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Putting on the New Self August 12, 2018

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Ephesians 4:17-5:2

Proper 14

August 12, 2018

Focus:  God calls us into the life of His Son.

Function:  That the hearers love one another as Christ loves us.

Structure:  Walking through the text.

 

Putting on the New Self

 

“You must no longer walk as the Gentiles do.”  This is how the Apostle Paul speaks to the Ephesians.  You are now a Christian, put off your old self, and put on the new self, in Christ.  We do not live as people of the world, nor do we live as people of the old covenant.  We have a new covenant in the very blood of Christ!

Jesus has claimed you as His own!  He shed His blood upon the cross for you, buying you back from sin, death, and the devil.  They are your masters no more.  Through the waters of baptism, these things have been drowned.  You have a new Lord, Jesus Christ.  And through the richness of His Supper, you have the bread of life that never ends.

So put off the old self.  No longer walk as the Gentiles do.  You are a child of God.  And those things that you once loved, they have no claim to us any longer.  This “is not the way you learned Christ!”  Jesus isn’t your get out of jail free card for eternity.  Live as you please, always keeping it in your back pocket until you finally need it.  He’s not just one more item on the buffet line, that as long as you put Him on your plate, you’ve got a healthy meal.

pause

Remember the Road to Damascus account.  Paul, known as Saul at the time, is a leading member of the Jewish Pharisees.  He’s studied at the feet of Gamaliel, one of the most famed leaders of their day.  He’s been persecuting, arresting, even helping kill followers of Jesus across the Middle East.  He asks permission of the high priest to go to Damascus, that if they would find any members of the Way of Jesus there, they might arrest them. And so he gathers some men, and sets out.  And this is when he meets the risen Lord.

On that road, Jesus calls Paul to leave it all behind.  The knowledge, his wealth and status in the community, his hatred of Christians.  Nearly all that he knew and all that he had.  It’s absurd!  Asking a man to give up all he knows, all he has, all he is.  Yet that is precisely what Christ asked of Paul on that road.  And it’s precisely what Paul does.

He put on the new self.  Taking any and every chance he could get to tell others about Jesus and the richness of His grace and His mercy.  Paul shared the good news all around the Mediterranean Sea, even to Caesar himself.  For Paul, the putting off of the old self, and the putting on the new self is crystal clear to Christians today.

pause

All of us here started as Gentiles.  For most of us, that was being born into America, into her land, her values, her way of life.  We find ourselves desiring life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness just as much as the people that share our community with us.  We find ourselves longing for the comforts of this world in the here and now.  We chase after the American Dream of being happy at all costs.  We strive at the polls to make sure our voice is heard.

We often forget that we’ve put off the old self.  That we are called to live, not as Americans, not as people of this world, but as the body of Christ.  As Lutherans, we are weak on this.  Because of our desire to always let the gospel dominate, as it rightly should, we often forget to even talk about what it looks like to live as the people of God.  How will we know unless someone first teaches us?

That’s what Paul’s doing in this text.  The second half of our epistle reading today is Paul’s attempt at giving some guidance to the church.  Shedding light on what it looks like to put off the old self, and put on the new.  That in Christ, we might love our neighbor.

He gives us three examples that we can look at today.  The first deals with anger.  Every one of us here today gets angry.  Not a doubt about it.  I sure know I do.  But what happens once we get angry?  Paul here says that we can get angry as long as we refrain from sinning.  But we don’t.  We even talk about how quickly someone gets angry by describing the length of their fuse.  “Oh, that guy’s got a short fuse.”  We’re like bombs, just waiting to explode and unleash our wrath on one another.

Who here has never held a grudge?  Who here has never withheld forgiveness from another?  We struggle mightily with anger.  And as such, there’s really not a point for us trying to figure out if our anger is righteous or not, justified or not.  It doesn’t matter.  “Do not let the sun go down on your anger.”  Paul encourages us in our putting off of the old self, to put off our anger. That’s what we see in verse 31 – “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put way from you, along with all malice.”  “Give no opportunity to the devil” to lure you into sin.

Paul talks about a thief.  In putting off the old self, the thief is to stop being a thief.  Find honest work, take up a job, bring home a paycheck.  And then, rather than take from others, take from yourself, take from your paycheck and provide for the needs of those around you.  We may not think of ourselves as thieves.  But we steal.  We steal from our employers when we aren’t working hard on the job, we steal from our neighbors by treating our paycheck as though it were an idol.  It’s mine!  My precious!  You can’t have it!

And lastly in this section, Paul talks about our way of speaking.  Put away falsehoods and speak the truth.  Put away corrupting talk, words that tear down or do harm to your neighbor, your mother, your child.  Instead, fill your mouth with words that build up, words that encourage, words that teach, words that forgive.

In the Middle Ages, it was fairly common for people to pick up titles behind their name.  Frederick the Wise.  Richard the Lionheart.  Charles the Simple.  That one wasn’t a compliment.  Wisdom, power, courage, foolishness.  But you didn’t hear the trait Paul mentions next.  He encourages us to be tenderhearted.  People don’t go down in the history books for their forgiveness, for their willingness to love other’s even before themselves.  If you’re seeking fame, to leave a legacy that sticks, so that your name or your deeds are remembered for generations to come, put off the old self.  We are not of this world.  Your name is written in the Book of Life.  Who needs a legacy when they get to live forever?

In a way, this sermon is an introduction to our fall Bible study.  We’re going to be looking at topics like these.  How have we been raised, trained, and taught to think about the life we live?  And, does it actually match with the new self, or has the old self crept in again?  Does our thinking come from being American, being of this world?  Or does it come from Scripture?  I’ve got a vast range of topics for the class: the purpose of life, science, equality, liberty, our income, technology, citizenship, government, philosophy, love, marriage, vocation, work, warfare, taxes, death, loneliness, persecution, suffering, and so on and so forth.  This class will challenge each and every one of us to examine who we are, how we live our lives, and whom we trust on a daily basis for all that we need.  I’m greatly looking forward to it, and I hope you can join us in September.

Because even though we’ve been called to this, even though we are called to be in the world, but not of the world, even though we’re called to put off the old self and put on the new, it’s all easier said than done.  Paul was keenly aware of this.  In his first letter to Timothy, he calls himself the worst of sinners.  In his writings to Rome, we see him wrestling and confessing that even though he knew what he shouldn’t do, he still did it anyway.

This is me.  This is us.  We are children of God.  And yet the world is enticing.  Our flesh longs for earthly comfort.  Our mind thinks like an American and not a Christian.  Our daily lives often look no different than those of someone who doesn’t know Christ.  We’re sinners.

This is why the gospel must always dominate!  Because if it’s up to me, I fail.  If it’s a matter of doing good to my neighbor, and forgoing my own desires, I’m really bad at it.  If my good works could earn the favor of God, I’d be in a handbasket to Hell.

Yes, we are called to put off the old self, and to put on the new self in Christ.  But this happens every day.  Luther described it as the daily remembering of our baptism, the daily drowning of the old Adam, our old self.  We talk about the value of being regularly in His Word, regularly in His house.  There are actually churches around the world where our brothers and sisters in Christ gather daily to sit at His feet, to feast at His table, to receive His forgiveness.  As often as you drink it.  We are right now: sinners.  And yet at the very same time, we are justified in Christ.  We are His.

This is to where Paul turns at the very end of our text.  But it’s the root of it all: “forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.  Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.  And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”  The gospel is the good news that we have life that knows no end.  The gospel is the good news that we are children of God. The gospel is the good news that God forgives even me.  And you, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, are the forgiven children of God.  Daily put off the old self.  Daily put on the new self, that is, Jesus Christ and His righteousness, given for you.

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Jesus is Our Peace July 22, 2018

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Ephesians 2:11-12

Proper 11

July 22, 2018

 

Focus:  God brings us together in the blood of Christ.

Function:  That the hearers partake of their common union in Christ.

Structure:  This is the historical situation in the text…this is the meaning for us now.

 

Jesus is Our Peace

 

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”  How many of you know that verse?  Have heard it before?  Can anyone place it for me?  That’s right!  It’s the Lutheran verse.  Ephesians 2:8-9.  It is a critical passage for us to see that we aren’t saved by our own doing, but only by the blood of Christ. Not by our work, but by His.  This was especially important during the time of the Reformation.

But, wouldn’t you know it, Paul kept writing.  “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”  And then skipping over the subtitle that is many of our modern day Bibles, “Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”

How many of you already knew that the Lutheran verse was actually talking about circumcision?  From early on in the history of God’s creation, He set apart, He singled out Abraham and his descendants after him.  He cut a covenant with him, that He would be Abraham’s God, and that they would be His people.  This is the Old Covenant.  It’s what we call the first ¾ of the Bible.  Watching as this one man blossoms.  Is fruitful.  Multiplies.  And suddenly, after entering into Egypt as only about seventy people, they leave Egypt with a couple million people.

