Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Lenten Midweek III

Lenten Midweek III
March 22, 2017
“Dear Christians, One and All Rejoice: Jesus: God’s Son and Your Servant”[1]
Text: John 13:1-20; LSB 556:5-6

            “His royal pow’r disguised he bore; A servant’s form, like mine, He wore To lead the devil captive” (LSB 556:6).  No one expected it.  No one expected that when God’s Messiah came to rescue His people from sin and death, He would come in lowly form, born of a poor girl from Nazareth of all places, the supposed son of a carpenter.  No one expected Him to be born in backwater Bethlehem, in a cattle stall, no crib for a bed, but laid in a manger, the feeding trough for the barnyard animals.  And certainly no one expected He would win His victory over Satan and the yawning jaws of hell by submitting Himself to their power, to the condemnation of sinners and the accursed death of the cross.  God’s ways are not our ways.  His thoughts are not our thoughts.  So when our Lord stoops down to wash His disciples’ feet, the proper work of a slave, the disciples, and Peter in particular, are greatly offended.  “Lord, do you wash my feet? … You shall never wash my feet” (John 13:6, 8; ESV).  “Lord, this is not the way Messiah is supposed to behave.  No stooping.  No serving.  Be served!  Sit back and relax!  Let us do the work.  There have to be some perks to this Savior gig.  Let’s enjoy a nice Passover meal and then go blast those Romans to Kingdom Come by Your sheer glory!”  Yes, that’s what we expect.  Not a Savior who stoops, but a Savior who stupefies. 
            But that’s not Jesus.  The Son of God would not have needed to become man to do that.  That’s what a mostly hands-off god would do, a selfish and self-involved god, like the gods of the pagans and the false gods that reign in our hearts.  But not a God of love.  Not a God sincerely and intimately concerned with the plight of sinners.  A man got us into this mess… “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” (Rom. 5:12, emphasis added)…  So death and sin must be undone by a man, and that man is the eternally-begotten Son of the Father, Jesus Christ.  “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” (v. 15).  “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Gal. 4:4-5).  Jesus puts it this way: “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).  This is the God who loves you in such a way that He cannot leave you in sheer despair, death as your share, the pangs of hell to suffer, as we sang a couple weeks ago in Luther’s marvelous hymn.  He cannot and He will not forsake you.  Instead, He becomes one with you, bone of your bone and flesh of your flesh.  And He takes your sin upon Himself and suffers your death and your hell, that you be free and live forever as children of God. 
            “God said to His beloved Son: ‘It’s time to have compassion’” (LSB 556:5).  “When the fullness of time had come…”  At just the right time, God sent His Son.  “Then go, bright jewel of My crown And bring to all salvation.”  Set them free from sin and sorrow.  Slay bitter death by dying.  Punch a hole through death’s stomach, that it may never hold my children again, that they may live with You forever.  And that is what He does, our merciful Lord Jesus.  He obeys His Father’s will.  He is born of a virgin.  He puts on our birthday suit, our flesh.  And He does what we cannot do… fulfills God’s Law, perfectly, without error, without sin.  This is His active righteousness.  And He does what otherwise we would have to do.  He suffers under Pontius Pilate, is crucified, dead and buried.  This is His passive righteousness, His taking our punishment, thus atoning for our sins.  He has to be one of us to do this.  He has to be a man to be our substitute.  And God cannot die.  Unless God is a man.  And He is.  His Name is Jesus. 
            Yes, our God is a man.  How humiliating.  No wonder it was a stumbling block to Jews and utter foolishness to Greeks, and remains so for all the world to this very day.  We call this our Lord’s state of humiliation, from His conception in the womb of Mary to His death and burial, when He does not always or fully use His divine powers.  St. Paul puts it this way, probably quoting an early hymn: “though he was in the form of God, [Jesus] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:6-8).  And so, “having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (John 13:1), to the end of His life, to the end of Himself, to His utter humiliation, condemnation, and death.  That’s a God who loves you.  That is how your Savior wins the victory.  And, of course, the hymn continues with the story of Easter and the Ascension: “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:9-11).  That last part, by the way, “Jesus Christ is Lord,” is the earliest Christian Creed.  In Greek, it reads more like “Jesus Christ is Caesar,” words that will get you killed in the Roman Empire.  This is what we call our Lord’s state of exaltation, from His bodily resurrection from the dead and into eternity, when He now always and fully uses His divine powers.  The Father exalted Him.  Because He submitted Himself to death and hell for you, to save you, thus accomplishing the Father’s will, His reward is resurrection from the dead… Not just His own on Easter morn, but  yours on the Last Day.  His reward is to reign at the right hand of the Father, not only as God (as He has from all eternity), but as man, in your flesh.  And He is bringing you with Him!  He wants you to reign with Him forever. 
            So now we live in the Great Meantime between our Lord’s saving work and that glorious Day when we will see Him as He is and reign with Him in our Father’s Kingdom.  What are we to do?  Jesus demonstrates it for us.  We are to be servants of one another.  We’re to do the work of slaves.  Jesus was not commanding His Church to do foot washing from here on out, though that is certainly fine and good if you want to do it.  The point is, humiliate yourself before your brothers and sisters.  Serve them.  Which is to say, love them.  And at the proper time, God will exalt you.  And them.  And now, you do this as one who knows that your salvation is already completely accomplished by the Lord Jesus, apart from works, apart from service, apart from your love.  You’re freed up to just go do it, in joy and thanksgiving, because that’s what Jesus does for you. 
            He came to be your Brother.  In fact, wonder of wonders, He became your Servant.  Think about that one.  Almighty God stoops down to serve you.  He washes you head to toe in Holy Baptism, washes all your sin and guilt away forever.  That is why He tells Peter, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet” (John 13:10).  We might say, Jesus washes your feet in Holy Absolution, which is always a return to your Baptism.  You’re already clean.  You’ve already bathed.  Now Jesus washes the dust and grime of daily life in this fallen world from your feet by forgiving your sins.  He did it again tonight.  He’ll do it your whole life long until you walk the streets of gold where there is no filth, no sin, no death.  Jesus still washes your feet.  He still serves you.  He is still one with you.  He loves you.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.                         

