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Luther on Spiritual Warfare (part 7)

October 30, 2015 Leave a comment
  1. How a Common Christian has Need of Such Power in His Station.luther cranach2

It belongs in common to all Christians that they preserve the doctrine and their faith, but especially they which carry out the preaching office, that each in his particular station can stand up for it and answer useless talkers. “Do you not hear that God has applied this station to me, and commanded me faithfully to wait upon it, and threatens me with His wrath if I were to leave it undone, and do something else?” That is not only to remain firm in his own station, unhindered and undefeated, but instead also to beat, reject, and refute with the Word of God whatever hinders us and wants to draw us back. St. Paul shortly before this text teaches how this is to be done through all stations—man, woman, young, old, lords, servants, maids, etc. For it is determined that each Christian, in whatever station he is in, must always stand in the midst of struggle, where the devil attacks and storms against him with his promptings, with false, evil thoughts, or through evil, useless talkers, which would incite him to leave his station, not to mention what our own flesh does. Therefore it is not enough that we keep our own castle safe…rather also, that we drive the devil away and beat him back through God’s Word, which is our sword, as we shall hear.

  1. For this an Armor is Required.

                PUT ON THE ARMOR OF GOD.

That we should be strong and have such power with us wherewith we can beat the foe, he now wants to interpret himself and clarify how and through what we must do this, or what our armament and weapons should be. And he first calls us to buckle on armor, as people of war who are armed for a fight, and who will put up stiff resistance. But he indicates not the kind of armor which one uses here on earth to protect the body, but instead that which is called “the armor of God.” That is a curious kind of armor. Where would we get it, or where is the armorer who can forge such armor? Well then, he will hereafter name what it is and explain, one after another, the things that belong to this armor of God.

  1. And indeed an Armor of God.

But here he is still talking generally. This armor must be an armor not of a man, but instead of God Himself. Here on earth one finds no armorer who can forge armor that will work against the devil. Here then there exists no human strength, power, nor wisdom and understanding that will work against this foe. He can turn everything into powder and ashes simply by blowing on you with his breath. Therefore, because you are a different kind of warrior, he wants to say, and because you have another kind of foe against you, so you must also have another kind of armor than the world has or can make.

  1. For the Matter over Which we Must Fight is of God.

But he also therefore calls it the armor of God, to indicate what the matter is over which we are fighting, namely, that the war belongs to God Himself. And we are His warriors. Since we fight for Him and His cause, we must also use His armor, with which He makes war. As if he should say, “You have a Lord, who is the foe of the devil. His is the crown and the Godhead. Therefore if you want to have Him for your Lord, and you want to hold with Him and become a partaker of His good things, then you must also have His foes against you, and you must go to war and struggle against them.” Everyone who wants to be under a lord must also march under his banner, and have his enemies for enemies. Since now the devil is God’s enemy, and wants to destroy His Kingdom, you should not think that you will be secure from him. Instead arm yourself for war, and indeed even with the armor with which He Himself makes war through His Christendom. So He wants with this to give us courage, because we in the world and through our whole life must stand in struggle and controversy, and suffer that all will bluster and storm against us. He wants us to know that these things do not happen on account of ourselves, but rather by God’s will. And our struggle is not ours, but rather belongs to God Himself. He wants to encourage us that we stand in His service, and much more to comfort us that He will not leave us, but instead will most faithfully stand by us and help. He wants us to be encouraged that we are not working in vain, but rather that He, powerfully working through us, will be victorious.

  1. Because God wants to take honor from the proud devil through weak people.

For He is man enough for the devil, and could easily fight the devil with a finger, yea, with a Word, and could restrain all his ranting and raging. Still He wants to use us for this purpose, and play a trick on the proud, wrathful spirit, that he puts against him and taunts him by one such poor, weak vessel, which stands against him as a little spark against a strong wind, that he might blow us out with a breath. Still he wants to beat him through such weak vessels, and through us to take honor from such a proud, mighty foe, that He might make known His divine power in our weakness. This [angers?] the devil, that God taunts him with such frail junk, and he attacks us wrathfully and ferociously, and would in a flash smash us like a heap of pottery. Therefore we must be armed against him, and also have an armor wherewith we can defend ourselves. This armor is not ours, but rather alien, namely God’s power and might, so that we might not glory in ourselves, nor give up within ourselves, as we would if we tried to stand with our own might against this foe.

