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During the pastoral vacancy, the currenet sermons will no longer be available.
|Holy Trinity Sunday|
June 3, 2012
Rev. Dan Welch
Text - Acts 20:17-38
Ten years, four months, and seven days. What an honor and a blessing it has been to be your pastor. You have touched my life and the lives of my family very, very deeply and we will always remember and thank God for you.
What I would like to share with you this morning is what the Apostle Paul shared with a group of Christians on his last day with them. It comes from Acts 20. There are three things I would like you to remember, about me. And there are two things I would like you to remember about St. Paul’s and Epiphany – five things in total.
Acts 20 is Paul’s farewell sermon to the leaders of the church in Ephesus. He had spent some time with them in the past, starting a Christian church in that pagan city. And he had spent a great deal of time away from them, traveling. But now, for a moment in his travels, he was able to stop, and meet with them one last time, and share with them five important points that he wanted them to remember.
Point number one is this– remember why God sent me into your life. Paul talks here about how he served them with humility, how he was tested, and then he sums up his purpose very nicely in verse 21: “I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus.” This is why God had brought Paul into the lives of those people in Ephesus – so that they would hear about their sins and repent, and so that they would hear about the Lord Jesus Christ, and put their faith in Him.
Remember, this is why God has sent me into your life. The number one, main reason why God has caused our paths to cross over the last few years is so that you would hear two things from me – God’s Law and God’s Gospel. My purpose for being here was first of all to share with you the Law. The Law delivers to us the bad news– that you are born sinful, that you keep committing sins in your life every day, that you deserve the eternal wrath of God, and that you ought to turn to your God and ask Him to forgive you. My other purpose, the main purpose for being here was to share with you the good news – the Gospel- that Christ, the Son of God and Son of Man, has died on a cross as a sacrifice for your sins, that He has risen from the dead, and that God offers you the forgiveness of sins and eternal life freely, because of Him. This message is why God caused me to live here in Thorp, for over ten years. This is why God has caused you and me to somehow cross paths – so that I would have a chance to share with you the Law and the Gospel. God wanted you to hear these things, and He wanted to work on your heart with His Holy Spirit, either to bring you to faith in His Son, or to strengthen your faith in His Son. I have simply been an instrument in His service, a tool. This is point number one – remember why God has sent me into your life.
Point number two is to remember why I am moving. Paul talked to the Ephesians about why he was “moving” in verse 22: “And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there.” It wasn’t Paul’s choice to go to Jerusalem. It was God the Holy Spirit’s choice. Paul knew that God was directing his steps, moving Paul here, telling Paul to go over there. Paul was simply listening to God’s divine call.
Remember why I am moving from central Wisconsin to central Minnesota. You might be tempted to come up with all kinds of wrong reasons for why I’m moving, such as “He doesn’t like us anymore” (Nothing could be further from the truth), or “What did we do wrong?” or “Maybe we teased him a little too hard about the Vikings.” Church members often seem to beat themselves up with thoughts like those when their pastor takes another call. The reason I’m moving is found right there in verse 22: “compelled by the Spirit.” This is from God, the Holy Spirit, and not from me. He is the one who sent the divine call my way, who made me wrestle with it for a month, and during that process, He is the one who made it clear to me that now is the time for me to hand off this ministry to someone else, and to move to Glencoe. I’m not in charge of my own life, where I live, whom I serve. God is in charge, and it’s His divine call, not mine. I guess you could call it an occupational hazard as a Pastor. That is the second point I want you to remember this morning. Point number one – remember why God sent me into your life. Point number two – remember that it is God who is moving me away.
Point number three is to remember what I’ll be doing over there. Paul told the people of Ephesus that he would be facing all kinds of trials in Jerusalem, but his main reason for going over there is found in verse 24: “I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given to me – the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.” What would Paul be doing while he was away from the Ephesians? He would be testifying to the Gospel of God’s grace. He would be doing what we had just talked about before – he would be sharing that message of sin and grace, pointing people to Jesus as the one and only way to heaven, the only Savior for all of mankind.
Remember that this is what I’ll be doing after I leave. For me, the work doesn’t end. The only thing that changes for me is the setting – I’ll be in a different town. The congregation will be different. The ministry God will have me be doing will be structured differently. Lots of changes. But the main job for me will remain the same – as the Apostle Paul said – “the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.” That’s what I’ll be doing over there – getting the Word out, just as I worked to get the Word out over here – pointing people to their sins, and then most of all pointing people to their Savior. Remember, this is what I’ll be doing after I leave.
These are the three main points I’d like you to remember about me: 1) Why did God send me into your life? So that you would hear that message of sin and grace through Jesus Christ. 2) Why am I leaving? Because God the Holy Spirit is compelling me to move. 3) What will I be doing? The same thing I’ve been doing here – testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.
Besides these three main points, there are two other points I would like you to remember about you, about St. Paul’s and Epiphany. Point number one – protect your doctrine. In verse 27, Paul told the Ephesians, “I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God.” Paul had made sure that they had their doctrine down – the whole will of God. Paul had shared with them everything they needed to know about the Bible – that’s doctrine. Right after saying that, Paul told them to “keep watch!” “Be shepherds.” He goes on to talk about savage wolves, false teachers, coming in to their church, and attempting to water down or change the Biblical doctrines they had learned from the Paul. “Be on your guard,” he told them. Protect your doctrine.
Please remember this here, at St. Paul’s and Epiphany. In our church body, you will be blessed with a new pastor who believes the same doctrines, the same teachings, you believe. What a blessing that is to have that kind of unity in our synod! But in the future, there might be a temptation that would arise in your heart. As you look at your attendance figures and your finances – maybe things are going pretty well - but you wish things would progress more quickly.The temptation may arise to water down or change your doctrine. “Pastor, don’t talk about that part of the Bible. If you do, people might not come. Pastor, why don’t you skip over that one part of the Bible, or just change it – just a little bit – then our church will grow.” That’s the temptation – to not “proclaim the whole will of God” but just parts of it. This is point number one I want you to remember for yourself – protect your doctrine! Without the truth of Scripture – the whole truth and nothing but the truth – you have nothing to offer here. You won’t be the congregation that God wants you to be, and your faith will eventually disintegrate. Protect your doctrine, because here is where you find your strength, your comfort, and your reason to be a congregation in the first place.
And this leads into the last point I want you to remember this morning – “recognize your treasure.” Paul told the Ephesians in verse 32: “Now I commit you to God and to the word of His grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” I also commit to you the word of God’s grace – this is your treasure, this is what can build you up, and give you an amazing inheritance that goes beyond anything you could possibly ask for or imagine. This Word of God is what I commit to you. Recognize your treasure. This treasure is what will build you up as Christian men, women, and children. This is where God will give you an inheritance – the inheritance of eternal life, and all the joys and wonders that happen in eternity after you finish out the relatively few years you have here on this earth. More than anything else, this is the most valuable asset you possess as a congregation – the word of God’s grace in Christ. We have the best news anywhere! Recognize it for the treasure that it is.
And so this is what Paul shared with the Ephesians before he left them and traveled on to Jerusalem. And these are the thoughts this morning that I would like to share with you. Five points – three of them about me, and two of them about you. First, about me…
1) Remember why God sent me into your life – to be His instrument, so that you might hear that message of sin and grace through Jesus Christ.
2) Remember why am I leaving - God the Holy Spirit is compelling me.
3) And remember what I’ll be doing while I’m over there, and that’s the same thing I’ve been doing over here – testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.
Those are the points to remember about me. And don’t forget those other two points to remember about you…
1) Protect your doctrine. Yes, do evangelism. Yes, work hard to interact with unbelievers, to share the Word of God with them, and to welcome them into your midst. Do that, with all of your heart. But as you do, never change your doctrine. Protect your doctrine. The doctrine of Jesus Christ is the foundation of the church, and the foundation of your life. That’s point number one for you.
2) And point number two – recognize the treasure that you have here at St. Paul’s and Epiphany, the treasure of the Word of God. This is what has been drawing you back to these places, week after week, building you up in your faith. And this is what will draw others to these places as well – the Word of God. Thank God for it. Recognize it for the treasure that it is, and look for God to continue to bless you through it.
For Paul, nothing was more important than sharing these five points with those Ephesians before he left. And for me, the same is true. Acts chapter 20 – remember that chapter. Bookmark it. I pray that God would continue to bless the ministry of the Word here at St. Paul’s and Epiphany. And I pray that God would bless each and every one of you, my dear friends in Christ, now and always until we meet again at the feet of our Savior in heaven. To God Alone be the Glory. Amen!
May 27, 2012
Rev. Dan Welch
Text - Acts 2: 1-21
"What Pentecost Is All About"
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? Is it the way you look? Your wardrobe? Something to do with your health? Maybe something to do with your level of expertise on a certain subject? If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
God is interested in change, too. He’s interested in changing you. Today is Pentecost Sunday, and as we take a look at what happened on Pentecost many years ago, we see that God changed many people’s lives. And as we learn about these things, we will see that God is also interested in changing you- there are certain things about you that God wants to change. What are those things? And how does God plan to do that? We’ll find the answers as we study God’s Word- the text before us today from the book of Acts.
Two major changes took place on Pentecost. Change number one was what happened to the disciples. If you’re familiar with the Bible, you know that the disciples believed in Jesus as their Savior, but they were still very confused about a lot of different things. They had questions. Even after Jesus rose again from the dead and was getting ready to ascend into heaven, some of them still had doubts about their Lord. For one thing they still didn’t fully understand Jesus’ mission, why He had really come to earth. As we heard last Sunday, right before Jesus’ ascension forty days after Easter, the disciples were still wondering if their Lord would set up an earthly kingdom and begin to rule for everyone to see. The disciples were confused and as a result, they were timid. They weren’t confident about sharing the Gospel with others. How could they be, if they didn't fully understand it themselves?
But then came Pentecost! Ten days after Jesus’ ascension, the disciples were gathered together, when suddenly the sound of a blowing wind came down from heaven. What seemed to be tongues of fire settled on their heads. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit! They began to speak in foreign languages they had never learned before. A crowd gathered, people from all over the world, and that crowd listened as the disciples preached the Gospel. The Apostle Peter stood up and addressed the crowd. He had a powerful sermon that day that God the Holy Spirit inspired him to preach a sermon that converted 3000 people in a single day.
Do you see the changes that took place on Pentecost? No longer were the disciples confused. Now they understood the plan of salvation completely. They finally got it! No longer were they timid, afraid. Now, they were confident, speaking out in public. Look at Peter- just two months earlier he was so afraid that three times he denied he even knew Jesus. Now he was speaking to the crowds with boldness! He had an understanding that he’d never had before.
There was another change that took place on Pentecost, and I would argue that this change was more spectacular than what happened to the disciples- as amazing as that was. After Peter preached his sermon on Pentecost, 3000 people came to faith and were baptized! We don’t know a whole lot about these people, except that they came from a bunch of different places- some of which are kind of hard to pronounce. We do know that Jerusalem was packed with people that day, because it was the Festival of Pentecost. Back then, Pentecost was an agricultural festival, sort of a harvest fest, - God had told the Jews to gather in Jerusalem 50 days after Passover to celebrate the harvest. Jews from all over the Roman empire came. 3000 of them who were not Christians, who did not believe in Jesus Christ, were changed that day. Their whole way of looking at themselves and their sin, at God and His forgiveness, at the world, at eternal life- everything changed! The Holy Spirit was the One who converted those 3000 people that day. Now these people knew the way to heaven- through God’s Son, Jesus. Now they knew that because of Him they were at peace with God.
So here’s what Pentecost is all about: In one word - change! We see the change that took place in the disciples, and the change they took place in those 3000 people. Our world today needs change, too. There are so many people who do not believe in Jesus Christ, who do not know the way to heaven. And there are so many Christians who are like those disciples were before Pentecost- confused, weak, timid. We need the Holy Spirit to come to us, and change us.
Our problem is, because of sinful human nature, we don’t think we need to be changed. “I’m all right the way I am,” we say to ourselves. “God says He loves me so He ought to accept me just the way I am. What do I really need to change about myself, anyway?” The answer is, “a lot!” Yes, it’s true, we are Christians and God does love us, but we still have sinful habits that we don’t want to get rid of. We still have moments when we are selfish. We still have moments when we completely misunderstand what God is telling us in the Bible. We still have moments when we fail to share our faith because we’re too timid. It is true that we are Christians, that for Christ’s sake alone- we are going to heaven, but we still need to change. We still need to become more and more the people that God wants us to be.
How does a person change his soul? You can’t do it by trying to be a better person. That’s like saying, “There's something wrong with my car, but I’ll try to change that by being a better driver.” You need someone to work on your engine, your soul. But the thing is, your soul is too complicated for you to fix yourself. You need someone to fix it for you. And that someone is the Holy Spirit. Only He can do it.
But how? On Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came directly to those disciples. Today, He could do that if He wanted to, but in the Bible He tells us that He works in a different way. He no longer comes with loud sounds, tongues of fire, together with the miraculous ability to speak in foreign languages. That was a one-time event.
Today, the Holy Spirit comes to you through the quiet, humble preaching of the Word. On the surface, it doesn’t look like anything spectacular. But on the inside of you, all kinds of changes are taking place. And when we combine the Word with water, we get Holy Baptism. What happens there? Once again, on the surface, it doesn't look like anything spectacular. But we know from what God tells us in His Word that in Baptism, the Holy Spirit changes a person, causes, a person, even a little person, to believe in Jesus.
And what happens when we combine God’s Word with bread and wine, as Jesus did on the night He was betrayed? Again, it doesn't look like anything spectacular, but it is. Because as we partake of Christ’s true body and blood in this Sacrament, the Holy Spirit changes us. He strengthens our faith, He increases our love for Christ and our love for one another.
Do you want to be more confident? Do you want to be more at peace with God and yourself? Do you want to be less confused about the Bible? Do you want to understand it better? Do you want to be able to share your faith more naturally, more confidently? Do you want to be able to live the way God tells you to live in His Word? Do you want to change your soul for the better?
This is what the Holy Spirit does, if you don’t refuse Him. He did that in a miraculous, unusual way on that first Pentecost. Today, He does it as you spend time hearing the Word, as you see a baptism, and remember how through your Baptism the Holy Spirit lives in you. He works also through the Lord’s Supper- forgiving your sins, strengthening your faith, and binding us together as God’s people around His altar. That’s how the Holy Spirit changes people, changes you, turning you more and more into the Christian that God has made you to be.
Why is red the color of the festival of Pentecost? There are all kinds of reasons. Red reminds us of Jesus’ blood, which He shed as a payment for our sins. Red also reminds us of what looked like tongues of fire on the disciples’ heads. Red also reminds us of the invisible fire of faith that is burning inside of us, the gift that the Holy Spirit has given to us. If we were to give the Holy Spirit a color, maybe the best color to describe Him would be red, the color of fire. Every time you come into contact with God’s Word and Sacraments, a kind of fire enters your heart, and burns away that selfishness and confusion. That fire becomes the fire of faith, a fire which trusts and loves Jesus as Savior.
If you could sum up Pentecost in one word, that one word would be change. May the Holy Spirit continue to work in you - now and always- to change you, to fan into flame the fire of faith that is in you by the power of God’s holy and powerful Word! Amen.
|Seventh Sundy of Easter--Ascension (Observed)|
May 20, 2012
Rev. Dan Welch
Text-Ephesians 1: 15-23
"Child's Play, Imagination, and Beyond"
One of the great things about kids is their sense of imagination and wonder. When they play, they play the parts of kings and queens, army generals, superheroes and pro athletes. Many a time, our back yard has witnessed a touchdown pass from Aaron Rodgers to Donald Driver. And for Rebekah our basement has at times became a fairy-tale kingdom ruled by princesses. That’s how it is with children, they think about possibilities, and the sky’s the limit.
But, as we get older, reality starts to set in. Maybe I’m not going to be president after all. And the odds that I’ll play for the Packers or the Vikings look pretty slim. You climb up the professional ladder, and then, one day, you come to see that you’ve gone as high as you’re gonna get, and from that point on, you do your best just to hang on.
The same goes for health. You grow for a while in height and in strength, but then it becomes a matter of maintenance, and you start looking good . . . for your age. So it seems the further along you get in life, the less you think about success, and the more you gear yourself for survival.
Now, not all of this is bad. For with age and time comes wisdom. And, along the way, people find out that it doesn’t really matter if you become king of the hill. You come to see that the best things in this life are simple gifts— friends, family, church. There’s no need for a lavish feast or a million-dollar home. A simple meal among loved ones will do just fine. Thanks be to God for the simple gifts.
But that having been said, we should never completely lose that childlike sense of adventure and wonder. There are opportunities all around us. Whether as individuals or as a church, we can remember that, even if we’ve gone off in the wrong direction, we can always make a U-turn. And, on the other hand, there’s no reason to rest on our laurels or think a glorious past is our peak; that’s because there lies before us a brighter future. Doors are opening all around us. And no matter what happens, better things are on the way.
Now, don’t get me wrong. As Lutherans, we don’t harbor any illusions. Human nature, this side of the grave, is never going to improve. I don’t care how many laws we pass or how many self-improvement books we read. When we look at ourselves in the mirror of the Law, we are painfully aware that original sin remains with us. The good that we want to do, we don’t do, and that which we don’t want to do, we end up doing (See Romans 7). It’s frustrating.
But there is hope. And that’s what the celebration of the Ascension is all about. It’s the day we celebrate the fact that Jesus Christ has risen into heaven and has been crowned the King of kings.
Well, you might say, “Why is that such a big deal? I mean, Jesus is the Son of God. Of course, He’s the King.”
But, today, we remember that the One who rules is one of us. Our Brother, a man from Nazareth, has been promoted. A member of our family has climbed the ladder to the top. Somebody who knows our sorrows, our frustrations, and our temptations now sits enthroned at the right hand of God.
And that fact bodes very well for our future. You could say that now, we’re insiders. It’s like being a worker in a company that your uncle happens to own. It’s like being the coach’s son. Like growing up a Kennedy or a Bush. Call it an unfair advantage if you want, but a man, who happens to be our best Friend, rules in heavenly glory. He’s made it to the top and has every intention of bringing us along with Him.
