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Trinity 3, 2018. Lost in a Different Way.

lost coinThe Third Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 15:1-10

June 17, 2018

Lost in a Different Way

 

Iesu Iuva

 

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

 

Psalm 26: I do not sit with men of falsehood, nor do I consort with hypocrites.  I hate the assembly of evildoers, and I will not sit with the wicked (Ps. 26:4-5).

 

Psalm 139: Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord?  And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?  I hate them with complete hatred; I count them my enemies.  (Ps. 139: 21-22)

 

The Pharisees, as usual, were partly right.  You can’t be friends with sin and friends with God.  And if you are close with sinners, friendly with sinners, are you actually being friendly with God’s enemies?  Isn’t that treachery toward God?

 

How would you feel if you saw your friend having coffee and laughing with a person who was in the process of cheating you out of your business or life’s savings, your enemy?  You’d feel betrayed.

 

This is how Pharisees thought Jesus should deal with the tax collectors and sinners, if He was truly from God.  If He didn’t kill them, He should at least have nothing to do with them—shun them.  And they were right, as far as the Law of God goes.  God’s Law does not make excuses for sinners.  It tells us that God is a jealous God, and will punish sinners in this life, then with physical death, then with everlasting punishment in hell.

 

But what is a sinner?  Who is a sinner?  That needs to be clarified, doesn’t it?  Who today calls anyone a sinner and means it seriously?

 

The Pharisees had in mind people whose sinful life was obvious.  Tax collectors, who collected taxes for the government, and then collected more for themselves.  Then also people whose life was disreputable, so decent people didn’t associate with them.  Prostitutes and adulterers and people who had sex outside of marriage.  People who openly worshipped idols.  Thieves and criminals.  If there were open homosexuals in Roman Judea, they would have definitely been among those called sinners.

 

On the other hand, God defines “sinner” more strictly.  A sinner is a person who breaks the law of God in thought, word, or deed.  Sin is lawlessness, says John (1 Jn. 3:4).  Anyone who has desires contrary to God’s law, who accidentally speaks words contrary to God’s law is a sinner, according to God.  The one who does [the laws of God] shall live by them (Gal. 3:12); but everyone who fails to do them, or breaks them at any point, is under God’s curse: Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the Law, to do them (Dt. 27:26). 

 

This is a problem for the Pharisees.  It was a problem for monks like Martin Luther, who managed to live lives that were outwardly righteous, and avoid adultery, theft, and so on.  It isn’t to say that we should make no distinction between people who commit sins out in the open and live in them without repentance and those who don’t.  We should and we must.  Civil authority must punish murderers even though everyone who is angry with his brother is a murderer.  The church must discipline those who openly despise God’s Word even though all Christians sin against the third commandment in their hearts.  Moses had to discipline the Israelites who openly worshipped idols even though he himself did not fear, love, and trust in God above all things.

 

But the problem is that keeping clear of open, public, obvious sin does not make you righteous.  If your sin only remains in your heart or on your tongue, you are still a sinner, subject to all of God’s threats in the Law on those who break His commandments.  In fact, you may even be in worse danger, because you, like the Pharisees and scribes, think that by keeping clean before men, you are actually righteous before God and need no repentance.

 

Those who live outwardly righteous lives and those who don’t have this in common—they are, as Jesus says, lost.  They are lost from God and cannot find their way back to Him again.  They are like a coin that has fallen out of a purse into the dustballs underneath the fridge, or like a sheep separated from the flock that can no longer hear the voice of its shepherd.  Sinners are lost to God.  They are no longer under His protection.  They are no longer His.  They are under the power of the devil, and share the devil’s fate of destruction, torment, despair.  And they cannot bring themselves back.

 

But Jesus teaches us and the Pharisees something that we can only know from the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scriptures.  He teaches the Gospel—the good news of God—that God looks at sinners of every sort as lost in a different way.  Not just lost—doomed to destruction; but as lost possessions that God wants to reclaim and find again.

 

Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, St. Paul tells us in the epistle (1 Tim. 1: 15), of whom I am the foremost.  None of Paul’s Pharisee friends would have called him a sinner.  Outwardly, he lived a dedicated, zealous life.  He was zealous for God’s Law and the traditions handed down by the rabbis and teachers that had come before him.  But Paul says not only “I was a sinner then”, but “I am the foremost sinner.”  His zeal to serve God and keep His Law didn’t change the fact that he was a sinner in the slightest.  He wanted to serve God and uphold His law, but Paul didn’t know God, despite having read the Scriptures and studied the rabbis!  Why didn’t Paul know God?

 

Because He didn’t know the Gospel, even though the Scriptures taught it clearly in passages like the one from the prophet Micah: Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance?  He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love.  He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot.  You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea (Micah 7:18-19). 

 

If God’s Law were the only teaching in the Bible, Jesus would have never told this parable.  Nor would He have sat at the table with sinners. God’s Law says: Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, to do them.  End of story.  If you are a tax collector and a sinner, or if you are a zealous Pharisee, the Law says, if you do not abide in everything written in the Law of God, you are cursed to everlasting death.  That is the reward for being God’s enemy, even if you were born into it.

 

But the Gospel says something more.  It says that God passes over transgression; He casts our sins into the depths of the sea; He forgives our lawless deeds, covers our sins and does not count them against us (Rom. 4:7-8).  This is what we confess in the creed: “I believe in the forgiveness of sins.”

 

That’s why God and the angels see sinners—all sinners—as lost in a different way.  Not simply lost to eternal fire, like when you drop a coin down a storm drain and it’s gone forever.  But lost like a lamb that has gone astray.  Lost like that orange fish in the movie “Finding Nemo”, where the clownfish dad goes on an impossible journey to find his son because he loved him too much to give up on him.  Lost like a rare coin that you drop down the drain, so you shut off the water and take the pipes apart in the sink and do whatever it takes to get that coin back.

 

The Gospel declares that God has found you who were lost in sin.  He has pardoned you and the whole human race through His Son.

 

The Gospel declares that God does not excuse our sins; He does away with them.  God is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness because His Son rescued us from the Law’s judgment that we are lost.  All our sins were charged to Jesus.  He became lost and condemned with them.  God has counted and imputed our sin to Him and condemned Him; He imputes His Son’s keeping the Law to us.

 

Why did He do this?  Because He is merciful and gracious and abounding in steadfast love, just as Moses and the Prophets continually declared.

 

Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.  He came to find those who are lost.  Rather than try to convince ourselves that we are not sinners, or at least not as bad as others, we should confess ourselves to be what we are and not try to escape it.  Jesus came to find sinners.  He came to move the fridge and sweep out the dustballs and find you.  He came over a thousand hills and into the dark valley to snatch you from the jaws of the wolf.  If you could do it, if you weren’t really lost and dead, He wouldn’t have needed to come into the dark valley, to sweat in the garden and cry out under God’s curse on the cross.  He wouldn’t have needed to move the heavy stone of death away from the door of the tomb if you could move it yourself.

 

Let yourself be the sinner you are, because Christ Jesus came into the world to save lost sinners. 

 

This is why we can and should be certain that we are found, even though in ourselves we are lost—because Jesus has another word besides that of the Law to speak to us.  He says we are lost like a sheep, or a coin, or a son, that He wants to find.  And He has found us.

 

This is why we should never despair over the sinners we see around us, or become cynical that they cannot be brought to repentance—that God cannot find them.  He has already found them in His Son.  Though few may believe it, we cannot stop preaching it, for the sake of those who are lost—because our Lord does not stop seeking them, and rejoicing with the angels of God when one sinner repents.

The peace of God that passes understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

 

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Invited to the Banquet of the Just. Trinity 2, 2018

jesus banquet parable.PNGSecond Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 14:15-24

June 10, 2018

Invited to the Banquet of the Just

 

Iesu Iuva

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

“What the people wanted was a government which would provide a comfortable life for them, and with this as the foremost object ideas of freedom and self-reliance were obscured to the point of disappearing.  Athens was more and more looked on as a co-operative business, possessed of great wealth, to which all the citizens had a right to share…Athens had reached the point of rejecting independence, and the freedom she now wanted was freedom from responsibility.”

 

A famous scholar of Greek and Latin literature wrote this in the 1950’s.  The writer of the article I took it from[1] shows the similarity between the thinking of the citizens of the Greek democracy of Athens before its end and the thinking of the citizens of our republic now.  What people want, above all else, is a comfortable life, without the burden of responsibility and obligations to others.  The writer’s chief example of this is the collapse of the American family, of marriage, before expectations of “happiness,” “personal fulfillment,” and “what you deserve.”

 

It’s no sin to want to be comfortable, but even in earthly things there are things more important than being comfortable.  Didn’t you teach your kids that, and isn’t that what your parents taught you?  That it’s more important to do the right thing than to fit in?  That it’s more important to tell the truth than to lie to make things more comfortable for yourself?

 

But when people want to a comfortable life before everything else, they cannot be Christians.  When people want a comfortable life before anything else, they cannot be saved.