  1. The Great Cunning of Satan.

                THAT YOU CAN STAND AGAINST THE CRAFTY ATTEMPTS OF THE DEVIL.

Here he begins now to paint and show what kind of foe we have, and how he prepares himself to make war and to attack us. He reveals to us his works and arts wherewith he pursues us. He says this, and will say further, so that we will therefore protect ourselves and well arm ourselves with the armor of God. But he calls his conflict and war arts “crafty attempts” to show that the devil is such a foe who is not only mightier than we (as he soon hereafter will say), but rather also very tricky, and wicked. He sets up all his attacks with cunning and trickiness. He does not attack us openly and freely under our eyes, like a foe from whom we can protect ourselves, and see where he would break in. Rather he creeps up on us and looks where he may secretly and treacherously take us captive, where we least expect it. So you need not worry that he will attack you where he sees you armed, where you yourself expect him and have grasped the sword. Rather, look where you are run down and undefended. There he can find a hole, where he creep up to you, that he may suddenly and unforeseen catch and fell you.

continued

A Heartfelt Prayer and Sigh for the Appearing of Christ. Gebets-Schatz

October 29, 2015 1 comment
  1. A Heartfelt Prayer and Sigh for the Appearing of Christ.judgement memling

Georg Zeämann, Superintendant of Stralsund, Germany (1580-1638)

O Lord Jesus Christ, faithful guardian of mankind, I thank you from my heart that you do not leave us to be surprised by Your coming, but instead You faithfully warn us beforehand. Rouse me, dear Lord, from the slumber of fleshly security, that I may diligently guard myself against sins against conscience and, as a wise servant, stand in constant preparedness, awaiting Your glorious appearing from heaven with highest joy and desire, for it is our only and last hope in this wretched time. Come Lord Jesus. Hurry, Lord. Bring to an end the evil days, so that the poor community [of Your Church] may not give up hope. O heavenly foundation and cornerstone, strike the image on its feet of clay and iron, and crush them, and lead us into the new heaven and the new earth, wherein righteousness dwell. Let your saints take the kingdom and eternally possess it. Let yourself be moved to this by Your divine promise and ardent love toward your bride, won at such great cost, and by the fervent longing of the whole creation, the unceasing sighs of Your pious Christians, and the blood of so many thousands of martyrs which has been shed for Your name’s sake. On account of these things, come, dear Lord Jesus, and hurry with Your judgment. Let Your glorious, majestic voice be heard, that heaven and earth may quake. No day passes but that we wait for You, and we would gladly soon be with You. Amen, Lord Jesus, Amen.

Prayer for the Speedy Return of Christ to Judgment. Luther

October 29, 2015 Leave a comment
  1. Prayer for the Speedy Return of Christ to Judgmentmartin-luther-1526

Martin Luther (1483-1546)

Dear Lord Jesus Christ, strengthen and bring to completion the work that You have begun in us. Yes, hurry to us with the glorious day of our redemption, which by the grace of God we heartily desire, and for which we sigh and wait in a true faith and with a good conscience. Because of this your judgment we have served the unthankful world. But no improvement is to be hoped for it; instead it is the enemy both of their salvation and ours. Come, dear Lord Jesus! And whoever loves You, let him say, “Come, dear Lord Jesus.” Amen.

Like a Little King

October 29, 2015 Leave a comment

adam-naming-the-animalsIn catechesis last night with the fifth and sixth graders we were discussing Genesis 2 and the creation of Adam.  I asked the catechumens, “What was God treating Adam like when He brought all the animals in front of him and had Adam name them?”  One catechumen said, “Like a little king.”

