Sunday, May 28, 2017

As You Share Christ's Sufferings

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“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:12-13).
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
I don’t know of anyone who enjoys suffering. I think that would be considered a psychological disorder. But there is some suffering that results in our good. There’s the suffering of the athlete who trains hard for the Olympics. There’s the marathon runner who runs miles each day just to compete. Christian suffering, like the suffering of an athlete in training, also results in good, only more so. For a Christian never suffers alone, but shares Christ’s sufferings.
Christian suffering will come. It comes in the form of “fiery” trials (4:12). These fires test the confession of faith professed by the believer. These fires test the works, the life, of the believer. Suffering persecution as Christians is a way to bear the cross of Christ, and the promise of God that He strengthens us through affliction. Luther writes: “God lays a cross on all believers in order that they may taste and prove the power of God—the power which they have taken hold of through faith.”[i]
Seeing suffering as an opportunity to bear Christ’s cross reminds us that in doing so, we share Christ’s sufferings—an honor for us, who know that our Savior first suffered to save us. Before His death, Christ called His cross the moment of His glory. Here, in our text, Peter unites the “not-yet” glory of Christ’s return with the “now” glory of sharing in His cross, which results in joy when His glory is revealed, not only at the end of time, but in the present moment, as the Gospel’s effects are seen in the life and witness of those who suffer for His name.
Some in the Church expect the crown without the cross. Theirs is a theology of glory. There is no depth to their confession and no endurance to their faith. Some in the Church expect the crown because of the cross. They confuse sharing Christ’s sufferings with worldly suffering and believe God will be forgiving because of all the misfortune in their life.
But Scripture teaches a theology of the cross. We must expect the cross to come first, before the crown. We must believe Jesus’ teaching that the world hates those who boldly confess him as Savior: “If the world hates you, know that it has hated Me before it hated you” (John 15:18). We must not be willing to compromise any teaching of Scripture for the sake of earthly unity and peace. But don’t be surprised! For this insistence, you will be persecuted and despised.
Not all suffering is alike. Suffering the consequences of sinful behavior is not sharing in Christ’s sufferings. Suffering the persecution of those we sin against is not sharing Christ’s sufferings. It’s just acting like a jerk!
Lutherans talk often about “cheap grace,” that is a self-justifying concept of a tolerant God, which has no respect for the actual cost of God’s favor in the innocent blood of Christ. But we seldom talk about the other side of the coin, “cheap Law,” again a self-justifying concept of a God who is always on the side of believers who feel they have the freedom to act as offensively as they please, and then chalk up everything they suffer as a result of the world’s persecution because they happen to be Christians. Such suffering is not to identity with Christ’s wounds; rather it puts us on the inflicting side of those wounds!
This is not limited to “big sins” such as murder and theft, but even things we might more easily justify in ourselves. Meddling and gossiping are not against human law, but they may lead to broken relationships and hurt feelings. In the end, those who engage in such behavior may end up suffering painful backlash as a direct consequence of their own sin.
Sharing Christ’s sufferings has to do with Christ and your relationship to Him. For your sin in which you were born, you faced only the prospect of suffering God’s eternal wrath and judgment. But so that you might be saved, Jesus Christ set aside His glory and suffered rejection by the world. But even more, He suffered God’s wrath and rejection on the cross, as His Father condemned Him for all the sins of the world—for all of your sins, too. Now He is risen from the dead, risen to give you forgiveness and life. For all the times that you sin and thus deserve God’s fiery trial, Jesus declares that He has suffered and died to deliver you. For all the times that you resent suffering, He declares that He has died for that sin, too.
And how do you share in Christ’s sufferings? Christ shares His sufferings with you in His means of grace—His Word and Sacraments. He declares, “I’ve gone to the cross, been stricken, smitten, and afflicted for your sin. Now, with forgiveness, I give you the credit for My sufferings so that you will not be damned for your sin.” Baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection, you share all that is Christ’s—His name, His righteousness, His blessedness, and His sufferings.
You are blessed if you are insulted for the name of Christ, for “the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you” (4:14). You are blessed if you suffer simply because you are a Christian. Sharing Christ’s sufferings brings an honor distinct from suffering for wrongdoing, and the proper response to such suffering is to glorify God by confessing Christ, even if it means death or adversity.
Peter call us to judgment among ourselves: “For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the Gospel of God?” (1 Peter 4:17). Repentance is the goal of such judgment, as we see the effects of our own sin, and even as God allows us to face consequences. The difference between us and unbelievers is that we face such suffering in faith, recognizing our sin, and trusting in God’s deliverance.
As we share in the sufferings of Christ, we are called therefore to suffer according to God’s will: not for sins (Christ suffered for sins already—once!, for all time), but for the sake of the Gospel. Luther reminds us of this truth: “[Peter] teaches us to subdue the flesh with sobriety, watchfulness, temperance, prayer, and to find comfort and strength through the sufferings of Christ.”[ii]
Sharing Christ’s sufferings in this way will be blessed in the judgment (4:17-19). We will rejoice and be glad when Christ's glory is revealed, while the ungodly will stand in terror. Yes, as Christians, we endure the judgment of the world now, but those who disobey the Gospel will not endure God’s final judgment. We suffer “a little while” but are called to an “eternal glory” in Christ, while the world rejoices now but is condemned to an eternal suffering.
Peter calls us to be sober-minded and watchful as we pray for Christ’s return, because the devil prowls around like a roaring lion. Even though he has been defeated, Satan still seeks to harm us. The devil “tries every trick and does not stop until he finally wears us out, so that we either renounce our faith or throw up our hands and put up our feet, becoming indifferent or impatient.”[iii]
Peter reminds us that the enemy can be, and is to be, resisted. Christians resist him by God’s Word, which gives us strength and guidance to face temptations. Luther comments: “You must be sober and vigilant, but in order that the body may be ready. But this does not yet vanquish the devil. It is done only in order that you may give the body less reason to sin. The true sword is your strong and firm faith. If you take hold of God’s Word in your heart and cling to it with faith, the devil cannot win but must flee.”[iv]
We do not suffer alone: Christ Himself suffered in the flesh. And our Christian brothers and sisters in faith all over the world are suffering too as they wait for Christ to return and create a new heaven and a new earth. Just this week, in Egypt, 28 Coptic Christians were killed for their Christian faith.
The same God who called them to eternal glory through the Gospel will not let your sufferings go on one minute longer than He allows, and He already has His plan of relief ready to go. From God’s point of view, your sufferings last just a little while, for at the right time our loving Father will come with strength and restoration. He will make the suffering times serve you and the Church by making you strong, firm, and steadfast.
Our Lutheran Confessions state: “Holy Scripture also testifies that God, who has called us, is faithful. So when He has begun the good work in us, He will also preserve it to the end and perfect it, if we ourselves do not turn from Him, but firmly hold on to the work begun to the end. He has promised His grace for this very purpose.”[v]
“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:12-13).
To Him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.