 

Not because there is no comfort in Christianity.  The Gospel is pure comfort.  God comforts us with the forgiveness of all our sins through His Son’s suffering and death in the Gospel.  But those who believe the Gospel will not have a comfortable life.  The life of a Christian isn’t comfortable because a Christian has a sinful nature that has to die every day.

 

The Gospel of Christ is an invitation.  He calls us to come to the feast of the righteous, the feast of the kingdom of God. He invites us freely, just as we are.

 

But to accept an invitation does mean you have to cancel your other plans.  If you decide to go to Bob’s birthday party at 6, you can’t go to Linda’s sweet 16 at the same time.   Or as Paul puts it, You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons (1 Cor. 10:21).  If you believe the Gospel of Jesus and are baptized into Jesus, you are joined with Jesus in His death and resurrection (Rom. 6).  That means you are refusing the invitation to go to the banquet of the world and do what it does and value what it values, so that you can go to the banquet of God.

 

It’s not a question of being good enough, it’s a question of which banquet you’re going to attend.  To go with Jesus to the banquet of the righteous means that every day you have to turn away from the crowd going to the banquet of Beelzebub, and crucify your own flesh that wants to go too.  We don’t do this on our own power, but by the power of the Holy Spirit, and the life of doing this is called “sanctification”—being made holy—where we daily return to our Baptism in which we were given a new life in Jesus, with whom we died and in whom we rise to live a new life.

 

But for this new life to grow, it must first begin.  In the Gospel reading Jesus was dealing with some people who had not come to the new life of holiness, though they spent their lives being religious—the Pharisees.  One of them said, in a way that sounds so pious and devout, Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!  (Luke 14:15)  He believed that when God raised the dead it would begin with a big feast, and he was expressing his desire to be there at that feast.

 

So Jesus tells a parable, a story, in which he tells the man that he is lying.  He actually doesn’t want to go to that feast at all!  He pretends like he loves God, but really he loves being comfortable in this world—fields, farm equipment, a wife.

 

Pretending like you are godly when you really don’t love God is called hypocrisy—being an actor.  That’s what Jesus told the Pharisees that they were.  Their acting convinced the majority of the people, but God saw through it.  It was religious whitewash over the same heart that does not love God that all people have.

 

Jesus told him, You are being invited to the feast of the kingdom of God, but you refuse to come.  As a result, God will send out His messengers to gather in the people in Israel who are low class, who aren’t as schooled in the Bible and theologians as you.  And then He will send them out even further to the pagan Gentiles, who worship ancestors and fertility gods and know nothing of Him.  They will come in and eat the feast of God, but you won’t even taste it, because you excuse yourself from coming.

 

The point of the parable is that God has invited you to the banquet of the righteous.  To His feast.  There is no cost to get in.  In fact, whatever goodness you might think you have is actually an impediment, because the only way you get into His banquet of eternal life is through His free gift.

 

But just like the people in Jesus’ story, most of the people who hear the Gospel don’t come to the feast.  They don’t accept God’s invitation, because they have other banquets to go to.  Some people reject the Gospel because it proclaims that their sins are forgiven through the death of Jesus, and they don’t want to acknowledge that they need to be freed and forgiven for their sins.  Lots of young people don’t want to give up fornicating—having sex outside of marriage.  They can’t come to the feast of eternal life because they don’t want to be forgiven.  If you want to be forgiven for something, that means you also want to stop doing it.

 

Others want to be excused for never hearing God’s Word or participating in the life of Christ’s body, the church.  I can’t, because I have to do something else, every Sunday, for the rest of my life.  They aren’t saying they are sick, or that they just keep struggling with their sinful nature even though they want to go.  They’re saying, “I don’t want to hear God’s Word, or show love to the other believers, but excuse me anyway.”  But really they’re excusing themselves from the banquet of eternal life.  Because eternal life is not just that we go to heaven when we die.  It’s that we will be like Christ, live like Christ, and see God face to face.  If you want to be excused from hearing God or being around His people here, heaven wouldn’t feel like paradise to you.  You want to be excused from that too.

 

But with most of us who are here today it is more subtle, this refusing God’s invitation.  Christians, of course, don’t refuse it.  We have a sinful flesh that wants to follow the world’s crowd to find our pleasure and comfort in this world and the things it can offer, and that wants to run away, far away, from Jesus Christ.  But Christians crucify their flesh daily and do not let it reign in them.

 

But the call of the flesh and the world is the same to us as to the world.  It says, “The most important thing for you is to be comfortable, happy, and fulfilled in this world.  If you have that, then you have God.”

 

What a damnable lie, no matter how many stadiums you can fill if you attach God’s name to it!  If that were the Gospel, then Jesus is a false prophet who deserved to be crucified!

 

Jesus was not comfortable, happy, and fulfilled in this world.  He was a man of sorrows, familiar with grief, because He loved God and He loved sinful men and did battle with sin and the devil for us.  As a result He was bereft of comfort, He was forsaken by God on the cross to save us!  Yet He not only had God—He was and is God.

 

You were baptized into this Jesus.  You were made a partaker in His death and also in His new life, resurrected from the dead, to serve God in freedom.  So you were not given a life where you behave decently and seek your own good, your material comfort; you were given a life in which your comfort is Jesus Himself, who died for you, a life in which you receive the honor of following Him, in carrying the cross that you might sit at His table as a Son of God with Him, as a conqueror with Him.

 

Our congregation isn’t here that it may be comfortable for us.  It’s here to proclaim Christ’s Word and give out His Sacraments, and to seek to extend the preaching of that word here and to the ends of the earth.

 

Our flesh desires to talk about how great salvation and God’s grace is while refusing His invitation.  The end result of this play acting is that we do not get to taste His feast of eternal life.

 

But our God is rich in grace.  He spreads a rich table.  On it are forgiveness of sins, rescue from eternal death, union with Christ, knowledge of God.  He gives us His Spirit so that we may begin to know all the treasures of His love, knowledge, power, grace, which are open to us, because He gives them to us along with His Son’s death for our transgressions.

 

And there is a lot of room at this table.  For thousands of years He has been gathering in the wretched from the ends of the earth, from the deepest paganism and worship of idols, from the most shameful immorality.  He has them sit down at the feast of eternal life.  He says, Here is my son, who suffered for you and is your righteousness.

 

So now he urges you to come in by His Spirit.  Do not be intimidated by the greatness of the one who spread the banquet or the great things that He offers you—the body and blood of the Holy One in exchange for your life spent serving yourself.

 

He invites you to come.  He urges you to come to the banquet of the righteous.  To renounce your love of yourself and this world, to renounce your pursuit of your own comfort, and to believe that His blood cleanses you of all your self seeking.

 

To come to His altar and eat His body and drink His blood that He gave for you.  He will not only forgive you through His body and blood.  He will strengthen you to live as He lived—in love toward God instead of your own comfort, and in love toward the people around you.

 

The peace of God that passes understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

[1] Christopher DeGroot, “Duty to Others in an Age of Individuals,” takimag.com, June 8, 2018.

First Sunday after Trinity 2018: The Cause and Cure of Eternal Damnation

rich man and lazarus.PNGThe First Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 16:19-31

June 3, 2018

The Cause and Cure of Eternal Damnation

 

Iesu Iuva

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

This year, during Holy Week, an interview with the Pope came out in an Italian newspaper.  In it, the interviewer claimed that Francis had said that souls which die in sin do not suffer eternal torment in hell.  “There is no hell; there is the disappearance of sinful souls.”  The Vatican put out a statement in response in which they pointed out that the interviewer was not quoting Pope Francis, but “reconstructing” what he had said from memory, and so “No quotation of the…article should be considered…a faithful transcription of the words of the holy father.”  Nevertheless, the interview was very disturbing to many Catholics, as it appeared just a few days before Easter.  Many Christians throughout the world wondered why the Pope did not respond with a clear and forceful repudiation of the teaching attributed to him.

 

On the other hand, mainline protestant churches have tolerated the denial of the reality of eternal damnation for a long time among their theologians and pastors.  And even when they affirm it, they are usually very unclear about who will actually be damned.

 

But in the Holy Gospel we have our Lord Jesus’ words about eternal damnation—its pain, its cause, and its cure.  People are damned because they seek their “good things”, their treasures, apart from God, but Jesus gives you repentance so that the Triune God is your “good thing.”

 

Jesus tells the story of the rich man who dressed in purple and linen and made merry every day, and the poor man, covered in sores, lying by his gate.  When the poor man dies, angels come and carry away his soul to be clasped to the chest of Abraham, the father of righteous people, to be embraced and consoled.  But when the rich man dies, no holy angels come.  His body is buried, and the next we hear about his soul, it is in Hades, which is the Greek word for the place of the dead.  It is a holding tank for the souls of those who have died in their sins.

 

And the rich man, who looked so blessed when he was alive, is now in torments, which means “being tortured.”  The word reminds us of the way the law used to deal with criminals up until the past few centuries.  The Romans tormented Jesus with flogging and with crucifixion; later they tormented the Christians by burning them and by sending them into the arena to be torn apart by the teeth of wild animals.  Even in more recent times, Europeans tortured criminals; they burned heretics at the stake, they broke criminals on the wheel, they drew and quartered them.

