Monday, March 2, 2015

The Congregation at Prayer

For the Week Lent 1 (March 2-7, 2015)

Invocation: In the Name of the Father and of the (+) Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Speak the Apostles’ Creed.

Verse: 1 Corinthians 1:27-29 - “But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.”

Hymn of the Week:  Lutheran Service Book #824 “May God Bestow on Us His Grace”
Hymns for Wednesday: 649, 646, 886
Hymns for Sunday: 420, 824, 628, 581, 579, 609

Readings for the Week: [The readings for Wednesday is the Scripture for Wednesday’s Lenten Vespers. The readings for Thursday-Saturday are the Scriptures for this coming Sunday.]

Monday:  Psalm 19
What can creation teach us about the Law and laws of God?

Tuesday:  Luke 11:14-28
Why should we beware of demons and unclean spirits? But who is and what is more powerful than they?

Wednesday:  1 Peter 1:1-25
Christians in an Unchristian World: Unity.

Thursday:  Exodus 20:1-17
When did God give these words to Israel? Why?

Friday:  1 Corinthians 1:18-31
Why did God choose a “foolish” cross to save the world? (Hint: see v. 29)

Saturday:  John 2:13-22
Why was the temple important? Why then did Jesus do what He did? What was He trying to teach with this?

The Catechism: The Commandments: The Sixth Commandment: You shall not commit adultery. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we lead a sexually pure and decent life in what we say and do, and husband and wife love and honor each other.

The Prayers:  Please pray for . . .
+ yourself and for all in need (remembering especially those on our prayer list).
+ an increase of faith, knowledge of God’s Word, and good works for all in our congregation.
+ God’s blessing, wisdom, and guidance for our congregational financial secretary, Dave Fields.
+ the Lanka Lutheran Church (Sri Lanka), for God’s blessing, guidance, and provision.
+ God’s blessing, wisdom, guidance, and strength for our circuit visitor, Ron Jones.
Conclude with the Lord’s Prayer and Luther’s Morning or Evening Prayer from the Catechism.

Now joyfully go about your day (or to bed) in good cheer, child of God!

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Sermon for Lent 2

Jesu Juva

“Are You a Loser? I Hope So!”
Text: Mark 8:27-38 (Romans 5:1-11)

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

The twelve had been with Jesus for some time now. They had witnessed a great many things and had received no small amount of teaching. Now it was the end of the semester - time for an examination, an evaluation. That they might confess the faith that they had been given. 

Who do you say that I am?

They had already rehearsed for Jesus the opinions and confessions of others. It is plain that people held Jesus in very high regard to put Him in the company of John the Baptist, Elijah, and the prophets. It is the same in our day and age. Many hold Jesus in high regard, confessing Him to be an exceptional man, a prophet, or even the greatest teacher the world has ever known. But as you know, there is more to Jesus than that.

But who do you say that I am?

Peter answers correctly, as spokeman for the twelve: You are not just what the others are saying of you; you are more than that. You are the Christ, the Anointed One, the Promised One. Well done, Peter. Well confessed.

So on to the next step, the next semester of learning - what that means; what the Christ is going to do, or what is going to be done to Him. He’s going to be a loser. He’s going to suffer, not rejoice. He’s going to be rejected, not praised. He’s going to be killed, not enthroned. Yet after three days rise again. And He said this plainly. He said this confidently, boldly, and openly. Not that this might happened, but that it will. And not only that it will, that it must.

This next step in the learning curve is going to be a steep and difficult one for the twelve. And Peter does not start this semester off well. He hears the words suffer, rejected, and killed, and has heard enough. If he heard the part about rising again, it doesn’t register with him; he doesn’t understand it. But instead of asking Jesus about all this and what it means and listening and learning, he takes Jesus aside and not too gently tells Him: No, Jesus. That’s not going to happen. The Christ isn’t a loser, He’s a winner! Stop speaking like that. You’re going to be fine.

Well, there’s a grain of truth to that. Jesus is going to win and He will be fine. But this must happen. And anyone who denies it or tries to stop it is anti-Christ and must be rebuked. So what starts off well ends with those stinging words from Jesus: Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.