[i] Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 30: The Catholic Epistles. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 30, pp. 126–127). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

[ii] Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 35: Word and Sacrament I. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 35, p. 391). Philadelphia: Fortress Press.

[iii] McCain, P. T. (Ed.). (2005). Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (pp. 433–434). St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House.

[iv] Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 30: The Catholic Epistles. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 30, p. 142). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

[v] McCain, P. T. (Ed.). (2005). Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (p. 607). St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Now What?

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And when [Jesus] had said these things, as they were looking on, He was lifted up, and a cloud took Him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as He went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:9-11).
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
Well. It came and went. Did you miss it? The great apocalypse linked to the last day of the Mayan calendar: December 21, 2012? Just another failed attempt to forecast the end of the world. I’d always wondered: What do you suppose those people who count so heavily on the world ending on a particular date do the day after? You know… the ones who give up everything they own, and then gather on a mountainside and wait for Jesus or the mothership to return.
Now I know; I met one of them personally. One of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. Just knew Jesus was coming back on 12-21-12. December 22nd, he got up early and started putting out job applications. But I suspect that he is the exception, not the rule. I’ve always pictured these misguided souls cloistered in their own rooms—forlornly looking outside through their windows, saying to one another: “I can’t believe we’re still here. Now what do we do?”   
Now what? The same question that Jesus’ disciples face as they stand on the mountain, gazing up into the sky where Jesus has just ascended into heaven. It had taken them time and much explanation by Jesus to understand His death and resurrection. Clearly it will also take some time and a careful examination of Jesus’ teaching on Scripture to understand the significance of His Ascension.
The angels try to jumpstart the process: “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). Obviously, that must be enough to jolt the disciples out of their daze. In our Gospel, we read that they “went out and preached everywhere.”
What about you? Why are you sitting here? What’s so special about this particular day that we observe it with a church festival: The Ascension of Our Lord? The reason for Good Friday is clear enough: Jesus’ sacrificial, atoning death on the cross for the life of the world. Easter Sunday is clearer still: Jesus’ resurrection from the dead—the open, empty tomb. But Ascension Day? That’s the odd one. So odd, it isn’t even remotely on the culture’s radar screen.
But the Ascension of Jesus is a big deal despite its low visibility in the secular world. In the early Church, it was one of the three festival days, right along with Easter and Pentecost. What, then, is Jesus’ Ascension? What does it mean? And what does it all have to with us, the Lord’s Church and His dear Christians? To answer these questions, we will delve into great mysteries that are wonderful, and well beyond our limited understanding.
The answer begins with the Incarnation, when Jesus was conceived of the Holy Spirit in the Virgin Mary’s womb, that day when the eternal Son of God took upon Himself flesh and blood. So, the two natures of Christ—divine and human—are perfectly and eternally united in the person of Jesus.
What marvelous love that God has toward us that He would unite Himself—God and man together—in the person of Jesus! And He does this for us, so that He would be our brother. So that He would be tempted and suffer like us. So that He could sympathize with us in our weakness. So that He could die in our place and suffer the punishment for our sins. So that He could rise again from the dead for us to bring us life. So that He might ascend to the Father’s right hand for us.
This personal union of the natures means that all the attributes of the divine nature are communicated to Jesus’ human nature. All the things that we can say about God we can say about Jesus as a man. According to His human nature He knows everything, is all powerful, eternal, full of life, and is in every place. From Jesus’ birth to His crucifixion, we see glimpses of this union. In His miracles, His knowledge of the thoughts of men’s hearts, and His Transfiguration, we see the man Jesus doing things that only God can do.
And yet, in His state of humiliation, we see that Jesus did not fully use all the divine attributes that are His by this personal union. He was tired and hungry and did not know certain things. He limited Himself to one location. But this is the significance of the Ascension: When Jesus sits down at the right hand of God He is permanently and fully taking up the use of all the divine attributes through His human nature. This is what Paul means when he says, “He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.” Jesus fills all things, that is, He is present everywhere.
And this is where the celebration of the Ascension brings us comfort. For we often seem lost and alone, as if God is far away or that He’s turned His back on us. We live in a sinful world and we ourselves are sinful, and have lives that are full of trouble on the outside, and on the inside. Sin pushes us away from God. And the devil loves this; he wants us to think that we must do it on our own without God, that we must make it on our own, that we must fix it on our own.
But we are not alone. This God-Man Jesus Christ has ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God, so that He might be near us, in the midst of us, with us. His Ascension is not His leaving us, but His drawing near to us. And so it is He—He the man who has spoken with the disciples, the One who has endured all tribulations in His assumed human nature, and who therefore has sympathy with us—He will be with us in all our troubles also according to His human nature.