One of my favorite children’s stories is The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis. Many of you have read the book or seen the movie. In fairy-tale fashion, Lewis tells the story of our salvation. The ruler of Narnia, a majestic Lion, laid down his life to break the deep magic. In the end, Narnia is restored, and four children are crowned and seated on thrones of the kingdom. And, when you think about it, we are those children. We are destined to rule.
The Bible contains several sad stories, but the most tragic story comes right at the beginning. And it isn’t a story about a plague or pestilence, rape or murder, exile or wandering. But one simple act of disobedience. Adam and Eve had it all. They were the king and queen of all creation. They had dominion over the earth. And then, they fell. And when they fell, it was like falling off a cliff. And they kept falling down, down, and farther down. Made in God’s image, man came to worship images in the forms of men, beasts,and birds.
And so it is—sin has brought down the sons of Adam and the daughters of Eve. Sin has made us trivial. When we put others down, we only show just how small-minded we’ve become. When we take what isn’t ours, we show how we have become enslaved to ordinary things that have no real meaning. When we covet and crave, we demonstrate just how empty we are inside. When we put so much focus on our clothes and appearance, we show how much we have to cover up. When we harm others, we become less like kings and queens and more like petty dictators and cheap thugs.
But today, the Day we observe Jesus’ Ascension, we see the light. The heavens have opened up. And now, not even the sky is the limit. Because Christ, through His death, has taken our smallness and our pettiness upon Himself. Even though we ignored him, He was devoted to us. Even though we mocked Him, He was big enough to take it. Though we looked down on Him, He lifted us up.
By His resurrection, He has restored our fallen race. And by His ascension into heaven, He gives us a glimpse of our future glory, apart from sin and its ugliness. He shows us life where hard hearts become soft and petty people become bighearted.
When you put on your baptismal gown, however many years ago it was, you were fitted for royal garments. And, on your confirmation day, as you wore that white gown, you were having another dress rehearsal for the glory that awaits.
Once our sin made us lower than the beasts, but now, even the angels envy us. So, pity the world’s powers. Feel bad for all the stars who don’t know what we know. They strut around, not knowing that they’re just playing dress up. Meanwhile, we’re in line for a promotion that makes theirs seem like child’s play. Since our Lord wore a crown of thorns, we’ll wear the crown of life.
Go ahead and embrace the future. Consider the possibilities. Open the doors and walk through. And know that our Lord has great plans for you and He has great plans for this congregation.
We have a friend in Jesus. And because Jesus ascended into the highest heaven, we will too. Better things are on the way. Amen.
|Sixth Sunday of Easter|
May 13, 2012
Rev. Dan Welch
Text John 15: 9-17
Jesus calls us His friends. Right in the middle of our text today He declares His friendship with us. Amidst all the talk of love, joy, and obedience Jesus announces that the relationship we have with Him is friendship. That is a rare and precious gift indeed.
Today friendships are hard to build. Time is a problem. Everyone is so busy with work, family, sports, household responsibilities, that there is little time or energy left over for cultivating a good friendship.
Another problem: Many people don’t know how to be a good friend. Too many misuse the relationship for their own purposes. They want you around only when you can do something for them or only as long as you can make them feel good. As soon as you’re not useful or enjoyable anymore, they’re gone. It’s hard to risk friendship when you’re likely to get abused in the process.
Then there’s the simple fact that friendship makes us vulnerable. A friends sees us for who we really are. We let our guard down around a friend. We tell friends things we wouldn’t tell anyone else. That’s threatening, because then, the true you comes out. Friends get to see us for who we really are as we relax and be ourselves for a change. It’s not easy to open ourselves up that way, and so good friendship is too often avoided.
We all know how rare a good friendship actually is. Even though we need friends- we need someone to talk to, confide in, share with, and enjoy; we need to be accepted and loved for who we are- such relationships are hard to come by today. The time, the risk, the vulnerability make friendships all too rare.
Perhaps that’s why we find Jesus’ offer of friendship so hard to accept. To be sure, we long for His company. Here is someone who will listen to us. We can confide in Him anytime we wish. We can be with Him anytime we want. He always has time for us.
Here is someone who will treat us right. His promise is to fill us with joy. His promise is to give us what we ask in His Name. He even gave His life for us.
Here is someone who loves us in spite of who we are. We come to Him in honesty, and He will not turn away from us. We show Him what we really think and feel, and He still accepts us.
We long for this kind of friendship. His time is our time. His friendship is pure and good. His love is for us. How precious and rare it is to be chosen as Jesus’ friend.
But our time and energy for this friendship are all too little Moms and dads can especially understand the pressure here. Getting everyone dressed, fed, and ready every morning is about the most we can handle. Who has time for an extra half-hour of devotions? Sunday is the one day to rest and catch up, so it’s no wonder our minds may be on the many things we want to do today instead of on the Divine Service. Family devotions? Many families hardly ever even eat meals together anymore, let alone have devotions. No time. No energy. Our friendship with Jesus fades from neglect.
We wonder about His friendship. Does He treat us right? Does He really hear our prayers? Life is tough. He doesn't seem to make it any easier. Problems abound. He doesn't seem to supply us with much joy. We hurt, His care and concern seem so far way. Our friendship with Jesus withers in doubt.
Or, we simply avoid Him altogether. Here is someone who does know who we really are. He shows us our weakness, our failures, our inadequacies. Who wants those wounds opened up? We want to feel good, not bad. We want praise and positive affirmation, not someone who can look right inside us and see what’s really there. So the friendship with Jesus dies.
Or at least it would if Jesus were not such a true friend. You see, Jesus considers our friendship with Him so precious that He won’t let it die. He chose us, not to wither and die like dead branches on a vine, but to live in Him and bear fruit. He wants us to be filled with joy, not cut off from Him in sadness. He wants us to know what He has in store for us as our friend.
He is a true friend. When it came to time, there was only time for us. He heard His Father’s commands, and at the right time came down to earth He shared His Father’s love for us, even when it was time to be rejected and executed.
He is a true friend. A friend does what is right and good, even if it means sacrificing life itself. So Jesus is on the cross. He lays down His life for us. His friendship goes even to the grave, but it doesn’t stop there. He takes His life back up again for us. Easter joy is with us for His friendship did not die in a tomb, but rose victorious on the third day. There is no greater love than this. So what is right and good is that Jesus has shown Himself to be the best friend of all.
He is a true friend. A friend is always there, and the risen Christ will never leave us or forsake us. This promise He made to us in Holy Baptism. This promise of His means no matter what Jesus finds inside of us, there is forgiveness. No matter what we confess to Him, there is still acceptance. No matter what we try to hide from Him, there is still love. What a True Friend we have in Jesus!
Do we need a friend to talk to? We can take it to the Lord in prayer.
Do we need a friend to walk with? We can open His Word anytime, and He will be there.
Do we need a friend to accept us? We can go to His table and eat and drink with His blessing, for He welcomes us as He once did the sinners and tax collectors. Here he renews His promise of friendship by giving us His very body and blood for the forgiveness of sins. After all, ‘greater love has no one than this, that He lay down His life for His friends’ and here He puts in our mouths the benefits of His great sacrificial act on the cross.
Do we need a friend to love us? We can go to Jesus and remain in His love always.
Do we need a friend? Yes, for rare and precious is true friendship. And joy added to joy, joy to the fullest, Jesus has chosen us to be His friends! Amen!
|Fifth Sunday of Easter|
May 6, 2012
Rev. Dan Welch
Text - John 10 :22-30
"Let Me Be Thine Forever"
Dear Riley, Karley, Collin, Taylor, Stephanie, Monica, and Devin: God’s blessings! This is an exciting day, isn’t it! And I’m excited for you. It’s an important day—whether you realize it yet or not—one of the most important days of your life. And so I hope it’s a day you’ll remember.
I’d like to do something a little lit different for you, to try to help you remember this day. On this your Confirmation Day, instead of a sermon that you only hear, I have prepared a sermon you can keep and read, a letter really, written especially for you seven. Of course, we’ll also let everybody else hear most of it, but there are parts, too, just for each of you personally. Those I won’t read out loud. This afternoon when you’re reading through this yourself, you’ll get to those parts, and you’ll know what I mean.
I do hope you’ll take this out again and read it from time to time, because that’s very much to the point I want to share with you today. What you’re doing this morning reflects a wonderful relationship that is certainly not just for today or just for your life up to this day. Here’s how Jesus expresses it in our Gospel lesson that I’ve chosen just for this very special occasion of your Confirmation: “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.” (27–29) You know that Jesus calls Himself the Good Shepherd and us His sheep. Even today, a shepherd calls his sheep and his sheep recognize His voice. Please notice today—and remember for your whole life—that hearing the voice of your Good Shepherd, in fact your entire relationship with Christ, is something that continues forever.
See the way Jesus talks in our text: “My sheep listen to my voice.” Or, to put it another way, see what Jesus doesn’t say in our text; namely, “they listened to my voice.” Jesus’ sheep didn’t just listen to His voice in the past. They listen to it now. They hear it every day. In English class we call that present tense. “I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life.” I didn’t just “used to” know them. They didn’t just follow me when they were little lambs. I know them; they follow Me, now. Present tense. It’s always present tense, and it always will be. And I give them eternal life. You know that’s never past tense. See, your relationship with Jesus is now and always will be.
Your Good Shepherd made you His own in Baptism, that’s when most of you heard the voice of your shepherd for the very first time. And no matter whether you were baptized as a baby or as a small child, your Good Shepherd called you by name to keep you close to Him, and He keeps you close to Him now and always as you hear and read His holy Word. You know the Bible will never go out of print, and I hope you know it will never go out of style. You know it’s Jesus’ voice you hear when I or any other pastor says the words, “I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” I pray that every sermon you hear for all these years to come is the voice of Christ. And it certainly is always Christ who says to you—today for the first time but for maybe three or four thousand Sundays in the future—”This is my body, this is my blood, for the forgiveness of your sins.” Hearing your Good Shepherd’s voice is something that continues forever.
Next Jesus says, “I know them.” He always has and He certainly knows you today. He knows what a huge moment this is for you. Again, you may not yet realize that this is one of the most important days of your life, but He does. He knows everything you’re feeling right now—excitement, nervousness, and serious wonder. He knows, Riley, you’re different from Colin. He knows, Taylor what’s special about you and what you especially need, Karley. He knows what you’re thinking this very second, Devin. Monica and Stephanie, your Good Shepherd knows the future plans He has in store for you. And He’s glad to know all that about each of you.
You may feel a closer-than-usual relationship with Jesus today, but He’ll know you just as intimately every day from now on too. My favorite verse from the book of Jeremiah, one that has been especially meaningful for me lately, and I hope it will be meaningful to you too, “I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, … plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jer 29:11). Jesus knows each of you so well that He knows right now how He will shape your life in beautiful ways—what you’ll do after you finish school, whom or if you’ll marry, whether you’ll have children of your own to bring to Sunday school and catechism classes, all the opportunities you’ll serve Him until He takes you to heaven someday. He knows you a lot better than you know yourself! And He knows everything you’ll need at each step of that way, so He’ll certainly be there to provide it.
Please pay very close attention to what Jesus says next: “My sheep follow me.” It’s really pretty amazing that Jesus says this, because we are His sheep, and you and I all know how often we don’t follow Him. We stray into sin constantly. Each of us knows the specific ways we’re prone to wander away from Jesus. Still the Good Shepherd, keeps coming after us, calling for us. And He always will, as long as we want Him to call to us. Maybe one day, and I pray this day will never come, you’ll find that you’ve wandered from Jesus and are involved in some kind of deadly sin, that you’re not following Jesus at all. That’s not living like one of Jesus’ sheep, and that’s eternally dangerous. But that’s also why He died for you—for times just like that—to pay for those sins, to wash them away in His blood, to continually renew you as one of His sheep. After all, if Jesus hadn’t died to forgive your sins, He couldn’t say you were following Him even now, could He?
So then, because He has been that faithful to you, I want you to promise—in fact, solemnly swear—that you’ll follow Him all your life. You realize, of course, that that’s exactly what you’re going to do in a few minutes. It’s an oath you’re taking, you know, just like the oath, the vow, you’ll take if you get married someday, except that this oath you’re making first, and that means you keep it ahead of any you’ll make later. Nothing—not what your parents do, not whom God gives you to love someday, not what seems cool or fun somewhere down the line—is to get in the way of your keeping this vow. Remember what you’re going to promise? “Do you hold all the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures to be the inspired Word of God? Do you confess the doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, drawn from the Scriptures, as you have learned to know it from the Small Catechism, to be faithful and true? Do you intend to continue steadfast in this confession and Church and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it?” “I do, by the grace of God.” That’s a huge promise, isn’t it? In fact, I think I saw your eyes pop out last Wednesday when we practiced this! (Just kidding!) You are declaring today, once and for all, that you are going to follow Jesus, your Good Shepherd, all your life, and that this is what it means to follow Him.
(Personal comments to each of the students inserted at this point.)
The last thing Jesus says to you in our text is the best: “I give [my sheep] eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.” Long before you ever came for catechism class, you knew Jesus gives you eternal life, didn’t you? And you know that’s not just for today! That’s forever. But for the years to come, I want to remind each of you how sure that will always be. No matter what happens in the future, no matter what anybody—including the devil—will do to you, nobody can snatch you away from Jesus. I have a feeling your parents like hearing this part, because they know the sorts of stuff that can happen. Jesus and His Father both promise that they will protect you from all of it, and they’re strong enough to do that!
The only one who can cause you to lose your salvation is you yourself, and that’s the reason your Good Shepherd will keep on speaking to you. When He speaks, He tells you, again and again and again, for all the years of your life, “I laid down my life for you, and I’ve taken it up again to give you eternal life. You are my sheep!” Riley, Karley, Collin, Taylor, Stephanie, Monica, and Devin. That voice will always be speaking for you to hear! Amen.
Much love in Jesus Christ, your Good Shepherd,
|Fourth Sunday of Easter|
April 29, 2012
Rev. Dan Welch
Text - John 10:11-18
"Blessings from the Good Shepherd"
He is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia! It’s amazing isn’t it, that it’s been three weeks already since Easter? Two weeks until Mother’s Day and of course, next Sunday is Confirmation Sunday. All of these are wonderful Sundays of celebration and giving special thanks to God for His many gifts to us. This Sunday -today- is also a special Sunday, it’s Good Shepherd Sunday. The comforting passages from God’s Word we hear, the beautiful hymns tell us of Jesus, our Good Shepherd who offers blessings to us.
You may have noticed in the worship folder (or on the screen) that the theme of this morning’s sermon is “Blessings from the Good Shepherd.” We’re going to focus on two of those that are found in our text. In verses 14 and 15 of our Gospel reading, Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me- just as the Father knows me and I know the Father - and I lay down my life for the sheep.” The first blessing we find is that the Good Shepherd knows you. The second is that you know the Good Shepherd.
One thing everyone who has ever lived in a small town knows is that you cannot remain anonymous. No matter where you go in town, someone is bound to know you, or at least recognize you. You can’t just be anonymous. If you’re not sure if the town you grew up in really qualifies as a small town, here are some ways to help you determine the answer:
Okay, you know you live in a small town if...
-Your school teachers remember when they taught your parents.
-Your teachers calls you by your older siblings names.
-You can name everyone you graduated high school with.
-When you’re driving in town, you don’t use turn signals because everyone knows where you're going anyway.
You also know you live in a small town if...
-The local phone book has only one yellow page.
-You call a wrong number and are supplied with the correct one.
-Everyone knows all the news before it's published; residents read the hometown paper just to see whether they got it right.
I could go on, but I think you get the picture. Those are sure signs that you’re from a small town. And this city boy, for one, likes the small town life. In a small town you cannot remain anonymous.
No matter where you go in life, whether you’re in a big city or a small town, you can’t remain anonymous with God, either. “I know my sheep,” Jesus says. God knows you. And that’s a blessing. The word “know” in the Bible has this idea of a deep intimate knowledge of everything about you. Do you realize how well Jesus knows you? Before He created the world, God knew your name. He knew when you would be born. He knew who your parents would be, what your life would be like growing up. He knows what you’re good at, what things make you happy, and what things make you afraid. Jesus knows you. This is blessing number one.
But is it really a blessing? You see, when I read this in the Bible, there’s a part of me that actually doesn’t like this. If Jesus knows us this well, then He knows our sins. Aren’t there things about you that you would rather keep private? Embarrassing things? Things that you have said or done or just thought – that you would be ashamed of if they were brought out into the open? Every human being has a secret life, a secret vault where we keep certain sins that we want no one to ever see. But Jesus sees. Our lives are open books to Him. This doesn’t sound like a blessing – it sounds like a curse.
What does the Good Shepherd do, when He sees the sins of His flock? He has every reason to throw us out of His flock for all of our sins. But instead, He says this: “I lay down my life for the sheep.” Do shepherds normally lay down their lives for their sheep? No. A shepherd will do the best he can to fight off any wild animals, but even a highly dedicated shepherd isn’t going to just lay down his life and let a wild animal kill him. Besides, what good would it do? After the wild animal kills the shepherd, there’s no one there to protect the sheep!
But you have a Shepherd Who loves you. He sees Satan, the wolf, coming to attack the flock filled with sin. He steps between you and the wolf. He takes into Himself all of your sins – including those secret sins, those shameful sins, and He allows Satan to kill Him. He lays down His life for you. Satan thinks he has won, and that he can attack you next. But then, Jesus rises from the dead, and that changes everything. You don’t have a shepherd Who’s dead. You have a shepherd Who’s alive. You have a shepherd Who’s taken your sins away. Where is the proof that my shame is gone? Where is the proof that my secret sins are gone? Where is the proof, that my embarrassment is gone? Jesus has risen from the dead – He’s alive – there’s your proof. There’s the biggest blessing that anyone could ever enjoy.