And then Jesus doubles down. Peter doesn’t want Him to talk this way, but He will - and not only to the twelve, but to the crowd too. If anyone would come after me, don’t think it’s going to be all glory and happiness! Let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. This kingdom comes through losing and death.

Jesus will repeat this teaching to the twelve several more times, so difficult it is. And they still won’t get it . . . until after it is finished, until after the resurrection, so contrary does it seem to all human reason and thinking.

So now what about you? 

Today you answered the question put forth by Jesus as we confessed together the Creed. And with the advantage of living after Jesus’ death and resurrection, you know how it turns out and confessed that too: He was crucified, suffered, buried, and on the third day rose again. That is the truth. Well done, dear Christians. Well confessed.

Now what?

If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. Or let me paraphrase that for you: you must become a loser too.

What’d you say, Pastor . . . ? You didn’t just say what I think you said! That’s not how this works. You’re mistaken. Jesus makes us winners, not losers. Stop speaking like that. Besides, it’s not good for outreach and evangelism.

Do you see? If that’s our attitude, if that’s how we think, then how just like Peter we are! We want to follow Jesus, but . . . we don’t want to do without, we don’t want crosses and death, we don’t want to be losers. No Jesus! This will never happen to . . . me (cf. Matthew 16:22)! But it must. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.

This is a hard teaching - but a good one for this season of Lent. No sugar coating it. The kingdom of God comes through losing and death. The kingdom of God is for losers.

Now, I’m using that word - loser - both because Jesus did and that you might hear those words the way Peter and the others and the crowd did. For to take up your cross would have meant only one thing back then: you were a loser and were about to lose your life.

And that we react so much against that idea is an indication of just how much the wisdom of the world and our own sinful nature influences us and pulls us away from Jesus - even as Christians. For we don’t want to be a loser. We want to make something of ourselves. We want to make Jesus proud of us. And so we hang on to our lives, we hang on to our good works, we hang on to our accomplishments and pride and honor, we hang on to the person we want to be and are trying to make ourselves be. A good and righteous person, worthy of Jesus dying for.

But those things we’re hanging on to? They’re our false gods. And they’re our false gods because we’re looking to those things for who we are and what we want to be and what we need. That’s why we don’t want to let go of them, because then what would I have? Then I’d be . . . a loser.

But whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.

So here’s the good news: Jesus died for losers. That’s what St. Paul said earlier in the Epistle: Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— [that’s the wisdom of the world] but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, - while we were still losers - Christ died for us.

That’s why we begin every Divine Service with another confession - of our sins, confessing that yes, I am a loser. And if that’s not what you’re thinking when you say those words, take some time this week to really examine yourself and your life and all you do every week. Do you love God with all you heart and soul and mind and strength? Do you love your neighbor as yourself? Far from it, right? In fact, if you’re like me, my first impulse if to love me, serve me, and desire others to do the same. And I like it that way. Which means that according to the Word of God, I am a loser, a poor, miserable sinner.

So each and every week we confess that, that we might believe it and learn to let go of all that stuff I’m trying to hang on to, my life that I’m trying to hang on to. And then we hear the words of Absolution, words, really, of resurrection: I forgive you. I died for you. To give you everything. And it must be this way. For whatever you can do and gain in this life will last only for this life. But what Jesus has done and gives will last forever.

And with that faith, that faith which believes and receives the promises of God in Jesus, that makes you a winner, right? Well, yes, but really, it enables you to be even more of a loser! But this time, in a good way.
Losing your pride to humble yourself for others.
Losing your right for revenge and forgiving others.
Losing your stuff in order to provide for the needs of others.
Losing your time for those who need your help, your prayers.
Losing all, and yet really losing nothing. For Christ is providing all you need, and will continue to do so. 

Now, you’ll never do all that, and never do it perfectly. You’re never going to like being a loser and you’ll never get used to it. We have to fight our sinful nature everyday. And that’s why Jesus said, If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. That is, do battle with your sinful nature everyday, and kill it. Kill it in repentance and being raised to life again in Jesus’ forgiveness. Kill it by living in that forgiveness by serving others and not yourself. Kill it by being a loser, and relying on nothing but the word and promises of Jesus. 