The nation of Israel.  These are the people of God of the Old Covenant, cut with Abraham.  And the marker, the entry point, the sign, the seal of this covenant with God was circumcision.  If you were circumcised, you and your household, were in.  You were Israelites, or as we might call them today, Jews.  If you weren’t circumcised, you weren’t in, you were a Gentile, an outsider, a foreigner.

But then this God-Man Jesus Christ, on the night He was betrayed, took bread, and having given thanks, broke it, and gave it to His disciples saying, “Take and eat, all of you, this is My body, which is given for you.  Do this in remembrance of Me.” And then after the supper, He took the cup, and having blessed it, gave it to His disciples saying, “Take and drink. This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.”

Earth-shattering and game-changing.  Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday changed the course of history.  The Old Covenant is no more.  No longer do you have to shed your blood to be one of God’s people.  Kids, I’ll let your parents tell you what circumcision is, but it involves some bloodshed.  No longer is it your blood.  Now, in this New Covenant, it is the blood of God Himself.  Shed for you.

That Jesus Christ would take all of the sins of this fallen, wretched, broken, and damned world, and carry them to the tree on Calvary.  That as those nails pierced through His hands and His feet, in His wounds, in His blood, all the sins of sinful mankind are taken into Christ, and forgiven in the sight of the Father.  All of them.

These are Paul’s words of encouragement for the Ephesians.  They’re not Jews.  They weren’t part of God’s chosen Old Covenant people.  And they’re not circumcised.  And so there’s been a divide.  The Jews are nagging them to cut off the flesh.  The Gentiles really don’t want to.  But they do want to be saved.

And that’s precisely then what Paul is giving them.  It is not by the works of your own hands that you are saved.  “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”  It isn’t our work.  It’s His work.  Jesus has already shed the blood for you!  As you might imagine, this is some pretty fantastic good news for the Ephesians.

But now that we know the context of the Paul’s letter to the Church in Ephesus, does it mean anything to us today?  And the answer to that is a resounding yes!  The history is profound, and those are our brothers and sisters in Christ.  For that reason alone we care.  But we can learn from it as well.

Our passage today is all about Christ being our peace.  Jesus alone reconciles us to God the Father.  So the contrast to this then, the law that the text would proclaim to us is division.  The opposite of reconciled is driven apart.  The opposite of peace is hatred.  Division and hatred, Paul wrote about those things to the Church in Corinth.  Pretty much that whole first letter.

But we’re not talking about just any mere divisions here.  It’s not that you’re Royals fans, and I like the Cardinals.  It’s not even that some of you like guns, while others of you would just as soon see them banned.  Not at all.

These divisions are about salvation.  How are we made right with God?  There are always those who want to earn it, who want to boast in themselves.  The Jews and circumcision.  For centuries during the dark ages and the middle ages, the teaching of the Church was that we had to earn it by our keeping of the Law, by our good works.  It’s the same thing the Jews were doing.  And we still do it today.

We’re always seeking to justify ourselves.  We try to say that those things we’re doing aren’t really sins at all, that we are keeping the Law.  I still remember two years ago in confirmation class.  One of the girls raised her hand and started to ask me a question: “Pastor, is it a sin if I…” Yes.  “But, I didn’t even get to finish!” Yes.  It’s a sin.  If you’re having trouble figuring out if it’s sinful or not: if it’s something we do, it’s at the least tainted by our sinful nature.

Turns out her question was about dating.  Guess what?  The answer is still yes.  And we can take that farther, as Christ does in the Sermon on the Mount.  Apart from marriage, physical attraction is sinful.  The “how far is too far?” question misses the mark.  Yes.  It is a sin to _____.  We can’t keep the Law.  Now, there is a little tension here.  We do want to do God’s Law, as it is His good and pleasing will for us.  But it’s not a matter of earning our salvation. We can’t earn our salvation.  Jesus has kept the Law.  He has saved us.  We, now, love God and love our neighbor, which will be our VBS theme this week.

We also cause divisions with the things that the Scriptures don’t even discuss.  Things where there is the opportunity for flexibility.  We call these adiaphora.  Neither commanded nor forbidden by Scripture.  And yet we say, “It must be done this way.”  Organ vs. guitar.  Common cup vs. individual cup.  Donuts in the gym vs. fruit trays in the narthex.  We can make some decisions based on whether or not things are helpful in pointing us to Christ.   But, unless you want to say the hole in your donut reminds you of the wounds in Christ’s hands, that one’s really just an adiaphora.  We can take it or leave it.  Setting up new laws to follow when we can’t even keep the one’s that God gave us is just asking for trouble.

Don’t try to take it back.  Don’t try to reclaim your divisions from the cross.  Don’t try to reclaim the hatred and the disgust from His wounds across His scarred body.  Give it up!  Leave it all behind in the saving wounds of our Lord.

This is the beauty of it all.  It doesn’t matter what your background is.  It doesn’t matter which sins have plagued you.  It doesn’t matter what your baggage is, what you’re guilty of.  This is the place for you!  There is a place for you here!  Because in the body of Jesus Christ, there is peace and reconciliation for all people.  In the blood of Jesus Christ, all of our sins are forgiven.

It is Jesus alone who can do this.  And He has done it.  All believers are gathered in Christ.  We are reconciled to God the Father.  We are brought near to God Himself.  And in doing so, we are also brought near to one another.  In this assembly, the assembly of the baptized children of God, there is no stranger.  There is no foreigner.  We all have the same Christ.  He is our common union.  His body and blood, our communion.  We all belong right here.

Abiding in the Vineyard April 29, 2018

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John 15:1-8

Fifth Sunday After Easter

April 29, 2018

 

Focus:  God cleans (baptism) and prunes (Lord’s Supper) His people.

Function:  That the hearers abide in Christ by keeping His commandments.

Structure:  Textual Illustration.

 

Abiding in the Vineyard

 

Last week, we had an image from Jesus that we could relate to.  An illustration, that we are sheep, and He is our shepherd.  For many of us, that is so relatable because we’ve heard it over and over again.  Even if we’ve never been shepherds and we’ve never watched them care for their flock.

Here today, Christ gives us another illustration, and this time, it’s one we can even more fully understand.  Even if you’ve never seen a vineyard, grapes growing on the vine, we are all familiar with fruit growing in a garden.  It could be an apple tree.  It could be a berry bush.  In the sermon today, I’ll stick specifically with the words Jesus picked, but we get the idea.

We have the roots and the trunk.  And then we have branches.  And from those branches, we see fruit.  And we know that there is a time to prune, so that the branches will bear fruit again.  And we also know, what happens if a branch falls off the vine? It withers, dies, and no longer produces fruit.

And so today we learn that Jesus is the vine.  He is the root, He is the trunk, He is the whole plant.  He is the grape vine that spans across the vineyard.  Jesus once again declares Himself with this parable to be God.  His I AM statements throughout the gospel according to John are declarations that He is God.  When God reveals His name in the Old Testament, this is it.  The divine name is the Hebrew phrase, I AM.  Ehweh/hwha.  We know Jesus is making this connection to the Old Testament, because the Pharisees try to kill Him for it.

One of my favorite things about this text is verse 3.  “Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you.”  Already you are clean!  Not tomorrow, or next week.  There isn’t a plan to add you in next year.  You are already clean!

This weekend we ourselves are witnesses of this very act.  God washes us clean.  Right here, Eden is washed clean.  Right here, Walter was washed clean last weekend.  Right here, you were washed clean.  Your sins are gone, removed from you by the washing of water and the Word.  You are His.  You are His child, you are His branch.  God grafted you onto the vine.

Another wonderful thing about this parable from Jesus is that it’s not just me.  It’s not just you.  All the “you’s” in the text are plural.  God’s got Himself a whole vineyard.  Everywhere you look around you, that’s what you see!  You see Christ the vine.  You see His Church the branches.  You’re surrounded by Christ Himself.  We’re in this fruit-bearing thing together.

And so, what is it then that Jesus instructs us to do?  Abide.  Eleven times in the chapter, ten times in just the first ten verses.  Abide in Me.  Abide in the vine.  Abide in My love.  That’s the work that’s called of us.  That we remain in Christ.

And Christ defines this for us.  That’s our gospel reading for next weekend.  But I won’t leave you in suspense.  We have to keep it together to see what all Christ is teaching us in the parable of the Vine and the branches.  And so we read in verses 9-13:

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. 12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.

And so abiding in Christ in the vine is the Ten Commandments.  It’s the first table of the Law, that we would trust in God above all things and that we would enjoy the gifts that He gives through regular use of His Word and Sacraments.  And it’s also the second table of the Law, that we would love one another.  That we would give of ourselves to care for one another.  Even to the point of death.

