Tuesday, December 27, 2011

This Week at Mt. Olive


Good afternoon, fellow redeemed!

The three days following Christmas mark anything but joy. Yesterday, December 26, the Church marks as St. Stephen (Good King Wenceslas looked out on the Feast of Stephen - that one). Stephen, of course, was the first martyr, being stoned to death after testifying faithfully to his Lord Christ. Today, December 27, is the day of St. John, Evangelist and Apostle. Tradition tells us that John died a natural death around the year 100 A.D. Yet, this apostle's life was anything but happy and cheerful. Tradition also tells us of the numerous attempts on John's life, as well as his exile in the mines on Patmos, where he was given and recorded the Revelation from God through Christ. Tomorrow, December 28, is observed as the Holy Innocents, the children of the Bethlehem area who were murdered by Herod's soldiers as he responded in fear and rage that someone else might rightfully be King of the Jews. These three remind us that life in Christ, at least in this life, is lived under the cross, that suffering and persecution are not only possible but to be expected, and that the devil, the world, and even our own flesh reject the lordship of Jesus of Nazareth, who is true God and true man.

It's especially important in these days that we remember in prayer those brothers and sisters in the faith around the world who are regularly persecuted for the sake of Christ.

There will be a Game Night on New Year's Eve beginning at 7 p.m. in the fellowship hall. This is an informal gathering of folks who like to celebrate the coming of the new year with devotions, good food, and good fun. You are invited!

Please, as I regularly say at this time of year, keep yourselves safe. If you're drinking, don't drive. If you're traveling, keep your safety belts fastened and protect yourselves and the other folks on the road. I may sound like a mother hen, but I really rejoice to see you at the Divine Service on Sunday!

God bless!
PKJ

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

This Week at Mt. Olive


Good morning, fellow redeemed!

O Root of Jesse, standing as an ensign before the peoples, before whom all kings are mute, to whom the nations will do homage:
Come quickly to deliver us.

But deliver us from evil.
What does this mean?--Answer.
We pray in this petition, as in a summary, that our Father in heaven would deliver us from all manner of evil, of body and soul, property and honor, and at last, when our last hour shall come, grant us a blessed end, and graciously take us from this vale of tears to Himself into heaven.

Matthew 3:7b: [John the Baptist said,] "Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?"

Today's O Antiphon has an important verb to learn: deliver. Christians talk a lot about being saved, but rarely talk about being delivered. Yet, it is deliverance that we so badly need. I've heard the story of the Bible called the account of the greatest rescue operation in history. In other words, the Bible tells about deliverance. John the Baptist's preaching was prophetic preaching, indicating the very real wrath of God against sin. That preaching strikes a nerve in us, for it's against the sin of humanity that the wrath of God is kindled.

Once again, we take note of the verb "deliver". The picture in minds may be a helicopter plucking a downed airman from the sea, or firefighters who heroically rescue a child from a burning building. The deliverance brought about by the root of Jesse is no less dramatic.

In fact, this Root of Jesse has a name that tells of deliverance. In Hebrew, it's Yehoshua, after his Old Testament namesake, Joshua. You probably know him better by the name you've learned since you were a child: Jesus. His name means, The Lord delivers. Indeed, at the cross, in His bleeding and dying, Jesus delivers sinners from the wrath to come.

O Root of Jesse, our Lord Jesus, lead us to Your arrival as our Deliverer, that You will deliver us sinners from the punishment we so rightly deserve. Amen

This Week at Mt. Olive:
There will be no Board of Elders meeting tonight.

Tuesday is Christmas program practice beginning at 6:30 p.m. There will be some light supper provided for the cast and crew, and practicing will begin between 6;45 p.m. and 7 p.m. Please bring your costume and script!

Wednesday, there will be a fourth Advent Midweek service. This will be held at the regular times of 12:15 and 7:15 p.m. The Advent Psalm is 85, though we won't be using the entire Psalm in the service.

Thursday is Youth Cookie Baking, Taking, and Caroling day! Beginning at 9:30 a.m., with lunch provided, the young people of Mt. Olive will be baking and decorating cookies to take to the homebound members. This is an all day event, and lunch is provided.

Also on Thursday, young people, if you want to participate in the Christmas Eve Candlelight Service, I need to know that before Thursday, as that's when I'll be handing out parts.

The Worship Schedule for the Weekend:
Christmas Eve, December 24 (Saturday)
6:30 p.m. - Sunday School Christmas Service
11 p.m. - Candlelight Service

Christmas Day, December 25 (Sunday)
8 a.m. - Divine Service
9:15 a.m. - Adult Bible Class is invited to bring a Christmas goodie to share as we watch the rest of "The Star of Bethlehem".
Sunday School Convocation
10:30 a.m. Divine Service

God bless!
Pastor Kevin Jennings

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Mighty One Has Done Great Things


Luke 1:39-56
Four thousand years ago, out of pure grace, God chose a man named Abraham through whom he would bless the world. God promised Abraham that he would become a great nation—that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars—and that through one special Offspring all of the world would be blessed.

God made these promises when Abraham and his wife Sarah had no children—and still they didn’t-- decade after decade of their lives together as a married couple. Periodically God would renew his covenant with them—but still no child-- until they became very old people.

It was at this point in their lives—when there could be no doubt among anyone that it was a God of might who acted in their lives—that Sarah conceived and gave birth to Isaac, whose son Jacob had twelve sons who would become the twelve tribes of Israel—and they became a great nation just as God had promised.

Over the centuries God maintained his covenant with Abraham and renewed his promise to bless the world through his one special Offspring.

Periodically God would raise up prophets who would tell more of the coming One: the place of his birth—that his mother would be a virgin—that he would suffer and die for the sins of the world and rise again. Hundreds and hundreds of prophecies were made over hundreds and hundreds of years—each of them a brushstroke in the portrait of Abraham’s Offspring through whom the world would be blessed.

Two thousand years later in the hill country surrounding Jerusalem there lived another elderly couple named Zechariah and Elizabeth. They were pious, devout believers and they too were childless. But out of pure grace God sent the angel Gabriel to tell them that he would do what was humanly impossible—that in their old age they would have a son in whose birth many would rejoice for he was promised messenger of the Messiah who would prepare his way into the hearts of his people.

At that same time, in a town called Nazareth, there lived a young woman who was engaged to be married. Before that marriage was consummated, the same angel Gabriel appeared to her with a startling announcement—that out of pure grace she had been chosen by God to bear his Son.

The Offspring of Abraham through whom the whole world would be blessed would come forth from her virgin womb by the power of the Holy Spirit—and he would reign forever on David’s throne. It is there that we pick up the story of the Mighty One who has done such great things for us. Luke writes:

In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”

By God’s grace, at Zechariah’s house, an elderly pregnant woman met a pregnant virgin. But as amazing and wonderful as are God’s mighty and miraculous works in giving babies to these two women and Sarah before them—what God did spiritually in their lives and in the lives of their children—was even greater.

When the words of Mary reached Elizabeth’s ear, little John leaped for joy in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and made one of the first confessions of faith in Jesus recorded in the New Testament. She confessed that Mary was the mother of her Lord.

Thirty years later Jesus would breathe on his disciples and give them the Holy Spirit. But already on that day—in Jesus’ presence within the womb of his mother-- the Holy Spirit was given through Mary’s greeting and Elizabeth confessed with her words and John confessed with his deeds --their faith in Jesus as their Lord and Savior.

As miraculous as the physical miracle of those two babies was—as mighty a work of God as they were--the spiritual miracle accomplished that day of God working faith in human hearts, causing them to believe in Jesus—were just as great. And so it is in our life too.

Through simple water and the promise of God, our heavenly Father rescues us from sin, death, and the power of the devil in Holy Baptism—he wrests us away from Satan’s kingdom and adopts us as his children and gives us the Holy Spirit.

Through the promise of Jesus to be with us always, our Lord gives us his body and blood under bread and wine—feeding us with his own life to sustain our life in him.

Through the preaching of his Word and the Good News of forgiveness, God awakens faith in our heart and fills us with his Spirit.

And the really wonderful thing is that our mighty God has planned to do these very things to save us from our sins from before the beginning of time.

He chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be conformed to the image of his Son. He promised our salvation through the words of the prophets. His Son entered into human history and reconciled us God through his death on the cross and raised Jesus from the dead to give us life. And that we might believe that this has been done FOR US: he has established the Church and the Holy Ministry so that his Word would be preached and his sacraments administered and faith be given to us by the Holy Spirit working through these humble means of grace.

These mighty works of God are accomplished in those whom the Bible says are spiritually blind by nature—deaf to the voice of God—and dead in sins and trespasses.

It is his gracious, mighty work alone that we are able to: join our voices with Elizabeth-- and be filled with the fruit of the Spirit like John--and confess that the One born of the Virgin Mary is our Savior and Lord.

Because of this Spirit-worked faith, we can add our praises to that of Mary as she thanks God for the mighty things he has done for her.

Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.