As I said, that’s never going to be easy, and if you’re like most Christians, you’ll even think you’re getting worse and worse at it, not better! But it may not be so. You may simply be growing in faith and learning to see your sin more and more. That’s why we can never rely on what we think or feel or see - all those things will deceive us and mislead us. What we can rely on are the words and promises of Jesus. His word of forgiveness, His word of blessing, His word that we heard today, that whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. Of that you can be sure. For that’s what Jesus did for you, and is giving to you. And He who gave Himself for you is hanging on to you.

So come now to the Table of the Lord, fellow losers, for here is a promise for you too: Take, eat, this is My Body. Take, drink, this is My Blood of the New Testament, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins. And this true Body and Blood of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ will strengthen and preserve you steadfast unto everlasting life. Depart in peace. Amen. And it is so.

In the Name of the Father, and of the (+) Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Prayers for the Persecuted Church

Our Commission on Worship published some prayers For the Persecuted Church. I thank them for these and reproduce them here for your use.

For all the baptized, that by the power of the Holy Spirit they would remain steadfast in the faith, clinging to Christ alone for their salvation as long as they dwell in the wilderness of this vale of tears, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy. 

For the nations of the world and their leaders, that all who receive the sword as Your servants may bear it according to Your command, and that war, hate, and bloodshed may be overcome by peace, justice, and mercy, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy. 

For our Christian brothers and sisters around the world facing persecution and martyrdom [especially in __________], that they may, by grace and the power of the Holy Spirit, confess the saving name of Jesus Christ in the face of their persecutors, remembering that He will confess them before His Father in heaven, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy. 

For our brothers and sisters who have already been slain for bearing the name of Jesus [including ___________], let us offer God our praise and thanks, rejoicing that they were faithful unto death and have received the crown of everlasting life; and asking our gracious God that their witness would be remembered in His Church and serve to encourage and strengthen our own faith, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy. 

For compassionate, gracious, and humble hearts, that all Christians would keep their persecuted brothers around the world in their prayers, remembering also our Lord’s commands to love our enemies, do good to those who hate us, and pray for those who persecute us, so that petitions would also rise for our enemies to be led to repentance and faith in the One who has overcome the world, even Jesus Christ, our Savior, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy. 

For a generous, giving spirit in the Church, that the baptized would support the ministry and mission of our Lord in their local congregations, church bodies, and throughout the world; and that Christian organizations established to assist those in harm’s way for bearing the name of Jesus would be emboldened by the Spirit to continue their merciful work and supported by the whole Church in prayer and with alms, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy. 

Lent 1 Midweek Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Christians in an Unchristian World: Holiness”
Text: 1 Peter 1:1-25

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Who are you? Some people would answer that with their name - I’m a Douthwaite. That identifies my ancestry, my nationality, where I’m from. You can take that information onto an ancestry web site and find out all kinds of things. Some, though, might answer with what they do - their job defining who they are, their level of education, their skills and abilities. Others might answer that question by saying that they’re a work in progress, that who they are is not yet finished. They’re still working on that, defining that, shaping that. And, for some people, the answer changes. One such example that has been in the news is those who claim to change their gender - that I grew up a man but now believe myself to be a woman. 

As we begin our examination of First Peter tonight, Peter starts out by giving quite a different answer than all that. He starts out by saying that who you are is one who has been born again. That is the identity that is above all other identities: that you are a born again, baptized, child of God.

Now to us who hold baptism in high regard, that may not sound surprising. But to the folks Peter was writing to, first century Christians under persecution and scattered throughout the region, forced from home and work,whose future was uncertain and for whom life was quite difficult, this was critical. For as a Christian, you do not define who you are, and the world does not define who you are - Jesus does. And His definition and identity is a reality far greater than your name, your nationality, your work, or any other way you think of yourself. Who are you? You are baptized. You are a child of your Father who art in heaven.

And that means a number of things. First of all, Peter says, it means that even if you are homeless here on earth, you have a home, an inheritance, that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you. And you, by God’s power are being guarded through faith for life in that home. As Jesus told His disciples just before His crucifixion: I will not leave you orphans (John 14:18). Those who are born again as children of God are cared for by their Father, through Jesus Christ, and in the power of the Holy Spirit. You’re not on your own. God does not leave or forsake His children.