If you’re a parent, you know that one of the most frustrating things about parenting is when something is wrong with your child’s health, but you can’t fix it. Maybe you don’t even know what’s wrong – is it a virus? Why doesn’t the medication work? What does my child need? Different medicine? Maybe a different diet? Surgery? Therapy? You know something is wrong, and you love your child - you want your child to be happy and healthy – but as a parent, you don’t always know what to do, or how to fix it.
What a blessing, that we have Jesus, Who knows us. It’s not a mystery to him, what’s wrong with us. He sees all of our sins. And He knows how to fix it. That’s what He did on Good Friday. And that’s why He rose on Easter Sunday. “I know my sheep,” Jesus says, “and my sheep know me.”
Did you catch that other blessing that Jesus mentioned at the end of that sentence? “My sheep know me.” You know God – He’s not a mystery to you. You never have to say to yourself, “I wonder what God is like?” because you have seen God. You have heard Him speak. You have watched Him in action. Your God is Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd. What a blessing – to know God!
Every day, millions of people wake up in the morning, wondering – “why am I here, where did I come from, where am I going?” That’s not a mystery to us who stay close to the Good Shepherd.
We live in a world that doesn’t know the way, the truth, or the life. “Is there a God or not?” Just google that question – and take note of all the confusion that is in our world today. But the children in our Sunday school aren’t confused. The young people who are going to be confirmed next Sunday aren’t confused – they know God. “Anyone who has seen me, has seen the Father,” Jesus says. As you get older, you start to wonder, “What happens after I die? Is there a heaven? Is there a Judgment?” For you who spend your life sticking close to your Good Shepherd Jesus through His Word and Sacraments, (the ways He shepherds us on this side of heaven), you’re not confused about these things at all. You know your Good Shepherd and your Good Shepherd knows you.
“It’s all about who you know.” I’m sure you’ve heard that phrase before. In many ways, it’s how our world works. It’s who you know. Who do you know, that is extremely powerful, Who controls everything, Who loves you, Who is preparing a place for you and will someday come back? Who do you know – that promises you that you can ask anything – and He will do it, according to His wisdom and love? You know Jesus, the Good Shepherd. What a blessing that is! You know the Good Shepherd and the Good Shepherd knows you.
And so today, on this Good Shepherd Sunday, we recommit ourselves to following Him. We follow Jesus because He knows us. He laid down His life for us. And He has given us His Word and Sacraments, so that we will always know Him. May God fill your life with blessings, as you follow your Good Shepherd all the way into eternity. Amen.
|Third Sunday of Easter|
April 22, 2012
Rev. Dan Welch
Text - I John 3:1-7
"What Will I Look Like?"
A good friend of mine that I grew up with just announced the birth of his first son this past week. It reminded me of one of the familiar rituals of having a child and that is the parade of relatives and friends who look into the face of the child, or look at the picture on Facebook, and try to figure out who he or she looks like. The shape of the head, the color of the eyes or hair, the prominence of the nose, the ears, the chin, the cheekbones—they all give a few clues to the riddle of what this child will look like and who this child will look like when he or she grows up.
In our text this morning, the apostle John refuses to enter into the speculation, but he certainly understands our curiosity—not in this case about whom one of our children will resemble, but what God’s own children, you and I, will look like for all eternity. He writes, “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like . . .” (v 2). Like what, John? Come on, please, give us a clue!
“What will I look like when Jesus appears?” That question asks a lot more than the shape of my eyes or nose in heaven. It’s really asking how my whole eternity will look—and what my life, my future, will look like all the time we wait for Jesus to come back. What will all that look like?
As time marches on, our predictions are sometimes proven wrong. Things change. Faces change. Children whom we thought looked like this relative or that parent take on different characteristics as the days come and go and their bodies grow. Sometimes, it’s easy to see the face of the future in our children; other times, it’s hidden, with only glimpses of what will be revealed.
That’s also true about us as Christians. God’s Word often reminds us that here on earth we have only a vague glimpse of what will only be revealed when Jesus comes again to bring all things to completion and to make plain what is only hinted at now.
As much as we want to know and predict the future that God is unfolding in Christ, we’re limited by the fact that you and I live in an earthly world and in a mortal body. We see through eyes that have the blinders of this present moment and of sin and death on them. We look for what will be and see only vague images. What sustains us isn’t a clear picture of the future, but the promise and presence of God, Who is with us now. We are now God’s children. He has restored us as His own in Christ, marked us as His own in Baptism, declared us righteous and holy in Christ (even though we’re all too aware of our sin and failures). We can’t see beyond this except through the eyes of faith, and even then it’s not a clear vision of God’s future but our confidence that He will indeed bring to pass what He’s promised.
For too many of us, this is not only a puzzle, but a problem. We stand where we’ve always stood, insisting that God reveal everything or we’ll believe nothing. We saw this at work last week in Thomas, who refused to believe what he didn’t see or touch for himself. When troubles touch our lives, we become like Job, who demands to know why all these afflictions happened to him.
But God doesn’t explain Himself to us or give in to our stubborn demands. Instead, He points us to Jesus: “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when (Jesus) appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” We shall be like Jesus. It’s enough to see Jesus; when you see Him, you see your future. It’s enough to see Jesus; when you see Him, you know what you’ll be. It’s enough to have this hope within you. It isn’t required that you see everything as it will be or that you know now what will be. If you have Jesus, you have enough. He charts the course of what we’ll be. He is the firstborn of the dead Who prefigures what will be like. If you have Jesus, you have enough.
Our lives are a lot like a painter’s canvas and the painter is God, Who in His wisdom takes His time in painting our lives for us. Our lives don’t unfold all at once with a clear path into the future. Instead, we’re left to trust in the God whose promise and presence is our hope and salvation. Because we aren’t the painter, we can’t always see or make out what’s on the canvas of our lives. It seems extremely slow at times and when things go bad we aren’t sure anyone’s in charge. But God calls us to be patient and to wait for His work to unfold.
It’s often a hidden work. At the last few Missouri Synod National Youth Gatherings, there’s been a man they call the Jesus Painter. In jeans and a T-shirt, he comes to do his thing. With house paint, a huge canvas, and a three-inch brush, he slaps the paint on in what seems a willy-nilly, random fashion. It doesn’t take forever, but the time passes slowly as he paints with brush and hand on the canvas. It seems to be nothing, but at the end, it becomes clear. It’s the face of Jesus. No matter what he paints, it’s always the face of Jesus.
Like the Jesus Painter whose picture was a mystery, our lives are hidden; their shape is discernible only by God and by the Spirit Who’s at work in us, among us, and through us. He may allow us glimpses but seldom gives us much more than that. Though it’s hidden, we trust in the Lord Who is painting on our lives the image of Christ. The vision is Jesus!
What God is painting on the canvas of our lives isn’t some reflection of our hopes, dreams, priorities, or desires. No, what God is painting on the canvas of our lives is nothing less than Jesus Christ. The old “me” is going, and the new “me” arises by the grace of God flowing from my Baptism. That new me looks an awful lot like Jesus—what we will be is what He already is. This is God’s work, painting on the canvas of our hearts, identities, and lives. None of us is alone in not knowing fully what God is unfolding in us and among us.
God is also painting Jesus on the canvas of other Christians’ lives, giving them the same new identity you and I received in Baptism, that they might become like Christ even as we’re becoming like Him. Remember John the Baptist, who said, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (Jn 3:30). This is the work of God on me and my life—the gradual covering up of all that is me and the slow revelation of all that is Jesus.
All creation groans in expectation of this future, the painting to become complete, and the final revelation of all that will be but isn’t yet. For now, we live in this tension of waiting and trusting. You’re not alone in waiting for this revelation, and neither am I. We wait the revelation of what is to come and what will be—like people waiting for the painter’s strokes on the canvas to turn into a picture.
The brush of God is His Word—the written Word of Scripture and the visible Word of the Sacraments. Through these Means of Grace, God is at work in me and on me, painting Christ into my mind, heart, and life. But too often all I see are the individual brushstrokes—the twists and turns of life—instead of the completed and final picture.
Oh, we do see glimmers of His final masterpiece. Once we’re in Christ, our lives do begin to look like His. John says in our text that we purify ourselves “as he is pure,” that we practice righteousness “as he is righteous” (vv 3, 7). But this side of heaven, that is never perfect.
This is also true of us as a congregation. God is painting us as well. We are not yet what we will be, not what we were, but always becoming—as the painter’s canvas slowly unfolds the image of what the picture will be. But that picture is—and always is—Jesus Christ.
We don’t see how He’s working or understand the timing of His work or recognize the image of what is becoming. For now, it’s enough that we trust in God to bring to pass what He’s promised and to reveal what He’s chosen. No parent sees what his or her children will look like as adults or sees what they’ll become. But parents wait in the joyful expectation of what’s coming, content to see it unfold before them and to help shape that outcome as best they can. We’re like those children, growing and becoming what we don’t yet see for lives not yet revealed to us. Instead of focusing on what we can’t see or know, we need to focus on the God Who is at work in us and through us, bringing to completion what He began in us in Christ.
So if you feel lost or confused, weary or dismayed, remember you’re not the painter. God is. The image is not a montage of your hopes, dreams, or desires, but Christ Himself. God is writing Him and painting Him on your heart, mind, and life.
So hang in there in Christ, as individuals, as a parish of His people, as a Church in mission. We are all works in progress. We are saved in Christ—the completed act of our Savior’s sacrificial death and life-giving resurrection. We’re even now being saved, as through Word and Sacrament God pours out His grace on us continually and abudnantly, working out in us our salvation. We will be saved on that day when this life is no more, when heaven and earth pass away and the new He has promised comes to fullness, when He returns in His glory and all creation stands before Him to await His righteous judgment.
As parents bring a new child into the family and everyone wants to know who he or she will look like, we already know the only answer that counts—we will be like Jesus. We may not see it yet, but that doesn’t mean it’s not underway. For now, it’s enough to know we are God’s children by Baptism and faith. It is our calling to wait for the rest to be revealed to us when He comes. For we know that we shall be as He is. Our future is dependent on Christ, is tied to Christ, and is revealed in Christ. He will transform our lowly bodies to become like His glorious body. He will lay to rest finally every doubt or fear that now haunts us. He will finish the painting of our lives so that the work will be done and complete for all eternity. Finally, we shall see ourselves as God sees us, and that is the gift of Christ and the paradise of eternity; the paradise that awaits you and me together in Christ. Amen.
|Second Sunday of Easter|
April 15, 2012
Rev. Dan Welch
Text - John 20: 19-31
"The Cure for Doubt"
He is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
Are you a skeptical person? Do you believe everything you hear right away? Or does it take a while before you believe something to be true? A couple of days ago I received an email from someone who said she was an extremely sick widow living in Cote d’Ivoire, Africa. She informed me that she wanted to give her savings account worth $2.5 million to me before she passed away which could be any day. All I had to do was give her some personal financial information so she could transfer the money to bank account. Should I believe that email or should I be skeptical? Of course, that was way too good to be true! Without a doubt that was a liar and a potential thief who would have taken money from me rather than give it!
Lots of people say lots of things - how much do you believe? How much do you doubt? For almost two thousand years, Christians have been saying that Jesus Christ has risen from the dead. Do you believe it? A lot of people don’t. A lot of people are skeptical. Nothing is sure except death and taxes, some people say. But what about the resurrection of Jesus? A Christian would say that nothing is sure but death and taxes and the resurrection from the dead, and all the promises of the Bible. Do you believe that, or do you doubt?
This morning, we’re going to look at a part of the Bible where Jesus talks to us about doubt. And we’re going to see what the one and only cure for doubt is, as the Bible describes it.
We find the disciples together on Easter night. Now what typically happens at your house on Easter night? At our house, we put the kids to bed, and they’re usually exhausted from waking up too early that morning, from all the activity looking for candy and easter baskets, then going to church, and then spending all afternoon and most of the evening at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. After we get back home and everyone goes to bed, we spend a little time trying try to clean up all the candy wrappers and little strands of plastic “easter grass.”
For the disciples in the first century, the atmosphere was a little different. They were locked up in a house. They were probably tired, but more than that, they were afraid. Just a few days earlier, they had witnessed Jesus executed, and now people were saying that they saw Him alive. And then suddenly, Jesus stood among them. And everyone was overjoyed except for one disciple, and that was Thomas. He wasn’t with them that night, and when he came back later and they told him that they saw Jesus alive, he was skeptical.
“I won’t believe it,” he said. I need to see Jesus with my eyes. I need to touch Jesus’ wounds with my hands. I need physical proof. Otherwise, I won't believe.
Why was Thomas so skeptical? You see, Thomas didn’t want to get burned again. For 3 years, he had followed Jesus and thought He was the Messiah. But then he saw things and heard things that made him feel like something was not right. He saw Jesus arrested, even though He was all-powerful. He saw Jesus tortured and crucified even though Jesus could raise people from the dead. None of this made any sense to Thomas. Everything he saw contradicted what he believed. And he wasn’t about to go through that again. He wanted proof.
Have you ever struggled with doubt? Is Christianity really the right religion? Are all these things I believe about Jesus really true?
What causes doubt? Thomas doubted because of the trials and troubles he witnessed during Jesus' suffering and death. That still is the number one cause of doubt today - trouble, difficulty, hardship.
It's easy to believe in the resurrection of Jesus on Easter morning at church when everything is well, but it’s hard to believe when you're in the Emergency Room and your child is struggling with health problems. It's easy to believe in Jesus when everyone around you is singing “I Know that My Redeemer Lives” but it’s hard to believe when you’re surrounded by people who don’t believe in anything and everyone thinks you're foolish for being a Christian. When difficulties and hardships enter our lives, faith is tested. We struggle with doubts.
When those doubts arise, what do you do? Where do you go? What’s the cure?
During the days when the Bible was written - the cure was simple - to spend time with the risen Jesus. A week after Thomas doubted, Jesus appeared to him, and forgave him. He showed Thomas His hands and side, the very wounds Jesus received when He paid for Thomas’ sins. Stop doubting and believe, Jesus told him. And just like that, Thomas’ doubt went away. “My Lord and my God,” he confessed. No more doubting for Thomas. Someone once said, “Those who doubt most, and yet strive to overcome their doubts, turn out to be some of Christ's strongest disciples.” That sounds like Thomas.
Today, Jesus wants us to believe without visible proof - “Because you have seen me, you have believed,” he said to Thomas. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” He's talking about us in these verses. Not seeing, and yet believing. And so for you and me today - what is the cure for doubt? How can we believe without seeing?
Thomas touched the wounds of Christ. You and I can touch the wounds of Christ every time we receive the Lord’s Supper. Thomas was able to look Jesus in the eye. Today you and I can see Jesus every time we read the Bible or hear His Word preached and taught. And what do we see when we read the Bible, what do we experience when we receive the Lord’s Supper? We see a Savior who looks at us with eyes of love. We see a Savior who knows all about our doubts and fears and unanswered questions, and He says to us, “Peace be with you.”
“But look at all of my problems,” we say. “But look at My sacrifice for you,” Jesus says. Here in the Bible we see a Savior who forgave Thomas for his unbelief, and still today He keeps forgiving us for all the times we have also have struggled to believe plus all our other sins that we confess. The Gospel writer John tells us that this right here - the Word - this is the place to go whenever we have doubts: “these are written that you may believe (not have doubts and skepticism but believe) that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
There are times in your life when you will doubt that God really loves you. You’ll wonder if He cares about you. Maybe you’re doubting right now. When that happens, go to the Bible. Listen to His words of forgiveness and grace. Come to the Lord's Supper, and partake of His body and blood of the Lord, sacrificed for you. Here is your cure for doubt. Stop doubting, and believe. Amen.
April 8, 2012
Rev. Dan Welch
Text - Mark 16: 1-8 & Psalm 16
He is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
“Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?” (Mark 16:3). This was the question that the women asked one another that first Easter morning. Their Lord was gone forever. That’s what they thought. Their journey to the grave must have been long and lonely. All of the talk about Jesus as the Messiah seemed cold and dead on their lips. But they wanted to do what was right. They wanted to bring the spices and anoint His body. If He could not live, at least He should die with honor and respect as a great teacher.
We all fight this battle. This battle with death. Sometimes the battle seems to be going well. We’re healthy, the kids are doing okay, and tax season is almost over. God is gracious, and there is much to rejoice about. Other times, though, it seems as though death and Satan are winning. A loved one dies. There’s a sickness that just won’t go away. The economy. Jobs. School. Divorce. Fighting at home. Sometimes the struggle is long and the battle hard. Sometimes this earthly strife that we all go through never seems to end. It can feel as though there is no future, no hope for things to ever get better.
Of course we’re not the first Christians to ever have this battle with Satan and sin and death. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15 about those who weren’t certain of the resurrection of the dead. They didn’t know whether the dead would rise. They thought you lived and you died, and that was it, that was the end. To that fear and concern he wrote: “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.” (1 Corinthians 15:19).
How often have you been miserable because you have forgotten the most basic, fundamental core of the Christian faith? How often have you lived as if Jesus’ dead body were still decaying somewhere outside of Jerusalem? When we allow the trials and crosses of this life to define us, it’s as if we are asking that question with the women at the tomb. “Who will roll the stone away?”I don’t mean that we should always be happy, or that if we simply have a more positive attitude, that things will automatically get better. Heaven knows that there are times when things are hard. We do suffer in this life. And that suffering is real, it’s painful, and it may feel as if it will never end.
But Jesus Christ has risen from the dead. And for poor, weak sinners like you and I that’s good news. No, it’s the best news, the best news of all. David exclaimed this in Psalm 16 when he prayed,
“(Y)ou will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay. You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.” (Psalm 16:10–11).
The path that we walk this day is the path of life through death. There’s no such thing as life for us apart from Jesus’ death and resurrection. But with Christ, there is hope. This hope is not a pie-in-the-sky sort of everything-will-get-better hope. No, God founds this hope upon Jesus’ death and resurrection for us. David prayed again in Psalm 16:2, “I said to the LORD, ‘You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing.’”