That was exactly right.  God created human beings to be little kings and enter into His work.  And now, redeemed by Jesus’ blood, we are little kings with Christ through faith in Him.  He gives all things that are His into our hands, even the authority to bind and loose sins.

St. Simon and St. Jude, Apostles, 2015. Anonymous Apostles.

October 28, 2015 Leave a comment

St. Simon and St. Jude, apostles (School Matins)

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. John 15:17-22

October 28, 2015

“Anonymous Apostles”

Iesu Iuva

St. Simon and St. Jude were apostles of Jesus, two of His twelve hand-picked men. Since Jesus is the king and Lord of all the earth, you’d think that all of the twelve men He specially picked to be His witnesses to all the earth would be famous. But they’re not. Most of the apostles we know next to nothing about. Of St. Simon and St. Jude we have only their names in the Scriptures, except for one verse about St. Jude, which we’ll get to later. Not a lot to remember them by. Tradition says that Jude and Simon went together on a missionary journey—where, we’re not sure—an d they had their heads cut off with an axe. But we can’t be sure about that either.

There is one passage that tells us a little more about St. Jude, in John chapter 14, verse 22. “Judas (not Iscariot) said to [Jesus], ‘Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us and not to the world?’” What we know for sure about St. Jude is only this—at least at one point, he was disappointed by Jesus. See, Jude along with all the disciples had seen Jesus manifest His divine power and glory. He had seen Jesus raise the dead. He had seen Him silence the wind and the waves with a word. He had seen Jesus do countless other miracles and had come to believe that Jesus was not just a great man, not just a prophet, but God in human flesh. And Jude thought, “Jesus, if You would just manifest Your glory to the world, the whole world would come running to You. Then everything the prophets said about peace on earth would come true!” But it turned out Jesus was not going to manifest Himself that way to the world. He was going to manifest Himself by being lifted up, broken and bloodied and pierced, on the cross. He would show Himself to the world as the One who would be covered with all the world’s shame and sin. He would expose Himself as the One who bears the anger of God against the sins of the world. And when the world saw its God, stretched out on the cross, crushed by the wrath of God, it would not accept Him. It would reject Him, cast Him away, say, “We want nothing to do with this Jesus.”

When Jude asked Jesus why He was not going to reveal Himself to the world, Jesus had this to say to Jude’s disappointment: “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word, and My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love Me does not keep My words. And the word that you hear is not Mine, but the Father’s who sent Me.” (John 14:23-24)

 

This is the painful lesson that Jude had to learn from Jesus. And it is one that Jesus teaches all His disciples through disappointment, pain, and loss. Jesus did not come into the world to force people to believe in Him through the manifestation of His glory. He will come to those who love Him and make His home with them. But He will not force anyone to believe. He will not force anyone to believe that God became one of us and came not with glorious majesty and spiritual excitement but in the form of a slave to become sin for us.

That means the world is not going to come flocking to the Church and to us. It means that those who go out preaching Jesus Christ and Him crucified, like St. Simon and St. Jude, will get the same thing Jesus got. The world doesn’t love faithful witnesses to Jesus. If you go out into the world armed only with your confession of Jesus—that He died for our sins on the cross, and He alone is the way to the Father, the world will hate you. If you came with miracles or spiritual excitement, the world might respect that. But come only with Jesus the Crucified? The world will hate you and call you insane. “What is a crucified man going to do for us? Don’t you have something better than that?” So shouts the world at us. So it shouted at St. Simon and St. Jude, until it stopped shouting and grabbed (so they say) an axe.

But we have something better than miracles, spiritual excitement, and the approval of the world. We, like St. Simon and St. Jude, have Jesus’ word comforting us, telling us we are His own. “If the world hates you, know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” (St. John 15:18-19) Jesus chose us as His own out of the midst of a world that is lost and doomed to eternal wrath.

