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Beware of False Preachers

Matthew 7:13-23
Trinity 8

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✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

    Everybody expects the pastor to tell people that it’s important for them to come to church.  But do you know why it is that you need to be here every week to hear the preaching of the Gospel?  It’s not to make me happy (although it does); it’s not even to make God happy with you (He already is with those who are in Christ).  In large part it’s because the world is preaching to you a counter-Gospel every single day of the week, and you need to be strengthened and built up and defended against that.  Even if you don’t go to church, you’re still going to hear preaching–just not the preaching of the Gospel.  Worldly philosophies and theologies are being directed at your ears wherever you are–work, home, school, recreation.  And if all you’re hearing are the pop-culture sermons of the world, pretty soon you’re going to start to be led astray from the truth of Christ.  

    Don’t be naive about this.  Every time you watch a TV show or movie, you’re being preached to–there will be some morality, some worldview that is being pushed on you with disarming humor or compelling visual imagery.  Just as a small example, think how many movies have employed the idea of a person’s soul or consciousness moving from one body to another.  Of course it’s just fiction and entertainment, but over time there is a false theology and a false way of understanding soul and body that is being taught.  Or on another subject, a pastor friend recently remarked that on a popular TV sitcom, the unmarried characters are the ones having sex, and the married ones aren’t.  There’s a subtle and subversive message being delivered there.  So also, when you listen to music or go to some concert or entertainment venue, you’re being preached to and marketed to and spun with all sorts of emotional hooks–not only in political ways, but in lifestyle ways.  And lifestyle is always about theology, what you believe about yourself, God, others, how you should spend your money, and so on.  And even in the workplace or at school or college, especially in today’s politically correct, social justice warrior environment, theology and ethics are bound up in the policies about your speech and conduct, in the school or the company's “vision” that you’re asked to buy into, or in all the buzzwords that keep getting repeated.  You see, there’s a way of understanding life and spirituality and what’s good and bad that’s inherent in all of these things–and that understanding is often laced with ideas that don’t align with God’s Word.  So don’t be deceived.  In this present darkness, hearing the preaching of God’s Word once a week is pretty much a bare minimum.null

    Jesus makes it very clear that we should take the danger of the world’s false preaching very seriously when He says, “Beware of false prophets.”  That word “Beware” is the equivalent of a road sign with flashing red lights.  “Danger!” “Watch out!”  He wouldn’t warn us so seriously like that unless the threat were real and important to be alert for.  

    That road sign Jesus gives us is a reminder that there are two paths that you can take in this world, and only one leads to life.  The road that leads to destruction is wide and broad and feels right.  It is the path that most everyone is taking.  It is the way of pleasing people rather than pleasing God, loving yourself more than Him.  You’ve heard the preachers of this path.  They tell you to do what brings you self-fulfillment.  They tell you that you have an inner light within that you must connect with, that you must follow your heart and your dreams and your passions.  Just believe in yourself.  As the Oprah once said, you should speak your truth and live your truth–as if there were more than one truth, no Truth that is higher than us regardless of what we think or feel, just the truth that supposedly flows from our hearts.  But then there’s God’s Word which says, “The heart is deceitful and desperately sick” (Jeremiah 17:9).  Jesus Himself said, “From within, out of the heart...come wickedness and deceit” (Mark 7:21-22).  That’s no place to be looking for truth.  Still, like drivers ignoring a “Bridge Out” sign, people take this broad road and are led over a cliff to their destruction.

    The path of life, on the other hand, is narrow and difficult and is often contrary to what feels right.  It involves going against the flow, following the Word of God and not the crowd or your heart.  The way of life is narrow because it is found exclusively in Christ who said, “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me.”  This path is difficult because it is the way of the cross.  It’s not about self-fulfillment, but self-denial. as Jesus said, "Deny yourself and take up your cross and follow Me."  It’s not about loving yourself above all but loving others and esteeming others better than yourself.  It is the way of repentance and sacrifice.  It is the Way of Jesus who bore the cross for you so that you may follow Him through suffering to share with Him in the resurrection of the body.  Jesus walked that narrow way of sorrows for you to Calvary.  He died to take away your sins; He cleared the path and opened the narrow gate of faith in Him so that you may have eternal life purely by His grace.

    Beware, then, of being lured off the narrow way of Jesus.  You know you’re being tempted by the spirit of false prophecy when your biggest fear is being accused of being judgmental; when you tell yourself that it’s not your place to speak up, to speak the truth in love, even to a close friend or family member who needs to be called to repentance and faith in Christ.  No, better just to keep the peace and not rock the boat and hope that they’ll magically return to Christ apart from His spoken Word.  But all you’re doing by that is showing that you love God less than you love your relationships with those people.  And in fact it’s not really showing love to those people, anyway, to ignore unrepentant sin which invites God’s judgment on them.

    Beware of false prophets.  They may look like fine, pious, upstanding people you should be paying attention to.  But inwardly, Jesus says, they are ravenous wolves in sheep’s clothing.  The devil comes as an angel of light, as something good, and so do false preachers.  The thing that makes the lie powerful is that it masquerades as the truth.  Jeremiah said that false prophets, be they men or women, speak a vision of their own heart, not from the mouth of the Lord.  They don’t preach the truth God has given them in His Word, but what the people want to hear; they preach their own dreams and their own wisdom.  They are without the true teaching of Christ, in which alone there is salvation.

    That’s ultimately how you can tell false prophets from true ones, not by the wonders they can do or how successful they are, not even by how loving they are, but by what they teach, whether it is the pure Law and Gospel of Scripture or something else.  I’ve had people comment to me about how packed this Lutheran megachurch is or that non-denominational or Assembly of God church is.  The implication usually is that they must be doing something good and blessed by God to have those numbers.  But do you remember the faithful prophet Elijah?  He thought he was the only one left who worshiped the Lord in his day.  The Baal worshipers had all the numbers.  God reminded Elijah that still He reserved 7000 faithful among the hundreds and hundreds of thousands in Israel who worshiped the spirit of the age.  Remember what Jesus says, “By their fruit you will know them.”  The fruit refers not to their deeds (which can deceive) but to their doctrine.  What spiritual food do they offer?  What do they hold forth for your souls to feast upon?  I John 4 says, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”  It is written in 2 John, “Whoever does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God.”  “By their fruits you will know them.”

    So in the midst of all the religion talk and God-talk that you hear, ask yourself, is the focus on me and my praising of God, or is it on Christ and what He has done for me and given to me?  Is it about how I can have a better life in this world and find self-fulfillment and happiness through my own spirituality, or is it about how I can have a new life in Jesus solely through His suffering and death and resurrection?

    And if you want to know whether a teacher is true or false, just consider: Does he direct you to the shifting sands of your own decisions and commitments (like an altar call where you come down to give your heart to Jesus or some such thing), or does he direct you to the solid rock of Christ’s commitment to you and His sure baptismal promise which He gives you?  Does he direct you to your own efforts and works as a way of gaining eternal life or saving you from purgatory, or does he direct you always to the all-sufficient sacrifice of Christ on the cross?  Does he only speak of things in mystical, inward, spiritual terms, or does he emphasize the concrete realities of the faith, that Christ took on your flesh and blood as a true man, that He was raised from the dead in the body, that He comes to you now with His true, real body and blood for your forgiveness in the Sacrament, that you will be raised bodily on the Last Day?

    Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.”  You'll note that the false prophets in today's Gospel were focused on their own works.  "Lord did we not prophesy and cast out demons and do many wonders in your name?"  They were talking about what they did!  But the will of the Father is all wrapped up and centered not in what we have done but in Christ and what He has done.  He is the one who does the will of the Father perfectly for you.  He is the One who prayed to the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Not my will but Yours be done.”  The will of the Father was that Jesus go to the cross to suffer and die as the ransom price to redeem you and save you.  And so the will of the Father for you is that you be saved, that you trust in Christ and cling to Him alone for redemption and follow Him day by day in the callings He has placed you into.   It is written in John 6, “This is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”  That’s what it means to do the will of the Father: to cling to Christ as the way of life, to believe in Him and stake your life on Him.  He alone is the way into the kingdom of heaven, He who is fully God and fully man, made flesh, who was crucified, resurrected, and ascended for the salvation of sinners.  The will of God is fulfilled in Jesus for you.

    So beware of preachers who teach something different than the faithful pattern of Scriptural words that you’ve been given in the catechism and the creeds.  Learn to know these things by heart; carry them with you as a defense against the world’s false preaching and the world’s allurements.  Beware of those who cast aside the liturgy for something supposedly better and more contemporary, whose teaching doesn’t square with the words of divine service and the preaching that you hear in this place.  Even if you can’t quite put your finger on what’s wrong, just flee from them.  And flee to Christ.  Take refuge in Him, give attention to His words.  Living in the gift of your baptism, follow that narrow way of Him who is Way, the Truth, and the Life.  In Him you are safe.

    The good tree in the Gospel that bears good fruit is the cross on which Christ hung.  As it is written, “Christ Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we having died to sins, might live for righteousness.  By His stripes we are healed.”  So you could say, Jesus is not a wolf in sheep’s clothing. He is the reverse; He subverts the devil's ways. He is a sheep in wolves’ clothing.  He is the pure Lamb of God who allowed Himself to be cloaked in darkness and sin at Golgotha in order to put them to death in His body, so that you would be delivered from all evil.  The wolf has been conquered.  Sin, death, and the devil have been undone for you.  Believing in Christ, taking refuge in Him, you are saved and safe forever from all the lying anti-Gospels that are out there.  As St. Paul said, you are the church of God which He has purchased with His own blood.  Even when your heart and your feelings say otherwise, you belong to Him still; He will never leave you or forsake you.  Nothing in all creation can separate you from His love.

    Come, then, to the holy tree and receive the holy fruit of His blood and His body, which cleanses you of your sin and gives you everlasting life.  Jesus is your true Prophet and the fulfillment of all prophecy.  By His fruits you will know Him.

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

Merciful as Your Heavenly Father

Luke 6:36-42

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✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

    One thing I’ve noticed about our fallen human nature is that we have a strong desire to want to place blame and to point out people’s shortcomings when something isn’t quite how we think it should be.  Isn’t that true?  For some reason, when something has gone wrong–at home, at work, wherever–we feel compelled to make clear that it was so-and-so who messed up.  We want to be sure they don’t just get away with their mistake.  We often care more about fixing blame than fixing the problem.  It’s much easier to find fault than it is to show mercy.

    Not very many people measure up to our standards, do they?  They fall short in this area or that area.  They’ve got this annoying habit or that character flaw.  It’s easy for us to see such things in others.  Now, if everybody were like me, we say, then maybe things would be better.  But think about it.  What if everyone were just like you?   That sounds to me like a good formula for a horror movie, where everybody walking around is an exact replica of your personality.  

    And even more importantly, what if God were like you?  Would that be good news or bad news?  What if God judged you in the same way you judge others?  What if God exposed all the thoughts of your heart toward others and all of the gossip you’ve spoken about them?  What if He were in the business of finding fault and making sure you null experience the full consequences of what you deserve?

    Jesus warns us that if we insist on living without mercy toward others, we are inviting God to be without mercy toward us.  If we’re all about pointing out specks of sawdust in other people’s eyes, the 2 x 4 in our own eye is going to end up bludgeoning us in the head.  “Judge not, and you shall not be judged.  Condemn not and you shall not be condemned.  Forgive, and you will be forgiven.  Give, and it will be given to you: good measure pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom.  For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.”

    The way you’ve treated others is how you’re going to be treated.  If that doesn’t scare you a bit, listen to these verses just before today’s Gospel, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you. . .  If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?  For even sinners love those who love them.  And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you?  For even sinners do the same.  And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive back, what credit is that to you?  For even sinners lend to sinners to receive as much back. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High.”

    Such words, while good and true, must also terrify us and crush us.  For we have no power of ourselves to do what God asks, not truly and fully, not from the heart with the right motivations.  We don’t want to give away our money and do good to those who hate us and pray for those who use us.  We want payback!  We are not sons of the Most High by nature, we are children of the evil one.  Realizing this, all we can do is to cry out to the Lord, “Help me!  Save me from myself!  Have mercy on me!”

    And the good news in today’s Gospel is that our Father in heaven is merciful.  He is abounding in steadfast love.  In mercy He causes His sun to rise on the evil as well as the good.  And He sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.  He provides daily bread to all people, even those who hate Him and reject Him, even those who through false religion want to use Him for their own purposes.  

    But God’s mercy does not stop there.  His mercy extends even to the point of sending His Son into our very flesh to save us from the curse of death.  Though Jesus was blameless, He allowed all of our blame and our blaming to be put on Him.  Jesus made all of our faults and sins His own, and He set us free from their condemnation by dying for us and shedding His blood in our place on the plank of the cross.  Now, because of that, the Father in heaven finds no fault with you.  For you who believe wear the holiness of Christ.  You are forgiven and cleansed and righteous in Jesus’ name.  

    Remember, that’s how God sees you.  The Scriptures say, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  God’s not watching you just waiting for you to mess up so that He can nail you.  For He already nailed His Son on your behalf.  God’s not in the blame business.  He already took care of all of that at Calvary.  He’s in the mercy business, mercy that is limitless and overflowing.

    Jesus is Himself pure mercy in the flesh.  Just consider how His words are embodied and fulfilled in His own life.  He is the One who gave freely and did good to all, healing and helping, asking for nothing in return.  He is the One who, when He was struck on one cheek during His trial did not retaliate but turned the other cheek.  He loved His enemies, blessed those who cursed Him, and prayed for those who spitefully used Him.  Remember what He said on the cross of those who crucified Him, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  

    The Father continues even now to answer that prayer for you.  He perpetually pours out His forgiveness and mercy to you through Christ from the cross.  In fact so great and generous is His love that He even gives you the right to call Him your Father.  Jesus says here, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”  Only Christ can rightly claim God as Father.  And yet He invites you to step into His place and call God your Father.  When the angel Gabriel came to the Blessed Virgin Mary, he said that her child would be called the Son of the Most High.  Now that you have been baptized into Christ, you are also counted as sons of the Most High.  That is rich mercy, that God the Father gives you the same status as Jesus.  You have become as little Christs before the Father.