[1] The theme and structure of this sermon are from John T. Pless, “Dear Christians, One and All Rejoice,” Lenten Preaching Seminar 2010, Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, IN.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Lenten Midweek II

Lenten Midweek II
March 15, 2017
“Dear Christians, One and All Rejoice: From the Father’s Heart”[1]
Text: John 12:27-36; LSB 556:4

            God had seen our wretched state before the world’s foundation, before the beginning, before the first tick of the clock inaugurated time and history.  He knew what would happen.  He did not will it to happen this way.  God does not will sin, and He did not will the fall of humanity in the Garden.  But He foreknew it.  And He foreknew your sin, your wretched state.  And from all eternity He was determined to do something about it, for from all eternity you have been in His heart.  God so loved the world, God so loved you, that He did not choose the easy part.  He gave His dearest treasure.  He sent His Son.  Jesus came to bear your sin.  Jesus came to suffer your punishment, that God “might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:26; ESV).  Jesus came to die.
            “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour” (John 12:27).  For this purpose I have come to this hour.  What hour does He speak of in our Gospel?  The hour in the Gospels is the divinely appointed time when the Son of Man is sacrificed for our sins.  Jesus came for this purpose, to be lifted up on the cross and die for the sins of the world.  And this isn’t just some Plan B because things went tragically wrong in Eden.  This has been God’s plan from all eternity.  It has always been in His heart to redeem you in a manner most costly to Himself, the blood and death of His Son.  And in this way, Jesus’ prayer is answered, that the Father’s Name be glorified, the Name Jesus bears and reveals to us, that God is our Father who loves us and longs to be reconciled to us by the forgiveness of sins.  And in this way also the Father’s Name is glorified, for in the lifting up of the Son on the cross, the Judgment of this world is complete, being poured out on Christ; the ruler of this world (Satan) is cast out; and our Savior draws all men unto Himself.
            Jesus is the answer to the question, “How is God toward me?”  Is He a God of wrath, justly angered by my sins, poised to cast me into the abyss of hell?  Or is He a God of mercy, determined to win my salvation and bestow on me His eternal Kingdom?  In Jesus, we know the heart of God.  If you ever wonder what God thinks of you, how He is disposed toward you, look on a crucifix.  Consider the man, beaten and bloody and dead, nailed there to the wood.  Remember that this dead man is none other than God, the eternally-begotten Son of the Father, become flesh for this very purpose, so that He could die.  For you.  Look at the wounds.  His sacred head encircled with thorns for your sinful thoughts, your fantasies, your premeditation and nostalgia for sin.  His hands pierced with nails for your iniquitous actions, His feet likewise impaled to atone for your feet which have carried you places you should not be.  Look upon His side, thrust through with a spear.  See the water and the blood poured out for you.  A crucifix is a helpful piece of jewelry or d├ęcor.  It helps you meditate on your Lord’s Passion.  It keeps Christ crucified before your eyes.  How is God toward you?  Here you have your answer.  He is the God who sacrifices His own Son to save you and make you His own.  He turns to you a father’s heart, the heart He has had for you from eternity.  God loves you, and He will not forsake you. 
            In addition to our hymn, Luther writes of the Father’s heart toward us in the Large Catechism.  In his discussion on the Creed he writes, “For here in all three articles God has revealed Himself and opened the deepest abyss of His fatherly heart and His pure, inexpressible love [Ephesians 3:18-19].  He has created us for this very reason, that He might redeem and sanctify us.  In addition to giving and imparting to us everything in heaven and upon earth, He has given to us His Son and the Holy Spirit, who brings us to Himself [Romans 8:14, 32].  For… we could never grasp the knowledge of the Father’s grace and favor except through the Lord Christ.  Jesus is a mirror of the fatherly heart [John 14:9; Colossians 1:15; Hebrews 1:3], outside of whom we see nothing but an angry and terrible Judge.”[2]
            Jesus is a mirror of the fatherly heart.  On the cross you see the heart of God, “laid open, broken and bleeding for you” (Pless).  All God’s just wrath over your sin is poured out there, on God’s Son, lifted up on the cross.  All God’s tender love for you is poured out here where the risen Jesus speaks into your ears and heart and feeds you His true body and blood.  In Baptism you are made God’s child.  The Spirit opens your lips to pray, “Our Father”…  God in heaven hears and answers for Jesus’ sake.  Again, Luther writes in the Large Catechism, “whenever a godly Christian prays, ‘Dear Father, let Your will be done’ [see Matthew 6:10], God speaks from on high and says, ‘Yes, dear child, is shall be so, in spite of the devil and all the world.’”[3]  So, how is God toward you?  He is your Father, and you are His child.  The proof of it is Christ crucified for you.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.            

[1] The theme and structure of this sermon are from John T. Pless, “Dear Christians, One and All Rejoice,” Lenten Preaching Seminar 2010, Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, IN. 
[2] LC II: Article III:64-65 (McCain).
[3] LC III:32 (McCain)

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Second Sunday in Lent (A)

Second Sunday in Lent (A)

