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Thanksgiving for Others. Thanksgiving Day 2019

November 28, 2019 Leave a comment

Thanksgiving Day

Emmaus Lutheran Church

1 Timothy 2:1-4

November 28, 2019

Thanksgiving For Others

 

Jesu Juva!

 

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

 

The English Puritans were in the habit of holding public services of thanksgiving whenever they received a special benefit from God, whether a victory in battle or a bountiful harvest.  According to my brief research the Pilgrims did not hold a thanksgiving service like this until 1623, when a ship came from England with supplies and more settlers.  But what we think of as the first thanksgiving, which happened in the fall of 1621, was more of a harvest festival.  A couple of the men went out “fowling,” bird-hunting—and got enough ducks, geese, turkeys, grouse, and quail to feed the whole colony for more than a week.  But when they returned to Plymouth town, which was just a few houses, they had a visit from around ninety Wampanoag Indians.

 

Yet instead of this turning into a battle, which the Pilgrims probably would have lost—since there were only around fifty men, women, and children left, about half having died during the winter of 1620—instead of bloodshed there was a feast.  They drank beer, ate game birds, seafood, and venison, and a peace was forged that lasted about seventy years.

 

That first feast is the illustration of the theme I want to present to you, taken from the Epistle reading.  The theme is that Christian thanksgiving is the kind St. Paul describes: First of all then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people (1 Tim. 2:1).  Christian thanksgiving is a priest’s thanksgiving.  We don’t merely give thanks for ourselves but for “all people”, for those even who do not know God, even who are enemies of God, and cannot and do not give thanks to Him for the blessings they have received.  In Christian thanksgiving, we serve others who cannot enter the presence of God by entering His presence on their behalf.

 

Thanksgiving entered American lore and became a holiday because people saw in it God’s providence.  They recognized that it would have been very easy for the Pilgrims not to have survived in the new world.  But they survived because God showed them mercy and had a plan for them and their descendants.  And so it became a holiday because for a long time many Americans believed God had chosen this country, and it was necessary to recognize His hand in creating and preserving it by giving Him thanks.

 

But in my lifetime the place of Christians in this country has been very complicated.  We are in a similar situation to the one the Puritans and Pilgrims experienced in England; we feel ourselves to be a minority with limited political and cultural power, facing a rising intolerance from the broader culture.

 

St. Paul also experienced something similar; but the weakness of the Church politically and the hostility of the surrounding culture in his day were far greater.  And Paul’s words in the Epistle reading remind us of the most powerful way we can respond to our nation and our neighbors when they appear to us to be hostile to Christ, the Church, or to simple morality.

 

He urges that our first work after having received the grace of God is to act as priests on behalf of “all people,” to serve our neighbors by bringing them before God in supplication, prayer, intercession and thanksgiving.

 

Let us examine

  1. These four types of prayer mentioned by Paul and
  2. Why this prayer pleases God.

 

1.

Having heard this reading many times, I always assumed that supplication, prayer, and intercession were all basically the same thing, and that in this passage Paul was simply urging us to pray.

 

In reality, each of these four words used by Paul indicate a specific type of prayer that he urges that the church in Ephesus offer on behalf of “all people” and particularly “kings and all in high positions.”

 

Supplications are prayers asking God to help in a certain need, a certain trouble.  St. Paul urges as of first importance that the Christian churches carry the needs of their neighbors (and rulers) to God.  It’s important to realize that rulers in Paul’s day were quite likely to be more hostile and dismissive toward Christians than judges and authorities in our time—even though it is evident that some are very unfriendly today.  Also many of the neighbors of the Christians in Paul’s time would have been unfriendly.  Many Gentiles hated Jews because they denounced all their idols and separated themselves from Gentile society, and most Gentiles in Paul’s day would have seen the Christians as a sect of the Jews.  On the other hand, Jews saw Christians as heretics and apostates.

 

But Paul says that it is of first importance that supplications be offered by the church on behalf of their neighbors, particularly rulers.  So whatever trouble or calamity the churches saw their neighbors in, even when those neighbors were hostile, they were to carry that trouble or need to God as if it were their own.

 

Why was this so important?  Because Christians, then and now, have access to God through their faith in Jesus.  And just as Jesus used His access to God the Father on our behalf, by praying for us, by teaching us, and by dying for us, so the Church carries out His work with Him in this world by interceding on behalf of all people.

 

The second word Paul uses is prayers.  The word can mean many things, but in this setting it probably refers to prayers for the general welfare and prosperity of our neighbors and rulers.  Even when you don’t know what need your neighbor might have, you can still pray for God’s blessing on his work, his family, his children and grandchildren.  You can pray that God would prosper him financially and in every other way.  We often pray this way for ourselves.  But here Paul is teaching that we identify with our neighbors and pray for their blessing in this world, that we use our access to God to seek their blessing.

 

Third Paul urges that intercessions be made.  This refers specifically to prayers for forgiveness of sin.  Oftentimes in the church and in society we become aware of someone’s sin.  Our inclination is to get angry, to indulge in self-righteous anger.  This is particularly the case when we are dealing with politics.  This or that ruler is doing something wrong, proposing legislation that would take away our rights or harm us.  We get indignant.  It happens in the Church just as often.  Leaders in the church push false teaching, or they abuse their authority.  Members of the congregation engage in behavior that harms others.  What do we do?  Often we vent our spleen to those who will listen.  We divide into parties.  But when God makes us aware of someone else’s sin He doesn’t do so so that we can defeat them or so that we can exalt ourselves over them.  He makes us aware of it so that we can do as Jesus has done with our sin.  He took it upon Himself and made it His own.  We cannot carry our neighbor’s sin and make atonement for it, because Christ has done that already.  But we can take it upon our heart, mind, and conscience, and intercede with God for their forgiveness.  And God will hear us, because He has given us access to His throne by clothing us with the righteousness of His Son.

