with a magic wand,” and that instead God used evolution and the Big Bang to create all that we see and know.

The Pope leads the majority of Christians in this world.  There are roughly 2 billion Christians, and over half of them claim to be Roman Catholic.  But despite this vast responsibility that he faces, he buys the devil’s lie and cannot see the danger that he puts before his people.

There were a couple of accusations there, so let me unpack that.  First, feel free to find an article on his statement of the relationship between the church and the theory of evolution.  The one shared with me was from the British website, the Independent.  And the comments section below reveals the nature of one of the problems.  Most of the discussion is about how it only takes a few centuries for Christians to catch up with what science says is fact and that in a short while we’ll eventually realize that there are no gods in the skies and that religion is just a made up tool of men to manipulate others.

The Pope doesn’t realize he’s selling out God’s Word to please those who would discredit everything he holds dear anyway.

Another clear issue is the worldview that evolution creates and puts forth.  And it’s entirely irreconcilable to Scripture, to our faith.  Evolution argues that life began by accident and that over the span of millions and billions of years, we have been changing, advancing, evolving.  We began imperfect, and we’re moving toward perfection.  And those things that didn’t evolve, died off.  In evolutionary teaching death is a necessity before man comes into existence.

Christianity, the Scriptures, teach the opposite.  That man began perfect in the created image of God, but that on account of our sin, we broke, we destroyed this creation on which we live.  And death is now the result.  There is no death in the Garden of Eden prior to sin.  And the first death is the animal slain to make garments for Adam and Eve.

Evolution makes death good, necessary, and not a punishment for our sin.  Evolution therefore denies the need of a Savior.  Death is merely the natural end result of life, unless of course we can achieve perfection through technology and live forever.

This is awful.  And even most Christians these days buy into it.  We buy into the devil’s lie.  “Did God really say?”  Did God really say He created the earth simply by speaking?

That’s one of the truly impressive and awe-inspiring things about creation.  “Let there be light.”  And there was light.  “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters,” and suddenly, there was an expanse that God named heaven, and we usually call sky.  “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered.”  And we had oceans.  “Let the dry land appear.”  And we had land.

“Let the earth sprout,” and we had plants of all kinds.  “Let there be lights in the expanse” and we had the sun, and the moon, and the stars. “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let the birds fly.”  And it happened, and the waters were filled with life as were the heavens.  “Let the earth bring forth living creatures,” and we had all sorts of beasts brought to life.  “Let us make man in our image.”  And we ourselves have life.

With only His words, God calls creation into existence.  With just His words, God creates the world, the heavens, and the universe around us.  With only His voice, God speaks into existence all living things and fills His creation with them.

Now, let’s see if you get the picture.  Can you make the connection?  Like the umpire speaks truth into existence, speaks moments and actions into the history book, what else does God speak into your lives?  What is at stake here?

Pause

That one little lie of the devil calls into doubt your salvation, your certainty, your faith.  “Did God really say?”  “Did God really say your sins are forgiven?”  By calling into question God’s ability to simply speak things into reality, Satan calls into question God’s ability to declare you righteous.  In our circle, we call this act of God “forensic justification.”  That’s your $100 word of the day.

It means that God pronounces forgiveness to us.  That our faith that clings to the promises of God, to the promises of forgiveness, life and salvation in Christ and in Christ alone, that God looks upon us and sees the righteousness of His Son.  That He looks upon us and declares into reality that you are a forgiven sinner, that you are a child of God, that you are no longer held in bondage to sin, and death, and the devil.  But that in His Word and in His Sacraments, He has declared this truth yours, and you are a new creation.

This is the beauty of the gospel.  It’s not some out there far away thing to be grasped or understood.  It’s a promise spoken directly to you.  But more than that, it’s a promise declared to be true of you.  God speaks, and it is so.

“I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”  And you are His, you are welcomed into His kingdom, clothed in the righteousness of His own Son.

“As a called and ordained servant of the Word and by His authority, I forgive you of all your sins, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  And just like that the declaration is true and it is yours.  You are forgiven and sin clings to you no more.

“Take and drink, this cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.  This do as often you drink it in remembrance of Me.”  And again, the bread is body; the wine is blood; and your sins are forgiven.

These things are the truths to which our faith clings.  These are the realities by which we live and take comfort and have all hope in this dark time.  The Pope cannot hear these things.  He cannot see this way because he has bought the devil’s lie “Did God really say your works cannot save you?”

