Sunday, January 29, 2017

Epiphany 4 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“God’s Blessing in Flesh and Blood”
Text: Matthew 5:1-12; 1 Corinthians 1:18-31

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

Many people want to be in shape, but don’t want to exercise. Many want to be slim, but don’t want to diet and eat right. Many want to be smart, but don’t want to study. Many want to a good job, but don’t want to start at the bottom and work their way up. Many want to be rich, but don’t want to work. We want to be blessed, but don’t want to be . . . this! What we heard today . . .

Poor in spirit, mourning, meek, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, peacemaker, persecuted, and reviled? Can’t I just be blessed without all of that?

Well, without a doubt, we are. Very blessed. When our biggest complaint is not having the latest and greatest electronic device, when our biggest concern is not whether we’re going to eat but where we’re going to eat, when the only bombs we have to worry about are the ones that begin with the letter F that are spoken on TV, with closets full of clothes, garages full of cars, and bank accounts full of cash, yes, we are very blessed indeed.

Or are we? Or have all these blessings turned against us? Are we slaves to our devices, spoiled by our riches, and think of all this not as blessing and gift but what we deserve and have earned? Are we rich in the things of this world and poor in the things of God?

A lot of attention is being given to our new president’s first 100 days in office - what he will do, the agenda he will set. Well these words we heard from Jesus today, the first words of the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes, He spoke right at the beginning of His work, of His public ministry. I don’t know if it was within His first hundred days or not, but Jesus had just been baptized (His swearing into office, if you will), went out into the wilderness to be tempted for 40 days, after that gathered the twelve who would form His cabinet (OK, be His disciples), and now He speaks these words. An agenda, if you will. What will He do? He will bless. And how will He do it? Like this.

So . . . to not want to be these things: poor in spirit, mourning, meek, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, peacemaker, persecuted, reviled . . . if these are who is blessed, then to not want to be these things means I don’t want to be blessed? And does it mean this as well - that if Jesus wants to bless you (which He does), then He will bring these things into your life in order to do it? So to avoid these, means again, to avoid His blessing? To miss out on all that He has for us? By avoiding these things, are we really robbing ourselves when we think we are helping ourselves?

Think about that . . . And let’s think about these Beatitudes in this, perhaps, slightly different way . . .

To be poor in spirit; to know that we are spiritually impoverished by sin, in sin. It’s easy to acknowledge that here, before God, and receive Absolution. But what about before others? Then are we so quick to repent? And if not, are we robbing ourselves of the blessing of forgiveness from them?

To mourn. Ever notice that one of the times we get to see people we haven’t seen for a long time is at funerals? We don’t have enough time for each other in life, but our common enemy named death brings us together. But why only then? Maybe it is because at that moment we can no longer hide it . . . like we do when others ask us: How are you doing? and we fire off a quick: I’m fine! or good! when we’re not really at all. When we’re mourning something inside, but we’re afraid or too proud to let others see it. Are we robbing ourselves of blessing, of prayer, of the communion and fellowship and comfort God has for us and wants to give us?

Meek. You might think meek people are timid, but they’re not - it’s just that they are bold for others, not for themselves. Always thinking of others and giving . . . and, according to Jesus, getting richer for it. Gaining by giving.

Hungering and thirsting for righteousness. Many of us hunger and thirst to be RIGHT - but rightEOUS? Not so much. But who is satisfied? The one who wants to be right, or the one who receives from God what she is not and does not have?

Merciful. Maybe God sends us people to be merciful to so that He can bless us. And so we rob ourselves when we pass up these opportunities; when we don’t want to be bothered.

Pure in heart. You’ll pray for that again today, after the sermon. Create in me a clean heart - a pure heart - O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from Thy presence, and take not Thy Holy Spirit from me (Offertory, LSB p. 192-93). And so a pure heart is a heart filled with the Holy Spirit that sees God in the person of Jesus and who serves God by seeing Him in the person of our neighbor. But if our hearts cling to other things, things of this world, are we robbing ourselves of this blessing?

Peacemakers. This is kind of the flip side of being poor in spirit - being rich in forgiveness. I think we usually think of this in terms of making peace between two other people who are having a dispute. But perhaps even more it is when we are in volved in the dispute. When there is not peace between you and a coworker, you and a classmate, you and a fellow church member, you and your neighbor, you and a family member . . . To make peace, by being quick to forgive, to give the riches of forgiveness you receive here. When we don’t, who is poorer? Are we robbing ourselves of blessing?