This is the Law.  To abide in Christ is to keep it.  And I’m terrible at it.  As the storms buffet against the vine, branches can fall off.  As we’re tempted in the midst of the difficulties of this life, we can fall off.  We’re tempted to idolatry. We’re tempted to chase after other gods, even if we don’t call them such.  We can put our trust and our hope in things that cannot save us.  And so as the rains come and the winds howl, we cling to false hopes, to worldly ideals and dreams.

As the hail pounds down upon us, we find ourselves neglecting and hurting our neighbor.  It won’t be so bad if I tell people what she did last week.  It’s not really gossip if it’s true.  We have no problem bad mouthing our authorities and ignoring their voice, whether that’s our parents, our boss, or our government.  We convince ourselves that divorce isn’t adultery.  Or that lingering stare doesn’t really hurt anyone.

Indeed, even as the devil’s tornado roars, we jump right off the vine, abandoning the things God provides to keep us safe and in the faith, only to be sucked up into a whirlwind of death and destruction.

If you’ve ever seen a vineyard, the vinedresser goes to great lengths to keep His branches safe, strong, and healthy.  He’ll put posts for the vine to attach itself to.  He’ll run fencing and wire for the branches to be wrapped around.  It isn’t the branches that are doing this.  We are given work to do, and we often don’t do it well.

Jesus says in verse seven that “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”  At all times, the Word of God dwells in you.  The words “you are My child,” through your baptism.  The words, “Your sins are forgiven” through Christ’s Absolution and His supper.  God has built a vineyard for you.  He’s grafted you into His own Son the vine.  And He’s surrounded you with all the support and help that you need in the midst of sin and death.  We cling to His promises.  We abide in His vine.

And it isn’t just in the times that we fail, it’s not just when we sin that we see God pumping life into us through the vine of Christ by forgiving us of our sins.  God regularly is pruning us.  Working on us that we might bear fruit.  He is constantly edifying His bride the Church.

He builds us up each and every week through Word and Sacrament.  You can gather together, branches in the vineyard, right here at St. Matthew.  Here you can hear the Word of God both read in the readings and professed in the sermon.  Here you can receive the forgiveness of all yours sins through Christ’s very own body and blood shed for you.

God builds up His Church even in the midst of suffering and persecution.  For when the branches are being pruned, they’re being strengthened.  The pains of this life, although not part of God’s plan, are still a way by which we are strengthened in our faith.  God can work through our suffering to teach us to cling all the more to His promises, to trust in Him, to abide in the vine.

God builds us up with His daily provisions.  It is through the gifts that He provides each and every day that we see all the more clearly who He is and what He does for us.  We see the provisions of my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members.  We see the provisions of food, shelter, and clothing.  We see the provisions of family, friends, and neighbors.  We see the provisions of safety, forgiveness, and life.

It’s like the advice that you receive about stray cats.  Don’t ever feed ‘em, because if you do, they’ll stay.  Even the simple cat, another of God’s marvelous creatures, shows this to us.  That as the cat received provision, it began to trust that that food would be there again.  As we receive our daily bread, we begin to trust that it will be there again.

The parable concludes with verses sixteen and seventeen.

16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. 17 These things I command you, so that you will love one another.

 

You are part of God’s kingdom, a branch of the vine.  It’s not your doing.  He chose you.  He washed you clean and He grafted you in in your baptism.  He gave you His Law, and then laid down His own life for your failure to keep it.  And so you remain, you abide, because whatever you ask of the Father, He gives you.  And so you ask for your daily bread, you ask for forgiveness and life, and you ask for the strength to love your neighbor in the hope that they too may be grafted in.  And God, our Fatherly vinedresser, provides.

The Fat Feast April 1, 2018

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Isaiah 25:6-9

Easter Sunday

April 1, 2018

 

Focus:  God swallows up death forever.

Function:  That the hearers be glad and rejoice in His salvation.

Structure:  Walking through the Text.

 

The Fat Feast

 

The earth mourns and withers; the world languishes and withers; the highest people of the earth languish. The earth lies defiled under its inhabitants; for they have transgressed the laws, violated the statutes, broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore a curse devours the earth, and its inhabitants suffer for their guilt; therefore the inhabitants of the earth are scorched, and few men are left. The wine mourns, the vine languishes, all the merry-hearted sigh. The mirth of the tambourines is stilled, the noise of the jubilant has ceased, the mirth of the lyre is stilled. No more do they drink wine with singing; strong drink is bitter to those who drink it. 10 The wasted city is broken down; every house is shut up so that none can enter. 11 There is an outcry in the streets for lack of wine; all joy has grown dark; the gladness of the earth is banished. 12 Desolation is left in the city; the gates are battered into ruins.

 

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, these are the words of the Lord, spoken to His creation by His prophet Isaiah, the 24th chapter.  The party is over.  The creation is broken, the fruits of the world downtrodden, and its inhabitants ashamed, standing condemned by their own guilt.

The party’s over.  There’s no more gladness, no more rejoicing, no more instruments.  No longer do the people drink wine and burst out into song.

Chapters 24-27 of Isaiah’s prophecy are apocalyptic.  They’re about the end, about our own self-destruction and self-absorption, but also about God’s response to our despair.  Because in our text today in chapter 25, we learn that the party is far from over.  In fact, the party has really only just begun!  We’ve seen the judgment, now we get to see the restoration!

On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.
Talk about a promise!  A feast, but not just any feast.  This isn’t Golden Corral or Pizza Street.  The words used by Isaiah are the choicest of foods, the best of wines.  Literally, the best money could buy.  Here’s an endless feast of the perfect cut of meat.  An endless feast where the barrels of perfectly aged wine are bottomless.

And it’s for you!  That’s the best part of the promise: it includes you.  The promise is for ALL people.  It’s a gift, given for us.  And it happens right here.  On THIS mountain.  Isaiah is referring to Mt. Zion, to the city of Jerusalem, to the city on a hill.

 

And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations.

 

Notice again, those same words twice more.  ALL peoples, ALL nations, and THIS mountain.  Regardless of your background, regardless of where you come from.  This promise is for you.  It is again, right here, in Jerusalem, the promise going out to God’s people.

That phrase, to swallow up, in Hebrew is the word “Belah” ([lb).  And every time it’s used, every time something is “swallowed up,” it’s always an act of judgment.  And so here, that judgment is not on us.  That judgment is on what afflicts us.

God will swallow up the covering, the veil that is upon us.  Remember those years where your favorite sports team was just plain awful.  You go to the game, with your brown sack in hand.  You’ve cut out the eyes and the mouth, and you sit there in the stands, with this bag over your head.  You’re ashamed; your team is a disgrace.  And yet there you are.

This veil and covering is our shame.  And it goes far beyond a paper bag and a losing record.  You have guilts that cling to you.  You have those times in your life that you can’t undo.  Things you’ve said that you can never take back.  Harm that you’ve done to someone you care about that you can never reverse.  Things you’ve seen and heard, things you’ve done that you’ll never be able to put out of your mind.

Satan accuses.  Our sinful nature accuses.  It takes our sins and turns them into guilt and uses them mocks us.  “You’ll never be good enough.”  “No one could possibly love you.”  “You’re hopeless.”

This promise is for you.  That God Himself will swallow up your guilt, your shame, your despair.  God Himself will swallow up your sin!

 

He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken.

 

The repetition in these verses is like gold.  Yahweh is going to swallow up our enemies, the veil, the shame from upon us.  God Himself is going to swallow up even death itself!

The people of Israel that Isaiah wrote this book for, they lived in the Promised Land of God, a land that He took from the Canaanites and gave to His own people.  These Canaanites worshiped a false god, Baal.  And in their mythology, there is an ongoing battle between Baal and Mot, or death.  When the spring comes, Baal crushes Mot, and life begins again.  But every fall, Mot swallows up Baal, and death falls on the land.  In much of the ancient artwork, Mot is even pictured as a large and grotesque beast with an even larger mouth just waiting to swallow up life.

But for us, for the people of God, this stands in contrast.  This promise is not dependent on the seasons.  It doesn’t come and go.  No!  God will swallow up death forever!  It’s the main course on His dinner plate! He will wipe away tears from ALL faces.  He will take our shame, our despair, our reproach away from us, away from ALL people.

And He doesn’t simply cast them aside.  They aren’t merely removed from you temporarily only to harm you again later.  The veil of our shame and our guilt, the veil of our sin and our death is taken on by our Savior.  He carries it for us.  And by carrying it to the cross, He has swallowed it up forever!

Isaiah doesn’t mince words.  He’s intentional; he’s deliberate.  And He only uses this phrase “For Yahweh has spoken,” three times in the book.  And each time, it’s a statement of finality.  It is finished.  That is, God’s Word always accomplishes that for which He sent it.

This promise isn’t based on you or what you do.  We don’t trust in this promise because we can see it, or taste it, or find it, or predict it.  We trust in this promise because He said it.  Look back through the text thus far.  Yahweh is the doer of the verbs.  Not you, not me, not Isaiah.  God has done it.  We bring our sin, and God swallows it up.