March 12, 2017
Text: John 3:1-17

            Many people, even Christians, think of God primarily as Judge.  As he was growing up, Martin Luther and the majority of Christians in the Middle Ages looked upon Christ as a stern Judge who beheld poor sinners with nothing but wrath and condemnation.  Well, Luther came around on that, thanks be to God.  He came to understand the Gospel as Jesus proclaims it to us this morning: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17; ESV).  The Lord Jesus looks upon us poor sinners in mercy, in grace, with the forgiveness of sins.  But it is tempting even for Christians today, even for you Lutherans who know the precious Gospel of forgiveness and life in Christ, to think of your various sufferings and afflictions as God’s punishment, as His judgment against your sin.  “I must have done something to anger God,” you think.  “I must be paying for my sins.”  Which, of course, is utter nonsense.  Because as you know Jesus paid for all your sins on the cross.  He paid with His suffering, with His blood, with His death.  He paid your debt in full.  There is nothing more to be paid.  God’s wrath has been spent on Him.  The Son of God did not come into our flesh on a mission of wrath, but on a mission of mercy.  “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (v. 16). 
            That is not to say our sin is undeserving of God’s wrath.  Far from it.  It took the blood and death of the Son of God to pay for your sin.  A righteous and holy God cannot abide sin.  He cannot simply ignore it.  If He did, He would be neither righteous nor holy.  God had to do something about our sin if He wanted to save us.  So He did.  He sent Jesus.  The cross of Christ is the intersection where God’s love and justice meet.  For there on the cross, in the body of His only-begotten Son, God punishes our sin in justice.  And there on the cross, in the body of His only-begotten Son, God pours out His love for us poor sinners, to save us.  Now we need not die.  Now we are not condemned.  For Jesus has been condemned and died in our place.  Now there is eternal life and salvation, heaven for all who believe in Christ.  Believe it and it is yours.  It really is that simple.  Christ Jesus who died for you is now risen from the dead, and He gives you that life of His, that life that has conquered death and hell, freely, distributed in His Word and the Sacraments, received by faith in Christ.
            It doesn’t make sense, though, does it?  Free grace is a scandal.  Surely I must do something.  Surely in some way I must be worth it to God.  And if that means I have to pay with a little penance, a little suffering, or do a few extra good works, then so be it.  Not so, dear Christian!  For to see grace as anything but free is to reject Christ and His sacrifice for you.  That was Nicodemus’ problem when he came to Jesus by night for fear of his colleagues in the Sanhedrin.  Nicodemus was a Pharisee.  These were, of course, the guys who were really good at doing good works, preserving an outwardly pristine life, and thinking that in this way they were justifying themselves before God.  The Pharisees also believed that if someone is suffering, it must be because they or their parents committed some grave sin for which God is punishing them.  The disciples thought that about the man born blind: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?” (John 9:2).  When we think this way about ourselves or others, we show ourselves to be as misguided as the Pharisees and the disciples.  Jesus puts such thinking to rest: “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (9:3).
            It is the nature of the Pharisee, like Nicodemus, to think that somehow he must earn his standing before God.  It’s the nature of the Pharisee, like you, to think that you must pay some price for your sin.  You can’t.  There is nothing you can do to appease God’s wrath.  There is nothing you can do to earn God’s favor.  And thank God, you don’t have to.  For God so loved you that He sent His only-begotten Son to take your sin to the cross and die for it.  God so loved you that He did not leave His Son in death, but raised Him from the dead, that He might give you eternal life.  Do you want what Jesus has to give you?  Just believe it.  It is already yours.  Amazing!  Incredible!  And totally opposed to your fallen reason.  That is why Luther has you confess in the Small Catechism, “I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him.”  To believe this, as our Lord says in our Holy Gospel, you must be born again, or as it is better translated, born from above.  “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again,” born from above, “he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).
            Nicodemus does not understand what Jesus is talking about.  What a ridiculous statement.  “How can a man be born when he is old?  Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” (v. 4).  We don’t understand it either.  Unlike Nicodemus, perhaps, we know that Jesus is not talking here about a physical rebirth.  But we think that somehow we have to make ourselves be born again by making a decision for Jesus, surrendering our lives to Him, dedicating ourselves to living a Christian life.  But when you make faith your effort, when you think you are born again, not from above, from God, but from your own striving, you are a Pharisee.  Don’t you see?  Faith is a gift!  It is God’s gift to you!  You cannot make yourself be born again spiritually any more than you made yourself be born physically.  Utter nonsense.  God brought you forth from your mother’s womb.  And God your heavenly Father gives birth to you spiritually, bringing forth living faith in Jesus Christ.  He does it by His Spirit, in His means of grace.
            Jesus singles out Baptism in our text.  That is why you have the precious little baby on the front of your bulletin, baptized into Christ, God’s own child I gladly say it.  “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (v. 5).  To be born again, from above, of the Spirit, is to be baptized.  There at the font, where water is joined to God’s Word, by His command, the Spirit is given to you.  And the Spirit gives you faith in Jesus Christ as a gift.  That is why babies are baptized.  Because we cannot reason with them.  We cannot reason them into the faith.  They have no idea what we’re talking about.  So we simply baptize them, as God has commanded us to do for all nations (Matt. 28:19) of which babies are a part, and we trust that God will do in Baptism what He has promised, namely, give birth to them from above by His Spirit, giving them faith in Jesus Christ.  And in truth, that is why we baptize adults as well.  For we cannot reason adults into faith, either.  Reason is fallen and corrupt, opposed to faith in Christ.  And so, as our Lord says elsewhere, “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it” (Mark 10:15).  That is to say, faith is simply trust, like a newborn who trusts Mom for food and protection and care and love, who cries out to Mom in every need, who rejoices and is comforted when Mom speaks.  Baby cannot reason about Mom, or confess Mom’s name, but you better believe Baby knows Mom and trusts Mom and clings to Mom as the giver of all good.  That is you before your Father in heaven, a newborn from above, baptized into Christ, born of the Spirit.

