Sunday, April 30, 2023

He Will Have Compassion

 Lamentations 3:22-33

The LORD'S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; great is Thy faithfulness.  "The LORD is my portion," says my soul, "Therefore I have hope in Him."  The LORD is good to those who wait for Him, to the person who seeks Him.  It is good that he waits silently for the salvation of the LORD.  It is good for a man that he should bear the yoke in his youth.  Let him sit alone and be silent since He has laid it on him.  Let him put his mouth in the dust, perhaps there is hope.  Let him give his cheek to the smiter; let him be filled with reproach.  For the Lord will not reject forever, for if He causes grief, then He will have compassion according to His abundant lovingkindness.  For He does not afflict willingly, or grieve the sons of men.

Sermon for Jubilate Sunday                                              4/30/23

He Will Have Compassion

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Life is never exactly what we want.  Have you ever noticed that?  No matter how hard we try, something always goes wrong.  Something is always missing.  You can make a lot of money, but there is never enough.  Our needs, or our desires, always outrun our income.  You struggle for the perfect home, but there is always one more project.  Something that wasn't even conceivable before, now it seems almost imperative.  We struggle to build the perfect congregation, but just when it seems that we are almost at the verge of success, something changes, and that perfection eludes us.

The problem is sin.  The consequences of sin are much more readily apparent to us than the underlying cause.  We are never quite satisfied.  Others don't respond to us – or our circumstances – the way that seems only reasonable to us.  We give it our best and it is never quite good enough, or when we achieve what we set out to do, it is no longer satisfying, and we stretch toward the next goal in search of that elusive thing called satisfaction, or success, or happiness, or whatever we may call it.  Sometimes it is minor and we can ignore it for a while, but trouble or dissatisfaction  always comes home to roost.  Sometimes it is striking, and painful, and un-ignorable.  In every case it is the consequence of the imperfect nature of man, and the imperfection that our failings bring to the world around us.

The pain is called "the cross" for Christians.  Like the cross of Jesus, it comes on account of sin – not necessarily specific sins, but on account of our shortcomings and our failure to be perfect and holy.  Now and then, it even comes to us because of the sinfulness of those around us.  We are tempted, at times, to give up, or to feel crushed and defeated by the difficulties of life.  If we have the big problems under control, the little ones drive us nuts.  It tempts many people to think that God is punishing us, that our troubles are God's response to our sins.  That is one of the reasons it is so painful when a sermon speaks the Law of God too clearly, and we feel personally attacked, and personally offended.  Well, God speaks to us in our sermon text this morning, to address this very frustration.  God says, through the prophet, that in the midst of this gloom and temptation to despair we can be comforted by the promise that He will have compassion.  And that is our theme this morning.

The Prophet's words for this morning begin with the goodness of the Lord.  The LORD'S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; Great is Thy faithfulness.  That is the point at which we must begin.  Christians must begin and only Christians really can begin with the knowledge and the certainty that the Lord is good.  His lovingkindnesses never cease!  How great is our God!  How good He is to us!

Every morning, when you get up, there is air to be breathed, and it is filled with Oxygen and in just the right proportions.  The peculiar properties of water still work to your health and advantage.  Food is still digestible, and it nourishes your body.  The properties of electricity, which God prepared, still work, and the trace elements in your body are still so constituted that they allow nerves to sense and muscles to flex.  It may seem absurd to think this way, but philosophers have thought long and hard on this issue, and they can find no logical reason for everything to remain consistent and favorable for our existence.  Our answer to the philosopher's enigma is the goodness of God.  His lovingkindnesses never cease!

On rare occasions, the human body loses those abilities we take so for granted day-by day.  We call it "disease," or "paralysis," or "Muscular Dystrophy," or "Parkenson's," or "Osteoporosis," or "cancer."  Things like that don't always seem rare to us because everyone gets sick and everyone dies eventually – but consider the wonder of your body!

Your body functions flawlessly for decades.  It works twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.  You go to bed, your body keeps working.  Your heart pumps millions of gallons of blood every year – for sixty, seventy, eighty years!  Your brain keeps calculating for close to a century, doing more work every hour, even while you sleep, than our greatest supercomputers manage to do with all their giga-hertz computational speeds in a week.  You store memories in sound and color pictures or video in a space the size of a grapefruit that would require a roomful of Compact Disks to store, and you keep them indexed by subject and person and season and emotion and scents in the air on that day, available for instant retrieval.  You smell that smell, or hear that sound, and you experience deja-vu – you may not even know that you are remembering.  Or you smell something cooking and immediately your mind is back in Grandma's kitchen sixty years ago.  We get frustrated on those days when our retrieval system fails us in one or two memory request out of the thousands each hour we just take for granted.  When the whole system finally fails, we call it "dementia" .

