Lord, Open Our Lips to Speak of Your Grace!

Mark 7: 31-37 (Pentecost 16 - 2012)

“Lord, Open Our Lips to Speak of your Grace!”

The prophet ministry which Jesus began in Galilee continued. He went from the northwestern corner on the sea cost, passed up his home town of Capernaum, and entered the southwestern region called the Decapolis. The “ten cities” were not that close together. This was a big area on the east side of the Jordan River. News traveled fast. By the time Jesus went about 50+ miles the people living in that area had heard about the miracle worker, Jesus. He once again drew a crowd. One group in particular introduced him to a man who was deaf and had trouble speaking. They begged Jesus to do something. The healer came to town.

The miracle that takes place today illustrates the miracle which takes place in your hearts and on your lips each day. In the service of Word and Sacrament we pray: “Open our lips to speak of your grace.” Jesus answers that prayer today. We see that He gave us our lips. We see that He teaches us his grace.

1. You Gave us Our Lips

We don’t even know the man’s name. But Jesus knew him. Jesus loved him. There is uniqueness to this miracle. Two things: first he takes him away from the crowds. (literally received him personally unto himself.) Jesus gives us his undivided attention! We he deals with you, he deals only with you. Secondly, he spit and touched the man’s tongue and with a deep sigh “Ephphatha” which means be opened.” Jesus shows a personal touch. The man cannot hear. He can hardly utter words. Jesus wanted him to know and feel: “I am here, and I am personally taking care of you.”

As with all miracles Jesus revealed his divine power over his own creation. Jesus does all things well! The man’s ears were opened so that he could hear. His lips were unleashed for speaking clearly. Jesus fulfilled the prophecy for today: “the mute tongue will shout for joy!” (Isaiah 35:6). Jesus showed that he truly is the Son of our Creator God. He gave us lips to speak of his grace!

Moses learned the same lesson from our Creator. Remember when he offered excuses for not going to Egypt? One of those excuses was “I have never be eloquent -- I am slow of speech.” To which the Lord replied “Who gave man his mouth? Who makes the mute to speak?” He promised to give Moses the words to say. He also gave him Aaron as fellow mouthpiece to proclaim the name of the LORD to Pharaoh and to the people of God.

How about you and me? Aren’t there moments when we are tempted to make excuses? Do we embrace the easy out saying “speaking - especially to others about God things - is just not my thing? Don’t we make our own excuses? We handcuff ourselves from speaking the truth in love (Ephesians 4: 15). Our excuses are not excuses. They are sinful rational for our fears of rejection.

See the One who opens the ears of the deaf. He also opens the hearts and ears of the lost to know and believe his Word. See the One who unleashes the tongues of the mute. He is the One who opens your lips to speak of his grace. He created you and your mouth. The One who promised Moses the words to say also promised “The 12” and you saying: “Do not worry about what say, for it will not be you speaking but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you (Matthew 10: 19, 20). Jesus gave you your lips. He certainly has the power to use them for his purposes.

This is not a sermon to recruit all of you for the evangelism committee; nor am I expecting all of you to run out knocking on doors. There are few people who have that as their God-given thing. But I am reminding you that all of us get put in our large Decapolis of opportunities to say the right thing at the right time. You often speak up for the truth and may not realize it. The Lord uses you in your setting, with the gifts he gave you, and the voice he granted you in creation. He instilled faith and truth into your hearts. Especially in today’s society, people who have trouble speaking, have tools available to them to reach the people they know with what they believe to be the truths of God’s grace. You apply those truths every time your light shines in this age of immediate communication. Remember the confidence of the Hymn writer who said:

If you cannot speak like angels, If you cannot preach like Paul

You can tell the love of Jesus; You can say he died for all! (CW 573: 2)

But what to say?” you ask. Know that the Lord teaches us his grace and the Lord moves us to speak of it. Paul told the Corinthians (quoting a Psalm) “I believe; therefore I have spoken (2 Corinthians 4: 13). As we do in our confessions on Sunday, as we repeat memorized verses from Scripture, as we sing the hymns we know and love, we are speaking the messages of grace in Christ in our weekly patterns.

2. You Taught us Your Grace

Sadly we are all guilty of sin and shame when it comes to our mouths. James clearly warns about the sinful use of our tongues. “We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check” (James 3: 2) -- “out of the same mouth comes praise and cursing. My brothers this should not be.” We have all spoken crass language. We have all let words slip that later needed recalling. We have all been guilty of betraying a friendship with the use of our lips. Even in the thoughts that never make it out we demonstrate an awful failure at purity. The same lips that have been used for praise, have sadly been used to bring wreckage to our lives.

Remember Isaiah’s call. Isaiah confessed in the presence of Glory “Woe to me! I am man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips!” (Isaiah 6: 5).Remember also the heavenly solution! An angel brings a coal from the altar of heaven and says: “See this has touched your lips your guilt is taken away and your sin is atoned for!” (Isaiah 6: 7). In the light of guilt removed Isaiah is moved to say, “Here am I. Send me!” (vs. 8).

See today Christ as Prophet and Priest. As Prophet, Jesus speaks the truth in love with perfect purity. Jesus never spoke a sinful word. He never used his mouth to lie, deceive or betray. He never sassed his mother. He always rebuked with love in his heart. He took words and actions in the kindest possible way. Jesus built up others up with his words. Jesus faithfully taught the truth of his Father’s words of grace.

As Priest, Jesus paid the price for the removal of our guilt. Jesus sacrificed his whole body on the cross so that our whole bodies are redeemed from sin. He cleansed our lips from shame. He purifies our thoughts with grace. He repairs our relationship with his Father. He heals the damage our lips have caused and brings peace to those who trust in his forgiveness. He gives his body and blood in the Sacrament so that his love and forgiveness physically touches our lips with the bread and the wine. He teaches us his grace so that we can speak it to others.

The townspeople in the lesson today saw his grace and his glory. They confessed “He has done everything well.” The more he kept urging them to keep it quiet the more they kept talking about it. Because they learned of his grace, they were capable of speaking his grace to one another. Christ has done the same for you. Because you have been taught grace, you are moved and empowered to speak it, in your place settings, with your gifts sets, with the tools available to you -- you can use your lips to speak of his grace!

Paul encouraged the Colossian Christians: “Let your conversations be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone (Colossians 4: 6). In view of Christ’s forgiving love that is a goal worth setting for our daily use of our tongues. In light of his grace we sing:

Give us lips to sing Thy glory,

Tongues Thy mercy to proclaim,

Throats to shout the hope that fills us,

Mouths to speak Thy holy name! (CW 280: 5)

Or perhaps more simply --

Take my voice and let me sing

Always only for my King

Take my lips and let them be

Filled with messages from Thee (CW 469:3) Amen.