It is a helpful reminder for all of those within Christendom who would lift Mary up almost to the place of Christ—that Mary herself magnifies the Lord- and rejoices that he is her Savior from sin- and counts herself his humble servant.

But it is also precisely because of her great faith that Mary, the Mother of our Lord, serves as an example for all Christians-- for she shows us what a true and living faith in Jesus looks like.

First of all, Mary knew and rejoiced in the Good News that God is her Savior. There is nothing her confession of faith that indicates in the least way that she has done anything worthy of the great things the Lord has done for her. It is all by his gracious gift of a Son that she is saved and she exalts his holy name for his mercy.

That we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone is not a Lutheran peculiarity or reformation innovation. It is not an idea that you find only in the Pauline epistles. It is the story of our salvation that goes back all the way to the beginning—God reaching out to those who do not deserve his notice—to do for them what they cannot do for themselves: save them from sin and death.

All generations call the Mother of our Lord: the Blessed Virgin Mary-- and rightfully so-- for out of all the women who have ever lived she was only one was chosen to be the mother of the Savior of the world.

But that judgment of blessedness is also spoken over each and every one of us because we believe in Jesus Christ-- and it will be spoken about us forever in the courts of heaven. The Bible says of those in heaven: blessed are those who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

Secondly, Mary reminds us that the God we serve is a God who is both mighty and merciful. She says:

His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.

The powers of sin, death, and the devil are no match for Jesus much less the earthly forces of those who stand opposed to his people. He is the God who orders and upholds the universe. He is the God who kills and makes alive. He is the God who rules all things. He is strong and mighty and powerful to save!

But we are also reminded that he is merciful. When we are struck to the heart in the knowledge of our sins—the Lord lifts us up and forgives us and calls us his children. When we hunger for the good things that are our inheritance as God’s children Jesus promises to fill our deepest needs—giving us peace and hope and joy.

And finally we can be confident that he will keep these promises he makes to us because he is the God of kept promises.

Mary concludes her song in the way that we began our meditation—by calling to mind the Lord’s faithfulness to the covenant he made with Abraham to save the world through his offspring. She says of the Lord:

He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”

Two thousand years separated Abraham and Mary—two thousand years separate Mary from us—but from generation to generation the Lord shows his mighty and mercy and we can count on that very thing in our lives too.

From the day that Adam and Eve sinned and brought death into the world, the story of our salvation is God’s story—the story of the Mighty One who has done great things for us.

To all human pride that would speak of salvation in terms of some decision we have made or some experience we have undergone, we learn today that the story of our salvation is the story of our gracious God, acting in human history in powerful ways, to reconcile us to himself. That Good News cannot help but bring forth from our lips a song of praise just like it did for Mary: the mighty one has done great things for me and holy is his name! Amen.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Comfort For God's People


Isaiah 40:1-11
In the very first chapter of Isaiah, the prophet of God brings this charge from the Lord against his people:

“Oh, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, offspring of evildoers, children who deal corruptly. They have forsaken the Lord, they have despised the Holy One of Israel, they are utterly estranged.”

And for the next thirty-nine chapters Isaiah continues in that same way—laying out the Lord’s case against his people—explaining why they are about to undergo his stern discipline—listing their sins and counting their failures to live as his people.

The sins of the Israelites are not unknown to us: sexual immorality—materialism—adopting the values of the world—religious worship empty of meaning. Knowing our sin and knowing God’s holiness--we also have to know that God’s judgment is still something to be feared.

But then in chapter 40, the whole tone of Isaiah’s message changes from one of sin and judgment to one of forgiveness and hope. Despite the faithlessness of his people—God was faithful—and he would forgive their sins and restore them to himself. Then and now these words are a message of comfort for God’s people. Isaiah writes:

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord's hand double for all her sins.

There are times in our lives when the consequences of our sins are inescapable. We’ve spoken hateful words that can’t be taken back. We’ve lost our temper. A relationship is broken. And there’s no getting around it—there’s no denying it—there’s no changing the past.

That’s the way it was for the Israelites. Years of sinfulness had brought them to the brink of destruction. The consequences of their sins were profound and painful. There was no way they could repair their relationship with God. But he could—and would.

As an act of pure gracious love—he forgave them—and he promised that everything they had broken-- he would restore. He said: “Your warfare is ended, your iniquity is pardoned.” Those words were the truth about the spiritual reality of what had been going on in their lives—it was open, sinful, warfare against God. That is what all sin is—including our own.

All of us have a tendency to think of sin as a small thing--particularly those sins that may not obviously hurt someone-- or sins that the world doesn’t care about. But anytime we live in opposition to the will of God in any area of our lives—we have entered into warfare against God.

And once we have begun that conflict-- we cannot dictate the terms of peace—we cannot declare a cease-fire—we cannot offer a defense of our actions that will reconcile us to God.

If peace is to be regained between us and God, he must be the One who declares that the hostilities over. That is exactly what he did. Several chapters later Isaiah explained more fully how that peace came about through Jesus. Isaiah said:
“he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace”.

To comfort his people with the promise of peace, God did not simply disregard our sin—he dealt with it-- by judging his Son guilty in our place and signing a peace treaty written in Jesus’ innocent blood.

As great as was Israel’s sin and as great is our sin, the Lord’s pardon is even greater, not only forgiving us—but making his former enemies, members of his own family. That is the “double portion” of his grace towards us--that is God’s message of comfort for sinners—a message that needs to be received in heartfelt repentance and sincere faith. Isaiah wrote:

A voice cries: "In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken."

In the ancient world, every effort was made to make the way as smooth as possible for a king’s journey. Of course we know that since Isaiah is talking about the Lord, he is not really talking about work done with picks and shovels-- but spiritual work that is done in our hearts by the Holy Spirit—lifting up the low places and bringing down the high places.

No doubt many of the Israelites would see the deep valley of how far they had sunk into a morass of sin-- and despair of ever coming out of it. But God promised that every valley would be filled in and lifted up by his gracious love and forgiveness—no matter how deep.

We too can feel at times as if our sins are so great that they could never be forgiven. But the promise of God’s Word is that the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from ALL unrighteousness.

None of us have sunk so deep into a valley of sin that we are beyond the reach of God’s forgiving love.

Others in Israel must have felt as if their chastisement was all out of proportion to their sin—that surely things could not be as bad between them and God as all that—that perhaps God was unjust in his judgments and immoderate in his punishment.

Those kinds of self-made mountain tops of spiritual pride are even more difficult to overcome and more dangerous to our spiritual life than valleys of despair. We don’t like to confess that we are “poor, miserable sinners”. We don’t want to believe that even our best works of righteousness are as filthy rags in God’s sight.

But there is only way to receive the blessings of forgiveness and life that come from the Lord’s gracious hand-- and that is to come to God with nothing in our hand: no self-righteousness, no best efforts—nothing in our hand save for the Spirit-given faith that reaches out in response to God’s promise in Jesus to forgive and restore.

When Isaiah made these promises about the Lord coming to the aid of is people—they had not yet even been taken into captivity—much less set free. And yet the Lord promised their freedom--and the reality of his promise was just as certain in that moment as it would be 130 years later when God raised up a deliverer in Cyrus and the Israelites came out of Babylon. The Israelites simply needed to receive God’s promise in faith.

So it still is today. The Lord promises us that we are forgiven. The Lord promises us that we are his children. They Lord promises us that we will enjoy eternal life in a new heaven and a new earth.

We cannot see these things. We cannot touch these things. Some of them we enjoy right now and some of them are still to come. But they are true and certain for the mouth of the Lord has spoken them-- and we receive the life-changing realities of these promises as we repent of our sins, cast away our despair, set aside our pride, and believe his Word of promise.

To do so is vitally important—for our lives in this world are frail and our time here is short. Isaiah wrote:

A voice says, "Cry!" And I said, "What shall I cry?" All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows on it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever. Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, "Behold your God!"

Several generations of Israelites would come and go from the time these words were spoken until their fulfillment. Nations would rise and fall. Rulers would come and go. Nothing and no one in this world can withstand the relentless march of time. Only one thing endures from generation to generation and that is the Lord and his Word.

That is why the Lord wants his Word preached to the world—that is why he wants it shouted from the mountaintops and heralded to all people—because the Good News of his love and salvation has the power to change us (who were as frail and temporal as the grass of the field) into people who will live forever.

Peter took these words of Isaiah and used them to tell us that, though we have all been born of perishable seed, we have also been born again of imperishable seed, the living and abiding word of God which is the Good News of Jesus.

By virtue of their sins and faithlessness, the Israelites, both as individuals and as a nation were spiritually dead. But these words of promise were words of life to them and they were born again by their power.

So it still is for us. The Good News of God’s love and forgiveness are words of life and they cause us to be born again out sin and death-- into forgiveness, and peace, and eternal life. Those are the blessings Isaiah promises for all of those who will receive God’s Word in faith. Isaiah wrote:

Behold, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.

The faith of the Israelites was not disappointed. God’s promises were much, much more than mere words. God acted for their good.