Persecuted and reviled. I don’t want to be persecuted and reviled. I’ll keep my mouth shut instead. I’ll go along instead. But are we gaining or losing? Maybe these things are being sent to us so that Jesus can bless us . . .

With these words Jesus would open our eyes to see differently, and to see Him differently. How He will work in us, how He will work for us. This is not business as usual - Jesus has come to drain the sinful swamp of our hearts and lives with the blessing He will give to us. The blessing of Himself, His forgiveness, His Spirit, and the new life He raises us to. And so instead of being drowned in the swamp of sin, be drowned in the water of Baptism and raised to a new life. Instead of dining with the devil, dine on the Body and Blood of Jesus. Instead of being wise in the ways of the world, be filled with the wisdom of the Word of God. And in these things find His blessing.

But the blessing of God doesn’t end here, but continues through those doors - the Lord of creation working through His creation, blessing others through you, and blessing you through others. And, according to these words we heard today, blessing in ways and places you don’t expect. But how comforting to know that in these places, there is Jesus.

Perhaps we don’t see it because we’re too busy trying to climb to the top to notice that Jesus is at the bottom. And that by climbing up and over others, we’re climbing away from Him. For He came down, after all, from heaven. Down to us. Down to sinners. Down to the down and out. All the way down to the cross, and death, and the grave. To wherever you may be. Sometimes to pull us out of those places, but maybe at other times just to be with us in them. To be with us in them through others, and to be with others in them through us. And to bless us in both ways as only He can.

That’s quite an ambitious agenda, some would say. But He has done it, and is continuing to do it. And so refugees from fighting in the Middle East are surging into Europe, and now there are churches bursting at the seams with new Christians. Science that insists on godless evolution keeps discovering more and more evidence of a creator. Kind and joyful, hopeful and forgiving words stand out even more in a hostile and cynical world. And for you, what is happening in your life? To drive you to prayer, to drive you to the Word, to change your thinking and the way you were going? To bless you . . .

St. Paul said it this way today:

For consider your calling, brothers:  . . .

and sisters, too! Your places in life. As a spouse, a parent, a child, a boss, a worker, a classmate, a teacher, a friend, a neighbor . . . Consider your calling . . .

not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 

God doesn’t always choose the people we would choose. 

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. 

Because it’s all His work, after all. 

He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption. 

I think we take that for granted, as obvious. But in the first century it wasn’t at all. That Jesus the illegitimate child, Jesus the troublemaker, Jesus the friend of tax collectors, lepers, and prostitutes, Jesus the crucified is God in the flesh. Come to give us life by taking our death. To make us righteous by becoming our sin. To make us holy by coming into our filth. To redeem us with the only payment that could do it - His own blood. That was a new way of thinking . . .

Therefore, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

Boast in the one who did all that for us.

But here’s the question: how do we do that? Well how about this? How could we better boast, how could we better show and tell how great our Lord is than by . . . being quick to repent, being weak in our mourning and sorrow, being bold in our giving, being in need of righteousness, being merciful, seeing with the eyes of faith, being quick to forgive, and rejoicing when we are persecuted and reviled for Jesus’ sake.

How could we better boast in Jesus than to confess Jesus in those ways? To confess that He is greater than all these things, that He is blessing us through these things, that He is giving us all these things to help us, not to hurt us, and that these things are good. How better to boast in Jesus than to boldly be these things, and be there for others in them.

That’s a pretty ambitious agenda, some would say. But Jesus has done it for you. You are baptized into Him and He into you. He speaks His absolution into your ears. He puts Himself into your mouths that you be what you eat, and be nourished and fed by Him. He has done it, and is doing it. He has provided for you, and still is. And so you are blessed. 

And you can be sure of this too - that He won’t stop
That there’s always more blessing coming your way.

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

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Epiphany 3 / Sanctity of Life Sunday Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Seeing Life”
Text: Matthew 4:12-25; Isaiah 9:1-4

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

I’m guessing this will not be news to any of you . . . but we just had an inauguration on Friday. A new president. Some people are happy about that, and some are angry. Elections and inaugurations are always very partisan and political times in our nation.

And so, some would say, to have Sanctity of Life Sunday in such a context, is in danger of being seen in that context - as the church being partisan and political. Because it is a political issue in our country and in the world, and did play a part in the election.