Christ Is Hosting a Festival of Wisdom

Proverbs 9: 1-6 (Pentecost 13 -- 2012)
"Christ is Hosting A Festival of Wisdom"
You have been invited to a dinner party. A wonderful variety of food and drink are set out on tables. Look closely: trays of carrots, cucumbers, celery, healthy salads and light meats, low-fat yogurt and cheeses -- stuff that is good and good for you. Look closely. Trays and trays of potato chips, cheese and sausage, Cheetos, fattening dips and sauces -- stuff that is pleasing and good, but not good for you, especially if eaten excessively. Included are the finest wines, the widest variety beverages, coolers of craft brews -- fruit punch, ice cold milk, 100% juices, and pitchers of cool, refreshing water. An invitation for so many things calls for wisdom and self-control.
Christ is hosting a Wisdom festival. He has prepared a spiritual feast of God's eternal, life-giving Wisdom. He has sent out invitations. In the proverbs of Solomon, Wisdom is personified as the Host of the festival. It is appropriate for us to see Christ, the Word of God, in this personification. Paul reminds us "The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God -- It is because of [God] that you are in Christ Jesus who has become for us wisdom from God." (1 Corinthians 1: 18, 30). 
His Feast is Ready
"Wisdom has built her house. She has hewn out its seven pillars. She has prepared her meat and mixed her wine; she has also set her table." The seven pillars are a picture of completeness. Seven is God's number of complete redemption and his salvation in Christ is the foundational support for all Wisdom. The slaughter of meat and the mixing of wine and the setting of the table also solidify that all things are now ready. There is nothing left undone in the Wisdom of God. There is nothing lacking in his plan to give eternal life in heaven to all who believe in his Son Jesus.
In the Garden of Eden mankind rebelled against God's Wisdom to follow the feast of the Devil's folly. Eve looked at forbidden fruit. Adam ogled with her at all the thought of disobedience. Eve was deceived to think that the Devil's way was the way to gain more wisdom that what God has already given (Genesis 3:6). Adam was with her. In the eating of the forbidden fruit, Wisdom was lost, knowledge of guilt was gained, and fallen mankind began to perceive God's Wisdom as foolishness.
But even in the Garden, God was graciously preparing his festival of Wisdom. Even there he was setting the table of Salvation. Even there he was dishing up Wisdom that leads to eternal life through his Son Jesus. Since then he continued to mix up the wine of forgiveness, the meat of reconciliation, and the table of heavenly blessings for his people in Christ.
Generation by generation, the recipes of God's Wisdom were written down in the historical accounts of God's people and in the prophets of old. Then, one day in time, a Son was born to a peasant woman in a stable. That Son grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor of God and men" (Luke 2: 52). He demonstrated himself to be the Son of God the Wisdom of God made to be a human being with us. He was like us in every way, with the exception that he was without sin and Holy before God (Hebrews 4:15). He fulfilled every aspect of his Father's Wisdom. Then, to shame the wise, Jesus became the foolishness of God on the cross. Jesus offered his life for the guilt of the world. Jesus fulfilled the promise in the Garden to crush the serpent's head and to bring spiritual peace between God and his fallen creation. As the final explanation point to the banquet of God's eternal Wisdom, Jesus shattered the power of death and grave on Easter morning. In celebration of that event his believers rejoice and sing: "This is the Feast of Victory for our God! Alleluia! (CW 265 refrain).
The festival of Christ as Wisdom is ready. Nothing is left undone. Christ is the Host. Christ is the Guest of honor. Christ is the Feast! All is ready. Now that the festival is ready, he sends out invitations.
He Has Sent Out Invitations
"[Wisdom] has sent out her maids, and she calls from the highest point of the city: 'Let all who are simple come here!' "
God has not hid the news of his festival. His preparations were done in full view on the main street of town. He is known by the world. Even those who reject him must acknowledge his raw power and glorious Wisdom. All mankind are "without excuse" (Romans 1: 20). He has given us his Word for our learning. He wrote it down in factual accounts. He wrote on tablets. You can read it on your "tablets." He sent people to help us hear and understand it. He sent out his "maids." [Christ] gave some to be apostles and prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service" (Ephesians 4: 11-12). He has not done it in secrete. He has shouted his invitation from the heights of heaven and in plain view to those on earth!
Wisdom invites "Come, eat my food and drink what I have mixed." The Hebrew simply translated is: "Come, attack, struggle with, this loaf of bread." Imagine the famished teenager who comes home from school. He doesn't just eat dinner. He attacks it. He devours it. He relishes in it! Christ offers up this invitation, echoed in our study of John 6 these past few weeks "Come and eat of me. I am the Living bread, that came down from heaven (verse 51-58)."
In one of our historical prayers we pray a'Lord, you have given us your Holy Scriptures to be written for our learning. Grant that we may hear them, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them, that through patience comfort of your Holy Word we may embrace and hold faithful to hope of everlasting life' (TLH p14). Lord, create in us that famished desire for every thought and phrase, as if life itself depended on devouring each morsel. Read the word. Struggle with the Word. Tackle the Word. Digest the Word. He promises to send his Holy Spirit to teach this Wisdom to the simple hearted and to those who lack understanding. As Paul promised Timothy, "Reflect on what am I am saying, for the Lord will give you insight into all this." (2 Timothy 2:7).
This Calls For Wisdom from the Simple
Another feast has been prepared. Solomon warns in later verses of this chapter that "Folly is loud, [too]. She is calling from high points in the city, [too]. She is calling out to those who pass by [too]." (13-15). The Devil calls us to the world of enticing fruit. His poison was laced into the heads of Adam and Eve as though good for them. Do not be deceived by the same invitation!
So the Lord calls for Wisdom from the simple-hearted. "Leave your simple ways and you will be saved." Parallel to the Simple is the phrase "those who lack judgment." In other words, Wisdom reminds us that we are easily led astray. We are just as easily influenced by the one who made forbidden fruit look good to our first parents. This calls for Wisdom for the simple hearted - a Wisdom Christ alone can, and does, give.
  • Folly calls me to push the snooze button and eat the bread of idleness on Sunday. Wisdom in Christ helps me rejoice with those who said "let us go to the house of the Lord!" (Psalm 122: 1).
  • Folly invites, with the click of a mouse, to satisfy my natural hunger for sin. Wisdom in Christ motivates me to say with Joseph "How can I do this wicked thing and sin against God?" (Genesis 39:9).
  • Folly entices me to reach for the glass of wine that would the first of one too many. Wisdom in Christ reminds me "instead to be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18) and his quenching joy!
  • Folly spreads the junk food table of false theology and the crusty bread humanity. Christ invites and empowers me to say with Peter you who have the words of eternal life (John 6: 68)!

These, and many other struggles, call for Wisdom, especially when we recall that the Devil has a way of making dangerous food look pleasing to the eye and desirable for gaining wisdom! (Genesis 3: 6).

Rejoice, simple at heart. With Christ there is forgiveness, and therefore he is feared (Psalm 130:4). At his festival of Wisdom is water connected with his Word reminding us of the refreshing news of eternal life! At his festival is heavenly bread of promises that have no boundaries and mercies which are new every morning (Lamentations 3:23). At his festival there is his body and blood given with bread and wine, proclaiming the Lord's death until he comes (1 Corinthians 11: 23-26).
"It is because of [God] that you are in Christ Jesus who has become for us wisdom from God." (1 Corinthians 1: 18, 30). By God's Grace, come and dine on the richest of fare (Isaiah 55:2) and live forever in Christ's Feast of Victory in heavenly mansions bought with his blood! Amen.

God Lifts Us Up When We Get Down

1 Kings 19: 3-8 (Pentecost 12, 2012)

“God Lifts Up When We Get Down”

Drought and famine permeate entire countries. War and violence are daily realities. The world economy is beyond decline, and into a great depression. Sicknesses lead to impending deaths, with no real answers to health care in sight. The believers of God’s truths are persecuted and put to death, not one by one, but by thousands. Unjust, evil despots rule most prosperous governments. Injustice rules over the meek and the righteousness. The ministry of the Church seems a shimmer of candlelight in the darkness of the wicked who mock God’s existence. Preachers of God’s Word are put on black lists, marked for immediate death. Mission work is often put on hold. Visions of a prospering and flourishing Church are all but fading dreams of those who lost any hope.

Sound familiar? Would you believe I was describing the time of Elijah 800 years before Christ? Did it seem as though I was describing the world today? 1 Kings 19 describes the reaction of Elijah to his own times. As you can imagine he got down pretty low some days.

How bad did things look for Elijah? You already heard the circumstances. Jezebel, the wicked wife of King Ahab, had placed a death notice out for Elijah. She wanted nothing to do with the truth of God’s Word. She and her husband flourished better in a godless society and would not have the prophet of God spoil their fruits of unrighteousness. Elijah was a man who had faithfully fought for the true God and the true Messiah. But, in his perception, things were bad enough that it was all for nothing. In his mind it had gotten bad enough that he prayed to die.

How bad could it be? Does this portrait of Elijah describe you? Has it described me? You don’t have to look much further than the parsonage to find someone who has been falls into frustration. What better house for the Devil to start than to discourage those who hold the responsibility to give others hope in Christ! It does not even have to get as bad as Elijah’s circumstances. This lesson speaks closely to my discouragements! But how bad could it be? None of us have a notice out for our execution. None of us sleep in caves. Yet, the broom tree of self pity is so often calling us. In sinfulness we have all felt sorry for ourselves. In sinfulness we have all rejected the weight of the crosses the Lord asks us to bear.

Then the sinful debate begins: Why do good when good is not rewarded? Why speak the truth when everyone else lies, or worse, keeps a shut mouth? Why be honest at work when those who cheat succeed? Why befriend those who betrayed me before? Why volunteer for church work when others won’t? Why look ahead and plan more work when the diving economy has slammed the breaks on everyone and everything? Kill me now, Lord, or at least look the other way when I hide underneath the broom tree and skirt responsibility.

Is that broom tree really a good place to be? Notice that Elijah wanted to be there alone? He left his servant behind, as he went on a day’s journey into the desert. Notice that the work was not getting done? The prophet was sleeping! The wolf was in the pen and the shepherd was sleeping! The Word was not being spoken. The ministry in the house of God came to an end. The souls were not being fed or cared for. He wasn’t even going through the motions. The only prayer being offered was for himself and his own death! Nothing else mattered anyway.

Is the broom tree of self pity that great of a place? Is being alone a good thing for those who are disappointed? Rather than going about the work we have to do, we privately wish for no responsibility. Is this really the answer? God says, “NO!”

Just when Elijah thought he was alone, the Lord reminded him otherwise. An angel comes to Elijah, and we learn not just any angel; THE Angel of the Lord - Christ as the Old Testament Voice of God. He wakes him up. He prepares a meal for him. He speaks from the Word of God -- something Elijah was supposed to be doing. Elijah falls asleep. Like a depressed soul, he puts on the snooze button and pulls the covers back over his eyes. The Angel comes back again. He prepares more food and drink. He speaks the Word of God. “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.” In other words, You can’t stay here, Elijah. You have work to do and I will give you the strength to do it. Christ who will offer his life for Elijah’s sin lifted him up with the courage of the Gospel and empowered him to keep moving.

Who have been your “angels from the LORD”? -- a pastor? a friend in Christ? a spouse? a parent or grandparent? After your times under the broom tree and your desperation-shot prayers to God, who is that person whom God sends? They see what you are doing. They love you and care enough to say and do something about it! I know I have brothers and sisters in Christ who have been kind and brave enough to set me straight. I am thankful for them. I pray that my words and actions show it more often in the future. I pray that the Lord gives us all the strength he promises to put self pity behind us and get back to being his children and doing his work under our respective rolls!