    And if that is true, then you are also given to become little Christs to your neighbor.  Jesus has given you to stand in His place before the Father by faith.  And now you are called to invite your neighbor to stand in your place, that is, to love your neighbor as if He were your own self, to “be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.”  You live in Christ, trusting in the Father’s mercy, and Christ lives in you, being merciful toward your neighbor.  It’s all about Jesus.  For there is no mercy apart from Him.

    Your old Adam can show no real mercy; he’s always in the “I’ll do a favor for you if you can do a favor for me” business.  And so your sinful nature must die through repentance, that Christ may arise in you to be merciful.  By His preaching and the sacraments Jesus dwells in you to love even your enemies and to pray for your antagonists and adversaries.  He lives in you so that you may walk by faith in the Father, letting go of your desire for vengeance, trusting in God to take care of that. Through Christ you know that your life is safely in the hands of the Lord and Judge of all.  Jesus already suffered and paid for your enemies’ sins.  And He says of those enemies who reject His mercy, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay.”  You don’t have to worry about payback, because God will take care of that.  He’s better at vengeance than you are anyway.  It’s in the Lord’s hands, hands once nailed to the cross.  Perhaps your enemy will repent and be saved by the same mercy that saved you.  And if not, vengeance is the Lord’s.

    Confident of that, you are now free to feed your adversary and give Him drink and to overcome evil with good.  Living in Christ you get to forgive those who have used you, as Joseph did his brothers.  You get to put the best construction on other people’s words and actions and to cover over and ignore their failings and shortcomings.  You get to do good to all, whether or not the recipients are worthy.  You get to lend your money, whether or not you’ll ever get as much in return.  For you know that you have the greatest good in Christ and treasure in heaven.

    This is the way of life in Christ, the life of mercy.  It’s not a way that ignores or doesn’t care about what’s right and wrong.  That’s not what “judge not” means.  The world abuses and misuses this verse to mean that immorality and false doctrine should be tolerated.  But “Judge not” doesn’t mean “Condone sin.”  We’re not loving our neighbors by approving of things that cut them off from eternal life.  Rather, “judge not” is the way which acknowledges that God’s mercy in Christ is greater than the faults and sins of our neighbor and of ourselves.  Only by His mercy do we live.  It is as Jesus said to the woman caught in adultery–and note both parts of this statement.  He said, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.” By God’s mercy the plank is taken out of our eye.  By God’s mercy we forgive and remove the speck in our brother’s eye.  

    That mercy comes to you again this day in His supper; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom as you receive Christ’s holy body and the cup that runs over with abounding love, His holy blood poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins.

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

No Excuses for the Great Feast

Luke 14:15-24

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✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

    When people make excuses, it’s often because they don’t really want to take part in the thing they’re being asked to.  You’re invited to a party, but it’s people you don’t really know or don’t like being with, and so you come up with an excuse for why you can’t come.  Or a guy asks a girl out on a date.  But she comes up with all these reasons why this evening or that evening won’t work.  If she really wanted to spend time with him, she’d rearrange her schedule or offer a time that would work.  But the excuses are a sure sign to him that she’s not interested.  So also with church, people come up with all sorts of excuses and rationalizations.  If a famous celebrity or athlete were going to be here, or a beloved friend or a family member that they hadn’t seen for a long time, they’d rearrange the schedule and be sure to be here early.  But simply Jesus and His words and supper?  Boy, I’m really busy right now.  Maybe next week.

    In today’s Gospel Jesus speaks about some folks who were making excuses.  He begins, “A certain man gave a great supper and invited many.”  This man is God the Father.  His supper is the banquet of salvation, the heavenly meal of forgiveness and life.  This meal was purchased by Jesus through His death for sin and His victory over the grave on Easter.  In fact Jesus is Himself the meal, the Bread of Life given in the Scriptures and in the holy supper of His body and blood.  God has sent out His Holy Spirit to invite many through the preaching of the Gospel to come to the feast.  All things have been prepared by God; there is no cost or strings attached.  null

    But it is written, “They all with one accord began to make excuses.”  They all were looking for ways to get out of this Gospel invitation.  They had other things they thought were more important to do.  Honoring the Giver of the feast, being with Him and sharing in the joy of His meal just wasn’t something they were all that interested in.  It’s the old brush off, “God, you’re really sweet and all, but maybe some other time.”

    The first said, “I have bought a piece of ground, and I must go and see it.  I ask you to have me excused.”  This man is caught up in his property and does not believe that in Christ the meek shall inherit the earth.  He seeks to gain the world and in the process forfeits his soul.  He sees the value of land but does not desire the priceless land of the new creation.  He elects to go and see his piece of ground, almost like a burial plot, showing his destiny to return to the ground in death.  Property and possessions often lure us away from the Gospel feast.  But we dare never treasure what we have paid for above that which God has freely given in Christ.

    The second said, “I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to test them.  I ask you to have me excused.”  This man prefers his work to the work of Christ, who said, “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”  This man is like those who want to produce their own righteousness before God, walking under the yoke of the five books of Moses’ Law, rather than trusting in the righteousness of Christ, walking in the freedom of the Gospel.  But in the end they will find no rest.  Their labor and struggle will be in vain.  The temptation for us is to value our own efforts at good living over and above the grace of Christ.  Whenever we think we can do without the banquet of Jesus serving us His Word and Sacraments, we are by definition trusting in our own service and works.

    The third said, “I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.”  This man prized his earthly marriage over the heavenly wedding of Christ and His Churchly Bride.  He loved union with his wife more than communion with his Creator.  When death parts him from his wife, there will be nothing to restore him to life.  So also, we must guard against turning the good blessings of marriage and sexuality against the God who created them, or putting our spouse or family before the Lord.  For He said, “Whoever loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of Me.”

    Jesus spoke this parable against the unbelieving Jews of His day.  They had Him in their midst.  They heard Him preach and teach.  But most of Israel rejected Jesus as the Messiah and the Savior.  They felt no need for the salvation He came to bring.  They didn’t think of themselves as poor, miserable sinners, just people with a few minor imperfections.  Often it was only the lowly and the outcast of society who believed in Jesus and trusted His words of life.  This is what Jesus is referring to in the parable, “Then the master of the house, being angry [at those who rejected the invitation], said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in here the poor and the maimed and the lame and the blind.’” “If you people are too good to come to My feast, fine.  Then I’ll fill my house with those whom you self-righteous look down upon, those who hunger and thirst for My righteousness.  And they shall be filled with eternally satisfying food.”

    God will have a full house on the Last Day for His feast.  And if those who should come don’t, then many whom you might not expect will–not only the poor and the lame and the blind, but also even many from among the heathen nations will be brought to believe and be saved.  In the parable the servant said, “‘Master  it is done as you commanded, and still there is room.’  Then the master said to the servant, ‘Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.’”  For this meal is given not on the credentials of the invitees but on the graciousness of the Host.