 

Finally Paul urges that thanksgivings be made for all men.  Sometimes we become envious when God blesses other people—especially when those people seem as though they do not deserve it to us.  But Paul urges that we not only pray for the needs of our neighbors, but also give thanks for their blessings as though they were our own.

 

If you practice praying in this way as a Christian, you will find how powerful it is.  This is our most powerful work—prayer.  Because God has given us access to Him through faith in Christ, we have access to His power to work not only on our behalf but on behalf of those around us.  We often wonder and worry about why the Church and its preaching no longer seems to touch our neighbors.  The proper response to this is not to wring our hands, nor first brainstorm ways we can make Christianity more appealing to the world, but to carry out the calling God has given us as priests, and carry our nation and its leaders, our neighbors in the community, our families and loved ones, to Christ and to His Father in prayer, just as when Jesus walked on earth people brought their sick relatives to Him so He would heal them.

 

2.

Why should we do this?  Paul says, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.  This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.  (1 Tim. 2:2-4)

 

The first reason is that we may lead a peaceful, quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.  We should not be troublemakers.  The Word of God does not bring peace, Jesus tells us, but a sword.  There will be uproar when His Word comes.  But there should not be uproar because we live in a way that causes people offense—because we are rude and contentious, or because we are insubordinate and unwilling to submit to authority God has instituted.  But if we are carrying our neighbors and our rulers to God, asking Him to bless them, to help them out of trouble, to prosper them, to forgive their sins, and giving thanks when they receive benefits, how can we be seeking to harm them?

 

And the second reason is because prayer for our neighbors and the result—a godly, dignified life—pleases God.  It pleases Him specifically because He wants all people to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.

 

It is not hard for you, if you are honest, to recognize that it is God’s pure mercy that you can say, “I am saved.”  It is not because you have done well and earned it.  It is because God did not look on your sin, your trouble and need, and say, “They are getting what they deserve.  I wash My hands of them.”  Instead God got dirty; He became a man born of the dust.  He went beneath the dirty waters of the Jordan River and identified Himself with all the sin of all men.  And then He shed His red blood for your sin.

 

It was because Jesus did not turn away from us and our debt of sin that the Father declared Him His beloved Son.  Paul says it was because Jesus humbled Himself to death, even the death of the cross, that the Father exalted Himself to the highest place.

 

But now He has saved you and given you a holy calling, to be a priest in His priesthood.  He has called you to join in His ongoing work as a priest, praying for the salvation of the world and the blessing of the world.  That is what we are here in this world to do, even as we carry out our holy callings as father, mother, pastor, hearer, citizen, ruler.  We have works to do with our hands, but before we do those, He calls us to come to Him in prayer—and to do so not only for help for ourselves but for our nation and its rulers and its people, our church, our families—especially those most in need, the fallen, the enemies of God.

 

Paul probably had a special reason for wanting this done.  He was a persecutor of the church, and no doubt it was through the prayers of the church that Paul was saved.

 

God wants all people to be saved.  What wonderful news that is!  No matter how far our country has fallen, no matter how far our synod has fallen, or someone in our family, God desires their salvation.

 

So let us carry out our callings as priests and carry our nation, church, neighbors, and families to God through Christ.  Let us pray for their salvation and their blessings in earthly things and give thanks when they receive them.  Let that be our first work.

 

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

 

Soli Deo Gloria

 

Courage to Pray and Not Faint. 19th Sunday after Pentecost. Oct. 20, 2019. Luke 18:1-8

October 31, 2019 Leave a comment

19th Sunday after Pentecost

Emmaus Lutheran Church, Redmond, Oregon

St. Luke 18:1-8

October 20, 2019

Courage to Pray and Not Faint

Iesu Iuva

 

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

 

Bow down Your gracious ear to me

And hear my cry, my prayer, my plea;

Make haste for my protection,

For woes and fear

Surround me here.

Help me in my affliction.  LSB 734 stanza 2

 

There may be a few here today who are possessed of an iron will, who never quit, no matter how great the pain.  I don’t think Jacob was that kind of man, though he did start wrestling while he was still in the womb, and though he was born into the world grasping his brother Esau’s heel.  But the Scripture says he was a quiet man who stayed near the tents and his mother.  Even in the Old Testament reading, where Jacob is much older, you don’t see great physical courage.  He sends his wives and little ones across the river to meet his brother, who he fears is going to take revenge on him for stealing his blessing decades before.  Look at my wives and my little ones and spare your brother.  Jacob is not a tough guy.

 

But in the night he gets into a wrestling match with an unknown assailant.  And the wrestling match goes until the morning.  I tried wrestling for maybe a month my sophomore year in high school.  It’s hard to wrestle for a few minutes, let alone an entire night.  And wrestling is okay when you are winning, but really, really painful when you are losing.  You can’t really breathe, but you’re supposed to keep fighting.

 

We can be pretty sure Jacob was losing all night.  His opponent, when he is tired of the game, just touches Jacob’s hip, and Jacob has to walk with a limp for the rest of his life.  But even then, Jacob does not let go.  He doesn’t lose heart.  He refuses to let God go until God blesses him.

 

Jesus says we should pray like Jacob wrestled.  He told the parable in Luke chapter 18 to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart (Luke 18:1). 

 

Jesus gives us courage to keep praying for Him to return and not become spiritless.