            There are, to be sure, sufferings and afflictions to be borne in this life.  You do not understand them any better than a newborn understands the new world into which she has entered, what it is that is happening to her, why it is happening to her, and why some things are so unpleasant, why some things hurt.  God could explain it all to you, but you would be as uncomprehending as a newborn.  Go ahead and cry out to God like a newborn when you hurt.  But also trust that everything God does He does for your good.  He is not punishing you.  Your punishment happened at the cross, where the Son of Man, Jesus Christ, was lifted up like the serpent on the pole.  He was lifted up in your place.  He was lifted up as the standard of your sin and death, that when you look upon Him there in faith, you be healed of your mortal illness, sin.  When you look upon Him there in faith, when you believe in Him, you have eternal life.  This is how God loves the world.  This is how God loves you.  He gave His Son, that you might be His own child.  And you are.  In Baptism, God has written His Name on you.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Lenten Midweek I

Lenten Midweek I
March 8, 2017
“Dear Christians, One and All Rejoice: Possessed by Sin and Bound by Death”[1]
Text: John 8:31-38; LSB 556:2-3

            “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone” (John 8:33; ESV).  It is laughable on the face of it.  The Jews, the Israelites, have never been enslaved?  Anyone with a casual familiarity with the story of the Old Testament knows this is patently false.  The book of Exodus is all about how God rescued the Israelites from slavery in Egypt.  Judges is all about how time and time again the Israelites turned away from God and were enslaved by the heathen nations occupying the Promised Land.  When they repented, when they turned back to God, He would send a deliverer.  The books of Kings and Chronicles and the books of the prophets are all about the slow decline of the Kingdom of Israel into idolatry and rebellion, her civil war and separation into Northern and Southern Kingdoms, and her humiliation and defeat as she is carried off into captivity; the Northern Kingdom, Israel, to captivity in Assyria in 722 BC; the Southern Kingdom, Judah, the Jews, to captivity in Babylon in 586 BC.  And now even at this moment in our Holy Gospel, as the Jews are asserting their freedom over against our Lord’s preaching, the Romans patrol the streets of Jerusalem, keeping their Jewish subjects in line.  Never been enslaved to anyone?  Why, that’s the whole story of the Jews!
            But you and I are Americans!  We are offspring of the founding fathers and have never been enslaved to anyone!  We live in “the land of the free,” and liberty is an unalienable right with which we are endowed by our Creator.  Now, it is true that since the Revolution, the United States has maintained her freedom as a sovereign nation.  But what have we done with that freedom?  What once was understood to be freedom from tyranny, we have distorted into personal autonomy, law unto self, the freedom to do whatever we want.  It’s like the days of the Judges in Israel: “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6; 21:25).  What do we get when we do whatever is right in our own eyes?  Abortion, euthanasia, sexual permissiveness and perversion come to mind.  Note the common theme in all of these: Death and the distortion of marital relations from which God gives life. 
            But it’s not just them.  It’s not just those people who do those things.  You think you are free.  You believe you have never been enslaved by anyone.  To you Jesus says, “everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin” (John 8:34), and St. Paul and King David agree: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands, no one seeks for God.  All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (Rom. 3:10-12; Cf. Ps. 14:1-3).  These words are about us.  We talk a big talk about free will, but it’s utterly foolish.  Adam and Eve were created with free will, but they screwed it up in the Garden.  Remember?  “(I)n the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Gen. 2:17).  Our first parents died spiritually as their teeth sank into the fruit.  And their children have been born in death ever since, dead in your trespasses and sins.  What freedom does a dead man have?  A dead man is only free to be dead.  A sinner is only free to sin.  An unbeliever is only free not to believe.  What kind of freedom is that?  It’s no freedom at all!  “Fast bound in Satan’s chains I lay; Death brooded darkly o’er me.  Sin was my torment night and day; In sin my mother bore me.”  And it’s not just an inherited condition, although that is our greatest problem, original sin, as we heard on Sunday.  But we act accordingly: “But daily deeper still I fell; My life became a living hell, So firmly sin possessed me” (LSB 556:2). 
            We are good at keeping up the illusion that we are free, in and of ourselves, apart from Christ.  As if being a Christian is a matter of decision and earning God’s favor.  When someone dies, we say of him, “He was a good man.  He is in a better place.”  As though heaven is for good people, or at least people not as bad as the bad people.  What we’re really saying is, “I hope I’m good enough to get to heaven.”  Well... you’re not.  No matter how good you are, you are not good enough.  And I hate to burst your bubble, but you really aren’t good at all.  Remember what St. Paul says in our Epistle: “All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”  That means you.  It is true, what we sang with Dr. Luther: “My own good works all came to naught, No grace or merit gaining.”  And what about free will?  “Free will against God’s judgment fought, Dead to all good remaining” (LSB 556:3).  There is no freedom of the will for sinners.  There is only bondage of the will.
            So if there is to be freedom, if there is to be life, if there is to be rescue from slavery to sin and death, it must come from outside of you.  “(I)f the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).  Jesus came for this very reason, to liberate you from bondage.  His blood and death are the price of your ransom.  The cross of Christ unlocks the chains in which Satan has bound you.  His death destroys death.  His resurrection puts death to open shame.  And now Jesus gives you His freedom and life by the means of grace, the Word and the Sacraments.  “If you abide in my word,” He says, “you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (vv. 31-32).  What truth is it that you will know, that will liberate you?  You will know the truth of your sinful condition, and you will know the truth of the forgiveness of sins and salvation that come alone by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for you.  In other words, to know the truth is to receive the saving gifts of Christ by faith.  The purpose of Christian preaching is to shatter your faith in anyone or anything that is not our God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  The purpose of Christian preaching is to shatter your illusions of autonomy and freedom and the ability to work your way out of your slavery to sin and death.  The purpose of preaching is to give you the true freedom that comes only by the Gospel as the living voice of Christ forgives your sins and breathes the Spirit of life into your dry bones.
            And what is this freedom which you have come to possess by your knowledge of the truth, by Jesus’ Word, by faith?  It is not the freedom to do whatever you want.  That is the old bondage of the flesh to sin and death.  No, when Jesus frees a man, he is for the first time free to love God and love his neighbor.  He is freed from the tyranny of the self.  He is freed from the slavish subjection to the Law to the freedom of the doing of God’s will.  He is freed from the condemnation of death and hell for the life God always intended for man.  In his classic treatise, The Freedom of a Christian, Martin Luther shows us that the life of the Christian is lived in this paradox: “A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none.  A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.”[2]  You are free from the doing of good works in order to earn God’s favor and salvation.  In that way, you are perfectly free, a lord of all, subject to none.  But you are also free for love and service and self-sacrifice for the sake of your neighbor.  In that way, you are a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.  In Christ, you are freed from yourself to do this very thing, not for the sake of earning anything, but for the sake of love.  God does not need your good works, but your neighbor does.  Freed from sin, freed from death, freed from slavery to Satan, you are free to do what love demands, what your neighbor needs you to do for him.  This freedom is yours in Christ alone.
            The great paradox that runs so counter to our fallen human reason is this: In freedom from God, you are enslaved by sin, death, and the devil.  As God’s slave, you are truly free.  Redeemed by Christ, your sins are forgiven.  You are free to love.  You are free to live.  You are free to be the child of God He has called you to be in Baptism.  “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”  The Son has set you free.  You are free indeed.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.         