But what if you believe this path is just not for you? What if you believe that Jesus’ death and resurrection aren’t enough, or that you’re not worthy of God? If so, then remember St. Paul. In today’s Epistle, he talked about how he was out of step with the other apostles because he came to faith years after they did. If anyone would have a claim on being unworthy of God’s mercy, it would be Paul. He was a persecutor of Christians, a murderer by nearly anyone’s standards, or the least of the apostles, as he would call himself (1 Corinthians 15:9). Yet God had mercy on him, baptized him, and made him as His own child.
This is true for St. Paul, and it’s true for you. Everything you have and are, all of your good you have, is from God Himself, who gave Himself to you so that you might have hope. He gives Himself to you so that you can actually live, not just survive to suffer another day. This is what we pray in the catechism:
That I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true. (Small Catechism, Second Article)
We’ve talked a lot about forgiveness this Lenten journey. We’ve talked about our need for forgiveness, the destructive effect sin has on our lives, and we’ve talked about how sin gives rise to more sin all the time. But more important than that, we’ve heard how God forgives, that He longs to forgive, that His forgiveness covers you, and that His gracious presence in your life is only a foretaste to come of an eternity of fellowship in Him.
So rejoice this day and be glad. The things of this life that weigh you down will pass. God is at peace with you, and you do not need to be afraid of anything that comes your way. Jesus is risen, and that’s all that really matters in this life. Believe it for the sake of our risen Savior, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
April 1, 2012
Rev. Dan Welch
Text - Exodus 12:21–32
"Christ, the Firstborn, is Sacrificed"
When darkness came after Adam’s first day in this world, he cried all through the night over the death of the sun. So legend has it anyway. The sun drops and tears fall, caused or cloaked by the darkness that covers our eyes. Since Adam, or at least since Abel, has a single night passed when someone hasn’t wept over the death of someone else? “Weeping may remain for the night,” the psalmist tells us, “but rejoicing comes in the morning” (30:5). Oh, that it were always like that; that the sunlight always dried our tears, instead of only revealing the full extent of them.
Can you hear the Egyptians weep and wail? Do you see their tears? Last night had been no friend to them. As the garment of midnight lay draped over their land, the angel of destruction marched through the highways and byways of Egypt. His targets were specific. His crosshairs were on the firstborn. They would die in this tenth and final plague. The cry was very great in Egypt that night. There wasn’t a house where there wasn’t someone dead. All the firstborn in the whole land of Egypt were slain, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne, even to the firstborn of the slave girl who labored at the millstones. Even the firstborn of the cattle were not spared. Never had Egyptians shed more tears, and never in years to come would their tears equal those that streamed from their eyes that awful night.
You knew that it would come to this. Already at the burning bush, God tells Moses that hard-hearted Pharaoh will not let His people go. So Moses is to tell this tyrant that since he will not let God’s son, His firstborn, go, then God will let His anger go upon Pharaoh’s son, his firstborn (Ex 4:22–23). An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a son for a son. And the Lord wasn’t bluffing. Just look. Watch as the Israelites leave the morning after their Passover, as they pass by heartbroken mothers and fathers laying their firstborn sons to rest.(Num 33:3–4).
With ten plagues the Lord had attacked Egypt in the time of the exodus. Water changed into blood, a blitzkrieg of bugs, disease, thunder, hail. And in the ninth attack, when Moses stretched out his hands toward the heavens, a sea of darkness flooded Egypt. A darkness so thick, so black, so intense, you could feel it. Not for one, nor two, but for three days God kept the sun at bay. Then, after those three days, came the zenith of the plagues, the execution of Egypt’s firstborn sons.
But that darkness and that death was only a shadow of what was to come. Because for you, to ransom you, one greater than Moses stretched out His hands toward heaven, to have them nailed to the wood of earth. There He hangs, His limbs grafted to the tree of death, that He might bear for you the fruit of life. Yes, there He hangs, suspended between God and man, making peace between Him and you by the blood of His cross. And there comes the darkness, from the sixth hour to the ninth hour, a darkness that fell over the whole land not for one, nor two, but for three hours. The Father, who lifts up His face to enlighten us, hid His countenance from His firstborn Son, and all His people. My God, my God, why have you forsaken Him? “Because My Son who knew no sin has become sin for you. Because My Son who was not of Egypt has become the Egypt you are. Because My Son has become all the firstborn of men: firstborn men like Cain the murderer, firstborn men like Reuben the incestuous one, firstborn men like Aaron the idolater, and firstborn men and women and children such as you.” Whoever you are, whatever you’ve done, He has become you and it. He has taken your place to offer His own body and blood as a sacrifice for all your sins. The Firstborn is dead, killed by the judgment of God. The plagues are over and you are free.
You’re free to leave the enslavement that gripped you for so long. Because the Lord has sent His firstborn Son into this world, not to kill but to be killed. God let His anger go upon Him. All this so that you might go free—free from sin and death, free from every evil chain coiled around your neck.
But you’re not the only one free. Don’t think that the firstborn of the Father can remain dead. How can the grave hold Him back the author of life? It cannot, it will not, it has not. He lives! And when God raised Christ, He killed death. For Christ is the head of His body, the Church, the beginning, the Firstborn of all creation and the Firstborn from the dead.
When Mary gave birth to her firstborn Son, she wrapped Him in swaddling clothes and laid Him in a manger. And this Son, all grown-up, now wraps you, His adopted siblings, in the swaddling clothes of His flesh and blood, joining you to His own crucifixion and resurrection, making you a partaker of all that is His. In the exodus that He has accomplished in Jerusalem, you are the beneficiary. And now He leads you to ‘Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. He leads you to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect. Jesus leads you to Himself, the mediator of the new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.’ (Heb 12: 22-24) Amen.
|Fifth Sunday in Lent|
March 25, 2012
Rev. Dan Welch
Text - Isaiah 11: 11-16
"The Promise of a Cosmopolitan Exodus"
Sometimes it sounds as if God has promised more than He can deliver. We might even wonder whether He’s just pulling our leg. I mean what military planner wouldn’t have to stifle laughter upon being told that the great walls of Jericho would be blown down by lung power alone? Did God wink when He gave that order? Or what doctor wouldn’t chuckle at heaven when Moses told the dying Israelites to gaze up at a bronze snake to be cured of their snakebites? There’s no way he could be serious, is there? And we’re even told that Lot’s sons-in-law thought he was just kidding when he informed them that by sunrise God was going to reduce Sodom to one big ashtray (Gen. 19:14). It sounded far too far-fetched. But as we know, the Lord wasn’t joking around with Joshua, Moses, or Lot. He was serious, dead serious.
So also, as impossible, even laughable, as it seemed, the Lord wasn’t kidding when He told old childless Abraham that through him would arise descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sands on the seashore. God meant what He said. Through this one man, Christ would bless all the nations of the earth. It sounded as if God had bitten off more than He could chew. In fact, when eavesdropping on her husband’s visit with God, Mrs. Abraham began to giggle when she overheard that she, at her age, was to be a mother. So about a year later, when Sarah, at the youthful age of—ahem—ninety years, held her baby boy in her arms, Abraham gave him the name Isaac, which means laughter (Gen 21:3). You see, it was God who had the last laugh, as He always does. While His incredulous people chuckle and shake their heads, He comes through and does what He says, without fail.
But always without fail? What about this promise preached by Isaiah, that Abraham’s descendants, scattered here, there and everywhere, would be gathered once more to Jerusalem? Sure, in days of old the Lord brought the Israelites out of one nation, Egypt. But the prophet says here that another exodus is coming, one in which God will extend His hand to recover the remnant of His people not only from Egypt, but from Assyria, Cush, Elam, Babylonia, Hamath, and the islands of the sea. Hey, Isaiah, while you’re at it, why not tack on America and Australia, Germany and Mexico, Russia and Japan? And why limit it to just the Israelites? Why not include the Gentiles as well in this cosmopolitan exodus? “That’s exactly what I’ve done,” Isaiah might well respond, for he goes on to preach that “[God] will raise a banner for the [Gentile] nations and gather the exiles of Israel . . . from the four quarters of the earth” (11:12).
But how could these things be? How could the heavenly Father rescue His captive children from all over the globe, remove every barrier that stands in their way, build a highway for them to travel upon, and lead them safe and sound to the holy city? How could men and women, Jews and Gentiles, young and old, be so closely linked together that jealousy departs and oppression ceases? How is it possible that these folks could overcome every enemy, represented by Isaiah as Philistines, Edomites, Moabites, and Ammonites? Stand beside giggling Sarah if you’re so inclined, laugh at the seeming impossibility of it all, but remember Who it is that always has the last laugh.
But hold back your laughter long enough to enter with muted awe into that rustic birthing room in David’s hometown of Bethlehem. There in a feed trough lies an infant like all other babies, yet also unlike any other. For here is God in the flesh, come down to reign over a nation whose citizens are scattered over the four corners of the world.
Hold back your laughter long enough to listen to what this One preaches, that when He is lifted up on the cross, He “will draw all people to [himself]” (Jn 12:32). Hear Him when He says that He will be a shepherd not only over the flock of the Jews, but the flock of Gentiles as well, so there will be one flock and one shepherd (Jn 10:16). Pay close attention to the words by which He sends out His apostles, that they go into all the world and make disciples of all nations, by baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and by teaching them to observe all that He has commanded them (Mt 28:20).
And stifle every hint of laughter, when the Seed of Abraham undergoes His own bloody exodus from the city of Jerusalem, up the mount called Golgotha, onto the tree of the knowledge that God loves you. Let the demons laugh, but you keep silent at the sound of Roman hammers driving Roman steel through royal flesh; at the sound of His preaching, even while dying, from the pulpit of the cross; at the sound of His final breath, as those lungs, which breathed life into Adam, now breathe life back into all of us creatures of dust. Keep silent laugh no more, as His holy corpse is laid to rest. Wait one day. Wait two. Wait three.
And then, if you want to laugh, then by all means, when our resurrected Jesus climbs out of the grave on day three, then laugh with all the joy you can muster as the soldiers guarding His tomb faint like dead men, as demons shriek in astonished horror, as the world strips off her black garment of mourning to greet the Creator and Savior of all, alive once more, never to die again! Laugh joyfully and triumphantly, because God has accomplished the impossible. And all of it, every last bit of it, He has done for you and me!
Now all that Isaiah foretold is fulfilled. Lift up your eyes and see all the nations turned upside down; see spilling out of them men and women, boys and girls, of every race, spilling out and streaming to Jesus. From Assyria to America, from Egypt to Japan, from the four corners of the globe, those once chained in sin are freed in Jesus. In His own bloody exodus from the city of Jerusalem, the Son of God has paved the way for all of you—for the whole wide world—to enter the heavenly Jerusalem, the Church of the living God. You join them, you children of Abraham; no matter who you are or what you’ve done, you are a member of this pilgrim throng. Sin, death, shame, regret, failure—they’re all gone! They have no power, no claim over the children of God. They’re drowned in the waters of the Sea reddened by heaven’s blood. Sin, accuses us no more! Death now dies! Satan is defeated! Our new and greater Moses has rescued us from the deepest depths of the deepest dungeons in the deepest, darkest, most depraved Egypts of the world. It’s done. It is finished. The exodus of exoduses has been accomplished by the Lord of lords, all to bring you into the Holy of Holies above.
Without fail, Jesus has done it all. And He who sits in the heavens, at the Father’s right hand, He laughs. And we laugh with Him. Yes, even in Lent! Because He has kept His promise. The last laugh is His, as well as ours, God has kept His Word, now as always. Amen!
|Fourth Sunday in Lent|
March 18, 2012
Rev. Dan Welch
Text - Ezra 1: 1-4
"Exile and Return from Our Babylons"
God is not a cantankerous hothead who’s ready to blow up at the drop of a hat. He’s long-tempered, slow to anger, quick to forgive. In the days of Noah, He gave the world’s population 120 years to repent before liquidating them. He put up with Nineveh’s murderous ways for many a day before sending Jonah—and even then he gave them forty more days to repent. And He put up with all of Jonah’s bellyaching at the same time! He was patient with Jacob’s deceptions, Solomon’s womanizing, and—most amazing of all—He’s patient even with the likes of you and me.
But be warned. There is a limit. There does come a point when the heavenly Father puts every kid’s least favorite proverb into practice, namely, “Spare the rod and spoil the child.” Just ask His rebellious son Israel; he’ll tell you all about how that rod of paternal discipline feels across one’s backside. For over two hundred years God bombarded His people with prophet after prophet, all preaching variations of the same sermon: Turn back to the true God, or He will turn His face away from you. From Amos to Isaiah, Hosea to Jeremiah, they all read Israel’s upcoming obituary, but the hearers for the most part either laughed or shrugged the message off. Or they killed the messenger. After all, they’d heard this stuff before. “Yeah, the last prophet preached the same thing and lo and behold Rev. Chicken Little, the sky hasn’t fallen yet.”
Oh, but fall it did, with the whole weight of Babylon pressing it down. This superpower, under King Nebuchadnezzar, bulldozed Jerusalem, ground her temple to dust, and reduced even her wealthiest citizens to a ragtag band of prisoners of war. They were marched off to Babylon with their backs reddened by the rod of discipline, their ears full of the divine words that had gone unheeded. Homeless and hopeless into exile they went.
Well, actually, they were homeless, but not hopeless. For as the Lord had informed Abraham how many years Israel would be stuck in Egypt, so He had told Jeremiah how long his nation would call Babylon “home-sour-home.” It would be seventy years, plenty of time to take stock of how much they had invested in idolatry and the unprofitable dividends it paid. For the wages of rebellion is exile, but the gift of God is homecoming, in God’s time and in God’s way, but all according to grace.
And so, according to grace, Babylon’s bubble burst as Persia moved up to the number one world power. According to grace, Cyrus, king of Persia, issued an edict that all exiled Israelites were free to head home. And according to grace, men like Ezra stepped into Moses’ shoes to lead the children of Abraham out of the sewer reeking of idolatry and falsehood back into the land flowing with milk and honey.
That’s the kind of God the Israelites had. And that’s the kind of God you have too. He is the same yesterday, today, tomorrow, next year, and forever. He brings Abraham out of exile. He takes Jacob by the hand and brings him back to his fatherland. He escorts Israel out of Egypt and through the Red Sea. He pulls His people out of the quicksand of Babylon and sets them on the solid ground of Canaan. And He has done the same for you, no matter what or where your own Babylon may have been.
Is your Babylon the land of addiction, where your whole life revolves around the next drink, the next fix, the next trip to the casino, the next whatever that provides that high you don’t think you can live without? From the Babylonian land of addiction, Jesus has delivered you. He’s the God who welcomes all. He tears down your prisons, keeps the enemy at bay, and carries you out of Babylon. He will do it, and He has done it. Because He wants you to be His, and His alone. And He has done and will do what it takes to make that happen.
Or is your Babylon the land of pleasure, where every dollar you earn, every free hour you have, is spent in doing whatever makes your skin tingle or just puts a self-satisfied smile on your face? From the Babylonian land of pleasure, Jesus has delivered you. He has come to show you that true and lasting pleasure is found solely in Him and His love. The joy with which He fills you outlasts and outlives every passing pleasure that this world holds before your eyes. There is no greater joy than being able to lay your head down on the pillow every night with a clean conscience—a conscience clean not because you’ve passed the day without sinning, but because you know and believe that your sins are forgiven in Christ. No matter big they are, the love of Jesus is always bigger.
Or is your Babylon simply the going-through-the-motions life, a sad existence covered by a fake smile and well-practiced laugh? You have your career, your family, your friends—all of which give the appearance that life is fine and dandy. But under this outward disguise is sheer emptiness, a black hole of despair that sucks into it every single aspect of your life. From this Babylon too, Christ is your deliverer. He isn’t content just to take away your sins and death; He also fills your life with Himself, with His own life. And where He is, there is contentment, no matter what your circumstances, rich or poor, healthy or sick. It’s the contentment of knowing that you really do matter to God, that your life, your job, your marriage, your children, your all, really and truly matter to Him. It’s the contentment of knowing that in your actions as spouse, parent, or worker, Christ is active, using what you do, to do good to and for your neighbor.
Whatever your Babylon, whatever that place of captivity and exile, it can’t keep you captive, because you are one for whom Jesus died. His crucifixion tree is the sledgehammer that pounds away at every wall that bars you in. As Samson once tore the gates of a city from the earth and carried them high on a hill, so has the greater Samson wrecked the gates of every Babylon of addiction, every Babylon of pleasure, every Babylon of a lifeless life to bring you home to Himself. He didn’t rest until it was done. As He brought forth His own resurrected body from the tomb, so has He raised you to life in His name and brought you forth alive again into the kingdom of God.
No, God is not a cantankerous hothead who’s ready to blow up at the drop of a hat. He’s long-tempered with you, slow to be angry with you, quick to forgive you. And that’s the way He is because, well, that’s just the way He is with you and for you in Christ Jesus. And He will never change. He’s the God Who’s on your side. And because of that, you need fear no Babylon. The Lord Jesus has conquered them all for you.
|Third Sunday in Lent|
March 11, 2011
Rev. Dan Welch
Text - Exodus 14
"Our of Egypt I Have Called My Son"
Thus says the Lord to you, O Egypt: “Seven years of famine were barreling toward you, seven horrible years in which your men would be reduced to bags of bones, … But I pitied you, a nation that did not even acknowledge me, much less worship me. I sent you a savior, Joseph, through whom I warned you of the famine to come, planned for your deliverance, and made you the hope of all the nations around you. When the famine began, your storehouses were chock-full, spilling over with grain. And that food lasted you not three or four not five or six, but all seven years of famine. Neighboring countries emptied their pockets into your coffers to feed their starving families. I exalted you, Egypt, as the breadbasket of the world.
“But, you, O forgetful nation, how have you shown your gratitude? What kind of thankoffering have you sacrificed to me? The very people who were your freedom from famine—my people, the descendants of Joseph—these people you shackle in chains. The nation by which your infants were fed, the infants of that nation you rip from their mothers to throw them into the Nile to die. Is this how you thank the God of heaven for saving you, by making the stench of your evil waft heavenward? O ungrateful nation! O thankless Egypt!”