When God set his people free from Babylon, he raised up a deliverer for them in Cyrus—one who would bring them out of exile to their promised home—one who would restore what their sin had ruined.

Cyrus wasn’t really what they people expected—but he was God’s anointed servant—the fulfillment of his promise to set them free from Babylon.

600 years later, God raised up another deliverer —and once again he was not what was expected. The mighty arm that would rule was the tiny arm of an infant who reached up for his blessed mother-- and the powerful arm that would rescue was tortured arms of a broken man nailed to a cross.

In Jesus Christ, God himself came to rescue all people from sin and death. Every moment of his life and everything he did was so that we could be restored to a life with God—so that our sins do not have to overcome us—so that we can stand unashamed before him on that great day when he comes again.

Though we have sinned and though we are frail, our iniquity has been pardoned and we are born again to eternal life by the enduring Word of God. We are cared for by the Good Shepherd. I pray that as we repent of our sins and trust in Jesus, Isaiah’s message would comfort us tonight and always. Amen.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Today's Meditation


Good morning, fellow redeemed!

"And now I commend you to the Lord and to the word of His grace which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance of all the holy ones." Acts 20:32

St. Paul's words are a real eye opener for today's religious scene. The apostle commends his hearers to the living Lord and to His powerful word of grace, which is able to build up and establish God's people, and is able to give them the inheritance of those pronounced holy in Christ.

I say it's a real eye opener for today's religious scene for a reason. Mention the power of God and people's eyes light up. Many go looking for the power of God in a flashy, spectacular setting, or in their own thoughts and desires. Alas, it's more an emotional high being sought than anything else.

There is but one way that God has revealed His mighty power, and that is in His Word, the Word Made Flesh, the "With Us God" who has made His dwelling place with us by taking on our flesh. As St. John says in John 1:17, "Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ." God's mighty power isn't reserved for light shows, but is shown in its fullness in the crucifixion of His Son. That's God's powerful, life-giving Word of Grace, Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

Yet, we know nothing of Jesus outside of what is communicated in God's word of grace on the page, God's Word in human language, Holy Scripture. It's a great gift that we are given, God's Word that makes us wise unto salvation in human language, delivered through prophets and evangelists and apostles. And, it's in this word that God the Holy Spirit has promised to bring us Christ!

Blessed Lord, who has caused all Holy Scriptures to be written for our learning, grant that we may so hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of Your holy Word we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life which You have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray.

Monday, December 12, 2011

This Week at Mt. Olive


Good morning, fellow redeemed!

Zephaniah 3:14-15:
Rejoice aloud, daughter of Zion, shout, Israel, rejoice and exult with all your heart, daughter of Jerusalem! Yahweh has put away the judgments against you, He has turned away your enemy. Yahweh, the King of Israel, is in your midst; you will not fear evil any longer.

Revelation 21:3:
And I heard a great voice from heaven saying, "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with men; He tabernacles with them, and they will be His people, and He will be God with them."

The locatedness of God always seems to be a matter of contention that escalates into a bone of contention. People love saying, "The Lord is with me," in one moment, while acting like He's conveniently far removed in the next. Several years ago, poet Robert Frost penned the words, "God is in His heaven, all is right with the world."

But, is God far away and removed, sitting on His throne in heaven with a big "G" on His chest, punching buttons and making things happen? That's the way many see the positioning of God, but it's not taught in the Bible.

As Matthew records in 1:22, God is with us, in the flesh. This God with us, Immanuel, is Jesus of Nazareth, conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary. Forever and ever, He is both God and man, and it is through Him that God reveals Himself to man. It is through Jesus by the Holy Spirit that man approaches God.

Even now, in the means of grace, the dwelling place of God is with man, those places where God breaks into time and space and comes to human beings who are bound to this earth and its time.

Lord Jesus Christ, in Your nativity, You make Your dwelling place with us by becoming flesh. On the Last Day, You will be with us, in our midst, forever. In this in between time, bring us to cherish and hold fast those times and places where You tabernacle with us today, in Your chosen means of grace. For Your name's sake. Amen

This Week at Mt. Olive:
The LWML Christmas Dining Out is tomorrow evening at the Saltwater Grill on Cimarron. If you haven't signed up and wish to do so, please call the Church Office today!

Angel Tree gifts are due by Wednesday! A convenient way to do things is to come for Midweek Worship (12:15 p.m. and 7 p.m.) and drop off your gift after worship!

The Youth will be attending The Nutcracker on Sunday afternoon. Ticket have been purchased; we'll gather at the church at 1:30 p.m. and leave shortly afterward. If some of you would like to join my family and me at Jason's for lunch, we'd be glad to sup with you!

Next week events:
Tuesday, December 20, 6:30 p.m. Christmas Program Rehearsal - Pizza will be provided; we'll practice until about 8;30 p.m.
Thursday, December 22, 9:30 a.m. Youth (5th Grade and Above) Christmas Cookie Making and Caroling (Pizza for lunch will be provided)
Saturday, December 24, 6:30 p.m., Children's Christmas Service/Program, 11 p.m. Christmas Candlelight Service
Sunday, December 25, 8 and 10:30 a.m., Christmas Day Divine Service

Prayer Concerns:
The holy Christian and Apostolic Church throughout the world as it prepares to celebrate the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ that they may give the good testimony of Christ
The Altar Guild at Mt. Olive and at all churches at they go about preparations for the celebrations of Christmas
Sunday School teachers at Mt. Olive and throughout the Church as they teach and learn once more of the birth of Immanuel, God with us
Our Brothers and Sisters in the Faith at Lord of Life and Our Savior, and for all congregations searching for a pastor, that God would keep them faithful and give them patience as they await His gracious gifts
Those who travel over this upcoming holiday period
Those who will labor over the holidays to ensure our safety and well-being, especially those who serve in the armed forces (Rob Vadney, John Sorensen), the police and law enforcement officers, first responders - firefighters and emergency medical workers, nurses, doctors
Those who are experiencing medical procedures and difficulties: Bill Waterman (tests), Charlotte Birnbaum (at home with the Dearings), Richard Solano (undergoing surgery)

This Week at Mt. Olive:
Monday, December 12
Zumba Aerobics, 6:30 p.m.

No Church Council meeting tonight!

Tuesday, December 13
LWML Dining Out, Saltwater Grill, 6:30 p.m.

Wednesday, December 14
School Chapel, 8:30 a.m.
Bible Study (Revelation 13), 9:30 a.m.
Midday Prayer, 12:15 p.m.
Advent Vespers, 7 p.m.

Thursday, December 15
Mt. Olive Lutheran School Christmas Program, 6:30 p.m.

God bless!
PKJ

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Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Messenger and the Messiah



Matthew 11:2-11
Any time I read or hear about the persecution and martyrdom of a Christian, I wonder to myself: would I die for what I believe in as a Christian? Am I so convinced that Jesus is the way and the truth and the life that I would die rather than deny him? Many of us may have some nagging doubts about that.

And if we wouldn’t die for Jesus-- or if there is some doubt–what does that say about our faith? Jesus said that small is the gate and narrow is the road that leads to eternal life and few there are who find it-- but wide is the gate and broad the road that leads to destruction and many there are who walk that road.

So where are you right now in your walk of faith? Are you on that narrow road of faith in Jesus that leads to life-- or the broad road of doubt that leads to death? Are you so confident that Jesus is your only hope of eternal life that you have staked your entire future on him-- or are you merely covering your bases by going to church?

When we face our own mortality–when we are confronted with a serious illness—when we stand beside the graveside of a loved one--we want to know, and know for sure, that the one we have put our faith and trust in–is who he says he is-- and is able to do what he has promised to do.

That is what John the Baptist was facing as he sat in Herod’s prison waiting for the executioner’s blade to fall. Staring death in the face, it would be only human to have some nagging doubts about Jesus’ true identity. If I’m betting my life on something–it had better be right.

But for John the Baptist there was an even bigger issue than just some nagging doubts. In his mind, the promises of God in the Hebrew Scriptures concerning the Messiah were in question when it came to Jesus.

The promised Messiah was portrayed in two ways by the prophets of old–on one hand he was to be the gentle, suffering Messiah who compassionately cared for all people–healing their diseases and caring for their spiritual needs.

And on the other hand, the Messiah was also portrayed as a conquering King who would reward his followers and slay his enemies and bring judgment upon the entire earth–and he was oftentimes portrayed in both ways in the same verses like in our Old Testament lesson for the day.

“Behold, the LORD God comes with might, and his arm rules for him…he will tend his flock like a shepherd and gently lead those that are with young”.

Jesus, proclaimed by John as the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world, sure looked like the second kind of Messiah–gentle and meek and loving–but he really didn’t look like too much like the first–a mighty judge and conquering king.

Facing death, seeing one part of Scriptures fulfilled but not yet all of it, there was a serious question in John’s mind about Jesus. Matthew tells us that:

“when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to Jesus, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”

Are you the one? I don’t know if a more important question has ever been asked-- or can be asked--and we too need to know the answer to it and be certain about it. Is Jesus the One? Is he the One that we can stake our entire life on? Or is there another? Is he the one in whom all the promises of God are fulfilled or not?