I could go on for hours just about the wonders of the body – and then there is the world around you, and then the universe.  God tells us that it is all created for us and for our blessings.  His lovingkindnesses indeed never cease!  He feeds us and clothes us. He has made us wealthy.  I remember speaking to Rev.  Fehrmann a couple of years ago about missions in the third world.  He travels extensively in the third world in his work.  He told me that only about 10 percent of the third world population has even irregular and undependable electricity.  They rarely have televisions.  They only now and then have a radio.  They have very few cars outside of the big cities.  The big question for them is not "What shall we do tonight?", or "What shall we watch tonight?', but, "What shall we eat tonight?" or, "Shall we eat tonight?"  Even upon those in poverty, His lovingkindnesses never cease.  How much more is it clearly true for us?

His compassions never cease, they are new every morning!  Every day is filled with His goodness to us.   That is why the Prophet cries out, "Great is Thy faithfulness!"  And chief among His goodness to us is Jesus Christ!  He gave His only-begotten Son into death for our sins.  He hung Him on a cross to bleed and die in agony, that we might be forgiven.  And He raised Him from the grave on Easter to show us irrefutably that our sin have been forgiven, paid for completely, punished to the last drop of the wrath of God against sin.
He is Risen!  Your sins have been paid for.  

You are forgiven.  You have been redeemed by the blood of the very Son of God!  

It is finished!  He loves you with a love that transcends any full comprehension!

So, why do things keep going wrong?  Why do we get sick?  Why is life painful and difficult and frustrating at times?  Our text says that it is for our good.  It doesn't say exactly why or how, but it says it is good for us.  Through our troubles, God strengthens us and purifies us.  He disciplines us – and He tells us that every child loved by his Father is disciplined by Him.  God also demonstrates for us in the New Testament how our patient and faithful endurance in times of persecution and pain confesses Christ so clearly and effectively to those who see our patience and observe our faith and faithfulness while we are in the midst of troubles and suffering.

The LORD is good to those who wait for Him, To the person who seeks Him.  It is good that he waits silently For the salvation of the LORD.  It is good for a man that he should bear The yoke in his youth.  Let him sit alone and be silent Since He has laid it on him.  Let him put his mouth in the dust [a reference to humble prayer], Perhaps there is hope.  Let him give his cheek to the smiter; Let him be filled with reproach.

I cannot tell you how every event in your life is good.  I cannot even imagine how every event in MY life is good.  But God can, and He tells us that it is good.  I cannot bring myself to call God a liar, so I must accept that even the things I do not like are for good, and that God is with me.  That is the present, day-to-day value of faith in Jesus Christ!

"The LORD is my portion," says my soul, "Therefore I have hope in Him."  That is the true answer!  I trust in God.  My hope is in Him.  The writer of Lamentations, unnamed, but believed by most to be Jeremiah, writes, For the Lord will not reject forever, For if He causes grief, Then He will have compassion According to His abundant lovingkindness.  For He does not afflict willingly, Or grieve the sons of men.

God does not willingly afflict means that God has no desire for us to suffer or have troubles just so that we suffer or have troubles – everything He does has a place in His plan and purposes.  Every bit of it is for our good and the good of our neighbor.  He blesses with every event, whether we find it happy or sorrowful.  His plan is always for our welfare and blessing, so even when it is necessary to permit us to suffer pain or sorrow or temptation, He will have compassion!  He will rescue us from our troubles and bring us out of sorrow, and bless us. When He causes grief, as Jeremiah says, Then He will have compassion according to His abundant lovingkindness.

Another way to say it is to ask the question I always ask you to answer:  What is the will of God for us? [Our salvation].  

If you believe in God, then you want to keep that truth uppermost in your mind.  If you believe in God – that is, if you trust in Him, then you will know that no matter what it feels like at the moment, the Lord will have compassion.  The Lord is my Portion, says my soul, therefore I have hope in Him.

And that is the message this morning.  He will have compassion.  Last Sunday we talked about the Good Shepherd, and His care, and His culling of the flock.  Today we talk about the other reality of life – that it hurts, that we will suffer pains, and we will have to endure frustrations and sorrows.  In the face of that reality, the Church rejoices – that is what Jubilate Sunday means – and we rejoice because, in the depths of woe and sorrow and pain we hear the promise of God that He will have compassion!  And, ultimately, that is very good for us!

Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I will say, Rejoice!

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)

The Holy Spirit

 The May Newsletter Article

The Holy Spirit

May is the month of flowers and warming weather, of struggling with lawn mowers and recovering from the damage the winter has done to your home and yard, and of Ascension and Pentecost.  Since Pentecost is the festival of the Holy Spirit, and the celebration of the day that God kick-started the church, it seems right to focus a little on the silent member of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit.

Okay.  I admit it.  The Holy Spirit is not silent.  We just don't hear much that is true about Him in the church today.  We talk about Him at Pentecost, and sometimes at the Reformation – and some pastors like to talk about Him at confirmation time.  We hear a lot about the Spirit from the enthusiasts, whether they are like Lutheran Charismatics or belong to some traditionally Pentecostal group.  We hear a lot from them, but most of it is not Scriptural, and what they draw from Scripture is often used contrary to sound exegesis (that means that they don't understand what they are reading).