It’s easy to sit here in America, over three thousand years and five thousand miles from Egypt, and wag our accusatory fingers at that bad, bad nation. “We’d never be so ungrateful to God and we would never let harm come to small children. How could they?”
But the hard, cutting truth is that as a nation and as individuals, we’re really no different. There’s no real difference between the Egyptians back then and us today. We’re ungrateful, too. Think about it. Even though none of us would be so crass as to say, “God didn’t give me this food, this home, this career—I earned it!” in our thoughts and by our actions we reveal what we really believe. If we survive a famine— a hard time in whatever form that might come—it’s because our work ethic or our good planning pulled us through, right? We think we would rescue the Hebrew children, but we’re citizens of a land that has butchered millions of children in those Nile Rivers disguised as abortion clinics. And what seriously have we done to try and stop the bloodshed? We have no excuse. We have gone the way of Egypt—ungrateful, thankless Egypt.
And that’s also the way many in Israel had gone, even while enslaved within that very country. Though they lamented their bondage, they were, in many ways, quite happy with life under Pharaoh. Their later words and actions unmask them. No more than a few days after they left their chains behind, they were already bellyaching to Moses about bringing them out of Egypt (Ex 14:11–12). If they weren’t complaining about the water, they were bickering about the manna. And if they weren’t bickering about the manna, they were whining about the terrain. And it they weren’t whining about the terrain, they were criticizing Moses himself. That man probably felt as if he was taking care of a nursery of bawling, dirty-diapered babies most of the time. But that’s how it goes with those with Egyptians hearts.
As we are especially mindful during this season of Lent, it’s time to repent. It’s not just ancient Egypt or Israel who needed to do some repenting, it’s us today. It’s time for us to repent, to turn away from our sin and to turn toward God in faith. It’s time to stop evading the sharp blade of truth, no matter how deep it cuts, no matter how much we bleed. Because it’s only in facing the truth of who we are as sinners that we also come to know who God is as our only hope, our only Savior.
What He has accomplished for Israel, He has also accomplished for you and me. Down into Egypt the Lord sent Moses, staff in hand, as His chosen man. But it was no Moses that the Lord sent down to save you. As the old saying goes, ‘If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.’ So down into this world came the Lord Himself, not just to do things right, but to do them flawlessly. He came not as an eighty-year-old man, as did Moses, but as a Baby born to Mary, our own flesh and blood.
The Lord leveled ten plagues against the Egyptians before Pharaoh finally buckled under and let the Israelites go. But the Lord Jesus came not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. The only one plagued by Christ was the pharaoh of hell, whom Jesus attacked time and again, not with locusts or hail, but with His living words. In the ninth plague against Egypt, three days of darkness engulfed the land (Ex 10:22), followed by the tenth plague, when all Egyptian firstborn sons died. But when our Lord Jesus came to free us, He endured the three hours of darkness on the cross (Lk 23:44), followed by His own death—He, the firstborn of the Father.
The Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, let the sin of Egypt, the sin of America, your very own sin, take Him away as the final Passover Lamb. His blood now marks not a doorpost and lintel but you. For that blood of Jesus has been baptized onto you. The blood of that Lamb has been drunk by you, into you, in the Lord’s Supper. The destroying angel puts his sword into it’s sheath when he sees that blood, because it is the blood that shields you from everlasting destruction, the blessed crimson light that halts his destroying hand.
Not out of Egypt has the Lord led you, but out of a captivity to the grave. He came not just to give you life but to give it to you abundantly, life to the full (Jn 10: 10). And those who live and believe in Jesus will never die. Egypt’s chains are reduced to threads. Pharaoh’s hands grow limp. You are free.
Out of Egypt God called Israel. Out of Egypt God has called you. Out of Egypt and into His kingdom. You are God’s special treasure among all the peoples of the earth. You are a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (1 Ptr 2:9). The dark days of exile have come to an end. The day of salvation has dawned, a day that shall never end. Amen!
|Second Sunday in Lent|
March 4, 2012
Rev. Dan Welch
Text - Genesis 28: 10-17
"Jacob the Heel Comes Home"
As the mother gave birth to twin boys, the second child came out grabbing his older brother’s heel (Gen 25:26). So he got the not-so-lofty name of ya‘aqob, which basically means “heel.” Now you might think that with a name like that, little ya‘aqob was destined to get, well, walked all over by those around him, but just the opposite is true. As it turns out, this heel-boy, Jacob, was quite the expert at walking all over others, but always in a sneaky kind of way. And no one did he deceive more than his own family—most notably when he fooled his old, blind father into giving him the blessing of the firstborn that belonged to his brother, Esau. But this kind of trickery turned out to be Jacob’s Achilles’ heel, because his deception nearly planted him 6 feet under when Esau discovered what his kid brother had done. (And you thought you had problems with annoying siblings!) So to save his own skin, Jacob heads for the hills, exiled from the Promised Land, with little more than the clothes on his back.
I take that back. He didn’t have “little more” than the clothes on his back; in fact, he had a lot more, especially after his overnight stay at Bethel. For there God put these words into the pocket of his heart. A word that said, “I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac.” (28:13). A word that said, “All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring” (v 14). And a word that said, “I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go” (v 15). So, with those words playing over and over in his mind, Jacob walked onward. His back was toward everything he had known, his face toward the unknown, but with this certain promise accompanying him: that God traveled alongside of him.
There are plenty of Jacobs here this morning, in fact, a whole church full of them. Because the more things change, the more they stay the same. As it was with Jacob, so it is with you. The Lord walks beside you. The Lord slips His words into the pocket of your heart too; and, really, that’s all you need. As Martin Luther wrote it, and as we sing it in “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”: “Take they our life, Goods, fame, child, and wife, Though these all be gone, Our vict’ry has been won; The Kingdom ours remaineth” (LSB 656:4). His Word remains ours. It doesn’t matter if you clear four figures a year or six; it doesn’t matter if the roof over your head is attached to a shack or a mansion; the truth is, in the blink of an eye, it could all be gone, like it was for many in Indiana and other states south of here by Tornadoes over the last couple of days. Even if you should lose all your earthly belongings, if you’re left with less than what the exile Jacob had, then what will you have? Still everything. For as St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 3, “whether... the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.” (1 Corinthians 3:22–23).
Just look at what a kind and gracious Father we have! He not only promises to feed us, clothe us, protect us, and walk with us through thick and thin. He has proven time after time that He will. What God promises, He will do.
See what happened to Jacob, our fellow exile? He left home with no more worldly goods than he could sling over his shoulder. When he reaches his relatives’ home, his uncle gives him a job as a shepherd. And for the next twenty years, he labors away, those divine words still echoing inside his head: “I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac… All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring... I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go” (vv 13–15). And for the next twenty years, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob—the Triune God—blessed this exiled son. Because at the end of those two decades the man who had arrived empty-handed had more than a thousand pairs of hands could hold: a gigantic family, and huge flocks and herds of sheep and goats, cattle and donkeys!
And so the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob -the Triune God- also blesses you. He gives you a family, puts food on your table, clothing on your back, shoes on your feet, money in your bank, a roof over your head, and lots more. He not only promises, but He also delivers the goods. If He knows how many hairs are on your head, doesn’t He know all your needs? And won’t He provide exactly what you need? Yes! He has, He does, and He will! He does it because you are His beloved child, just like Jacob was. And He does the same thing for you that He did for Jacob: He brings you home. As He brought Abraham and Sarah out of Egypt and back to Canaan; so after blessing Jacob through twenty years of exile, He prepared the way for this lost son to step foot in the Promised Land once more. Our Lord, however, had one more blessing to bestow upon this son named Heel. He met Jacob at the river, wrestled with him all night, and then, as the sun rose, He changed Jacob’s name to Israel. No more would he be called by the name Heel, but the name that means “one who struggles with God,” for he ‘struggled with God and with men, and overcame’ (Gen 32:28). Then he crossed the river to meet his brother, from whom he had run away from so many years before, to discover that Esau had long since buried the hatchet. Brother to brother, they embraced in forgiveness and peace. Jacob’s, or rather Israel’s, exile had ended. God had brought him home again.
And so the God of Israel does for you. Into a world where men sell their birthright for a bowl of lentil soup (like Esau did); into a world where sons fool old, blind fathers (like Jacob did); into a world where brothers hate brothers, where Cains murder Abels and Esaus plan vengeance against Jacobs; into a world where sinners covet and worship the creature rather than the Creator; into such a messed-up world the Son of the Father came down. In love He came down to join you in your exile, to walk in the shoes of all Jacobs, and to accomplish for you and me what we couldn’t even begin to accomplish for ourselves. He came to soak up all the hatred that Cain had for Abel, Esau had for Jacob, and you have for those who hurt you. In mercy, He came into our exile, made all sins His own, and hung in our place on the cross as the Judge of heaven poured into Him the wrath that we had earned. Jesus became Jacob the deceiver, Esau the hater, you and me the sinful, whatever the sin may be, He became them all to pay for them all with His own blood.
And He has brought you here, to your home, to the land of Canaan, called the Church, the promised land of grace. At the river of Baptism He has figuratively changed your name to Israel, like He literally did for Jacob, because in Jesus you, too, have struggled and have overcome. To nourish you in this spiritual struggle He gives you something much better than a bowl of lentil soup, He gives you His own Son’s body and blood with the bread and wine to forgive you and strengthen you throughout your journey here on earth. He also slips His Word of promise into your heart to keep you going until you reach the Promised Land of heaven which is waiting for you because of Jacob’s descendant Jesus Christ. Through Him you are blessed indeed! Amen!
|First Sunday in Lent|
February 26, 2012
Rev. Dan Welch
Text - Genesis 12:10-20
There goes Abram, heading down to the land of pyramids. He’s going the wrong way, isn’t he? Didn’t God say that Canaan, the land of the Jordan, the Holy Land was his to have? Yes, but desperate times call for desperate measures. And Abram desperately needs to feed some hungry mouths- his own, Sarai’s, and plenty of others. So with famine devouring Canaan, he set his sights on the lush fields of Egypt.
There goes Abram, revealing his plan to his beautiful wife Sarai. “Tell these foreigners you’re my sister,” he says, “or I might find my head at the wrong end of a rope.” Abram’s going the wrong way, isn’t he, trying to pull the wool over the eyes of the Egyptians? Shouldn’t he just have kept his mouth shut, or told the truth and suffered the consequences?
And there goes Pharaoh, whisking this retirement-age beauty queen into his royal harem. Pharaoh is definitely going the wrong way too, abusing his powers to suit his pleasure. And he’s about to find that out the hard way, because he hasn’t nabbed just any ordinary lady, no Jane Doe, but the patriarch’s wife, the one who will one day give birth to the son God promised - Isaac. Unbeknownst to him, Egypt’s king just stirred up a heavenly hornet’s nest.
So there come the plagues, crashing into Pharaoh’s house, causing who-knows-what to happen; but whatever it was, it wasn’t pretty. Unlike a much later Pharaoh, however, this king doesn’t need a ton of plagues to arm-twist him into submission. He escorts Sarai to her home, though quite upset with Abram for hiding the fact that Miss Sarai was actually a Mrs. “Now then, here is your wife. Take her and go!” (12:19). And the patriarch does go, arm-in-arm with his beloved, saying good-bye to Egypt for good. But he doesn’t leave empty-handed and empty-pocketed. For Sarai’s sake, the king had opened wide his wallet, giving Abram sheep, oxen, donkeys, servants, and camels. Protected by grace, enriched by Egypt, and blessed by God, the father of faith heads home to the Promised Land, where God has left the light on for him.
Amazing, isn’t it? But here’s the most amazing thing of all: all these things happened and were written down for us. Because the story of Abram—later Abraham—is Israel’s story, and Israel’s story is the story of Jesus, and the story of Jesus is our story—the narrative of our exile and return to the God of salvation.
What happened to father Abraham happened because of his sons, yet to be born. Not three generations would go by before grandson Jacob and great-grandsons Joseph and his eleven brothers would all wind up in Egypt because of a famine. In time, they would get in hot water with Pharaoh. In the days of Moses, God would devastate Egypt with plagues—a whopping ten of them. Then, finally, this king would knuckle under heaven’s pressure and free the children of Abraham, but not before the Egyptians had emptied their own wallets to fill those of their former slaves—a well-deserved back pay for years of un-reimbursed hard labor. So there go the Israelites—protected by grace, enriched by Egypt, and blessed by God—finally homeward bound, where God had left the light on for them as well. Same song, second verse.
But the song still goes on. Abraham and the Israelites are the trailblazers for the path we now travel. That’s because no matter what city and state are inscribed on our birth certificate, here is the actual truth: we all were conceived and born in Egypt—a far worse Egypt than Abraham entered, ruled by a far worse tyrant than Pharaoh, under a slavery far, far worse than that suffered by Israel.
You see, Egypt is a picture of the land of the shadow of death, the country called sin. And Pharaoh is the devil’s puppet. He is like the serpent in Eden, the outward mask of the inward demon, who rules the land of sin with an iron rod forged in the flames of hell. What’s more, the slavery suffered in Egypt long ago is really a picture of the shackles that bind all people of all times—the slavery to sin that leads to the grave and without Christ plunges one into the lake of fire.
God’s message for us, the sons and daughters of Abraham, is clear: “Repent!” Turn from your sin and toward God in faith. Repent, because worse than the fact that you and I were born in the land of sin, we keep going back to it! Worse than the fact that we were slaves to sin, we have kept the chains, willingly strapping them on still, enjoying the servitude to lust, greed, power, wealth, vanity—whatever the poisonous weeds are that grow so well on Egyptian soil. “Repent!” God says. The night of slavery is over. Just like Sarah was set free, so now we are, too. Come to your true home; come to Zion, the city of the living God, to the promised land of Jesus. Come home, for God has left the light of His grace on for you, shining in the face of Him who is the Light of the world. Come out of Egypt. Come out of the land of slavery. The way has been prepared for you and me.
Abraham’s story is Israel’s story, and Israel’s story is the story of Jesus, and the story of Jesus is the story of your salvation. You see, God protected Sarah’s womb from Pharaoh so that, in the end, Jesus might be born for you. From Abraham’s seed came Isaac through the womb of Sarah; from Isaac’s seed came Jacob through the womb of Rebekah; from Jacob’s seed came Judah through the womb of Leah; and, finally from no man’s seed, but conceived by the Holy Spirit, the promised Seed Himself, Jesus came through the womb of the Virgin Mary. He came for you, to make you sons and daughters of Abraham by faith, heirs of eternal life in heaven and to fill your life on earth with all of God’s blessings of body and soul right now. As we heard today in our Epistle reading, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly light” (James 1: 17).
And there He goes, the light of the world, Jesus, coming down from heaven to the Egypt of sin and death, all to redeem you and make you His own. And not only you but Abraham and Sarah, and, yes, Pharaoh and his concubines, Mary and Joseph—all of them and all of us. He goes head-to-head with the Egypt of sin and death, the pharaoh of hell itself. In His 40 days of fasting in the desert Jesus resisted all the devil’s temptations. And then in a winner-take-all battle at the cross, Jesus wins by losing, He lives by dying, He saves you by letting Himself be condemned and die, only to defeat death by rising again! He did this for the Israelite babies born back in Moses day who had been thrown in the Nile to drown. He does it for the unborn of our day murdered in the womb. For the women forced into harems to those who willingly defile their bodies—He is born and dies. For the men who betray their wives to those who fantasize about doing so—He is born and dies. For one and all, the bad and worse, rich and poor, black and white—He is born, suffers the plague of God’s wrath to fall upon Him, and in so doing smashes the chains that bind us.
Rejoice, you are free! You are redeemed! No longer are you an alien and exile from the promised land. You are a citizen of God’s kingdom by grace, by the One who bought your citizenship with His own blood shed on the cross. He has led you forth from the place of captivity and death, washed you clean in the waters of Baptism, (just like He did for Cashton this morning) and He’s filled your body and soul with the riches of the kingdom of heaven. The light is on for you, because you stand in the light of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Amen.
|Trransfiguration of Our Lord|
February 19, 2012
Rev. Dan Welch
Text - II Kings 2:1-12
Elijah the prophet did incredible things. He lived about 850 years before Jesus was born. Not much is known of his early life. He arrived on the scene, calling Israel to return to the Lord in repentance and to turn away from worshipping an idol called Baal. He prophesied for 15 years or so and then was gone.
But during his ministry he did incredible things. We heard about something incredible in the Old Testament reading. Elijah and Elisha came to the Jordan River. Elijah took off his cloak and struck the water. The water spread apart, and the two of them crossed on a dry river bed. Incredible.
Earlier in his ministry the region had been going through a severe drought. Food was scarce, especially for the poor. Elijah met a widow who had a young son. The mother and boy had enough flour and oil for one more meal. Then they would starve. Elijah came up and asked the woman to make him a meal. She did. What happened next was incredible. The flour and oil did not run out. Day after day they had enough to eat. It was like the Energizer Bunny. The flour and oil kept going and going and going so they would survive the drought.
Then the widow’s son died unexpectedly. The widow accused Elijah of bringing much grief into her life. What happened next was incredible. Elijah took the boy to an upper room and stretched out over him. Three times he pleaded with the Lord to give the boy’s life back. The Lord did! The boy started to breathe again. Elijah had done an incredible miracle, and the widow believed that Elijah was indeed a man sent from God.
Another time Elijah was sent to challenge the king of Israel—Ahab—who had married a woman named Jezebel. Jezebel had brought hundreds of false prophets into Israel to lead the people to worship Baal. She was a powerful and vengeful queen. In order to call the people back to the Lord, Elijah challenged 850 false prophets to a contest. An altar was built and the terms were simple: call down fire from above to destroy the sacrifice on the altar. The false prophets danced and prayed to their gods and cut themselves for hours. Nothing happened. Elijah even threw in some teasing and jeers. Then Elijah had the altar soaked with water. He prayed. What happened next was incredible. The true God of Israel burned everything—flames engulfed the sacrifice, altar and water. It was obvious who the true Lord was and who the people were to follow and worship.