To ask this question and to seek an answer is not sinful doubt–at least not the way John asked it and the approach he took.

What did John do with his questions? He turned to Jesus. He turned to Jesus as the one who could answer his question-he turned to Jesus for assurance that his faith was not misplaced. What John did, and the questions he had, was a deep expression of faith that is completely consistent with other great statements of faith in the Bible. After all, “Lord I believe–help my unbelief” is the prayer of a believer not an unbeliever.

Very different are those who have some of these same questions and nagging doubts and turn everywhere but to Christ and his Word. They read religious books of dubious value. They draw their religious beliefs from the prevailing, generic cultural Christianity. They sample one TV preacher after another like they are going through the line at Luby’s.

These are not a cure for doubt-- but a cause of doubt. Instead, follow the example of John and turn to Jesus. All of us have faith questions at times–all of us struggle to understand portions of Holy Scripture–all of us want to grow in our faith and in our confidence in God. John the Baptist shows us the way to do that. Take it to the Lord in prayer. Search his Word. That is exactly what Jesus would have us do. He said:

“Go and tell John what you hear and see; the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them”.

In effect Jesus says, search the Scriptures–see what they say of the Messiah–and then see what I do and you will know the truth–that I am the one. Yes there are still things to come–but trust the one who has already fulfilled so much-- to accomplish the rest.

Jesus gives the same answer today to those who struggle with doubts and questions. God is not afraid of our questions–he is not ashamed of our struggles. He wants us to have the assurance of a deep and abiding faith and so he invites us to turn to his son Jesus–to search the Scriptures—to pray to him—and to receive the sacraments for assurance-- so that our faith in Christ does not waver.

We need that Spirit-given certainty because when it comes to the person and work of Jesus as it is revealed in Holy Scripture and proclaimed by the Church, doubt is not a virtue. It is not the sign of a discerning spirit or intellectual superiority.

Doubt and skepticism, when it comes to our faith in Jesus Christ, are tools of Satan that are used to trip us up in our walk of faith and the spiritual consequences are severe.

Twisting Scriptures to his own advantage–asking us as he did Adam and Eve (“did God really say”) causing us to doubt--Satan desires to steal our salvation, forgiveness, and eternal life. That’s what’s at stake when it comes to doubt and it’s deadly serious.

Jesus told John’s disciples: “Blessed is the one who is not offended because of me”. In the original Greek, that word translated as “offended” means to “trip up” and the word itself is the technical term for a kind of trap used to kill small animals.

Life and death are what’s at stake when it comes to knowing and believing what Jesus says about himself–that he is the one--none other than the True God in human flesh–the Messiah sent to save the world from their sins by his own death and resurrection. It is eternal life to know that and believe that for ourselves.

That is the message that the disciples were to relay to John as he faced his own death-- and that is what Jesus would have us know and believe today. And for those listening in the multitudes that surrounded him that day, and for us here today, Jesus turned the question back to them. Matthew writes that:

“As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: ‘What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in king’s houses”.

Jesus says in effect, “What about you? Where is your faith in all this? What did you go out into the wilderness to see? Something for entertainment value? What did you go out to hear? Were you drawn to John because he told you what your itching ears wanted to hear or because he spoke the truth about the One to come?

That’s still a good question for people to ask themselves regarding their worship services and their pastor.

Do you listen to what he has to say because he tells you what you want to hear- or do you listen because he brings you God’s Word even when you don’t like to hear it? Is he a reed swayed back and forth by every wind of doctrine-- or does he stand fast on those eternal truths handed down by the prophets and apostles of old? Do you come to worship to be entertained and visit with friends or to grow in your faith and knowledge of Jesus?

The answer for the people that day was that they went out to John precisely because he brought God’s Word–not like their religious leaders who taught the doctrines of men–but because he would not be swayed by the opinions of men. They went to John because he unswervingly held to the central message of the Kingdom of God–to repent of sins and believe in the Messiah to come. That message is life and salvation and the people received it in faith.

And what was John’s reward? Fine clothes? A room in the king’s house? No! He was cast into the king’s prison in the rough camel hair garments of his Jordan days–known as a true prophet of God not only for his faithful proclamation-- but also for the opposition he received and the suffering he endured from sinful men-- like so many faithful prophets who had come before him and faithful pastors who would come after him. And among them all-past, present and future–John the Baptist was the greatest. Jesus said:

“What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written, ‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.’”.

This was why it was so necessary for the people that day and this day to recognize who John was and why he was so important–he was the messenger sent by God to prepare the way for the Messiah. To know John the Baptist and to believe his message was, both then and now, to know and believe in Jesus the Messiah of God. That is how important John the Baptist was—because he pointed to Jesus.

As remarkable and as wonderful as all this is, Jesus saves the best for last-- for he tells us that those who are the least in the kingdom of heaven are greater than even John the Baptist–the greatest man who ever lived. Jesus says:

“Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”

How is that possible that you and me–regular folks with regular lives-- least in the Kingdom of Heaven as it were--are even greater than John the Baptist?

It’s because we have been blessed to see the whole salvation story that God tells in the death, resurrection of his son Jesus Christ. John would not live to see it–he was executed a short time after these events.

He never got to see Christ’s death on the cross that atoned for the sins of the world. He never got to witness the glorious resurrection that changed the course of the world from death to life. But we have heard it and seen it through the Word and Sacraments and by these gifts of God’s grace we know that Jesus is indeed the One. Amen.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Great and Awesome Day of the LORD


Malachi 4:1-6
Malachi prophesied in those years after the return of the Israelites from Babylon. God kept his promise to bring them home. He was faithful. But in very short order their faithfulness to the Lord who delivered them began to falter.

They became more interested in their own homes and businesses than rebuilding the house of the Lord. They didn’t bring their best offerings to the Lord and simply went through the motions in worship. And they couldn’t understand why God wasn’t blessing them—why the evil seemed to be doing just as well as they were doing. What good did it do to bow and scrape before the Lord when we are not getting anything out of it? And the Lord spoke through his messenger:

"Behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble.

God had not forgotten about justice—he had not abandoned his expectations for how people should live their lives—evil would not win out in the end-- for the day of fiery judgment was coming.

Very few things are as clearly taught in the Bible as eternal punishment by fire. Human beings are terrified of being burned in a fire—the pain is unbelievable. To think of eternal torment in the fires of hell is horrible. It’s meant to be.

Hell was prepared for the devil and his angels and not for men. There is absolutely no reason for any person to go to hell. But that punishment will most certainly await the arrogant and the evildoers. Malachi says they are ripe for judgment like stubble that quickly catches on fire.

It is important to note that besides evildoers, the arrogant will also go into the fires of hell. We would expect the evil to be cast into the fire. All of us can picture Hitler and Stalin receiving the just punishment of their evil deeds. But the arrogant?

That hits a little close to home. The Lord had a warning for the people of Malachi’s day who thought that their homes were more important than the Lord’s house—who thought that the Lord ought to be satisfied with their worship when their hearts weren’t in it—who questioned the ways of the Lord—the message was: you too will go into the fires of hell with all of those who do evil. Malachi said:

The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the LORD of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch.

It is important to note whose words of judgment these are. Malachi is the one who is speaking them—but they are the Word of the Lord—the Lord of hosts. This title means the Lord of heavenly armies—the Lord who cannot be conquered—the Lord of power and might who will utterly destroy his enemies.

We will listen to this warning or not-- but there should be no confusion on anyone’s part who it is that is speaking these words to us tonight.

The judgment and punishment for the evil and arrogant will mean the destruction of everything they hoped for—destruction so complete and final that they cannot rise again. Evil was not a part of God’s good creation in the beginning-- and it will not be part of his new creation at the end.

The evil and the arrogant and all of those who stand against God’s ways will be separated from the Lord and his people by a fiery chasm that no one can ever cross for all eternity—a place of torment and weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Because of the certainty of that day, because of the eternal consequences of that day, there is one thing that we need to know and that is: how to avoid the punishment to come. Malachi writes:

But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.

When we recite the Ten Commandments we begin with: You shall have no other gods before me. But these are not the first words that Moses heard on Horeb. God gave the law to Moses beginning this way: I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. I am the LORD.

Before Moses went to Egypt, he asked God his name and God answered: I AM. The God who was and is and always will be. Yahweh. Jehovah. The LORD. God’s name is not just some title—it is who he is in his very essence.

I take time to explain this because it is only those who fear the Lord’s name who will greet the day of judgment with gladness—it is only those who know God as their Savior who will experience healing rather than punishment on that day—it is only those who fear him who will know that day as glorious light rather than deepest darkness.

It was the great I AM who delivered the Israelites and set them free from Egypt and it was the great I AM in the person of Jesus of Nazareth who delivered the world and set us free by his death and resurrection.