 

It will be said on that day, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the LORD; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”

 

Remember from before, we’re living in chapter 24.  We’re living in the midst of our brokenness, our sin, and our shame.  We’re living in a place where there is no singing, nor wine, nor joy.  But in spite of this, God tells us what to say.

On this swallowing day, God gives us the words to speak.  We may live in the midst of despair now, we may not yet be at the feast of God that never ends, but God gives us the glimpse.  These are the words that we’ll be singing at the promised feast.  And we can start practicing right now.

In fact, that’s what you’re doing.  That’s why you’re here.  It’s called Christian worship.  You have come to foretaste the feast.  You have come for a glimpse of the promise that is yet to come.  As Pastor Otto stood before you this morning, you heard the forgiveness of sins!  They were swallowed up by God Himself.  The Absolution is a foretaste of God’s final verdict for you: My beloved child!  As you come up here in just a few moments, you are partaking of a glimpse of the feast that is to come.  You are feasting on the body and blood of God Himself, poured out for you on the cross for the forgiveness of all your sins.   Your guilt is swallowed up in Him.  It’s a foretaste of the final wedding feast of the Lord that has no end!  For Yahweh has spoken.

The Hebrew word in this verse for “waiting” isn’t what we typically think of.  The word Cavah (hwq) means to wait for something you know is going to happen.  It’s not an anxious worrying, it’s not chewing on your nails waiting to hear from your doctor the results of the recent tests.  This is much more like waiting for the sun to rise in the morning, or waiting for the spring and for warm weather again.  You KNOW these things will happen.  We wait for our Savior because we KNOW that He will save us.  We wait for Yahweh, because this promise is for you.

The last word of our text this morning should never be forgotten.  Salvation.  Every time this word is used in the Old Testament it is announcing the power God has over His enemies.  The Hebrew word here is Yeshua ([wvy). Salvation. We wait in gladness, we wait and rejoice in His Salvation.  In His Yeshua.  It’s the Hebrew name Joshua in English.  And in Greek, it’s the name Jesus.  Let us be glad and rejoice in His Jesus.  Our Lord and our Salvation.

It is on THIS mountain that Jesus has swallowed up all enemies.  It is on THIS mountain, that Jesus Christ swallowed up your sins and your despair and your grief by bleeding and dying upon the cross.  It is upon THIS mountain that Jesus Christ swallowed up even death itself by bursting forth from the tomb on Easter morning.

CHRIST IS RISEN!  (He is Risen Indeed!) ALLELUIA!

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, Jesus has feasted on our enemies by swallowing up the veil of shame, the cover of sin, the reproach of guilt, and the tears of death.  And so we gather in His house this day to celebrate this very thing: God has swallowed up death forever.  We gather in His house this day to celebrate an empty tomb, that Jesus is alive, risen from the dead, giving us life that never ends. Jesus feasted so that we would feast forevermore.

This promise is for you because Yahweh has spoken.  Let us be glad and rejoice in His Jesus.  Amen.

Leave it All Behind January 21, 2018

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Mark 1:14-20

Epiphany 3

January 21, 2018

 

Focus:  God calls us to leave everything behind as He delivers us in Christ.

Function:  That the hearers build their worldstory based on the Scriptures of Christ.

Structure:  .

 

Leave it All Behind

 

Could you do it?  Could you leave it all behind?  That’s what we see of the disciples mentioned in our gospel reading together today.  Simon and Andrew are casting nets.  They’re fishermen, it’s what they’ve been trained to do, it’s all they know.  And Jesus, simply walking by, calls out to them to leave the nets behind and follow Him.  And they do.  Could you do it?

Then we see a pair of brothers, James and John, the sons of Zebedee.  They were together with their father fixing the family boat.  They, too, were fishermen.  Zebedee was wealthy enough that he owned the business, even had some hired hands.  This was their life.  Fishing.  And we know all about the idea of an inheritance.  This is it.  Their life, their business, their family.  Everything they know.  And at Jesus’ simple call, they leave behind everything they know, including their own father, and they follow Christ.  Could you do it?

The Scriptures are full of examples.  Think of Abraham in the Old Testament, and how absurd his call was.  Think of the Apostle Paul, on the road to Damascus, what he was traveling to do.  Giving up everything they knew, leaving behind everything they would have found comfortable.  Could you do it?

Could you leave behind the years of training that you’ve received?  The way you’ve been raised, the way you’ve been taught to look at world around you, to process the daily events of life, and incorporate them into your worldstory.  It’s taken decades to build you.  Could you do it?

This is the call of Christ.  This is the call of the gospel.  That we would leave behind our worldly desires and follow Him.  “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” (Mark 8:35)

This is what makes evangelism, sharing the good news of Jesus, so difficult.  It usually isn’t heard as a free gift.  We are so overwhelmed with stuff that we have the phrase, “there’s no such thing as a free lunch.”  A gift, what’s the catch?

But with this gift comes change.  Painful change.  Tearing down the things that you once loved, the things that once occupied the place of God in your life.  Our idols have to go.  For the rich young ruler, that was his wealth, and he couldn’t do it.  For the Pharisees, it was their pride, and most of them couldn’t do it.

And so as we reach out to the community around us here in an American context, just what is it that we’re asking them to give up?  You can feel free to challenge me on this if you’d like, but after closely observing our culture these last few years, the average American citizen sees the primary goal of life as happiness.  That’s their worldstory.

As they process the news, “how does this make me feel?”  As they think about their future, “what do I want to do so that I’m happy?”  As they process the little moments of their day, “can I put a smiley emoji when I text my friend about it?”  If it makes them happy, they go for it.  If it causes pain or discomfort or sadness, they avoid it at all costs.

So when everything becomes about self-fulfillment, we can see why American culture hates the message of Christ.  “Who are you to tell me I’m wrong?  Who are you to say that I can’t do whatever I want to do?”  Christ’s simple message, “Repent and believe the gospel,” is calling for them to die to self.  To give up their idols for salvation that comes through Christ alone.

Pastor Otto preached last week on our need to hear the voice of God, the authoritative Word of God.  To continue to build upon that teaching, the Scriptures teach that our entire worldstory is to be built by the Word of God.  Who am I?  Why am I here?  Where am I going?  How do I process everything going on around me?  What should I value?  Who should I listen to?  The Scriptures are our foundation as followers of Christ.

This stands against the world’s idea that life exists apart from theology. Life is over here (raise one hand), and theology is separate (raise other hand).  This is extremely evident as we see several Christian cases, First Amendment cases, go through the nation’s courts.  The argument is that you’re fine to worship however you want.  As long as it stays over there (raise “Theology” hand again).  You can’t bring it with you when you re-enter life.  But this is simply false.  The teachings of Christ in His Word, the gifts of Christ given to us, inform everything we do.  They color the way we live life in the face of suffering and death.

Earlier I asked you again and again, “Could you do it?  Could you leave it all behind?”  But it’s not your work.  It’s not something we are capable of doing.  The only thing we can do is fight back.  Scratch and claw and growl as we cling to our idols, to all the false stories and information that built our worldstory through the years.

Yes, foreign worldstories still cling to you.  We still would rather be happy than suffer.  We often identify first as American, and then as a Christian.  Right along with the rest of culture, we want to believe that we’re basically good, when in reality, we’re evil through and through, and any good in us is the work of God.  We struggle to overcome worldly views on everything: life, death, marriage, work, money, goals, learning, education, progress, government, individuality, success, believing in ourselves.  The list seems endless.

Satan tempted Jesus in this manner, also.  And not just in the wilderness, but even in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Jesus knows He’s been betrayed, He knows His arrest is coming.  He knows the next twenty hours will bring immense amounts of pain, suffering, bloodshed, and scorn.  And so He prays.  And He prays.  And He prays.

36 And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (Mark 14:36)  Christ submitted Himself to God the Father, and to His will.  He was arrested, tried by night, flogged, beaten, mocked, tortured, and then forced to drag His own cross to the top of the hill where men would drive nails through His flesh into the wood.  And then they hoisted Him up, to humiliate Him before the world, and to slowly, but surely, suffocate Him to death.

Christ’s sacrifice, of His own self, of His very life, won for us salvation.  His blood shed there upon the cross is the atoning sacrifice for all of our sins.  His blood covers us.  And then, on the third day, He rose again, declaring to the entire creation that death is defeated, that the devil is done, and that the wretchedness of sin, and all its ways, are being put to an end.

These gifts are ours.  Through baptism, you have been buried into Christ’s death.  The Old Adam, the old sinful nature, drowned there in that water, by His Word.  But more than that!  Not only are you united to Christ in His death, but also in His resurrection.  Because Christ is risen from the dead, we know and can trust that we, too, will be raised to new life.

This is what prompted the Apostle Paul to write:

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

 

As the people of God today, He calls us by His voice, through His own authoritative Word.  He invites us to build our lives, our minds, our very selves around Him.  He calls us out of our own worldstory, into His worldstory.