And what better Angel than to be pointed to Jesus! God has lifted him up to a cross to take away our guilt. God has lifted him above every throne and power to defeat our darkest enemies. God has raised him from death and lifted him to heaven to be our Prophet, Priest and King! What comfort in our darkest moments is our Jesus who brings us peace and courage in the forgiveness of our sins and the defeat of our enemies plans!

You may already know the rest of this story. Elijah was not ready to end his depression mood. He moved from the broom tree to a cave where we see more of the same. There God speaks. “What are you doing here Elijah?” - i.e. you have no business here! There God speaks, not in earthquakes and firestorms, but in the gentle whisper of the Gospel. - i.e. My word and my grace are sufficient for you. The gospel of Christ is the power of salvation. (2 Corinthians 12: 8; Romans 1:16).There God speaks. “I reserve seven thousand in Israel who have not kissed Baal.” - i.e. The way I see it, Elijah, my Church of believers is alive and well, and you have the privilege of work yet to do for that healthy kingdom.

We don’t and can’t ever see things from God’s perspective. I suppose we wish we could, if only for the sake of seeing the triumphs that seem so hidden to us. I suppose we wish we could see all the glory now and not suffer the cross in our human blindness. But God’s promises are sufficient. He invites and commands us to trust that “his Word will not return to him empty, but will achieve the purpose for which he sent it.” (Isaiah 55: 11).The Lord invites and encourages us to share in his sufferings (now) that we may share in his glory (later) -- Romans 8:17. He invites us to embrace the crosses we bear, rather than run from them.

Next time you are under that broom tree, look for a friend in Christ to build you back up. Look to THE Angel of the Lord, our Lord Jesus Christ, whose blood washes you from shameful thoughts. He feeds you, not only physical food and drink, but with his Gospel of peace. Look to the Word! Look to the sacrifice he made, FOR ALL, on Calvary. Look to the open grave! On the basis of Christ’s resurrection, Paul says with new confidence: “give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord for you know that your labor in the Lord is NOT in vain! (1 Corinthians 15: 58). In Christ you are lifted up along with the fellowship of thousands who are being brought to the Garden of eternal peace. Rejoice always in that peace. In Jesus, Amen.

Food that Won't Spoil

John 6: 24-35 (Pentecost 11)

“Food That Won’t Spoil”

Every so often, my wife and I dig through the entire refrigerator. The goal of this search is to find all the little containers that got forgotten. Sad to say we find the spoiled rotten leftovers that were pushed back into the depths, unseen by the daily glances. It is quite unnerving most of the time. The reality is that even the best of foods, in vacuum packed containers, in the constant cool of “the Fridge”, can and will spoil over time. Today Jesus tells us about food that will NEVER spoil.

The context was quite fitting. He had just served up a miraculous meal for thousands of people near the shores of Galilee. At the time, they wanted to make him a “bread king” of sorts, thinking that it would be great to have that kind of power around. Fish and bread anytime, anywhere?! After the night that Jesus walked on water, those same crowds hitched a ride on boats to look for him.

Looking for Jesus for the wrong reason

Jesus said to them, “You are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs, but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that will endure to eternal life.” The Lord had said the same thing through the prophet Isaiah: “Why spend money on what is not bread and your labor on what does not satisfy; listen to me, and eat what is good and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.” (Isaiah 55: 2).

The Galileans were looking for Jesus for the wrong reason. They were looking only for their human needs to be filled. To be sure, Jesus does do that, for all humanity. But that is not his primary cause for coming to this earth. That was not what his preaching and ministry was about. He warned them that they were looking for him for the wrong reason.

People do that all the time. They go looking for Jesus for the wrong reason. Churches and arenas are filled with crowds today. Crowds of people are looking to have their physical needs met. They are looking to have their human emotions sparked by a Jesus who would entertain only their earthly drives. I want to eat. I want to be rich. I want to feel happy. I want to be entertained. I want to escape reality through signs and wonders. I want Jesus to be my bread king. I want the church to meet only the physical needs of this wavering society. I want to snap my fingers and have Jesus as my little genie in a magic bottle.

You and I are not innocent of that kind of thinking. When it comes to looking for satisfaction we are constantly trying to appease the sinful nature. James warned the believers: “You do not have because you do not ask God. When you do ask, you do not receive, because you ask with the wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” (James 4: 2-3). We are often looking for Jesus for the wrong reason. And we are often looking for the wrong kind of bread to make us happy. It is time to throw that nasty food away.

Looking for the wrong kind of bread to make us happy

There is the old saying, “You are what you eat.” That is so true when it comes to our souls. Your soul becomes what you feed it. None of us would dig into “the Fridge” and eat the fuzzy, moldy Jello from last weeks picnic. But how often do we allow our souls to feed on the festering bacteria of todays smut from our TV sets to the internet, we are inundated with soul junk food. None of us would drink the milk that was left on the counter for days. But how often do we drink in the bad spiritual milk posing to be Christian? Do we remember the warning of Jesus to be aware of the wolf in sheep’s clothing (Matthew 7: 15)? Shame on us for running after food that spoils and spiritual junk food that harms our souls! What is worse is that we are willing to pay for it with our precious time that we claim not have and our wallets that we claim to be emptied.        

Sadly it all happens because our sinful nature is attracted to what is easy; the shiny ball; the books that make us feel worthy of something. As if we can have Jesus without the cross, on our own merit. The Galileans betrayed that thinking in their question: “What must we do to do the works of God.” How attractive to the human soul! Jesus, there must be something I can to, think, or say that will contribute to my happiness and peace with God. Jesus says differently.

God does the work of faith.

Notice the clarity of Jesus: “The work OF GOD is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” God does all the work. God begins faith. God continues faith. God feeds faith. God completes faith. The work OF GOD is to believe. And that is all true because faith is not vague in its focus point. The object of believing is in the One whom he has sent. Faith believes in Christ. Faith knows that Christ is the food that every soul needs. Christ is the bread that every heart craves. Faith is not your job. Faith is God’s job. Faith does not depend on you. Faith depends on the God who gives it by his Spirit. We join to confess that when we say “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life.” We cannot by our power believe in Jesus. The Holy Spirit calls us to Christ through the gospel.

Sunday noon was our big family meal. When all was ready one of us was invited to call the rest: “Come and Eat!” We didn’t have to guess whether the food would be good. We didn’t wonder what we must do to earn the generous feast. We did not expect a table filled with moldy bread and spoiled pot roast. Imagine the works of Christ as a table of blessings for our souls. The precious news of free forgiveness through the cross; the certainty of life in heaven; the fruits of love, joy and peace; these, and many more, God has prepared, as the Psalm says, “a table before me in the presence of my enemies” (Psalm 23: 5). Our Lord invites us through Isaiah: “Come all you who are thirsty, come to the waters, and you who have no money, come buy and eat!” (Isaiah 55: 1). Jesus invites to not only dine with him, but dine on him, for free. He invites us to feed our souls “the food that will endure for eternal life.” He invites us to see that he is the Son of God, the only living bread from heaven.

Jesus is the bread of life

Jesus pronounces that phrase with purpose: “I am the bread of life.” And what is on this never-spoiling table? On that table is the glad news that all sins are forgiven and all guilt has been taken away; the body of Christ given in the bread; the blood of Christ given in the wine and shed on the cross; the water of life that will completely satisfy our spiritual thirst. When the Spirit rings the dinner bell, he brings us to the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). He brings us to the bread that can never spoil. He brings us to the table where “your soul will delight on the richest of fare” (Isaiah 55: 2). He brings us to Easter morning to show us a tomb stone shattered by our Risen Lord Jesus! That Easter feast means for us an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade (1 Peter 1:4).

The Word Never Spoils

Jesus, when speaking of eternity and judgment said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away” (Matthew 24: 35). The Word of God never spoils. Have you noticed that in your personal time and study? The words of God never get worn out. No matter how often we return to the familiar passages, or begin to dig in places of Scriptures less familiar, the Bible never spoils. Paul described it once as “the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Ephesians 3: 8). Feed your soul there. You will never find spoiled bread. You will be fed a banquet of timeless and relative truths. You will be fed by spiritual blessings that never get old. Who of us has tired of singing our favorite hymns? Who us of has failed to gain comfort from the Word in times of grief? Who of us can say we have gone to that Table and went away hungry? With confidence we confess “his compassions never fail; they are new every morning” (Lamentations 3: 22-23).  

Feed on that bread. Email my office if you are looking for good material to read. I will give you a list of books and devotional materials that are good for your souls. Go on “wels.com” and click on the daily devotion. Take up the Word in the Bible Classes offered here at church. Spend time each day with a few verses from the pen of God. He will not feed you junk. Your soul will be well fed for eternity.

The food in “the Fridge” will spoil. Heaven and earth will pass away, but his Word will never pass away. Our Lord Jesus generously pours out his feast of truths for us. In this life he feeds our souls so that they are ready to eat and drink at the feast of heaven. Never again will we hunger. Never again will we thirst. The Lamb at the center of the throne will be our Shepherd and lead us to springs of living water! (Revelation 7: 16-17). Heavenly Father, give us this food from now on. Amen.