During his earthly ministry Jesus wanted to make sure that everyone knew who he was. He said: I AM the bread of life. I AM the light of the world. I AM the living water. Before Abraham was—I AM.

Those who believe in him and trust him and receive him in faith as their Savior and stand in awe of the holy name of Jesus: The LORD saves—have nothing to fear on the day of judgment. There will be healing and restoration and new life for us on that day—a day of eternal vitality and gladness where death will be destroyed and all that is broken, healed.

Malachi says that on that day when the evil and arrogant are cast into eternal fire, we who fear the name of the Lord will be like calves let loose from the stall—no longer constrained by the hardships of this life that pen us in—no longer confined by the darkness of this dying world--but free to live in the brilliant sun of an everlasting day.

That day will not only be vindication for the Lord but victory for us. Malachi said that all who fear the name of the Lord:

shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the LORD of hosts.

The arrogant and evildoers are not only opposed to God—but they are opposed to God’s people. The arrogant and evildoers not only sin against God, they sin against his people.

Throughout the world today there are people in positions of power and influence who misuse and abuse God’s people. Christians are imprisoned and killed for their faith—pastors’ lives are made miserable for speaking the truth—decent, hardworking folks are defrauded and robbed. None of this escapes the eyes of the Lord.

And while the child of God is called upon to follow in way of the cross in this world, not avenging ourselves of the wrong done to us—there is a day of vengeance to come when we will see all of those who have used wealth and power and influence to misuse and mistreat us-- not only kneel before the Lord as he pronounces eternal fiery punishment—but we will see them as ashes under our own feet.

These words of warning must lead us to ask ourselves: Do I truly fear the name of the LORD or am I deceiving myself and others? Will I stand victorious on that day or will I be ashes under the feet of the righteous? The only way to know the truth about whether or not our faith is real is to ask ourselves how we are living our life. Is our faith shown in what we say and do and how we treat others? Malachi said:

“Remember the law of my servant Moses, the statutes and rules that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel.

In our adult Bible class last Sunday we talked about some of the signs of the end times and one of them really struck me was that in the last days many people will have a form of godliness but deny its power. The Bible goes on to say about these people: have nothing to do with them. But the first question we need to ask is: are we them?

As we have already mentioned, when God gave the Ten Commandments at Mt. Horeb he began by reminding his people of his redeeming work—that it was because he had saved them that he was calling them to live a holy life, guided and informed and shaped by the statutes and rules he was giving them.

So it is for the Christian. Paul makes it absolutely clear that it is for freedom that Christ has set us free--that we are not to use that freedom for sin-- but to walk according to the Spirit. John says we are liars if we say that we love God and hate our brother. James says that faith without works is dead.

These words that call us to remember the Ten Commandments were words that the people of Malachi’s day needed to hear-- and we do too. We can fake fear of the Lord by sitting in pews and putting money in the plate—Malachi’s people did it-- and people still do today. We can deceive others and ourselves-- but we cannot deceive God.

God sees and knows the truth. Do we truly love him by worshiping him and honoring his name and putting him first-- or is our faith just pious sounding words? Do we love our neighbor by caring for their physical needs and making sure they have the necessities of life and speaking well of them to others-- or is our love empty words?

We have been delivered and set free from sin by Jesus Christ and are called to holiness of life—our thoughts, words, and deeds guided by the Ten Commandments so that our life with God is marked by an active, living faith-- rather than by empty words which will not stand on the fiery day of his return. The LORD said:

"Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. He will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction."

Before God sent the flood that destroyed the world—he raised up Noah to warn the world of judgment and deliverance. Before God destroyed Nineveh he sent Jonah to warn them of God’s judgment and call them to repentance. And before God destroys the world on the last day he has sent John the Baptist to call people to repentance and faith—warning that the ax of God’s judgment was already laid at the root of the tree.

The message of God through these men was exactly the same: repent and look in faith to the LORD for deliverance and salvation. It is the same message you are hearing tonight.

Each of us has an opportunity right now—a moment full of God’s grace—in which to listen to the voice of God through his chosen spokesmen, repent of our sins, and trust in the one they all pointed to as the Savior of the world, Jesus Christ.

He is the Lamb of God who has taken away the sin of the world and trusting in him we have nothing to fear on that great and awesome day of judgment when he comes again to make right all that was destroyed by sin. Amen.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

With One Voice We Glorify God


Romans 15:4-13
The 14th chapter of Romans immediately preceding our text deals with congregational life when we don’t agree with one another about things that are neither commanded nor forbidden in the Bible—things that are free to the Christian.

For the congregation in Rome which was comprised of Jews and Gentiles this meant differences in what foods to eat and the day of worship. The Christians in Rome were forbidden by God from standing in judgment over one another and questioning one another’s faith. Instead they were commanded by God to bear with one another in love.

These Spirit-inspired words about congregational life still matter today. It would be foolish to expect that, hundreds of people in a congregation from diverse backgrounds and experiences will always- in every circumstance-- agree with one another. It’s simply not going to happen this side of heaven. And so the counsel and command of God still stands—do not judge one another but bear with one another in love.

But how to do that? Where do we find the spiritual resources necessary to live in peace and harmony with one another in our congregation when we disagree? That is what Paul addresses in our lesson today. The Bible says that:

Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

I want to give you two word pictures that I hope will help you understand what the Bible is talking about when it comes to endurance and encouragement.

First of all, picture a weight lifter holding a barbell above his head. The weight is pressing down on him but he is determined to hold it up. That is the meaning of the word endurance—the strength to bear up under pressure that weighs us down.

Now think about a long trench full of soldiers in WWI. Bullets are whizzing over head, bombs are raining down. The soldiers are scared to death. But there in the trenches with them, running up a down the lines, is an officer who is calling upon them to be brave and do their duty. That is the picture behind the word encouragement.

Endurance and encouragement are the spiritual resources that are needed when it comes to our life together in the congregation—especially when there are disagreements.

We are bound to one another by a common confession and faith-- but that doesn’t mean we are always going to agree with one another about every little thing. There are going to be difficulties and disagreements that weigh down upon us like a barbell that we have to hold up. We need to be encouraged to love one another and bear their burdens.

These spiritual resources of endurance and encouragement are going to be needed so long as we are in this world and Paul says that we can count on God giving them to us. They are spiritual gifts that come through hearing his Word.

In fact, everything written in the Bible was given for our instruction—so that we would know what really matters and can’t be compromised and what are non-essential differences—so that we would know how we are to act towards with whom we disagree. Everything written in the Bible was written for our instruction.

Every now and then I am asked: why this or that is written in the bible- or why some passage made it into the readings for the worship service-or why I preached on some particular text. It is for this reason: that everything in the Bile was written for us.

In another place Paul says that the bible was given by the inspiration of God so that we could be taught, corrected, and trained in righteousness. Everything in the Bible is meant by God to be taught and studied and learned so that we can grow in Christ-likeness and live in harmony with one another. The Bible says:

May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus,

Please note that the scriptures which give endurance and encouragement come from the God of endurance and encouragement. The God who inspired the words of Scripture is the same God who empowers our life so that the endurance and encouragement we get from him would be used to live in harmony with one another.

The word that Paul uses there for harmony means like-minded—in other words: we think about things the same way. But wasn’t that the very problem they were having in Rome—isn’t that the problem so many congregation have with one another—that the members don’t see things the same way?

That is why Paul adds those important words: in accord with Christ Jesus. In other words, it is not so much that we think about things the same way among ourselves-- but we make sure that we are thinking about things the same way as Jesus Christ.

The true measure of congregational harmony is not just that we get along with one another—there are plenty of congregations and church bodies that get along with one another because they have abandoned the standard of the Bible and no ones cares. In those places, their unity and harmony is a disgrace.

What does matter is that our harmony as a congregation comes from being united by Jesus Christ—his word and will having the final say in all that we say and do.

Where he has NOT spoken, then it is his love that is to be evident in our lives as each of us endeavors to put others ahead of ourselves—willingly laying aside our personal preferences for the good of our brothers and sisters. The Bible says that we are to live in harmony with one another so that: together we may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

That is really the purpose of harmony—not just that we get along with one another (which could be a good or bad thing depending on why we get along) but that there is a united voice of praise coming from the Christian church that glorifies God.

When there is division and discord in a congregation or church body or across the Christian church --what the world hears is not a united voice of praise to God or a common witness to the goodness of Jesus Christ--but what they hear instead are the complaints of one Christian against one another. Griping and complaining does not serve to glorify God or extend the saving mission of Christ-- but undermines both of them.

Instead, we should follow the example of Jesus Christ and treat our fellow Christians as Christ treats them. The Bible says: Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. And so the question is: how did Christ welcome us? Just as we were—spots and wrinkles and blemishes.

He reached out to the woman caught in adultery- and ate dinner with Zacchaeus- and made a place for disciples who would fail him in his hour of need.

Our congregation becomes Christ-like when there is a place in our midst for people who don’t look like us or sound like us—people who have different experiences or perspectives from ours—people from a different place in society.