 

And the rich man’s soul is being tortured.  He mentions fire, but this can’t be a physical fire.  What kind of fire burns the soul?  People experience some of this in this life—when they are tormented by guilt or grief that they can’t get rid of.  But the Lord doesn’t tell us the nature of all the torments he endures, only that he is in so much pain that when he looks up and sees Lazarus, whom he used to see lying at his gate, he asks Abraham to have Lazarus wet the end of his finger and touch his tongue to cool it off.

But Abraham says, “No.”  For the damned, there is no relief, and there is no escape.  The damned can never cross over into paradise, and there is no relief, no easing of their pain.  Their pain has no end.  Hades is a holding tank for the souls of the unrighteous, but when judgment day comes and the final sentence is pronounced, Jesus will say to them, Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.  (Matthew 25:41).  In the lake of fire, the never-ending fire, the unrighteous will suffer in both soul and body with no relief and no end.

 

Why does this horrible end—or rather, this horrible fate that never ends—come to the unrighteous?  Remember, child, that in your life you received your good things.  The unrighteous have their good things here and now.  Their treasure is not God and His praise.  That’s not what they want.  They want treasure here and now, whether that is money, or nice clothes and a nice house, or for people to speak well of them, or to be famous.

 

And if those things are a person’s treasure, that person is an idol worshipper—a servant of a false god.  No one really thinks of this as being a sin.  We think it’s evil to use foul language, or to murder, or to oppress people.  But the worst sin is to reject the true God—to not love Him and thank Him for our lives and the good things we have in this world, but to turn away from Him and give His thanks and praise to something or someone that is no god at all.

 

Luther says this in such a clear way in the Large Catechism: A god means that from which we are to expect all good and to which we are to take refuge in all distress….That upon which you set your heart and put your trust is properly your god.

 

But what do people set their hearts on?  What do they trust?  There are so few people who live their lives setting their heart on the true God and on the eternal life He promises; everyone is worried about this life.  It is no different today than in the time Jesus preached this parable.  When Jesus preached: You cannot serve God and money (Luke 16:13) the Pharisees sneered at him and ridiculed him.  People found it just as difficult then to believe that you can still have God when you are, like Lazarus, stripped of health, prosperity, and the good things of this life.  The reason people find that impossible to believe is that people do not believe in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  He is not their God; their god is a happy family, success at work, a nice house—their own comfort, pleasure, and happiness.

 

And are you any different?  No, even we who are baptized struggle with this and are tempted by this.  We constantly struggle with thinking that when we have “good things” here, we have God.

 

Will God really damn you for this?  He will, because when you seek your good things here in this world instead of your treasure being God and His praise of you in eternal life, you exchange the truth of God for a lie and worship created things instead of the Creator (Romans 1).

 

But there is a way of escape from eternal damnation. The rich man knew what it was, even in hell; even though it was too late for him, he hoped his brothers could be convinced to take this way of escape.  The way of escape is called repentance.

 

All members of St. Peter know about repentance without me telling you again, or you should, because it is the way of life for all who are baptized.  An unrepentant person has thrown aside his baptism and what God gives in baptism.  What does such baptizing with water indicate?  It indicates that the Old Adam in us should, by daily contrition and repentance, be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever. 

 

To repent literally means “to change your mind.”  It means on the one hand that instead of liking your sin, you hate it and want to be free of it.  We understand this when it comes to sins like drunkenness, or stealing.  But we seldom think of it when it comes to the first commandment.  We seldom see our need to repent of having our treasures here in this life, to repent of forgetting or despising God, and not rejoicing that He is ours even when we have the cross in this life, and that eternal comfort and glory awaits us.

 

But Jesus gives you repentance so that God becomes your good thing, your treasure.

 

Father Abraham tells us how.  They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.  Moses and the Prophets is shorthand for the books of the Old Testament.  Repentance is worked by God the Holy Spirit through the Word of God—through the reading of Scripture, through it being preached and taught faithfully.  But repentance comes in no other way.  If a person doesn’t listen to the Scriptures, which move us to repent of having false gods, nothing will help them—not even if someone comes back from the dead.

 

Listening to the Scriptures is the means God uses to work repentance.  “Listening” means, on one hand, listening.  It means you actually have to come to Church and hear the Word.  You have to read it in your home.  If a person won’t listen in that way, they won’t repent of their false gods.

 

But even more it means that if you are listening to God’s Word, He will cause you to repent.  He will do what you, by yourself, have no power to do.  He will cause you to repent not only that you said a swear word or got angry or did this or that bad thing, but that you have served false gods.  That you love earthly treasures, by nature, more than you love God.  He will give you repentance through His Word, and He will keep bringing you to repentance.

 

And even more, through His Word, Jesus will give you the second part of repentance—not merely that you are sorry for seeking other treasures instead of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but that you believe that He is your treasure. 

 

The Old Testament reading told us how Abraham became righteous and the father of all believers.  Abraham believed God, and God credited it to him for righteousness.  Abraham believed that God would bring the savior of the world out of his offspring, and God counted Him righteous.  He told Abram, I am your shield, your very great reward.  Abraham had no offspring at that point.  Even though he had wealth, he lived as an alien with no home.

 

But God was His reward because He promised, out of grace, that He would be Abraham’s God, and that He would send the Savior through Abraham’s line. He did not say, “I will be your God if you have a clean heart, or at least if you refrain from great sins.”  He promised Abraham out of grace, without works, without merit.  And Abraham believed God—and God counted Him righteous.

 

That is repentance.  We believe in Jesus as our righteousness, which God has promised us that He is.  God promises us, “Your sins are forgiven, despite the fact you are an idolater, because my Son suffered the torments of your idolatry, when He burned in the fire of my wrath for you on the cross—when He thirsted and received vinegar for His thirst.”

 

Your sins are forgiven because I have baptized you into His death and His resurrection.

 

I am with you as your God.  I will keep you and help you in this life, and I will send the angels when you die to carry your soul to be comforted forever with the righteous, and to see my glory.

 

Jesus gives us repentance so that God becomes our “good thing.”  Through His Word He gives us the Holy Spirit so that we believe that He is our God, that He has redeemed us from eternal punishment, and made a place for us in paradise with the righteous.  Through His Word in the water of Baptism he began this repentance for most of us; through His Word preached and read, through His absolution and His body and blood, He keeps us in repentance, so that we believe that He is our God and our great reward, and know that even when the good things of this life are taken from us, we have the great treasure, the Triune God, as our own.

 

The peace of God, that passes understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

The Festival of the Holy Trinity 2018. The Depths of God

trinity rublev.PNGThe Festival of the Holy Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

Romans 11:33-36

May 27, 2018

“The Depths of God”

Iesu Iuva

 

In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

 

Blessed are You, Triune God, who behold the depths, and sit upon the cherubim!

 

The ocean, on average, is 12,000 feet deep.  A little over two miles deep.  At its deepest point, in the Mariana trench, the ocean is about 36000 feet deep—almost seven miles.  If Mount Everest was cast into the depths of the sea, into that trench, its top would be covered by almost a mile of water.  Human beings can swim a couple of hundred feet down.  How much of the depths of the ocean had human beings ever seen or looked into before they invented submarines and video cameras?  We hadn’t seen the deep places of the ocean at all.

 

But God beholds the depths.  He sees what, until recently, was hidden from our eyes at the bottom of the ocean.  He sees the depths like we see the earth.  And He sees much deeper places than the bottom of the ocean—into things so deep that we only know about them if we believe what He tells us.

 

He sees into the depths of human hearts and tells us that there is, by nature, nothing good in them.  They are like the deepest depths of the ocean, where no light penetrates.

 

He sees into the depths of time, and beholds the beginning and the end as though they were now.  Both the beginning and the end are hidden from us—we only can know how the universe began if we believe what God tells us about it.  And the future, and the end of time—we are blind to that as well.

 

God sees into the depths of eternity.  He knows the eternal destiny of each one of us here today, listening, perhaps by chance, on the radio.

 

God looks into the depths.  And we can only know anything about those depths into which He sees one way—if He tells us about them, and we trust what He says.

 

God Himself is a depth we cannot fathom in His very being.  He is one God, not three, He tells us repeatedly.  And yet the one God is three distinct persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Each person is equal to the other, but distinct.  The Father is not the Son; the Son is not the Holy Spirit.  They are three distinct persons.  Yet they are not three different beings, three different Gods.  God’s very being is a depth we cannot penetrate.  This is why people have rejected the doctrine of the Trinity since the Gospel began to be proclaimed.  We cannot conceive of it on our own.  Nor does it make sense to human reason when it is told to us.  We believe it only because God has revealed it to us, and given us grace and favor to believe it.

 

  1. We continually move out of God’s sight in the depths

 

God not only can see into the depths, He also wants to look into the depths.  He wants to look upon the lowly and the things that are nothing instead of the things that are exalted.  But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.  Is. 66:2 

 

But we do not like to be in the depths, to be low.  Martin Luther wrote: See how utterly God overthrows that which is lofty!  And yet we rage and rant for nothing but this empty honor, as [if] we had no honor to seek in heaven; we continually step out of God’s sight, so that he may not see us in the depths, into which he alone looks.