Jesus Commands Our Storms

Mark 4: 35-41 (Pentecost 5 -- 2012)

“Jesus Commands our Storms”

In his discussion with Job (the Old Testament lesson for today) God reminded Job that HE laid the earth’s foundations. He makes the limits for the sea. He placed every star in the sky. After a lengthy explanation of his creative wisdom God had made his point “Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him (Psalm 115:3; Job 23). The Creator of the universe is the God who gives and takes away. He is the same living Lord who used every moment of Job’s life to reveal his glory and to preserve Job’s faith.

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8: 28). Paul wrote those encouraging words in his letter to the Roman Christians. For centuries God’s children have taken comfort in that enduring truth. All things! God is the commander of all things. The calming of the storm draws our attention to God’s Son, Jesus. The calming of the storm reminds us that the King of kings lives in the humanity of Jesus. Today we are reminded that he commands every storm. He knows when and why to send them into our lives. He is able to calm them when it is time to send them away from us.

  1. 1. He Knows When to Send Them.

It had been a busy few days for Jesus. He had been calling and training the twelve disciples. He began instructing the crowds through parables. He was already answering to enemies who questioned his authority. In the interest of having more private time with the twelve, and obviously a nap, Jesus instructed the men to cross to the other side of the lake in the boat. “A furious squall came up.” The wind storms on Galilee are unpredictable violent winds. Mark used the Greek word for hurricane. The boat was filling up with water and was tossed about. The disciples gave up trying to maneuver the boat. They were frustrated to realize that the storm didn’t even wake Jesus from his sleep.

Does it surprise you that Jesus chose not to do anything right away? Did it enter our minds that he knew the storm was coming? Do we remember that HE is the commander of wind and wave? Notice that he allowed the storm for a certain amount of time. Notice that the storm caused the disciples to look to Jesus for help. Notice that when they were drawn to him for help they had the audacity to accuse him of not caring! “Don’t you care if we drown?”

What have been your storms lately? Physical fears and frustrations; wavering trust in God’s promises; wavering trust in a friendship; a depleting pocket book in spite of careful spending and honest work; the wide spread fears and doubts that go with mental illnesses; increasing concerns for the Church, here and around the globe. What drives you to the end of your rope? Does it occur to us that our Lord allows these storms? Do we remember that he allows them to linger - much longer than we would want them to? He knows when we need them. How often do we become so frustrated and weary that we would accuse our Lord of sleeping too long? Have we been driven to the point of accusing him of not caring?

When Paul was driven to pray to the Lord about his tormenting thorn he asked the Lord to take it away. Paul learned that taking our storms away is not always the answer. He learned that enduring suffering is a part of living a Christian life with Jesus. He learned what Jesus had to say to him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9). When the writer to the Hebrew believers spoke of Christ’s love, he equated it with discipline. God loves his children so much that he uses even the difficult things to express that love to us (Hebrews 12: 6-11). Jesus knows when we need storms in our lives to draw us closer to him.

Jesus gets to the heart of what is going on: “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” Jesus was not done training his friends for ministry. Along with all the parable teaching, the witnessing to the miracles, the personal explanation of his teachings, Jesus designed a life lesson on the subject of trust. In the middle of the fury, legs soaked in a sinking ship, the threat of drowning looming, the rescue never depended on experienced sailing, strong oars, or help from the other boats. Their lives completely depended on Jesus. It took a storm for them to learn that. He knows when to send us storms. He knows when we need that lesson too.

  1. 2. He Is Able to Send them Away.

But the lesson was not just the storm itself. The lesson was revealed in the One who sent the storm away. With one rebuke “Quiet! Be still!” the wind died down -- literally were muzzled and grew weary -- they storm was gone and the sea was completely calm. The reaction to the calming of the storm revealed a new fear. They were no longer fearful of the storm, but alarmed at the power of the Man in the boat with them. The same Man who fell asleep in the middle of a squall stood up to command the wind and waves. The One who sent the storm is the One who is able to send it away.

Do you ever get the odd sense of fear during calm? Ever find yourself wondering what will happen next? It seems we tend to embrace our familiar storms for the fear of trading them with the unknown. When things are going well we tend to ask, “What will go wrong next?” We are just as fearful of the full glory of God as the disciples were. Mankind is afraid to meet with almighty God. We don’t want him to know us too well. We don’t want him to know our jealousy. We don’t want him to know how much we fail to trust in him. We don’t want our “no faith” to be exposed. We don’t want him to see our pessimistic fears.

But Jesus is the only one who can help us. As the disciples could not rely on themselves to rescue their own lives, we cannot depend on ourselves for salvation. Jesus lives to assure us there is no reason to fear or doubt. He has cast away our biggest squall. Our Epistle lesson fits together the pieces so well. There Paul reveals true peace. (2 Corinthians 5: 18-21). God reconciled the world to himself in Christ, not counting our sins against. He traded our sins for his righteousness. He comes to us as a man in a boat resting quietly amidst a storm. He comes to us as the man willingly giving up his spirit on the cross -- for all our sin, all our fears, all of our faithless acts. Jesus, who calmed the sea by sending the storm away, calms our spiritual fears by sending our sin away in the waters of our Baptism. We are at peace with God. God increases our calm by daily casting storms of our guilty conscience away through the endless power of Jesus’ cross and resurrection. Jesus lives to silence all your fears! He lives to wipe away your tears!

Jesus did command the storm to go away. When the storm was gone, the disciples were left in awe. They were in awe of what happened -- and what didn’t happen. The storm was taken away and their lives were spared. In that moment they learned by experience that Jesus is Lord, commander of wind and wave.

Many times the storms in our lives lead us to prayers of request. They have us asking God for something. They increase our trust Jesus. They lead us to grasp onto his promises that more firmly. What about when the storms are sent away? Is there a lesson in thankfulness for the storms that our Lord does not ask us to endure? Rather than being fearful of the unknown, why not be thankful for the serenity God brings to our lives.

Thank him for the illness you don’t have. Thank him for true friendships you do have. Thank him for the sunshine and the rain. Thank him for the job you have - and even the job you don’t have. Thank him for the crosses he kept from you in the first place. Thank him for the angels he sends when you don’t even know what they have kept you from. Thank him for the storms you used to have but he has graciously sent away upon your request.

“Who is this? Even the wind and waves obey him!” This Jesus, “the author and perfecter of our faith; who for the joy set before endured the cross, scorning its shame -- so that we will not grow weary or lose heart (Hebrew 12:2-3). This is Jesus who commands every storm. He knows when to send them; when they will serve our good and his glory. He is able to send them away after he has taught us to trust in him for all things. In that Spirit given trust we sing --

Surely it is God who saves me. I will trust in him and not be afraid, for the Lord is my stronghold and my sure defense and he will be my Savior. (First Song of Isaiah -- Isaiah 25:9). Amen.

God's Kingdom Is Like a Garden

Mark 4: 26-29 (Pentecost 4 2012)

“God’s Kingdom is Like a Garden”

How is your garden doing? By now you have seen the need for hoeing weeds. This year we have seen much need for watering. By now you have seen some plants mature faster than others and perhaps have lamented the death of some. That 7 to 10 day waiting period for the seeds to sprout can be a bit of a bummer, too. Will the plants ever poke through? --we say impatiently? Jesus says, “the kingdom of God is like that.”

The kingdom is like a garden. It grows only according to God’s blessing. It grows because God makes it grow. It grows to produce a ripe harvest.


It Grows According to God’s Blessing

In this particular parable Jesus assures that the kingdom does grow and will produce a harvest. We can choose a dozen things to lament about. We can give attention to only things we can control. But do we stop to marvel at the one thing we cannot control? Do we marvel at the complexity of the most basic thing a garden does: grow. If a man places a seed into the ground, goes to bed and gets up, eventually a profound yet basic thing happens: a seed germinates and produces a plant. And as the man goes to bed and gets back up day by day, week by week, that plant grows, and yields a bud, and then the fruit of that plant eventually appears and stands ready for harvest. And the man has no clue how!? It is a fact of God’s mysterious and wondrous creation. Sure we can hoe and water, watch the weather, pray, hoe and water some more. Gardening can be grueling work. But the main event is still up to the Lord. The most basic of things a garden needs and does is left to God’s creative design and blessing. Jesus says, “the kingdom of God is like that.”

That is the point. The garden grows in spite of the man. The kingdom of God grows in spite of our efforts, in spite of our failures, in spite of our lamenting and woes. It grows according to God’s blessing.

In the church we plan. In the church we plant. In the church we get busy about many things. We attempt to fix sinful problems. We lament over lost souls. We give a great deal of attention to the things know we can control: how we say things, how we do things, how we plan a worship service, teach a class, prepare our music. We give attention to exteriors: how the ushers usher, how often to visit the straying members; how quickly to visit the visitor; what the building does and doesn’t do; how Christian Education is administrated and planned; when and where we will do outreach; what events we will and won’t do. The work of the ministry, like a garden, is grueling work. Still we are left to do the things only we can control.