In a sense, Christ’s Ascension is the culmination of His saving work. The disciples in Acts see it from this side of creation as He is taken up in a cloud. In Revelation, St. John gets a glimpse of the same event from the heavenly side. It’s like a big tickertape parade. The conquering Christ strides across the glassy sea in the heavenly throne room and takes His rightful seat at the right hand of the Father as the hosts of heaven sing out: “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.”
The Ascension proclaims the reign of Jesus Christ over all things. So great is the Name of the Son of God that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow—in heaven, on earth, and under the earth—and every tongue confess Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.
But if you’re honest, you must admit: you forget the reign of Christ, don’t you? Or perhaps I should say, you willfully disregard it. Your Old Adam will not abide it—to be subject to such a King who dies to save His subjects by sheer grace. You recognize only the reign of power and the sword. I do, too. “My kingdom is not of this world,” Jesus told Pilate. But His disciples didn’t get it even as He was about to extend His hand in a final blessing. They asked Him: “Are You now going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” The disciples still didn’t recognize that the fight was over, the battle won. Christ had triumphed. The King was returning to His throne to sit and reign forever and ever.
Here was Jesus as they had known Him for three years. They saw Him. They touched Him. He ate with them. He’s so familiar that even risen from the dead, it’s terribly easy to forget that He is the Incarnate Son of the Most High God. He is God in the Flesh. The throne He ascends to occupy is the very same throne He has had for all eternity as the only-begotten Son of God. The throne He vacated, emptying Himself of His divine honor and glory to become Man. Humbling Himself in obedience to His own Law to save a world of lawbreakers.
The present reign of Jesus Christ is often neglected or even denied within Christendom, by those who seek some future reign and some future kingdoms, as though Christ were not now seated at the right hand of Majesty. The kingdoms of this world are now the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ.
The Ascension of Christ is also the glorification of our humanity. This is not man become God, but God become Man to rescue fallen humanity, to bring mankind back to God. The God-Man reigns. Fully divine and fully human He reigns over all creation. God Incarnate. God in human flesh.
We need to put to rest the Gnostic notion that Jesus somehow shed His humanity in His Ascension, that He is once again free of the confines of the body. That may sit well with the new-agers and all the so-called “spiritualities” of our day, but there is no comfort in a Christ without a body enthroned in heaven. Just as we can say that Mary is the “mother of God” because she bore the Son of God in her womb, so we can say that a human being reigns over all things from the throne of God—Jesus, the King of kings and Lord of lords.
And as perfect Man, Jesus is also our High Priest, like us in every way yet without sin, sympathetic to our humanity, bone of our bones and flesh of our flesh, showing the wounds of His once-for-all atoning sacrifice in the heavenly temple, pleading our forgiveness and pardon.        There’s no comfort in a disembodied God, just as there is no comfort in an absent Jesus.
So while we’re at it, let’s shoot down a second misunderstanding of the Ascension, namely that Jesus “went” to another place, the way we say when Grandma dies: “She went to a better place.” Jesus disappeared into the cloud of God’s presence. He’s withdrawn His visible presence, not His actual presence. In fact, He is more present now than ever. The gift of the Ascension is Jesus’ abiding presence in the Word, the water of Baptism, in the bread and he wine. He has gone away in one sense to be with us in a yet greater sense.
The culmination of Jesus’ work, His present reign, the glorification of our humanity, His greater and nearer presence—these are the significance of Christ’s Ascension. These are the reason we observe the Ascension of Our Lord today.
So, now what? Three things: First, know the times. These are the last days. The Ascension of Christ marks the beginning of the end. The work of salvation is done. Jesus could return at any time. Be prepared. But don’t spend too much time worrying about it. Jesus’ appearing will be like a thief in the night, unannounced and unanticipated. But it won’t go unnoticed. Jesus will descend from heaven visibly, in the same way as His disciples saw Him go into heaven. As you wait for that Day, go about your lives in freedom and keep watch with expectant joy.
Second, listen. The days and years between the Ascension and the Last Day are the times for hearing and listening to Jesus. Faith comes by hearing, not by seeing. You cannot see the Lord, but you can hear Him in His Word preached to you. You cannot see Him, but He can be recognized in the breaking of the bread that is His Body. What you now must believe, you will one day see. But for now you must trust in what is not seen. That is the essence of faith.
Third, speak. Having heard, we speak. Jesus didn’t leave His disciples staring into space. Before ascending, He gave His Church a mission: “Go into all the world and proclaim the Gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”
It couldn’t be clearer than that, could it? The Church has it straight from her Head. Speak the Good News of Jesus to the world for whom Jesus died. And do it with all the joy and confidence that comes with being under His gracious reign.
Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ now reigns in glory—all for the sake of His Church. All for your sake. All that you might hear and believe this Good News: You are forgiven for all your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Christ Has Indeed Been Raised: A Funeral Sermon