Think of how many Sundays you see red paraments on the altar.  Those are the days of the Holy Spirit, and He is usually not the primary focus on those days, either.  We usually focus on something else, something He does.  The Holy Spirit is not silent.  In fact, He is the voice of Scriptures: "men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God."  Jesus even teaches us that the Spirit was the author of Scripture when He says, "David himself said in the Holy Spirit, ‘THE LORD SAID TO MY LORD, "SIT AT MY RIGHT HAND, UNTIL I PUT THINE ENEMIES BENEATH THY FEET."'" The Holy Spirit and not human creativity caused David to speak.

But it is appropriate that the Holy Spirit receives so little attention from us.  He should get the attention we give to Him, but not a significant amount more, because the purpose of the Spirit, and of all His work, is to bring all glory to God the Father through Jesus Christ.  He isn't the One who draws the attention.  He is the One who focuses it.  He creates faith through the Word proclaimed.  He teaches us through the Word.  He guides us and shows us what to do by the urgings in us drawn from the Word.  And He causes us to speak, giving us the very words we should say, when we should say them.  "And when they arrest you and deliver you up, do not be anxious beforehand about what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour; for it is not you who speak, but it is the Holy Spirit."

Of course, He doesn't necessarily wait for extreme circumstance to give us the words to say.  He plants the words in us by memory-work and learning, and then calls them forth when we need them.  He doesn't need our help.  He could make it all happen without any learning or preparation, as He did sometimes with the Apostles (if you ignore that three year course of preparation with Jesus).  He generally doesn't do it that way, though.  He plants what He needs through our learning (which He drives us to do), and then when it is needed, He prompts it from our memories and to our lips.  That is why your Pastor made you memorize all those passages when your were young.

As I said, the Holy Spirit doesn't need our help, but I suspect that if we were unwilling to read the Bible and learn things, He would count us as not His people, and not be busy working in us and through us.  Once it is in there, though, He can summon it out into the front of your mind, even if you don't remember learning it.  He works on us in the Sunday service, teaching us through the liturgy and the hymns, and He is particularly direct when the Pastor preaches a Biblically faithful sermon.

We don't celebrate the Holy Spirit much, as an individual, because He shows us the love of the Father in sending us the Son, and teaches us to believe the Word and marvel at the Son doing all that He had to do to redeem us.  The fact that we believe is the testimony to the work of the Spirit.  He doesn't seem to be working to any other purpose than that.

Some get excited and claim that the Spirit is giving them powers or "gifts".   He certainly is able to.  The question is, is it real?  From the outside, it is difficult to deny what anyone is says that they are feeling or experiencing.  But far too often, the actions and words of those who proclaim their own gifted-ness suggest that their "gift" is more wishful thinking than actual gift.  Healers claim they have a gift to heal, but they cannot use it unless you believe in them strongly enough.  That never seemed to be a condition required in the Bible.  When they had the power of the Spirit, the Apostles could even raise the dead.  Modern healers (so-called) do not possess the power to repair broken and withered limbs, let alone raise the dead – and trust me, many have gone to their disgrace trying.

The most common gift claimed is the gift of tongues.  Again, from outside, I cannot speak to whether they have a gift of tongues or not.  I can say that Scriptures do not promise all of us that gift.  Paul actually appears to speak against it.

That's 1 Corinthians 14, where Paul says that tongues are a sign to unbelievers, while clear preaching (Paul calls it "prophecy") is a sign to believers.  He says that he would rather speak 5 words with his mind, that he may teach others than ten thousand with a tongue.  Then he quotes a passage from Isaiah, addressed to scoffers and the unbelieving in ancient Israel in verse 21.  Here is the Old testament passage:  "For He says, 'Order on order, order on order, Line on line, line on line, A little here, a little there.'"  Indeed, He will speak to this people Through stammering lips and a foreign tongue, He who said to them, "Here is rest, give rest to the weary," And, "Here is repose," but they would not listen.  So the word of the LORD to them will be, "Order on order, order on order, Line on line, line on line, A little here, a little there," That they may go and stumble backward, be broken, snared, and taken captive."

This is a passage of condemnation and judgment, in which God says, "Since you wouldn't listen to my Word clear and plain and comforting, here it is in a foreign tongue, and not comforting at all."  Paul's use of it is saying, quite plainly, that to hear the Word of God spoken to you, and not understand it, is a sign of the condemnation of God on you.  Therefore, tongues are a sign to unbelievers, and not to believers.

    In my experience, those who claim a tongue have nothing new to say – nor would I trust it if they did.  Scriptures is my authority, and my security blanket.  If I stick with Scriptures, I will not go too far wrong.  I do know that many who claim the gift of tongues use it in a way that Scripture discourages.  They use it to draw attention to themselves, and then they teach things contrary to Scripture.  Those who have a real tongue should use it as Scripture provides - privately, for prayer and personal edification.