Part of that care, however, Peter goes on to say, is trial or testing. Precious metals are put into the fire to burn off their impurities and make them even more pure and valuable. And so you, more precious than anything in this world, as the crown of God’s creation, will be proved in the same way. Not as punishment, but in love, to loose our grip and hold on the things of this world, that we cling to God alone. That when He comes again, we not be holding on to our false gods and idols, but rejoice in Him and, as Peter says, obtain the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. You will not understand God unless you realize how important that is - how important you are - to Him.

Therefore, Peter says, think this way, that this is who you are. Not defining yourself as the world does, nor living as you used to live, but living a life of holiness

Now that needs some explanation, for usually when we think of holiness we think of sinlessness and perfection. And certainly we should be like that - but as you know, we cannot. Not on our own, at least. Peter knew that well. Peter the denier. Peter who was known for putting his foot in his mouth and messing up. Peter knew quite well that if we are sinless it is only because our sins have been washed away in the flood of Jesus’ blood and forgiveness from Calvary’s Holy Mountain (LSB #435). And if we are perfect, it is only because His perfection has been imputed to us. And as that is true, it is the reason for our rejoicing.

But to be holy means to be set apart. And as we have been set apart from sin and death by Jesus, by baptism, by our being united to Him in His death and resurrection; as we have been set apart from the world by being called into the church; as we have been set apart from our former ignorance by the enlightening of the Holy Spirit - be who you are, Peter says. Wherever you are and however you are. For even in times of persecution, in times of dispersion, in times of trouble, this reality does not change. This is the reality and foundation that will carry you through all trials and temptations, and even through death itself, to life forever with God. For the things of this world are passing away, Peter says, but the word of the Lord remains forever.

His word of promise, His word of grace, His word of forgiveness, His word which is living and active and working in you. His word that named you as His son or His daughter. 

So to be holy is to live as one who has been set apart. To think differently, live differently, speak differently, act differently, value differently, and even die differently than the world. It is what we see in Christ Jesus, and what got Him opposed all the way to the cross. And some of that was then happening to the apostles and the Christians that Peter was writing to. And some is happening to Christians today. 

But if you know who you are, then none of that really matters. For you, your future, and your home are safe in Christ. Guarded by Him. Or as Luther would later write: And take they our life, goods, fame, child, and wife, though these all be gone, our victory has been won; the kingdom our remaineth (LSB #656 v. 4)

That doesn’t make it easy! Far from it. Satan is going to hound you every step of the way. And that’s why Peter is writing to his dear Christians, his flock that has been driven out and scattered. He wants them to know: there is a greater reality than what is seen and felt. Yes, you are Christians living in an unchristian world, but you are also living in Christ and Christ in you. Therefore no matter what this world brings upon you, you have confidence and hope. You are children of God, holy and precious to Him, and this is the good news that was preached to you. Do not be afraid to live in that truth, that reality. Be holy, just as Christ is holy, for you.

In the Name of the Father, and of the (+) Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Lent 1 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“The One in the We, and We in the One”
Text: James 1:12-18; Mark 1:9-15 (Genesis 22:1-18)

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

We heard today in the epistle from James: Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, - or under temptation - for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. And that man is . . . not you.

You confessed that fact earlier, if you meant it when you said: I, a poor, miserable sinner. For when you said those words, you were saying: the trials came, the temptations came, and I was not steadfast and immovable. I caved. I sinned. I did not fear, love, and trust God above all things. 

That’s also what we recognized on Ash Wednesday, when those ashes were ground into our foreheads, but more importantly when God’s Word was ground into our hearts, marking us as sinners returning to dust in death.

And it’s what you confess everyday as you say the Lord’s Prayer, when you pray: And forgive us our trespasses. You are saying: I ignored God’s “No Trespassing” signs again. I did not remain steadfast. I went where I should not have gone, with my hands and feet and eyes, with my tongue and mind and heart.

So that crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him?  . . .  We’ll get back to that.

First, take note of what else we pray in the Lord’s Prayer. In fact, right after we pray for forgiveness. We then say: And lead us not into temptation. And the Small Catechism tells us that we’re praying for God to guard and keep us so that the devil, the world, and our sinful nature may not deceive us or mislead us into false belief, despair, or other great shame and vice.  . . .  That we may finally overcome them and win the victory.