[1] The theme and structure of this sermon are from John T. Pless, “Dear Christians, One and All Rejoice,” Lenten Preaching Seminar 2010, Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, IN.
[2] Three Treatises (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg, 1960) p. 277.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

First Sunday in Lent

First Sunday in Lent (A)

March 5, 2017
Text: Matt. 4:1-11

            Everything was riding on Adam.  He had the Commandment.  He was armed with the Word of God.  “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Gen. 2:16-17; ESV).  This is not just some arbitrary rule God made up because He’s a divine stick-in-the-mud and doesn’t want Adam to have any fun.  God is not withholding good food from Adam and Eve.  He has given them every other tree in the Garden for food, and I’m certain all of it is very delicious.  But this tree is special.  This is tree is a place of worship.  This tree is a place for man to exercise faith that God’s Word and will are good and wise.  By not eating this fruit, and preaching the Commandment to his wife and their children, Adam would be loving God with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength, and loving his neighbor as himself (Mark 12:30-31).  In failing to preach the Commandment, and eating from this tree, Adam would be rejecting God as his God and proclaiming himself god.
            And so the moment of battle came.  The sly serpent approached Eve, questioning God’s Word which Adam had preached, preaching instead an anti-Gospel.  “You will not surely die.  God knows that in the day you eat of it you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”  Now, don’t miss the trick in the devil’s words.  He would have Eve believe that with just one bite she could determine good and evil for herself, be like God, essentially be her own god.  And he would have Eve believe that God was holding out on her for this very reason, that He did not want to cede His power to the man and the woman.  But the plain truth is, up to this moment, Adam and Eve had known only good.  Now the supple flesh of forbidden fruit between their teeth, the juice still dripping down their chins, Adam and Eve for the first time knew evil.  And it was them.  It was their rejection of God.  They had lost.  They had fallen.  They had died spiritually, and they were dying physically, and they would die for all eternity as slaves of the serpent.  By the way, where was Adam in the heat of battle?  Hiding behind his wife.  We find out he was standing there the whole time, not saying anything, failing to preach the Word God had given him.  He let Eve be the preacher.  He let Eve fight the battle.  It would be like Jesus making His Bride, the Church, fight the devil on her own!  Eve preached a sermon, though it was not given her to preach, and she got it wrong.  She skewed God’s Word and finally rejected it, and then she turned to her husband and gave an anti-Sacrament.  “Take and eat,” she said, and the whole creation was subjected to the curse, plunged into darkness, broken, dying, and dead. 
            Our first parents sinned.  It’s not just that they did what they weren’t supposed to.  They were mortally wounded by the serpent, infected with a deadly disease.  We call this original sin, not just because it was the first, but because it is the condition to which Adam and Eve succumbed and in which their children have been born ever since.  Sin is not simply a matter of the bad things we do and the good things we fail to do.  We call those actual sins, sins of commission and sins of omission, our transgressions of God’s holy Commandments.  But the problem is so much deeper than that.  No matter how successful you may be at avoiding sin and doing all the things you should do, you’re still a son, a daughter of Adam.  And so you’re still a sinner.  From the moment of conception.  That is what King David confesses in Psalm 51: “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (v. 5).  Original sin is a corruption deep within your nature.  Its guilt is with you from the moment you exist, passed down from father to child.  Yes, it’s your dad’s fault you’re a sinner.  It’s ultimately Father Adam’s fault.  Everything was riding on him, and in a moment, with one bite, it was gone.
            And so the Promise, a new Word from God spoken directly to the evil foe: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen. 3:15).  A Son would be born of the woman, born without the guilt of Adam, without an earthly father, and He would go toe to toe with the devil.  He would be our last and greatest hope, One who by the mortal bite of the serpent would crush the serpent’s head forever.  “Ask ye, Who is this?  Jesus Christ it is, Of Sabaoth Lord, And there’s none other God; He holds the field forever” (LSB 656:2). 
            Jesus is our Champion.  Jesus fights for us against the prince of darkness.  Adam lost everything in Paradise.  Jesus, our new and greater Adam, fights the rematch in the desert.  Note again the place of food in the temptation, food God has not given.  Take and eat, forbidden fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  Take and eat, stones commanded to become bread.  It is the temptation to forsake God’s Word which nourishes to eternal life, for that which only fills the belly for a time.  Armed with the Word of God, our Champion proclaims: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4).  Note also place of glory in the temptation, glory God has not given.  Your eyes will be opened.  You will be like God.  You will not die.  Cast yourself down now from the pinnacle of the temple.  The eyes of the masses will be opened.  They will see you are God, as the angels catch you before you strike your foot against a stone.  You will not die.  And again our Champion preaches, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test” (v. 7).  Finally, note the place of power in the temptation.  You will be like God.  You can determine what is good and what is evil for yourself.  Make your own rules.  Follow your heart.  See all the kingdoms of the world in a moment, throughout time, across space.  These I will give you, now, apart from suffering, apart from the cross, if you bow down and worship me.  And our Champion proclaims the First Commandment, the Commandment of Commandments: “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve” (v. 10).  And the devil has been mastered.  It is only the first battle in a war that will culminate at the cross.  But it is a decisive victory.  And it is vital for your salvation.  For just as sin came into the world through one man, Adam, and death through sin, and sin came to all men for all sinned, so by the one man’s obedience, that of Jesus Christ, are the many made righteous (Rom. 5:12, 19). 
            This is what we call our Lord’s active righteousness, His fulfilling God’s Law on our behalf.  Adam fought the serpent and lost.  You fight the serpent and lose.  Jesus fought the serpent and won.  He did not give in to the temptation.  It is Eden 2.0.  Recapitulation we call it in theology.  Jesus undoes all that has gone wrong with Adam and with us.  He is THE faithful man.  He is THE righteous one.  And all His righteousness, all of His resisting temptation, all of His active fulfilling of the Law, He gives to us in Holy Baptism, He gives to us by faith.  We rightly stress Jesus’ passive righteousness, His suffering and death for our sins on the cross as the sacrifice of atonement.  So also we stress our Lord’s resurrection victory over death, and rightly so.  But we so easily forget that our Lord’s life of faithfulness to His Father is also a vital component of our salvation.  He does what we cannot do, and we get all the credit.  Our Lord undertakes a great exchange.  He takes all our sin and death upon Himself and nails it to the cross.  He gives us all His righteousness and life in exchange, received by faith.  Jesus fights the devil and wins.  God declares His victory is ours.