No, I am content to praise the Holy Spirit for the real miracle He works, dragging a sinner like me - by nature spiritually blind, dead, and an enemy of God - to the foot of the cross and teaching me to believe, and then holding me in faith against my nature and the allure of the devil, the world, and my own sinful flesh.  Sure, I would like to see something really snappy, like tongues of fire on my head, just like He did at Pentecost with the Apostles, but I will be content with the knowledge of my salvation, and the forgiveness of my sins, and certain hope of everlasting life, which He has worked in me through the Word.   How about you?

Yours in the Lord,
Pastor Fish

Sunday, April 16, 2023

Can These Bones Live?

Ezekiel 37:1-14

The hand of the LORD was upon me, and He brought me out by the Spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of the valley; and it was full of bones.  And He caused me to pass among them round about, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley; and lo, they were very dry.  And He said to me, "Son of man, can these bones live?"  And I answered, "O Lord GOD, Thou knowest."  Again He said to me, "Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, ‘O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD.'  Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones, ‘Behold, I will cause breath to enter you that you may come to life.  And I will put sinews on you, make flesh grow back on you, cover you with skin, and put breath in you that you may come alive; and you will know that I am the LORD.'"

So I prophesied as I was commanded; and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and behold, a rattling; and the bones came together, bone to its bone.  And I looked, and behold, sinews were on them, and flesh grew, and skin covered them; but there was no breath in them.  Then He said to me, "Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD, "Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they come to life."'"

So I prophesied as He commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they came to life, and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.  Then He said to me, "Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel; behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope has perished. We are completely cut off.'  Therefore prophesy, and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD, "Behold, I will open your graves and cause you to come up out of your graves, My people; and I will bring you into the land of Israel.  Then you will know that I am the LORD, when I have opened your graves and caused you to come up out of your graves, My people.  And I will put My Spirit within you, and you will come to life, and I will place you on your own land. Then you will know that I, the LORD, have spoken and done it," declares the LORD.'"

Sermon for Quasimodogeniti Sunday                                             4/16/23

Can These Bones Live?

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

"Dem Bones, Dem Bones, Dem dry bones; Dem Bones, Dem Bones, Dem dry bones; Dem Bones, Dem Bones, Dem dry bones; Now hear the Word of the Lord!"

I heard that song over and over again as a child.  Don't ask me why.  The song must have been popular or part of something going on in the Fifties or something like that.  We all sang about how the foot-bone connected to the heel-bone, and the heel-bone connected to the ankle-bone, and the ankle-bone connected to the shin-bone, and so forth.  It was all very rhythmic and musical and fun.  I remember, vaguely, knowing something about how this came out of the Bible, more or less.  I was amazed when I actually read the prophet Ezekiel and discovered what it was and what it meant.  This morning, you will discover too, if you don't already know.  Our theme is, Can These Bones Live?.

The answer most of us would give is, "Of course!"  We would answer that way because we have read the story, and because we have seen the bones in Ezekiel's vision come to life.  One or two of us might be realistic enough to say "No."  Bones don't come to life, except in visions, in dreams, in Hollywood Effects, and in the Bible.  Both answers would be wrong, of course.  Ezekiel gives the right answer – "O Lord God, You know."  It would be wrong to say ‘yes,' unless God says "Yes."  If God is not behind it, and wanting these bones to live, they have no chance whatsoever.  On the other hand, if God wants them to live, they will – look what He did with a handful of dirt!  Besides, if there were no possibility that the bones could live, we would have to deny the resurrection – especially the resurrection of those whose bodies have decayed.

The answer is, "If it is in your will, O Lord, they shall live."  It all depends on the Lord.  But this lesson is not about the ability of God, or of the bones to live, it is about the promise of God to rescue His people -- in spite of what they may believe is overwhelming odds against them.  The Children of Israel were facing the reality of their situation – they were conquered and taken into exile.  They believed that their situation was hopeless.  They were facing the fact that they had no power, and no hope in and of themselves to set themselves free.   Because they had been favored by God, and now were crushed and exiled, they were also despairing.

The Lord brought Ezekiel to the valley of the dry bones in the spirit and asked him if those bones, long dead and dry could live.  Ezekiel recognized that he was in a vision and waited for the Word of the Lord.  Then the Lord commanded him to speak – and told him exactly what to say.  "Prophesy to these bones," God said.

Ordinarily, we would say that speaking to the lifeless is pointless.  But Ezekiel prophesied as he had been commanded.  Because he spoke the words which the Lord had given him to speak, the effect was immediate and powerful.  The bones grew new sinews and new muscles and new flesh.  It wasn't Ezekiel's power, nor was it the power of the words themselves, but it was the power of the Word of God.  And God didn't speak directly or act simply by divine fiat.  He accomplished all that He wanted to do by means of His Word, and, this is important, by means of His Word spoken by the one He called to preach it.