I want to think about those things for a moment, those things of satan . . .

False belief - because the world makes some pretty good sounding arguments sometimes, you know? That God didn’t really say that, or that was true then but not now, or how unreasonable is that . . . we know better now. It’s easy to be seduced into false belief.

Despair - because things in life are tough, the world is scary and seems to be falling apart, there’s so much evil, and some days, you know, you just feel like giving up. It all seems pointless, nothing’s getting better, the worries, the pain, the weariness . . .

And other great shame and vice - what are the vices in your life that you wrestle with? That you’re ashamed to even voice? The Church at one point categorized them as seven deadly sins: wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony. It’s hard to pick from that list, isn’t it? I’m guilty of them all.

So guard and keep us, we pray! We implore! ‘Cause I’m such an easy target! Remember how when you were young (or for those of you who still are), you know just how to poke your brother or sister to get a rise out of them and get them in trouble? And how fun that is? That’s how satan is with you. He knows you and he knows just where to poke, he knows just how to tempt, he knows when you’re weak and vulnerable and how to take advantage of those times. So guard and keep us, dear Father in heaven

But there’s something else in the explanation to that petition - something one of my adult confirmands pointed out to me one time.(That’s one of the great things about always teaching the catechism - I’m always learning too!) She (I think it was a she) asked about that line: that we may finally overcome them and win the victory. She asked: why do we say that? We? Overcome them? When we just went through the fact that we can’t.  . . .  It’s a pretty good question! Seems silly to pray it . . .

Unless included in that “we” is someone who can. Unless there is someone praying these words with us who can . . . who could . . . and who did. 

And that’s what we heard in the Holy Gospel. We pray “and lead us not into temptation,” but there we heard that Jesus IS led into temptation. Very purposefully and deliberately. By the Spirit who descended upon Him in His baptism. Immediately after He is baptized, the Spirit does to Jesus what we ask Him not to do to us - leads Him out into the wilderness, for the express purpose of being tempted by the devil. Now Mark doesn’t give us as many details about what happened out there like Matthew and Luke do, but still he wants you to know: there is Jesus, on the front lines of the battle against satan. There Jesus is with us, for us - there is the one in the “we” who can!

And not only can, but did, as His resurrection from the dead on Easter proved. The one who bore our sins and trespasses on the cross and died with them - all of our false belief, despair, and other great shames and vices - overcomes them. With our sin and the curse of our sin upon Him He dies, and dying is placed in the grave. But His breaking the bonds of the grave and rising from the dead means not only are those two things overcome and defeated, but so is the sin that caused them. And the victory is won.

And so the man who is blessed, the man who remained steadfast under trial and received the crown of life, is Jesus. Just like the better-known Beatitudes from Matthew, this Beatitude from James is about Him, Jesus. He is the One. He is the man. He is the one in the “we.”

And so here’s the good news for you, what James wrote next about the crown of life that Jesus won: which God has promised to those who love him. “Those” - the many, us - who love “Him” - the One, Jesus - have the promise of the crown of life that He won for us. 

Jesus overcame. Jesus won the victory. And just as He gave us the words of His prayer that we may pray it with Him and He with us, so He gives us the victory that He won that we may share it with Him. It’s a little like when a small child comes home from the store with her father and excitedly goes up to mom and says: we bought you something! We? Right? The father did all the buying, but is happy to include his daughter (or son!) in the “we.” 

Jesus is happy to include you in the “we.” And so after He returns from His time in the wilderness being tempted, Jesus (Mark tells us): came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; - the victory is at hand - repent and believe in the gospel.”  Which is exactly (but in a lot fewer words!) what I’ve been saying today. We repent that we don’t and can’t, and believe in the One who can and did.

Believe in the One who can. That’s what Abraham did. I have to say at least something about that powerful story that we heard today. I’m always amazed by it - and not just by what Abraham did, but Isaac too! We’re not told anything about him in this story, but do you think a 100+ year old Abraham could have tied up a strong young Isaac if Isaac did not allow him to? That was a test! Which puts me to shame everytime I hear it, because I know I would never - could never - do that. I cave so easily to temptations a lot less - a LOT less - than that!