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Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
I must admit right up front: I’ve only known Alvin for about six months. So I never had the opportunity to meet him in the active years of his life. I never had the chance to get to know the man who was your Dad, Grandpa, Great-Grandpa, or friend. I don’t have any personal memories to share with you.
While I’m sorry that I never had that chance, in some ways I consider it an advantage as I speak to you today, because although it’s helpful to be able to personalize the message, a funeral sermon (as all sermons) should be focused on Christ and not the Christian. It should tell us what Jesus has done to seek and save lost sinners like Alvin and you and me. Realizing our time together was limited, we focused on matters that are eternal. And I was very fortunate to have time to visit with Alvin about his Christian faith. When He was no longer able to come to church I had the privilege to bring church to him in Word and Sacrament.
The Christian funeral is a public service of the Church. It is a public confession of the faith concerning death, burial, resurrection, and the life hereafter. The funeral service, then, is the public proclamation of the marvelous and gracious works of our great God and Savior, Jesus, applied to the specific situation. In the service, we join the saints and angels, the Church in heaven and on earth, in giving thanks to the Lord Jesus for the gifts He has won and delivered to us in His death and for the comfort Christians find in the resurrection.
The human body is God’s creation. God Himself took on flesh and bone in Jesus to redeem the world. The Holy Spirit sanctifies the Christian, body and soul, in Baptism, in the hearing of God’s Word, and in the communion of Christ’s life-giving body and blood in the Sacrament. For this reason, Christians bury their dead in the sure and certain promise of the resurrection of the body.
How different this is from the way the rest of the world operates! There is a philosophy of life that’s been proclaimed in every age in many and various ways. It’s based upon the assumption that the life that we now live is all that there is—that there’s nothing after you die. In the first century B.C., the Roman poet, Horace, wrote “Carpe Diem” – “Seize the day.” In the 1960s, Peggy Lee asked, “Is That All There Is?” and then answered her own question with, “if that’s all there is, my friends, then let’s keep dancing—let’s break out the booze and have a ball.” In the 1970s, Schlitz Brewing Company told us: “You only go around once in this life, so you’ve got to go for all the gusto you can.”
The common theme is the assumption that when we die, everything ends—that the body dissolves into its basic elements, the spirit evaporates, and the soul ceases to exist. No one, according to this nihilistic belief system, experiences any sort of afterlife. Neither heaven nor hell exists. It all just ends. So, we should indulge ourselves, enjoying every moment of this life because that is all there is.
We may be surprised to discover this same possibility being offered in the Bible. In 1st Corinthians 15, St. Paul writes: “If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” (v. 32), echoing what Isaiah had written over 700 years earlier (22:13). That statement may surprise us until we realize that it’s a conditional statement... a contrary-to-fact statement. Led by the Holy Spirit, St. Paul carefully chose those words to focus on the doctrine of the resurrection—a foundational teaching of Christianity—a truth sadly and tragically ignored, even cowardly denied by many who are called to be pastors and teachers, for its neglect leaves us without any sort of real hope and comfort in times like today.
Death is certainly no stranger to us. Every day we’re confronted with death in our newspapers and on our television screens. Each day, we’re reminded of the departure of loved ones. This week, it’s the death of Alvin Langner, and next week it will be... well, only God knows who. It could be you or me.
With this in mind, we do well to reaffirm the truth of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ and, consequently, our own resurrection. This morning we do so on the basis of our text, 1 Corinthians 15:19-20: “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”
Two words in our text stand out. They’re both small words, but they pack a lot of wallop. The two words are “if” and “but.” First, we consider the word, “if.” If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.
In Paul’s discussion of Christ’s resurrection, this “if” is huge—a balance upon which the faith hangs. If Christ has not been raised from the dead, then the message of Christianity is empty. Churches have no proclamation to make except, well, except for: “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”
If Easter morning is a lie, then the holy Christian Church into which Alvin was baptized on June 19, 1922 has no real reason for existing. If Jesus is still buried in a tomb, then your faith is futile. If Jesus has not been raised from the dead, then I have no words of comfort for you here today.
Paul summed up what the consequences are in our text. “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” Permit me to paraphrase that rather roughly: If, only in this life that lasts some 70, 80, or 90 years... if it’s only for this life marked by disease and tragedy we’ve placed our hope in Christ, we are the most miserable men and women who’ve ever walked the face of this earth. If Christ is not risen, then what we’re advocating is silliness. The height of futility and folly for us Christians would be to lay on our deathbeds, and in the last hour inhale our final breath while holding onto an illusion. A Christianity without a risen Christ and without the certain hope of our own bodily resurrection is the worst sort of religion, the worst possible fraud. Yes, if in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.
 Thank God for the next little word in our text—“but.” While “if” leads us to despair, this little word “but” makes all the difference in this world as well as in the next world. It’s a “marvelous however” that causes everything to turn completely around. “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead.”
Christ is risen! The Son of God, who died the sin-atoning death on the cross for all people, is alive! The tomb, where they placed His lifeless body, is empty! This is objective truth. It’s historical fact. And whether it’s believed or not, it’s true. Christ is risen and we’re no longer in our sins. His resurrection proves that the Father accepted His sacrificial death as the payment for the sins of the world.
Salvation is made yours in Holy Baptism. The promises that the Lord gives you in Baptism give you great comfort and peace in the face of death. That’s why, from beginning to end, the funeral liturgy is full of baptismal images, language, and Scripture texts. Why such an emphasis on Baptism? It is in this Sacrament that the Lord forgives your sin, covers your shame, takes away the sting of death, and dispels the darkness of the grave. In Baptism, you are declared to be a child of the heavenly Father, and heaven your sure inheritance.
In the Lord’s Prayer, we pray for God to deliver us from evil. The Small Catechism explains we pray in that petition, “that our Father in heaven would rescue us from every evil of body and soul... and finally, when our last hour comes, give us a blessed end, and graciously take us from this valley of sorrow to Himself in heaven.” For each one of us... day by day… one at a time... God answers such a prayer. And, just like Alvin, we also will fall asleep in Christ. But that’s not the end! Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who’ve fallen asleep. What Jesus said is true: “This is the will of My Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 11:25). Remember these words. Inscribe this promise on your heart as you prepare daily for your own death.
As I said before, our text has two important little words: “if” and “but.” But there’s a third word that ties these thoughts together: “therefore.” If Christ were not raised our faith would be useless. But He has been raised. Therefore we have hope, an unshakeable confidence in the sure and certain promises of our Lord.  
Therefore, we know that this life is not the end of existence, but rather, the prelude to eternity. At the time of your death, your lifeless body will be laid in the ground, but your soul will be taken to be in God’s presence in Paradise.
Therefore, even more importantly, you know that on the Last Day, Christ will return and raise your body from the dead. And you, and all believers, will live with the Lord with a glorious, resurrected body and a sinless soul for eternity.
Therefore, you may commend your bodies and souls and all things into the hands of the Lord... and say boldly, “Lord, now lettest Thou, Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy Word, for mine eyes have seen Thy Salvation which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people.”
Therefore, the message of the Church is Christ crucified and risen for you. It is a vital message, the basis for your Christian faith. And, it is also an inviting message, one which today you’re being encouraged to consider carefully.
If you’re not a Christian, please think carefully about all that you’ve heard this day. Are you going to live with the vain philosophy of just living for today? Or, will you take refuge in Jesus and His suffering on your behalf and for your eternal good? The church of Jesus Christ lifts high the cross and proclaims His message of love, peace, hope, and forgiveness to all the world—you included.
If you’re already a Christian, then your call is to do what Christians have done throughout the centuries... remain faithful unto death ... live in your Baptism through daily contrition and repentance… believe, trust, and confess this Good News until you’re called to be with the Lord: For Jesus’ sake, you are forgiven of all your sins.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