God makes his garden of faith grow. God begins faith in the souls of people. God changes hearts from cold dead unbelief to live crops of faith. God convicts people of their guilt. God prunes his kingdom. God carries the saving water of forgiveness in Jesus into the roots of human hearts. God breaks through the earth of people’s hearts and souls. God makes faith in Jesus mature from one stage of life to the next. I can’t explain it fully. I can’t make it happen. I can only observe that it happens according to his blessing.

But he has given us the seed to plant. That seed is his Word. We don’t know how it works. We do know that it Works. If I have a packet of corn seeds and want corn to grow, I have to take the seeds out of the packet, place it into the ground and do the things that I know I can do to make it grow. But I can’t make it grow. God does that.

God has given us the saving truth that Christ has died for the sins of the world. He has packaged it up for us and labeled it “My Word.” He has packaged that Word in the saving waters of baptism. He has packaged that Word in the nutrients of his Holy Supper. The Seed of that word is His Son, who was cast into the earth after his death on the cross, only to rise again. The Lord has given us the entire globe of souls as the endless earthen field into which to plant that Word. We are the planters. He makes it grow.

As with earthly gardens we may observe that growth. We can see one plant growing better than the one next to it. We can see some plants die. We can see some plants flourish early. We can only observe. God makes it grow according to his blessing. And it grows only according to his blessings. And with his blessing it grows to produce a ripe harvest. The kingdom of God is like a garden.

It Produces a Ripe Harvest

In the kingdom of God we observe. We see the various ways in which the seed germinates. In our gardens we know that growth is happening. We can see the first plants break though the soil. We can measure the plant growth, often from one day to the next. We start to see blossoms, which on most plants mean that fruit will soon be there. We can see the fruit appear. The harvest comes from God’s blessings and is produced as the end result of the maturity process. Jesus’ picture describes a cradle to grave ministry in a few short words: - “first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel, then the harvest.”

So we plant. God invites us into his Garden to plant the Word. He commands that we “Go and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything he has commanded us” (Matthew 28:19). He promises that his Word will not return to him empty but will accomplish the purpose for which he sent it (Isaiah 55:11). So we plant.

We baptize our babies. We teach songs to those babies that help them learn of Jesus. We bring those babies to worship with us. We tell those babies, from the time they are small, the Bible stories that help them learn of God’s laws and love for them. God creates the stalk of faith and makes it grow.

As they grow and mature, we care for them according to their needs and abilities. We discipline them when they are sinful. We forgive them when they repent. We lead them to deeper waters of God’s Word and nurture them with his endless saving truths. We couple education with Christianity knowing that only what God does through his Word will continue to strengthen that stalk. God makes the stalk grow taller and greener.

We bring our sons and daughters to the Lord’s Supper with us after they give confession to a mature understanding of God Word. We teach them to have a devotional life with God’s Word and Christ. As with the more mature plants in our gardens, we expect more out of them, and expect more independency from them. We entrust them to God’s will and purpose. We ask God to keep making them strong in their faith. It is God who works in them and use will and do to his purposes.

We observe one generation to the next confess Christ as Lord. Young adults become new young families. One baptism, one Lord, one faith, one Spirit of Christ leads to many kinds of fruits. As in the garden we see the various plants begin to break open with fruits (a tomato here, a few ears of corn there, the berries are popping out) --so it is in the kingdom of God.

God’s garden produces fruit. “It is by grace you have been saved through faith and this not from your selves it is the gift of God, not by works so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship created in Christ Jesus to do good works.” It is by grace that we have been made a part of Gods garden. By that same grace he produces fruits that will last. And his garden is filled with varieties plants and fruits: teachers and preachers, servants and leaders, generous givers and faithful followers. Those fruits of the harvest have been under the microscope here as we are knee deep into our expansion: every baked cookie for the workers, every helping hand on sight, every donation of dollars, every prayer that is lifted up in Christ’s name: all of it is the results of Christ’s saving love producing fruits that will last in his garden of faith.

Then when the harvest is ripe the sickle will swing and God will reaps what he has sown. Jesus alludes to a prophecy from Joel (3:13) about Judgment Day. The day will come next fall when you will bring in the harvest of what you planted. At that time the rest stalks and weeds will be trampled down. One Day, our Lord will return. He will cut off all that is not rooted in his Son Jesus. But Jesus reminds us that he is the Vine and we are the branches. Those who remain in his Word remain grafted into his life giving Redemption from sin. He has been crucified for sin. He has trampled death in his path. He has grown a harvest of his righteousness. One Day he will come to harvest what he has sown and bring you and all believers to his Father’s heavenly garden to enjoy that living harvest for all eternity. Until then we pray --

Lord of the living harvest - That ripens oe’r the plain

Where angels soon will gather - Their sheaves of golden grain Accept our hands to labor - Our hearts to trust and love,

And be with us to hasten - Your kingdom from above (CW 559:1) Amen.

You Are One of the Family in Christ!

Matthew 12: 46 – 49 (Pentecost Three 2012)
“You Are One of the Family In Christ!”
           Blood is thicker than water ... so it is said. Most often our priorities with our families trump the goals and purposes of our other relationships – and rightly so. Jesus teaches that there is a family relationship that trumps even our blood relatives. Those who hear and obey the words of God have been grafted into the Vine, Christ Jesus. They are the family of believers, a relationship that is more valuable, more binding than even mother, daughter, father and son. By God’s grace, “You are One of the Family in Christ!” In that family, you are not just a face in the crowd. You are personally known and cared for by your brother Jesus. You are an adopted son or daughter of our Heavenly Father.
I. Not Just a Face in the Crowd
           Jesus had been teaching crowds of people. The news about his healing powers and his authoritative teachings had spread. The Pharisees were getting fidgety. They had recently drummed up the buzz that he was working in connection with the Beelzebub - the Devil. In our Gospel lesson today his rebuttal to that was “how can a house be divided against itself?” Jesus was not from the house of Beelzebub. Far from it! He was here to defeat the house of the Devil, not be in cahoots with it. By his teachings, activities, and ultimate sacrifice for sin he stood opposed to Beelzebub and restored his Father’s relationship with sons of earth.
           Jesus cleared up that issue faithfully. A sizable, attentive crowd was once again drawn to him. He continued to teach multitudes of people … until … family was looking for him. You and I would be thinking: Now what! Not now! Don’t you see that I am busy! An individual was bold enough to tap his shoulder and deliver the message that Mary and her sons had sent to him. You and I would be thinking: distractions from work?! And from family who should know better?! The phone rings as we peruse the evening news and our first thought is “now who could that be and what could they want?”
           Not Jesus. See in this lesson the M.O. of Jesus that we see in so many other Gospel lessons. Jesus is never too busy and he is always so dearly interested in dealing with people … one person at a time. No one person is just another face in the crowd. Not family; not strangers; not the youngest nor the oldest; not the wealthiest nor the poorest; not the healthiest nor the abandoned leaper. In each face he has compassion for the hurt and the fear and the guilt that lies behind it in the soul. In each face he sees another lost soul for whom he was willing to shed blood. No one is taking a number. No one is a statistic on a page. No one is put on hold.
           And you are one for whom he came. You are not just a face in the crowd. You are one for whom he endured the cross at the hands of wicked men, so that you would not grow weary or lose heart (Hebrews 12: 3). He was thinking of you when he gave up his life. He was thinking of you when he conquered death. He is listening to only you when you bow your head, tap him on the shoulder, and speak with him in prayer. You are the one he answering when you bring him your troubles. None of them are too big or to small for the one who values far more than many sparrows. You are one of the family! In Christ we confidently sing:
           I am Jesus’ little lamb; Ever glad at heart I am
           For my Shepherd gently loves me knows my needs and well provides me
           Loves me every day the same; even calls me by my name.
           Does this speak to our lives? How do we approach our families, our friends at church, the stranger on the street, the guest in our pews? I know how I love to be treated by my Savior as an individual. Do the people I deal with every day see his compassion for them through my words, my attitude, or my actions? One soul at time, one conversation at a time, one task at a time, one day at a time, the Lord Jesus reached out to the multitudes … at times preaching to crowds, yes! But in most cases we see him deal with the individual. So it is with our efforts to share the love of Christ with others. We rejoice to be his gathered guests and go to the house of the Lord. In the same way we are moved to speak and live the love of Christ in one person at a time. This is how we treat each other; our own families, our guests in worship, the people we meet each day!
II. Adopted By Our Heavenly Father
           Jesus had one more related issue to deal with. Mary and the others were still looking for him. He still needed to respond to their request. Jesus takes the teachable moment to say something valuable about the difference between earthly relationships and heavenly ones. Extending his hand to those intently listening to his teachings, Jesus says: “Those who do my heavenly Father’s will are my mother and brother and sister.”
           We were not once part of that family. In our Biblical understanding of the need for grace our Baptism liturgy appropriately confesses: From our parents we inherit a sinful nature. We are without true fear of God and true faith in God and are condemned to eternal death. The Bible makes it clear that we are sinful from the time our mothers conceived us (Psalm 51: 5). By natural birth we are objects of God’s wrath (Ephesians 2: 3) and we deserve to be cast away from his heavenly presence for eternity.
           Our sinful born condition plays out in our earthly family life. As the sins of the fathers get handed down and repeated, we know that not everything about family life is so pleasant. It is in our family life when our own personal sins become most evident. There we are most bold to speak our sinful thoughts out loud, even if they hurt the ones who care about us most. There we allow ourselves the license to cross lines of moral behavior that we would be ashamed to reveal among other groups and activities of our life. It is often our families that get neglected first when our priorities fall into selfish gain. How true it is often that you only hurt the ones you love. Because of our sins against one another blood is not always as thick as we think and family life is not always everything it is cracked up to be.
           Reconciliation happens only one way. God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself in Christ Jesus, not counting our sins against us (2 Corinthians 5: 19). God the Father adopted us into a new family – a spiritual one. Because his Son made atonement for our guilt before him, we have been made right with our Father. In our Baptisms he has given us the robe of righteousness with the family crest sealed onto for eternity. He has sent the Holy Spirit into our hearts and by him we cry Abba, Father (Galatians 4: 6).
           The more deeply we understand that relationship, that reconciliation, the more clearly we see our way to reconcile the troubling events of our family strife and our earthly relationships. In Christ we see the value of repairing the things that trouble our blood relationships on earth. In Christ we see the value in going the extra mile to speak clearly and openly with those we love. In Christ we learn how to forgive and we have been forgiven.  Â
           The relationship that Jesus had with Mary and Martha illustrates the balance between earthly family and spiritual family. Here are two of his closest companions while on earth. We can all relate with this concept. You all have some very close friends … friends you would even say are closer than most blood relatives. Perhaps that is especially true of your Christian friends. They know your deep yearnings and secrets. They stood up for you when no one else would. They laugh at your jokes and they make you laugh. They cry with you when you need to cry.
           That was Mary and Martha for Jesus. But even in that household there was strife one day. Mary was busily listening and learning to the words of Jesus … sitting at his feet waiting on every morsel. Martha was busy too … doing the chores that were required of a host with a special guest. Martha was upset. Jesus simply says : “Martha you are upset about many things, but Mary has chosen better.” I would guess that whatever Mary and her sons needed Jesus for that day was important to them … at the time. Jesus was simply pointing out, that the crowds who were interested in learning more of his teaching that afternoon, had chosen better.
           Jesus was not being disrespectful of his mother and brothers. He had faithfully given them his honor, respect and time and love. He was without sin as a son and brother among sinners. But he did take the opportunity to teach them and us about being a part of an even great family – the family of believers. Jesus promotes the simple truth of the Means of Grace: blessed are those who hear the Word of God and obey it (Luke 11:28). Jesus says, “whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”
           You are not just a face in the crowd. The Lord says, Fear not I have redeemed you I have called you by name. You are mine. (Isaiah 43: 1) You are One of His Family. In this family the hearing and doing of our Father’s will is priority number one. Welcome to the Family and enjoy the blessings of our Heavenly Father for all eternity. Amen.