            And, of course, the ultimate victory is His death and resurrection.  In His death on the cross, where the nail literally pierces His heel, the serpent’s head is crushed.  By His death, death is undone.  By His resurrection, we have life eternal.  Everything was riding on Jesus, and He came through for us.  If He had lost, if He had sinned, if He had failed, we would all go to hell.  But He did not lose.  He did not sin.  Jesus is our Champion.  He won for Himself a Kingdom, and He gives it to you.  By means of a tree, the precious tree of the cross, once a tree of death and condemnation, now the tree of life and salvation.  This tree is also a place of worship, but unlike the tree in the Garden, here you worship by taking of its fruit.  Its fruit is the body and blood of Jesus.  Man does not live by bread alone, but by the Word of God.  Hanging on the cross is the Word become flesh, and He is the Bread of Life.  Take and eat.  In receiving this fruit, you receive Jesus as your God.  Your sins are forgiven.  You live.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.                   

Friday, March 3, 2017

Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday

March 1, 2017
“Dear Christians, One and All Rejoice: Rejoicing in Repentance”[1]
Text: Psalm 51; LSB 556:1

            “Dear Christians, One and All Rejoice”… in repentance?  This may seem an odd theme for Lent, and especially for Ash Wednesday as we smear our foreheads with the dust and ashes of repentance, and upon us is pronounced the sentence for every sinner: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”  It’s a more poetic way of saying, “You are a sinner, therefore you must die!”  Rejoice in that?  Yes.  Because that is not the end of the story.  That is not the end of you.  Remember that those ashes are smeared in the sign of the cross, the cross made over your forehead and your heart at Baptism, to mark you as one redeemed by Christ, the crucified.  You are baptized into Christ!  You have put on Christ!  His death is your death.  His resurrection is your life.  And so, while the ashes declare the truth that the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23), the cross declares the truth that Christ took your death upon Himself, O sinner.  You will not die, but live, eternally, with the crucified and risen Christ.  And though your body must expire when your earthly life has run its course, still, you live, with Christ, in heaven.  And the risen Christ will raise your body from the grave on the Last Day, and you will live eternally in your body in the New Creation inaugurated on Easter with the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ.
            And so, Dr. Luther’s magnificent hymn is just the right theme for this Ash Wednesday, and for all of Lent.  If preaching ended with the Law, if we simply smeared your forehead with a blob of ashes and told you that you were going to die, and then left you in your death and condemnation, there would be no joy, there would be no rejoicing.  In fact, there really wouldn’t be repentance.  Repentance is a turning from sin and from self and from all that causes your death and condemnation to the God who saves you in the flesh of Christ.  In other words, the Christian life of repentance is the life lived under the shelter of Christ’s salvation, His saving you from your slavery to sin and the condemnation of the Law.  This is great joy!  This is reason to rejoice!  Repentance is God’s gift to you.  We too often think of repentance as something we do, a feeling of sorrow we evoke from ourselves by singing sad hymns and putting on sad faces.  That’s not it at all.  God is the one who turns you.  The Spirit convicts you of your sin in the preaching of the Law.  The Spirit kills you, crucifies Old Adam, by the preaching of the Law, and then raises you to new life, faith in Christ, by the preaching of the Gospel, the forgiveness of sins and restoration to the Father by Christ’s saving death and resurrection for you.  That’s the turning.  That’s repentance.  God turns you.  God repents you.  It is all His work.  And that calls for praise and thanksgiving and great rejoicing.
            King David was a man on the run from God.  He was hiding in his sin.  You remember the story.  One day as he looks out upon the Holy City from his palace, he beholds the beautiful Bathsheba, bathing in the light of day.  And he desires her for himself.  He lusts for her.  There is just one problem.  She is married.  To Uriah the Hittite, a faithful soldier in David’s army.  But David is the king, and Uriah is conveniently occupied in the battle.  He’ll never know, thinks David.  And so the king summons Bathsheba to his chamber.  It’s the stuff of soap operas.  It’s also the stuff of the real lives of real sinners.  Adultery.  Lies.  A cover up.  Bathsheba is pregnant.  Uriah is too honorable, when summoned home, to sleep in his house with his own wife, to unwittingly cooperate in the scandal.  So David sends a letter by Uriah’s own hand to General Joab.  Put him where the fighting is fiercest and withdraw so that he dies.  Murder.  And now David can take Bathsheba as his wife and there will be no public scandal.  You can read the whole sordid story in 2 Samuel 11.  David is saved. 