With Gentleness and Respect

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
“But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).
Ever since I started attending seminary, this verse has been my theme, my mission statement, my philosophy of ministry, if you will. For almost that long, it has been the signature on all my emails. I used to focus on the first part: “always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” More and more I’ve realized the importance of focusing on the second part: “do it with gentleness and respect.” At least as important as being prepared to confess our faith, is the loving way we witness to the truth.
That’s not to say it’s easy. Even as he encourages the readers of his epistle to witness faithfully, the apostle does so knowing they will be called upon to do so in the face of opposition. Peter writes to encourage people who have already begun to experience persecution for their faith under Nero; but he predicts that worse ordeals are still to come. Not having the right of citizenship, they could be arrested and imprisoned, held without bail or habeas corpus rights for any length of time, physically abused, subjected to seizure of property, exiled, sent to work as slaves in government mines, and even killed for no other reason than for being Christians.
Peter could understand their bewilderment that God’s people should undergo this kind of treatment—he himself had once expressed horror at the idea of Jesus’ suffering and death and had to be rebuked as though he were Satan himself. On Maundy Thursday, Jesus had told him: “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:31-32).
Peter’s experience of failure, repentance, forgiveness, and restoration uniquely qualified him to write to other struggling Christians. He’d been there. He wrote his letter to help his brothers and sisters see that their painful trials were temporary, that hardship would purify their faith, and that God’s real goal for His children lies beyond this dying world. Peter wanted them to lay hold of this living hope and to share the reason for that hope whatever their circumstances.
Peter undoubtedly had to smile to himself as he wrote these words about nonviolent passivity. After all, was he not the one who was armed in Gethsemane? Was he not the one who gave Malchus the earectomy? He was ready to go down in a bloodbath, thinking that he would thus be honoring God.  
Peter could also understand the urge to run and hide. When Jesus was led away to the high priest’s house, Peter followed at a distance. A servant girl’s innocent question was all it had taken for him to deny even knowing the Lord.
But his Master had taught him well. Peter repented and was reinstated. Here, he issues an inspiring call to personal evangelism even under the threat of persecution. Christians are not to bash their enemies over the head, nor are they to cowardly run away when confronted. You are to always be prepared to make a gentle defense of the faith to anyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that is in you. This is the ultimate in loving one’s enemies—what better way could there be than to seek to share the message of eternal life with them?
St. Peter begins: “In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy…” Does this sound obvious? Does a Christian need to be told this? Of course you do. People hate hypocrisy, and they can smell religious hypocrisy at 200 yards. And unfortunately, you are hypocritical. You like other people to think you are better than you really are. And much of the time, you try to fool yourself, too. You want to believe you’re doing better than you really are. I know, because I do, too!
The selfish poisons inside of you seep from your sinful nature, and that Old Adam needs to be rebuked and contained each day. The Christian self in you needs to reaffirm its faith every day—every day repenting, every day praying for strength to stand up for the truth, every day listening to the Savior’s voice through His wonderful Word. And when your own heart is full of gratitude for being rescued from death and hell, you will be ready to speak, and your speech will have depth and conviction. You will not sound phony.
The next step is “always being prepared…” This is not just a Boy Scout motto. You prepare for other less important things. So, why not prepare to share that which is most important to you: “the reason for the hope that is within you”?
God opens up the door for each of us to share the Gospel. So be prepared. Think about what you might say beforehand. Do it now, when the pressure does not seem so noticeable. Can you summarize the Christian faith in a few sentences?
Here is a simple four-keyword summary of the Bible’s Law-Gospel message that you can keep in mind to help organize all the Bible facts you know.
The first word is sin. Tell people how we are separated from our Creator at birth, that no human being can lift himself up to God’s standards of holiness, that all people by nature are God’s enemies and under His curse.
The second word is grace. Tell people that for Christ’s sake, God loves us anyway. He sent His Son to live and die in our place and pronounced the world not guilty because of Jesus.
The third word is faith. Tell people that all of these good things—forgiveness, peace, spiritual life now, life forever—flow into our lives personally as the Holy Spirit uses God’s Word to lead us to believe these wonderful promises.
The fourth word is works. Tell people that the Spirit of God comes to live in believers and enables them to live for God. Believers see God’s ways as a delight rather than a burden, and find joy in conforming their will to His will.
Thus prepared, you are ready “to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you…” The word translated here as “a defense” is apologia, a positive testimony and witness to the truth of the Gospel, particularly in the face of opposition. Christianity is “reasonable.” It stands up to scrutiny and investigation because it is true. Christians are to be prepared to tell others about this truth whenever they have the opportunity.
When you talk to people, you don’t have to argue with them, deliver the perfect sales pitch, try to make God’s ways logical or reasonable, be clever, or take the burden of converting them on yourself. Just tell them what you hope for in God through the merits and work of Christ. Let the Gospel do its work! 
As you do so, you must avoid the extremes of unnecessarily offending others in your Christian witness, or neutering the message to appease the modern gods of tolerance and political correctness. You must not unnecessarily antagonize them, nor should you run away from them if they object. Just speak the truth in love.
St. Peter says, “Do it with gentleness and respect.” But even such a gentle and respectful approach will not avoid all criticism or conflict. That’s why he adds: “having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.”
You should not be surprised when you suffer, not even when you suffer for doing right. You live in a fallen world, where all of us are subjected to the consequences of sin daily. Since Adam every human being has suffered—even Jesus. He suffered more than you or I ever will—and He was perfectly righteous. That’s why Peter lifts up our eyes from our own circumstances to the objective reality of the Christ’s atonement: “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit.”
Your sin and guilt are more deserving of suffering than you care to admit. Even one sin is deserving of God’s temporal and eternal punishment. And you’ve committed thousands of sins—more than you even realize.
But these words point you to what someone else has done for you, on your behalf, in your place. It reminds you that your need is severe, but that the solution is even greater: the suffering and death of the God-man, Jesus Christ.
Christ also suffered “once for sins.” Although you sin repeatedly, Christ’s one act of atonement covers all your sins. This is the Great Exchange: “The righteous for the unrighteous.” The Father loaded the blame for the sins of the world upon a righteous substitute and then had Him executed on a cross in our place. He is the Lamb of God who bears the sin of the world.
Christ did all of this “that He might bring us to God.” You cannot lift yourself up to God. Christ has lifted you up to God. Christ has reconciled you to His heavenly Father. Christ—His suffering, death, and resurrection—are the heart and center of the Bible. This is really the only Good News that you have to share with a world that is lost and dead in its trespasses. This is the Gospel that you need to hear again and again and again for it is the only Word that saves you… that brings you eternal life… that brings you a good conscience.
This is the reason for the hope that is in you, no matter what your outward circumstances: “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring [you] to God.” Though He was put to death in the flesh, He was raised to life and has ascended into heaven at the right hand of God. Even so, He is with you always, coming to you often in His Word and Sacraments, bringing you salvation and eternal life, bringing you this Good News: You are forgiven of all of your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Friday, May 19, 2017