But you, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, you are not bound to the devil and to his lies.  When you see them, when you hear them, call them what they are: deceit and a defeated enemy.  Because that is what they are.  Christ has already triumphed.  Satan and his minions and even death, Christ has already defeated by His cross and empty tomb.

Faith clings to the promises of God.  Have faith dear brothers and sisters, cling to the very words through which God speaks forgiveness as reality for you.

 

Given that We May Know Him May 28, 2017

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John 17:1-11

Seventh Sunday of Easter

May 28th, 2017

 

Focus:  God gives us His Son that we may know Him.

Function:  That the hearers are one as the Father and Son are one.

Structure:  Walking through the Text.

 

Given that We May Know Him

 

This morning we have a peculiar text.  It doesn’t seem to fit the calendar.  Our gospel reading today from the account according to John is best known as the high priestly prayer.  What do you know about this prayer? Pause for answers

  • Spoken by Jesus
  • Prayed to His Father
  • During Holy Week, moments before the arrest

 

We have a wonderful opportunity to look at how Jesus prayed.  This isn’t about how we are supposed to pray to God.  Jesus already gave us that in the Lord’s Prayer.  No, this is a wonderful opportunity to see what the Holy Trinity was up to the day before the crucifixion.

But that’s just it, isn’t it?  This is Holy Week, Maundy Thursday to be precise.  We would expect this reading before Easter, not after.  Not during our celebration of the resurrection.  Any ideas as to why we’re getting it now?  Pause for answers.

Let’s walkthrough the text and see if it becomes more clear.  Before we begin, though, just the quick note that this prayer lasts from verse 1 until verse 26, but our text only goes through 11.  So you’re not getting the whole high priestly prayer today, but there’s enough here for our benefit, without a doubt.

1When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you,

 

Jesus had just finished a section of teaching, teaching about the work of the Holy Spirit, about His own death, about the peace the disciples would have in Christ no matter what the outcome may be.  And so He begins to pray.

We have to stop with this verse and talk about glory, as the words “glory” and “glorify” show up six times in this small section.  When we say something or someone has glory, we mean that they are worthy of honor, respect, praise, adoration, even worship.  And then to glorify something is to lift it up as worthy of having glory.  To point to something or someone and say, “This is worthy of our respect, our praise, our worship.”

And so the hour has come, indeed, the hour has come in which the Son of Man will be lifted up.  “Glorify Your Son.”  That is what happens on the cross.  His suffering, His pain, His bleeding, His sacrifice given for us.  The cross of Christ, Him lifted up, glorifies the Christ.  It is there, in His body and His blood that we know our sins are forgiven.  And so it is there that we know He is worthy of our worship and praise entirely because He is God.

And it is this then, the act of forgiveness of sins, the act of atonement, the act of restoring us to our creator, to God our Father in heaven, this act glorifies the Father.  Because in our newness of life, in being new children of God through the work of Christ, we can see the Father.  We can know the Father.  And in knowing the Father, we adore Him.

since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.

 

The Father has given all things into the hands of His Son Jesus.  We see this clearly spelled out in several epistles, but it’s here, too.  The Father entrusts His world, His creation, into the care of His Son.  And Christ is faithful.  In His death and in His resurrection, He does give everlasting life to all who believe in Him.

And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

 

Earlier this week, Christian blogger Matt Walsh wrote a challenging piece on this idea.  He was calling out Christians on the lack of respect, the lack of praise and worship that we show to God.  His challenge was essentially this: the Scriptures teach us that we in everlasting life will spend all our time praising God, worshiping Him. So why is it, that now in this life, many, maybe all, Christians, can hardly be bothered to do so?

630 members in this congregation.  How many of them are here today?  How many will I see in the pews all summer?   And an even smaller number are in Bible class each weekend.  And an even smaller number than that devote time to daily devotions at home.  If we can’t get around to spending time with God now, and sometimes even disdain time with God now, you know God forbid this service goes over an hour, maybe we should rethink either how we’re living this life, or our expectations of our everlasting life.

That’s good law.  I would suspect that truly hits all of us.  I know it does me.  We don’t worship God as often as we ought.  We don’t want to do the things He has laid out for us to do.  We would rather rebel, do the things, the sins, we enjoy, rather than enjoy time at His feet as the Word makes Him known to us.