How did He choose you? He chose you before the world began, but in time He called you to be His own through the Holy Gospel. He called you to believe that Christ crucified is the true God. In His rejection by the world on the cross He reconciled you to God. And then by His lowly means of water joined to His Word in Baptism, He claimed you, came to you and made His dwelling with you. And so the world responds to us as it did to Jesus. A few hear Jesus’ Word. Most reject and hate it.

That’s why Jesus’ Church always lives a tenuous existence, on the fringe of the world. She doesn’t have allies in the world, because she belongs to Jesus. But she, the Church, is rich and glorious, though her treasure and glory are not seen by the world or even by our own eyes. The world may hate her. She may seem weak, helpless, and crucified, just like her Lord. But her Lord, the Son of God, dwells in her members. He was crucified in weakness but was raised from the dead in glory, never to die again, and seated at the right hand of the Father. And so all who remain with Jesus’ Word. They die, but behold, He will raise them again and seat them with Himself at God’s right hand to reign with Him over all His enemies.

So St. Simon and St. Jude never got the praise of the world. Even in the Church on earth we hardly remember them. But through their preaching and their blood the kingdom of Christ has come to us. And because it is among us, because we believe that Jesus shed His blood for us, He makes His home with us and has prepared a home for us at the Father’s right hand. We probably won’t be remembered or loved by the world for believing in Jesus and serving Him with our lives on earth. The nations probably won’t flock to us. But we belong to the eternal Son of God. He chose us out of the world. He bought us with His blood. There is more glory in that than there is in the whole fallen world.

Amen.

Soli Deo Gloria

Luther on Spiritual Warfare (part 6)

October 20, 2015 Leave a comment

 

And in the might of His strength.

  1. Paul here uses quite emphatic words.

This is certainly unclearly spoken, and it is neither good German, Latin, nor Greek, but instead quite Hebrew. Still we must retain the words, because he had reason to talk this way. He saw and thought farther than we do in the way we are accustomed to talk. We said it with more words according to our way like this: “Stand firm, and hold on, that you do not become lazy and lax, nor become delinquent in that which you intend to do. And each should do and think that this is the teaching of God’s Word, which it has commanded, and is to God well-pleasing, a true service of God, and so on.” But this is said much more strongly and nobly, that he says, “If you do this, then you are strong in the Lord.” And he adds to this further, “In the might of His strength,” that is, in our German, “in His mighty strength,” or “in His great power.”

  1. We have need of two powers: a power for defense and a power for victory.

But for this reason he puts the two parts forward, “be strong” and “in the might of His strength”, to indicate that there are two powers which we must have. The first is that we remain firm in that which we should believe and do, and not desist. That is called “being strong” for yourself. The second is that one not only firm and well keep safe what we already have, and protect himself, rather also that one resist, that we not be taken, and our foes be beat back, so that we afterwards stand. Like a captain in a city—he needs not only to keep the city safe and have everything in his keeping, that the city might not be conquered and overcome. Rather also, he needs to be able himself to strike back against the foe, and rout them, and beat them into flight. The first serves to the end that I might not be overcome; the second, that I overcome the foe and become victorious over him. The first is a power of defense, but the second is called a war-power and a power for victory, which not only for himself stands and is strong, but can also sally forth and undercut the foes. The second requires much greater armament than the first.

  1. Both must come from God.

Therefore he calls it a might of divine strength, or the mighty strength of God. For we have such tremendous, mighty foes against us, namely the spirits in the air (as he will say), which are above us, and we beneath them, and one of them is stronger than all men. And they mean business against us, and set against us with all powers, where they see that we have the faith and want to strengthen ourselves in it. Then they direct all weapons, guns, and arrows against us, in order to overthrow such firmness. Because they do not gladly let us come to the point that we begin to grasp the word and believe, but much less that we remain with it, and that we arm ourselves against them and hide ourselves away, that they should not find us out and destroy us. There are very few such people which bear up until the end under such blows against them, and gallantly win the victory, even if they begin very well. But in the struggle, when the devil presses them hard, and continues without ceasing, they let him make them tired, and do not continue to stand. For it is finally not possible for a man to persist where this mighty strength of God does not come to enable one to withstand these unremitting storms of the foes, and to beat them back.