And in His worldstory, when we struggle, when we fail, when we fall, when we scratch and claw to hold onto our worldstory and our old worldly ways, Christ is ever present.  That in His Word, and in His Sacraments, indeed in His house, you continue to receive the forgiveness of sins in the fellowship of this altar.

This is our life, in Christ.  And it takes more than a lifetime.  Yes, we teach our children the Word of God.  We teach them to think and to process life through the lens of Scripture.  We constantly take ourselves back into His Word in order to put off the old self, the old worldstory, and to put on the new self, His worldstory.  And on the Last Day, when Christ returns, all other worldstories will pass away.  And we will live with Him, the Creator of heaven and earth, we will live with Him forever.

 

 

Many Lights are Brighter–Together! December 13, 2017

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Romans 15:4-7

Second Wednesday of Advent

December 13, 2017

 

Focus:  God gives us hope in the midst of darkness through His Son.

Function:  That the hearers shine in the darkness.

Structure:  Concordia Pulpit Resources Advent Midweek 2, vol. 28.

 

Many Lights are Brighter—Together!

 

Several of you recommended it, so this Monday evening Hannah and I took the girls over to Christmas in the Park.  They love Christmas lights, and the neighborhood we’re staying in right now doesn’t have any.  It’s just…dark.  So as we drove down, they were looking out the windows, picking out the businesses with lights up.

And when we got there, it starts out pretty empty, still dark.  As you sit in the bumper-to-bumper traffic waiting.  There’s an elf here, another elf there.  A few sailboats, but it’s pretty mild until you get near the back of the park.  And then you come to the point where they actually have you turn off your headlights.

Now, I was driving, so I couldn’t see the look on the girls’ faces, but I know they really liked it.  Eliana was mad when we left, she wanted more lights that she could point to and yell at.  But it was neat to see all the lights up, and all the work that must’ve gone in to designing and putting on that display.

But we were there, in the midst of darkness, to see a great light.  I don’t have to describe darkness to you.  I don’t have to teach you about what the darkness is in this world.  You know it.  You live in it every day.  You see the anger, the hate, the pain, the suffering, the fear, the greed.  And it’s only grown in our particular culture over the past couple of generations as we have distanced ourselves from the true light that is in Christ.

Many Christians today live in fear of the darkness.  They look around themselves and they see the spiritual and moral decline.  They wonder how bad it can get.  And they worry if it will harm them.  Will persecution come to me and my family?

If you’re in that place right now, there are many brothers and sisters in Christ who’ve been there with you.  We can remember the prophet Elijah, despairing as he thought he was that last follower of Yahweh on earth.  We can remember Job, as he lost everything around him, family, friends, worldly possessions.  We can look to Jeremiah, a prophet who was rejected and condemned at every turn by the very people that God sent him to serve.

Yet, these men all have something in common.  While they lived in the midst of darkness, their hope remained.  Yahweh reminded Elijah that he was not alone.  He comforted Job and was with him to overcome Satan’s temptations of despair and doubt.  He continued to speak His Word unto Jeremiah to give him renewed hope each day.

The Scriptures are that source.  As we try to combat against the fear, the despair, the darkness, we can’t do it alone.  But we aren’t alone, we don’t have to fight alone.  Paul encourages us to look to our Old Testament, to see endurance and encouragement.  These things are attributes of God that He gives to us.

All of the Old Testament does the same thing, it all points us to Christ.  And so we can’t talk about endurance without Jesus.  We can’t talk about encouragement without Jesus.  What gave the people of the Old Testament, people like Elijah, Job, and Jeremiah, what gave them endurance?

It was none other than the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.  He is our hope.  And that’s not just any hope.  Earthly, American hope can’t get you through tough times.  Sure, hoping for ice cream at the end of your shift might help get you through it.  Wanting that sweet taste, looking forward to it when you get home can give you a little boost to get your work done.  But an ice cream cone isn’t going to get you through getting laid off.  It isn’t going to get you through losing your livelihood because you don’t buy into the agenda of the culture.  It isn’t going to get you through the illness of a loved one.

Because it’s not real hope.  The author of the letter to the Hebrews gives us a different definition.  “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for.”   Biblical hope, hope rooted in Christ isn’t just a “want,” it’s a guarantee.  We aren’t just hoping for a white Christmas.  We have full certainty that our hope in Christ is real.   That the promises of Christ are real.  And that they belong to us.

In this way, your faith isn’t blind.  You see the promise, and you cling to that promise.  This is what gave our Old Testament brothers and sisters endurance.  They could put up with the darkness of the world around them entirely because they knew that no matter the outcome, they had a Messiah, a Savior who would rescue them from that darkness, the great light of the world, Jesus Christ.

Our brothers and sisters in Christ in other areas of the world today endure things we can’t even imagine.  Even to the point of martyrdom.  But they endure, they endure in faith knowing that their hope is not in vain.  Knowing that their hope in Christ, their faith in Christ, will be rewarded.  That no earthly darkness can rob them of the everlasting life promised to them in Christ alone.

Just as they are, we are encouraged daily by God Himself.  We are encouraged in our faith when we read, mark, and inwardly digest His Word.  We are encouraged together in our faith, when we come together to hear the forgiveness of sins in the words of Confession and Absolution.  We are encouraged together, built up in our faith, when we see another child added into the eternal kingdom of Christ, just as we will this coming Sunday, when Regina is baptized right here.  We are encouraged together, hope renewed, when the body and blood of Christ overflow from the cross and this altar for the forgiveness of our sins.

It is through these things, through His Word, through His sacraments, through His promises that our hope and our faith are strengthened, that we may endure whatever the devil and our own sinful flesh throw our way.

But we are like Elijah.  We need that reminder that we aren’t alone.  That we’re not in this alone.  We are part of God’s family, and we have one another as brothers and sisters in Christ.  If Christmas in the park was just one light bulb, it wouldn’t be very bright.  There wouldn’t be many people who would see it.

But when you start adding more lights, the brightness grows.  And more and more people see the wonder of the display.  Alone, you are still a light in the midst of darkness, a light enduring in Christ.  But together, we are an even brighter light, encouraged by Christ that we can give His light to others.  As His church, we are a burning light in the midst of darkness, bringing hope to people who have none.

A Thousand Years in Eternity December 10, 2017

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2 Peter 3:8-14

Second Sunday in Advent

December 10, 2017

 

Focus:  God promises us Paradise upon Christ’s return.

Function:  That the hearers live each and every day as children of God.

Structure: Here is a prevailing view…but here is the claim of the gospel.

 

A Thousand Years in Eternity

 

As we began our Advent journey of waiting last weekend, Pastor Otto sought to prepare us for the physical second coming of Jesus.  That Christ, fully God and fully man is indeed returning to this earth to bring about the Final Judgment.  And it is really Him, tangible, in the flesh, scars and all.

Our text from the Apostle Peter today allows us to continue on this theme.  The Advent season isn’t just waiting for Christmas and the baby Jesus, but it’s also waiting for the resurrected Jesus and the Last Day.

Two thousand years ago, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ made us a promise.  John recorded these words at the very end of Revelation: “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”  I am coming soon.  Those are our Lord’s words to us.

And in the time that passed, these words have been heard in different ways.  If you’d like, make it a point to read Paul’s writings to the people in Thessalonica sometime this week.  They heard that Christ was returning soon, so they lost interest in work.  Well, if He’s coming back soon, why do we need to plant a crop?  Why do we need to worry ourselves about the harvest?  Christ is coming back before all that!  Paul had to teach them that that was the wrong way to live their lives.  While on the one hand, they were trusting in Christ’s promise, on the other hand, they failed to keep in mind their vocations to serve their neighbors.

But aside from those random false prophets today who keep trying endlessly to predict Christ’s return, even though Christ Himself said that no one knows the day or the hour, aside from these, we really don’t have a Thessolonian problem, do we?  Our problem today with this word “soon” isn’t that it’s coming upon us immediately, it’s that we’ve lost patience.

This is a sinful nature problem.  Patience isn’t a strong suit for us.  And even if you count yourself among their rare individuals who actually are viewed as patient by their peers, what would happen to your patience if it were tried for a couple years, instead of a couple of minutes?  The Jewish people ran into this.  As they waited for the coming Messiah, as they longed for Christmas, many gave up.  As years turned into decades, and then lifetimes, and then centuries, and then even millennia, they lost their patience.

And for those who failed to see Jesus as their Messiah, many of those Jews today have stopped believing in a coming King.  They’ve turned it into a metaphor that deals not with the here and now, but deals with life beyond the grave.  And as we look around Christendom, we’re seeing this pattern emerge as well.  Christians turning the soon return of Christ into a non-event.  A metaphor that His return is simply synonymous with your moment of death.