    This parable is given by Jesus, then, as a warning to us against being complacent and ho-hum about the Gospel and losing our hunger for the feast.  You’ll often notice this when people start saying that they need something more than what divine service offers–something more entertaining or uplifting.  They’ll say things like, “I’m just not being fed; this just isn’t doing it for me”–as if Christ’s preaching and His Sacraments are of little value.  We always want the attention to be on what fulfills our desires and on what we do.  But to the Jews who thought they had heaven wrapped up by virtue of their genealogy and good deeds, Jesus said, “None of those who were invited shall taste my supper.”  That should put a little of the fear of God in us.  Let us also be on guard against putting our faith in our religious pedigree or our good living.  For when we do that, we’ll lose our hunger for the things of God and turn away from the Spirit’s invitation.

    Notice that in the end the only ones taking part in the feast are beggars and foreigners.  For only they  were given to see their need for what the Master had to give.  This is what you also must become before God: a hungry beggar, a needy foreigner, like a starving man in a third world country with flies landing on your face that you don’t even have the strength to brush away.  You must be brought by God to see that of yourself you are spiritually empty, with nowhere else to turn but to Him.  The divine Law must expose your desperate need so that you will crave the Bread of Life.  Only then will the great supper be not just one of many other more important things to do.  It will be the one thing that you cannot do without, the very source of your life.  For the meal is Christ, and He said, “Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. . . He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in Him.”  And if Christ dwells in you, then the sin and death which trouble you ultimately cannot harm you.  His presence gives you real life that even conquers the grave. 

    So take to heart what our Lord’s invitation is saying to you: Do not be afraid.  Do not be sad.  Do not think yourself unworthy or dwell upon your past sins.  They are gone.  They are forgiven.  If you are weary, heartbroken, lonely, wracked with guilt or uncertainty, hear the words of the Lord when he says to you, “Come to the feast!”  It has been made ready for you to heal and restore you. The greatest and the least, the popular and the outcasts, the cool and the uncool, the wealthy and the poor–everyone is invited!  Leave behind the love of temporary things.  Dwell upon the love of Christ who has loved you beyond all telling.  The highways and hedges of this world are not your true home.  He has brought you here this day to His House and to His Feast.  Come, taste of His Supper.

    Our Savior desires that you call upon Him and rest in Him.  He wants you here.  You are clean and worthy to be with the Bridegroom.  He is faithful to you.  He wants you to feast, to be reunited with Him, to be full and satisfied, to be without fear and at peace.  You are reconciled with God and righteous in Christ. The banquet table is laid before you, His flesh and blood which give you life and the resurrection of the body.  Partake of this holy, life-giving food.  Fear the Lord, which is to say, love and trust in the Lord with all due reverence.  Believe in Christ and be put right with the Father.  Receive the foretaste of the feast to come.  For blessed is He who shall eat bread in the kingdom of God.  And the kingdom of God is here.

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

In the Image of Love, the Holy Trinity

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✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

    It’s not enough simply to say that you believe in God.  That’s an incomplete confession of faith.  For the term “God” can and does mean any number of things to any different number of people.  “God” for a Hindu or Muslim or Buddhist is something much different than for a Christian.  Most Americans will say that they believe in God, but that God is often just a generic and undefined being.  The true God is certainly more than just the “man upstairs,” as Isaiah learned.  Who is the God you believe in?  Who is the one and only true God?

    That’s where creeds like the Athanasian Creed come in and are so important.  They may seem unnecessarily detailed at times, but they are important both because they defend against falsehood, and because they declare the Scriptural mystery of who the one true God is.  He is the Blessed Holy Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit–one God in three persons.  

    Reviewing very quickly, Scripture makes it clear that there is only one God.  Deuteronomy 6 says, "The Lord our God, the Lord is One."  Isaiah 45 says, "I am God, and there is no other."  Unlike the pagan religions which had many gods that were connected to parts of creation–the god of the moon, the god of the sun, the god of the sea–Christianity confesses only one God, who has created the moon, the sun, the sea, and every living thing, and who is Himself outside of creation.null

    But the Bible also clearly teaches that this one God is three-fold.  Three distinct persons are referred to as God in the Scriptures.  First there is God the Father, the One we are directed to pray to in the Lord's Prayer, the one James refers to as the source of all good and perfect gifts.  Second, there is God the Son, Jesus Christ.  John 1 says, "In the beginning was the Word (the "Word" being a name for Jesus) and the Word was with God and the Word was God . . . and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us."  And third, there is God the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father and the Son.  In Acts 5 it is said that Ananias lied to the Holy Spirit.  And then the Apostle Peter declared to him, "You have not lied to men but to God."  Clearly then, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are all God.

    And therein lies the mystery.  It's not as if each of these three persons are 1/3 God, so that when you put them all together, you've got the one true God.  But of course neither is it true that there are three Gods or even three different forms of God.  No, each of these persons are fully divine, and yet they are so perfectly united and joined together in love that there is only one God.  That is the paradox of the Trinity.

    Now, you may be thinking to yourself, “Why spend all the time and effort on this?  What’s the point?  This isn’t something that’s rationally understandable anyway, so why should we make a big deal out of it?”  Well, for one thing, if we only paid attention to those teachings of the Bible that were logically explainable, I don't suppose that we would baptize or have communion or believe that God became a man in Christ.  Those are mysteries of the faith, too.  But more importantly, this is our God, this is how God has revealed Himself.  Part of worshiping Him is meditating on who He is, even if we can’t fully grasp it all in this life.  There is much to be gained simply in pondering who God is and what He has done for us that the Scriptures declare and the Creeds confess.

    And here’s one benefit in particular in meditating on the doctrine of the Trinity:  The better we understand what God is like, the better we'll understand what we've been created to be and to do.  For man was created in God's image, right?.  Mankind was made to be a reflection of God's being.  So understanding Him is going to tell us something about ourselves.

    Now, keeping in mind that God is a Trinity, listen to Genesis 1:  "Then God said, 'Let us make man in our image, after our likeness . . .'  So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them."  First of all, notice that God says, "Let us make man . . ."  A conversation is going on within God Himself, between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  But also notice what God then created!  Did He make a single, androgenous, self-contained being?  No, He created a relationship of beings who together formed a oneness and a unity.  When God made man in His image, He made them male and female.

    Now, of course, I'm not suggesting that there's anything "female" in the nature of God, like some churches do which ordain women, or which change masculine references to God to feminine ones, even going so far as to baptize in the name of "Mother, Daughter, and Comforter."  God's masculine nature is clearly made known in His self-given name, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit who proceeds from them both.

    What I am suggesting, though, is that for God to create something in His image meant creating more than one.  Now why didn't He make three of something?  Well, I'll get to that in a minute.  But what's important for us to understand now is that God is and always has been a personal being, one who by nature always relates to another.  Even before the creation of man, there was a relationship of persons within God.  God is Himself a community and a unity of persons.  And that is precisely why the creation of man wasn't complete until Eve came on the scene.  So to be created in God's image is to be made to be in a certain kind of relationship with other people.  God is a relationship of persons.  Man, therefore, is also a relationship of persons.