The lesson was the that the children of Israel were down and defeated and certain that there was nothing left for them.  They were moaning and complaining to one another about how they were crushed and there was no hope.  God showed Ezekiel the truth.  He showed Him not just what could happen, but what He was going to do.  He promised the people through Ezekiel that they would return from their exile, and that they would have good days again, as a nation – although those who received the promise were not going to see those days themselves.  

Something more, though.  God promised resurrection from the dead.  Now, many of those who heard the promises probably took them to simply mean the resurrection of their hopes, since they were all talking about how their hopes were dead and they were completely cut off, and it just sucked the life out of them.  But God clearly promised to raise them from their graves!  This is the promise of the resurrection which Jesus began to demonstrate the fulfillment of on Easter!

Just like ancient Israel facing the destruction of Jerusalem, we have those among us who seem to expect the worst.  We have heard some former members say "we're not going to make it."  "This congregation cannot survive."  "We're going downhill."  Tell me if that complaint doesn't sound like ancient Israel?  "Then He said to me, "Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel; behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope has perished. We are completely cut off.'""

The only difference is that Israel had just endured military defeat.  They had watched their neighbors killed and enslaved and forcibly resettled in another country.  They had good reason, by comparison,  to be upset and frightened.  Their problem was that they no longer trusted in God.  When they could not see how things were going to work out the way they wanted them to work out, they just figured there was no hope.  They were wrong, but that is the way they thought.  And God showed them that the power to accomplish what they wanted to do was His, not theirs.  He showed them that His Word could accomplish much more than they dared imagine – and then promised them the unexpected – and nearly unbelievable!

Now, what are our problems about which people might fret?  The political realities of our nation are disconcerting to many.  As a congregation, we have had a couple of members pass away in the last couple of years – remarkably few for the age of our congregation. The cumulative effect of those stopped attending and those who passed away is that our congregation is a little smaller, and we are getting things done more slowly that we might hope.

Well, whether or not Immanuel Lutheran Church of Bartlett Township survives much longer as a congregation is not really in your hands.  It is in the hands of God.  This is His church, and if He has use for it, it will survive to serve His purposes.  We may not be huge, but we have the Word of God – and the fellowship of God's Holy People, here.

The vision of Ezekiel reminds us that life is possible with God where it is unimaginable to us.  We are the dry bones of the vision.  Can we live?  Of course, if it is the will of God.  The correct answer, of course, is, "If it is in your will, O Lord, they shall live."  And the power that will work life and health and strength here at Immanuel is just exactly the same as worked in the valley of the dry bones – the Word of God, proclaimed by the one God has called and instructed to proclaim it.  If we think it is dependent on us, our wit or our abilities, we are mistaken.  God wants to use us, but whatever  good we may do, and how we prosper as a congregation is in the hands of God and our hope is in trusting Him and doing what He sets before us to do, and hearing His Word!

And His Word to us is just the same as it was to ancient Israel!  It is the promise of salvation and of the resurrection from the dead.  Our goal here is not to build a large congregation.  That would be nice, and my ego would certainly enjoy it if everyone loved me and crowds flocked to hear the wisdom that dripped from my lips and to worship among us.  We have wonderful people here and God's absolute truth is proclaimed here, and it would be a blessing for everyone in the community to be a part of our congregation.  If they were here, they would fellowship with you good people, and they would feed on God's holy Word of grace and salvation.  But that isn't the way things in this world work most of the time.  Usually, the closer to the truth and to Christ we stand, the more troubles and persecution we can expect.  Jesus said so.  Our mission here is not to impress the community with our church, it is to proclaim the goodness of the Lord which we just celebrated throughout Lent and especially on Easter.

We know the secret of God – we know what His will for us is!  And what is that will?   {Our Salvation!}   He has chosen us for salvation.  We shall rise from our graves and shall enter the promised land of heaven, and shall live in God's presence forever.  And it won't be because we were such great people, it will be because of Jesus, and because God chose us in His grace, called us by the Gospel, baptized us into His family, and then kept us until we made it all the way to heaven.

We have a sure thing.  Our hope is not dead, or dried up.  We are not going to fall apart, fold up, or blow away.  We are going to live by the grace and power of God, as He shares it with us through His Word, and we are going to rise from our graves to everlasting life in glory.  And it will all be God's doing – here and now, and then.  Listen to how it works, in the words of our text, "Therefore prophesy, and say to them, 'Thus says the Lord GOD, "Behold, I will open your graves and cause you to come up out of your graves, My people; and I will bring you into the land of Israel.  Then you will know that I am the LORD, when I have opened your graves and caused you to come up out of your graves, My people.  "And I will put My Spirit within you, and you will come to life, and I will place you on your own land.  Then you will know that I, the LORD, have spoken and done it," declares the LORD.'"

