Hosanna! Advent, He comes!

Happy new year!

With the preparations for the birth of Christ, this season of Advent, the new year begins. The King is coming! Are you prepared? While this season of Advent involves preparation for family and friends, it also involves the preparations of the King. We often hear how we are to be prepared for the coming Savior. How can we be prepared, particularly in a time of abundant activity? The relationships with friends and family are important. They are a part of Advent preparations. Yet Advent is primarily about preparing for the coming King who took on flesh to bear it to the cross. He took on flesh never to leave it behind, but by His flesh to bear our iniquity. We prepare in Advent for Christ. Yet, once again, how do we prepare for Him?

That preparation is made today, the first day of the Church’s Year, through meditation on His ride into Jerusalem to die. It has not been arranged sequentially, chronologically, but theologically. Continue reading

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Thanksgiving That The Lord Gives

Audio Play/Download (from StPetersArlington.org)

Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;

for his steadfast love endures forever! Psa. 118:29

Enter his gates with thanksgiving,

and his courts with praise!

Give thanks to him; bless his name! Psa. 100:4

Surely the righteous shall give thanks to your name;

the upright shall dwell in your presence. Psa. 140:13

All your works shall give thanks to you, O LORD,

and all your saints shall bless you! Psa. 145:10

“Give thanks to the LORD,

call upon his name,

make known his deeds among the peoples,

proclaim that his name is exalted. Is. 12:4

Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;

for his steadfast love endures forever! Psa. 118:29

We hardly need an act of Congress, much less a presidential proclamation or even a national day to know to give thanks. It’s all over the psalms, all over the Scriptures. To give thanks is what faith does. In fact, you might say that to be Christian is to be thankful. We are a “eucharistic people.” The word “eucharist,” referring to the Lord’s Supper and its great thanksgiving, means to give thanks. It is truly good, right, and salutary, that we should at all times and in all places give thanks to the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit. It simply goes with faith. Like the one faithful leper who returned to give thanks at the feet of Jesus.

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All Saints

all-saints-mosaicWhen we are bereft of dear ones, it is a tremendous shock. For a time we are stunned. Not everyone, can feel at once their continuing companionship. We should not for that reason despair. An adjustment must take place in our lives, reaching deep into our habits, emotions and thoughts. Some souls may make this adjustment quickly. For most of us it comes slowly and hard; many an hour is filled with loneliness and agonizing doubt.

By ourselves we can never make this adjustment. We must come to a sense of the continuing presence of our loved ones, and we can do this if we realize the presence of our living Lord. As we seek and find our Risen Lord, we shall find our dear departed. They are with Him, and we find the reality of their continued life through Him. The saints are a part of the Church. We worship with them. They worship the Risen Christ face to face, while we worship the same Risen Christ under the veil of bread and wine at the Altar. At the Communion we are linked with heaven, with the Communion of Saints, with our loved ones. Here at the Altar, focused to a point, we find our communion with the dead; for the Altar is the closest meeting place between us and our Lord. That place must be the place of closest meeting with our dead who are in His keeping; The Altar is the trysting place where we meet our beloved Lord. It must, therefore, also be the trysting place where we meet our loved ones, for they are with the Lord.

It is a pity to see men and women going out to the cemetery, kneeling at the mound, placing little sprays’ of flowers and wiping their tears from their eyes, and knowing nothing else. How hopeless they look!

I recall when my Grandpa Jack had died. Continue reading

Posted in Church, Liturgy, Lord's Supper, resurrection, Saints, sermon

Reformation 500

ReformationFive hundred years ago, on October 31—the “Eve of all Hallows” or “Halloween,” the eve of All Saints’ Day—Martin Luther, a thirty-four-year-old Augustinian friar, preacher, university lecturer, and professor of Old Testament, took an eight-minute walk from his monastery home on one end of the little town of Wittenberg to the Castle Church on the other end of town, and there he posted his protestation against indulgences. He had absolutely no inkling of the firestorm he would start, nor that within weeks he would become the most famous person in the Western world. And he certainly had no inkling that the storm would still be raging some five hundred years later.

Luther has been held up as one of the most influential individuals of the past millennium, the emphasis is usually on the story of his impact upon the freedom of conscience, on the individual versus authority, on the rise of the nation-state, or on the decline of the control of the Catholic Church over individual and state. And these themes are in some sense true and very popular in our postmodern world. Today we are so far removed from any authority outside the individual that our culture now recognizes the autonomy of an individual to muster an identity completely at odds with the body he or she actually has been given by God. Luther would have had no part of that whatsoever. His supreme authority was always God’s written Word. Continue reading

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Fool Me Once, Fool Me Twice…

forgive-mathsGrace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

“Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.”