Abraham believed in the One who can. Who could fulfill His promise even if the promised one was killed. 

Is that an example for us? An inspiration for us? Maybe. A little. We should have such faith in the One who can. But even more and mostly, it is a picture for us of the One who did - of the Son, Jesus, who willingly went to His death, and the Father who did not spare His only Son, but gave Him up for us all. The promised one was killed, in our place, that in His resurrection, we too might have a new life. 

And that new life is yours. Begun in baptism, sustained by the Word, and fed by His Supper, His Body and Blood. And so He who brought you forth by the word of truth, He will bless you and keep you and give you that crown of life that we could never win on our own. For connected to and in the One who can and did, it is yours.

Which is not, then, a license for us to sin, since the victory is already ours. Quite to opposite, actually. For if satan wants to lead us into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice, our Lord is leading us into their opposites - true belief, joy, and great and virtuous works. For you see, that’s part of the victory too - doing the opposite of what satan wants us to do and rubbing his nose in his defeat! So everytime you repent, everytime you believe in the gospel, everytime you rejoice in your sufferings, everytime you do a good work, help those in need, resist temptations to sin, speak up for the low, give of yourself, pray, and all those good things our Lord would have us do? That’s your victory dance! That’s living your new and triumphant life - ruling the ruler of this world with the crown on you and not on him. That’s you telling your Father, “We did it!” And He, smiling at Jesus, saying, “Yes, yes you did. Well done.”

In the Name of the Father, and of the (+) Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Ash Wednesday Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Double Lives”
Text: Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21;
Joel 2:12-19; 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Hi, I’m Pastor Douthwaite, and I lead a double life. I suspect you do too.

Because there’s the outward part of my life, the part people see. And then there’s the inward, the part you can’t see. Sometimes they’re on the same page, in agreement. But often times they’re not. Probably more often, if I could see as God sees. In fact, the two are often as different as night and day.

So on the outside, you see a good work. You don’t see how grudgingly it’s done.
You see a smile. You don’t know the pain.
You see dedication. You’re not aware of the indignation at having to do what someone else should have done.
You see a teacher. You don’t know the reluctant, stubborn student.
You hear good words. You don’t hear the grumbling of my heart.
You see hands that help. You don’t perceive the bitterness brewing deep down. 
You see generosity. You don’t realize the covetous desires.
You see a well-dressed, clean-cut, fellow. You don’t fathom the ugliness, the darkness, the cesspool of sin in my heart.
You see what I want you to see. I hide the rest. 
You too? You too.

Is that not what Jesus was talking about, when He said beware? He’s speaking to us who lead a double life. That it’s not only not good to do so, but dangerous. No, I may not be sounding the trumpet when I give to the needy, I may not be on the street corners praying, and I may not disfigure my face while fasting . . . but am I not doing the same thing? Am I not as bad? A hypocrite, as Jesus calls them. Me. You too? You too.

Beware. Don’t be fooled. You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, and maybe you’re so good you can fool all the people all the time, including yourself - but the Word today is: you can’t fool God. Ever. Your Father sees what is in secret and rewards accordingly. Which isn’t good news for me. 

But we’re not alone, and this is nothing new. The people in the prophet Joel’s day were doing it too. And so the Lord said to them: rend your hearts and not your garments. Enough of the hypocrisy. Enough of the outward show. Tear open your heart, that filthy, horrible, sin-infected heart. Why? To return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster. Because God doesn’t want the disaster for you, the danger for you. He wants to clean out your heart with His mercy and love and gracious forgiveness. All hearts, in fact. All the people, the congregation, the elders, the children, the nursing infants, the brides and bridegrooms, He says through Joel. 

So that’s why we’re here tonight. To return. To repent. That’s why Ash Wednesday. That’s why Lent. Not only these times, but especially these times. 

And the ashes on our foreheads? Oh, we can be hypocritical about them too, if we wear and receive them as a show. But really, that’s my outward beginning to look like my inward. But only beginning, because my inward’s a lot worse than just a little smudge. You too? You too.