 

In the eleventh chapter of Romans Paul was discussing a problem that probably bothered many of the first Christians, who were Jewish by nationality.  The problem was, “Has God abandoned His people Israel, since none of them believed that Jesus was the Messiah and the Son of God?”

 

It is a familiar question or complaint.  People have voiced it at St. Peter for a long time.  Has God rejected His people?  (Rom. 11:1)  Has He rejected us?  We have no young people anymore.

 

Paul answers his own question: By no means!  For I myself am an Israelite…God has not rejected His people, whom He foreknew (Rom. 11:1-2).  Even if no other Jews believed the Gospel, Paul did, and this was proof that God did not reject the Jews.  And Paul reminds them how Elijah the prophet complained to God that he was the only Israelite left who still believed in the Lord.  But God had preserved a remnant of the people of Israel who had not abandoned the Lord for idols.  And Paul says: So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace.  But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.  (Rom. 11:5-6)

 

So, has God rejected His people?  In this congregation?  In your family?  In our synod?  Our nation?  God forbid!  By no means.

 

It’s not true that there are no young people at St. Peter.  To many of you I still count as young, so there is one.  But there is one over there.  There are some others back there.

 

Has God rejected your family?  He has not.  After all, if no one else believes in Jesus and wears the name of the Holy Trinity, you do.

 

“Yeah, but that’s hardly enough people to sustain our congregation, or to preserve our family as a Christian family.”

 

And this is the sin.  When all of Israel worshipped Baal, and only Elijah and seven thousand others did not, it was a remnant, chosen by grace. 

 

That means that God did not preserve them because they didn’t worship Baal.  They didn’t worship Baal because God preserved them.  He showed them grace so that they remained faithful and believed in Him and not idols.

 

The remnant of young people at St. Peter who believe in Christ and hold to His pure Word without the admixture of the teaching of men and demons remain because of God’s grace.  The reason there are any of us is because God shows us favor, preserves us in the faith.  Otherwise there would be none.  We would all turn away from Christ and His Word and be lost.

 

The seven thousand and Elijah did not remain believing in the true God because there was anything human or earthly to encourage them to do that.  No, their very lives were in jeopardy.  Yet God preserved them, this little remnant.

 

So it is with our congregation, with our synod, with the Christians in our nation and the Christians in your family.  They are not preserved by their own efforts or works.  They are preserved by grace alone.  It happens because God shows favor to individuals and grants them to believe in Jesus through the preaching of the Gospel.

 

We don’t like this, because it puts us in a position of utter dependency, helplessness.  “In the depths.”

 

We have no power to save ourselves, to believe in Jesus, to keep on believing.  Everything depends on God’s grace.  For from Him and to Him and through Him are all things.  It is not from us that we are saved.  It is not from us that other people are saved.  From Him are all things.  Everything depends on God’s grace.

 

But we do not trust God very much, do we?  Why doesn’t He make us grow?  Why doesn’t He put more young people in the congregation?  Why does He let so many of the things that once went on at St. Peter decline or die?

 

Oh the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!  How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!  For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been His counselor?  (Rom. 11:33-34)

 

From this you can see not only the depth of our ignorance and weakness, but the depth of our helplessness in sin.  You cannot see it all the way to the bottom, but you can see it more deeply than you would without God’s Word.

 

Do you know the mind of the Lord?  Do you think God should take advice from you?

 

And the answer is, the answer of your flesh is: yes.

 

Because according to the flesh you do not believe in the Triune God.  You do not believe, according to your flesh, that He is gracious and kind, that He wants to save you and do good to you, your congregation, your family.

 

You don’t believe that He wants to save the lost more than you do.

 

You do not believe in His power, that He alone saves sinners, and preserves the community of sinners who believe in Jesus.  According to the flesh, you think that that community is ours to build and to preserve.  You don’t believe that God is able to preserve it when everything human and earthly is against its existence.

 

You prefer to believe, in your flesh, that we save.  That we cast the deciding vote in our own salvation.  That it depends on us to save others, that God doesn’t just work through us but actually needs us to help us make His gospel appealing to sinners.  That it depends on us to save the His community of saints.

 

Why does our flesh believe this?  Because then we are not helpless.  Then we can do something to save ourselves, to save those we love, to save what we call “our church.”

 

We don’t want to leave it all in God’s hands because, in the flesh, we do not trust Him or love Him.  We do not think the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit is trustworthy.  In the flesh we are idol-worshippers.  We do not want Him as our God, just like the rest of mankind.

 

  1. God beholds the depths.

 

That is something of the depths that is in your heart.  It is a deep, impenetrable darkness, dead set against knowing the true God and trusting Him.

 

But the Triune God looks into the depths.  He beholds what is in the darkness, what is lowly, what is humanly impossible.

 

He is the God who gives life to the dead and calls the things that are not as though they were (Rom. 4:17).  As at the beginning of creation, when God created the heavens and the earth, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the deep, and the word of God came forth and made the light, the sky, the dry land, the sun, the animals, and man.

 

He looked into the depths when you were a little baby, born not only physically and mentally helpless, but also spiritually dead, born in the guilt of Adam, and under the control of the devil and the reprobate mind of your flesh.

 

And in those depths where you were, where salvation was completely out of your reach, and where there was nothing in you that could please Him, He looked with His favor on you.  His Spirit came upon you, His Word poured over you in the water of your baptism.  The Father adopted you as His child and covered your sin.  The name of the Trinity was placed upon you.  The Holy Spirit entered you to live in you, to give you a new life, to preserve you so that your old nature, your flesh, would not cause you to turn away from the Triune God.  So that you would believe the Gospel, that Jesus descended into the depths of your sin and paid for it all with His blood, so that it is no longer counted to you.

 

This is what the true God does.  This is what only the Holy Trinity does.  No other so-called gods behave this way.  Human beings construct idols that they can win over, that they can give something to in order that the idol will do what we want in return.

 

The Triune God gives to those who have nothing to give Him, who are in the depths.  He shows grace; and He can only be known by His kindness, His unearned favor, His grace.  Look at the Old Testament reading:  Isaiah, the priest, suddenly sees God and realizes what he is, despite the fact that he is a priest.  He is a man of unclean lips and should be destroyed now that he is in the presence of the Holy, Holy, Holy Lord.   But the Lord sends forth an angel to take away his sin.  And Jesus tells us that the Father has sent Him not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved.  No one forced the Father to do this.  No one asked the Father to do this.  He did this before the world even thought of it.  He gave His only-begotten Son in exchange for us, that whoever receives the free gift of His Son would have eternal life.

 

The Triune God looks into the depths.  But now Paul invites us to consider the depths of God, even though we cannot look into them on our own.

 

Oh the depth of the wisdom of God!  The Triune God is wiser than we are.  He planned our salvation through the death of His Son.  This is a wisdom that the world simply does not understand.  We would never have thought of it.  It made no sense to the disciples when Jesus was crucified.  But from the cross of Jesus came forth resurrection from the dead, forgiveness of sins, eternal life.  How much deeper is the wisdom of God than we can comprehend? So we should trust that His great wisdom is planning all things for good, for our salvation, for our glory.

 

Oh the depth of the knowledge of God!  God knows the end and the beginning.  He already knows how everything will turn out for you, for our congregation, our nation, for every soul.  He also knows what is best for you, our congregation.  He knows the hairs on your head.  He knew you before you were born.

 

Oh the depth of the riches of God!  God’s riches are deeper than the deepest parts of the sea.

 

He is inexhaustibly rich in grace.  You cannot have sinned so much that you make God’s grace toward you run out.  He does not deal with us according to our works, but according to His grace in Christ Jesus, by which He forgave our sins and put them on Jesus, and His righteousness on us.

 

And His grace leads us to the riches of His glory.  Those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son.  He did not predestine His chosen ones to earthly wealth or prestige or even comfort.  He predestined us to bear the image of His Son, risen from the dead, shining with the glory and honor of God.  And what He chose us for He is doing, He is working, with all wisdom and knowledge.  Not with our help: Who has given to the Lord, that He should repay him? 

 

No, He is working out your preservation and your glorification.  And He will do it.  He will not fail.

 

Instead of your limited knowledge and wisdom, the one with all wisdom and all knowledge, an inexhaustible depth of wisdom and knowledge, is working to save you and His elect.

 

To be in the depths where He looks in the unfathomable riches of His grace is the best place to be.

 

Blessed are You, Triune God, who behold the depths, and sit upon the cherubim!

 

The peace of God, that passes understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Soli Deo Gloria

Still There Is Room. Trinity 2/ Presentation of the Augsburg Confession. June 25, 2017.

presentation of the augsburg confession catholic faith.jpgThe Second Sunday after Trinity/Presentation of the Augsburg Confession

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 14:25-34

June 25, 2017

“Still There Is Room”

 

Iesu Iuva

 

On June 25th, 1530, the chancellor of Saxony (a state in eastern Germany), presented, or read out loud, what we now call “The Augsburg Confession” before the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles the fifth, and the gathered princes of the Empire.