    An early church father, St. Augustine, gives us some helpful thoughts in gaining a deeper understanding of the Trinity.  He began with the Bible verse, "God is love."  Now love, he said, isn't something which involves only one person.  In fact it has three aspects:  the one who loves, the one who is loved, and the love itself.  Augustine equated these three aspects of love to the three persons of the Trinity.  So, for instance, at the baptism of Jesus, the Father's voice came from heaven saying, "This is my beloved Son," and then the Holy Spirit came to rest on Him.  The Father is the One who loves, the Son is the One who is loved, and the Holy Spirit is the Love itself, that love being an actual person.  So within God there is a relationship of outward reaching love that draws the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit together in a perfect unity.

    That’s why it’s just not right to lump modern-day Judaism and Islam into the same category as Christianity and call them all monotheistic, as if we all worship the same God.  We don’t.  The Trinity is of a very different nature.  The Christian God of the Old and New Testaments is very different from those who have rejected Jesus as the Son of God.  If you think about it, the other so-called monotheistic religions cannot have a god who is love within Himself.  For love by its very nature requires more than one person.  Allah cannot be a god who is love; for he’s all by himself.  Poor guy is lonely; maybe that’s why he seems grumpy all the time.  Only Christians can say, “God is love,” the blessed Holy Trinity.

    We can see from this, then, just how highly God has exalted marriage, that He made it the first relationship to reflect His image.  Adam was the one who loved, Eve was the beloved, and together they shared in a love from God that drew them together as one.  There's the three we were looking for, the third usually being concretely represented in the children God gives.  To be created in the image of God, therefore, means that we are to be reflecting divine, self-giving love–not only in marriage, of course, but in all our relationships–the kind of love that caused God to create us in the first place, a love that seeks to extend itself and reach out and give and sacrifice in order to draw others into a harmonious unity and a God-pleasing oneness.

    Now, understanding that such is the image of God, we must admit that as we look at ourselves and the world around us, it's often difficult to see that image being reflected in our relationships.  We should not forget or ignore the fact, therefore, that since the creation of Adam and Eve, mankind has fallen into sin.  The image of God has been corrupted and broken in us.  We no longer reflect who He is.  And that, at its essence, is what sin really is–a degrading of our Maker by failing to mirror His goodness, a rebellion in thought, word, and action against the nature of God, in whose likeness we were intended to be.  God is loving and self-giving, we are often self-centered and proud.  God is characterized by unity and oneness, we are often characterized by division and individualism and a stubborn attitude of self-sufficiency.  Such a corrupted image of God is doomed to eternal separation from Him.

    Fortunately for us, it is in God's nature to love even the unlovable.  As we heard in the Gospel, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”  And Romans 5 says, "God demonstrates His own love for us in this:  while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."  You might say that God was just being Himself when in His love He initiated His plan to rescue you.  In the sending of Jesus, God was reaching out in a complete and ultimate way in order to draw you back into unity with Himself.  On the cross Jesus received the full judgment for your corrupted natures.  And then by His resurrection from the grave, Jesus restored the image of God for you.  Therefore, all who are joined to Christ by faith share in that restored image and are made right with God.  That's what Baptism and Holy Communion are all about.  You are baptized into Christ.  You are fed with His very body and blood.  Through those means, God makes you one with Christ and recreates you in His likeness.  As Colossians 3 says, "(You) have put on the new nature [of Christ] which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator."  We look forward, therefore, with eager expectation to the second coming of Christ, when that newness will be fully revealed in us, when the vestiges of our corrupted natures will be forever destroyed, when we will perfectly reflect the image of God and share in the unity of His love.

    So, you see, to reflect upon the doctrine of the Trinity is not just a once-a-year exercise in intellectual gymnastics.  It is rather to meditate on the God who is love and who is life for us all.   To begin to understand God is to know what you were created to be by the Father and who you are in Christ by the working of the Holy Spirit.  It is to be drawn into the Father’s love given you through His Son, poured out upon you by the Holy Spirit, so that you may share forever in His divine life.  Blessed be the Holy Trinity and the undivided Unity.  Let us give glory to Him, for He has shown mercy to us.  For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things; to Him be glory forever and ever.  Amen.

The Fire of Tongues

Audio Player Audio PlayerActs 2:1-21

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

    Fire can cleanse, and fire can destroy.  Fire can serve good purposes, like keeping us warm or cooking our food; or it can do great harm, as we saw so dramatically in the burning of Trinity Lutheran Church downtown.  God appears to Moses in the burning bush, which is aflame but is not consumed; hell is described as a lake of fire and unspeakable torment.  So we must learn to distinguish between the fire that is from God, and the fire that seeks to work against Him.  

    On the 50th day after Easter, tongues of fire came to rest on the apostles as they were gathered together in the upper room.  Then they began to speak with other tongues as the Holy Spirit gave them utterance.  Simple Galileans, recognizable by their northern accents, spoke with fiery boldness in the mother tongues of all those who were gathered there in Jerusalem from all over the world, proclaiming the wonderful works of God in Christ in dozens of different languages.

    However, we also hear in the Scriptures of another fire of tongues.  James writes this, “The tongue is a little member and boasts great things.  See how great a forest a little fire kindles!  And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity.  The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell!” (James 3:5-6)

    So there are two kinds of tongues and two kinds of fire here.  First, there is the tongue of the Word of God, whose fire is the Spirit of God.  Second, there is the tongue that is set within our bodily members, whose fire is hell.  The devil always tries to copy and mimic God, but in an upside down and destructive way.  Though both of these are fiery tongues, they stand in diametrical opposition to one another.null

    We know all too well how our tongues and our speech can be used in ways that are contrary to God and that manipulate things to our advantage.  We know the perverse pleasure of sharing in gossip that helps rumors to spread like wildfire.  We know what it’s like to deceive by not quite telling the whole truth, how to say things a certain way to make ourselves look better or cover up our sin.  And we know what it’s like to use our tongues to cut others down rather than to build others up.  Again James writes, “The tongue is full of deadly poison.  With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God.  Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing.  My brethren, these things ought not to be so” (James 3:8-10).  Rather, St. Paul says, “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers” (Ephesians 4:29).  

    That’s what the problem was with the people at Babel.  They didn’t use their tongues to impart the grace of God or glorify Him, but to glorify and exalt themselves.  They said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves.”  Not wanting to receive the identity that God had given them, they engaged in the religion of following their dreams and believing in themselves to get them to the heavens.  But that is a doctrine of the devil.  It is a hellish tongue which teaches you to trust in yourself and to pride yourself in your own choices and achievements.  Still today God confuses and scatters us in our rebellion and tears down our towers, that we might learn humility and be brought to repentance before Him.

    But, of course, our Lord doesn’t stop there.  Then God undoes the destructive, fiery tongue of man with His own constructive, fiery tongue of life.  Pentecost is the undoing of Babel.  At Babel God said in judgment, “Come, let us go down and confuse their language.”  At Pentecost God the Father said in mercy to His only begotten Son, “Come, let us go down and pour out our Spirit on them, so that the words of the Gospel might be clearly proclaimed to them in their own language.  Let their ears be opened so that they may not be confused but may understand and receive the forgiveness and salvation which you, my beloved Son, won for them on the cross.”