 

I know from talking to a few of you and I know from my own experience how difficult a struggle it is not to lose heart in prayer.  You might be the type of person that pushes through physical pain no matter what.  You don’t quit.  You might be a person who stays steady and calm under emotional pressure.  But the kind of strength needed to pray without ceasing, without growing weary or losing heart, is not found in human beings, in their natural power.  To keep praying without becoming listless and depressed and weary is a spiritual contest.  And in our fallen human nature we have no spiritual strength.

 

In our fallen human nature we don’t even know what to pray for, St. Paul tells us (Rom. 8:26).  Listen to what Jesus says God’s elect, His chosen ones, cry out to Him for day and night.  They want Him to give [them] justice against [their] adversary (Luke 18:3).  They want justice against their opponent.  The opponent is the devil, who accuses us and who torments us, together with the fallen world that he controls.  God’s elect cry out to God day and night that He avenge them, that He vindicate them against this opponent who falsely accuses them and who wrongs them when they are innocent.

 

What exactly does that mean, for God to give us justice, to vindicate us?  It means that the elect pray for God to send His Son from heaven to judge the living and the dead, to cast the devil and His angels into the lake of fire, together with all those who did not believe in Jesus.  God gives the elect justice when He declares them righteous before the whole universe and honors them, declaring them to be His sons and heirs, declaring them innocent, sharing His glory with them forever.

 

This is the way the elect people of God pray, Jesus says.

 

But is it the way you pray?  Usually?  With your eyes to the end, looking to the return of Jesus as your hope for everything to be set right?  When you look at all your problems, all your struggle with sin, all your ongoing pain and the things in your life, family, church that are still broken—do you look to Jesus’ return as the answer and pray with a fervent heart for Him to return?

 

No, usually you aim much lower, probably.  We pray that God would give us a blessing here and now that meets our expectations of what His blessing should look like.  When Jacob prayed, no doubt the blessing he wanted more than anything at that moment was that God spare his life from his brother Esau.  But he didn’t ask God for that.  He simply said, “Bless me.”  He did not put a limit on God’s blessing, probably because he had learned that if God blessed him he would be blessed far more and far greater than he could understand.

 

When we pray, so often we ask God for help in the difficulties that we see and feel, and we ask for help that makes sense to us.  None of this is wrong.  Yet Jesus teaches us to pray for more, because God does not simply want to deliver us from money problems or conflict or even deep grief—just for a season.  He wants to give us justice and set all things right.  And that is why what we ought to pray and look for before all else is the return of our Lord.  That is the goal of our lives; that is the even that is going to make you whole and heal everything that is broken in you and this world.

 

Whenever we pray, “Thy Kingdom Come,” we are asking for this—that Jesus returns, that the devil is thrown into hell, that we enter into the joy of our Lord.  But it is seldom the first thing on our mind when we pray.

 

Those who do not have the Holy Spirit and true faith in Christ can’t pray it at all, not from the heart.  Those who are false Christians are terrified of Jesus’ return.  But even Christians, according to the flesh, fear Jesus’ return.  We pray for smaller things.  We doubt His grace, that He has justified us, that He really counts us righteous.  So we fear what His coming will mean.

 

Perhaps we are still looking to delight ourselves in this world and the pleasure it has to offer, and so we don’t long for the return of Jesus.

 

We pray for other things, smaller things—which are good in themselves, but not the highest blessing God wishes to give us.  When our prayers are not answered as we expect, and when Jesus’ coming is delayed, we become weary in prayer.  Because He hasn’t appeared to answer, we become faint and draw back from our Lord in prayer, doubting that He cares about the pain we bring to Him.

Repent.  Repent of your unbelief.  Be courageous.  God has promised that He will vindicate you.  He will deliver you out of every evil when He appears with His Kingdom (2 Tim. 4:1).  He has promised this.  That’s why He encourages you to keep on praying for His return and not lose heart.

 

He has already proclaimed to you that you are declared righteous by His Father, the righteous judge.  His Father justified you.  He declared you righteous in His court, innocent of sin, because His Son offered Himself to suffer and die for you.   That is why Scripture says, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).  He is faithful because He has promised to count everyone who believes in His Son righteous, and to not count their sins against them.  He is just and righteous because His Son has already paid in full for your sins.  If He were to count them to you He would be unjust.  If you believe in Jesus who was condemned for your sins, how can God condemn you for them again?  That would be unjust.  He is just when He forgives your sins because He has already punished them fully in Jesus.

 

Since you are justified, all that remains is for that justification to be made manifest.  That is what Jesus wants you to pray for—for the day when you no longer hear God tell you you are righteous in His sight, chosen and precious in His sight—but when it is made visible.  That day is the day of Jesus’ return.   We will be like Him, for we will see Him as He is.  We will see Him in the glory that He had before the world began, and He will give it to us.  He has made it ours when He justified us through faith in Him.

 

Right now the devil accuses us daily.  He afflicts us, just as he afflicted Jesus.  But he had no right to afflict Jesus, because Jesus had no sin.  After He was put to death on the shameful cross, God vindicated Jesus by raising him from the dead.  He triumphed over Satan and Satan’s servants, like those who mocked his claim to be the Son of God and the King of the Jews as He hung on the cross.   God vindicated Him and made it clear that He truly was the Son of God.  No human being had ever triumphed over the grave before this man.  God silenced Jesus’ enemies.  When Jesus returns, He will silence our enemies as well—in particular the devil, who flings our sins at us, reminding us of our evil thoughts and our evil words and our past, our weakness, our suffering.  Jesus gives you courage against Satan’s attacks.  Keep praying for His return, because God hears you.  He is not like the unjust judge who only helps the widow because she bothers him.  He has declared you righteous and His son for the sake of Jesus.  He hears you because you please Him.  And He will answer you because He keeps His promise.