Set Our Hearts on Fire, Lord!

Acts 2: 1 vs 21 (Pentecost)
"Set Our Hearts On Fire, Lord!"
Fire is one of those "Friend-or-Foe" things. Under the kettle fire means a cooked supper. On a broken wire in the dry wall it means danger. In the camp fire pit it is the center of good fellowship. On the bed of a dry forest it spells disaster. On Pentecost we talk about fire as a friend, but not a physical fire. On Pentecost we see the Church, Christ's believers, set on Fire by the Holy Spirit. Today we consider the drastic change in one man that made a drastic change in thousands. Like a spark on a dry needle in the forest, The Holy Spirit inspired Peter's Christ centered sermon, which in turn brought thousands from unbelief to faith.

Impress the Hearts of God's People

Deuteronomy 6: 4 - 9 (Christian Education)

“Impress the Hearts of God’s People”

‘ Several of our hot pads have perfect black rings imbedded on them. That is because the stove top burners were still hot when I put them down. For good or for bad, impressions are quite easily made. How do we make an impression - on our hearts? The book of Proverbs holds out this advice: “Above all else, guard your heart; it is the wellspring of life (Proverbs 4:23). What you repeatedly fill your heart with is what will repeatedly come out of it. The saying goes, “Repetition is the mother of all learning.”

The verb in our lesson translated “impress” means to “repeat” or “teach.” Is that not why we maintain a vigorous ministry called CHRISTIAN EDUCATION? It is our daily goal to impress upon our hearts, and the hearts of our children, God’s wisdom. We desire to repeatedly impress upon the hearts of God’s people, the wonderful truths of God’s Word. God himself gives us some good advice on just how to do that very thing. He commands that we talk about his words in our daily lives among out families. He encourages us make our homes and lives banners of his word to those around us.

1. Talk about His Word Daily

“Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”God had just given the Law to his people. Along with that Law, summarized by Ten Commands, God reminded them of what he had done for his people. He brought them out of slavery. He is One True God, who had continued to bless them and was going to bring them to the Land of promise.

In this same discussion God would tell them, “Remember today that your children were not the ones who saw and experienced the discipline of the Lord your God: his majesty, his mighty hand, his outstretched arm, and the things he did in the heart of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 11:2-3). The children of the next generation would not know firsthand unless the first generation told them about God’s marvelous deeds and his wise expectations.

The heart of early Christians Education began at home. God’s expectation is that parents take it upon themselves to teach and tell their children what they themselves have learned regarding God’s Word. That is the simplicity of Christians Education. That is also the high responsibility of Christian Education.

Talk about God’s Word daily. Speak of Him when you are at home and when you are away. Speak of him when you lie down and get up. Let God’s word be the first thing you do and the least thing you do of each day. Talk about it in the car. Talk about God’s word in times of guilt and sin. Tell your children what is right and what is wrong, as you remind yourself of those same things. Talk about when troubles come. Let God’s word be a daily part of your conversations of life.

In order to assist us all as parents to do that, the kingdom of God has developed many sorts of ministry that fall under Christian Education. Our worship services are meant to teach us, as well as feed us spiritually. The pastor offers ongoing Bible Instruction in several different ways. Volunteers come forward to teach Sunday School Classes and plan Bible Schools at various times of the year. Many congregations, like ours, generously support a full time staff to teach children on a daily basis, not only in Bible Study, but in every aspect of life. Today we are reminded that we are also associated with a blessing at KMLHS.

There are opportunities all around us to further impress on our hearts the wisdom of God and his word. Paul reminds us all to “continue in what you have learned and become convinced of (2 Timothy 3:14). Christian Education is not just a school or a curriculum. It is a way of life - a culture - like everything else in our lives in Christ. We are always teaching. We are constantly making impressions upon ourselves and our children. It might as well be the Word of God that we are repeating to our hearts.

2. Make Your Lives Banners for the Lord

“Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.”

You can learn a great deal about people when you walk into their home. The things that are important to them, the places they have been, the kinds of foods they like to eat are evident because of the marks lying around the house. Like the rings on my hot pads, God’s Word is to become obvious to those around us. It is to be obvious to us and those around us what impression we want to make. At the time of the Exodus, the blood on the doorframes meant salvation of the firstborn sons. It stood as a mark for the Angel of the Lord and others, that these were God-fearing people who lived here. It stood as a shadow of the blood Jesus shed on the cross.

Make your lives and homes banners for the Lord. Make an impression. Take a look around at home. What things give the impression that we are making a banner for the world? What sorts of things are sinfully drawing our attention away from God’s wisdom and grace? What impressions do our private conversations leave, at work, at home, in the community? What impressions do our visibly actions leave on the people around us? What impression do we leave on our children? (Remember: children are like sponges. They are watching and soaking up everything we do.) Are we good banners for the world of sin?

Making our lives to be banners for the Lord is a very real part of Christian education. Our whole lives are teaching moments. Our choices, our words, our goals, all play a part in making a Christian impression on each other and the people who are watching. We go out of our way to have Christian symbols and messages on our clothes, our cars, our walls, our necks. That is all wonderful. That is a part of what God is saying. But it does us no good if our words and actions negate the impression those banners are meant to leave.

Thankfully, our God is a gracious God. He teaches us. He impresses his love on us. He stamps his name on us in Baptism. He marks us as redeemed children of God. The cross we wear on our jewelry is only a shadow of the real thing. “When we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly €¦ While we were still sinners Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6-8). God impresses upon us his redeeming love and forgiveness. He pours out, REPEATEDLY, his spiritual education for our hearts and souls. He gives us his body and blood, miraculously, over and over again, to remind us of that saving death.

That love is the heart and core of what we hope to impress on each other, on our own hearts, on the hearts of our children day by day. We can and we should and we do teach our children many things about this world. But only one thing is needful: the words of our Savior. This message of God’s wisdom is a treasure in a field. It is something to be repeatedly impressed on our hearts, and the hearts of those around us. Why do we go out of our way to teach our kids? Because not only do we want them to be prepared for this life, but we also hope to joyfully spend eternity with them. Leave an impression that will last. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your souls and with all your strength. Impress upon your hearts the Word of God. Train each other for time in this life, but most importantly for eternity in heaven with Christ Jesus. Amen.

Take Your Confirmation Vow Seriously

Matthew 26: 31 - 35 (Confirmation)

“Take Your Confirmation Vow Seriously”

Then Jesus told them, "This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written:
" 'I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.'