Then the time came for Elijah to hand off his prophetic duties to Elisha. He was to be taken up from this world, and once again how this happened was incredible. After a day of traveling from place to place, the time came. Elijah and Elisha were standing together when a fiery chariot and horses came out of the sky. We’re not sure just how it happened, but Elijah was scooped up and taken away. Read carefully what happened and you realize Elijah did not die. He was one of two people in the Bible who did not go through death when they left this world. He was just taken up in the fiery chariot to be with the Lord. Incredible.
Elijah did incredible things, and that’s why he seems so strange and far away from us and our lives. It’s hard to relate to someone who is so different and distant from people who live rather uneventful lives like we do. More than 2900 years separate us. His life was filled with eye popping, miraculous moments of God’s power and glory. We live rather uneventful lives.
Most days are just routine. If you have children, the days are filled with driving to school, trying to get everyone to where they need to be on time. We have lots more to eat than that widow did, but somehow it turns out to be fast food in the car or a quick microwave meal because we’re so tired. No Energizer Bunny to keep us going.
Or if you have an empty nest, the days seem to run together. It’s the same old things each day. Eat, clean, TV, run a couple errands. Do it again and again and again. Elijah sure lived an eventful life, but our days are so much same old, same old.
Oh, we do have those moments when something out of the ordinary happens. A trip to see the grandkids. A concert. Winning a championship game. A nice night out just the two of you. A planned vacation. A surprise party. It’s exciting for a while, but then it’s back to the routines once again. The eventful moments seem to fly by and become a memory so quick, while Elijah’s big moments are remembered for 2900 years.
Elijah—incredible. You and me—uneventful.
Except . . . for all the incredible things Elijah did, he was more like you and me than we may realize. When you look behind the miracles to see Elijah the person, you find someone who is lonely and afraid. Surprised? You would think seeing what all God did through him, that he would be incredibly strong and confident. But he had his moments. Much of his time he was alone. One time he was so down that he believed he was the only person who still believed in the true God. Now that’s lonely. And after that great victory over the false prophets, what does Elijah do? He finds out that Queen Jezebel is hopping mad and wants him dead. So he runs for his life. He’s scared and hides.
Even this great man of God had his moments of weakness, times when he was filled with doubts. Now that I can identify with, and so can you.
I remember a cartoon I saw a few years ago. It was a school picnic for a bunch of teenagers. Kids are all around. In the center is a young girl. She’s talking on the phone. She says, “I’m so glad you called. I was so lonely.” In the midst of all those classmates, she was lonely. How close and real that loneliness is for each one of us. We’re busy and so connected with phones and Facebook and text messages, yet deep inside we long for close relationships that would take away the loneliness. So many people with so many ways to keep in touch; yet so few close relationships, so much loneliness.
And we’re afraid of so many things. What do you fear? A disaster that takes away your home and things. A death of someone you love. The loss of your mind with dementia. A broken relationship. Crime violating your home or your body. Financial setbacks. The loss of your relationship with the Lord due to some sinful weakness in your life or growing doubts about Him. Elijah feared for his life, and so do we.
Elijah the person is not so distant and strange after all.
Now jump ahead some 900 years. Jesus is on a small mountain with Peter, James and John. What happens next is incredible. Jesus suddenly changes. Dazzling white, unbelievably bright, He is transfigured right before the disciples’ eyes. They get a glimpse of Jesus’s glory. And who is there with Jesus? Moses and Elijah. Elijah is back, and he’s talking with Jesus. But Elijah is not the center of attention here. Jesus is. The Father speaks: “This is my Son Whom I love. Listen to him.” Then Elijah disappears and only Jesus is left.
But that focus of attention should not surprise us. It was the same focus when Elijah was a prophet long ago. He did all those incredible things, not to be the center of attention, but to turn the people’s attention to the true God. He called the people back in his day to worship the Lord and Him only, and on that Mount of Transfiguration he does something similar for us. Before Elijah disappears, he calls us to see, to listen to, to turn to, to believe in, to worship, to follow only Jesus. What does he do? It seems so simple and uneventful. It doesn’t look all that incredible. Elijah was simply standing next to Jesus. He was merely talking with Jesus.
But what were they talking about? When Jesus was transfigured, what were they talking about? Incredible things. Not Elijah’s incredible things, but about the incredible things Jesus would do in Jerusalem. You see, when Jesus comes down from this mountain, He heads into Jerusalem to do incredible things for you and me. Jesus is alone when He does these things. Oh sure, His disciples are there with Him, for a while. But in the Garden of Gethsemane, He prays and they fall asleep. He is arrested and they run away. He will go to the cross alone so that we will never be alone. On that cross, He bears all our loneliness, all our fears. The old familiar hymn has it right. What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear.
Beneath the cross of Jesus, something incredible happens. Our fears and loneliness, our sins and griefs, our moments of weaknesses are given to Jesus, and He takes them as His own.
Then, as if that were not incredible enough, something more happens in Jerusalem. Jesus reappears in glory. The tomb is empty and Jesus is alive, never to leave us. In a way, we’re much like Elijah. He stood next to Jesus and talked to Him. Jesus, risen from the dead, is always standing next to us, ready to listen when we talk with Him.
Yes, He is standing next to us in the uneventful, everyday moments of life. He’s there with us during the errands we run, when we drive through the fast food place and when we collapse exhausted in bed at night. He’s standing with us when we have a same old, same old day or when something exciting has happened. But most of all, He’s standing with us when the loneliness makes us doubt. He’s there when the fears come rushing in.
Think about Elijah. Even though Elijah did some incredible things, I’m sure he would tell us that the most incredible thing of all was standing next to Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration, talking to Him about going to Jerusalem, going to the cross, and rising from the dead. Elijah would not want the focus on himself, as if he were someone incredible. No, Elijah would want us to focus on Jesus because today and every day Jesus is standing beside us. In resurrection glory, Jesus never leaves us or forsakes us. He is always ready to talk to us. And that is an incredible thing indeed! Amen.
|Sixth Sunday After the Epiphany|
February 12, 2010
Rev. Dan Welch
Text - 2 Kings 5: 1-14
When I was a boy I loved watching Saturday morning cartoons. One of my favorites was the Roadrunner and Wyle E. Coyote. If you recall, that Coyote had a terrible habit of falling off of high cliffs to the bottom of the canyon far below. It happened as he futilely, and foolishly chased after the Roadrunner. Sometimes, right after he’d gone over the edge of a cliff, he would hover motionlessly for a moment and then hold up a sign before he fell saying something like “Help!” or “Genius!” or “How about ending this cartoon before I hit?” Sometimes the cartoon writers would mix things up a bit and have a little twig sticking out from the side of the cliff that the coyote would desperately try to cling to. Even if Wyle E. Coyote were to hold on to that twig with all his might, it woldn’t do any good. Sure, he’d hang there for a short time, but then the twig snaps and he falls. It doesn’t matter how strong his grip is. When the twig breaks, he falls.
Today, I’d like for us to keep that picture in mind as we talk about our faith and learn about the faith of a servant girl and the faith of a powerful military commander. You see, the key to a great faith is not how strong the faith is but what the faith is holding on to. If faith is holding on to a breakable twig, then no matter how strong the grip is, that faith will fall, just like Wyle E. Coyote. But faith that holds on to the promises of the Lord, that faith will never fall. Because the Lord’s strong promises never break and they never fail!
As our text opens up, we’re taken to the kingdom of Aram, a great military power located where the nation of Syria is today. It’s the ninth century before the Lord Jesus would be born. We meet a man named Naaman, who was one of Aram’s leading commanders, a man of great power who was accustomed to being in control. At this time, military bands from Aram had been conducting raids into the surrounding countries, including Israel. And one of these raids captured a young Israelite girl, who became a servant to Naaman’s wife.
This girl trusted in the LORD, the one true God. She trusted in His mercy and His might. What was the basis for her faith? Without a doubt, she heard the LORD’s promises spoken either by one of the prophets or her parents back in her home country of Israel. The greatest promise she would have heard was how in His mercy the LORD would send the Messiah, the anointed Savior, who would bring blessings not only to Israel but to all nations. That was the LORD’s promise, made to her forefathers and passed down through the generations. This servant girl from Israel held on to the LORD’s promise even while away from her family and in a strange land. She knew God’s promise would not break, like a brittle twig.
Her faith that held on to the LORD’s promises showed itself in the way she lived her life. As we can see in our reading, her faith shined with the light of love and confidence. She had every reason to hate Naaman and wish evil on him. He was responsible for stealing her away from her family and home. He hurt her country. He had ruined her future, condemning her to a life of slavery. And the odor and sight of his leprosy, eating away his skin, could make it disgusting just to be around him. Yes, she had every reason to hate him.
But the love of the LORD compelled her. By faith she knew the great love that the LORD had for her, even though she too, like all people, was sinful. She knew of God’s great love that promised a Savior for her. Faith that holds on to the Lord’s promises shows itself with acts of love. What’s more, such a faith has the confidence that the Lord is always able and willing to help in the best way possible.
So, her faith speaks with love and confidence: “If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” Her faith shines all the more brightly when we contrast it with the attitude of the Israel’s king, Joram. The king of Israel was suppose to lead his people with examples of faith and service to the LORD God. But not this king. When Naaman comes with the letter asking for healing, king Joram doesn’t turn to the LORD. He doesn’t seek out the LORD’s prophet and the LORD’s Word, because this king doesn’t trust in the LORD. He doesn’t hold on to the God’s promises. He holds on to breakable twigs that snap under pressure.
So his response is anger and outrage. Oh, he tries to sound religious and humble saying, “Am I God?” But it’s an act. He tries to turn the situation to his political advantage, expressing worry about what might happen between Israel and Aram and blaming the Aram’s king for trying to pick a fight. We don’t see any proof of faith’s love and confidence at work in King Joram.
What about you and me? Does our faith show itself clearly like the little servant girl’s, trusting and confident, or is it more like the king’s, weak and wobbly? As you and I look at our lives, I think we see a bit of both, don’t we? Like the little girl, you know and trust God’s promises. You trust in Jesus, the Messiah, your only Savior from sin and death. At times your faith shows itself with love and confidence. But, if we examine our hearts honestly, we see that sometimes we’re like the king. Instead of love and forgiveness, anger and hate can eat away at us. It’s so hard to forgive and love those who’ve hurt and wronged us or who look and act so much differently than we do. Instead of love we heap blame on others. Instead of confidence we so easily worry about our inabilities or we worry about the future, failing to remember that God can do anything. Instead of confidence that God knows best, we complain that life isn’t fair to us.
What’s our problem? So often we are holding on to twigs instead of God’s unbreakable promises. When those twigs snap, we fall into the sins of worrying, blaming, complaining, anger, and even hate. Even though we deserve to be left in the pit of our sins forever, the LORD is faithful to His promises. He keeps bringing His promises to us through His Word, through Baptism, and through the Lord’s Supper. He promises that Jesus covers your anger and hate with His life of love. He promises that Jesus covers your blaming, worrying, and complaining, with His perfect confidence that accepted everything that His Father in heaven sent Him. He promises that Jesus is with you to protect you and to help you fight against those sins so that you don’t fall back into that pit again. He promises that Jesus gives you the Holy Spirit so that you can reach out in love and confidence and share God’s promise with others, even with unlikable people, just like the little servant girl did.
After Naaman got the message of hope, he came to Elisha’s house expecting to see some spectacular sign. He expected the prophet to come out and wave his hand over the leprosy and call on the name of the LORD. But he didn’t even get to see the prophet. Elisha only sent a messenger to tell him to go and wash in the Jordan River in Israel, and to do so seven times, and then he’d be healed of his horrible disease.
Naaman didn’t accept this promise. He didn’t believe it. His faith was looking for a spectacular sign like Elisha waving his hands. Or he wanted some sort of logical proof. The promise seemed like nonsense. How could washing in dirty river water cure leprosy and weren’t the rivers closer to his home even better?
But “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1). Faith trusts the truth not because someone has proved it or it seems logical, but because the One who has made the promise is trustworthy. God was training Naaman to receive His promises, to believe them as the truth, without spectacular signs or logical reasoning, but by faith alone – not faith and spectacular signs, not faith and logical proof, but faith alone.
God’s promises are received by faith alone for they come by grace alone. Naaman’s servants point this out to him. They ask him wouldn’t he have done some great, difficult thing if the prophet had told him to? But the LORD didn’t lay down any hard requirement. He didn’t want Naaman to think that he had earned the LORD’s favor or had somehow made himself worthy of His promise. He was training Naaman to believe that the promise was by grace alone. In other words, Naaman didn’t deserve it at all, but God’s grace, His undeserved love made the promise.
The LORD brought Naaman to see His grace and to receive His promise by faith alone. Acting in the newly created faith, Naaman washes in the Jordan seven times. God’s grace keeps His promise and Naaman is completely healed.
The LORD deals with you and me in the same way. He wants us to hold on to His promises by faith alone, without spectacular signs or logical proof. God wants this faith to trust that His promises come by grace alone. What promises has He made to us? The LORD hasn’t promised physical healing in the way He did for Naaman, so we don’t have that particular promise to hold on to. But He has promised you spiritual healing. All of us were born with the terminal disease called sin. Like leprosy in ancient times, there is no man-made cure for sin, no escape, no hope. Worse than leprosy, sin not only kills the body, it kills the soul. We were born spiritually dead, headed for eternal death in the torments of hell. But the Lord has made you a promise. He promises that through the water of baptism the guilt of sin is washed away. You are clothed with Jesus perfect obedience. Just as God did this for Sofya /Shelby this morning. The blood of Jesus has washed you clean in your baptism, too. Baptism is a greater miracle than Naaman’s cleansing in the Jordan. This promise is received by faith alone. There is no spectacular sign when a baby is baptized. There is no logical reasoning that says that the water of baptism is different than any other water. But God’s promise makes all the difference. Faith holds on to God’s promise.
Both God’s promise and the faith that receive it are gifts of God’s grace. We don’t deserve them. But you can be confident of God’s grace. That’s because of what Jesus has done for you. He has laid down His life on the cross for you. And He has taken up His life again by rising from the dead on Easter. Since the Lord’s grace has given you Jesus, you can be confident of all His promises. Like Naaman, receive them by faith alone, because they come by grace alone.
Hold on to the Lord’s promises. They won’t break or snap. Grip them strongly by faith alone. Grip them confidently because they depend on God’s grace alone. Hold on to the Lord’s promises by keeping those promises in your heart and mind every day throughout the day. Keep them in your heart and mind by holding them before your eyes as your read and hear His word, as you remember your baptism, as you come to the Lord’s house for worship and the Lord’s Supper often. Hold on to the His promises, because the Lord’s promises to you will never break!
|Fifth Sunday After the Epiphany|
February 5, 2012
Rev. Dan Welch
Text - Mark 1: 29-39
"Jesus Brings Eternal Life Out of the Desolate Places"
My name is Peter, and I was one of Jesus’ first disciples. Many say I was the leader of the disciples. I suppose that’s true. I was out front, saying things that got me in trouble. I was a leader in doing things that needed to be corrected. Oh, I know more is written about me than the other disciples, but I often didn’t get things right. There were times I was clueless about what Jesus was doing.
I remember one time right at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. My brother Andrew and I, along with a couple other fishermen, James and John, had just started to follow Jesus. It was the Sabbath Day, and Jesus was teaching in the synagogue. You almost had to be there to understand what was going on. You see, He taught with authority. We had never heard anyone teach like that before. And then He did something incredible. A man was demon-possessed. That demon started to challenge Jesus, and the next thing we knew, the demon was silenced and thrown out of the man, out of the synagogue. Our eyes were wide open; our jaws dropped in amazement.
We left the synagogue and went to my house. I’m not sure all of you know this, but I was married, and my wife’s mother lived with us. She was sick. She had a fever. Now that may not sound like much to you, but we didn’t have much for doctors and medicines back then. When you got a fever, it was serious. You could die from whatever was causing that fever. We were worried.
Jesus walked into our house, and we told Him about her. He went into the room where she was lying down. He took her hand and lifted her up. She was healed! She got busy serving us. What a fine meal we ate that evening! Sure, I was thankful, but, even more, we were beginning to see just what power Jesus had.
And sure enough, the crowds came. People heard about Jesus—that He could heal the sick and was stronger than the demonic powers that haunted them. They lined up at the door and kept bringing and kept bringing and kept bringing people to Him. Finally, we had to stop them so we could shut the door and get some sleep.
When we got up the next morning, the people started coming back, but Jesus wasn’t in the house. We had to go look for Him. We found Him in the strangest place. He was in a desolate place, a kind of secluded, wild, desert area most people avoided. He was praying. That didn’t make sense to me.
You can imagine what I was thinking. Jesus has just started His ministry. He’s got the crowds coming to see Him. People are excited about Him. A few more miracles like this, and we’ll have a small army to work with. No one will be able to resist Jesus. He’ll keep us healthy. He’ll keep away the evil powers that make us afraid. He’ll take charge and get rid of anyone who opposes us. He’ll make life wonderful.
So why was He in a desolate place instead of doing more miracles, instead of building His popularity and fame when He had this chance? We told Him that people were looking for Him. The whole world was coming to Him. And what does He do? He wants to go to other places and preach. He wants to go and tell people to repent of whatever sin is leading them away from God and to believe in Him. I remember His words, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.”
I didn’t understand. We didn’t understand, at least not back then. Now I do. He was in a desolate place because that’s where Jesus confronted His temptations. He was tempted to give up His mission of bringing salvation to a world of sin and demonic evils. He had been sent not to build an army and overthrow governments, but to overcome Satan. He had been sent not to carve out a few square miles of ancient Israel and set up a new Garden of Eden, but to open heaven’s gates to us. His mission was not to become a miracle worker who would satisfy the desires of those who stood in line to see Him, but to do His Father’s will and bring eternal life to all people (Jn 3:16).