  1. How a preacher must be armed with these twofold powers.

You may now show examples of this through all manner of stations. For instance: for a pastor and preacher it is not enough that he be certain of his doctrine, and faithfully carry out his office without regarding what would hinder him—poverty, being despised, unthankfulness, and all manner of opposition. But instead it also belongs to his office that he can face the devil, confute and rebut false doctrine and error, as St. Paul requires both parts in Titus 1, that a bishop should not only be so skilled that he holds to the word, both to teach and exhort, but that he also be mighty through the same saving doctrine to punish those who speak against it, and to stop the mouth of the unnecessary washers (Anabaptists?). Because it never fails that as soon as the Word and doctrine will be purely and clearly handled, the devil will send his messengers and sow his tares. There one must fight that they be put down and the error eradicated. Even though it is not possible that one can so stop the mouths of the devil and his rotten-spirits, so that they quit and keep silence, still it is enough that one so drive them, and turn around their thing, that they cannot preserve its appearance, and thus deny them some souls and get back some from out of the error. Because Christ Himself had his Pharisees and Sadducees whom He could not entirely silence nor convert; still He so turned them around and drove them, that they could not muster anything [against His teaching]. Such people Christianity also must have, who can strike down the adversary and the opposition, take from the devil his weapons and armor, that he be put to shame. But strong warriors are required for that, who have the Scriptures in full might, and can turn around their false interpretation, and know how to take their own sword, that is, the same passages of Scripture which they use, and with them to strike them on the head, so that they bounce back. Not all can be so skilled so as to contend for the doctrine and the articles of the faith. Therefore they must have preachers and teachers, which daily study in the Scriptures, and handle them, that they before all others can debate and fight. Nevertheless every Christian should be so armed, that he is certain for himself of his faith and the doctrine, and that he ground himself with passages out of God’s Word, so that he can persist against the devil, and also fight himself when he wants to guide someone else, and so help preserve and contend for the doctrine.

continued

Who is Your God? Giving, Serving, Witnessing. Trinity 21, 2015

October 19, 2015 Leave a comment

21st Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

Genesis 1:1-2:3

October 18, 2015

“Who is Your God? Giving, Serving, Witnessing”

Iesu Iuva

Who is your God? If someone asked you that question, would you be caught flat-footed? You would not be, because you know the Creed. In it we confess that God is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. And if you were pressed to say more about God, you could begin with the First Article: “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.”

Those words teach that God, first of all, is the Maker of the whole universe. As the Maker, He is almighty, all-powerful. If someone asks who your God is, that would be a place to begin. “My God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is almighty. He has all power. There is no other God, because there is only One Almighty.”

But as Maker, God is more than just powerful. As Maker He is giver. He is the God who gives all things.

He is the God who gives because in six days He made the earth and the heavens and all that dwells in them. But He didn’t make the world solely for His own pleasure. He gave the world. He shared it with the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, the livestock and the beasts of the earth. He gave them life and breath and gave them the world in which to live and move and have their being. And above all other creatures, God gave the world to man, whom He created in His own image.

Moreover your God is a God who serves. When He had created the heavens and the earth, “the earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” What was the Holy Spirit doing? Descending on the dark, barren, lifeless earth. Descending to the depths, preparing to bring order and life out of nothingness. There was no life in the earth then, but the Spirit of life stretched out His wings over the abyss, preparing to serve creation and make it take form and make it live. And so throughout the first chapter of Genesis. God serves the creation with His Word, making the light appear, separating the dry land from the seas, making green plants on the earth, filling the sky with the two great lights and the stars, filling the sea with swarms of living creatures and the air with flocks of birds, filling the dry land with livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth, until at last He said to Himself, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” He served creation and made it take shape, and He continues to serve it. It is only by the constant goodness of God that the world continues to exist and that the laws of nature continue to hold. God’s goodness causes the crops to grow in their seasons and makes the sun shine on the just and the unjust. He serves and He gives. “From His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace.” (John 1:16). “For in Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).