A Time and Season for Everything: A Funeral Sermon

Grace and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ!
“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-4).
Solomon’s words ring true in our ears, especially today. For JoAnn, there was a time to be born and a time to die: August 28, 1931 and February 2, 2017. Indeed, there is a time to be born and a time to die for all of us. But this was not always so. In the beginning, there was only a time to be born and not a time to die; a time to laugh and never to cry; a time to dance and never to mourn. The Lord God looked upon all that He had made and behold it was very good. The world knew nothing of weeping and mourning and death. Man was created with eternity, not just put in his heart, but as a central feature of God’s plan.
Then “sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). Planting and harvesting were cursed with pain and sweaty toil, thorn and thistle. The blessing of birth came with pain. The joy of marriage became mixed with strife. And every human being returns to the dust from which the first man came. We are all subject to times and changes over which we have so little control. “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1).
Solomon contrasts the changing human affairs with God’s unchanging will. Throughout Ecclesiastes, he frequently changes his tone, describing both the frustration and fickleness of life, as well as the firmness of God’s Word and blessing. In so doing, Solomon is showing that everything is in God’s hands.
Rather than stifling human effort, this truth encourages us to follow God’s will as revealed in the Scriptures. As God’s children, we do what we can; then we leave the outcome in His almighty hands. In His infinite wisdom and power, God fits everything into His eternal plan, and so “He has made everything beautiful in its time.” The apostle Paul writes: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). To see life’s hardships and joys alike as part of this grand scheme is like viewing life as a beautiful mosaic from the hands of the master Artist.
Yes, seen in such a way, Solomon’s words ring true, but they do not tell the whole truth. For that we need Jesus. Only He—His cross and resurrection—can make sense of it all. You see, for JoAnn and for you and me, sin and death are not the only season. They are but the fall and winter. Cold and cruel, to be sure, but temporary. Jesus, the eternal Son of God, willingly subjected Himself to the seasons of time and humanity in order to begin an eternal spring and summer. Christ was born. He lived, suffered, died, and was buried in order to bring you the eternity God set in your heart.
Yes, there is a time to be born and a time to die, even for the Son of God. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary for you. He lived a perfect obedient life for you. At the appointed time, He was crucified, died, and was buried for you. And, just as had been prophesied, He rose again on the third day for you.
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1).
And so, for JoAnn there was a time—September 20, 1931—to be exact, where she died and was born all in a matter of a few moments and three splashes of water. “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” said the pastor, even as Jesus was saying, “Behold I make all things new.”
JoAnn’s Baptism was truly a time to die. Her sin was drowned and washed away. And her Baptism was also a time to be born anew by water and Spirit. And in God’s eyes, JoAnn was very good. In fact, she was better than good. She was perfect, holy, sinless. All of that because she was baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection, credited as righteous by grace through faith. Christ having exchanged His perfect righteousness and obedience for her sin and disobedience.
This Christian faith is the firm foundation upon which JoAnn—and countless others—have been built as they learned and studied and memorized each week in Sunday School and worship, in the home, and later in catechism class. JoAnn publicly confessed that faith in the Rite of Confirmation on April 14, 1946. Her confirmation verse, John 3:16, is the Gospel in a nutshell, a wonderful promise to all who, like JoAnn, are brought to faith in Jesus Christ as Savior: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”  
This faith in Christ also led JoAnn to a life of service as she was able. Freely she received Christ’s mercy, freely she gave to those in need. With her various interests, she demonstrated repeatedly that there’s a time for tearing and sewing, for speaking and remaining silent, and a time to dance.
But above all, this faith in Christ gave her words of comfort. Words she learned from the wisdom of Solomon, as well as those which come to our ears straight from the lips of Jesus in the Gospel: 
Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to Myself, that where I am you may be also (John 14:1–3).
Yes, there is a time for death and mourning and weeping, but for you who mourn and weep, Jesus has words of comfort and assurance. For JoAnn, and for all who rest with Christ, John gives us this picture in the book of Revelation:
Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away (21:1-4).
Yes, there is a time to mourn; but there is also a time to dance. For death has no dominion over Jesus, over JoAnn, or you.
Yes, there is a time to weep; but there is also a time to laugh and rejoice. We see and hear that now, in part, in the Scriptures, hymns, and promises of Christ in Baptism and in the Supper. We will see and hear it in full before the throne where the Lamb of God makes all things new.
Yes, there is a time to die; but there is also a time to rise; a time to be planted in the earth for rest from our labors; and a time to be plucked up from our graves by our Lord Jesus Christ to live with Him for eternity.
And then there will be no more time for sin or sorrow or tears. There will be no more seasons. No more death. For the former things will pass away. These words are trustworthy and true. It is finished! And whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor can anything be taken from it. Amen.
The peace that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Cornerstone and His Living Stones

Click here to listen to this sermon.