Can these bones live?  "You know, O Lord."  Our well-being as individuals, and our success as a congregation, and our hope for resurrection, and everlasting life and salvation all rest in the hands of the Lord.  Easter tells us that Jesus' hands are a pretty good place to leave our hopes, our aspirations, and our future.  If it is the will of God, these bones will not just live, but thrive!

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)

Monday, April 10, 2023

The Wounds that Heal

 Isaiah 53:1-6

Who has believed our message? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?  For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, And like a root out of parched ground; He has no stately form or majesty That we should look upon Him, Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him.  He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; And like one from whom men hide their face, He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.  Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted.  But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed.  All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him.

Sermon for Good Friday                                                           4/07/23

The Wounds that Heal

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Today is it.  Today is the service at which we mark in particular the sacrifice for sin.  I am always surprised, although I should not be, about the number of so-called Christian teachers who simply cannot deal with the simple truth of the vicarious atonement.  Such people are not Christians in-fact, of course, but they parade themselves as pastors, and professors of religion, and theologians, and they come out from under their rocks at this time of year to tell us "the truth" about Christ and Christianity, and how they cannot agree that blood was needed for our salvation, they cannot accept that our redemption required the grisly sacrifice of Jesus.  They wonder aloud and in print about what sort of God would require such a sacrifice.  One wonders, viewing their annual discourses in disbelief, why do they bother with church and religion, and the Christian religion, especially.

Of course, the answer is simple.  They are servants of the one whose entire purpose of being is to destroy God and all His works.  They oppose sound doctrine and the historic Christian faith because their lord and master demands it of them.  Naturally, they do not consciously realize this fact, most of the time.  They invent their own rationalizations for pursuing their satanic ends, but that is the reason.  They are true believers – just not believers in Christ.  And they are out to convert the world, particularly the part of it that is Christian.  They emerge from their shadows at this time of the year because this is the day – not Halloween – when evil was once at its peak of power, and then was decidedly crushed under the wheels of its own labor.  Today is the significant day, second only to Easter.  Today is the day that the devil delivered the wounds that heal, and that is our theme tonight: the wounds that heal.

Our prophecy from Isaiah begins with a sentence that fits so appropriately.  Who has believed our message?  Clearly, it is not those who cannot accept the thought that the suffering of Good Friday was actually necessary.  The answer could not be those that accuse God of monstrosity because He tortured and killed Jesus in such a marked fashion for the sake of rescuing and redeeming sinful man.  The prophet Isaiah had the same sort of problem in his day, people just could not imagine that what Isaiah was saying was true.  A suffering servant?  The Messiah being something less than desirable in appearance, and being hated and abused?  That just did not fit their preconceptions!  It did not match their hopes and desires, either.

These were people who wanted a beautiful image, and a triumphant and glorious savior, just like so many so-called Christians today.  There were some who believed.  Isaiah is simply wondering who they are – and where they are.  But he acknowledges that those who believe do so because God made them believe - they are the ones "to whom the arm of the LORD has been revealed".  And what was revealed to them?

Jesus.  They didn't learn the name, yet, but they heard the prophecy.  They heard about the one who would grow up in hostile and unbelieving times, among people who generally had no time for God – that is the parched ground of the prophecy.  He would come with humility, and claim no special notice for who He was.  There would be "no stately form or majesty That we should look upon Him, Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him. " Jesus was the first, "what you see is what you get" sort of guy.  Worse yet, Isaiah says that not only would people not recognize Him for who He is, but they would reject Him and hate Him for it.  He was despised and forsaken of men.  His life, and particularly His death is described for us by Isaiah like this: "A man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; And like one from whom men hide their face, He was despised, and we did not esteem Him."

All of the wounds we have talked about this Lententide, and the ones we have ignored this year, fell on Christ on our behalf.  "Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried".  Jesus died to redeem us.  The wounds He bore, He bore on our behalf.  Modern thinkers try to paint Jesus as this revolutionary who got caught and died for leading a philosophical revolt against the status quo.  That is simply not so.

Other thinkers try to pretend that Jesus was paying some debt owed to the devil, as though the devil has some position roughly equal to God and we had stumbled into a position where the devil owned us and Jesus had to buy us back.  There is a bit of truth in that, as there is in any really good lie.  By sinning, we have sold ourselves into slavery to sin, and therefore to the inventor of sin, Satan.  But he doesn't own us, and Jesus did not die to buy us out of his ownership.  The devil leads the pack of the condemned on the road to hell - and he is none too happy with consignment to that place, either.  The price Jesus paid with His wounds and His blood was not paid to the devil.  It was paid to the justice of God.  Isaiah points to that truth with the words, "Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted."  This was all done to rescue us from our own deeds and what we have justly earned and deserve.

And these are the wounds that heal.  "But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed".  He endured the nails through His hand for those who would not lift their hand to help Him - or anyone else, for that matter.  We often lose sight of the reality while we prattle on about the details of the crucifixion.  It is almost as though we imagine that crucifixion was somehow easy for Him to bear.  One only need consider how few "Christians" attend worship regularly, and how many find no motivation in themselves to attend Maundy Thursday or Good Friday services.