And yet, He still glorified His Son, He still lifted up Christ for us, to make this known to you: your sins are forgiven!  Even this one, even your lack of desire for everlasting worship and praise.  I didn’t read Matt’s full article, only his shorter version, but my guess is, he doesn’t get to this, the forgiveness, the reconciliation of God and man.

I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.

 

The work the Father gave the Son to do is precisely what we just talked about.  Sure, it includes the miracles, the teaching, the fulfillment of the law.  But all of that leads Jesus to the cross.  To the work of the sacrifice which makes forgiveness ours.

And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.

 

When the Apostle Paul wrote to the Philippian church, we have that beautiful section about how Jesus gave up the glory of the throne for a body of human flesh.  Of how He humbled Himself to the point of death, even death on a cross.  This is God.  Jesus, alongside the Father and the Spirit, created all of this.  And yet, He willingly laid aside His heavenly crown for one made of thorns.

So now, in this prayer, Jesus is praying that that glory be restored to Him.  And while I don’t believe this is the answer to our original question of why we have this text today, it does fit.  “Glorify Me in Your Own presence.”  We think of Christ seated at the right hand of the Father.  And that He is, as we celebrated with the Ascension just this past Thursday.  Jesus reigns over heaven and earth.

“I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.

 

Jesus revealed the Father, Jesus made known the Father to us.  The Father entrusted His creation, His people to Jesus, that Jesus would then point His people back to the Father.  That goes back to the opening of the prayer, “glorify Your Son that the Son may glorify You.”  This is the point of the work of Christ, that He makes the Father known to us.

Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you.

 

Jesus may be a little ahead of Himself here.  The disciples, the followers that God specifically entrusted to His Son during His earthly ministry often didn’t get it.  They rarely understood His teaching, they often stood in awe and amazement at the miracles He performed.  But even in our inability to fully comprehend God, which simply isn’t possible, they got it.  We get it.  Christ’s authority is the authority of God.  He can heal a blind man, because He has authority over creation and the body.  He can heal the broken sinners of the world because He has authority over sin and death.

For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.

 

One of the things that Jesus had just told His disciples prior to this prayer was the saying that you all know full well.  “I am the Way, and the ______(Truth), and the _____(Life).  No one comes to the Father except through Me.”  The disciples heard the good news and they believed.  And now, as we do, through Christ and His gifts given to us, we get to know the Father as well.

I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours.

 

Here we remember that Jesus is praying.  He’s not teaching.  But praying.  And specifically praying so that the disciples can overhear Him.  This isn’t a prayer for the chief priest or for Pilate.  This is a prayer for the followers of God.

The very last words Jesus taught before launching into prayer were these:

32 Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. 33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” – John 16

 

After the arrest, the disciples do scatter.  After His death, they are overcome by grief, despair, and fear.  Yet they had the opportunity to hear this prayer of Christ, that no matter what may happen, He is God, He has made known to them the Father, and in the Father they then have everlasting life.

This brings peace.  This brings confidence and comfort in any and all troubles.  Even in their persecution that was to come.  Jesus has overcome the world.  For us.  And this means we need not fear the world, or sin, or death, or the devil.  We can live in the peace, confidence, and hope of Christ, because we have forgiveness and the promise of the resurrection.

10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them.

 

The Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are one God.  And so what is the Father’s is the Son’s and what is the Son’s is the Father’s.  And just as the Father gave Jesus work to accomplish that would glorify Him, that would cause us to worship the Father and be reconciled with Him, so also Jesus gives His disciples work to do, work that when we do it, glorifies Him, points others to see Christ and to give praise and worship because of His good and gracious gifts that He gives to us.

This is the sanctified Christian life, that we indeed continue to give God honor, and praise, and worship, but also that we would tell others of Christ’s love, His forgiveness, and the gift of everlasting life, that they too may then give God honor, and praise, and worship.  Doing these things doesn’t save us, Christ does.  Doing these things is simply something we do now that we are one with Christ, through the waters of baptism.

11 And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.

 

It is this verse that puts this prayer in our readings for the Easter season rather than Holy Week.  We were about to see Christ crucified, Peter’s denial, the disciples scattering in fear.  But Christ’s prayer here is that we would be one, just as He is with the Father.  And so we end the season of Easter this week reminded that we are to be one, as we prepare for Pentecost next weekend, where we see the birth of the church, united in Christ alone.  The reading from Acts this morning shows this.  It shows the one accord of the Apostles as they remained in Jerusalem, awaiting the gift of the Holy Spirit.