Lord, how often will my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Seven times?

Seems quite generous quite honestly. He seems to recognize that the Lord loves mercy. But how many of us would even dare to be sinned against seven times. Peter’s question and suggested response is a great amount. Jewish tradition said that one should forgive up to three times for the same sin – with conditions placed on the forgiveness – “They better grovel sufficiently” – “They better make it up to me.” Peter perhaps thought he was proposing a praiseworthy, sacrificial, level of pardoning – above and beyond the call of duty – seven times!

We tend to laugh at Peter’s question, in part because we’ve been taught and know the parable. But before we laugh at Peter and look down on Peter we ought to consider just how generous and forgiving he was trying to be. Continue reading

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Easter 3 and Confirmation: Acts 9, Blinded By Light

Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, alleluia!

We live in a time when glowing personal testimonies are often regarded as God’s sure action.People may yawn at Scripture texts but get goose bumps over something that has no sure promise from God. Perhaps it’s an experience (near death/change of fortune/strange event in nature) or an inward feeling or a sign they imagine has occurred.

Consider the testimony of the young boy – poor of speech – who was sure he should be a pastor. When asked why he said it was because one day while in the field the clouds seemed to form the letters PC. He was sure that meant he should “Preach Christ.” A wise, older friend said – or perhaps “Plant Corn.” Another example is the person who said – I know God was with me today because a car ran a light and narrowly missed plowing into my car.  A wise friend quietly said – then I guess God was with me even more because nothing bad even came close to me and my car as I travelled today. You see, our hearts look for signs from God in this and that and the other thing, yet seemingly overlook the simplicity of His Word and presence in the Sacraments.

Like Saul, like we heard of Thomas and really the other disciples last week, we don’t want to fall trap into what we fear might be a fraud. That’s what Saul thought and believed of Jesus He was convinced the whole business was: one massive deadly, dangerous deception. It’s not that he denied the resurrection of the dead; oh, no. He’d go to the bat for that. But what he specifically denied was that this Jesus of Nazareth had been raised from the dead and then glorified at God’s right hand. Nonsense and downright evil, that’s what he thought.

Saul’s star was on the rise, he was a mover and a shaker! He was advancing in the strict sect of the Pharisees. He rallied people and gathered crowds. He received orders directly from the Chief Priest and the council of the elders. He was busily at work pursuing and imprisoning Christians. He was energetic and fully committed to his cause. As we heard from Acts chapter nine, he was hot on the trail of Christians who had fled from Jerusalem to the city of Damascus. He had undertaken this lengthy trip (150 miles) for the very purpose of hunting them down like criminals.  He sincerely thought He was serving God with his actions.  He was so confident that he was right!  Continue reading

Posted in Baptism, Catechism, Confirmation, Lord's Supper, Luther, sermon

Easter 2: Where to Go

Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, alleluia!

Ever have your doubts? Of course you do. You’ve waited for personal revelation. You’ve hoped to have an experience, perhaps without the tragedy and hardship that comes in life. We’d like to have personal revelation of Jesus. If at any point you’ve bargained with God: Lord, show me this or do this and I will believe; act in this way and I’ll know this is true; provide this and I’ll be more faithful. We crave that personal revelation to strengthen our faith.

Emotional things have a way of changing our perception and feelings. Want to persuade someone, want to effect someone’s behavior or thoughts, just play with their emotions. It’s why we are quick to proclaim everything of God is good when things are going well and question the Lord’s goodness in times of difficulty and struggle. It’s why there is bargaining attempts with God.

We’re not the only ones to such bargaining. Luther did so. He famously bargained with God through St. Anne that he’d become a monk if spared from a lightning storm. Thomas bargained that he’d believe the resurrection if he could see and touch.

Think of the emotion and energy going around. In a matter of ten days Lazarus was raised from four days in the tomb, the Triumphal Entry happened, all the events in Temple, to the Lord’s Supper instituted, Judas’ betrayal, Gethsemane, the trial, and crucifixion, and these women come saying he is risen. In that span of time it was Thomas who proclaimed that the disciples ought to go with Jesus so that they may die with him (John 11:16). On Maundy Thursday when Jesus said He was going to prepare a place for them it was Thomas who boldly asked, “Lord, we do not know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” (John 14).