It is so common for those who claim to be Christian to skip church that there is a new style of mission congregation being developed with the single aim of capturing those who want to miss worship.  There is even a website now,, dedicated to outreach to those who don't want to be bothered with church, even on Easter. [It is for people who want to have fun in church, or make fun out of it.]  Only someone who has not considered the cost of their salvation could allow anything but the most urgent issues of life keep them from hearing the wonderful news of life - and receiving the gifts of God in the divine service - and thanking God for all that He has done for us.

How could you turn casually away from that torment?  How could you nonchalantly wander from the cure for death? The answer is that you don't believe it, and have never actually considered the love of God that moved Him to such extravagant lengths to save you.  Listen to the words, "But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities".  Then there are the milder "chastening" and "scourging".  These were no afternoon of light work, no dilettante's exercise.  This was torment and agony endured to set you free.  These are the wounds that heal - and they heal you and your sickness unto death.

Part of the problem is that we often have trouble thinking of ourselves seriously as being all that evil.  We say it, but we consider ourselves to be basically decent people.  Sure, we have sinned, but it is nothing compared to the next guy!  Some of our sins, we actually enjoy.  But that is because we don't understand, and because we cannot see what they are doing to us and what they mean.  The cross of Jesus is the proper measuring stick when you want to measure the depth of your sin and how serious even the ones you find pleasure in really are.  " All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him."

Go to dark Gethsemane, if you want to hear how terrifying your sins are, and then follow to Golgotha and see the price that was exacted because you sinned and did not take the business of evil seriously.  Sickness and death are bits of the trouble that sin causes, to remind us that it is not just a word-game, and that we really do need a Savior.  I don't mean to say that this or that sickness is caused by this or that specific sin, or that because you are sick, you must be worse than that healthy person across the way.  Not at all!  We each must face sickness and death in our own time, and none of us is pure and righteous of ourselves.

But because the iniquity of us all fell on Jesus, sickness and death are not the final answer.  Forgiveness, life, and salvation are!   Our sins are forgiven because the Innocent One died for us, the guilty.  We shall rise from the grave and live in eternal glory because of Jesus.  His are the wounds that heal.  Each of us were terribly sick, with sin, sickness unto death.   And Jesus took care of us in love, and pours out His redemption upon us all, that he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved!

"Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted.  But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed."  We know it is so because Jesus said so.  He said, Tetelestai!, that is, It is finished!

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)

Friday, April 07, 2023

A Meal For the Wounded

 Exodus 24:3-11

Then Moses came and recounted to the people all the words of the LORD and all the ordinances; and all the people answered with one voice, and said, "All the words which the LORD has spoken we will do!"  And Moses wrote down all the words of the LORD.  Then he arose early in the morning, and built an altar at the foot of the mountain with twelve pillars for the twelve tribes of Israel.  And he sent young men of the sons of Israel, and they offered burnt offerings and sacrificed young bulls as peace offerings to the LORD.

And Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and the other half of the blood he sprinkled on the altar.  Then he took the book of the covenant and read it in the hearing of the people; and they said, "All that the LORD has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient!"  So Moses took the blood and sprinkled it on the people, and said, "Behold the blood of the covenant, which the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words."

Then Moses went up with Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and they saw the God of Israel; and under His feet there appeared to be a pavement of sapphire, as clear as the sky itself.  Yet He did not stretch out His hand against the nobles of the sons of Israel; and they beheld God, and they ate and drank.

Sermon for Maundy Thursday                                                           4/04/23

A Meal for the Wounded

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Moses has just finished reading the covenant and the laws God had given to Moses to guide the people of Israel.  That is where our text begins.  Then they perform the sacrifices and burn the offerings and gather the blood of the sacrificed bulls.  Moses pours half of the blood – or sprinkles it – on the altar.  Then he reads the covenant to the people once again, and when they pledge themselves to it, he sprinkles them with the other half of the blood from the sacrifices.  Now the people have made a covenant with God, and signed it with blood.  They are sprinkled with one half of the blood and God is sprinkled with the other half, by the sprinkling of His altar.  That blood binds them together.

Now Moses and the seventy elders of Israel climb the mountain to meet with God.  None may approach God as Moses may, but seventy of the elders climb half-way up the mountain and see the God of Israel.  What did they see?  Only they know.  They appear to have seen a human shape.  He appears to have walked in air as if on the ground.  If I had to wager a guess, I would guess that what they beheld was a pre-incarnate Christ - they saw Jesus, only they saw Him before He was born.

God told Moses that no one could see Him and live – but that was about seeing Him as He is in all His glory.  God didn't show them what they could not see.  Our text says that He did not stretch out His hand against them.  So, they saw what He wanted them to see, and since what they were seeing was the God of Israel, I think that they may have had a preview of Jesus.