So let me get this out of the way right away then.

Every life is sacred.
Every life is deserving of respect, honor, dignity, and is of value.
Every life is holy to God and a gift from God.

Your life is sacred whether you are a Republican, a Democrat, a Libertarian, Independent, or something else.

Your life is sacred whether you can feed and dress yourself or if you cannot, so whether you are very young, very old, or anywhere in between.

Your life is sacred whether or not you’re able to see, hear, speak, or walk.

Your life is sacred whether you’re male or female or even self-select some other gender.

Your life is sacred whether your heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, or asexual.

Your life is sacred whether you’re a Black Lives Matter, an Occupy Wall Street, or an Alt-Right supporter.

Your life is sacred whether you’re an immigrant or not, legal or not, pro-immigration or anti-immigration.

Your life is sacred whether you’re Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Baha’i, Confusian, some other belief, or no belief at all.

Your life is sacred whether you’re Lutheran, Roman Catholic, Orthodox, mainline Protestant, Charismatic, Pentecostal, Baptist, or something else.

And yes, your life is sacred whether you’re inside the womb or outside it.

Every life is sacred.
Every life is deserving of respect, honor, dignity, and is of value.
Every life is holy to God and a gift from God.
And so every life is worth our time, worth our energy, worth our effort, and worth our love.

And so Jesus spent time with the politicals of his day, with Pharisees and Sadducees. He blessed children and helped the very old. He cared about and healed those who could not see, hear, speak, or walk. He dealt with zealots. He loved male and female, Jews and Gentiles, and even Samaritans. And then He died for them. All of them. For all their sins, all their wrongness, all their false belief, all their divisiveness, all their anger and hatred toward Him even - all of it. He died for all of it. Because these lives were His. He made them, and He wanted them back. Whoever they were, whatever they did. And so He redeemed them. With His own blood. Their blood may have boiled against Him, but He poured out His for them for the forgiveness of their sins.

And for ours.

For what we’ve done and failed to do. For what we’ve spoken and failed to speak. For the hatred in our hearts. For the demeaning and belittling thoughts that pollute our minds. For our wrong choices, for our rebellion, for our selfishness. For that fact that we have not considered every life worth our time, worth our energy, worth our effort, and worth our love.

So when Jesus said, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand, He wasn’t just talking to “them.” Repent, when the only kingdom you care about, the only life you care about, is your own.

Those are tough words, I know. But believe me when I say that I had to preach them to myself first before I preach them to you. Because when people walking in darkness see a great light, that light hurts your eyes. It hurts when that light reveals our sin and how dark our hearts and minds really are. How darkened by sin. How entrenched in death. Ever since that day when God said to Adam: the day you eat of it you will surely die . . . and we’ve been dying ever since. Sometimes even choosing death over life because we think that’s better. Better than having a baby, better than suffering, better than putting up with someone, better than trying and loving and giving. Better! That a pretty deep darkness.

But the light that shows us our sin also shows us something else that we cannot see in the darkness - life

That’s sounds funny, for of course we can see life! But can we? Really? Or does the light of Jesus reveal life we cannot see?

Life in the dead body we are lowering into the grave.
Life in the itty, bitty boy or girl growing in the darkness of the womb.
Life in a person suffering so much they don’t want to live.
Life in a person caught up in sin.
Life in a person who cannot remember what they did five minutes ago.
Life is a person who cannot speak or eat.
Life in a person severely handicapped.
Life given and sustained and loved by God.

Do we see? Can we see? Can we see as Jesus saw? That all these lives are really worth more than just His time, His energy, His effort, and His love, but worth His own life?

We can. Because Jesus is the light of the world, the light no darkness can overcome. The light that shone forth from the manger. The light that shone forth as Jesus cared for and healed the sick, those afflcited with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, epileptics, paralytics, and more. The light that shone forth in His forgiveness. The light that shone forth from his cross. And the light that shone in His resurrection, when Jesus defeated the darkness of death once and for all. To give hope to all of us. All of us walking in the darkness of sin and the shadow of death. There’s more than darkness. There’s more than death. We have light and we have life.

Though it’s not easy. Life is often messy and difficult. I think of those we heard about today - Peter and Andrew, James and John, who Jesus called to follow Him. That day life didn’t get an easier for them, but in fact it got pretty messy and complicated pretty fast. They saw life and they saw opposition. They saw life and then they saw that life strung up on a cross to die. And they saw His tomb. His big, strong, dark, ugly, final tomb.