While Thomas gets a bum rap for being the one who doubted, let’s be honest, the women went and told the disciples, Peter and John had run to the tomb and seen it empty, and they are still hiding in fear. Emotions are running high. They feared the Jews, they feared death, even though their Lord is risen. Truth be told, most of us would react just like Thomas. We’d want to see the evidence. Continue reading

Posted in Day of Resurrection, Holy Week, sermon, Weekly Communion

Easter Festival: 8th Day

Alleluia! Christ is risen!  His is risen indeed!  Alleluia!  The suffering and death of one man on a Friday afternoon was the greatest moment in the history of this fallen world!  As His death struggle drew to a close Jesus voiced an astounding cry – a cry of victory – “it is finished!”  The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world claimed to have done just that – to have taken away the sin of the world!  In that horrible, brutal, bloody, death Jesus claimed that our redemption had been won – “it is finished!” 

Then came a day of rest – rest in the tomb.  Then – on the third day The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit spoke the “amen” to Jesus’ cry of finished victory on Calvary!  Alleluia! Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed! Alleluia!  The greatest news the world has ever heard came from the garden tomb, the proof of the cry of the Savior on the cross that proclaimed the total success of His sacrificial and saving work!  “Why do you look for the living among the dead?  He is not here, but has risen.  Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.”  

Dear Christians – it really is finished – our redemption!  The world’s reconciliation with God (II Cor. 5:21) is complete!  The risen Lord is among us in this hour to bring to us the fruits of His once-for-all sacrifice!  Alleluia!  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

You see, in finding nothing the women made the greatest find.  Jesus is not in the tomb because He is life itself! It was impossible for death to keep its hold on Him (Acts 2:24) because He is life. He took on flesh that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone (Heb 2:9). Yet, by His own nature He is life! He partook of death to destroy Him who had the power of death – that is the devil (Heb 2:14) and “It is finished”!  Alleluia!

It’s not just that His memory lives on so that people can say “I’m following Jesus” while they say and do what they want. It’s not that only His soul is alive, free-floating separate from His flesh in a purely spiritual way. The tomb is empty! Christ is risen body and all!

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared.  And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.

No grave robbers had overcome the soldiers. No half-dead man had rolled away the stone from the inside and fought his way past the guards. The tomb was empty because the Good Shepherd who had laid down His life for the sheep had taken it back again (John 10).  There is no record anywhere, in any source friendly to Christianity or any source hostile to Christianity that reports Jesus’ body was still in the grave. Even attempts to disprove the Resurrection make clear that the tomb was empty.

It was the first day of the week, the day after the Sabbath day of rest, Sunday, now forever known as the Lord’s Day! A new week began, seven days and then – once more – the week starts at the beginning – round and round the calendar goes! After Day Seven it’s Day One all over again. You don’t get an eighth day in this fallen world, a day of release from it all, a day of total renewal! Continue reading

Posted in Day of Resurrection, Holy Week, Lord's Supper, sermon

Easter Vigil: What is it We Receive and Celebrate

EasterVigilIt’s not just empty ceremony, the creation. Because behind it stands the Creators full love for you.

It’s not just empty ceremony, the flood. Behind those waters, stands the full washing away of sin for you, so that you can remain safe and secure inside the ark of the Church.

It’s not just empty ceremony, the Exodus through the Red Sea. Because the passing through on dry ground and the drowning of hardhearted Pharaoh, means that you are released from slavery to sin.

It’s not just empty ceremony, the earthquake after Jesus’ resurrection. For it was the response of the earth at the resurrection of it’s Creator. What greater handiwork can the earth show, than the raising of the one who was crucified? (Ps. 19) What greater event can creation confess than the salvation of mankind and the resurrection of it’s Creator?

God lives! The fast is finished. Lamenting is foregone. The day of our Lord has dawned. The desert wandering is over. We have entered into the promised time of feasting and rejoicing. Sackcloth and ashes have been washed and purified by the blood of the Lamb. He who was crucified is not dead. With triumph He has come forth from the tomb. In victory, He marches forth to give peace, comfort and rest to His weary children. Heaven and earth are united in joy once again. Those who were with Him through the fasting, praying, and grief can now take comfort.