    And so it was that there was a sound of a rushing, mighty wind and tongues of fire on those gathered together for worship on that Sunday morning.  God was blowing the breath of His Spirit across the embers of His little band of disciples to stir up the flame of the Church.  Martin Luther said that the artists who have depicted Pentecost missed the point when they drew the tongues of fire on the top of everyone’s heads.  The tongues of fire should be resting over their mouths, he suggested, because the mouth is where the action is with the Holy Spirit.  The church is a mouth house, where the Holy Spirit proclaims the Gospel from the mouth of a preacher, and believers confess that Gospel and sing and pray and extol the Lord and Savior with their mouths.

    Our tongues must be purified with the Spirit’s refining fire to do that.  Recall the prophet Isaiah, who saw the Lord lifted high and exalted upon His throne.  Isaiah said, “Woe is me!  For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.”  Isaiah knew that his lips were soiled by sin and needed to be cleansed.  Then one of the fiery seraphim swooped down to the incense altar and took a fiery coal and touched it to Isaiah’s lips, and he absolved him.  “Your guilt is taken away, your sin is purged,” the angel said.  Isaiah’s mouth was purified by fire.

    That burning coal is a picture for us of the Word and fiery Spirit of our God.  To those who cry out in penitence with Isaiah saying, “Woe is me; for I am lost!”  “Lord, deliver me from my sin,” the Holy Spirit comes with the live coal of Christ’s Word and purifies our lips and cleanses us of our sin.  The same Jesus who purified our human nature by becoming man, the same Jesus who felt the fires of hell for us on the cross and suffered the inferno of God’s judgment to redeem us and save us, the same Jesus who rose from the dead on the third day to give us victory over the grave and everlasting life–He now pours out His Holy Spirit to deliver those gifts of salvation to you through His Word and through the Sacraments.  John the Baptist preached that “Jesus will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”  And truly the Holy Spirit is a cleansing fire, who purges you of all iniquity through the precious blood of Christ.

    That’s what the Holy Spirit was all about at the first Pentecost; and that’s He’s still about today.  We sometimes forget that the main thing that happened on Pentecost was not the signs of the rushing wind and the fire, but the preaching and the baptizing that the Holy Spirit did through the apostles.  Most of Acts chapter 2 is the sermon which Peter spoke that day.  By the Spirit’s power, He condemned the people for their unbelief in Christ and their wickedness in putting Jesus to death.  Yet Peter also proclaimed how God accomplished His saving purposes through Christ's death, and how the Father raised Jesus from the dead as Lord of all and the only Savior.  When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart in sorrow for their sin, and they said to the apostles, “What shall we do?”  Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.  And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off–for all whom the Lord our God will call.”  About 3,000 people were baptized that day from all different lands and languages, who carried that Spirit-filled Gospel home with them, spreading it like a prairie brush fire.  And of those who remained in Jerusalem, it is written that they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread in the Lord’s Supper, and to the prayers.

    So we may not have the sound of the rushing of the wind and the tongues of fire any longer–those were one-time signs marking the first outpouring.  But the Spirit is still at work fanning the flame of faith and love to glow brightly among God’s people.  The Holy Spirit continues to be poured out in baptism, which is the new birth of water and the Spirit.  The Holy Spirit continues His ministry of calling people to true repentance and of preaching the life-giving Word of Christ.  And the Holy Spirit continues to place the fiery Word on your tongue by giving into your mouth the body and blood of Christ, the Word made flesh, for the forgiveness of your sins.  In these ways the Holy Spirit opens your lips, that you may pray to God, praise Him, and give Him thanks in true faith.  As it is written, “Whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

    Pentecost is still continuing.  Not in the ecstatic babbling that goes on in so-called “Pentecostal” churches.  Rather, it goes on whenever the Bible is translated into a new language or whenever a missionary carries the Gospel to people in their own mother tongue.  Just the fact that we can even hear the Gospel in English right now is a sign of the working of the Holy Spirit.  The forgiveness of your sins, purchased for you by a man who spoke Aramaic and Hebrew, preached by apostles who spoke Greek, confessed by much of the early church which spoke Latin, has come to you in your own language, English, a Gentile tongue.  That’s God’s gift to you. There’s no more personal way of saying that Jesus is your Savior from sin and death than to say it in your own language.  Jesus is for you.  You can be sure of it because you are hearing it in your own native tongue.

    Let us then, today and always, speak that language which the Holy Spirit has taught you, the language of faith.  For it is written, “No one can say Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.”  Let us use our tongues to sing and proclaim the wonderful deeds of our Savior, who has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light.  May our prayer ever be, “Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of the faithful, and kindle in the them the fire of your love.”

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

(With thanks to the Rev. Dr. Burnell Eckardt for some of the above)

Whatever You Ask in My Name

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✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

    Jesus declares in today’s Gospel, “Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you.”  That’s a pretty amazing promise, isn’t it.  And it’s true.  But let’s be sure and listen carefully to what Jesus says.  For there are some who misunderstand those words to mean that you can ask for literally anything you want, and as long as you pray it sincerely in faith and add the tag line “in Jesus’ name,” God will grant it to you.  I’m sure you’ve heard this referred to before as the prosperity gospel, health and wealth teaching, “name it and claim it.”  If you pray for something by name and claim it as your own and truly believe God will give it to you, then you’ll receive it–be it a better paying job or healing from some disease or a new car or any number of things. And if you don’t receive it, well, then it’s because you didn’t pray hard enough or have strong enough faith.

    But that’s certainly not what it means to pray in Jesus’ name.  It is written in James 4, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.  Adulterers and adulteresses!  Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?” (James 4:3-4) So prayer in Jesus’ name is certainly not a blank check to fulfill all your worldly dreams and desires.  We must confess that too often that’s how we utilize prayer, to try to get God to follow our will rather than asking Him to conform us to His will, to get Him to make our dreams and plans come to fulfillment rather than seeking our place in the fulfillment of His plan of salvation.null

    To pray in Jesus’ name means, first of all, that you pray as one who is baptized.  For it is in the water that He put His name on you and gave His name to you so that you may come to the Father in prayer.  In Baptism the Son of God joined you to Himself and made you members of God’s family so that you now have access to the Father as His children.  When someone is baptized, during the ceremony the pastor lays his hands upon their head while the Lord’s Prayer is prayed.  That is meant to be a visual declaration that the gift of calling God “Father” is being given to the one baptized.  Now they, too, are given permission to pray the Lord’s Prayer.  It’s as if Jesus is giving you His username and password at the font.  It’s not identity theft, it’s an identity gift.  In Jesus you are counted as sons of God with all the benefits that entails.  You are given the privilege of coming before the Father with the same status and standing as Jesus Himself!  God hears you just like He hears Jesus.  The name of Jesus opens heaven to you.  It unlocks the door to the Father’s heart.  

    This is so important to remember, because apart from Christ, heaven is closed to you, locked tight.  Your sin is like an impenetrable barrier that separates you from your Creator.  And you can’t break through from this side.  But by coming to you from the Father and taking on your human nature, Jesus broke through the sin-barrier from the other side.  Through His cross and resurrection and ascension back to the Father, He has given you an opening and a portal to heaven.  There is only one way to access God, to come to Him in prayer, and that is through Jesus.  