And then they saw life again. Life from the dead. Life that conquers death.

And then Jesus sent them to both live that life and give that life to others. To give them eyes to see life. It still wasn’t easy. In fact, it got harder as it was not Jesus who was suffering and dying, but they themselves. But they could see now. 
Life when they were being persecuted.
Life when they were being whipped.
Life when they were being imprisoned.
Life when they were being martyred.
The world said to them: We’re in charge of who lives and who dies.
And they said: No, you’re not! We saw the one who is

And as long as God gave them life in this world, they gave that life to others. They preached it. They gave it in the forgiveness of sins. They baptized it into people, and bodied and bloodied it into people. The same Body and Blood that died and rose to life again, now doing the same for us, in us.

And so the early church called baptism illumination, enlightening. The light going on and being able to see, really see, life. Another early church father showed how baptism reverses everything for us. For, he said, by nature we live and then we die, but in baptism we die with Christ and then we live.

And so Jesus sent those twelve out into the world and said: go, baptize. Or in other words: go, and give life. And teach. Teach about this life. This life I give now, and this life I give forever. Help them to see. Give them eyes to see, as I see. That every life is worth our time, our energy, our effort, our love, and yes, even our own life.

And they did. And the church still is. That’s why you’re here. You are baptized and given life. You repent and are given life. You are fed and given life. To live and see life. To see life where others do not see life, and so give hope where others see no hope, to give love where others see nothing to love.

And that’s not partisan or political.
That’s just Jesus.

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

Monday, January 16, 2017

Baptism of Our Lord Sermon

Jesu Juva

“John’s Destiny, Jesus’ Destiny, and Yours”
Text: Matthew 3:13-17; Romans 6:1-11; Isaiah 42:1-9

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

If you are surprised that Jesus came to the Jordan to be baptized by John - good! You should be. So was John.

Wave after wave of people were coming to John, like the waves that lap the seashore. Coming to confess their sins. Coming to be baptized to wash those sins away and cleanse their guilty consciences and souls.

Until . . . one comes in silence. Confessing nothing. No sins. Not a one. Yet still desiring to be baptized. So either this one is deluded, thinking He has no sins to confess (like some people today), or He really is sinless, perfect. God in human flesh.

John knows the truth is the latter of those two options. Jesus is no madman. But if that’s true, then this isn’t right. John should not be baptizing Him - He should baptize John! And he says so. He tells Jesus that - not to inform Jesus (who as God in human flesh would certainly know that!), but to confess Jesus. 

But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Or in other words: No, John, this is right. This is how it should be. This is how it must be. To fulfill all righteousness. Everyone’s righteousness. All these people’s righteousness. Your righteousness and mine. 

For yes, Jesus was righteous and sinless. He didn’t need baptism. John is quite right. But He didn’t come just to be righteous and sinless, but to make us righteous and sinless. And this is part of how He is going to do just that. So do it, John. 

This is John’s destiny. This is Jesus’ destiny. And this changes your destiny.

That’s a word that gets thrown around a lot in our world today, destiny. A lot of people try to think about what their destiny is, what they were destined to do or be. And especially this week, I think you’ll hear a lot of that kind of talk with the inauguration of a new president. What’s his destiny? What’s America’s destiny? And maybe you wonder what your destiny is, too . . .

But this, Jesus’ baptism, is John’s destiny. This is what John came for. All the other baptisms he did would ultimately be meaningless without this one. In fact, if he were to do only one baptism, this is the one he came to do. And after this, he begins to fade away. Jesus increases and John decreases (John 3:30). This is John’s “it is finished” moment. His destiny fulfilled. 

But Jesus’ just beginning. Jesus’ coming to John with all the other sinners is a snapshot of why He came, and of what He came to do: to stand in our place. Though no sinner He is baptized as a sinner. Not to take away His sin, but so that He take away ours. He enters our baptism that we might enter His. He enters into our death that we might enter into His life. He takes our place that we might have His. 

This is Jesus’ destiny. This is why He was sent. Which we see with the actions of the other two persons of the Godhead - the Holy Spirit descending upon Him in the form of a dove, and the voice of the Father descending from heaven, saying: Atta boy! Well done!