 

Today Jesus comes with a pledge that God the Father will give you justice.  He gives you His body and the blood He poured out to save you from your sins.

 

Jesus, the Son of God, is precious to His Father.  Just as He did not leave His Son’s body lying in the tomb, but raised Him and vindicated Him against His accusers, so He will not leave you who receive the body and blood of His Son.  He will raise you up and vindicate you as well.  He will make you a conqueror of death and seat you at His right hand.  That is His pledge today—that on the last day He will raise you up and give you justice.

 

So don’t lose heart when you pray and they seem to go unanswered.  Pray for the Lord’s return when He gives you justice against your adversary.

 

With you, O Lord, I cast my lot;

O faithful God, forsake me not!

To You my soul commending.

Lord, be my stay, And lead the way

Now and when life is ending.  LSB 734 stanza 4

 

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

 

Soli Deo Gloria

Boldness in Prayer and Preaching. Rogate 2019 The Sixth Sunday of Easter

Rogate, the Sixth Sunday of Easter (Memorial Day)

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. John 16:23-30

May 26, 2019

Boldness in Preaching and Prayer

 

Iesu Iuva

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

 

In the temple in Jerusalem a curtain hung between the main part of the temple building and the Holy of Holies.

 

This curtain was there to protect the priests, not to protect God.  Externally the priests were clean and holy, and they had been given a high position among the people of God—to stand in the presence of God on behalf of the people.  But they could not look upon the glory of God, because no one can see God’s face and live—not even Moses, the greatest of the prophets in the Old Testament.  To see God’s face and live only belongs to those who are without any stain of sin, because God is holy, a jealous God.

 

But on Good Friday the layout of the temple changed.  Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up His Spirit, and behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.”  (Matt. 27:50-51)  The veil that was there to hide God’s glory from everyone but the High Priest—the protective covering—was torn open.  Why?  Because Jesus’ death had made it possible for those who believe in Him to go boldly into the presence of God’s glory.

 

In the 16th chapter of John Jesus tells His disciples that they will soon enter into the Father’s presence with this kind of boldness.  They will, so to speak, walk right up to God the Father on His throne, and ask Him for gifts.  And instead of destroying them for their brashness and boldness, the Father will give them whatever they ask in the name of Jesus.

 

If you think about this in light of the Scriptures, you will realize what a stupendous promise this is.  Consider how God appeared to the people of Israel when He brought them out of Egypt to Mt. Sinai.  He came in fire to the mountain and set it ablaze.  The mountain billowed with smoke.  And when God spoke the ten commandments out of the fire, the people were terrified and begged Moses to tell God not to speak to them anymore because His voice was so frightening.  Then Moses climbed up the mountain to meet God—into the fire and the deep darkness.

 

Do you think you would be bold to go up with Moses into the presence of God?  Imagine trying to be bold as the trumpet blared and you climbed into the fire and deep darkness where God was!

 

Who can be bold when they enter God’s presence, if this is what God is like?  You can’t come into God’s presence on your own initiative with boldness.  In fact, as a sinner, you really won’t come into God’s presence at all.  It is dangerous for sinners to come into God’s presence.  And even if you could be sure you could enter His presence safely, you can’t be sure in yourself whether you will pray in a way He will accept and listen to.

 

But in the Gospel reading Jesus tells the disciples: I have said these things to you in figures of speech.  The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures of speech, but will tell you plainly or boldly about the Father.  In that day you will ask in My Name… (John 16:25-26)

 

Jesus says the day is coming when He will take off the covering that is over God’s glory—not just the physical curtain in the temple, but the veil that lies over people’s hearts.  When that day comes, when He speaks boldly and plainly about the Father, then they will also pray boldly to the Father.  They will not go to Jesus with their prayers and then He will pray to the Father for them; but instead they will go with Jesus to the Father as sons of God who please the Father, with the same boldness with which Jesus enters His Father’s presence.

 

Now, this is risky on Jesus’ part, at least it seems so.  What happens if Jesus tells the disciples plainly about the Father, and doesn’t speak in figures of speech?  Won’t the disciples take this great treasure of the knowledge of God lightly?  Won’t they be tempted to misuse this knowledge for their own purposes?  And won’t many of the people they preach to misuse this bold preaching about the Father—either by ignoring it and treating it with contempt, or by using it as an excuse for sin?

 

Yes, these are all real possibilities.  This is why, in the Old Testament, the promise of Jesus was hidden under pictures—sacrifices, the worship of the temple.  The people were hard and wouldn’t listen, so God constantly had His law thundering in their ears, declaring their sin, and His requirement of a sacrifice to take their sin away.  Until a person is driven to despair of his own strength and goodness by the law, he can’t receive the plain and bold preaching that shows the grace of God the Father.

 

Nevertheless, Jesus made the Father known to His disciples with great boldness.  He made known the Father as the God who sent His Son into the world to fulfill all of God’s Law and to win the Father’s favor for us by suffering and dying for our sins on the cross.  He showed to His disciples how His Father lifted up His only Son on the pole of the cross and made Him to be sin for us, so that everyone who is bitten by the ancient serpent, and everyone who is suffering from the poison of sin, might do nothing else than look in faith to Jesus and have eternal life.  Jesus made it clear to the sinners in Israel that God the Father wanted them to come into His presence with boldness, like the prodigal son.  He has prepared everything.  The fatted calf has been slain, the prodigal has a ring on his finger and a robe placed on his back.  All there is for him to do is sit down as a son at the Father’s table.  Jesus revealed plainly that this is what the Father is like; then He sent His disciples to unveil the Father through their preaching.