            Except he isn’t.  David is lost.  David is dead in his trespasses and sins.  David is the dust of the earth, and he acts like it, and so to dust he shall return.  I’m sure David was sorry, deep down, that it had to be this way.  But that sorrow is not repentance.  It is not a turning.  And it is no cause for joy.  All the sorrow David can drum up in his heart will never be enough to turn him out of himself.  If there is to be a turning, if there is to be repentance, God must do it.
            So the LORD sends a preacher.  The Prophet Nathan comes before David and tells him a parable about a rich man who has many sheep of his own, but takes the one and only dearly loved sheep from a poor man and slaughters it to entertain his guest.  David is filled with what he supposes to be righteous anger.  Sinners are really good at being angry with the sins of others.  “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die, and he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity” (2 Sam. 12:5-6; ESV).  Nathan preaches the Law.  “Thou art the man” (v. 7; KJV).  And all at once, the whole false narrative David has constructed to deceive himself and protect his kingdom, the whole house of cards comes crashing down.  David is cut to the heart, as God intends His Law to do.  He confesses to his prophet, his pastor, “I have sinned against the LORD” (v. 13; ESV).  And Nathan, God’s called and ordained servant of the Word, pronounces the Absolution: “The LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die” (v. 13).  And so God turns David by the preaching of His Word from sin to salvation, from death to life, from unbelief to faith.  And there is greater rejoicing in heaven over this one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous Pharisees who need no repentance (Luke 15:7). 
            There is one catch, though.  The sin must still be atoned for by a death.  David’s Son must die.  Oh, yes, the fruit of David’s union with Bathsheba dies as a consequence of the sin.  But that is not the Son we’re talking about here.  That son is but a type of the Son of David who will come for this very purpose.  That Son is Jesus, who dies for David’s sin, and for the sin of the whole world.  He dies for you.  This is how the LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die.
            So we sing Psalm 51 with King David.  David wrote this song in his repentance over Bathsheba and Uriah.  With David, we come before God with the sacrifice of a spirit broken by sin, a broken and a contrite heart which God will not despise (Ps. 51:17).  We confess our sin and pray that God will wash us with that alone which can make us pure and clean… the blood of David’s Son, the Son of God, Jesus Christ.  We pray that we may hear joy and gladness once again, that the bones God has broken with His holy Law may rejoice in the sweetness of the saving Gospel (v. 8).  We pray that God would create in us a clean heart and a right spirit, that He would not withdraw His Holy Spirit from us, that He would restore to us to joy of His salvation (vv. 10-12).  We are praying that having been repented by God, having been smeared with the ashes of death, but in the shape of the holy cross, we would rejoice.  That we would rejoice in repentance.  That we would rejoice in Christ.
            In the canon of Luther hymns, “A Mighty Fortress,” gets all the play, and it is a marvelous hymn which you should commit to memory, and in fact we’ll be singing it this coming Sunday.  It’s the appointed Hymn of the Day for the First Sunday in Lent for all the congregations in the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, whether they sing it or not.  But this hymn we’ve chosen for our meditation in our midweek services is perhaps Luther’s best.  It’s Law and Gospel, it’s the whole story of salvation, applied to you personally.  This one delivers the goods.  In Lent, we put our alleluias away for a time.  We do this in Christian freedom, as a discipline, to remind us where we are without Christ, dead in our trespasses and sins, self-bent and hell-bound.  But we know the Day is coming.  We know this path leads through Good Friday and our Lord’s suffering and death on the cross for our redemption.  And we know that on Easter morn, the tomb will be empty.  Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.  On that Day, we will sing our alleluias with full throated joy.  But even in this penitential season of Lent, dear Christians, we rejoice.  For this is the unfolding of our salvation in Christ.  And here at the font, in the pulpit, and at the altar, is where God turns us from all that stinks of death and hell to Himself and the joy of His saving work.  The LORD has taken away your sin.  You shall not die.  The right arm of Christ has won the victory by receiving the nail, pierced for your redemption.  Praise the Lord!  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son +, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.           

[1] The theme and structure of this sermon is from John T. Pless, “Dear Christians, One and All Rejoice,” Lenten Preaching Seminar 2010, Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, IN.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The Transfiguration of Our Lord

The Transfiguration of Our Lord (A)