That was the temptation facing Jesus. He could stick around this small town called Capernaum and build His own little empire for a select few. But that would have meant abandoning what He came to do. He had been in a desolate place before. In the wilderness, Satan tempted Him with this very temptation—if Jesus would just worship him. Jesus would have none of that! Three years later, in the Garden of Gethsemane, the night He was betrayed, the night He would be beaten and sentenced to die, He was tempted to walk away from His mission of bringing forgiveness, eternal life, and salvation to the whole world.
But Jesus would not give in to the temptation. No, He goes to the most desolate place of all. It is a cross. It is a place teeming with all our sins. It is a place where all our burdens and hurts are gathered together. It is place of punishment, our punishment. It is a place of agony and suffering. It is a place of death. It is a place where even God the Father in heaven abandons Him to the evils of hell.
Yet out of these places of desolation comes our eternal destiny. His mission was to bring forgiveness, to bear our griefs and sins. His mission was to open up heaven’s gate to us. His mission was to bring eternal life. And on Easter morning, He did just that. Out of a desolate tomb, a grave, a place of death, Jesus rises from the dead. Satan defeated. Evil cast aside. Death undone. Sin no longer holding Him down. Mission accomplished. Salvation is won!
Now I understand and believe all this. Back at the beginning I didn’t. Back then I was impressed with the crowds and what I wanted Jesus to do. Back then I was thinking too small, too selfishly. But not Jesus. He would not give in to the temptation of pleasing the crowds. No, He would pray in that desolate place, and then He was on His way to other places to call people to repent and believe in Him. He was on His way to the cross. He was on His way to the grave. But Easter morning proclaims loud and clear that out of the desolate places Jesus brings our eternal destiny.
(Now, taking off the headdress, pausing and then addressing the people directly as their pastor.)
I can understand how Peter could get it wrong at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. He hadn’t yet seen Jesus die. He hadn’t yet walked with Jesus risen from the dead. But what about us?
I’m afraid we don’t always get it. Sometimes we’re more like Peter at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.
How so? Consider our prayer life. Without a doubt, we are to pray to our Lord about anything. He wants us to bring our requests to Him. But sometimes I’m uncomfortable about the bulk of the prayer requests having to do with healing or health, about safety and protection, about jobs and money, and how few prayer requests have to do with the growth of the Church and people believing in Jesus, about people doing what is right in life, about repentance, about stronger devotional lives, about resisting temptation, about our salvation. Certainly we can pray for health and protection and even money, but the bulk of our prayers need to focus on why Jesus came, about our eternal destiny that comes out of the desolate places in Jesus’ life. Have you ever noticed how in the Lord’s Prayer, the prayer Jesus taught His disciples to pray, how there is only one petition on physical life, “Give us this day our daily bread,” and the rest of the petitions focus on more spiritual and eternal matters? Keeping God’s name holy, praying for His kingdom to come and His will to be done, asking God to forgive us our sins as we forgive others. We ask the Lord to lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. Again, only one petition out of seven really deals with physical life.
Now don’t get me wrong. Back at Peter’s house, Jesus did heal the sick and cast out demons. And today our Lord does bless us with good health. He gives us medical facilities to alleviate our pain and suffering. We live in a country with much wealth and comfort. Jesus is our shield and protection as we live day-by-day. He has answered our prayers, and we need to thank Him for these blessings.
But don’t stop there. Jesus’ mission was bigger, much bigger. When you get right down to it, we need to become more like Peter after He understood. And we have so many ways to do that. We have two thousand years of Church history and teachings to help us see what Jesus came to do. We have the Bible to read and study as over and over again it points us to the cross and Jesus’ resurrection. We have Sunday School and Bible classes to teach us why Jesus gave His life for us. We have artwork and jewelry that take us to the cross. Look around. See how the stained glass windows and altar cross or designs on the paraments focus on Jesus. The Divine Service leads us to repent of our sins and confess our faith in him.
Jesus does bless us in our lives now, but He does so much more. Jesus went to the desolate places, and out of those desolate places He brings forgiveness, heaven’s gates open wide, and salvation. Yes, out of the desolate places Jesus brings our eternal destiny. Amen.
|Fourth Sunday After the Epiphany|
January 29, 2012
Rev. Dan Welch
Text - Mark 1: 21-28
Next Sunday is the day. The day when all questions will finally be answered. Everything will be decided then. For those that follow the National Football League, it’s a huge day: Super Bowl Sunday. And although we’re sad that the Packers won’t be in the big game this year (truly I am!), we know that this is the game where it’s all officially decided with authority. “Who’s the best team in the pro football for this year?” Everyone that’s a football fan has an opinion, and you can all take your questions and opinions to the Super Bowl, because that’s where everything is settled and decided with authority.
Wouldn’t it be great if there was a place where all the real important questions of life could be answered – a place where everything important is decided? We live in a world filled with questions, and filled with opinions. What really happens after a person dies – do you know? What is the purpose of life – why am I here? What really is right and what truly is wrong? (What does God REALLY want me to know?) And when I sin and I feel guilty, how do I get rid of that? Where do I go with my guilt? If there is a heaven, how do I get there? What does God want from me? There are many questions, important ones. And in our world there are many opinions! Is there a place where everything is settled? Where all the opinions fade away, and everything is decided with authority?
There is a place, and you know that place. It’s the Bible. It’s the words of Jesus Christ. He, along with His Word, is the ultimate authority on all things. Today we’re going to take time to explore what a blessing it is to have Jesus and His Word in our lives, as we live in a world filled with so many questions and opinions.
Jesus revealed His authority in our Gospel lesson for this morning. He was the guest preacher that day at the synagogue in Capernaum. As He spoke, the Bible says that the people were amazed at the way he taught. He spoke with so much authority. He was so sure of what He was saying. Back then, most of the teachers of the law wouldn’t teach with authority. They would quote other rabbis to back up what they were saying. But Jesus didn’t need to quote anybody. He was the Word incarnate; God come in human flesh. He was the light of the world. He was the way, the truth, and the life, and as He spoke the truth – and as you listened to Him – you knew that you were listening to someone who had authority.
Then Jesus showed His authority that day by performing a miracle. There was a man in the crowd possessed by an evil spirit. The evil spirit interrupted Jesus’ sermon. Jesus commanded the evil spirit to be quiet, and to come out of the man, and that evil spirit immediately obeyed, because Jesus’ words had authority. There was no asking a second time. No saying please. No negotiation. Just immediate obedience to Jesus’ authority. The people in the synagogue were amazed at what they were seeing and hearing. The words of Jesus were so powerful. And His miracle was so impressive. There was no question that day, Who was in charge at that synagogue – the Lion of Judah was standing among the flock of Israel. The prophet long ago foretold through Moses in today’s Old Testament reading and in so many other places in God’s Holy Word was right there among them.
“But that was then,” some might say, “and this is now. Welcome to the 21st century!” Today in our culture, there is a question about who the ultimate authority is. Who has the answers to all the important questions of life? Where do you go when you have difficult issues and problems and stress and worry, and you need answers? Is it Jesus? Is it His Word, the Bible?
In our culture, the answer is no. “I don’t think you can trust the Bible,” people say. “I don’t think you can trust Jesus Christ as the answer to all of your questions and doubts and worries.” Trust yourself, some people say. Trust your friends. Trust what scientists say. Trust people who have degrees and write books. Trust people who are rich and famous. But don’t trust Jesus.” That’s the message of our culture. And that distrust, that doubt, can sometimes creep into our way of thinking. “Can I really trust the words of Jesus,” we sometimes wonder. Sometimes the Bible becomes the last place we look when we have questions or need comfort or strength. It’s the last resort. The book gathers dust on our shelves. All because we doubt the power of the Word of God.
Have you ever doubted? Have you ever wondered if you can trust the words of Jesus, as they’re recorded in this book? What do you do when you feel that way? Where is the best place to go? The best place to go, is right back to the words and actions of Jesus Christ. When you feel yourself doubting, go to the Bible – ‘the Word of God, which is living and active, sharper than any double edged sword’ (Hebrews 4: 12). Let the Word wash your doubt away. Look at what He says and does here.
And then go to the cross, and watch Him die for the sins of the world, including yours and mine. He even dies for all the times we doubted His Word. And then go to that empty tomb, and watch Jesus display His authority over the devil and over death, and over sin, by rising from the dead. Here Jesus shows His power over the devil by casting out an evil spirit. On Easter, Jesus showed His power over death and the devil by rising from the dead, crushing the devil’s head.
If you want proof that Jesus is someone you can trust, and that you can take Him at His word – then study His words, study His miracles, especially that miracle He performed on Easter – there He proves that He is everything He ever said He is.
Go to your Baptism. Remember how you were baptized into Christ, into His powerful resurrection from death. Remember how Baptism, “works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death, and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this as the words and promises of God declare.” (Small Catechism, Baptism, 2).
And just think about what will happen at Lord’s Supper today. Jesus Words that are spoken here have authority – the same word that cast the demon out of that man in the synagogue – that same word today casts your sins far away from you. “These words, ‘Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins,’ show us that in the Sacrament forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are given us through these words.” (SC, Sacrament of the Altar, 2)
What a blessing it is, to have the Word of God as a part of your life. May God bless us as we treasure God’s Word, as we learn it, and share it with the others. Amen.
|Third Sunday After the Epiphany|
January 22, 2012
Rev. Dan Welch
Text - Mark 1: 14-20
"The Decisive Time for a U-Turn"
Did you catch the first command Jesus gives in Mark’s Gospel? First, He says the time has come and the kingdom of God is at hand. Then comes the command: repent. Repent is the first thing Jesus tells people to do. That word becomes the key word whenever He meets someone. It’s kind of a summary of what He taught, what He preached, what He wanted His miracles to bring about in people’s lives.
Now repentance has a fairly simple definition. It means to turn away from one thing and to turn to something else. It’s like driving a car and making a U-turn. Repentance is a U-turn from one direction to another,
I remember reading about a basketball player whose team kept struggling game after game and in his frustration he said, ‘we need to turn things around here 360 degrees.’ That athlete needs to go back to geometry class; 360 degrees would be a full circle. That brings you right back to where you started from. To turn a bad situation around you need to make a 180 degree turn. Repentance is like that. You don’t come back to where you started, 360 degrees. Repentance means you’re headed in the opposite direction you were once going, 180 degrees.
When Jesus uses the word repent, He’s calling people to turn away from anything that leads away from Him and to turn instead toward Him. Then comes His second command: believe. Believe not just anything, but believe in Jesus. Trust Him. Turn toward Him. Hold on to Him.
Repent and believe is the heart of Jesus’ message when He speaks or does something. He says and does much more, but this is the gist, the summary, the heart of His ministry: repent and believe. Repent of sin. Believe, because He has come to remove it. And He will!
Why? Because the time had come. The time had been fulfilled. Time as Jesus uses it here is not so much a calendar date, like AD 30. No, it’s more the right time, a decisive time. Like in World War II when the Allies decided on just the right day for the Normandy invasion: D-day. Preparation, morning tides on the beaches, the element of surprise, even the weather all had to come together; all had to be just right. It wasn’t just June 6, 1944; it was the day. And the day, just the right day, changed history. Jesus is saying that now, since He has arrived on the scene, the prophecies from the Old Testament were fulfilled in Him. History now turns in a different direction.
Jesus is the decisive turning point in the history of this world. Everything changes because He has arrived. The exact date is not that important, but that He came into this world is. Everything changes. All of history turns on what Jesus would do.
And what would Jesus do? He says the kingdom of God is at hand. Now usually when we think of a kingdom, we picture some country or place. The United Kingdom is found on a map, and within its boundaries are England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. But Jesus isn’t so much talking about a geographical place when He says kingdom. No, He’s talking about the rule or reign or authority or power of God in this world and in our lives.
In Handel’s Messiah is that incredible musical piece called the Hallelujah Chorus. One of the most memorable lines is “And he shall reign forever and ever.” Did you catch the word in that line? He shall reign forever and ever. He shall rule. That’s the kingdom of God. His reign, His rule.
Are you starting to get the picture of what Jesus’ first sermon was saying? The time has been fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come. Who is standing there? Who is saying this? Jesus is. All of time was leading up to this moment. All of history would turn on Jesus and what He would do. He is the kingdom of God. He has come.
But not in the way the people back then were expecting. They were expecting the Messiah to get rid of the political oppression of foreign domination. They were expecting that there would be no more poverty, famine, or hunger. They were expecting a place that would be safe and protected, where animals and children could play together without fear, like the prophet Isaiah had talked about: “The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the hole of the cobra, and the young child put his hand into the viper’s nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain” (Is 11:6–9a). They were expecting that sin would be destroyed and everyone would worship the true God. “For the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord” (11:9b).
But Jesus turns those expectations upside down. The way and the when of this Messiah they had all wrong. Jesus selects fishermen to be His first followers, not a powerful army. He doesn’t hand out money and the best houses to those who believe in Him, but simply calls them to follow Him. He doesn’t play it safe, but is arrested and crucified. He doesn’t do away with sin in this world, but forgives it. His death on the cross forgives it.
Oh, the day will come when all those expectations will come true. At the end of time, Jesus will return in power and glory. Children will safely play with wild animals and snakes that we’d expect to be poisonous. Sin will be destroyed, and we will hunger no more. But until then, the kingdom of God is Jesus stepping into this world and calling people to repent and believe. So when we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy kingdom come,” we’re praying that Jesus comes to each one of us. And when He does, He calls us to repent and believe.
So repent, turn away from anything that would lead you away from Him and believe; turn to Jesus. Now comes the hard part—what this does in our lives. Once again, Jesus turns everything upside down. He turns our lives inside out. He changes the direction we so often want to go.
I remember seeing a T-shirt. It had a school of fish all swimming in one direction. However, in the midst of those fish, one is swimming in the opposite direction. This fish has a cross where its eye would be. Most of you know that the fish is an ancient symbol for Christianity, for Christians, for Jesus. That’s why you see a fish as a bumper sticker every so often. So on this shirt, the one fish, the believer, has turned around 180 degrees and is headed in a different direction.
Start with something as simple as what you do when you do something wrong. Now the direction most people go when they’ve messed up is to avoid taking responsibility. They blame someone else. They say they were only doing what everyone was doing. They say it really wasn’t that bad. They call it a lifestyle choice. Their parents are at fault. It’s in the genes, and so they were predisposed to be this way. They were only acting out on their anger. And so on.
Jesus calls for us to repent. He says take responsibility for what you’ve done wrong. He says confess it to Him. He says don’t make excuses like the rest of the crowd, but come before Him with repentant hearts and seek His forgiveness. So the confession of sins at the beginning of the service is not just a part of the liturgy we do most every week. It’s actually turning away from the sin in our lives and turning toward Jesus, for he does forgive.
But not just on Sunday. Martin Luther’s Evening Prayer begins by thanking God for keeping you safe this day. Then the next petition says, “I pray that You would forgive me all my sins where I have done wrong.” That’s repentance. That’s turning away from the sin and turning to Jesus. And then believe that Jesus forgives you for the sake of His death on the cross. He’s alive, risen from the dead, and He has the authority to forgive all sins. So praying a prayer like this every night when you go to bed is doing what Jesus wants you to do: repent and believe.
Of course, confessing our sins means changing direction in very real, sometimes painful, close-to-home ways in our lives. To repent is to turn away from anything that leads away from Jesus.
One key area in life where Jesus calls many Americans to repent is money. Have the Christmas bills arrived yet? It appears that many have gone overboard again when buying presents. For some people, shopping is what you do when you have free time or are feeling down. Elsewhere, we hear that we need to get our economy back on track by buying stuff. It sounds almost patriotic to go further and further in debt, to spend more and more on ourselves, to put ourselves into a deeper financial mess. And by what I read in terms of credit card balances, people with little to no savings, and the advertisements for consolidating debts, a lot of fish are swimming in that direction.
Jesus, however, calls us to repent of such devotion to shopping and spending on ourselves. He says we are to repent of being so concerned with stuff and more stuff for our homes and our lives. Instead, He wants us to turn in a different direction. He wants us to be wise stewards of our money. He wants us first to give to the Lord and others in need. To repent is to turn away from anything that leads us away from Jesus.
I think about the four fishermen whom Jesus called to follow Him; Peter and Andrew and James and John. There they were, going about their own business, their fishing business, cleaning their nets by the Sea of Galilee, and suddenly their lives were changed, turned around, in that now they were to catch people for Jesus. Today, most fish swim in the direction of not saying anything about Jesus. We’re told to keep our faith quiet. We’re not to impose our religion on others. Church is private and not to be shared in public.
But Jesus says repent and turn to a different direction. You are called just like the disciples to share the Good News about Jesus with others. Because the time is right. The time has come. Jesus is here, and He rules. He is the kingdom of God. You have been forgiven by His death and resurrection! You have a new life! So repent and believe. Find those areas in life that are leading you away from Jesus, make a 180-degree turn away from them, and turn to Him. Believe in Jesus.
|Second Sunday After Epiphany|
January 15, 2012
Rev. Dan Welch
Text - 1 Samuel 3: 1-10 (11-20)
"Speak, LORD, Your Servant is Listening"
Have you ever noticed that one activity that many people really aren’t very good at is listening? It’s surprising, really. There doesn’t seem to be much to the art of listening- you just sit there, take in information, and nod your head at the appropriate times. But for many people, listening is a problem. You can buy books and DVD’s that help you become a better listener. Their promise is that being a better listener will increase your work productivity and improve your relationships. There’s even an International Listening Association that you can join at www.listen.org to help you improve your listening skills. All these better-listening tools are around because people naturally are not very good listeners. They’d rather be talking, or doing things, or watching things, or daydreaming about watching or doing things. But listening? That’s a difficult thing to do. With the exception, of course, of everyone sitting here listening very attentively to today’s sermon. Right? In any case, this morning we’re going to find out just how important listening is when it comes to our relationship with God as Christ speaks to us through His Word.