Then they ate and drank.  Eating and drinking together is always the highest form of fellowship and communion, both socially and religiously, so naturally, they were eating and drinking in the presence of the Lord - if not with Him.  I cannot tell by the text if God ate and drank too.  This is, nonetheless, a fellowship with God unlike anything ever before in History since Adam and Eve walked with God in the Garden, and not seen again until we come to the Lord's Supper.  What did they eat and what did they drink?  The Bible doesn't say, but I am almost certain that it would have included, at least, bread and wine.  They were the first to eat like this, and their meal-fellowship with God foreshadows the meal we share tonight and with which we commemorate especially the giving of this holy Supper by our Lord on the same night in which He, Jesus, was betrayed.  This meal on the altar tonight is a meal for the wounded.

That is our theme, going along with the Lenten series, He was wounded for our transgressions.  Perhaps Moses and the elders ate of the meat which they had sacrificed and burned to devote it to God, in accord with all that the Lord had taught them already.  But the meal was not necessarily a big one.  They ate and they drank and it was a ceremonial meal, establishing fellowship with God.  They were no longer being led by what they did not know or what they did not understand.  They were now in a covenant with God, and had seen God.  He had rescued them, and established His covenant of love, and blessing, and protection, and providence with them as with no other people on earth!  They had been covered in the blood of the covenant, and now, as if to seal the deal, they partook of the covenant meal.

From that day forward, the covenant meal would be the Passover Seder.  They would eat the lamb, the bitter herbs, the bread of haste, and remember God's gracious choice and mighty help.  And they would drink the wine of the Passover to remind them that God is good, for life is good, and God provides even the wine to drink.

When God sent forth the true Passover Lamb, to end the reign of death, He established once again that meal with Him and in His presence.  He did things in the same order, too.  He provided the salvation, then He gave us the meal.  Our meal is a meal of fellowship with one another and with God.  How could it fail to be a meal of fellowship with God when what we eat is His body and what we drink is His blood?

We face the blood issue, too.  Just as they were sprinkled with the blood so long ago, binding them to their Lord, we have been sprinkled with the blood of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins.  We don't get spattered, as did the first Israelites on that day, but then again, most of ancient Israel were not present there on that day to be spattered either.  We receive that blood hidden, by the will of Jesus Christ, in, with, and under the form of the wine which we drink.  Our "sprinkling" comes in Baptism, where God cleanses us of our sins and adopts us into His family.  What greater fellowship can there be than the fellowship of family?

Only the seventy were allowed to come and eat and drink in the presence of the Lord on that day.  Most of Israel did not, and yet they were counted as present in the representation of the seventy.  Yet today, everyone that believes and confesses Christ, and enters into this new fellowship with Him, partakes of this holy Supper.  And we know what this Supper accomplishes, because Jesus tells us.  It is for the forgiveness of sins.  The same God, a similar meal, and the same hope – of salvation from heaven.

Just what we need, which is why our Lord provides us this Supper.  We are the wounded, troubled by sin and the sorrows and pains of life.  Here Jesus comes to us to serve us with forgiveness and hope and strength.  They called their supper the Passover, because that is what happened on the night they were remembering.  The angel of death passed over the houses of the Israelites, whose doorposts were covered in the blood of the lamb.  

We call this the Lord's Supper. Because He established it, because it is His body and His blood we eat and we drink, and because no one can serve this Supper but Christ.  He alone has the power to bring into reality the sacramental elements of the holy Meal promised in His words of institution.  So, even though it appears that I distribute it, I only do so by his authority and at His behest.  It is actually Jesus serving us with this medicine of immortality which works in us to strengthen us and bring us finally to life everlasting and – at the last – to the resurrection of our bodies from the grave.

We call this meal Holy Communion, for it is holy, and in it and through it we commune with God and with one another.  The old term was "communicate".  By this Supper we "communicate" with one another that we share this salvation, this faith, and these blessings.  We receive – communicated by God – the body and blood, the forgiveness and strength and life.

Some call this meal the Eucharist - meaning thanksgiving.  It is called that because Jesus gave thanks before He distributed the elements of the meal, and because we receive it with thanksgiving.  Some call this the Sacrament of the Altar, because it is served at the altar – and it is a sacrament, a sacred act of God accomplished among us.  Others call this the Lord's Table.  It is the Lord's, and it is served from the table - the altar - of the Lord.  Call it what you will, this is the gospel made visible and tangible and taste-able.  Taste and see that the Lord is good!  We are, like the seventy elders of old, invited to dine with God.  Only it is not Moses, but Jesus Christ Himself who invites us and leads us to the Supper.

Once again, God is bound to us by blood, and by His promises. This time it is not the blood of cattle, sprinkled on the worshiper, but the blood of the very Son of God, poured out for us, and served to us along with His body, to eat and to drink and to mark us as his own and to bring to us the gifts of life and salvation, for as Luther correctly observed in the Catechism, "where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation."

This is the meal for the wounded, to make us whole.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)