    Non-Christian religions, therefore, do not lead to the true God, even if they teach that there’s only one God–not Judaism, not Islam, not Buddhism, not the nature religion of Native Americans.  For they all reject Jesus as being the incarnate Son of God and the Savior from sin.  And He is the only way to God, as He said, “No one comes to the Father except through Me.”  Jesus also said in Luke 10, “He who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me.”  These other religions don’t even have God the Father, for they’ve rejected His Son who reveals Him.  

    So listen to today’s Epistle reading and take it to heart: “There is One Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus.”  You can’t come to God the Father directly; you need an intermediary, a go-between.  It is sheer foolishness and arrogance to think that you can just waltz into God’s presence and that He has to listen to you based on your own merits.  That wouldn’t be true even with an earthly authority.  You can’t just presume that because you want to talk to the governor or the president that they’re required to make an appointment with you and listen to you.  You have to have an in, something or someone that gets you into their presence.  How much more so, then, with the King of kings!  There has to be a reason for you to be given an audience with Him.  And don’t ever think that your own merits and good living will do the trick, like some cash bribe to a politician.  God doesn’t do quid pro quo and bargaining; he can’t be bought by anything that you do.

    No, to pray in Jesus’ name means to pray with faith in what He has done to save you, to know that it is only because of His merits that you can come before the heavenly throne with your petitions and prayers.  It is to pray knowing that Christ is your sole passageway to the Father.  Like Moses was for the people of Israel in the wilderness, so Jesus is our intermediary, our go-between, our eternal  peacemaker with God.  As the bronze serpent was lifted up, our Lord Jesus was lifted up on the cross for us, so that everyone who looks to Him in faith may be saved from the venom of sin and be restored to fellowship with the Father.

    Prayer in Jesus’ name, then, is prayer that begins with Jesus and His coming to us–not only in His ministry 2000 years ago, but also as He comes to us now through His words and Spirit.  Christ is still the Mediator between us and the Father.  Christian prayer begins with listening to the Gospel of Christ, listening to and meditating on the words of the Scriptures read and proclaimed, and then on the basis of that Word, speaking back to Him in faith, making requests based on what He has said and promised, praising Him for what He has done.  

    That is the Trinitarian shape of Christian prayer: The Father speaks to us through His Son by the Holy Spirit.  And we speak by the Holy Spirit through the Son to the Father.  First the Father comes to us through Christ with His words of life; and then, having been filled with His life, we are enabled through faith in Christ to pray those words back to the Father and bring our needs and requests before Him.  True prayer is based not on the poverty of our sinful hearts, but on the richness of God’s faithful Word.

    This is our response, then, to those espousing a “name it and claim it” theology.  Godly prayer is shaped by God’s words.  Prayer in Jesus’ name is prayer that proceeds from faith in Him.  And faith never prays “My will be done,” but, “Thy will be done.”  Faith trusts that God’s will in Jesus is good and gracious.  For the name “Jesus” literally means “The Lord saves.” When we pray in Jesus’ name, therefore, we are asking the Father for all of the saving gifts that have been put into that name which is above every name.  All of this and more is the meaning of Jesus’ words, “Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you.”  

    So, with this right understanding of Jesus’ words, the question must be asked: Do we take Jesus at His Word?  Does this tremendous promise and privilege move us to pray and to seek Him?  All too often, we must confess that we are lazy in our prayer, or we want to pray but are easily distracted from it by other priorities.  The devil, the world, and our own flesh are always seeking to divert us from prayer.  You must therefore prepare yourselves to oppose them.  When they prompt you to think that there’s something else you must do first, then you must say, “No; as soon as the need arises, I will pray.  For when I have need to call upon God, that is the right time to do it.  As God says, ‘Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will glorify Me.’  And if I do not feel ready or worthy to pray, God will make me ready and worthy.  For I know that He loves me, not because I am so good and righteous, but because of Christ, whom I love and in whom I believe.”

    And when you are tempted to think that your prayer won’t do any good, be reminded of Jesus’ promise.  He said, “Ask and you will receive, that your joy may be full.”  He urgently invites you to come to Him as dear children to a loving Father.  If earthly fathers, who are sinners, generally know how to give good things to their children, how much more will our Father in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!  If I told you that there was a rich man or a king sitting on a pile of gold saying, “Ask and you will receive,” you wouldn’t say, “Oh, I’ll get around to it later.”  You’d go right to him and make your request.  How much more should you do so with the King of heaven!  God will never turn away a heart that trusts in Him.  And even if your prayers in Jesus’ name aren’t answered immediately or precisely the way you’d like, they will all be answered for your good.  Sometimes the best thing God can do for you is not to give you what you want, at least not right away.  In the end though all your faithful prayers will be answered “yes” in the resurrection, when Jesus comes again to bring us the richness of heaven and the restoration of our bodies and the fullness of joy and peace.  For it is written in 2 Corinthians, “No matter how many promises God has made, they are all ‘Yes’ in Christ.”

    Therefore, the Apostle Paul exhorts us, “Pray without ceasing.”  Pray silently; pray out loud. Use the morning and evening prayers and the meal prayers given you in the Catechism.  Pray the Psalms and the Lord’s Prayer given you in the Scriptures.  If nothing else, simply pray, “Lord, have mercy.”  You will never have a shortage of things to pray for in this fallen world.  Jesus said it plainly, “In the world you will have tribulation”–both as a result of the curse of sin and death, and because you are seeking to live faithfully as a Christian.  Both of those things are bound to bring you trouble, sooner or later.  However, Jesus goes on, “But be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”  In Him, by His cross and resurrection, the victory is won; all that troubles you has been overcome and defeated.  So pray with boldness and confidence in Him who is the risen Conqueror, who has given you His triumph, who has opened the door of heaven to you.  And believe Him when He says, “Ask and you will receive, that your joy may be full.”

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

Risen Indeed

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Luke 24:1-12; I Corinthians 15:12-26

    The Lord is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

    That is our glad confession of faith this day.  The Lord is truly, literally risen.  But there are many who do not believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus.  They love that today is April fool’s day, because they think that it’s stupid and irrational to believe in such fairy tale nonsense.  At best, they see Easter as a pious myth that has only spiritual, symbolic meaning that isn’t meant to be taken literally.  Christians are the fools.  

    And besides, the world would say, what good is a fleshly resurrection anyway?  In good new age fashion, they believe that the body and material things are lower level stuff, even evil, and our spiritual existence is where it’s really at.  Our culture tends to look at the body as little more than a container, and all that truly counts is the inner, spiritual aspects of who we are.  Your outward gender and sex are supposedly irrelevant to who you truly are.  Reincarnation is based on this faulty thinking.  You supposedly keep coming back in a different body, until finally you get it right, and then you are able to escape the body and leave it behind permanently and join the one spirit of the universe.  null

    Even many Christians are tempted to think this way about the body.  They think that the goal is for the soul to go to heaven, and the body then is pretty much out of the picture.  A recent survey revealed that only about half of the Christians questioned said that they believed in the resurrection of the body.  That’s horrible!  For we confess the resurrection of the body here every week.  We believe in the God who is the Creator of this material world and of our bodies.  It is true that God’s physical creation has been corrupted because of sin.  But the problem is sin, not God’s bodily creation.  The goal of salvation is the restoration of God’s creation and the redemption of our bodies together with our souls.