We’ve lost patience to the point where we no longer are waiting.  Think about it for a moment.  If I could tell you, that without a doubt, Jesus is returning to this green earth tomorrow, what would that do to you today?  How would that impact what you do when you walk out those doors in thirty minutes?

Sure, some people would seek to get in as much of our idols as we could.  Our favorite entertainment, our favorite hobbies, our favorite foods.  But others among us would be overjoyed.  And concerned.  Overjoyed at the return of the King, not the Lord of the Rings movie, but Jesus.  And at the same time concerned for their neighbors, their loved ones who didn’t know Christ was coming tomorrow.  And so they’d leave the church today, pull out their phones, send a text, wait, no don’t do that.  They’d go and visit.  They’d strike up conversations, they’d share the excitement and the good news of sins forgiven in this Babe of Bethlehem.

But what if I told you, without a doubt, that Christ was coming back precisely 100 years from this very moment?  How would that change your day today?  Would it at all?  If we’re honest, most of us have the opposite problem of the Thessalonians.  We live as though Christ isn’t coming back at all.

And so today, Peter is reminding us that we’re still waiting.  And he’s giving us an eternal perspective.  A day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day before the Lord.  You see, when we look at God from our perspective, we see just this tiny glimpse.  Just a minute fragment of reality.  And God sees the whole picture.  So indeed, soon still means soon.  It could be this very night.  It could be next week.  It could be another couple thousand years.

So instead of asking when, instead of trying to figure out when, Peter tells us how to wait.  That is, to live our lives in holiness and godliness.  For something to be holy doesn’t always mean perfect.  The utensils used in the Tabernacle weren’t perfect, but they were holy.  They were set apart for a specific purpose.  We are set apart for a specific purpose.

Sometimes we falsely think we need to care for this world because this planet is our future.  That’s not true.  God promises a new heaven and a new earth.  And whether that new earth is a completely new creation, or if God terraforms this rock, we don’t know.  No, instead, we are care for this planet because we’re holy.  Adam and Eve were set apart in the Garden of Eden, distinguished from the rest of creation to be caretakers of creation.  And so, you and I today care for this creation because that’s part of our vocation as children of God.

But we aren’t just holy before the plants and animals of this world.  We’re also holy before our neighbors.  We are set apart, to be salt, to be light, to be a city on a hill.  That to live our lives in godliness, living out our vocations before our families, friends, and coworkers, is to share the good news of Christ with them.

I’m not telling you to carve out sixteen hours a week for speaking gospel into the lives of your neighbors.  We’re called to live each and every day as Christians.  The people around you will notice.  Your friend will notice when you refuse to speed to cut a few minutes off the trip.  Your neighbor will notice when you clean up the trash laying around their yard.  A random stranger, who’s still your neighbor, will notice when you hand them a blessing bag on the road.  Your kids will notice when you choose to shun the words “that’s okay,” and instead speak the words, “I forgive you.”  The little, seemingly insignificant things that you do each and every day can speak volumes to the people around you.  And they can give you opportunities to speak about Christ and what He has done both for you and for them.

That’s the final verse of the text.  On the service, it looks like works, “Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace.”  But what is it that makes you without spot or blemish?  No amount of bleach, no amount of good deeds.  Christ alone.  Jesus is the only one who can make this wretched, fire-bound sinner, spotless.

And in His blood, shed on the cross, He has.  That’s exactly what He’s done.  In Christ, I’m without spot or blemish.  In Christ, you’re without spot or blemish.  In Christ, we have peace.

This is what it means to wait.  That your hope isn’t built on earthly things, but on Christ.  That your treasure isn’t bound up in the stock market, but in the wonder of His Word.  That the longing of your heart isn’t for your lunch this afternoon, but for His body and blood at the table which we receive together.

This is the promise of the gospel: there is a new heaven and a new earth.  And when Christ returns, that new earth will be your home.  Because you are His.  Because you are forgiven.  Because you have life in His name.  And this “promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off.” (Acts 2:39).  So we wait.  We wait for a Paradise we can’t describe, but we know is there.

 

 

It’s Still All About Jesus November 26, 2017

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1 Corinthians 15:20-28

Last Sunday of the Church Year

November 26, 2017

 

Focus:  God raises the dead!

Function:  That the hearers turn to Christ as the author of life.

Structure:  Walking through the text.

 

It’s Still All About Jesus

 

This year we have had the honor of celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.  And while I may not have been here with you for that celebration, I know you all marked the occasion.  I bring it up this morning, though, to quiz you.  Do any of you remember the LCMS’ motto for the 500thIt’s Still All About Jesus.

October 31, 1517 wasn’t really the Reformation itself.  Luther still wasn’t the theologian that he would later become.  And we can celebrate that, the 500th birthday of the Lutheran Church together come June 25, 2030.  But, the 95 Theses at least got the ball rolling.  And the Reformation itself would be founded upon Christ.  That you are saved not by your own works, but by the works of Christ.

And so, as I serve you in your midst as your new pastor, this theme is my own.  It’s still all about Jesus.  John the Baptist once said, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30).  And that is so true.  In my time with you, whether that’s fifteen minutes or forty years, it’s not about me.  It’s about what Christ does for you.  I must decrease, I must not allow myself, my crazy ideas to get in the way of you seeing Christ and Him crucified.

And that was the Apostle Paul’s remark.  As he began his letter to the church in Corinth, he wrote,

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.

 

If I preach anything other than Christ, I do you no good.  If I preach an hour up here about worldly wisdom, things to help you improve your daily life and routine, I’ve not helped you.  I’ve harmed you.  I’ve pointed you away from Christ, to rely instead upon yourself.  You would literally be better served if I had preached nothing at all.  “No sermon today, Pastor couldn’t figure out how to connect it to Jesus,” would be much less harmful to you.

Our epistle text today is from that same letter of Paul.  And it is one of the most comforting, assuring, confident chapters in all of Scripture.  1 Corinthians 15 is all about the resurrection, whether or not it happened, and what that means for us.

“For as by a man came death.”  The sin of Adam condemned all of creation.  They didn’t know death.  As Adam and Eve lived together in the paradise of the Garden of Eden, caring for God’s creation, they didn’t know death.  But, as they turned from God, rebelled against Him to follow their own path, this rebellion, this sin against God brought death not only to them, but to everything God had entrusted to them.  By one man death came upon us all.

This is our common lot.  You and I may not have all the same sins.  The things that thorn my flesh may not be same for you.  And you will find other sins tempting that don’t cause me any trouble.  And yet, the outcome is the same.  You and I, as consequence, punishment of our sins, we die.

“By a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.”  That word “man” really should be capitalized, because it’s Jesus.  It’s God.  And Paul loved this wordplay of God.  When God created man in the Garden, He named the first man, “man.”  That’s what “Adam” means in Hebrew.  And so now, in his writings, Paul will talk about Jesus as the second Adam, the second Man.  In the first Adam, we all die.  But, in the second Adam, we will all be made alive.

And we know this is true.  That Jesus Christ, the very Son of God Himself, sacrificed Himself for us.  Out of His great love for us, He willingly surrendered His own life, allowing sinful man to nail Him to the cross.  And so we did.  But in that crucifixion, as the blood of Christ poured out, all of our sins were forgiven.  All of them.  Gone.

“But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at His coming those who belong to Christ.”  Paul shows us the three things that happen from Christ’s resurrection.  First, obviously, is that Christ is made alive again.  The tomb is empty, our Lord lives!

Second, when Christ returns, as He’s promised He will, all those who had faith in Christ will be made alive again!  I love to mention this at the graveside after a funeral.  Imagine what this place will look like when Christ returns and your loved ones are raised to life again.  What a wonderful, glorious day that will be!

“Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power.”  The third and final thing that comes of Christ’s resurrection is the destruction of evil.  Satan and his minions, sinful rulers, disease, decay, you name it.  Defeated by the empty tomb of Christ.

“For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet.”  I’m not sure we think about this verse very often, but it is a verse of tremendous comfort.  Christ reigns.  Even now, even in the midst of our brokenness, as we watch the world around us come unraveled, as our lives feel like their falling into despair, even in this Christ reigns!  He is Lord of heaven and earth!  And we’re His dear precious family.

“The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”  I don’t have a perfect answer for you.  I’m not sure I could rightly explain why sin is defeated before death.  But we see it.  We see it every day.  We know this is true.  But Christ has promised, that in His death and in His resurrection, He has overcome the grave even for us!  He has defeated death, and we get to enjoy the benefits of that gift for the rest of forever.

And so, this is where I must always point you, where every sermon must go.  Word and Sacrament.  A sermon is only good if it points you to Jesus.

Now, in a world of constant entertainment, constant bombardment of different images and flashes of light on a screen, hearing the same thing over and over again may sound boring, or like it would get old, but let’s try this.