February 26, 2017
Text: Matt. 17:1-9

            Listening is an art. I have it on good authority from those who know that I’ve mastered the art of selective listening, which really isn’t listening at all. Listening to other people does not come naturally to our fallen flesh, because that flesh is curved in on itself. We have a hard enough time listening to those we love, because it takes effort to pay attention to the interests of others, and our selfish selves are not convinced that the effort is worthwhile. But when it comes to the speech of the living God, we have an even greater problem. That is that the ears of this fallen flesh are totally tuned out. We don’t understand the language of God, and we don’t really want to. And because even the Christian is weighed down by the fallen flesh, the old sinful nature, we, likewise, have trouble listening to God. It’s not for lack of trying. It’s just that we fail miserably every time. Because we listen in all the wrong places. And we listen to all the wrong gods.
            On the Mount of Transfiguration, Peter thinks he’s listening. But he’s failing miserably. Instead, he’s talking. And by talking, he’s really listening to himself. He’s getting in the way of himself hearing the Word of God. Peter thinks that he will learn of God by talking.[1] Beholding the great light emanating from Jesus’ body in the Transfiguration, seeing Moses and Elijah, the author of the Torah and the great prophet, talking with Jesus about His exodus (Luke 9:31), His saving work in His fulfilling of the Law, His suffering and sacrificial death on the cross, and His victorious resurrection… In the midst of all of this, Peter has the audacity to speak and to tell Jesus how this phenomenal situation might be better. Peter wants to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles with the glorified Jesus and His saintly guests. “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah” (Matt. 17:4; ESV). Peter wants to stay on the mountain. Peter wants to bask in Jesus’ glory. This is much better than Jesus’ plan.
            Only six days before our Lord took Peter, James, and John up the holy mountain, Jesus had predicted his death. And Peter, having in mind the things of men rather than the things of God, made himself an instrument of Satan, rejecting the Lord’s Word. Peter rebuked Jesus, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you!” (16:22). Peter, in turn, received the Lord’s stern rebuke, “Get behind me, Satan!” (v. 23). But now in the radiance of Jesus’ divine glory, Peter feels vindicated. “See, Lord, you don’t have to suffer and die. You have your glory now. Let’s stay up here on the mountain. Let’s enjoy the Kingdom here and now on earth. It is good that we are here. This is better than Your plan of death and resurrection.” St. Luke reports that Peter didn’t know what he was saying (Luke 9:33). He didn’t know what he was talking about. He was just talking. Enough talk! In talking, he was listening to himself. He had become his own god. Thus the true God cuts him off. While Peter is still prattling on and on, a bright cloud, the shekinah, the glory of the LORD, overshadows them, just as the same pillar of cloud guided the Israelites in their wilderness wandering, and as the same cloud was present at the Tent of Meeting whenever Moses would speak with God face to face. This was the cloud of God’s presence. And from the cloud, the Father speaks. He silences Peter. No more talking. Listen. “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him” (Matt. 17:5).
            Stop talking. Listen to Jesus. Don’t instruct Jesus about how things could be better. Be instructed by Him. Learn of Him from His own Word. We’re always talking. And in talking, we’re really listening to ourselves. We become our own gods. We always think we have a better doctrine to offer than that which Jesus teaches in His Word, so we re-interpret His Word to fit the times and to fit our liking. We always think we can make worship better, more glorious, by making it more of an experience for the people, taking the emphasis off of God’s Word and His external means of grace (preaching and Sacraments) where God serves us with His gifts, and instead placing the emphasis on our praises and the things we can do for God. We’re just like Peter. We’re always talking instead of listening, teaching rather than being taught. We don’t know what we’re talking about. We listen to everyone but Jesus. We listen to the world, listen to our emotions and gut feelings, listen to our reason, listen to the devil. We listen in all the wrong places, to all the wrong gods. Most of all we listen to ourselves, for we worship ourselves by living for ourselves. We listen to our own desires, our own preferences, our own wisdom (which is utter foolishness). On and on we talk. God has to interrupt us. The Father silences us in our endless prattling. “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him!
            Beloved in the Lord, repent, and listen to Jesus only. For His Word alone gives life. He speaks to you wherever and whenever His Word is preached, read, contemplated, studied, given and distributed. He ties Himself to His Word so that you can always know whether it is Him speaking, or someone else, some other god, your own sinful flesh, the godless world, or that sly old serpent, the devil. On the Mount of Transfiguration, Peter was listening to other voices, especially his own. By the time Peter writes our Epistle, he’s learned his lesson. In his office as apostle, he writes by the Spirit’s inspiration just how we sinners can, even today, listen to Jesus our Savior. He points us to the prophetic Word, the Holy Scriptures, to which we do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place (2 Peter 1:19). The Word of God is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Psalm 119:105) as we navigate through the darkness of this fallen world. By this Word of God the Holy Spirit keeps us on the path, keeps us in the one true faith, until the Lord’s return to judge the living and the dead. Because God is ultimately the Author behind the human authors of the Scriptures, the Scriptures are living and active, powerful, able to make us wise unto salvation, and keep us in the one true faith.
            But it is true, with the Scriptures comes the cross and suffering. The Word of God always directs us to Christ crucified. And likewise, the Word of God always lays a cross upon us as we live this earthly life in a world hostile to Christ, in this rebellious and sinful flesh, walking by faith, not by sight. There is a reason why we would rather listen to ourselves, or to any other god, than Jesus. Because Jesus only gives us a glimpse of His glory before sending us down the mountain. We cannot stay and bask in the Transfiguration light. There is a cross to be borne down there. The road leads through suffering and death, Good Friday, Golgotha. We must put our alleluias away for a time. It cannot be any other way. It is divinely necessary for the Son of Man to suffer, to be crucified, and after three days, to rise from the dead. Upon this hangs the salvation of the whole world, your salvation and mine. Only through the cross and suffering can we come to glory. Only through Good Friday can we come to Easter.
            That is why the Mount of Transfiguration is where we begin our Lenten journey. Having now caught a glimpse of Jesus’ glory, and the glory that will be ours in Christ, we have been encouraged and strengthened to go the way of the cross, to trudge on (really, being carried by Him), knowing that after suffering glory awaits. The Lord knows how weak we are. The Lord knows that apart from Him we can do nothing, that we are utterly helpless. The Lord knows that like Peter and James and John on the mountain, naked in our sinfulness before God, we cower in fear. And so He comes to us, tenderly, and touches us (really, not figuratively… He touches us with His true body and blood in the Sacrament). And He speaks to us (really, not figuratively… He speaks to us in the Scriptures and the Absolution and the preaching). And He says to us, dead as we are in our trespasses and sins, “Rise, and have no fear” (Matt. 17:7). And by His Word, we are risen from the dead. By His Word all fear is cast out. By His Word our eyes are lifted up to see no one but Jesus only. Seeing Him, we behold the author and perfecter of our faith. Seeing Him, we see the beloved and only-begotten Son of the Father, and we listen to Him. We live by His Word, which takes us through the valley of the shadow of death to His heavenly glory.
            Dear Christians, be faithful this Lententide. Take up your cross and follow Jesus. Listen to Him. Discipline your bodies and your souls. Take every thought captive to the Word of God. Come to the midweek Lenten services to hear our Lord’s Word and meditate on His Passion. We descend the mountain now to begin our 40-day journey to the cross. But know that you cannot do this on your own. You cannot do this by your own reason or strength. You cannot do this if you insist on doing all the talking. Listen to the Son of God. For His Word makes strong the weak hands and makes firm the feeble knees (Is. 35:3). Rise and have no fear. Set your eyes on Jesus. He lifts you up. He strengthens you. He takes away your sins and by His cross makes you sons of God, with whom the Father is well pleased. It is good that you are here. It is good that you are wherever Jesus is speaking His Word of life. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.