God is the giver and the One who serves. He gave to us when He created us and put us in the world. He serves us by providing for all our needs day in and day out. He also created us to give and to serve. Again and again the first chapter of Genesis says He created “according to their kinds”—”The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds.” (Gen. 1:12) “So God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds” (Gen. 1:21). The different animals and plants were created according to their kinds, each to give and to receive from one another. Everything was created to receive and give out from the goodness God bestowed on each creature. And man was no exception. Being created in the image of God, he was to be the chief giver and servant. God blessed Adam to be fruitful and multiply on the earth, subdue it, and have dominion over the animals. This means that he was supposed to care for the creation by ruling it, watching over and tending it as God’s steward.

We have received everything we have from God, from our very lives, to our gifts and talents, to the clothes on our backs and the food on our tables. Everything we have comes from God, including our very lives. So what do we owe God in return? As Luther taught us in the catechism, “For all this,” for all God’s gifts and service to us, “it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him.” We were created to serve God, to fulfill the task He assigns us, to occupy the place in which He has placed us. God does not need our giving and serving, since it’s by His gifts and serving that we possess everything we have. But God gives to us so that we may give to and serve our neighbor. God doesn’t need your wealth, time, and ability. He is the one who gave them to you. But HE gave them to you not so that you could hoard them for yourself but so that you could serve your neighbors. He has a purpose for you. It is to honor and love your father and mother, to love and care for your children and teach them God’s Word. It is to serve your neighbor in your work as an employee or employer. And it is to serve and love everyone you come into contact with in whatever ways are available for you to serve.

But what has happened? Look at the world around you. Who even thinks about serving God? Very few. And people who think about serving their neighbors are in short supply. Children fail to honor and serve their parents. Come visit the nursing homes with me and see how many parents have children who have forgotten or abandoned them. Children living with their parents fail to honor their parents as precious gifts of God. Look around and see how many parents neglect the one most important thing in raising their children—to teach them the fear of the Lord. Employees think not about how they can help their boss succeed, but only how they can get as much as possible for themselves with the least amount of effort. Businessmen think not about providing service to their customers, but how they can make a profit. And so it goes. People are not out to serve, but to get for themselves. This is the heritage left us by Adam, our first father, who received all God’s gifts in creation and then, in ingratitude, stretched out his hand to take the fruit that Satan said would make him equal to God.

And you prove yourself to be a child of Adam. Haven’t you lived trying, most of your life, to get for yourself? Did you trust that God would give you what you needed and focus your energy on loving Him and serving the people around you? No. The fear was always eating at you that if you didn’t make sure to get what was rightfully yours, no one would take care of you. You would get the short end of the stick. After all, what happens to those who trust and wait upon the Lord? Look around! Don’t they live under the cross? Other people get ahead, and they stay behind, don’ t they?

So instead of trusting God to give us what we need and focusing on giving to others and serving others, we have sought our own good and forgotten about thankfulness to God. And the wages of this sin is death, just as it was for Adam. We lost the image of God, His righteousness, and with it we lost Him and the life that comes from Him. And that is the reason why as we live, all that had been given to us is gradually taken away again. Our works fall apart; we gradually lose our health and our lives return to dust.

For those who do not believe the Gospel that is the end of the story, at least as far as they can see. They don’t see that death is only the beginning of their losing, that after death they will suffer the loss of every good thing forever. Their only gain will be the physical and spiritual torments of hell, the regret that will gnaw at them like a worm that never dies, because they despised God’s gifts and service and lived for themselves. And that is what we have deserved also.