This wasn’t even the half of it.  I encourage you as you eat lunch today, open up to John 17, finish reading Jesus’ high priestly prayer.  And you will see there that He most certainly meant this prayer to include you among the disciples, that the Father would be made known to you as He was to them, and that as they know the love of God in Christ, through the forgiveness of sins and everlasting life, you would also know that love.  In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

 

The Gospel Goes Forth May 7, 2017

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Acts 8:26-40

Fifth Sunday of Easter

May 7, 2017

 

Focus:  God proclaims the risen Savior unto the world.

Function:  That the hearers proclaim Christ to others.

Structure:  .

 

The Gospel Goes Forth

 

You know the abuse of technology has gotten so bad when Millennials turn it into a game.  It’s not uncommon these days when a group of friends go out to eat together for everyone to take their phones out and place them on top of each other in the middle of the table. Take out my phone and place it on the pulpit. It’s called the “phone stacking game.”  Brilliant!

The basic idea of the game is that we’re out together and we ought to be focusing on one another and not whatever is on our screens.  But what makes it a game is this: no matter what, you don’t touch your phone until you leave.  It doesn’t matter if it rings, or vibrates, or buzzes, or beeps, or gets up and dances, or whatever phones do these days to tell you they want your affection, I mean, your attention.  You don’t touch it.

You don’t pick it up to take a snapshot of your food and then share it on Instagram.  You don’t pick it up to shoot a text message to your friend sitting right next to you.  You simply don’t touch it.

The first person who touches their phone buys everyone’s dinner.  That’s the game.  Dinner’s on you if you can’t control the urge.  It’s funny, but if we stop and think about it, how many times would we be stuck with the bill?

I once heard Rev. Dr. Dale Meyer preach on our text from Acts.  He serves as the President of Concordia Seminary in St. Louis.  But I want to paraphrase part of his sermon for you.  There’s a person walking down the sidewalk and they are at odds with themselves.  They’re anxious, confused, saddened.  It may be that they are wrestling with some notion of their own failure.  It could be the recent loss or impending loss of a dear friend.  And here the Lord has placed them in your path, and called on you to proclaim to them the good news of Jesus Christ.

Pick up phone, stare at it, and “walk by the person”

And you missed it!  Just like that, an opportunity to love our neighbor lost, because of my fixation on this dumb device.  We can’t even take our eyes off of it long enough to drive somewhere.  It’s in our bedrooms, at our dinner tables, the addicting screens are everywhere.  That dinner out example from before is one you’ve probably seen, right?  You go out to eat and look at the table next to you and everyone’s glued to their phone, even the baby.  You may not even have to leave your own home to see it.

But it’s not just our technology.  It’s also our fast-paced, over-burdened, over-worked, crazily busy lives.  On the off chance we do notice the person passing us by, how likely is it that we “have the time” to stop and strike up a conversation?  I know I’m guilty of this one.

We have to get to work, or we have to get home to get dinner ready, or we have to get to practice, or go this tournament, or we have to do this, or we must do that, and who suffers?  Well, actually everyone.  Our community is devastated by busyness.  Gadgets and calendars are partners in crime on this one.  We let them distract us from loving our neighbor.  Actually, we invite them to distract us from loving our neighbor.  How many have people have I ignored?

In our Acts reading today, the Lord specifically sends Philip on a mission.  He sends him to the road connecting Jerusalem to Gaza.  And it’s on this road that Philip meets the Ethiopian eunuch.  We don’t know much of anything about this man.  We don’t know even know his name.  But we know his title, and we know where he was and where he’s going.

This eunuch served as a court official to the Ethiopian queen.  He was in charge of her treasury.  That’s likely part of the reason why he was in Jerusalem in the first place.  Scrolls were rare and valuable, and so the queen is purchasing another piece for her collection.

But as he’s riding home, the eunuch opens the scroll and begins reading it aloud to himself.  And God directs Philip right to him.  As the eunuch reads aloud from the prophet Isaiah, Philip is able to make a conversation of it.  “Do you understand what you are reading?”  Easy enough question.  And the eunuch engages, “How can I, unless someone guides me?”