 

The Emperor had called this meeting at Augsburg because he wanted to get the princes to give him support in his defensive war against the invading Muslim Turks.  And to accomplish this goal, he said he wanted to settle the religious controversy that had been raging in the Empire for 13 years, ever since the monk Luther had published his 95 Theses on Oct. 31, 1517.  Up until this time there had been little discussion with the Lutherans.  When Luther was brought before the Emperor at Worms in 1519 at a similar gathering, they simply asked if he was ready to renounce the teaching found in his books.  When he said no, the Emperor published the Edict of Worms, which pronounced Luther an outlaw, meaning that anyone who found him could kill him.  Anyone who protected Luther, printed his books, or aided and abetted his teaching was guilty of high treason.  There was never any discussion in the Empire, or the leadership of the Church, as to whether what had been taught by Luther and the churches of the Reformation was faithful to Scripture.

 

So when the Lutheran princes heard that the Emperor wanted to try to settle the controversy in a God-pleasing way, they welcomed the opportunity, even though at least some of them doubted his intentions.  They came to Augsburg and prepared a statement explaining the changes they had made to the traditional practices in the Church.  Then, because a theologian had published a book that falsely accused the Lutherans of teaching things they did not, they wrote up a confession of what they taught on the chief articles of Christian doctrine, believing that they would be recognized as Christian, biblical, and catholic—that is, consistent with what Christians had always believed.

 

But it quickly became apparent that no real discussion was going to happen at Augsburg.  It was a political move.  The Emperor wanted support for his war efforts, and at the same time to make it look as if the Lutheran or “evangelical” teaching had been considered and rejected as false.

 

Yet the Lutheran princes came anyway and had the confession read publicly, despite the efforts of its opponents to keep it from being read, or to have it read in a language most people couldn’t understand, or to keep very many people from hearing it.

 

They confessed—even though doing so made it look like they were prolonging the controversy, and risking the well-being of the Church and the Empire in the face of the Muslim invaders.

 

And because they confessed the faith, the Church was given a pattern of right, faithful, biblical teaching that would outlive those men.  It was a c0nfession that Luther did not write; he couldn’t be present for the Diet of Augsburg because he was an outlaw.  And so the Augsburg Confession was not a writing of Luther or based on Luther.  It was a statement of the biblical, Christian faith that Luther taught but did not invent—the faith taught in Scripture, confessed by Jesus.

 

At the center of the Augsburg Confession is the teaching that defines the Lutheran Church, but also defines Christianity.  Before the Augsburg Confession it had never been clearly summarized in a creed or a church confession except in the pages of Scripture.  Yet it is the center of the Bible, the beating heart of its life.  Jesus taught it to the Pharisees in today’s Gospel reading.  Paul discusses it in the 2nd chapter of the epistle to the Christians in Ephesus.  I am talking about the article of Christian doctrine on justification.  The 4th Article of the Augsburg Confession says it like this:

 

It is taught that we cannot attain the forgiveness of sins and righteousness before God through our merit, work, and satisfactions [for our own sins]; rather, that we receive the forgiveness of sins and become righteous before God by grace, for Christ’s sake, through faith, when we believe that Christ has suffered for us, and that our sins are forgiven us for His sake, and righteousness and eternal life are given us as a gift.  For God will regard and reckon this faith as righteousness before Him, as St. Paul says [in the epistle] to the Romans in the 3rd and 4th chapters.

 

Righteousness before God and the forgiveness of our sins, and the eternal life that follows righteousness, are given to us as a gift through Christ, who suffered for us.  We don’t become righteous before God, we are not forgiven our sins through earning it.  We don’t work to achieve righteousness by being a monk, or praying, or giving money, or doing better at keeping the ten commandments.  We don’t win forgiveness from God by being sorry, punishing ourselves, or doing good works to atone for the sins we’ve committed.

 

Forgiveness of sins, righteousness in God’s sight, and the eternal life that comes as a result of being forgiven and righteous is given by God as a gift in His Son’s suffering and death for our sins.  And those who believe that God forgives them only because of Jesus’ suffering and death in their place—who, as Paul says in Romans 4 do not work but trust God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is counted as righteousness.

 

Just like Jesus tells the Pharisees.  God’s banquet is not earned.  People are called, invited to the banquet.  The qualifications we might think we have are irrelevant.  The poor, blind, crippled, and lame are just as qualified to be at the banquet as the people who buy fields and oxen.  What qualifies them is that they are called, invited—and do not refuse the invitation.  Refusing the invitation is unbelief.  Those who do not refuse—those who are brought in to the banquet of eternal life—are those who believe that God lets them in for Christ’s sake.

 

Of course, there are other churches that believe we become righteous before God through faith in Christ alone besides those who hold the Augsburg Confession. Baptists, Presbyterians, non-denominational churches, Pentecostals and Charismatics, and so on.  But if you get people from many of these churches to talk honestly to you about what they think of the Lutheran church, they will often say what my dad used to say: “Luther was good, but he didn’t go far enough.”  Or, more rudely, some may say something like, “Lutherans are basically catholic-lite.  You are still too Catholic.”

 

Even though we seem to agree on the article of justification, we do not understand the word “faith” the same way.  Many Lutherans are confused about this also.  What is faith?  How do you come to faith in Christ?  The confessors at Augsburg wrote:

 

To obtain this faith, God has instituted the office of preaching, that is, given the Gospel and Sacraments, through which, as through instruments, He gives the Holy Spirit, who works faith, when and where He wills, in those who hear the Gospel…the Anabaptists and others are condemned, who teach that we obtain the Holy Spirit without the bodily Word of the Gospel, through their own preparations and works.

 

The forefathers of the non-denominational churches, of the reformed churches, of the Baptist and Pentecostal churches, did not believe that the Holy Spirit was given through the “bodily Word of the Gospel”.  They didn’t think it was enough to hear the preaching of God’s Word, or hear the Bible read or taught, or read it yourself.  They definitely didn’t believe it was enough to be baptized, receive the Lord’s Supper, or be absolved.  Faith comes not just through those things, but through the addition of your decision to accept Jesus, or through a powerful experience of being converted.  They taught that in the days when the Augsburg Confession was written, and they still teach it.  And so they think our reliance on preaching Christ’s Work and on baptizing, receiving the body and blood of the Lord, is “Catholic”—by which they mean mechanical, ritualistic.

 

The Roman Catholic princes assembled at Augsburg did not get converted en masse to the evangelical faith taught in the Augsburg Confession.  And the “Anabaptists and others” didn’t either. In fact, they grew in power, and replaced the faith taught by Luther and the Augsburg Confession in many places—in England, France, Holland, Hungary, the Czech lands, and even in many of the German states.

 

And so we come to our time and place.  We all know that, in terms of numbers and influence, Christianity isn’t doing so well in America or in the lands they used to call “Christendom”—in Europe.  Christianity in general is declining, in some places even dying, it appears.  Just like the whole of Christendom was threatened by the invading Turkish armies, today all of Christendom around us is retreating—even if it appears to be growing in Africa and Asia.  And when all Christian Churches are in decline, it seems obscene to many people—even to many Lutherans—to be harping on the distinctiveness of the Lutheran Church and the Lutheran Confession.  It seems like we are rooting for our team instead of for Jesus.

 

But this is always how it has been.  It seemed rude and unnecessary for Jesus to insist to the Pharisees that He was the Messiah, the promised one of God, who would give us rest; to tell them that their strenuous efforts to obey God were good for nothing, and that they could only come to God’s feast on the basis of His call, His invitation, not on the basis of their works.  They could come to God’s feast only through faith in Him.

 

The Pharisees didn’t accept this message from Jesus for the same reason that the Roman Catholic bishops, princes, and emperor didn’t accept it, for the same reason people today don’t want to hear it.

 

In Jesus’ parable, the people who refused the invitation to the banquet were more interested in the land they just bought, the oxen they needed to test, the wife they just married, than in the banquet of the Lord.  And that is the way people are today.  They were that way in Jesus’ day, in the days of the Augsburg Confession, and today.  The emperor cared about fighting the Turk and keeping the empire secure more than he cared about the truth of God’s Word and the eternal life that it brings.  And we see all around us that people are interested in getting a new car, following sports, getting their kids into fun activities, and so on.  But eternal life?  Righteousness?  Forgiveness of sins?  The pure teaching of God’s Word?  The vast majority of people, if you tell them that that is what your church is offering, will think, if not say out loud, “If that’s all you’ve got, your church is going to close.”

 

But if we take seriously what the Bible teaches about human nature, like the Augsburg Confession does, we would not be surprised at this.  In the second Article, it confesses:

 

Further it is taught among us that since the fall of Adam, all men who are born in the natural way are conceived and born in sin.  That is, they all from their mother’s womb are full of evil lusts and inclinations, and by nature are not able to have any true fear of God or true faith in God.  They also teach that this same inborn disease and inherited sin is truly sin, and damns all those who are not born again through Baptism and the Holy Spirit to the eternal wrath of God. 