But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee."

Peter replied, "Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will."

"I tell you the truth," Jesus answered, "this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times."

But Peter declared, "Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you." And all the other disciples said the same.

The Shepherd Takes Care of His Sheep

John 10: 11 – 18 (Good Shepherd)
“The Shepherd Takes Care of His Sheep”
    Green pastures; streams of living water; tables of goodness; overflowing cups; love and mercy in the house of the Lord (Psalm 23) These are the kinds of phrases that Christians have cherished for centuries. They are words we sing in our hymns. They are words we hear at a funeral. They are words we have on our walls in our bed rooms. They are words we read when we are down. They are words of the Psalm that permeates Christian worship throughout the year. They are pictured in oil paintings in preschool rooms, churches and Christian hall ways across the world.
    But you seldom see the wolf. You seldom see the half-torn wool of a bloody sheep. You seldom read a book about the sheep that didn’t make it to the house of bricks and steel. You seldom see an oil painting of the sheep that is drowning in the rough waters. What good is a shepherd if his job is a “cush” job by the quiet waters and the locked up sheep pen?
Jesus reminds us that he does indeed take care of us. There is a wolf. There are false shepherd who don’t give a rip about you. Sheep do need to be called, or else they won’t come. Sheep do need someone to sacrifice everything for them, or they will perish helplessly.
1. He Laid Down His Life for the Flock
    “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hind is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then he wolf attacks the flock and scatters it.”
The first order of business is the wolf. God addressed the wolf in the Garden of Eden after the fall into sin. The wolf had scattered his flock of two, and has been trying to scatter it ever since. “He will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” (Genesis 3:15). Taking on the wolf was not going to be without danger. The shepherd entered the wilderness to face temptation. “He was tempted in every way just as we are yet was without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).
    But our enemy, the devil, the prowling lion, has not given up, nor will he give up. He won’t give up because he knows how feeble we are. He knows how easy it is to pick us off the flock. He knows how helpless and sinful we are. All it takes is to enter one heart of one sheep and he is able to scatter the entire flock. All it takes is to lead one believer into sin and the whole flock goes restless.
    When one of the fold is in trouble, the whole flock goes restless. Each one of us knows … That could have been me. I have done that stupid thing. I have thought that foolish thought. I have been in that particular trap. One bad sheep can infect the whole flock. One luring thought will send it spinning in all directions. Perhaps some of the sheep run looking for hired hands – leaders in the church who have put blinders on, or false teachings that only speak of false hope. All it takes is one devoured sheep, one sinful voice, one small wedge and the wolf will have his way with the flock.
    But the Good Shepherd does not run away. “I lay down my life for the sheep.” Jesus faces the wolf head on. Jesus puts himself in harms way to rescue the sheep. Jesus holds out his staff as weapon. Jesus pierces the wolf; he punctures the power of sin; he destroys death. “I lay down my life of my own accord – only to take it back up again.” His blood is the price he paid to take ownership of his flock. His life is what he was willing to give in order to keep it safe from the wolf, and safe for eternity. His resurrection is the final stamp of assurance that his flock is safe in the hands of the Perfect Shepherd. He will always love us. He will never run away. He will always go to bat for us. “Surely I am with you to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).
    But that is not the end of the story, nor the end of his illustration.
2. His Voice Gives Life to the Flock
“I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too, will listen to my voice, and there will be one flock and one shepherd.” You may have been taught that sheep recognize their own shepherd by voice. They don’t follow an unfamiliar voice. Sheep are not smart enough to have presuppositions about what a shepherd should be like or what he should say or do. They learned the hard way that their shepherd loves them and only wants what is truly best for them. They learn that only when they follow his voice will they truly be led to safety.
    As sheep we confess, I believe that I cannot by my own think or choosing – reason or strength –believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him. But the Holy Spirit has called me by the gospel enlightened me with his gifts, sanctified and kept me in the one true faith. In the same way he calls gathers, enlightens, the whole Christian church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith (Third Article).
Sheep won’t come unless they are called. And they won’t come to the true shepherd unless they are called by his voice. “Faith comes by hearing the message and the message is heard through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.” 1 Corinthians 12:3). Jesus says, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10 27-28).
    It is that Word which the Shepherd uses to reunite the flock when it has been divided by the wolf. It is that Word which made the devil run from him in the wilderness. It is that Word of God which guts the wolf from our hearts of sin and replaces that space with faith and love and obedience. It is that Word of God that nourishes the flock when the Shepherd brings us safely to the green pastures, the quiet waters, the overflowing cups, and the tables prepared in the face of the enemies. “The Word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).
    That mighty Word is the voice of the Shepherd which gives life to the flock. His gift of Baptism gathers the flock into the safety of his fold. His voice of forgiveness gives us peace. His body and blood feed our faith with living waters. His truths unite us into one direction – following the True Shepherd home to safety. Because of our Good Shepherd “goodness and love will follow us all the days of our lives and we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (Psalm 23: 6).
    Listen to that saving voice. Learn to recognize and follow the Voice that leads you from danger to safety. Drink deeply at the well of his still waters. Graze safely under the protection of the Shepherd who laid down his life for you only to take it back up again. Follow that Shepherd’s voice, for he is leading you not only to himself, but also to the heavenly flock that his Father has gathered for all eternity. To that end we sing:
  The King of Love my Shepherd is, whose goodness fails me never
  I nothing lack if I am his and he is mine forever
  Confused and foolish oft I strayed But yet in love he sought me
  And on his shoulder gently laid At home rejoicing brought me.
 (CW 375:1;3) Amen.Â

The Spirit Testifies that Jesus Is God

1 John 5: 1-6 (Easter 2 – 2012)
“The Spirit Testifies That Jesus is God”
           Spend some time among the people of the world and you will quickly see what John knew. Many are still living in fog of lies. Many still see God as a myth, or a vengeful tyrant. Many will still scoff at the thought the Jesus was at all important or that the Bible is relevant. The world is filled with souls living in fear. They are vulnerable, gullible, and live as enemies of the cross of Christ. (Philippians 3:18).
           Do you remember the soldiers guarding the tomb? They accepted a bribe to circulate lies. Their story was that the disciples came during the night and stole his body away. Lies and rumors turned to false teachings. Not a century later there were formal groups of people who taught that Jesus from Nazareth was just human being. Many believed that heaven took possession of his humanity at his Baptism. The dove came down only as a symbol of the divine entering him. The miracles surrounding his life were not his doing. Before he died the divinity returned to heaven and abandoned him. In other words, they denied that Jesus was truly God and man in one person. They believed his death on the cross to be just a tragic injustice to a turn-the-other-cheek prophet – sent from God, but not born the Son of God.
           John wrote in defense of the truth that Jesus is both God and man. From the time he was conceived by the Holy Spirit, he has been shown to be the true Son of God while remaining a true human being. He was born of God from eternity. The Spirit gives testimony to the fact throughout the pages of Scripture and the events of Bible History.
Upon His Baptism
           John tells us that “he came by water and blood.” The water speaks of his Baptism Day.In the second Psalm, the Father says about Jesus “You are my Son, today I have become your Father” (Psalm 2:7). That “today” is an eternal day.David’s Psalm rebukes those from all generations who would say otherwise. Upon his Baptism, the Father’s voice from heaven speaks out, “This is my Son whom I love, with him I am well pleased” (Matthew 3: 17). Notice that God says this “is my Son.” He did not say, “he became my son, or, he will be my son temporally.” His Baptism was just one of the many moments in Bible History where the Spirit testifies that Jesus was, is, and always will be the one true Son of God.
           In our confession of faith we say it: “eternally begotten of the Father; God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one being with the Father. Those words are a direct reflection of John’s letter before us today. Jesus’ Baptism day was a confirmation of an eternal fact. He was anointed that day for all eyes to see that he is the Redeemer sent from Heaven. He completes the painting that the Spirit has painted throughout the Bible. He was born of the Father from eternity. His Baptism is not the beginning of his divinity, but a testimony to the eternal reality of his divinity.
By His Death and Resurrection
           John says “he came by water and blood.” The blood speaks of his crucifixion.You recall the events that surrounded his dying on Calvary: the temple curtain tore in two; dead people rose from their graves and appeared in the streets, the sun stopped shining the middle of the day, the earth shook violently, splitting rocks. The Roman centurion who had been guarding him exclaimed: “Surely this man was the Son of God.” (Matthew 27: 54).
           But we don’t have to take his word for it either. The fact that he died the Son of God is vitally important. The fact that he rose from the dead testifies to it. Peter tells us, “Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but was made alive by the Spirit, through whom he also went and preached to the spirits in prison” (1 Peter 3: 18-19). The Father and the Spirit both give testimony in his death and resurrection: Jesus of Nazareth is God’s one and only Son. He was forsaken by his Father because of our sins, but he was not robbed of his divinity. He was put to death for our sins. But was raised to life for our justification (Romans 4:25). His resurrection proves that he his God’s Son.Â
By Giving us Victory
           There is yet another way the Spirit testifies to authenticity of Jesus’ divine nature. It involves you. Today in our Gospel lesson Thomas demanded physical proof of the resurrection. Jesus responded to him this way: “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 21: 29). Jesus spoke the same truth the night before his death: “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message” (John 17: 20). Here in his letter, John is remembering the importance of those words. “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well.”
           John’s was not the only generation to see the rejection and denial of Jesus as God and man. Ours is a generation filled with those who do not yet believe. Praise the Lord that faith does not require proof. The fact that you and I have been brought to faith through the message of Christ gives testimony to the authentic reality that Jesus is God. John calls it victory; the Greeks word for it NIKE. You may recognize it is a famous athletic shoe company. The connection is purposeful: have the right shoe and gain the victory.
           John says: “This is how we know: by loving God and carrying out his commands.” Love and obedience are tied together. The world is a very difficult thing to overcome. It is filled with the enemies of Christ. It is filled with the lies and schemes of the devil. Our hearts are born with the conviction that God is our foe and not our friend. Without the Son of God, the laws and commands of God are a heavy burden upon us. Like the rest of the world we would hate him for giving us just a heavy load to carry. We can’t follow all of those laws and demands. They are detestable to our natural born condition. Next to that burden the easy ways of the world temp us to drop the load of love and obedience to conform to the patterns around us. We would surely lose that battle alone.
           Christ took the burden. He is God’s Son. He loves his Father. He loves his Father’s commands. He does his Father’s expectations perfectly and without complaint. He conquered the world. He has overcome the world (John 16: 33). God loved that world so much that he sent is one and only Son, not to condemn the world but to save the world through him (see: John 3:16-17). “He came by water and blood.” He was anointed to be the Son of God in his Baptism and shown to be the Savior of the world through his death and resurrection. “And this is his testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.” (1 John 5: 11). On top of that, the Spirit has made us children of God through water and the Word. He has not left us as orphans, but has come to us. He has made his home in our hearts through faith.
           Now “his laws are not a burden.” People who believe that Jesus is the Son of God know that their guilt has been taken away. They know that the law has been kept perfectly. They know that the laws of God are good. They know that the laws of God are commands to show his love to others. They know that showing love in Christ is their desire and their joy. Children of God know that the centrality of the Law of Christ is to carry out his love in their lives.
           John says that others will see it in you. The Holy Spirit’s victories over unbelief testify to Jesus. The fact that the Church exists testifies the validity of Jesus as God’s Son. The fact that people believe through the power of the Gospel demonstrates that Jesus is our Savior. Generations of baptisms, mission work in every corner of the earth, Sunday schools and worship services around the globe, Christian Education in our homes, our schools, and in our missions these all testify that Jesus is the Christ the Son of the living God and that believing in him we have life through his name.” (John 20:31). Some will reject it. But other will be drawn to his Name through your confession, your love and your faithfulness to his Words.
           You have the right shoe for running the good race of faith. You have been given the victory – the NIKE. “This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith … that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” Run with perseverance. Run with courage. Run with love for Christ and his Word. Run with confidence in his power over sin and temptation. Run with joy in the certainty of eternal life. Run with a heart for the lost souls who still deny him. Run the race knowing that your life of faith tells others that you believe in him as your Savior. Run in step with the Spirit who testifies that Jesus was, is, and always will be the Son God, our Savior. Amen.