 

When the grace and glory of the Father is preached with boldness and plainness, people believe that they are sons of God.  They don’t say, “I hope I’m good enough for God,” they say boldly, “I am God’s son and heir.  I am baptized into His Son.”

 

And with that same boldness we do what Jesus said we would do: we pray to the Father in Jesus’ name.

 

On our own initiative this would be totally impossible.  But Jesus brings us into the Father’s presence.  When we pray, we don’t come on our own.  We join Jesus in His prayer at the Father’s right hand.

 

We are already in the Father’s presence, wrapped up in Jesus’ righteousness in our Baptism.  Jesus brings us to the Father and Jesus joins our prayer to His.

 

This means: God receives you as a child and an heir.  He wants to hear you pray, just as a father wants his son to come to him.  And he wants to give you everything you ask in Christ.

 

And it means that, when you do not know how to pray correctly, your prayers are also wrapped up in Jesus’ prayers.  If you pray the wrong thing, if you fumble and don’t know what to say, Jesus is praying with you, and His prayer carries your prayer wrapped up in His into God’s ears, and He is pleased.

 

If you have tried to pray you may have noticed it isn’t easy for you.  Frankly, your flesh doesn’t want to pray at all.  And once you start praying, you often get tired of it pretty quickly (unless you have some huge problem weighing on you.)  You may feel awkward and don’t know what to say.  This is just like everything else in being a Christian.  It doesn’t come naturally to us to act like God’s sons and heir.

 

We have to learn to pray.  We have to grow in it, just as in every other part of being a Christian, from learning God’s Word to loving our neighbors, to faithful giving and service in the Church.  We learn to pray in Jesus’ name from learning His Word, and also from suffering and affliction.  There’s a reason why God keeps letting hardship come to us—it’s because without it, we often don’t pray.

 

But even while we are still learning to pray in Jesus’ name and to come with Him as sons into the presence of our Father, we know God hears us.  Jesus gives us the very words to pray in His prayer, beginning with the first words, where we call God the Father “Our Father.”

 

Since the covering is taken away, let us then with boldness draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Heb. 4:16).

 

Amen.

 

Alleluia!  Christ is Risen!

 

Soli Deo Gloria

 

 

Comforting Reassurance of the Holy Supper. Ev. Luth. Gebets-Schatz

Comforting Reassurance of the Holy Supper (322)

Martin Luther, 1483-1546

 

Be gracious to me, O merciful God.  I am indeed a poor, sinful person and have merited nothing besides wrath.   But even though I have lived however I wanted, I hold on to this: that I know, and will not doubt it, that I am baptized for the forgiveness of my sins and am called as a Christian, and that my Lord Jesus Christ was born, suffered, died, and rose again for me.  His body and blood has been given to me for the nourishment and strengthening of my faith.  Lord Jesus Christ, I am absolved and loosed from my sins in Your name.  Therefore nothing evil can befall me, nor can I be lost; as little as God’s Word can fail or be false.  Because God Himself is to me a refuge and fortress through His Word.  Amen.

Checks Jesus Signs. Rogate, the Sixth Sunday of Easter, 2018. John 16:23-30

jesus ascension.PNGRogate, the 6th Sunday of Easter

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. John 16:23-30

May 6, 2018

“Checks Jesus Signs”

 

Iesu Iuva

 

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

 

When I was maybe seven years old my mom took me and my sister down to Danville, Illinois to see my great grandmother.  She was about 90 years old, but she was still a lot of fun because she gave me a black book that looked like a check book to play with.  This is great, I thought.  I started writing checks—Pay to the order of Karl Hess, $1 with as man zeroes after as I could fit on the piece of paper.  Then I gave it to my mom.

 

But she explained to me that writing a check doesn’t magically create money.  Of course, you have to have money in the bank.  Then, when you sign your name on the check, the bank sees your name and sends the money in your name wherever you directed them to send it on the check.  So I couldn’t write checks for a billion dollars in my great grandmother’s name and then sign my name on the check.

 

When I found this out, I didn’t think checks were so great anymore.

 

And a lot of us, or most of us, think like this about prayer.  We find out that we can’t write ourselves big checks for whatever we want, and we lose interest in praying.

 

Amen, Amen, the Lord Jesus promises—It shall be so, it shall be so: whatever you ask of the Father in My name, He will give it to you…Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.  (John 16:23-24)

 

Listen to the promise again.  It is a huge promise that Jesus gives His disciples: Whatever you ask of the Father in My Name, He will give it to you.  (John 16:23)

 

Incredible.  Whatever I ask?  It sounds like Jesus has given us a book of blank checks to draw on God the Father’s account.

 

Maybe you have never listened closely and heard the promise Jesus made here, so you’ve never tried to cash one of these checks.

 

But if you have, you almost certainly have had this experience: You asked God the Father for something, and He didn’t give it to you.

 

You prayed for success in your work, but you were unsuccessful.  You prayed for peace in your house, and the turmoil seemed to get worse.  You prayed for someone you loved to recover from their illness or have less pain, and God appeared to say, “No.”  You prayed God would make your church grow, but it shrank.

 

So you found yourself thinking, “Maybe it isn’t such a privilege to carry / Ev’rything to God in prayer.”  And you began to rely less on praying to God and more on your own work or on human experts to make your home peaceful or your loved ones get well.

 

But if you felt this way—experienced something like this—and I have, as have most Christians, if not all—it is not because Jesus didn’t mean His promise.

 

It’s because we overlook an important phrase in His promise.  He says: Whatever you ask of the Father in my name, He will give you.  Our Lord Jesus doesn’t promise that the Father will give us anything we ask, but only what we ask in His name.