In today’s Old Testament we meet Samuel when this future prophet is just a young lad of about 12 or 13 (about the same age as our 7th and 8th grade Catechism students, speaking of listening and paying attention which I’m sure they always do!). Samuel’s job was to serve in God’s Temple. He was an assistant to the priest Eli, who was a very old man. As our text opens up, both of them had turned in for the night. Young Samuel was asleep in the temple, close to where the ark of God was kept. During the night God called out to Samuel. Samuel, thinking that it was Eli who had cried out to him, rushes to the old priest and says, “Here I am. You called me.” But Eli replies, “I did not call; go back and lie down.” So Samuel goes back to bed.
Again God calls out to the boy, and again young Samuel goes to Eli. “Here I am. You called me.” And once more the elderly priest says, “I did not call; go back and lie down.” When this happened the third time, Eli finally realized that it must be God calling out to the boy Samuel.
Why do you think it took Eli, the priest, and Samuel, the young boy three times to finally figure out that it was God who was calling? In the case of Samuel, the answer is relatively simple. He hadn’t yet been instructed on how to recognize God’s voice. He was a young boy who was an apprentice – still learning the ropes.
But Eli, the priest, now there’s a different story. You see, Eli had allowed himself to wander from the path God wanted him to follow, both for himself and for his sons. Eli had permitted corruption to permeate the ministry that God had charged him to oversee. Eli’s two sons were also priests, but they treated the ministry with utter contempt. These religious leaders didn’t honor God. They robbed God by putting themselves first. They took the best of the offerings up front. They lived immoral and impure lives. They extorted God’s people by threatening to use force to get the best of the offerings.
In short, they were arrogant, self-important bullies. And Eli, their dad, didn’t or perhaps couldn’t do anything to control them. In referring to this situation, the Bible says: “Eli’s sons were wicked men; they had no regard for the LORD… This sin of the young men was very great in the LORD’S sight, for they were treating the LORD’S offering with contempt.” (1 Sam. 2:12,17)
Did you notice the problem mentioned in the very first verse of our lesson? God wasn’t talking to Eli and to Eli’s sons anymore. The verse tells us that prophecy and visions from God had all but stopped. Our very first verse says: “In those days the word of the LORD was rare; there were not many visions.” (1 Samuel 3:1) God had just pulled away, removed Himself, from the ministry that Eli and his sons exercised. His voice had become scarce; He didn’t want to be around these guys. Is it any wonder that Eli failed to recognize God’s call? So now, in talking to the boy Samuel, God was demonstrating that the time of repentance for Eli’s sons had long past.
God still communicates with people today. He still desires to come to us to draw us close to Him. But the reality is that we people remove ourselves from Him. When we stop listening to Him, we grieve the Holy Spirit through our own sinfulness. When we keep doing those things that offend God, we can’t hear or understand His voice. We can’t hear or understand His voice when we avoid His temple, His House of Worship. We can’t hear God’s voice when we, for whatever excuse that we manage to come up with, fail to worship Him or revere His Word, or think that not all of His commandments apply to us.
We do to ourselves what Eli did: We put ourselves in a position to miss God when He is speaking to us. That is one reason that St. Paul comments in our Epistle Lesson on the popular slogan the Corinthians had: “Everything is permissible for me.” ‘Yes you may think that,’ Paul is saying, “but,” he adds, “not everything is beneficial.” (1 Corinthians 6:12) Indeed , anything that separates us from God is not beneficial at all! And the frightening thing is that if we keep on grieving God with a sinful life, that is if we stop listening and paying attention to Him, He will turn away from us and we will no longer be able to hear Him. God speaks, but we hear only when we are tuned to His voice.
And how do we know where to go to hear God’s voice? A few years ago there was a popular song called, “Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places.” If we look for God, Whom the Bible tells us IS love, in all the wrong places, we won’t find God. If we’re looking in the wrong places and think that we hear God’s voice, look out! You see, God does not promise to be in horoscopes, tarot cards, fortune cookies, aliens from outer space who claim that we are clones of them. We might be hearing a voice if we are looking for God in these things, but it isn’t God’s voice!
So where do we look? Consider where Samuel was when God called to him. He was in the temple. He was where God promised to be. Samuel received God’s Word in a way that was consistent with how God had previously revealed Himself. Samuel needed to be receptive to God’s voice: “Speak, O LORD, your servant is listening.” And God came to His servant.
As I mentioned a moment ago, God still desires to communicate with people today. But He does it in different ways today than He did in the times of the Old Testament. In Hebrews chapter 1 verses 1 and 2 it says, “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.” Today, we can hear God’s voice in the temple, like Samuel did, but it’s through the Word of His Son, Jesus and the means of grace, the sacramental Word that Jesus has put in place to communicate with us. His voice comes to us in Baptism, in the Lord’s Supper, through the proclamation of the cross and the resurrection, and the forgiveness of sins that Jesus won for us there. God’s voice comes to us in the absolution, the spoken words of forgiveness that we receive when we confess our sins. God’s voice comes to us when we hear and study His Word, guiding us in the way we should go. God’s voice comes to us where God has promised to speak with us. Sometimes we just need to be still, listen to His voice and with Samuel say, “Speak, O LORD Your servant is listening.”
Much like Samuel, God is seeking you out too. And just as Jesus called for Nathaniel in our Gospel Lesson, He is looking for you as well. He is speaking to you. Why? Because God desires full fellowship. Why else would Jesus pay the price of the Cross? So, do you need to find joy and fellowship with God? Make time for Him and His Word. Listen to Him and He’ll be here for you. In the name of Jesus. Amen!
|Baptism of Our Lord|
January 8, 2012
Rev. Dan Welch
Text - Mark 1:4-11
What do the waters of baptism and the waters of a tsunami have in common? At first glance it wouldn’t seem like they have very much in common at all. Do you remember the images of the tsunami that hit Japan last March? We witnessed debris, cars, even houses being washed out to sea. You probably also remember the big tsunami that hit South-East Asia the day after Christmas in 2004, especially the footage of the giant wave coming ashore and beginning to wreak terrible havoc. Both of those catastrophic events snuffed out thousands of lives and did billions of dollars worth of damage. Baptism, on the other hand, saves lives for eternity. Still a tsunami and Holy Baptism do have at least one thing in common. In parts of India, the tsunami of 2004 unearthed previously unknown archaeological sites. In that sense you could say that the tsunami was revealing. So is the water of baptism. Our text teaches us that baptism reveals that Jesus is God’s Son, the world’s Savior. It also reveals that we are God’s children. Let’s learn more.
There is probably no one better suited to teach us about baptism than John the Baptizer. Besides the camel-skin robe and organic diet of locusts and honey, the thing that set John apart from the other preachers of his day was his baptizing. The opening verses of Mark’s Gospel make that clear. Mark wrote: “John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4).
Although John was called by God to preach in the wilderness instead of the cities and villages, his message still found a large audience. Verse five of our text says that all of Judea, including the people of Jerusalem, went out to hear John. Josephus, a 1st century Jewish historian, estimated that as many as 300,000 people heard John preach! Among those in attendance were religious leaders from Jerusalem, though they really only went there to be seen, rather than to see. Then there were some fishermen from Galilee, men like John and Andrew, disciples of John the Baptist and later disciples of Jesus, and finally, one 30 year-old carpenter from Nazareth.
While the religious leaders from Jerusalem would have stood out with their flowing robes and haughty manner, the carpenter from Nazareth, a man by the name of Jesus, looked just like any other man come to take in the wild-eyed preacher of the desert. That’s surprising considering what John had been saying about Jesus. John told the people that there was one coming who was greater than he, whose sandals John was not worthy to stoop down and untie (Mark 1:7). That reality about Jesus, that He was someone very special, was revealed at His baptism.
As Jesus came out of the water after having been baptized by John, all heaven broke loose, literally. The skies parted and the Father who had first spoken at Creation spoke again saying: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased” (v.11). The Holy Spirit who had once hovered over the waters at creation now descended above the waters of the Jordan River in the form of a dove. At the center of this spectacle stood that carpenter Jesus. What was going on? Heaven was being opened and heavenly realities were being revealed to all the people: This carpenter from Nazareth, was in fact the Son of God!
But, if Jesus really is the Son of God, why did He get baptized? Even John the Baptist struggled with that question. When Jesus first asked to be baptized, John refused and rightly stated that he needed to be baptized by Jesus. John was a sinner while Jesus was not. What was Jesus doing getting baptized?
Our family likes to go Tent camping. Think back to the time when you first slept in a tent. Did you do that all by yourself? No. I’m sure your dad, mom, or an older sibling slept in the tent with you. It was their way of assuring you that you had nothing to worry about. If lions and bears were going to attack your tent, well, your tent-mate was there to protect you. You were in this thing together. When Jesus asked to be baptized, He was doing something much the same. He was taking His place among the people He had come to save. Jesus was letting the world know that He, the Son of God, had come to stand with sinners, not stand in judgment of them. Actually, He came to stand in our place, to take on our sin, and to bear our punishment. So Jesus’ baptism not only reveals that He is God’s Son, it reveals that He’s the Savior of the world.
Jesus showed how important baptism is by being baptized Himself and later on He commanded baptism for all people of all ages (Matthew 28:19-20). And baptisms that happen today are as revealing as Jesus’ baptism, because what happened at Jesus’ baptism still happens in our baptism. When the water is poured over a sinner’s head and God’s Word is pronounced, all heaven breaks loose as the Holy Spirit descends on that person to create or to strengthen faith (Acts 2:38, 39; Titus 3:5-7; John 3:5, 6), and God the Father says: “This is my child whom I love. With him/with her I am pleased with her.” The holy God can claim us sinners as His children because baptism really washes away sin. The forgiveness we receive there is as real as the water dripping down the forehead.
But what sins exactly does baptism wash away? All of them! Not just the ones committed before baptism but also the sins we commit after baptism. That brings great comfort to us when Satan questions our status before God. After getting us to fall into sin, Satan will point to our grumpiness, he will denounce our lustfulness, he will condemn our greediness and then ask how we can claim to be God’s children? We can claim to be God’s children because that’s what God made us in baptism. Baptism is God’s declaration to us, not our promise to Him. When a child is adopted she doesn’t take any oaths about being faithful to her new family. She doesn’t pay any legal fees to join the family. The adopting parents make that oath of love and faithfulness to their adopted child and pay the legal fees to seal the adoption. In the same way, when we doubt our standing with God we just need to look back on our baptism and remind ourselves of what happened there. The Holy Spirit came to us, and God the Father said with certainty: “You are my child!” The Father makes that declaration because His Son, Jesus, paid for our adoption.
So does this mean that our baptism gives us the green light to act any way we want to act? I mean if all of our sins are forgiven, even the future ones we will commit, what difference does it make the way we live? When Satan tempts us to think that way we need to take note of John the Baptist’s message. He preached a baptism of repentance not recklessness (v.4). When the Sadducees and Pharisees came out to John to be baptized with no remorse over their love for money and power John said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:7b, 8). If these religious leaders were truly sorry for their sins and desired the forgiveness God offered in baptism, they would have turned away from their sins. Since they had no intention of doing so, God’s judgment remained on them. So it is whenever we excuse our backtalk to our parents or insist on our right to grumble about life. When we act this way we turn our back on God’s forgiveness. That of course isn’t what God wants us to do. And so He sends the Holy Spirit to us again right now through His Word to turn us away from those attitudes and to remind us of who we are through baptism: God’s children, not Satan’s.
Although the December 2004 tsunami may have revealed some new archaeological sites that’s little consolation for what else those waters did. 250,000 people died because of one wave! It just goes to show how powerful water is. Thankfully the destructive power of a tsunami pales in comparison to the constructive power of baptism. With a few handfuls of water all heaven broke loose and God revealed Jesus to be His Son, the world’s Savior. And with similar handfuls of water heaven opened at our baptism as God revealed that we sinners are His children. Since that is what we are, children of God, we will turn away from our pride, our petty arguments, our stubbornness and all those other sins and live as the children God has declared us to be in our baptism. Amen!
|First Sunday After Christmas|
January 1, 2012
Rev. Dan Welch
Text- Luke 2: 21
“In the Name of Jesus”
Happy New Year! So, have you made any resolutions, yet? Have you broken any of them, already? I like this prayer that one honest person offered to God about their New Year’s resolutions:
So far this year I’ve done well. I haven’t gossiped, I haven’t lost my temper, I haven’t been greedy, grumpy, nasty, selfish, or overindulgent. I’m very thankful for that. But in a few minutes, Lord, I'm going to get out of bed, and from then on I’m probably going to need a lot more help. Amen
I had to chuckle when I heard that one!
So, did you stay awake until midnight last night to see the New Year in? It was pretty late for a church night, but I did it! By the way, I’ve heard it said that an optimist stays up until midnight on New Year’s Eve to see the New Year in and a pessimist stays up to make sure the old year leaves!
In either case, compared with all the exciting, even crazy revelry that passes for celebration on Times Square and thousands of other places every New Year’s Eve, along with the holiday parades and parties, our little service here this morning to welcome in the new year doesn’t seem like much. While party-goers the world over have geared up to greet the new year - or is it to forget the old one? - our gathering here seems pretty tame and even dull by comparison.
But looks can be deceiving. Because while the clock has ticked down on another year for planet earth, we Christians are gathered again this morning to gain a firmer grip on timeless things. We’ve come to hear the life-giving Word of God.
God’s Word that comes to us in both preaching and the sacraments isn’t something visible to human eyes. That’s why the Kingdom of God is so easily despised and looked down on in this world. But the Kingdom is nevertheless true. And the truth of Christ and His Kingdom that goes beyond human understanding is what counts in this world and the next. The Days of our Lives really are like sands through the hourglass, they go by fast and you can’t hold on to them. Time marches on and there’s no use trying to stop that march. But everything that’s done in the name of Jesus will last forever. And that’s what brings us here at the beginning of year 2012 -the Name of Jesus.
It was just eight days since that holy night in Bethlehem. The time had now come for the Mary’s newborn baby boy to be circumcised. He was fulfilling the Law given under Moses that every male child would receive the mark of the LORD’s covenant blessing on the eighth day of his earthly life. That circumcision marked the beginning of a new life in the Kingdom of God- the kingdom that lasts forever. That eighth day was the first day of the new life for every circumcised son of Israel ... the eternal life of the kingdom of God.
Count off eight days beginning with December 25th, and you arrive at January 1st. And so while the kingdom of this world observes the beginning of a new solar year in time, we Christians celebrate the circumcision of Jesus. For us, the first of January becomes not just another notch in time, a good reason to have a party put up a fresh calendar, but a genuine link with eternity through the flesh of God’s own Son.
If you read carefully the Christmas story in Luke’s Gospel, you’ll find that Mary’s baby boy wasn’t called “Jesus” until that name was placed on Him at circumcision. Circumcision and naming went together in those days. Both were ways of “marking” a person as being in a special relationship to the God of Israel. The Child of Mary is given the name “Jesus” “the LORD saves!” because He would save His people from their sins.
And so this tiny bundle of humanity would grow up to fulfill His name in the most wonderful way. All that God’s holy Law demanded that you and I do, Jesus did perfectly and completely. All that you and I by our sins have deserved Jesus suffered patiently and completely. God the Father laid on Him the iniquity of us all, and it killed Him. He endured the cross and grave for us and for our salvation, He was crucified, died, and was buried. But now He’s also risen from the dead for us and for our salvation. God has exalted Him to the highest place and has given Him a name which is above every name; that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
In Acts 4:12, we learn that there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved. Because this one, Jesus, is for our salvation. He was made to be sin for us that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.
As we begin this year of our Lord 2012, we may have mixed emotions. Excitement and anticipation within us compete with fear and trepidation. Will out economy ever rebound? Will gas prices really hit $5 per gallon by this summer? Will Iran behave itself? What will happen next in the war on terror? Will the winter weather stay mild or are we going to get “our due” one of these days? Then we have our more personal fears and worries as well: “What will happen in my life this year? What about my job, my family, my friends, my health, my finances, my security? What about all my nagging worries?” What about relationship problems?” “How will I handle all of that?” we wonder.
In the name of Jesus, that’s how. You see, the power of the name of Jesus is the power and the authority of Jesus Himself. Here’s how it works:
- When we pray in the name of Jesus, the Father regards our prayer as Jesus’ prayer.
-When God’s Word is preached in the name of Jesus, it’s the authority of Jesus Himself that stands behind that Word. (“He who hears you, hears Me,” is what Jesus said to the disciples and about all that are sent in His name to speak His powerful Word.)
- When Christians give a cup of cold water in the name of Jesus, it is Jesus Himself who provides for the physical needs of the neighbor in need.
- Whenever we invoke the name of Jesus on the food set before us, it is Jesus Himself who blesses that food to our good and to the glory of God the Father.
- And whatever we do, whether in word or in deed, when it’s done in the name of the Lord Jesus, we give thanks to God the Father through Him.
But above all, let’s not forget the greatest gift of all. Whenever and wherever we receive the forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ name, our sins are forgiven by the very authority and power of God’s own Son.
That’s the reason we confess our sins. Because of the absolution; that we might be forgiven in the name of Jesus. Remember, what we learn from our Small Catechism - that on the basis of God’s Word we are to regard the word of absolution spoken by the pastor as valid and certain in heaven as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us Himself. When we confess our sins, we are forgiven in the name of Jesus!
It’s in the powerful name of Jesus, and the Father and the Holy Spirit that we were first marked as a child of God in our Baptism. There we’re given the forgiveness of all our sins, and given the sure and certain hope of eternal life because of the powerful name placed on us there.
In Jesus’ name. In the name of Jesus we come to have our sins forgiven in this and every Divine Service. Here God renews us, refreshes us and strengthens us in our Baptismal grace. In the name of Jesus we eat and drink His body and His blood for forgiveness, life and for salvation.
In the name of Jesus we begin the year 2012. We have nothing to fear. Because whether we live or whether we die, we belong to the Lord. So, in the name of Jesus we live! We live each day to the fullest in the name of Jesus.
And then one day, unless Jesus returns first, we will die. And when we do, we’ll have nothing to fear on that day. Because then we will die just as we have lived: in the name of Jesus. His peace be with you this New Year and forevermore. In the name of Jesus, Amen.
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