If Christ has welcomed them into God’s family by faith- we are to welcome them and make a place for them in our congregation. This is why Christ came to earth—not only to reconcile us to God-- but to reconcile us to one another. The Bible says that:

Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs,

When Adam and Eve sinned it not only wrecked their relationship with God-- it wrecked their relationship with one another-- and not only for them-- but for all their descendants down to the folks sitting in these pews this morning. But Christ came to reconcile all people to himself and all people to one another.

That reconciliation was a promise that God made first to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and then renewed again and again with his ancient people Israel. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—Moses and David and the prophets-- all knew this promise of reconciliation-- and in the fullness of time God kept his promise and sent his Son who was born of the Jews to save the world.

God’s faithfulness was proved beyond any doubt in his gift of a Son whom the Bible says become a servant of the circumcised—that is the Jews.

Just think of the graciousness of God in that statement! The people who abandoned the Lord—the people who in large measure stopped looking for the Messiah—were given the gift of a Savior who would bring them back to God by his sacrifice on the cross—forgiving their sins and giving them life by his resurrection. And not only for them-- but for the world. The Bible says that Jesus also came:

in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, "Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles, and sing to your name." And again it is said, "Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people." And again, "Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples extol him." And again Isaiah says, "The root of Jesse will come, even he who arises to rule the Gentiles; in him will the Gentiles hope."

God the Father sent his Son into the world to show his faithfulness to his covenant promise to his covenant people, the Jews. But from the very beginning, God intended to save all people.

The messiah would come from the Jews but he would be for the world. He was sent so that the Gentiles might also glorify God—so that they too could rejoice in God’s salvation—so that they too could know his wise rule and live with him forever.

Just think what these words meant to the congregation at Rome that had both Jews and Gentiles! What were their petty differences compared to their unity in the Lord who always had in mind the desire and purpose and plan to save them and unite them into one body of his Son Jesus Christ? What are our disagreements compared to the unity we have as fellow believers in Christ?!

When we disagree with one another in the congregation it casts a cloud over our life together. We wonder what the future holds and how we will move forward.

The encouragement and endurance we receive from God through his Word is the power we need to get past differences that don’t matter and turn our eyes of faith to the future and the eternal life we will one day share with one another. The Bible says:
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

Just as the God of endurance and encouragement gives endurance and encouragement to his people-- so does this same God of hope give hope to his people. We don’t have to wonder or worry about what the future holds for us or for our congregation because the joy and peace we have right now as God’s children-- will also be ours in the future.

When it comes to what the future holds for us and for our congregation, we have every right to hope for good things. The same Holy Spirit who has brought us to faith and made us a part of Christ’s body in this place will continue his work among us, drawing us ever closer to one another so that we may, with one voice, glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Friday, December 2, 2011

This Week at Mt. Olive


Good afternoon, fellow redeemed!

"But the anointing that you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need in order that anyone should teach you; but as His anointing is teaching you concerning all things, and is true and not false, just as also you were taught, you are remaining in Him" (1 John 2:27).

The things that distract our attention are numerous. A couple of years ago, the Texas state legislature outlawed the use of cellular phones in school zones on streets. Why? It was readily obvious at least to me: cell phones distract drivers.

The things that distract us in the life of faith are even more damaging. We teach the omnipresence of God to our children, that God is everywhere. The result? Our children, and our adults for that matter, begin to believe that God is at whatever activity or inactivity chosen. The truth is that God is everywhere, but not in grace. The lesson from Moses, Isaiah, Elijah, Peter, Paul, and others in Holy Scripture is that any time we go looking for God in the ways we want, or judgment is always the result.

Where is God in grace? Where is God in mercy? Where does the Triune God break into time and space to come to us? It's in His chosen means, in the waters of our Baptism, in the preaching of the Gospel, in the Word of absolution, in the holy Sacrament of the Altar.

What distracts us from our attention to our faith? What supplants attention to prayer? These are the other things John mentions that teach us. They present us with a Jesus who is a lot of things, but not a Savior.

In this Advent season, let's clear away the clutter of distractions in life so that we may hear and receive our Lord who comes to us in grace and mercy.

A couple of reminders are in order:
The Christmas Wassail Party is being held at the home of Bill and Mavis Waterman this Sunday (4 DEC) from 2-5 p.m. Please bring a favorite appetizer or dessert to share!

Christmas program practice begins this Sunday at 1:30 p.m. and will last until 3 p.m. Readers, actors...okay, let's be clear...children are needed!

Confirmation instruction begins this Sunday at 12 p.m. To be ready, please review the First Article and Explanation (that would be good for all confirmed adults, too).

God bless!
PKJ

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Jesus is the Righeous Branch: Our Savior and King


Jeremiah 23:5-8
Across the Middle East, this last year or so has been known as the “Arab Spring”—a time when people in the Arabic-speaking world have risen up in protest at the harshness of their leaders.

There have been revolutions in Libya and Yemen and Tunisia resulting in regime change. But is the Muslim brotherhood really an improvement over Mubarek and Qaddafi? Will the people in the Arab world be better off with their new leaders than they were before?

Here in our own country we have a congress with the lowest approval rate in history—a set of leaders who cannot bring themselves to actually work together for the good of our nation. "Occupy Wall Street" on the left and the "Tea Party" on the right agree about nothing—except—something is wrong and needs to be fixed. But will the next election of new leaders next year actually accomplish anything?

Human beings yearn for leaders who are wise and just: who are concerned for their people and lead them in ways that are beneficial. That desire comes from God. In the beginning, mankind was ruled directly by God-- but rebelled against his rule and came to be ruled by fallen men like themselves who bear the sword.

But still the hope for a wise, just, good, rulers remains. Fascism directs that desire to an authoritarian nationalism -and communism directs that desire to the forces of the economy- and democracy directs it back to the people. All of these fail to meet mankind’s desire for wise, just, benevolent rule because that desire can only truly be fulfilled by the righteous rule of our true King-Jesus. The prophet Jeremiah wrote:

"Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch,

Several of the Old Testament prophets use this word picture of a “righteous branch” to describe the Messiah. They set before us the scene of a great forest fire or a clear-cut forest with just one small lone green shoot of new growth remaining. That branch is a sign of hope and new life in the midst of death and destruction.

It’s a vivid picture of what life was like for God’s ancient people. After Solomon’s death, the nation of Israel was divided into two kingdoms: Israel in the north and Judah in the south—two kingdoms ruled by a succession of kings.

Of the kings of the northern kingdom—not one of them was ever commended by the Lord—they were evil men who led God’s people into terrible sin. Of the kings in the southern kingdom, it was mixed bag--some good, some evil--all of them frail and fallen.

None of these kings was able to stop their descent into destruction. The northern kingdom fell to Assyria in 721 B.C. and the southern kingdom fell to Babylon in 586 B.C.—both kingdoms punished by God for their rebellion against his righteous rule.

But in the midst of that death and destruction, Jeremiah promised new life and the hope that comes with it. A righteous branch—an heir of David-- who would rule wisely. That promise was fulfilled in the birth of Jesus Christ—David’s Son and David’s Lord—the true and rightful king of the world.

Our yearning for a ruler who is wise and good and just will not be met in a political candidate—no matter what they promise—it is only met in Christ-- and as we receive him as our king we can count on his wise and gracious rule over our lives. Jeremiah wrote that:

He shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.

After our Lord’s birth in Bethlehem, wise men from the east came to Judea, searching for the Messiah. They asked Herod, who was king of Judea, where they could find the newborn king of the Jews. And when they found Jesus they bowed before him and worshiped him. Herod, fearing the loss of his own kingdom, sent soldiers to the surrounding area and killed every little boy he could find—trying to kill Jesus.

A more vivid contrast between the kings of the world and the king of kings cannot be found in Holy Scripture than Jesus and Herod. Jesus was born the Prince of Peace- while the rulers of the world wield the sword. The rulers of the world are frail men like us- while Jesus is wise and just and righteous in his rule.

The deep human longing for a leader who will not fail us can only be found when Jesus Christ is our sovereign king.

His will for our lives is perfect. He knows exactly what is best for us. He guides our lives by his word. And when we submit our will to his will—and when we turn over control of our lives to his gracious rule—and when we establish him as king upon the throne of our hearts—our lives will be blessed and our yearning for a true king fulfilled.

Of course we know about ourselves that this is the very thing that we fail so often to do.

Just like Adam and Eve who chose to rule their own lives—we choose to abandon the righteous rule of our Lord and go our own way.

Just like the people of Israel who believed that their power and politics could save them, we go from election to election believing that if we can just get the right person in power all our problems will go away.

That is why it is such good news that Jesus is not only our true king but he is also our savior from all those times and ways we abandon his rule. Jeremiah wrote about him:

In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: 'The LORD is our righteousness.'

It is important to note that when Jeremiah promised that Judah would be saved and Israel would dwell securely he was referencing the very people who failed the Lord so badly.

But the Lord did not wash his hands of them—he didn’t tell them that they had failed him for the last time and there was no coming back. Instead, the very people who went their own way—who looked to almost anything other than the Lord for the solution to their problems—those sinners are the ones he would save—those sinners are the ones that he would make sure, never had anything to fear again.