And we see it, too, the other notable time Jesus was silent and confessed no sin - when He stood on trial before Pontius Pilate. Pilate asks Him repeatedly: What have you done? And Jesus responds with silence (Matthew 27:14). There is nothing to say. Nothing to confess. He has done no wrong, but He also will not defend Himself. He has come to be the sinner. He has come to die our death. And so He will. And so Pilate finishes what John started. John baptizes Jesus into the death that Pilate will sentence Him to. To fulfill all righteousness. Everyone’s righteousness. Our righteousness.

And with that, our destiny is changed. Before, our destiny was death. An earthly death and an eternal dying. For the wages of sin is death. 

But if Jesus pays those wages for you (which He did with His death), then your destiny has changed. No longer is your destiny an earthly death with an eternal dying, but an earthly death that will be followed by eternal life, eternal living. For as Jesus entered into your death, into your curse, into your punishment, beginning with His baptism and ending with His cross, He did so that you might enter into His life, His blessing, His kingdom, beginning with your baptism and completed with your resurrection.

That’s what Paul was talking about in the Epistle we heard today from Romans, this exchange. This Jesus taking our place and we getting His. That because of baptism, when we die we do not die alone, we die with Him who died for us, so that we will also rise with Him. And your baptism is the beginning of that - the beginning of that death and the beginning of that life. In baptism you die with Christ, and in baptism you rise with Him. Already here and now. You die with Christ and so are set free from the dominion and curse of sin, and you rise with Him to live with Him. To live a new life. The life you need the life you now have.

Perhaps it’s hard to think of baptism that way because most of us do not remember our baptism, when we were baptized. And when we see baptisms here, they do not look like much.

Folks in the early church thought that too. And so one of the early church fathers, named Ambrose, said of baptism: “You saw what is seen, but not what is done.” You saw what is seen, but not what is done. Or in other words, there’s more going on here than meets the eye. Or as Luther wrote in his baptism hymn that we just sung: All that the mortal eye beholds is water as we pour it (LSB #407 v.7)

But what you see is not all that is done. And it is Jesus’ baptism that gives us a glimpse of that; of what really happens whenever someone is now baptized with the baptism that Jesus has filled with Himself. The Spirit is there and descends upon the baptized. The Father is there and well pleased and calls out His “Atta boy!” And most important: heaven is open. The heaven locked to sinners is now open because the righteousness of Jesus is ours in the forgiveness of our sins.

And so, Paul says, you now have a new life to live. Like a criminal on death row who has been pardoned and set free, so has your baptism done for you. 

And so, Paul says, do you now want to use your new found freedom to go back to the criminal life and wind up back on death row again? That’s stupid! But you can if you want. 

But that’s not your destiny. That’s not who you now are. That’s not what your heavenly Father wants for you, why Jesus died for you, and why the Holy Spirit lives in you. That old life is dead to you now. You now live in Christ and His life, in His forgiveness and love, and in the promise and confidence that when you die, whenever you die, you will be with Him in Paradise (Luke 23:43)

So live like it! Paul says. When you sin, repent. And come and be absolved and receive the Body and Blood of your Lord. And also humble yourself and ask others to forgive you. And when others sin against you, forgive them. Be generous, do good, pray - and look for opportunities to do so. Remember - you’re not on death row anymore! You’re out! You’re free! Don’t go back. Don’t lock yourself up again in a dungeon of sin and shame and guilt and hatred and anger and bitterness and revenge and coveting and greed and lust. As Isaiah said, the Lord has led you out of those dungeons of darkness and death. He has done a new thing. He has made a new you. A new person, with a new life, new food, and a new destiny.

That’s all yours now. Not yet in all its fullness and freedom and glory - that will come only in the resurrection. But it’s yours now. Promised. That as Jesus’ death began with His baptism and ended with His cross, so your life began with your baptism and will come in its fullness with your resurrection. He in your place and you in His. 

And that’s not just your destiny - it’s the reality in which you now live.

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

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Epiphany Midweek Sermon

Jesu Juva

“The Joy in Suffering”
Text: Matthew 2:13-23; 1 Peter 4:12-19

Things in our lives often turn out quite differently than we expect. We think we know what we’re doing, but as we walk down the path of life, we quickly find out we didn’t know as much as we thought. Twists and turns, hills and valleys, and surprises good and bad come our way.