 

People by nature are unable to fear God or trust Him.  That is the sin in which we are born.  But by nature nobody feels the force of this. It’s not hard to recognize that people are broken.  Many people understand without being taught from the Bible that people are not born good.  You only have to look around and see that people do evil far more easily than they do good.

 

But we do not recognize that even when we are good, humanly speaking, we are still not able to fear God or trust Him in reality—and that this inability deserves and will receive God’s eternal wrath and punishment.  People do not believe this.  Even Christians don’t comprehend their guilt and God’s serious anger against it.  We don’t fully recognize our helplessness in it.

 

It is a counter-cultural message.  It doesn’t matter whether you are liberal or an arch-conservative.  No one, by nature, is able or willing to fully grasp this.  We want to believe it is in our power to draw near to God—or that we are already near Him.

 

It is a work of God when a person recognizes and believes what the Bible says about his helplessness in sin.  It is a work of God to become spiritually poor, blind, crippled, and lame—to be terrified at your sin and cry out for God’s grace.

 

For that person, the invitation of the Gospel is a banquet of joy in itself.  It says, “Believe what God promises.  His Son suffered for you, His Son received the wrath of God against Your sin.  His Son merited and earned the forgiveness of your sins.  His Son fulfilled all of God’s laws in your place.  Through Him God is reconciled to you, forgives you, counts you righteous, clothes you with Jesus’ honor and righteousness.  Through Him God invites you to sit down at His table for eternity and eat with Him, feast with Him, drink wine and celebrate with Him, as His son and heir.”

 

And the Gospel comes into our ears in the words of Jesus to those who are condemned to the eternal wrath of God and says, “There is still room.”  If you persecuted the Church, like Paul; if you have been a self-righteous Pharisee; if you have lived an ungodly life while bearing the name of Christ, and have committed the sins we all recognize as sins, there is still room.  God has gathered in wretched sinners from the broad streets, the alleys, the highways and hedges, through his servants who proclaimed the Gospel—but there is still room.  You are invited, and your place is set.  The meat is steaming.  The wine is sparkling in the glass.  He invites you to come and eat and drink today at the altar a taste of what you will enjoy forever in heaven.  Your garments of righteousness, dyed red with the blood of Jesus, gleaming white with His innocence and glory, are waiting in your Baptism.

 

We should not fear when we see that many are simply not interested.  Jesus said that is how it would be.  That is how it was for Him.  That is also how it went after the Augsburg Confession was read.  And yet Jesus’ Church continues.  It advances under the appearance of weakness and defeat until the final victory appears, when He appears in glory.  In the midst of her weakness, He works in power. As the Confession says:

 

It is also taught that there must always be and remain in existence one holy Christian Church, which is the assembly of all believers, among which the Gospel is purely preached and the holy Sacraments are given out in accordance with the Gospel.

 

However, because in this life many false Christians and hypocrites, and even manifest sinners remain among the believers, nevertheless the sacraments are powerful and effective, even if the priests who give them out are not godly.

 

Even when the Church seems to be overrun by its own sinful members, Christ is present with us, spreading His feast, giving the gift of faith, inviting and gathering His Church.  In that confidence we confess with the confessors of long ago, trusting that our Lord will continue to gather and preserve His Church around His pure Word in the face of all opponents, all sin, and all the works of the devil.

 

The peace of God that passes understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

 

SDG

The Eternal Weight of the Doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone. Trinity 1, 2017. Gen. 15:6, St. Luke 16:19-31 Confirmation of D. Roots, Father’s Day

abraham's bosom bible of souvignyTrinity 1 (Confirmation of Delainey Roots, Father’s Day)

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 16:19-31 (Gen. 15:6)

June 18, 2017

The Eternal Weight of the Doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone

 

Iesu Iuva!

 

Beloved in Christ:

Delainey, with whom we rejoice on the day of your confirmation,

Delainey’s parents, Mike, Amanda, and her family,

You, her congregation, praying for and watching over those who are being taught the faith and those who are confirmed,

 

As well as those listening on the radio and visiting today:

 

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

 

Today the text to which we give our attention is the Gospel reading.  However, I want to draw your attention also to a verse from the Old Testament reading, which is necessary to understand the Gospel reading.  It is this, Genesis 15:6–

 

Abram believed the Lord; and He counted it to him as righteousness. 

 

That verse is necessary to understand the Gospel reading.  It teaches the doctrine without which nothing in the Bible can be understood, the doctrine without which the Christian faith collapses, the teaching that touches every other article of the Christian faith, the teaching that caused and drove the Reformation that began 500 years ago.

 

I am referring to the teaching of justification.

 

Prior to the Reformation, people generally didn’t talk much about justification, but if they did, they would have said that a person is justified, that is, he becomes righteous before God, by actually being righteous.  They would have said: when God justifies a person, first of all at baptism, He makes that person totally righteous.  He takes away original sin, creates the person anew.  A baptized, justified person has no sin.  He only has an ongoing weakness that makes him inclined to sin.  But that weakness itself is not sin.

 

After being justified in baptism, they taught, the Christian receives God’s grace in the sacraments—Holy Communion, etc.  And cooperating with the Holy Spirit, they would do good works that pleased God.  And on the last day God would pronounce a person like this righteous on the basis of those righteous deeds.

 

But the doctrine of justification taught in the Reformation, which they drew from the Scriptures, was different.  They taught, along with this verse from Genesis, which St. Paul quotes again in Romans 4, that when God justifies a person, He counts or reckons or imputes the righteousness of Christ to the person.  Abram believed God, and God counted it to him for righteousness, says the verse.  That means:  Abram was not righteous in himself.  God counted him righteous, declared him to be righteous.  Abram was righteous not because of what he was in himself, or what he did.  If God judged him on that basis, Abram would be unrighteous, lawless, guilty before God.  But Abram believed God, and God counted or reckoned him righteous by faith.

 

That is how Abram became righteous before God.  That is how people today become righteous before God.  That was the teaching of the Reformation.  We are righteous without our works, through faith alone in Jesus, who atoned for our sins with His suffering and death.

 

Now why did that teaching rock the world?  Why must it continue to be our church’s treasure, our message to the world, instead of some other message or way of gaining followers?  Why am I telling it to you again, Lainey, on your confirmation day, when I no doubt want to preach something that will mean something to you years from now when you look back on this day?

 

Because eternity depends on this teaching.  Whether people are interested in it or not, whether it fills the pews or not, whether our flesh tells us this teaching is worth the attention we place on it, when we are 13 or when we are 70, the teaching of justification by the imputation of righteousness is the teaching that makes a person righteous and blessed for eternity.  If this teaching is not taught, or if it is minimized, and as a result it is not believed, people are damned for eternity.

 

This is what we see in the Gospel reading: The eternal weight of the right teaching of the doctrine of justification.

 

Jesus tells a story.  There is a certain rich man who has a party every day.  He dresses like a king.  He lives like a king.  Everyone wants to come to his parties.

 

Then there is a poor man named Lazarus.  He is covered with sores, like Job.  And someone takes and lays him outside the gate of the rich man, which means—because of his sickness, Lazarus has to depend on charity to go on living his tormented life.  Lazarus longs to eat the crumbs that fall from the rich man’s table, and while he lies there, outside the gate, dogs come and lick his sores.

 

One day Lazarus dies and the angels come and take him to Abraham’s bosom.  That means, he goes to be with Abraham, the righteous man, in heaven.  To recline on someone’s bosom in Jesus’ day meant you were a close friend or you were loved by them.  Jesus is telling us that Lazarus is a son of Abraham.  He is one of the stars in the sky that God showed Abraham.  So Lazarus will inherit the blessing of Abraham; he will share in the new heavens and the new earth where God will dwell with people again like He did in the Garden of Eden.

 

Also, Jesus says, the rich man died and was buried.  He goes to hell, and in torment, he looks up and sees Lazarus lying on Abraham’s bosom, and he cries out to Abraham, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.  But Abraham says, Child, remember that you received your good things in life and Lazarus bad; now he is comforted, and you have torment.  Besides, there is a great chasm fixed between us and you, so that no one can come from hell up to us, nor can anyone in heaven come to where you are.

 

Jesus leaves us to imagine the torment of the damned.  He talks about flames.  Being burned alive is probably one of the most painful ways to die. But the rich man doesn’t die.  He longs even for a slight relief from his pain—just a drop of water on his tongue, but he can’t have one.

 

Sometimes people say, “Well, at least in hell I’ll be with all my friends.”  But you notice that if the rich man has friends around, he doesn’t notice them.  He is alone.  But yet he can look up and see heaven, and the saints in heaven.  He can see heaven, which he rejected in life, but he can only look at the joy that he will never have.

 

Jesus tells us this story and pictures the reward of the righteous and the unrighteous.  It is eternal in both cases.  The righteous will be comforted forever, but the unrighteous, will be tormented unceasingly, in both body and soul.

 

The obvious question we want to ask is: what made the rich man unrighteous, and Lazarus righteous?  Does being rich make you evil, and being poor and suffering make you good in God’s sight?  No; Abraham himself was wealthy, but he didn’t end up in hell.