 

If my great grandmother let me have her checkbook when I was seven years old, and write whatever checks I wanted, that would have been a big mistake.  Very quickly we would have ended up with a big pile of candy, and toy cars, plastic soldiers and guns, and no food, the gas and water shut off, and no money in the bank.  Instead, the bank only sent out money if her name was on the check.

 

It’s similar with God the Father.  All His treasure: power, His authority, His wisdom, His glory, He has entrusted to one man only.

 

He has entrusted everything to the man who doesn’t seek His own will and glory, but only the will and glory of God the Father.  God has put everything in the hand of this man, His Son, Jesus.

 

When God the Father gets a prayer that does not come in the name of Jesus, His Son, the righteous one, He rejects it—just as the bank would have rejected a check that I wrote on my grandmother’s account and signed with my name.

 

Yet Jesus promises His disciples who believe in Him: In that day, you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved me and I believed that I came from God.  (John 16:26-27)

 

He promises us: My Father Himself loves you because you believe in Me.  It’s not just that I will pray for you.  The Father will hear your own prayers because you believe in Me.

 

*That’s why being baptized, as Elliot is today, is so great a privilege that we constantly remind ourselves of it, everytime we invoke the Name “of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” perhaps making the sign of the cross.  When we are baptized, God places His own name on us.  He gives us His name.  He covers us with the righteousness of Jesus so that we may approach God the Father in that righteousness and be received as God’s sons and heirs.  He cleanses us in our Baptism with the atoning blood Jesus shed on the cross for our sins.  And so we come to the Father as though we were Jesus Himself.

 

From this day forward Elliot may call on God as her own father and be assured God will hear her and not turn her away.  And it will be her parents’ task, along with her godparents and all of us, to teach and encourage her to come with confidence into God’s presence and call Him Father.

 

Those who don’t believe in Jesus can’t do this.  They can’t come to the Father because they do not know Him.  They certainly cannot call Him “Our Father.”  They can’t receive what they ask.  They are writing bad checks, signed with their own names instead of the name of the Father, His Son, and the Holy Spirit.

 

These prayers don’t please God.  They anger Him, because prayers offered without faith in Jesus are all aimed at getting what we want for our own sinful purposes.

 

That’s often the reason why our prayers, the prayers of Christians, receive no answer or are answered, “No.”  Not that God won’t hear us.  If you believe in Jesus as your Savior, God receives you.  He doesn’t look at your long track record of sins and failures.  He doesn’t look at the evil motives that fight in your heart with the Holy Spirit.  He looks at the righteousness of Jesus that covers your sins, the suffering and death that cancelled your sin, applied to you in Baptism.

 

But to ask the Father in Jesus’ name isn’t just to come in Jesus’ righteousness by faith.  It is also to ask for the things Jesus signs his name to.  Jesus doesn’t sign His name to all our desires.  It’s not always Jesus’ will that we escape difficulty, weakness, suffering, death.  Paul prayed that his physical weakness, his “thorn in the flesh”, would be taken away, so that he would be able to labor harder in the preaching of the Gospel.  But Jesus said, My grace is enough for you, because my power is made perfect in weakness.  (2 Cor. 12:9) 

 

So how do we pray “in Jesus’ name,” according to His will?  How do we know what that is?

 

We receive His Word.  In His Word, we receive His Holy Spirit who comes into us and teaches us what to pray for.  Just like you eat every day, so you need to feed on Jesus’ word every day, so that the Holy Spirit can teach us to ask not what we will according to the flesh, but what Jesus would sign His name to.

 

Still, when you don’t know how to pray or what to pray for, you shouldn’t be afraid to ask the Father.  He won’t cast you out, because He has already received you through the blood of Jesus and put His name on you in Baptism.

 

And He has given you the Holy Spirit, who prays within you according to God’s will when you don’t know how to pray.  He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God, Paul tells us in Romans chapter 8 (Rom. 8:27).

 

Jesus has also given us the very words to pray with Him to His Father in the prayer He gave us.  When you pray them, you are praying in the Name of Jesus, asking for things God will surely give you.  Look at the Small Catechism when you get home and remind yourself of the great things you are asking for when you pray that prayer together with Jesus.

 

When you pray it and other prayers that are in Jesus’ name—that are according to His will and offered in faith in Him, you have the assurance God the Father will not only listen, but will surely say “Yes” to them.  That is why we finish our prayers with “Amen”.  We are saying, “It shall be so.”

 

And Jesus gives another promise to us—that as you do this your joy will be full.

 

At St. Peter, we are a lot like the disciples of Jesus after He died.  We are full of anxiety, fear, distress.  Much like one of Jesus’ friends, Martha, to whom He said, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and distressed about many things, but one thing is necessary.”  (Luke 10:41-42)

We need not be.  Jesus has given us His access to God the Father.

 

Until now you have asked nothing in My name.  Ask, and you will receive, that Your joy may be full.”  (John 16:24)

 

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

Soli Deo Gloria

 

Fighting With God and Winning. Reminiscere 2018. Genesis 32:22-32

February 26, 2018 Leave a comment

jacob wrestling2Reminiscere, the Second Sunday in Lent

St. Peter Lutheran Church

Genesis 32:22-32

February 25, 2018

Fighting with God and Winning

Iesu Iuva

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

This isn’t the first time Jacob was after a blessing, but it was the first time he fought for it honestly.  This time Jacob didn’t get the blessing with the help of his mother by deceit.  And it wasn’t his old man Isaac he had to get this blessing from, who could be deceived easily because he could barely see.  He had to get this blessing from a man who could see very well, who can see in the dark.  He had to get this blessing from a stranger who attacked him in the middle of the night.  It was totally crazy for Jacob to think he would get a blessing from this unknown assailant.  But Jacob seems to know who it is, doesn’t he?