I think of my father, for example. He was ten years older than my mother and because of that, always thought he would die first. But my mom died first and now, some twelve years later, my father is still here. Far outliving her.

I went to college for computer science, but now stand here before you about as far from that career as possible - as a pastor.

And I’m sure you could add examples from your own life. What you thought, what you expected . . . and how things turned out.

And so it was for Joseph. When he got engaged to Mary, I’m sure he thought things would follow the normal course of events for a couple going to be married. But then there was the pregnancy. And then there was the visit from the angel, telling him that this unexpected twist was not just okay, but good. That it was not of sin and evil, but from God. The trip to Bethlehem was an inconvenience and then Jesus’ birth there another twist that had to be dealt with.

But now this too? A terrible, horrible, no good, very bad king wanting to kill the son he has been charged to raise and protect? And not just that, but what would the king do to those trying to protect the child? Working against the king to save the child would surely draw the king’s wrath down on Joesph as well. 

So now Joseph was a refugee. You’ve seen the pictures on the news, of refugees fleeing Syria or some other war-torn country. Joseph didn’t know he had signed up for this! Things were turning out very differently than he had expected.

But so it has been for God’s people all along. The unexpected, yes, because God plans and thinks and acts quite differently than we (Isaiah 55:8-9) - just think of all the stories in the Old Testament with twists and turns and surprising people and events. But also persecution and suffering. As long as there is sin and evil in this world, there will be conflict that bring persecution and suffering. As long as there is sin and evil in this world, it will rage and fight against Christ and all who bear His name. It started with Cain and Abel, and it will not end until Christ comes again and throws sin and death into the pit of fire from which it will never return (Revelation 20:14).

This reality of suffering and persecution surprises some Christians, but it shouldn’t. The prophets wrote about it. We heard from Jeremiah tonight, about Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more. Jesus Himself tells His disciples that if they hated Him they will hate them, too (John 15:18-19). And tonight Peter said it as well: Beloved, don’t be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.

So we shouldn’t be surprised. 

But something else too: fiery trials don’t only come from evil against Christians, sometimes they come from your heavenly Father for Christians. Those from the evil one are meant to destroy you. Those from your Father are to save you. And from our point of view, from our side of eternity, it’s not always so easy to tell the difference.

But Peter doesn’t tell us to try to figure it out and react accordingly. He says this: that when the fiery trial comes upon you, rejoice! Rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, he says. Rejoice, for if this is from your Father it is meant for your good. If from evil, it is because you belong to Christ and bear His name. And your Father can turn what is meant for evil and use it for good for His children. 

We see that with Jesus. Herod meant to kill Jesus, but God used him to fulfill prophecy: Out of Egypt I called my son. And we see it with Jesus on the cross. The leaders of the Jews wanted to destroy Jesus, but God used the crucifixion to save the world. 

So what are we to do? Well, what Peter said, and, I suspect, what Joseph did: entrust your soul to a faithful creator while doing good.

Trust. If you are suffering beause of your own sin, repent and trust that the forgiveness of Jesus’ is yours. You may still have consequences to bear, but God is not against you. He is here to save you from your sin. And if you are suffering for some other reason or being persecuted for being a Christian or for your Christian beliefs, trust that your Father is able to use that for your good. Remember the examples we have in the Bible of that very thing. Especially the cross. So first of all, trust.

Entrust your soul to a faithful creator. He is faithful to all His promises to you. So know those promises. Rely on them. Call God on them. He loves it when His children hold Him to His Word. When with all boldness and confidence we call on Him as dear children ask their dear father (Small Catechism, Lord’s Prayer). We sometimes run our ship of faith aground when we expect what hasn’t been promised. So know His promises. He who created you is He who has redeemed you and He who will save you.

And then finally, entrust your soul to a faithful creator while doing good. Just as sin and evil rage and fight against Christ and His Christians, so too do Christians rage and fight - but in a very different way . . . by doing good and forgiving. By returning good for evil, forgiveness for persecution, love for hate. And while that looks weak in the eyes of the world, it takes great strength to do those things - a strength, quite frankly, that we do not have. But a strength that is given to us by the Spirit of God who lives in us.

That is the stength, I think, that took Joseph to Egypt. And it is the strength, I know, that will see you through - whatever fiery trial is happening to you, or will soon. Rejoice when it does, because whether it is from the evil one or your Father, it is because you bear the name of Christ. And that is truly the reason above all reasons to rejoice.

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