 

Delainey, you have already learned the yardstick by which we are able to evaluate whether actions, thoughts, or the people who do them are righteous or unrighteous.  The measure of righteousness is the Law of God, the ten commandments.  And the summary of God’s Law is one word: Love.  “Love is the fulfillment of the Law”, St. Paul writes in Romans.

 

The rich man was unrighteous because he lacked love.  That is clear enough.  His life was a celebration.  Meanwhile, a sick man laid outside his gates naked, longing every day for someone to pick up the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table.  A righteous person doesn’t look on the suffering of his neighbor and feel nothing.  He has compassion, and he acts out of compassion.

 

Today is Father’s day, and it got me thinking about what it is that defines a father who is faithful to his calling.  To be called “Father” is a high honor, because that is what the first person of the Trinity is called.

 

Fathers, of course, beget children.  They don’t give birth to them, but they beget them upon their mothers.  But it’s obvious that a man who simply creates a child has not really deserved the name “Father.”  A Father creates life, but he also cares for and nurtures his children.  He provides for them; teaches them; disiciplines them; plays with them; loves them.  That is how God the Father deals with human beings.  He created us, but He continues to nurture and sustain the lives He created.  He does this not only for those who love and obey Him but those who don’t.  All throughout this life He seeks to teach us.  He sends us pain in order to discipline us.  He does all this out of “fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness” in us.

 

God is love, says the Epistle reading.  And so fathers love.

 

On the other hand, what marks a father who is not doing his job, or what marks a bad father?  A bad father is selfish.  A bad father drinks up his paycheck, and his kids go hungry.  A bad father beats his wife or abandons his children.  A bad father doesn’t teach his children what they need to know to live life well.  A bad father cares about himself instead of his kids.

 

Bad fathers are selfish—which means, they act contrary to the nature of God the Father, who is love.

 

The unrighteous will suffer eternal torment in hell; and the unrighteous are those who, like the rich man, and like bad fathers, are selfish and do not love.

 

And what every hearer this morning should be asking themselves is, “Do I love?  Am I selfish?”  That question should burn within us, lest we burn with the answer to the question in eternity, like the rich man.

 

The answer to this question, the honest answer, is what?  Am I selfish?

 

Every father here probably remembers times, many times, when they selfishly ignored their children because they had other things they wanted to do.

 

Even more, most fathers are selfish in a way that they do not realize.  Most fathers shirk the responsibility of teaching and modeling the most important thing to their children—the word of God.  Just like Adam kept quiet in Eden when his wife was deceived by the serpent.  We see this everywhere in the church.  We simply do not have men today who lead spiritually, either in their families or in the church.  Come to bible class and you will see that 95 percent of the class is women.  Where are the men in the church setting the example for the congregation in hearing and learning God’s Word?  Beyond their own need for it, they forget the need of the young for examples of godly men.  They do not think of the people in their lives who do not hear God’s Word from them because they are not growing in the knowledge of it.

 

But of course, it isn’t just men.  This lack of self-giving love, this focus on ourselves and our own well-being and happiness, our ignoring the needs of others, is the way of the sinful flesh.  It operates in every one of us.  God is love; self-giving love.  Love does not think of itself, it thinks of others.  But we think of ourselves in nearly everything.  Even godly Christians who fight against it still do so.  Even Abraham, the man of God did, when he, for instance, asked his wife to tell Pharaoh that she was his sister, and Pharaoh married her.  He did this not out of love for Sarah, but out of love for himself, fearing for his life.

 

Yet God counted Abraham righteous, because God pointed at the stars and said, “So shall your offspring be,” and Abraham believed him.

 

And so God counts righteousness to all of us who, in the midst of seeing our selfishness, and our worthiness of the rich man’s fate, believe that God justifies us for the sake of Jesus who loved us and gave Himself for us.

 

Jesus is the star to which God points us.  He shines with the glory of God, even in the agony of the cross, where he was covered with wounds like Lazarus, and the spit of his enemies, like Lazarus’ wounds were covered with the spit of dogs.  He shines like a star there, because we see a man who loved and fulfilled God’s law.  God points us to Him and says, He is your righteousness.  He points us to His agony and death on the cross, where He endured the torment of God’s wrath and says, “Your hellfire is quenched.  Your sins are removed.”

 

And whoever dares to believe this, even while the fire of sin and selfishness still burns inside of him, God counts righteous.  God justifies him.

 

If we want to be better fathers, better daughters and sons, better Christians, the solution is not found in exercising your will.  It is found in Jesus, who is perfect in love.  To hear God’s word and believe His promise that you are righteous for Jesus’ sake.  Then the love of God who is love lives in us and flows from us.

 

Even more importantly, even more important than growing in sanctification, is God’s certain assurance in this teaching that we are sons of Abraham and sons of God.  How can I be saved from the torment of the rich man?  Only through Jesus who fulfilled the law.  Only believing that He did this for me.

 

Delainey, you have many years ahead of you to live in faithfulness to the pledges you made at Baptism and which you will make again today.  And it is so easy for the selfish, loveless nature of the flesh to overcome us and lead us into sin, to take us captive.  How can you be faithful?

 

Only through this star to which God points you, this river of water quenching your thirst, Jesus Christ the righteous, through whom God declares you again and again to be righteous and justified.

 

Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

Spiritual Hunger. Second Sunday after Trinity 2016

jesus banquetSecond Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 14:15-24

June 5, 2016

“Spiritual Hunger”

 

Iesu Iuva

On Friday I was at Sunny Hill nursing home, where the Missouri Synod Lutheran churches around Joliet have a service each week for the people who live there.  After the service I gave communion to a member of St. Peter who lives there.  I was taking the elevator up from the lower floor and a lady got in.  I heard a little accent in her voice that I thought I recognized, and I asked her if she was from Africa.  No, she said, Trinidad (which is an island near South America).  I told her how my grandpa and uncles lived in Africa, so I always ask people when they sound like they’re from Africa.  “Oh,” she said, “where in Africa did your uncles live?”  “Zambia and Zimbabwe,” I said.  She said, “I went on a mission trip to Zimbabwe not too long ago.”

 

“Yes, there is a great spiritual hunger there,” she said.  “People have great joy in serving the Lord and a great desire to hear His Word.  Here, in order for people to worship properly you have to spend time coaxing them, cranking them up.”

 

I thought about this after we talked.  I am sure that if we got into what proper, acceptable worship to God is, we would not have agreed.  Emotion and excitement are not what makes worship acceptable to God.  True worship is in spirit and truth (John 4:23-24), says Jesus.  That doesn’t mean that we are emotional in our worship; it means that we have true faith in Christ as our Savior.  From this faith in Jesus that our sins are forgiven comes thanksgiving toward God.

 

Still, she had a point.  Acceptable worship of God can’t mean that we simply show up and say words in which neither our hearts nor our minds are engaged.  Acceptable worship of God—faith in Christ—affects our hearts, our words, and our actions.  Believing that our sins are forgiven, that we are saved, must produce joy and thanksgiving—and joy and thanksgiving toward God—how can it not affect the way that we sing, the way we listen to God’s Word, the way we treat each other?

 

By all accounts, there is a great spiritual hunger in Africa and places in Asia.  These have been mission fields for a long time.  In many places the missionaries worked for years and saw few results.  But now a harvest is coming in.  I often hear and read from Lutheran missionaries in Africa that the pastors eagerly desire to be trained more fully in Lutheran doctrine and to have the Lutheran Confessions and other theological works in their languages.  Meanwhile the people in the churches come in great numbers to be baptized, to hear the Word of God, and to receive our Lord’s body and blood.  It must be exciting to see so many people turning to God and desiring what He offers in the Gospel.

 

But how are things in our country?  It’s not so easy for us.  People don’t appear to be very interested in spiritual things.  There was a time when people came to church on their own.  Now, with younger people, they don’t.  And if the church goes to them—which, to be sure, we don’t do like we should—sometimes we find that people are opposed to Christianity.  More often, it seems that people are able to “take it or leave it.”  They aren’t necessarily hostile, if you don’t say anything that offends them.  They just don’t care that much.

 

But it’s not just outside of the Church.  There is a lack of spiritual hunger inside the Church as well—isn’t there?  Real hunger isn’t a pleasant feeling, but it has a purpose—to make you eat.  Eating is necessary to maintain life, but it’s also necessary to grow.  On earth, there are no Christians that are full-grown.  When we are perfectly in the image of Jesus and there is no sinful flesh left in us, then we will be full-grown.  But if you are not yet perfectly like Christ, you still have to grow.  And yet most Christians don’t eat enough spiritual food to grow; they come and hear the Word and receive the Lord’s Supper on Sundays, or on Sundays when they aren’t doing something else.  But they don’t continue to learn God’s Word after they are confirmed.  They don’t read the Bible in their families and privately.  Most of us don’t know Scripture and Christian doctrine as well as we did when we were confirmed.  Others who do often neglect prayer and devotion, so that we are weak in spirit—not having grown in the life of prayer and lacking in love and trust in God in affliction.  Then we wonder why our lives as Christians are so disappointing and why the Church seems to be dying in our country.