A woman once approached her husband after many years of marriage, and she said, “John, why don’t you ever tell me that you love me?”  And John replied, “Well, I told you once on the day we got married.  I just figured if anything ever changed, I’d let you know.”  For those of you ladies here today who are married, do those words, “I love you,” spoken to you by your husband, do those words ever get old?

This is where we go.  This is our hope, our life.  In baptism, God claims you as His own child.  In Confession and Absolution, all your sins are forgiven, you are free.  In the Lord’s Supper, you come together with your brothers and sisters in Christ and receive His very own body and blood, giving you forgiveness and life.

It may not be the right church season, but I believe you know the words.  Christ is risen!  He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!  This is our hope.  This is our confidence.  Because Christ lives, we live.  And may that good news always flow from this pulpit.

Farewell to Our Family at St. John’s November 5, 2017

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1 John 3:1-3

All Saints’ Day

November 5, 2017

 

Focus:  God calls us His children through the blood of His Son in our baptisms.

Function:  That the hearers, as a family, trust in the purifying blood of Christ alone.

Structure:  .

 

Farewell to Our Family at St. John’s

 

I’ve been here long enough that you’ve actually heard me preach on all three of our Scriptures today.  So, just as I’d gotten to the point where I could pull up old sermons and bore you to death, the Lord saw fit to whisk me away.  Now I get a new flock to bore!  Thanks for putting up with me.

In all seriousness, the epistle reading from John’s first letter to the church is wonderfully  fitting for our time together this morning.  “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!”  Amen, amen, means yes, yes, it shall be so.  We rejoice in this.  We rejoice that the Heavenly Father, the God of heaven and earth, of the entire universe, loves us.  He loves you and me.

He loves us so richly, so abundantly, so lavishly, that He gave His only Son Jesus Christ to take away our sins, by His death on the cross.  That He raised His Son again, that we might also have life that never ends!  This is wonderful, wonderful, wonderful good news!

Today, you and I are children of God, through the wondrous gift of baptism, we are family.  Brothers and sisters of Christ, children of the Heavenly Father.  This is fantastic stuff!  And it’s ours, it’s our free gift from God.

I’m going to skip to the end of the reading, to the law, to the idea of sanctification.  “Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself…”  When God claims you as His own child, through water and the Word, we become a new creation.  And now, through daily remembering our baptism, daily repentance and forgiveness, we live as children of God.  I see so much of this in you.

You are an extraordinarily generous congregation.  There’s a Bible verse that talks about how you shouldn’t muzzle the ox while he’s treading out the grain.  You don’t muzzle your pastor.  You care for your workers.  You care for the servants that God places into your midst.    The way you pay your staff, the way you care for their health, the way you help them plan for their future, is tremendous.  Thank you!

You also put that generosity out there last weekend.  Pastor Fritsch set a low bar, with a goal of about half of what we raised for Feed My Starving Children last year.  You not only hurdled that bar, we raised $3,502, which beats last year’s number as well.  That’s 15,918 meals that you all just provided last weekend for these families.  Thank you!

Hannah and I can’t thank you enough for everything that you’ve done for us these last five years, and you haven’t stopped.  You aren’t mad at us for leaving, you haven’t given us the cold shoulder.  Instead, we’ve had help with babysitting, with ripping out carpet, disposing of carpet, packing our stuff, some food, and even emptying the oil and gas from our lawnmower.  Thank you!

And the way that you treat our children.  You treat them as your own.  You love on them here at the church.  You’re willing to hold them or sit with them during the service so that they can learn to worship God and receive His gifts, and you enjoy playing with them, not during the service.   All the smiles, the conversations, the relationships.  And your love towards them extends beyond these walls, also.  If I can encourage you here, if you do this for every child, this congregation will never lack for young families.  Thank you!

For your service in the community, through backpacks, SALT, UMR lunches, Channel One.  For your love for God’s Word, the strength of Bible classes.  For your love of teaching His Word to the children that you’ve welcomed into your family in this place through Milestones, Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, and Youth Group.  Thank you!

You’re good at loving one another.  This is one of the least divided and conflicted congregations I’ve ever known.  That’s a wonderful blessing, both to you and your pastor, but also to your community. Thank you!

But, if we’re honest, we aren’t perfect.  And sometimes, ministry here has been a mess.  There’ve been times where volunteers were hard to find.  The Christian Outreach Committee probably bears that burden the most.

There have been times where I met with you in the midst of unrepented sins.  And while I can rejoicingly say that some of those sins were repented, it is with sadness and heavy heart that I know not everyone repented in those times.  I will continue to pray for those people, as I hope you would as well.

And probably our biggest struggle is in the affluence of our land.  We share that struggle with Christians across America, as we allow our wealth and our comfort to overcome the gospel.  That we don’t want to risk our nice life to share the gospel with someone who desperately needs it.  To this end, I pray you’ll always have pastors who are willing use God’s law to shake you out of your comfort zone.

For all the good we do, it’s just not enough, is it?  In confirmation class this week, one of the boys asked about heaven.  I didn’t even let him finish the question.  He started by asking, “If I’m good enough to get to heaven someday…” and I interrupted.  Because he isn’t.  You aren’t.  I’m not.  And no amount of good deeds, no amount of being a good boy, can change that.  We can’t earn heaven.  We can’t earn Paradise.

But the verse ends with “He is pure.”  Because in the end, it’s not up to us.  It’s not up to what we do.  It’s up to Him.  And He’s done it.  His purity, His righteousness, is made yours.  It’s a gift, a gift that can’t be overcome, and it can’t be taken from you.

“Dear friends, now we are the children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known.”  There’s more to this.  We are children of God, right here, right now!  And we rejoice at that.  But we rejoice all the more because we know there’s more to the promise.  That God’s grace, that His lavish love for us didn’t end on the cross.  It wasn’t just in the here and the now that He saved you.

This gift, this salvation, in the wonders of the resurrection of Christ, this gift is yours forever!  Because He has conquered the grave!  He has conquered death and the devil and they no longer have any power over you!

We may not know what Paradise and forever with God will look like, but God is the author of all things good, and we can know and trust that life with Him will be forever awesome.

This is gospel.  As Paul encouraged the early church, so I encourage you.  Let the cross and the empty tomb of Christ always be in your preaching and teaching, and let them always be in your homes.  If anyone comes to you with any other message claiming it to be the gospel, reject them.  Cling to Christ alone.  He is more than enough.

While today seems like a day of goodbye’s, it really isn’t.  You’ve gained a preacher, a teacher, a resource.  And while I may not be your pastor anymore, I’m moving, not dying.  You will continue to look to Pastor Fritsch for his care and guidance as he delivers to you the Lord’s Word and Sacraments.  But I’m sure he won’t mind if you add my sermons in the new congregation to your weekly commute podcast list.  They’ll be online.

We are family.  I don’t just begin every sermon with the phrase, “Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,” for nothing.  I mean it.  You’re my family.  And we love you.  And we will miss you.  But this isn’t the end.  Technology allows all kinds of ways for God’s people to remain in touch even across vast distances.  But I also know that this isn’t the last time I’ll see you.  It may not be here, it may not be on this earth, it may not be in this lifetime, but I have the utmost confidence that we will see you again in God’s everlasting kingdom, at the feast that knows no end.  Just as you have the utmost confidence that you will again see your loved ones who have walked before us in the faith.  In Christ alone, dear brothers and sisters, we are God’s children, now and forevermore.

 

The Idol in the Room October 22, 2017

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Matthew 22:15-22

Proper 24

October 22, 2017

 

Focus:  God saves the world not through the government, but through His Son.

Function:  That the hearers look to Christ alone for their salvation.

Structure:  .

 

The Idol in the Room

 

Over the past couple of weeks, we have seen some of the Pharisees’ greatest attempts to trap Jesus.  And today’s gospel account is another.  This might be the most well-known of their traps, as they tried to use politics and money against Christ.  And again they had Him.  If He sides with not paying taxes, the Roman soldiers are right there and will arrest Him for inciting a rebellion against Caesar.  If He sides with Rome, the crowds who have been brutalized by the heavy taxes will turn on Him.

But then He gives His famous answer, “Give to Caesar what is Caesars, and to God what is God’s.”  But at this point, we’re abandoning the trap narrative.  I want to take a closer look this morning at that famous statement of Christ, and what it means in our context.  Because there’s an idol in the room.  And we rarely, if ever, talk about it.

In that quote, what belongs to Caesar?  Pause for answers, likely incorrect.  The correct answer to the question is nothing.  Listen to the Psalmist, David, as he began to write the 24th Psalm, “The earth is Yahweh’s, and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein.”  Jesus’ own answer is a trick, because everything belongs to God alone.  There are numerous other Bible verses that say the same thing.  That’s our topic of stewardship, that we own nothing, we only manage the things God entrusts to us. Even as I sign away “my” house to this new couple in a few weeks.  We need to watch our language.  It’s God’s house, not mine, not the bank’s, not this family.  It’s His.