Christ Rolled the Stone Away

Mark 16: 1-8 (The Resurrection of our Lord - 2012)
"Christ Rolled the Stone Away"
They kept walking. It occurred to them that they would not be able move the stone cover to Jesus' grave. But that thought did not keep them from going. There is almost an assumption in their minds: "we will cross that bridge when we get there." Their minds and hearts were so intent on doing the right and proper thing that the issue of the stone was not going to deter them. They kept walking. They didn't wake up Peter and John. They didn't turn around and go back to bed. They were certain that stone was going to get moved and they were going to accomplish the appropriate task at hand: anointing the dead body of Jesus.
The stone was rolled away. But a separate issue arrived. The gals were expecting a corpse. Instead they found an empty grave. Much more happened that morning than the rolling of a grave stone. They were expecting to see Jesus, but were greeted by an angel instead.
This morning we focus on the weightier stones that are rolled away on Easter Morning: the stone of our disobedience; the stone of death; and the stone of doubt.
The Stone of Disobedience
Paul reminds us this morning "If Christ is not raised, you are still in your sins." Like a huge boulder, sin blocked our pathway to a Holy God. Invitations arrive on our hearts to place our trust in ourselves. Enticing advertisements from the culture around us appeal to our sinful desires. The searing weight of guilt piles like a mountain of rocks on our hearts. Sin is the powerful stone blocking our view of heavenly wisdom and life. Its shear massive weight is not something we can push away from our hearts and lives.
Jesus rolls away the stone of disobedience. We listened and learned once again the history of events that are his suffering passion. We focused for forty days on every action, every word, and each willful act of obedience which he carried out for our sake. We remembered on Maundy Thursday that his death was proclaimed in the giving and receiving of his body and blood. We viewed the cross on Good Friday. He spoke words of love and compassion. He felt the pain of abandonment from his friends and from his Father. He gave up his spirit to make the stone of guilt roll away from our Father's eyes. Today we know that all was not in vain. Today we know that because he lives, the stone of our disobedience has been rolled away. Our sins are wiped clean from our Savior's memory.
The Stone of Death
The other stone that has been rolled away is the stone of death. The wages of sin is death. The direct result of Adam's disobedience brought death to the world. God told Adam "the day you eat of it you will surely die." Paul was right we he claimed "for your sakes we face death all day along." That boulder is not something we can push on down the road and roll out of view. We are born into this world dead to God in our natural born unbelief. Now, having been brought to faith in Jesus, we still know that temporal death is in our future and that stony reality may not be as distant as we think. This earth is laced with gardens of stones called cemetaries. They are visible reminders that nobody lives forever. If Jesus does not return first, we will be placed under one of those stones one day too. We will not have the power to push the six feet dirt or the stone away.
But Jesus will. Jesus, whose stone was rolled away on Easter, rolled away the stone of death. Because he lives we also will live. Paul told the Philippians: "Our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body." Jesus told Martha, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die."
The messenger announced the great news to the ladies that morning: "You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here." Jesus has rolled away the stone of death. That stone had been chained so tightly to the first stone: "The sting of death is sin and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!"
The Stone of Doubt
There is another stone which is often tied to sin and death. That is the stone of doubt. You can sense in the angel's greeting that the gals were in need of some assurance. "Do not be alarmed!" With that assurance comes some instruction. They were to share this good news and invite Peter and the others to meet him in Galilee. "Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to no one because they were afraid."
On the heels of the greatest news ever they fell back to fear, and because of it disobedience. But I want us to back up the early part of the morning. What was there biggest concern? "Who will roll the stone away?" They were focused on an earthly dilemma. In spite of that, they were not deterred from moving forward. Were any of them contemplating: Who will take our sins away? Who will remove the power of death from our lives? Who will redeem Israel now? Who will fulfill the prophecies of God? Who will take away our guilt, our fears, our doubts?
Trembling? Bewildered? Afraid? Doubtful? Do those words describe us? They do when our focus is turned in the wrong direction. Peter walked on water, when he was focused on the One who walks on water. When his focus was on the "hows" and "whys" of something he could not understand, doubt turned to disbelief and disbelief led to trouble. When he believed the lie that it was up to him, he could not handle the waves.
Some very large stones lurk about us these days. They all have the power to cast a stone of doubt which weighs a tone on our human hearts. Who will roll away the stone of terminal and debilitating diseases? Who will roll away the stone of economic uncertainty? Who will roll away the stone of family strife? Who will roll away the stone of an impending church mortgage? Who will roll away the stone of spiritual darkness in the world around us? Who will roll away the stone of political and civil uncertainty? Who will roll away the stone apathy? Who will roll away the stone of my personal doubts and fears?
Remember, Christ had bigger stones to roll away than that on Easter Morning. He was busy crushing the stone foundation of Satan's plans. He was busy hurling the stones of our sins far from his Father's memory. He was busy casting of the bolder death, the shroud that enfolds all people. He is the one who exerts the power to place all things under his control. Know and believe that he has taken care of our greatest needs, even when it would not even occur to us to ask for them. Christ who lives to take away sin; Christ who lives to conquer death; is also the One who lives to silence all your fears.
He knows about the stones of your life. In each case, he knows why they are there. In each case he is teaching us repeatedly that we need him. He is the One rolls those stones around. He is the One who can cause diseases and death to bring about his gracious will. He is the One who teaches us to trust fully in him during financial strife and to not lean on our own understanding. He is the One who uses strife and corruption to give us courage to speak the truth and courage to fight for the things that are right and noble.
They kept walking. It occurred to them to ask the question (who will roll the stone away?). In faith they kept walking. When they arrived, their biggest fear became quite miniscule. For Christ had rolled even bigger stones away. Eventually those women did find the courage to speak the Peter and the others about what they saw and believed.
Jesus who was crucified has risen! That Savior Jesus invites you to keep walking in view of his empty grave. There is no corpse to anoint there. There is only a message of certain hope for heaven. Keep walking. Jesus has removed the stone of disobedience. Jesus has removed the stone of death. He will also help you push the stones of doubt away day by day and give you the courage walk with him now and in eternity. A Blessed Easter to you all. Amen.