 

Yes, Jacob knows who is trying to pin him.  He knows the same way that Jonah knew who was in the storm that was about to sink the ship on which he had booked passage in the opposite direction from the place God had told him to go.  He knows the same way that Adam and Eve knew whose voice it was calling for them when they had eaten the fruit God commanded them not to eat.  Jacob knew who was wrestling him the same way you know, but try not to know, who it is that is taking you by the neck in your distress and trial.  When Jacob asks His name, to confirm his suspicions, he says, Why do you ask My name?  (Gen 32: 29)  You know who it is.

 

The blessing Jacob gets from this person in the night is a new name.  The man says, What is your name?  And he said, Jacob.  Then He said, Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and men and have prevailed (Gen 32: 27-28).  Jacob means “he takes the heel” or “he cheats.”  He received the blessing of his father Isaac and the blessing of God through cheating and trickery.  But now he stood alone with God and fought, and he prevailed.  His new name is “He fights with God.”

 

That name became the name of God’s people.  God’s people strive and fight with Him.  Not the way that the Israelites did in the wilderness, complaining about the lack of food, water, doubting God’s presence, doubting God would bring them into the promised land.  That wasn’t fighting with God.  That was running away from Him.  The true Israelites, His true people, not only fight with the devil, as we heard about last week.  They strive with God and prevail over Him, like Jacob did.

 

The wrestling and fighting Christians do with God is called prayer.  And the way we win this wrestling match with God is we remind Him of His promises, of His Word.  That is what the name of this Sunday indicates—Reminiscere, “remember”, from the Psalm at the beginning of the service, Psalm 25, where David prays, “Remember your mercy, O Lord, and your steadfast love, for they have been from of old.  Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for the sake of your goodness, O Lord!”  (Ps. 25: 6-7)  We remind God of His promise, His covenant with us that He made with us when we were baptized, where He promised to be our God, and to remember our sins no more. Jacob told God, I will not let you go unless you bless me, he wasn’t trying to force God’s hand by the strength of his own arms.  That is impossible.  He overcame God with God’s own promise.  God cannot break His Word.  If He did that, He would stop being God.   

 

So now Jacob is coming back to the land in which he was born, with his wives, children, his flocks and his servants.  But now he has to meet the brother that he deceived and sinned against.  He hears that Esau is coming to meet him with 400 men.  And Jacob sends his family in two groups ahead, hoping that if Esau attacks, some of his family will be able to escape.  And while he is alone and afraid, God visits him in the night.  He attacks him.  He wrestles with him.

 

Some of you who are listening to me today understand exactly what it is like to be Jacob.  You know what it is like to be afraid and to be struck with calamity.  In the midst of it, you feel as though God is coming at you with your sins.  It feels as though you are being reminded of all the evil you have done, all the reasons God has to be angry with you.  If you haven’t had this experience, you certainly will—if not in this life, if not on your deathbed, then on the day when He judges the living and the dead.

 

But there is good news for you when this happens.  God wants you to prevail against Him in this fight.  In Jesus your Savior, you have already prevailed over God’s wrath and judgment.

 

We have good reason to feel as though God is judging or punishing us for our sins, that He is angry with us, when we are faced with death, dishonor, calamity.  None of these things would happen to us if we weren’t sinners.  And our sins are real.  We say we are sinners, but the seriousness of our sins seldom dawns on us.  By nature we don’t feel the gravity of sin and death, and we don’t seek God’s blessing.

 

And even when God has given us the gift of repentance, and we do grasp His blessing, our flesh divides us.  Our grasp is listless and weak.

 

So God wrestles us.  He scares us.  He wounds us.  He brings us down to the grave, so that He may raise us up, so that He may heal us.  We are healed when we grab hold of His blessing, when we grasp it with our hearts by faith.  And when we grasp His promise, our hearts overflow from our lips and we call out to God Remember your mercy!  Remember not the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways!  According to your love remember me!  I will not let you go until you bless me, as you swore to me when you baptized me!

 

This prayer prevails over God so that He hears and grants it.

 

Yet it isn’t our faith that overcomes God.  Our faith simply grasps the man who overcame God’s wrath and won His mercy and favor.

 

Jesus also experienced this fight with God.  In the garden of Gethsemane, He was alone.  The hour was coming when He was about to die an agonizing death.  But even worse, the hour was approaching when He would have to endure what Jacob feared but did not experience.  Jacob was afraid that when he met Esau, Esau would remember the wrong Jacob had done and kill him; Jacob was afraid that God would abandon him to Esau’s wrath.  Just as Adam was afraid when he heard God call for him, and when he came out to meet him he must have been thinking “It’s all over.”  Just as Jonah knew that God was in the storm that hit the ship.  He told the sailors to throw him into the sea and the storm would stop.  He must have expected that when they did that the depths of the ocean would be the gate through which he entered the depths of hell.

 

But Adam instead heard the promise of the Messiah.  Jonah was saved by a great fish that swallowed him.  And Jacob’s brother Esau met him and forgave him.

 

But Jesus was not saved.  He went into the garden and saw the end approaching and began to be so sorrowful that He said to His disciples, My soul is greatly troubled, even to death.  Stay here and watch with me. But his disciples did not watch.  They slept, while Jesus prayed in agony, and his sweat mingled with blood as He wrestled with God.

 

What did He pray?  Father, if you are willing, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Thine be done.

 

But the Father was not willing.  Jesus had to drain the cup of God’s wrath.  The wrath and judgment of God that we fear fell on Him.  Not just whips fell on his back and left stripe after stripe; not just nails piercing his hands and His feet, and all the agony of crucifixion.  But God turned away His face from His Son.  He abandoned Him.