The New Testament says the same thing this way: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

When Jesus was born, Matthew was commanded by the angel to name him Jesus—for he would save his people from their sins. The promise of Jeremiah that there would come a king who would also be a Savior was fulfilled in the birth of Jesus Christ.

His death on the cross is the salvation of Judah and our salvation too. His resurrection from the dead is the promise of a life with God that death cannot end for Israel and for everyone here tonight.

He accomplished our salvation by living a holy life for us—in our place—everywhere we have failed. He offered up the perfect once-for-all sacrifice of his body and blood upon the cross—one perfect holy life for a world full of sinners—the righteous for the unrighteous-- so that believing in him—his righteousness counts in God’s sight for our salvation.

That is what Jesus—our Savior and King—has done for us. But there is even more still to come. Jeremiah wrote about the hope for the future Jesus gives:

Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when they shall no longer say, 'As the LORD lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt,' but 'As the LORD lives who brought up and led the offspring of the house of Israel out of the north country and out of all the countries where he had driven them.'

Jeremiah lived his life at a particular point in salvation history. The great salvation event of the past was the deliverance of the people of Israel from terrible slavery in Egypt.

By the might of his outstretched arm, God set his people free. He protected them from death by the shed blood sacrificed for that purpose and he led them to freedom through the waters of the Red Sea where their enemies were washed away.

The Lord showed himself to be a king greater than Pharaoh and a mighty Savior of his people. But that saving event was already ancient history as Jeremiah viewed the death and destruction of his day in Israel and Judah.

Was the Lord still a mighty king and gracious Savior? He was! Not only was he the God of the past, he was the God of the future. Just as he had acted with mercy and might in the past so he would act with mercy and might in the future.

As dark as those days were that Jeremiah experienced, there was a bright future to look forward to--for God’s saving power was still in effect. He would once again deliver his people from their enemies and bring them safely to himself. That deliverance was still in the future—but it was certain and sure for the Savior King had promised it.

We too stand at a particular point in salvation history. We know what Jeremiah had to look forward to, as an accomplished fact of salvation—the Lord raised up a deliverer for his people in Cyrus who set them free from slavery in Babylon and sent the home to Judah.

But we know even more. The Lord sent another deliverer—not just for the Jews—but for the whole world in his Son Jesus Christ. His life, death, and resurrection has not only accomplished our salvation—but has given us hope for the future.

He turns our eyes from the failures of our past and points them to a new life that lies ahead for his saving work is not finished—but something for us to look forward to when he comes again in glory to create a new heaven and a new earth where will live with God forever. Jeremiah promised that: Then they shall dwell in their own land."

Not only do we long for true leaders but we long for our true home and this too is from God.

In the beginning Adam and Even lived in the Garden of Eden with God but their sin meant exile. God gave the Israelites a promised land but again their sin meant exile. The New Testament calls Christians aliens and strangers in this world—a pilgrim people on our way home. And so we are. We are passing through this earthly life to a new eternal home that Christ has prepared for us where his perfect rule no end.

Until that day we can enjoy his wise and gracious rule by yielding our will to his and letting his word—be the last words—about our lives. Amen.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Let Us Cast Off The Works Of Darkness!


Romans 13:11-14
If you attend the adult bible class you can almost count on sometime during that hour, a timeline will be drawn on the dry erase board. It reaches back to Adam and Eve and stretches forward to Christ’s second coming with the cross in the middle.

We find our own lives on that timeline somewhere between Christ’s first and second coming—each day moving us closer to his return in glory—the final moment in time.

That progression of salvation history to the second coming of Christ is what Paul is talking when he says that: The hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.

Because Jesus will once again enter directly into human history at his return in glory on the last day, we understand that his return grows ever closer with each passing day. Christ’s return is closer than it ever has been and our expectation of it ought to increase with each passing day.

But why does Paul when he says that salvation is nearer to us now than it was in the past? Aren’t we saved right now?

Yes we are! But there is still more good news to come with our Lord’s return. Right now, we have forgiveness for our sins and the strength to resist the devil and the promise that when we die our souls will go to be with the Lord. Christ’s life, death, and resurrection has reconciled us to God and we are saved through faith in him.

But we also know about ourselves that: our faith is not all that it should be—that often times we give in to the devil’s temptations and our flesh’s weaknesses—that these bodies will die. We see the evidence all around us of a world that is broken by sin. We have to walk by faith-- not by sight.

But there is a day to come when the fullness of Christ’s redeeming work will be ours. We will lay aside our sinful flesh forever. Our bodies will rise from the grave never to die again. Evil will be punished- the devil will be cast into the lake of eternal fire- and there will be a new heaven and a new earth unstained by sin, just like there was in the beginning where God and man will enjoy perfect fellowship forever.

This is Christ’s salvation that Paul is talking about that is getting closer and closer and we need to be ready and awake and prepared to meet that new, eternal day. And so Paul says: the hour has come for you to wake up from sleep.

Paul used the word “sleep” to describe spiritual complacency. We’re unaware of what’s going on around us—we’re cozy and comfortable with the way things are—we’d just as soon stay where we are right now.

The consequences of hitting the snooze alarm and going back to sleep may not be all that big a deal when it comes to our earthly responsibilities (if we are an hour late to work or if we miss our first class the world is not going to end).

But when it comes to our spiritual life and eternity: the world is going to end- and spiritual complacency is deadly- and so we need to wake up because Paul says: The night is far gone; the day is at hand.

For all who have come to faith in Jesus Christ, the dark night of sin and unbelief has come to an end--and so it is time for us to wake up, get out of our comfort zone, and get to work preparing to meet the Lord when he comes again.

The rest of this lesson from the Bible deals with that very thing—what the “work-day” of the Christian looks like as we prepare to meet the Lord. Paul says: Let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.

Paul’s message is exactly the same as that of John the Baptist and of Jesus and the other apostles and the whole Christian church down to this day and this pastor: to prepare for the day of the Lord we need to repent of our sins and be renewed in our faith in Jesus—casting off the works of darkness and putting on the armor of light.

We are going to look at some of those works of darkness that we are to cast off in more detail in just a few moments-- but suffice to say, works of darkness include everything that flows from our sinful nature as it is tempted by the world and the devil.

These works are not “freedom”—they are not legitimate lifestyle choices—they are not things about which Christians may agree to disagree. They are darkness—that is, they flow from spiritual darkness and need to be confessed as such and repented of.

This casting off the works of darkness is not a one time thing—but it must be done again and again by the child of God who desires to walk in the light of Christ and stand ready to meet him when he comes again.

As we cast off the works of darkness we are to put on the armor of light. Throughout his letters Paul uses the image of armor so that his readers could visualize the spiritual equipping the Holy Spirit does for those who are Jesus’ disciples.

There is the belt of truth and the breastplate of righteousness and the shield of faith and the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God.

Just as the works of darkness much be cast off again and again, so the spiritual armor of light must be put on again and again as we hear God’s Word and are absolved of our sins and receive Christ’s Body and Blood in Holy Communion and are renewed in our faith by the power of the Spirit.

It is simply an impossibility that we would be able to be ready to meet the Lord when he comes if the Holy Spirit did not equip us for the spiritual battles we face as we wait for that day. We are fighting against spiritual forces of darkness and evil in which we are to have no part. Paul says:

Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy.

Each of the sins mentioned by Paul—which are representative rather than exhaustive of spiritual darkness—were prevalent in his day—they were part of the culture and Christians were forbidden from taking part in them. They are still part of the world in our day and Christians are still forbidden from taking part in sin.

Paul puts orgies and drunkenness together because both are representative of sinful excess and extravagance. It is not so much the sexual element of an ancient orgy that Paul is thinking about (which was certainly there and will be examined in more detail later) but about the excessive eating and drinking and carousing that went on—all of it offered up as worship to some pagan god.

Now this may seem far removed from our place and time—but is it? When people are mauled by an crazed mob of shoppers trying to get some bargain—when holy days like Easter and Christmas and Thanksgiving can only be celebrated by many of our fellow citizens with shopping baskets filled with cases of beer—when we entertain ourselves with the exploits of the Kardashians and the house wives of Beverly Hills—we should have no doubt that there is a god who is being worshiped with this sinful excess and extravagance-- and it is not the true God.

The same is true when it comes to the sexual morals of our nation and its citizens. Divorce, children born out of wedlock, couples living together, and pornography have risen dramatically over the last several decades. The culture around us is saturated by sexual images produced to sell some product. And modesty and simple decency have gone out the window so that now even on Sunday morning people dare to dress like they were going to a club instead of entering into the presence of the living God.

And it’s not only the actions of so many in our nation that have become corrupt—it’s their attitudes—hearts filled with quarreling and jealousy. Politicians try to gain the upper hand over their opponent by stirring up class warfare, pitting the have’s against the have not’s. Marketers make it their goal to instill in us envy for that which is new and improved. And our common life is marked more and more by rudeness and hatefulness and coarseness.