    In today’s Epistle St. Paul speaks of the marvelous reality of the resurrection, the actual, literal raising of the dead body of Jesus to life again, a body that still bore the glorious marks of His sacrifice on the cross.  Easter is not just about Jesus living on in our memories or being alive in our hearts.  It’s about the truth that He who was indisputably dead, speared in the side and into the heart just to be sure, is risen in glorified flesh–touchable, tangible, and real.

    Today the church proclaims that it is a fact of history that Jesus the crucified One lives.  Earlier in I Corinthians 15 Paul laid out the evidence and eyewitness testimony for Jesus’ resurrection.  The Lord Jesus appeared risen from the dead to Mary Magdalene, to the apostles, to those on the road to Emmaus, and to more than 500 others–men who were still alive when Paul wrote these words, who could be asked and who did verify these claims, that the same Jesus who was nailed to a cross, was seen and heard and touched by them, raised from the dead.  

    And remember this, too.  If there had been a dead body to produce, the Roman and Jewish authorities would have produced it, and put it on public display, like our government sometimes has done to prove a terrorist has been killed.  They had every reason politically to do everything they could to silence these rumors of resurrection.  That was the point of having Jesus’ tomb securely guarded in the first place. 

    And if you think about it, why would the disciples want to make this up, anyway, and risk punishment and crucifixion themselves?  They’d be next on the arrest list.  The disciples showed clearly they weren’t exactly a bold and faithful bunch when threatened with suffering.  And yet after Easter, when faced with persecution, they consistently preached the risen Jesus and the church grew through much affliction.  Several other supposed messiahs had appeared on the scene and faded away.  But not Jesus.  His bodily resurrection isn’t a myth; it is a matter of history, a matter of fact.

    Now imagine for a moment if the resurrection were not true.  What then?  That’s the terrible question that St. Paul raises in the Epistle for the sake of argument.  Suppose that there is no resurrection of the dead.  Suppose that dead bodies do not rise from the grave.  What would that mean for our faith and our life?

    Well, if Christ is not raised, then my preaching is empty and your faith is empty, Paul says. Then it really is an April fools, and you and I are wasting our time here this morning.  For then that would mean that Jesus’ death on the cross didn’t really do the job on sin.  The curse of death would still remain on us.

    If there is no resurrection of the body, then all those who claim to be Christian but go to church only rarely are right on in their thinking.  After all, it’s only what’s inside that counts, right?  If there is no resurrection, then there is no real need for Baptism, or Absolution, or the Lord’s Supper, or preaching.  Those are all things that go on with the body–with the ears and the mouth and butts in the pew.  If there is no resurrection, then we can have a spiritual life apart from our bodily life.  All this stuff at Church, it’s just outward stuff.  Some of you who skip divine service most weeks have been infected with that worldly false teaching and are being lured to trust in something inside of yourself rather than outside of yourself in Jesus.  You’re being tempted to change the 3rd Commandment to “Remember the Sabbath day whenever there isn’t something else you want to do.”  One of the best tests of faith in the resurrection is what happens the Sunday after Easter.

    If soul and body are not intrinsically connected, then what goes on with our bodies has very little to do with our faith.  You can be a Christian on the inside and live and dress and act however you please on the outside.  You can talk about the faith that you have in your heart and then conduct your physical life no differently than the unbelieving culture.  It doesn’t matter, if there is no resurrection of the body.

    But of course that way of thinking is pure foolishness; and those who live believing that they can separate body and spirit are deceived.  For it is written, “Honor God with your body.”  On the Last Day all the dead will rise, some to everlasting life and joy, others to everlasting death and torment.  Let each of us, then, repent this day of our sin and false belief, and let us cling to the truth of the living Jesus, our Savior.  

    For Christ has indeed been raised from the dead. As the angels announced at the tomb, “He is not here, He has risen!”  Jesus Himself said it on Easter evening, “Why are you troubled? . . . Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have.”  Jesus’ rising from the dead is our deliverance from the powers of darkness.  It is the Father’s seal of approval on the work of His Son.  By raising Him from the dead, God showed that He was pleased with the death of His Son, that He accepts it as the redemption price for the world, that your sins are covered and forgiven by His blood.  You are now reconciled to God in Christ.  Nothing in all creation can undo what Jesus has done.  You who trust in Christ are fully redeemed.  You have new life in Him.

    Jesus is the first-fruits of the dead, which means that He is the beginning of the harvest, the first of many more to rise through Him.  That’s why Easter is such a big deal–it’s not only His victory, it is also your victory, too.  Jesus is the source and spring of our bodily resurrection.  For the Scriptures say that those who believe and are baptized are members of His body.  And where the head goes, the body must surely follow.  Jesus’ resurrection stands at the beginning of this New Testament age, ours comes at the close of the age.  But through our baptismal union with Him they are inseparably connected.  Jesus said, “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.”  

    Jesus alone can be trusted with our death, for it is written, “Death no longer has mastery over Him.” And death therefore no longer has mastery over anyone who is in Him by faith.  Jesus’ death is our death to sin. His life is our life before God the Father. The preaching of His death and resurrection is not some pious hope or merely some inspiring religious message, but it is the power of God for salvation to all who believe.

    Christ has glorified your bodies.  For not only did He purify you by taking on your very flesh and blood in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, not only did He bear your sins in His body on the tree, but He has broken the curse of death by rising in the flesh on the third day.  And now He baptizes your bodies into His death and life.  He speaks His Word of forgiveness into them.  He feeds your bodies with His own life-giving Body and Blood.  God claims your bodies as His temple.  He honors them with His presence and works through them to bless others.  And though these bodies will one day die and decay, God has promised to raise them and glorify them at Christ’s return.  He will change our lowly bodies to be like His glorious body, by the power that enables Him to subdue all things to Himself.

    So do not be led astray by all of the real April fools who would try to get you to doubt the Word of Christ and His resurrection.  The devil will continue flinging such excrement until the day of Judgment.  If there is no resurrection, if the body isn’t saved, then neither is the soul.  And so St. Paul says, “If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied.”  If Christianity is only good for this life, if all Jesus is good for is to help us feel good about ourselves, cope with life, give our kids a little morality, then we are of all people the most pitiful.

    But Christ is risen from the dead.  Your greatest enemy has been defeated by the cross.  What’s the worst that can happen to you?  What is there left to be afraid of in this world if death is defeated and all sin is forgiven?  What do you have to fear of poverty, sickness, violence, cancer, hunger, persecution?  Christ has conquered and overcome it all for you.

    There is now great meaning to your life because Christ is risen.  There is meaning even in suffering and sorrow and affliction. And because of what we celebrate this day, your future is bright in Christ; it is brimming with promise.  Suffering will give way to resurrection.  Jesus Christ is risen today.  He is alive and among us to give Himself to us, even from this very altar.  He is our meat and drink indeed.  Faith lives upon no other.  Truly, this is the day which the Lord has made.  Let us rejoice and be glad in it.  

    The Lord is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!