“As you come to Him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:4–5).
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
Back in Matthew 16, Jesus said to the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter answered for the disciples and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” He was absolutely right, and so to Peter Jesus said, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (vv. 15-19).
It was an enormous, God-given confession of faith. Peter proclaimed that the foundation of the Church is nothing and no one else than Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God. Now, to make sure that nobody came up with the silly idea that Peter was the foundation of the Church, or that the bishops who followed after him were to be the supreme priest who must be obeyed, the Lord clarified this through the words of no less than Peter himself:
As you come to Him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in Him will not be put to shame” (1 Peter 2:4-6).
So there. Peter proclaimed it by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Jesus is the Cornerstone on which the Church is built. But what does this mean?
Today the laying of a cornerstone has a mostly ceremonial purpose. The stone’s face bears the year of construction, and it is often hollowed out for a time capsule. But the real structural value of the cornerstone is to serve as a point of reference for the rest of the building. The cornerstone is the first and largest stone above grade. As such it must be measured, sawed, shaped, and fully mortared into place with great precision. That first stone will determine the straightness of the building’s lines of depth, width, and height. If the cornerstone is off a little, the whole building will end up looking crooked, or even be structurally unsound.
In the same way, Jesus Christ is the standard of straightness in our lives. In a world full of Satan’s lies and deceptions, the Word of the Lord remains straight and true. His Word of Law cuts through all excuses and moral compromises and holds us all accountable to God’s unchanging standards. His Word of Gospel cuts through Satan’s lies about our own worthlessness and despair, and holds before us the unchanging love of the crucified and risen One. Whoever builds his or her life along these true lines will never regret it.
Jesus is the Cornerstone on which the Church is built. Without Him there is no Church, because He is the Savior who shed His blood and gave His life on the cross for the sins of the world. All those who believe in Him are forgiven for their sins; and they are living stones being built upon Him into a spiritual house, a temple of the Holy Spirit and the presence of Christ Himself.
As for those who do not believe in Jesus and prefer to cling to their sin, St. Peter gives an important warning: “‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,’ and ‘A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.’ They stumble because they disobey the Word, as they were destined to do.”
The second part of this last verse seems a little confusing to some people, as though God predestined some people to be condemned. But this is the result of an unclear translation. The word “destined” here is better rendered “appointed.” God our Father wants all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.
Whether or not people believe God’s Word, they were appointed to be under it. Everyone is subject to God’s Word whether they wish to be or not, whether they know they are or not. If anyone rejects God’s gift of grace, then they will be subject to His judgment. If they do not rejoice that Christ is the Cornerstone who has redeemed them from sin, they will find themselves crushed for eternity—because the Savior stood ready, offering them forgiveness so that they might be built into His Church; and they opted for sin and death instead.
But crushing judgment is not for you, dear brothers and sisters in Christ; for you are living stones, redeemed by Christ and built into His Church. Forgiven for your sins, you will not be ashamed, for the Lord has only blessings to speak of you, as St. Peter proclaims: Once you were just scattered sinners, not even a people; now you are His people because He has made you so.
When we become Christians, when we are born again through water and the Spirit, we are given a new identity. Like Christ, we become living stones, and it is Christ’s goal to mortar us together into a spiritual house called the holy Christian Church. Isn’t it interesting that we are called stones rather than bricks? Bricks are all alike; stones are all different—in color, size, and shape. But even though we are all unique, there is a place for each of us in God’s building—and God, as the Master Builder and Architect knows exactly where to put us.
And, get this—we have become not only part of the great temple of God, but we are made priests to serve in the temple, holy priests, holy through the blood of the Lamb. In Christ, God has chosen you to be His holy nation, His own special people. He has made you a royal priesthood.
A royal priesthood…what does that mean? Well, in the Old Testament, priests were called by God to make sacrifices at the temple. These included thank offerings and sacrifices for sin. Priests also had the privilege of entering the temple of God’s presence. Priests offered prayers to God on behalf of the other people.