But there is One for whom this wasn’t true. One whose inward perfectly matched His outward. One who did not lead a double life and was no hypocrite. And we heard what happened to Him. God made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of GodSo on the cross, on Jesus, there’s your sin, there’s the danger, there’s the curse, there’s what you deserve, there is your Father seeing in secret and repaying openly. But it’s on Jesus and not on you! That’s why Christmas. That’s why Good Friday. So that in Him, in His taking our place, our hearts may be made right again with God.

Renew me, O eternal Light, and let my heart and soul be bright,
Illumined with the light of grace That issues from Your holy face (LSB #704 v. 1).

That grace issues from His holy face for He does not turn away from us in anger and indignation, but turns to us in the face of His Son, who came for us and for our salvation, and who comes now for the same - His water washing us, His Word forgiving us, His food feeding us. That we be right with God. That our outward match our inward - not in blackness, but in cleanness; not in filth, but in holiness.

But actually, it’s much more than that - our outward matching our inward. It is God joining together again what sin has rent asunder. For earlier we heard those horrible words, first spoken to Adam after his fall into sin: Dust you are, and to dust you shall return (Genesis 3:19). What that means is that sin causes things to fall apart, come apart at the seams. And so man, created to live and not die, will die. Our inward and outward have come apart. Our bodies will fall apart at the seams and become dust. Our world is falling apart, coming apart at the seams. Relationships fall apart. Everything is coming apart.

But in Christ, everything is brought back together again. The dust into which we’ll turn will be reunited into our bodies again in the resurrection. And even more, we will be reunited into that perfect fellowship with God that was the reality in the beginning, that we were created for. That has begun already now with the cleansing of our hearts in forgiveness and our adoption as sons and daughters of God in Jesus. 

So on this day when we recognize the reality and seriousness of our sin, this first day of Lent, we also look forward to the last day of Lent, when our Lord says from the cross, It is finished (John 19:30), and the joy of Easter begins. The joy which will reach its fulfillment on the Last Day, when our Lord returns in glory. The day of the final Easter, which will never end. 

Until that day we discipline our bodies. Until that day we strive and wrestle with our doubles lives. Until that day we repent and receive our true treasure - the Body and Blood of Jesus. The Body and Blood born for you, died for you, risen for you, given to you, and returning for you. Beware of everything else, for only in Him your hope and your life.

In the Name of the Father, and of the (+) Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Monday, February 16, 2015

The Congregation at Prayer

For the Week of the Transfiguration of Our Lord (February 16-21, 2015)

Invocation: In the Name of the Father and of the (+) Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Speak the Apostles’ Creed.

Verse: James 1:12 - “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.”

Hymn of the Week:  Lutheran Service Book #656 “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”
Hymns for Wednesday: 419, 599, 704, 430
Hymns for Sunday: 600, 656, 636, 424, 418 (tune: 524), 668

Readings for the Week: [The readings for Monday-Wednesday are the Scriptures for Ash Wednesday’s Divine Service. The readings for Thursday-Saturday are the Scriptures for this coming Sunday.]

Monday:  Joel 2:12-19
How should the people return to God? What does that mean? Why is that important?

Tuesday:  2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10
Why is it important to return and repent now?

Wednesday:  Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
Why is it so easy to become attached to the things of this world? Why is this dangerous? So what should we do?

Thursday:  Genesis 22:1-18
How does this story point us to Christ and what God the Father has done for us?

Friday:  James 1:12-18
Who is “the man” who remained steadfast under trial? How do we then receive the crown of life?

Saturday:  Mark 1:9-15
What does the Holy Spirit do to Jesus? Why? What does satan do? Why? Why is this all good news for you?

The Catechism: The Commandments: The Fourth Commandment: Honor your father and your mother. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not despise or anger our parents and other authorities, but honor them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them.

The Prayers:  Please pray for . . .
+ yourself and for all in need (remembering especially those on our prayer list).
+ a good and blessed season of Lent for you and all in our church.
+ God’s blessing, wisdom, and guidance for our congregational vice president, Gene Veith.
+ the Gutnius Lutheran Church (Papua New Guinea), for God’s blessing, guidance, and provision.
+ God’s blessing, wisdom, guidance, and strength for our synodical president, Matthew Harrison.
Conclude with the Lord’s Prayer and Luther’s Morning or Evening Prayer from the Catechism.

Now joyfully go about your day (or to bed) in good cheer, child of God!