The Resurrection is the event that colors all of history. It cleanses all events in the world and establishes the Christian Church. It is the lens through which we see every action in the history of the world. That’s what makes the Vigil different from every other service in the Church Year. It gives us a snapshot of all that the Church does, and shows it from the perspective of Easter. Salvation is now complete. There is no more Old Testament anticipation. It is finished. It has been accomplished. God has worked it with His own arm. It’s all here tonight, readings from the Old Testament and the New Testament, Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, prayer, singing, rejoicing, and Benediction. Our Alleluias are back, and they echo into eternity with the choirs of the heavenly Jerusalem.

All the symbolism tonight points to the salvation that is ours in Christ Jesus. It permeates our lives in Christ, and it should not be any surprise that it colors our life and practice in the Church. Six services tonight are all rolled into one. 1. the Service of Light, 2. the Service of Readings, 3. the Service of Holy Baptism, 4. the Service of Prayer, 5. the Service of the Word, and 6. the Service of the Sacrament.

Light, all light, reminds us of Christ, the light of the world. The paschal candle with it’s Alpha and Omega, it’s nails representing Christ and the washing of new birth in the Holy Spirit, the cleansing of beginnings and endings, of time, and of His own death. Lamenting is over. It’s the time of excessive rejoicing, rejoicing that cannot contain itself or be contained. That’s what light does to darkness and that’s what life does to death. Darkness cannot get control and restrain light. Death cannot control or restrain life in Christ. Jesus has broken free of death’s chains. The bonds are shattered. He springs forth, leading the charge of all who have died in Him. Death could not contain him, it cannot contain any whom He clothes by Baptism.

Creation, the Flood, the Exodus, they all show the glory of God and His divine plan of salvation. Everything on earth is in the service of God and of His redemption of man. Daniel’s canticle, “All you works bless the Lord,” shows in an exuberant way that everything in this world was created for the praise of the Lord.

The Service of Baptism reminds us how we as children of God are united to Christ’s death and resurrection in the waters of Holy Baptism. Because He was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, you too will live a new life.

The Litany is the voice of the Christian Church confessing that we are a new creation and citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem, joined together in Christ’s work with all saints. It is your prayer. It is an expansion of the petitions of the Prayer that your Lord taught you.

The Service of the Word exalts the glory of the Lord, in death and resurrection Jesus fulfills the Sabbath rest. The resurrection is proclaimed to all the world. He lives, no more to die. He lives for you to have life. Rejoice in the proclamation!

And finally, the Marriage Feast of the Lamb, the fulfillment of the Passover feast, the foretaste of the Feast to come, where we dine together with our Lord and the whole Christian Church on the true body and blood of our crucified and risen Savior. You eat in remembrance of what He has done, and we eat in anticipation of the time when you will dine with Him in eternity. He is your bread from heaven. You have life in yourselves because you feast on Him. The table is set. There is nothing more to do, nothing more to add. He has welcomed you not just as His guest, but as His precious, beloved Bride in whom He is well-pleased. Let none go forth hungry for righteousness. Let’s feast.

Alleluia! Christ is risen! Alleluia!  (He is risen indeed! Alleluia!)

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

Posted in easter vigil, Liturgy, resurrection

The Word Made Flesh, Suffers For You

12512231_10153974705452456_7549515280524312058_nJoseph bought a linen shroud, and with the help of Nicodemus prepared the body of our Lord. They were powerful, wealthy, and well educated men, they were members of the Sanheidrin, the very group that condemned Christ to death. They were hurriedly working for the evening beginning the Sabbath was at hand.

The working men and the women watching had gone home. Their sounds and movement in the garden and around the tomb also gone. Now the burial shroud binds the body of our Lord and a small piece of grave cloth enwraps His head.

And now a stone is rolled against the entrance of the tomb. All is quiet, there is no sound. All is black, there is no light. All is still, there is no life. There is only darkness, total darkness, and death.

This has been happening all day. Just hours before they could see His lifeless body hanging on the cross as a spear thrust through His side and a flow of water and blood came about. Just hours before there was not silence but jeers and cheers as they mocked Him and divided His garments.

As we remember the total darkness of the tomb we are reminded of the total darkness that came over the earth from the sixth hour until the ninth hour (from noon to 3pm) as the Son of God dies and hangs suspended in our place.

Lifeless and in total darkness within the tomb. Continue reading

Posted in Christmas, easter vigil, Holy Week, Life, sermon