So what do you do? As priests, you offer sacrifices. But let’s be clear what this means: you don’t offer sacrifices for sins, because there aren’t any of those left. Jesus was the only, ultimate Sacrifice for sin. His blood atones for all the sins of all the world. There is no sacrifice for sin left to be made. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit—you come to Him with repentant hearts in order to receive His grace. You offer your bodies as spiritual sacrifices. You offer your time, talents, and treasure. The goal of these acts of stewardship is the same as Jesus’ ministry: to draw all people to Him, who alone is the Way, and the Truth, and the Life.
Now, much of this happens in your vocations, your callings in life. As part of the royal priesthood, God has given you tasks to do. He uses you as His instruments to serve people in this world. If the Lord has given you the vocation of parent, He delights to see you reading stories to your children. If the Lord has given you the vocation of farmer, He delights to see you grow crops and raise livestock. If the Lord has given you the vocation of health care professional, He delights to see you give care to patients. If the Lord has given you the vocation of student, He rejoices to see you work through the story problems in Algebra 2.
Even a little baby, just born and baptized, is part of the royal priesthood. As he eats and sleeps, he is doing what God has given him to do in his vocation of “baby.” With every breath he takes, he testifies to God’s miraculous gift of life. Sometimes at 2:00 a.m., he proclaims the Lord’s wonderful gift of vocal cords so that we might speak His Word. Make no mistake: Such a baby is so precious in the sight of God that He has given His only Son to redeem him. By the mortar of water and Word, he or she is a living stone  built upon the foundation of Christ Jesus.
So it is also for your fellow Christians. Set free from sin by your Savior Jesus, you are set free to serve those around you, and this is part of your sacrifice of praise, your offering of thanksgiving. It often looks quite ordinary in the eyes of the world, because it’s how God set things up ordinarily to run.
However, dear members of the royal priesthood and living stones in the house of the Lord, you also have a greater sacrifice of praise: you have the privilege to proclaim that your Savior has “called you out of darkness into His marvelous light,” who made you His people by His mercy. While it is the pastor’s vocation to proclaim the Gospel from the pulpit, it is your great joy and privilege to declare that Good News, too. Some of this is done as you sing hymns and confess creeds to one another in worship, and much of it is done as you share the hope that you have as the opportunity arises within your own vocation(s).
And there’s more. As priests had the privilege of drawing near to the Lord in the temple, so you enter into His presence, too. No, you cannot see Him: as the temple curtain hid His glory in days of old, He veils His presence in water, bread, and wine. But in His Word and Sacraments, He draws near to you. He brings you into His presence to give you forgiveness and faith and life.
Since these are the blessings that God showers upon you, then you know what sins you are called to avoid. It is far too common for one to say, “Since I am a Christian and saved by grace alone, then I can indulge in all sorts of sins and worldly pleasures without harming that faith.” This is simply wrong: Christ has set you free from sin, not to sin. You are free to do good works. To return to sin is to say that you do not want His mercy. It is to say you do not want to be a living stone or of the royal priesthood. This will lead to your judgment.
Since you are set free to serve, rejoice to go about the vocations that you have been given. It is far too common a sin for Christians to hate their daily routines, rather than give thanks to God for the opportunities to serve others. It is further far too common for Christians to forget that their daily lives are service to God, and thus they hold their God-given vocations in contempt as they look for something more to do within the Church to give their lives meaning and purpose. But work in the church is no more holy than the work done in your daily vocation.
As a royal priest, you are set free to come into the Lord’s presence. Do so often and joyfully. It will always be a great temptation to believe that, as a living stone in the Lord’s house, you do not need the means of grace so much. But a priest who never goes to the temple isn’t really a priest, is he? To deprive yourself of God’s Word and Sacraments is to deprive yourself of your Savior’s gracious presence; and if you deprive yourself of His forgiveness and life, you will eventually turn into a stone-cold brick that is cast into a rubbish heap and lost.
No, dear fellow members of the Lord’s royal priesthood, this is not for you. You’ve been set free from sins to live in the Lord’s marvelous light. And so, where these temptations still lead you into sin, you quickly confess them with this glad confidence. So that God would not reject and despise you for your sin on Judgment Day, Jesus allowed Himself to be despised and rejected on the cross. So that you might obtain mercy, Jesus received no mercy, but all of God’s wrath on the cross. So that you might live in His light, He endured darkness and hell.
Christ has done all this, so that He might be your Foundation, the Cornerstone on which you, His living stones are built to be His spiritual house, His temple, forever. Indeed, you are His chosen generation, His royal priesthood, His holy nation, His own special people. For Jesus’ sake, you are forgiven for all of your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Into the Wilderness

"Christ in the Wilderness" by Ivan Kramskoy Click here to listen to this sermon. “The Spirit immediately drove [Jesus] out ...