This topic has been in the news a lot this fall.  A LOT.  And even that’s an understatement.  Many of you are probably very familiar with the disrespectful remark that the President of this land made publically on Friday night, September 22nd.  When he called out the football players protesting during the national anthem, labeling them sons of …[female dogs].  You know the word.  But for the children present, I won’t say it.

A league full of division found this to rally around.  And the protest of just a handful, became the protest of entire teams, and nearly the entire NFL that following week 3 Sunday.  I watched the ensuing bloodbath with a lot of interest.  Now I won’t talk about how this is really two sides speaking past each other, rather than to each other, listening and learning from one another.  That’s worth talking about, but it’s not connected to Jesus’ words in our text today.

So instead, what I thought made it so interesting to watch the fallout that day, and the next several weeks, in every media outlet, on Facebook news feeds, conversations on the street, maybe even in your workplaces and schools.  I watched as two of American Christians biggest idols went to war.  And to my surprise the NFL lost.  As many of my Christian friends decided to give up on football all together, the flag won.

We talk about false idols a lot.  Because we’re idolaters, it’s the biggest temptation that Satan puts before us because it breaks the very first commandment, that you shall have no other gods.  Anything we put before the Lord is an idol, and Satan loves this trick.  And so we talk about it.  We talk about the prosperity gospel, a false gospel indeed.  We talked last week about putting family, friends, hobbies, or jobs before God.  But today, we’re talking about the false gospel that is patriotism, which thrives in this land. It’s a false gospel when we look for our security in anything other than God Himself.

There was a really fascinating article on this topic on one of America’s leading online liberal news websites.  It was written by a Christian journalist, Jason Foster, and I still have no idea how it got past the editing floor, let alone, how it’s still online today.  I’m going to let his own words pose a challenge to you this morning.  From the article, “Why ‘God and Country’ Christianity is Just Another Phony Prosperity Gospel,”:

This form of American Christianity is a frustrating faction of the faith. There are passionate but generic references to God, calls for fervent prayer and public pleas for “morality.” But the alleged No. 1 devotion to God is usually tied to a No. 1a devotion to the Stars and Stripes, as if one must always be tied to the other.

 

It’s a gospel that pays lip service to a god that’s in control, but it’s heavy on emotions that say man is really the one who protects us. In other words, it’s a gospel that downplays or ignores the complete sovereignty of God.

 

Among its other tenets:

It’s a gospel that suggests living out and sharing your faith is dependent on having the freedom to do so.

It’s a gospel that looks to the government, rather than the church or the home, to do the heavy lifting on matters of faith.

It’s a gospel that suggests without conservative Supreme Court justices, or without guns, or without a strong military that life will be unbearable for Christians.

It’s a gospel that suggests one’s greatest source of identity and value can be found in one’s nationality.

It’s a gospel that laments the loss of prayer in schools, rather than the lack of prayer at home.

It’s a gospel that dreads a future in which Christians are persecuted for sharing their faith, but puts no real emphasis on sharing it now.

It’s a gospel that says it’s better to silence opponents than minister to them.

It’s a gospel that looks to Fox News for truth, rather than the Bible.

It’s a gospel that says it’s OK to put biblical teachings aside to “make America great.”

It’s a gospel that calls for blood when someone “disrespects” the national anthem.

It’s a gospel that says persecution is having to hear someone say “happy holidays.”

It’s a gospel that says eating at Chick-fil-A counts as living out your faith.

Friends, it’s simply a false gospel.

 

That’s a lot of false teaching that he just challenged in such a short space.  And he wrote that a year ago.

This idol lives among us.  To see brother pastors overstep their bounds and protect the flag, a piece of cloth, over the people whom they should be sharing the gospel with, is depressing.  This tab in my throat reminds me that the words I speak I speak not of my own will, but in service to His (point up) will.  This tab is white because of the blood of Christ, cleansing me of my sins, not striped with seven red lines.

While the separation of Church and state is a false concept to begin with, and one pushed upon us not by Scripture but by the very state that would benefit most from it, we do need to understand Luther’s teaching of the two realms.

God works in this world in two distinct ways.  On the one hand, God works to preserve and care for His creation.  He works to establish law and to bring about justice.  On the other hand, God is working to bring people into a right relationship with Himself.  He’s working to fully restore this world to the work of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, justifying people not in their works, but in Christ’s own righteousness.  We call this hand “government.”  We call this hand “church.”  They aren’t separate, but they are distinct.  Two clearly distinct vocations.

Two of the false ideas that go with an idol of patriotism would be these: Christianity is the American religion, and, America is God’s chosen nation.  Those are both false.  One 4th of July Sunday I recall visiting a congregation who began their service with the color guard presenting the nation’s flag.  The people then proceeded to pledge their allegiance to that flag, all the hymns were sung in honor of America, and the sermon was very heavily based upon the history of this being a Christian nation, with the note of sadness at the decline of our culture and the lack of prominence of the Church today.

Imagine that being flipped.  Imagine going to a foreign nation, let’s say North Korea. Somebody has to take the risk to share the gospel with them. And you find the Christians there, and you go to worship with them.  And down comes a flag, and out of their mouths a song praising their nation.  Could you join them?  Could you sing it with them?  Or would it seem out of place?  Didn’t you go there, to that church, that morning, to worship Jesus with your brothers and sisters in Christ?  Didn’t you go there to approach the Lord’s table, to receive His body and blood, shed for you?  Our partner churches throughout the world fly no flag in their sanctuaries.  And American Lutherans only started while they were still speaking German during the World Wars because they wanted to prove which side they were on.

Now, allow me to take a step backward.  There is nothing wrong with loving your country, which is what it means to be patriotic on the most basic level of that word.  There’s nothing wrong on the 4th of July if your pastor prays for this nation.  There’s nothing wrong on Veteran’s Day to thank the men and women who have lovingly sacrificed of themselves to serve their neighbors.  There’s nothing wrong with being grateful for the land and the gifts that God gives to us.  There’s nothing wrong with caring about this land and its people, being concerned about the direction we see things going, and wanting this country to reflect God’s truth.  There’s nothing wrong with working diligently as a citizen in this land to make that happen.  These are good things.

The Scriptures even tell us that we ought to pray for our leaders, which is why our weekly church prayer list names local, state, and federal government leaders.  This is worth your time, these men and women can really use your prayers.  The Scriptures also teach us to encourage our leaders, and to respect our leaders, only disobeying them if they command us to do something contrary to Scripture.

The point this morning is that we have but one Lord.  And we are ever grateful for Him!  It is the blood of Jesus Christ that saves you, not a government.  It is His loving and tender care that we are to trust to stay out of harm’s way, not a military.  It is His hand that provides for our daily bread and provision, not an economy.  We are not defined by our American citizenship, but rather, by being one of God’s people.  And in fact, following Christ will make you a bad American.  Because this land is going the opposite direction, choosing to reject Christ and His gifts, and really, that’s regardless of who’s been in power over the past couple generations.

It’s not our job as Christians to assert our rights as Americans, nor really even to fight for them.  This is a tough one, and I admit I struggle with it also.  It’s hard not to watch the Christians going before the Supreme Court.  Many Christians today fear they are being marginalized, pushed out of society.  But that’s not only true, it’s actually okay.  Really, it’s a good thing.

History has born this out.  Where is the Church growing the fastest today?  It’s in Africa, where people are daily dying for their faith.  And here, and places like Europe, places where the Church enjoyed a position of power and comfort for generations, in these places the Church is declining the fastest.

We lost sight of what it means to be a citizen of heaven.  We lost sight of what it means to be in the world, but not of the world.  You’re not here to fight over your rights.  We’re here to love and serve our neighbor.  Jesus once taught:

You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you. – Matthew 5:38-42

 

We need not trust in our government or in our things or in ourselves to provide for us.  The Lord will do that.  The Lord does do that.  The Lord cares for us.  This goes back millennia!  God created everything.  All of this.  His creation, and He cares for it.  To double back to stewardship again, and a Sabbath rest, that’s all about trust.  It’s God’s way of saying, “I built this in six days, can you trust Me that if you take a day off, I can keep it spinning?”  And, the answer yes, He can keep it spinning.  He’s been doing that for over 6,000 years.

And about 4,000 years into that, God was not content with mere daily bread.  But instead, God sent His Son into this world, into His own creation, to provide for our greatest need, to provide for our salvation from sin, death, and the devil.  To take the sins of an idolatrous people, and to cleanse them in the blood of His own Son.  That’s precisely what He’s done.  2,000 years ago, Jesus died on the cross for the very idolatries that you and I hadn’t even committed yet.  In Him, we’re already forgiven!

And we are the Church, we are the very body of Christ Himself, made in His image, not the image of Caesar America; and the Church exists so that the gospel of Jesus Christ is proclaimed and sinners are justified in the blood of Christ.  The more the state pushes against it, the more the Church will thrive.  History has shown this to be true.