That’s a profound statement of faith.  The Apostle Paul in his writings to the church in Rome (10:17), says “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”  He was reading the Word of God, but couldn’t understand it.  And so God literally placed Philip in his midst to unpack the Word, to reveal to him how the entirety of Scripture points to Jesus Christ.

And beyond that, the entirety of Scripture proclaims Christ.  The Word reveals the Son of Man, the Son of God taking on flesh, becoming One among us, in order that He might fulfill all things and take our place.  Removing our sins, drowning our sinful nature, taking on death for us.

The good news is not simply about Jesus.  The good news is Jesus.  Christ’s death on the cross and His resurrection from the tomb put an end to sin, death, and the devil.  This is a glorious promise, a promise that must be heard to be believed.

And so it was, that Philip shared this good news of Jesus Christ with the Ethiopian.  It wasn’t Pentecost.  He’s not preaching and teaching before several thousand.  It’s one-on-one.  He’s engaging one man and his questions.  He’s hearing the concerns of one man, and pointing him to his Savior.

Sharing Christ with others can be intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. The opportunities are provided for you.  They’re all around you.  In fact, the opportunities are so abundant, you could do nothing else but share the gospel 24/7 and you’d still have opportunities missed!  That’s part of living in a sinfull world that needs Christ.  There is no shortage of broken sinners, us included.

Take the opportunity by being there.  Could be in person, could be on social media.  Could be a good friend, could be a stranger in need.  Engage in a conversation.  Learn how to ask good questions.  For example, instead of asking, “Did you eat dinner?” ask “What was the best part of your meal tonight?”  If you’re talking to someone like me, and you give me a chance to give a one word answer, you’ll get a one word response.  That goes for a lot of us guys.  Instead of asking, “How was your day?” ask “What happened in your day today?” or “What’s on your mind right now?” And, if they give an answer, hear it.  Listen, engage in a real conversation.

When we ask someone how they’re doing, and they respond with anything other than “good,” the moment turns awkward.  But it doesn’t have to.  Empathize. Ask what’s wrong.  Keep the conversation going.

Another part of sharing Christ with others is knowing how to divide and distinguish between law and gospel.  Where is your neighbor at right now?  If they are prideful and boasting of their sin, you don’t give them the gospel.  That will only make them feel enabled to sin deeper.  They need to hear law.  And conversely, if your neighbor is wallowing in despair over their sins, you don’t hit them with the law, which would only further crush them into dust, but you speak to them the sweet, comforting words of the gospel of Jesus Christ, of sins forgiven them.

If you want to learn how to distinguish law and gospel better, read the Word.  Hear it proclaimed in the Lord’s Church.  Come to Bible class.  In fact, this month’s Bible class is focusing precisely on this.  Literally, distinguishing law and gospel is our topic.

But it’s important to know that when we are attempting to point another person to Christ, we will likely be rejected.  Be prepared for it, at any point along the way.  They could reject the conversation.  They could get angry when you try to speak into their specific situation.  But also remember, ultimately, it’s not you they’re rejecting, but Christ.  Maybe that’s the good ol’ phrase, “don’t shoot the messenger.”

Philip delivered the message, personally, one-on-one to the Ethiopian eunuch.  And he then, to the best of our knowledge, returned to Ethiopia, and delightedly told his queen what he’d learned.  Church tradition holds that the Apostle Mark worked with the Christian Church that sprang up in Ethiopia, but it would appear the Word got there before he did.

This is God’s kingdom, and His work.  We simply rejoice that we’re part of it.  I was once naïve enough to think that the goal of every Christian ought to be to Christianize the world.  That’s not going to happen.  And even if it were, it wouldn’t be my work, but the Lord’s.

The goal of every Christian then is this: to faithfully proclaim Christ to your neighbor, and to rejoice in the forgiveness of your sins whether you succeed or fail.  Because we do fail, whether it’s by neglecting to even try, or if it’s by messing up in how we approach them.  But we are forgiven even of these things!  Christ’s death on the cross covers all of our sins.  All of them.  He removes them from us by taking them on Himself and taking them to the cross.

So we rejoice, we rejoice in sins forgiven.  We rejoice in the waters of baptism through which God declared us to be His children just as He did with the Ethiopian eunuch.  We rejoice that we have heard the Word of God proclaimed unto us.  We rejoice that God even chooses to work through us that others may hear of His name and what He has done for us all.  We rejoice, for Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed! Alleluia!