 

One way to look at Jesus’ parable in Luke 14 that we heard is to see it as a parable about the lack of spiritual hunger and the consequences of this lack.

 

In the parable, Jesus is eating at a Pharisee’s house.  One of the guests at the table with him expresses what appears to be a very devout, pious desire.  “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!”  (Luke 14:15)  The man talks like he would give anything to participate in God’s kingdom.  But Jesus tells this story to show the hypocrisy of his statement: God has invited you to the banquet of His kingdom, Jesus is saying, but you are refusing to come.

 

Jesus begins his parable like this: “A man once gave a banquet and invited many” (Luke 14:16).  It’s pretty obvious who this “man” is—it’s God.  God is constantly feeding people throughout the Scripture, and He constantly makes invitations to people to come to Him and receive rest and refreshment.  God also promises throughout the Bible that the day is coming when He will prepare a great feast, a great celebration, and all who come and eat His food will live forever.  The great example of this is the prophecy of Isaiah chapter 25: “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.  And He will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations.  He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces…” (Isaiah 25:6-8)

 

You see the way Isaiah describes this feast.  God isn’t offering a crust of bread or peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches.  He makes a feast of “rich food”, of “well-aged wine.”  This is a banquet for kings that God is making.  And besides the exquisite food is the honor of the host.  If you are invited to a banquet at the White House, you don’t go just because you know the food will be good.  You go because of the honor of being invited to the White House by the most powerful person in the world.

 

God has also made a banquet and invited many people.  To be invited is an honor higher than any of the honors in the world.  And besides this He puts exquisite food on the table.  The food of God’s banquet is the Gospel of His Son.  He spreads out before us a table of spiritual delicacies—forgiveness of our sins, righteousness before God, rescue from hell and the devil, the right to be sons of God and sit at His right hand, the gift of His Spirit.  And all these come to us through His Son—God with us, God who became fully man, who fulfilled the law, bore our sins as His own, received our condemnation, and rose again with sin and death destroyed forever.  Jesus is given to us as our spiritual food and drink in the Gospel.  By faith in Him we live, by faith in Him we eat His body and drink His blood and receive eternal life.

 

“And at the time for the banquet He sent His servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’” (Luke 14: 17)  That had already happened to the Pharisees and the leaders of the Jews.  They had been invited a long time ago to this feast.  God had promised their forefather Abraham that one of his descendants would bless the whole world, taking away the curse of sin and death.  During the Advent midweek services for the past several years we have looked at the many promises God gave throughout the Old Testament concerning the Messiah of the Jews, the Christ.  But now everything is ready.  John the Baptist came and announced this to the Jews and told them to repent and be baptized to be ready for the Messiah and God’s banquet that would come through Him.

 

You also have been invited to God’s banquet.  An alternate translation for the word “invited” in the reading is “called.”  In the Small Catechism we learned to say about the 3rd article of the Apostles’ Creed:

I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him, but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel…

Whenever you have heard the good news of Jesus’ death for your sins, the Holy Spirit was calling you, inviting you, to believe in Jesus, that He died for your sins, and to receive His gifts.  When you were baptized, that also was God’s call and invitation to you.  He was pledging that eternal life and the forgiveness of sins was yours, just as the circumcision of the Jews was God’s pledge that His Son and all His benefits were theirs.

 

But what happens when God’s invitation goes out and tells people, “Everything is ready?”  Jesus says, “But they all alike began to make excuses.” (Luke 14:18)  One asks to be excused because he just bought a field, another because he just bought some oxen, and another because he just got married.  Jesus is telling the Pharisees at the table that this is what they, and the leaders of the Jews, have done.  They were invited by God to His banquet and were told: Everything is ready right now.  But they made excuses instead of coming.  The Jewish leaders were preoccupied with their jobs, their honor, with earthly possessions and desires.  The religious leaders didn’t want to be baptized by John or follow Jesus because to do so would jeopardize their position.  They would be admitting that their religious lives were not enough to make them righteous before God.  Besides this they saw that Jesus was despised and didn’t have an earthly glory or kingdom and realized that to believe in Him would mean risking or losing their honor, their wealth, their prestige.

 

These were not unfounded fears.  It’s true that to believe in Christ puts our honor, wealth, and security at risk.  This is part of the reason that people don’t want to be Christians today, or leave churches that teach false doctrine.

 

Yet these fears also reveal a lack of spiritual hunger.  A person who knows that he is a sinner and that without the forgiveness of sins he is lost doesn’t think about what he will lose on earth.  He runs to the promise of forgiveness, come what may.

 

Yet how often it’s the case for us Christians that we put temporary goods over eternal blessings.  Often we aren’t willing to sacrifice temporary comforts for the feast that God spreads before us.  We think, “I already know that Jesus died for me and I’m forgiven, so it won’t matter if I don’t read the Bible, or if I skip church this once, or if I don’t take the opportunities to learn God’s Word and worship that are offered.”  But believing the Gospel shouldn’t extinguish our spiritual hunger.  If we believe in Jesus and the forgiveness of our sins, we should long for more of Jesus and His gifts.  And as we receive more—as we read Scripture and hear preaching—it will reveal our need more clearly.  God’s Word reveals more and more of our sinful nature and our inability to overcome it; it reveals our lack of fruit.  God reveals this to us in His Word so that He can satisfy our hunger.  As we see our sinfulness more clearly He shows us Jesus more clearly, so that we find our comfort in Him and His work alone.

 

So what happens when those invited send back their excuses?  The owner of the house becomes angry.

 

‘Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’  And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’  And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and the hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled.  For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.’” (Luke 14:21-24)

 

So what does the master do?  He has a house all set for a banquet.  Everything is ready.  The linens are on the tables, the wine is poured, the meat is ready.  But all the invited guests have refused to come.  Does he cancel the banquet?  No, he insists that his house should be filled.  So he has his servant gather up all the outcasts, the dregs of society to fill his house—the poor, blind, lame, crippled.  And since there is still room, he has the servant go outside the city and compel people from the highways to come to the banquet.

 

God did this with the Jews.  When the leaders of the Jews refused to come to Christ, God gathered the outcasts of Israel.  The poor, uneducated fishermen became Jesus’ disciples.  Tax collectors and sinners came into God’s banquet and ate His rich food and drank His aged wine.  They received the forgiveness of sins through Jesus and became righteous before God.  Then God sent the apostles outside of the people of Israel to the pagan gentiles who were far from God, didn’t know the Scriptures, and worshipped idols.  And these debased people—which includes us and our ancestors, who worshipped stones and statues and trees instead of the living God—came into God’s house, received the righteousness of Christ, were washed in His blood, and took their place among the righteous—Abraham and Moses and the prophets.

 

That is the end result of rejecting God’s Word; the end result of the lack of spiritual hunger.  When people persistently refuse God’s invitation through the Gospel, He takes it away.  Maybe we think the worst thing God could do to a country is let it be torn apart by violence, or impoverished through bad government, or let it be stricken by disease.  No.  The worst way God’s anger could strike us is if He takes His Word away.

 

Without His Word we can’t receive the forgiveness of sins; without His Word we can’t come to faith in Christ or stay in it.  Yet so often we treat God’s Word not as a gracious invitation to eternal life, but as an interruption of the other things we would rather do, or even as a burden.

 

Yes, we do this, even the most devout.  And so God makes His invitation again today: Everything is ready!  Come to the banquet!

 

If you have neglected His Word.  If you are spiritually poor, blind, and crippled, so that you think there is no way that you belong in God’s house, eating as His guest.  If you have at times acted as if you had other things to do that were more important than coming to the banquet God has provided, behaved arrogantly.

 

He doesn’t insist that you make your heart better.  He simply says, “Come, everything is now ready.”  It is a free invitation—there is no cost.  God has taken away your sins at His own cost, the cost of His Son. You only have to come and eat and drink—that is, believe that all your sins are forgiven through the suffering of Jesus.

 

If you don’t feel hunger—your sins don’t bother you particularly, you don’t feel your need as you should—still He invites you.  Realize that this lack of hunger is itself a great sin.  Then come, take your place with the crippled and the blind in God’s house.

 

God is gracious.  He wants His house to be full for this feast, so there is room for each one of us who wants to come.

 

And what a table He prepares for us!  “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, [that] God has prepared for those who love Him!”  (1 Corinthians 3:9)  The joy that we will have when we dwell with God in heaven we don’t know yet.  There are not words on earth to express it.  Yet we have the beginning of this feast now.  Maybe it’s appropriate to say God gives us hors d’oeurves?

 

Before our eyes He portrays His Son crucified for our transgressions, declaring, “It is finished!”  His call and invitation is to take Jesus at His Word.  In the Sacraments and the Word, He gives us the promise that the forgiveness of our sins is accomplished.  Along with that promise comes the promise of eternal life, resurrection from the dead, and union with the Triune God.

 

Whoever you are, come, says God, for everything is ready.

 

The peace of God that passes understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

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