 

That is what we really fear, or what we really should fear—that God forsakes us for our sins.

 

But He does not, even though we have returned to our sins like a dog to vomit.  When we wrestle with Him to fulfill His promises, to give us His Spirit, to let His Word go forth, to keep us in the faith, to forgive us, to deliver us from temptation and give us eternal life—He is overcome by us.  Because He has been overcome by His Son, who took away His wrath and judgment and the record of our sins.

 

God comes to you in the night and wrestles with you so that you may take hold of Jesus, who overcame His Father’s anger against human sin and won His heart to human beings.

 

In Jesus your Savior, you have already prevailed over God’s wrath and judgment.  Be bold when God comes to wrestle you.  Be a fighter.  Strive together with Jesus and claim God’s mercy for you and His church and His world.

 

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

 

Soli Deo Gloria

Each Called Out To His God. Day of Supplication and Prayer. Jonah 1:3-5

September 20, 2017 Leave a comment

jonahsprayer.jpgDay of Supplication and Prayer

St. Peter Lutheran Church

Jonah 1:4-6

September 20, 2017

“Each Called Out to His God”

Jesus

 

But the Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up.  Then the mariners were afraid, and each cried out to his god.  And they hurled the cargo that was in the ship into the sea to lighten it for them.  But Jonah had gone down into the inner part of the ship and had lain down and was fast asleep.  So the captain came and said to him, “What do you mean, you sleeper?  Arise, call out to your god!  Perhaps the god will give a thought to us, that we may not perish.”  Jonah 1:4-6

 

The pagan captain is astounded at Jonah.  Even the sailors are scared for their lives at this storm, but the prophet is sleeping.  And even pagans know that when you are about to die, you call on your god.  They don’t know whether their gods will hear them—and indeed they won’t, because they are no gods at all.  Yet Jonah the prophet of the true God is sleeping through this storm like he is dead.

 

Why is Jonah sleeping when his life is in danger?  Because he’s trying to get away from the Lord.  The Lord sent him to preach repentance to Nineveh, that great city.  And Jonah refused and went on a ship the other way, to Tarshish.  He knows the Lord won’t let him do that so easily.  So he sleeps and tries to forget it all.  And he knows that if he does get up and call on his God, the Lord will send him back to Nineveh, where he doesn’t want to go.

 

Occasionally people ask why I keep doing Evening Prayer every week, even though only one person comes.  I think I understand why they ask this question.  You have so many things to do, Pastor, and you have limited time with your family.  Why have another service when no one comes?

 

This is why: because I’m like the captain of the ship Jonah was on.  There is a storm on the sea.  It seems to me that the ship is going to sink—the ship of this church.  The ship of our nation.  The ship of my own life, many times.  And I don’t know what to do.

 

And the sad thing is, with all these boats taking on water, I still will not make time to call on my God many times.  I need the help of the church, of the other believers in Christ—even if it’s one other person.

 

I’m not the only one affected by these storms.  You are too.  So are the people not here tonight.  And it’s not just us.  So many of our brothers have fallen overboard and are alone on the sea.  Others have sunk beneath the waves.  If this ship goes down, we can swim to another.  But what about them?  And what about the many who like the pagan sailors don’t know the true God and can’t call on Him?  Who prays for them?

 

Rise, my soul, to watch and pray, says the old Lutheran hymn.  From your sleep awaken!  Be not by the evil day Unawares o’ertaken.  For the foe, well we know, is a harvest reaping, While the saints are sleeping.  That is true even when there are no obvious dangers facing Christians.  But that is not the case today.  If you smell the air, you can sense the chaos rising in the nation.  And as the churches are growing weaker, as we are losing a whole generation of young people, the heat is being turned up on the church.  Watch against the devil’s snares, Lest asleep he find you; For indeed no pains he spares, To deceive and blind you.  Satan’s prey, oft are they, who secure are sleeping, and no watch are keeping.

 

That’s why Matins, Morning Prayer, Vespers, Evening Prayer, and Compline are in the hymnbook.  We can, of course, pray at home, and we should.  But we often are lax.  And even when we do pray, oftentimes we don’t know what to pray for.  You, especially you here tonight, are very good at working together.  You are not lazy.

 

But how much stronger a congregation we might be if we also prayed together!  Then the constant difficulty we have finding people willing to work might be solved or made better.

 

We surely have enough reasons to pray.  We have our own concern about our future; we need a reinvigoration of our life as a congregation. Everyone says that.  And the trouble we have is the trouble of our whole synod.  They need our prayers as well.  As far as I can tell, no one really knows the answer to the difficulties we face.  Then there is the well-being of our country, and the fact that so many of our countrymen have forgotten the true God.

 

We do not have a false god like the pagan sailors.  We know the true God.  He has placed His name on us in His Holy Baptism.  He has put us to death with His Son and raised us from the dead.  He has promised to hear us as He hears His own Son.  Jesus has invited us to call Him “Father”—as though we also had always been obedient children.  He promises us, “The Father will give you whatever you ask in My Name,” and encourages us, “If you, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?”  In our Lord, our prayers are not “maybe” but “Yes” and “Amen.”

 

If we have been running away from where the Lord would send us, it is not over for us.  He will raise us with Christ and bring us where He intended us to go.  And if we have not been running, the Lord who rules the waves will put His power to work in us and through us to go through our storms.  If we sink to the depths, even from there He will raise us up.

 

Dear brothers, let us call upon our God together in these days leading up to this glorious festival of the Reformation, where we rejoice in the gift of His pure Gospel, which is the power of God to save those who believe.

 

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

Soli Deo Gloria”

Soli Deo Gloria

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