The words that Paul writes to us are not ancient history—they perfectly describe our culture and in contrast to the prevailing custom—Paul says that we are to walk properly as in daytime.

The word that is translated as “properly” means dignified and decorous. In other words, just because we live in a culture that is filled with moral filth does not mean that we have to wallow around in it. We are to have nothing to do with the spiritual darkness of the world around us but we are to live our lives in the light of Jesus Christ.

It doesn’t mean that the Christian has to be stiff or uptight or a prude—but it does mean that our lives as Christians are to be demonstrably different than the unbelieving world around us. The way we think about material things and sexuality and interpersonal relations is to be shaped by the words of the Holy Spirit—rather than shaped by unbelievers in the world around us.

Paul says that we are to: Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. When we were baptized, we were clothed in the righteousness of Christ—his death became our own and we were raised in the power of his resurrection so that we could walk in newness of life.

We are baptized just once—but the power of God’s promise made to us in baptism goes on and on throughout our lives so that we can put Christ on again and again, laying hold of his righteousness by faith and turning away from sin and praying for the help of the Holy Spirit so that not only do we not walk according to the flesh but we make no provision or place for sin in our lives whatsoever.

This may mean that we have to abstain from alcohol—it may mean that we have to avoid some TV or movie that would incite lust—it may mean that we have to get a new set of friends who will encourage us to live as Christians—it may mean that we have to cut up the credit cards so that we are not constantly overspending—but whatever the sacrifice—what is it, compared to being prepared and ready to meet the Lord when he comes again?

Salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of life. Amen.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Steadfast Love of the Lord Never Ceases


Lamentation 3:22-25
The book of Lamentations was inspired by the Holy Spirit and written by the prophet Jeremiah who was called by God to prophecy the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. He lived to see his prophecy come to pass and was an eyewitness to the judgment God promised.

Lamentations begins with Jeremiah’s view of the utter destruction and ruin that befell Jerusalem and the temple.

Most of the people have been carried off into slavery—those who remained starved to death. The city and the temple were destroyed. The false prophets and unfaithful priests who cried out “peace, peace” were utterly mistaken and were slain in the temple that they never thought would fall. The soldiers who defended Jerusalem lay dead in the streets.

Jeremiah saw all of it—he was an eyewitness to the destruction and death he prophesied—and he knew the reason for God’s judgment. He wrote:

Jerusalem sinned grievously; therefore she became filthy…her transgressions were bound into a yoke and laid upon her neck…and the Lord gave her into the hands of those she could not withstand… for she rebelled against the Lord’s word.

The words of Jeremiah found in Lamentations are read in the Jewish liturgy when they commemorate the destruction of the temples and they are read in the Christian calendar on Good Friday in the service of darkness that commemorates our Lord’s death on the cross. They are the Old Testament lesson at our funerals.

The words of Lamentations give voice to the profound sorrow of the human heart when we see the destruction and judgment that our sins deserve and bring.

But it is right in the midst of these words of sorrow and suffering that the prophet Jeremiah is renewed in hope. He says: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases.

The love of the people for the Lord had failed. Time after time, in countless ways, they had shown that they had divided hearts—that they were guilty of spiritual adultery. So it is for us too—and with the same result.

While it is not utter destruction that we look upon in our country on this day of national thanksgiving—it is indeed spiritual darkness.

Our political leaders are paralyzed and poll after poll shows that our fellow citizens hold them in contempt. Our economic life is stagnant. What passes for entertainment has become cruder and coarser. Pornography is everywhere. Babies are murdered because they are inconvenient. And people we ought to be able to look up to—people who ought to be leaders—commit the most despicable crimes.

Can anyone doubt that the stained, torn fabric of our common life together is unrelated to the declining commitment to the Lord in our nation?

Can anyone doubt that the pilgrims who came to this country and our Lutheran forebears would be astounded and appalled to see that the Ten Commandments and public prayer and the emblems of Christianity are forbidden in more and more places in our nation?

Can anyone doubt that rapidly declining church attendance is unrelated to the declining moral fiber of our people?

In our nation, love for the LORD has grown cold and hearts are divided in their loyalties and all we can confess is that we justly the Lord’s temporal and eternal punishment.

But we too- along with Jeremiah- are renewed in hope—even in dark days—because the steadfast love of the LORD never ceases. The love that God has for us is not like ours for him. It never ebbs and flows. It never changes. It is never divided. It does not depend upon anything within us at all --but is reflective of who God is in his very being.

Even in the midst of the destruction that God had allowed to chastise his people, Jeremiah was certain of one thing: that the love that God had for his people was still in effect and he would mercifully come to their aid. He wrote that:
The LORD’s mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

Mercy is the attitude and aid given to one who is weak by one who is powerful—it’s what unceasing love looks like in action towards those in need.

It was there between God and his people from the very beginning. God could have destroyed Adam and Eve after their sin—but he didn’t—he did what only he could do and forgave them and restored them to their original purpose as the mother and father of all the living.

God came to the aid of his enslaved people in Egypt when they had fallen so far as to have forgotten his name. He brought his people back from exile in Babylon. And he sent his own Son into the world to save those who could not save themselves.
God’s love is shown again and again in his mercy. The One who is mighty and powerful and strong to save—reaches out in love to help those who stand in need of his mercy and aid.

That is the certain promise that is made to us tonight in God’s Word: The Lord’s mercies never end. His willingness and power to aid his people is always present and can be counted on no matter how dark the day.

When a nation is on the wrong track—when we are afflicted with a terrible illness—when we are faced with economic ruin—when our own personal failures stand before our eyes—God’s mercies are new every morning.

Each morning when we open our eyes to begin a new day we can count on the Lord’s mercy, strength, and provision being sufficient for the day. That is why we don’t ever have to worry about what the future holds and indeed, are commanded not to worry—for the Lord has promised to use his might and power to come to our aid.

This last year has been a testimony to that promise for those assembled here. We sit here tonight fed and clothed and sheltered—our needs met—because the Lord has daily renewed his loving mercy towards us over this last year.

He has done this despite the fact that we have not served him as he deserves—that we have not loved him as he loves us—that we have not remembered to thank him for his provision. He has done this despite our faithlessness. It is this very thing that leads the prophet Jeremiah to say of the LORD: Great is your faithfulness!

We find the same sentiment in our catechism when we are asked: what it is that moves God to preserve, provide, and protect us. And Luther answers: God does all this purely out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. But then Luther goes on to ask us, what then do we owe our Father in heaven for all this? And the answer: It is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey him.

That is why we are here tonight—to thank and praise God for his faithfulness—that he has provided for us and protected us over this last year and promises to do the same in the year to come.

But what about those times like Jeremiah was going through—times when it seems like every good thing has been ripped away? Still we can give God thanks for: "The LORD is my portion," says my soul, "therefore I will hope in him."

Can you imagine wandering the streets of Kingsville, seeing everything that is familiar and loved brought to ruin? Of coming here to Tenth and Doddridge and seeing our beloved sanctuary destroyed and defiled? Of coming across your friends and loved ones lying in the street, dead and dying?

That was the scene that greeted Jeremiah as he wandered the streets of Jerusalem and yet he knew that the one thing needful had not been stripped away from him and indeed could not be lost: that the LORD was his portion. His life with God could not be harmed by terrible things that happened to him in this life-- and so it is for us.

God grant that we never go through what Jeremiah went through or see what he saw—but we should also never forget that there is coming a day when every earthly thing will be stripped away: our health will fail, loved ones will die, and we will return to the dust of the earth.

It may happen slowly over many decades or it may happen in a moment-- but we too will know what it means to lose everything that our eyes have seen and our hands have touched.

That is why it is such good news that we cannot lose the one thing needful—the one thing that really, eternally matters: and that is our life with God. The LORD himself is our portion because Jesus Christ has taken away our sins and restored our relationship with God. And because the LORD is our portion, no matter how dark the days—there is hope for the future.

Hope looks forward to the future with the confidence of faith. And that is possible—even when death comes—because there is a future for us that death will not end. Jesus’ resurrection IS our hope. He is the promise that even death need not cast a dark cloud over our lives.

And so we too look forward to the future expecting good from the Lord. Jeremiah writes: The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.

We don’t know what the new year will hold for us and for our nation. But we do know that the One who is the Author of history—the One who wisely guides our lives—the One who has brought us to this time and place safely—will continue to be the same kind of merciful, wise, good God that we have known in this last year. The Bible promises us that ALL things work for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose.

This promise of goodness from the Lord (a promise that he has never failed to keep) is the encouragement we need to trust him in those times when he seems slow to act—to trust him in those times when we would chosen differently for ourselves-- and know that God is patiently working for our good in the midst of it.

The Lord’s goodness, mercy, and love give us the confidence we need to put him first in our lives. We don’t have to worry that we will somehow miss out on some good things when we serve and obey him because we can trust his steadfast love to graciously give us all that we need for body and soul—just as he always has. Amen.