But amazingly, God was not through with giving and serving us after we misused the gifts of creation and refused God’s purpose for ourselves. He planned from the very beginning to give us more, far more, and to serve us in the depths to which we had fallen. If someone asks you, “Who is your God?” you can say, “My God is the God who gives and serves. He not only gave us all creation, our lives, bodies, souls, clothes, shoes, food, drink, spouse, children, and all we have—He also gave us Himself to redeem us from sin and death.” Our God is not only the Father, the maker of heaven and earth, but Jesus Christ His only Son our Lord. He is the eternal Word of God through whom the world was made and formed. He is also the Word of the Father who recreates us and the world by coming into human flesh in the womb of Mary. The eternal God was not content to make us but to be made one of us. He gave Himself to us by becoming flesh of our flesh and bone of our bone. He gave Himself to us and His innocent, obedient life in exchange for our sinful, polluted lives. He gave Himself to us to live as we ought to have lived, as thankful servants of God. And He served us by bearing our self-seeking, our lack of trust in God, to the cross.

Because of the obedience and shed blood of God in the flesh, you are forgiven. The Father has forgiven all your self-seeking and mistrust. Through the giving and serving of Jesus the disobedience of Adam and his descendants is made right. It is as though you had fulfilled God’s purpose for you and always served and freely given to your neighbor. That is what it means to be forgiven by God. And He forgave you by nothing less than giving His only-begotten Son into death for you.

That is why Christians begin to live a life of serving and giving. In our flesh we don’t want to do either. Our flesh hates God, doesn’t trust Him, and tries to shore up its own existence by giving nothing away and serving itself.

But as Christians we receive the giving and serving of the Trinity. The Holy Spirit serves us by preaching Christ to us, baptizing us, absolving us, feeding us His body and giving us His blood to drink. Through these gifts He works faith in us, and we begin to believe God’s witness that we are forgiven. And being forgiven by God, we have everything. Everything in this broken world has to serve us, even our cross and suffering and dying. All the good things of the new world to come, so good that one cannot speak of them on earth, are ours because we are forgiven, because Christ has been given to us.

Being forgiven means having everything. So we Christians begin to give. We give of our time and our talent to serve the Church. We give of the wealth with which God has blessed us so that the precious Word and Sacraments through which Christ gives forgiveness may remain among us. How much do we give? We give freely and generously. Mature Christians learn to set aside a percentage of their money to give to God’s Church. The Old Testament example is ten percent. But because God has already given us so much, indeed, more than we could have ever expected or asked, we seek to excel at the grace of giving, knowing not only that the Church needs it but that it pleases our heavenly Father, who has spared nothing in His giving to us.

As Christians we are served by God. He not only makes the sun shine on us and provides what we need for this life, but He daily serves us so that we live spiritually. He has stooped down to serve us like a slave by being born for us in the lowly manger and by bearing God’s wrath against our transgressions. As we remember the service of Jesus by eating His body and drinking His blood as He bids us do in His supper, we learn from Him not to be ashamed to serve our neighbor. That includes gladly serving in our callings, as parent, as husband and wife, as employers and employees. Hearers of the word serve their pastors by diligently hearing and learning the word and providing for his living. Pastors serve their hearers by being diligent in study, prayer, and preaching, and providing examples of godly living to the Church. And all alike serve one another in the Church by bearing with one another’s faults, forgiving one another, and proclaiming the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins to each other on all occasions.

Finally, we Christians bear witness to the love of God in Christ to those outside the Church. We do our best to live upright lives, selfless lives, that make a good impression on those who are outside. But whether our lives are blameless or we are still maturing in Christ, we remain always ready to tell people who our God is. He is the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who has given us our lives and every good thing we have. He has also given us His Son, and in Him we are forgiven and have the certain hope of eternal life.

As you can see, the Christian life is not sleepwalking. It is busy and active, marked by giving, serving, and witnessing. Make no mistake, these things are difficult. They are fighting against our flesh and blood. This is why we need constantly to be refreshed and strengthened by the Word of God and the Sacraments in the Divine Service and the study of Scripture. So I pray and urge that our congregation would gather together around the blessed Word and Sacraments for forgiveness and strength, and lift up holy hands together that the Lord would strengthen us to give, serve, and bear witness in this place as He would have us do.

Amen.

Soli Deo Gloria

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