Monday, May 30, 2011
The Seventh Sunday of Easter, Series A June 5, 2011
Lessons for The Seventh Sunday of Easter
Acts 1:12–26 ~ The Holy Spirit provided Matthias to take the place of Judas.
Psalm 68:1–10 (ant. v. 32)
1 Peter 4:12–19; 5:6–11 ~ We glorify Christ by suffering patiently for His name.
John 17:1–11 ~ Jesus prayed that His followers would continue to bring glory to the Father.
GATHERING THE TEXTS: God Strengthens Community in Suffering.
"Misery loves company," is a negative way of expressing the theme of today's lessons. A positive way might be, "Suffering needs company." Jesus promised to provide the company of his Spirit for the community of believers as they faced the difficulties of witnessing to him throughout the world. St. Peter pointed out that suffering patiently for Christ's name can be a good way to witness to his love. Jesus, in fact, prayed that his obedience in suffering would not only win salvation for the world but give glory to God and attest to his oneness with the Father.
PRAYER BEFORE THE SERVICE: Lord God, you have brought me into this family of faith. Through my sisters and brothers in Christ you give me courage and strength to face the troubles of each day. Help me grow in trials so that I may know the grace of Christ more fully and share his love more freely. Amen.
STEWARDSHIP THOUGHT: We often use material and life blessings to bring honor to ourselves. Blessings as well as suffering gives us opportunities to bring honor to God by the way we use them and handle ourselves.
OFFERING PRAYER: O Lord, You give us many gifts today
Of body and of soul.
In what we do and how we use them may
Your glory be our goal. Amen.
CONVICTION AND COMFORT: Jesus was a glory seeker: He prayed, “Father, glorify me so that I may glorify you.” Our prayer is usually just the opposite: “Father, glorify me, since I have given You a little glory.” The way we handle life either gives glory to God or detracts from His glory. This is especially true in how we respond to unjust suffering. And surely when we suffer unjustly we are sorely tempted to rail at God, which takes away from His glory. Jesus magnified the Father’s glory by suffering unjustly for our sin. When we handle temptation and suffering well, people see God’s glory through us.
Ascension June 2, 2011
Lessons for Ascension
Acts 1:1–11 ~ When Jesus was taken into heaven, angels explained that He would return in the same way.
Psalm 47 (Antiphon: Psalm 47:5)
Ephesians 1:15–23 ~ Through the lordship of Jesus, God gives us His Spirit to enlighten us with His hope.
Luke 24:44–53 ~ Jesus explained the Scriptures to the disciples, blessed them, and was taken up into heaven.
GATHERING THE TEXTS: Power From on High
Christ’s ascension is all about power – God’s power! As Jesus prepared to leave His followers, He told them to wait in Jerusalem for the power of the Holy Spirit to make them effective witnesses. This is the same power of God that raised Jesus from the dead. It would embolden the disciples to tell the message of God’s redeeming action in Jesus all the way from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth. That same power is present with all believers today as we carry the message of repentance and forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ name to all nations.
PRAYER BEFORE THE SERVICE: Lord Jesus, as You rule now in the courts of heaven, so rule also in my heart, that I may always trust You to lead me in the right paths, pray for me in trouble, and protect me in danger. Amen.
STEWARDSHIP THOUGHT: By His ascension, Jesus has become head over all things. He has blessed us with the riches of a glorious inheritance with Him in heaven, and has brought even the material goods in our lives under His authority to be used to spread the good news of His redeeming work to all people.
OFFERING PRAYER: Lord, we bring our gifts to You this day;
Pray send them winging on their way
To witness to Your saving Word
To us and those who have not heard.
CONVICTION AND COMFORT: When we think the spread of God’s Kingdom depends on our power and authority, we either despair, for the task overwhelms us, or we oppress other believers as we build our own kingdoms. Jesus’ ascension means that we can trust the Holy Spirit to lead and empower the church. Just as we rejoice in the forgiveness for our sin of failure to depend on Christ our Lord in the mission of the Gospel, so we celebrate the power of God and wisdom of God to strengthen and lead us until our Lord return
Sunday, May 29, 2011
As I mentioned when I began these sermons on 1 Peter, the situation for the early Christians that Peter was writing to was difficult to say the least.
Nero was persecuting Christians to divert blame from himself for causing the fire that destroyed Rome. Many of these early believers were slaves who faced incredibly difficult choices in carrying out their duties for pagan masters. A number of them had converted to Christianity while their spouses remained pagans.
From the government to their workplaces-- and even in their homes—early Christians faced hardships and difficulties and outright persecution.
While the difficulties we face as Christians here in the United States are different than those of the early Christians, the differences are really a matter of degree--not kind.
More and more the culture we live in is pointedly antagonistic to Christianity and our own government seems to be going out of its way to interfere with the free expression of the Christian faith in the public square. We work in places and attend schools with those who do not share our Christian faith and seem intent on making sure we adopt their godless values. And even in our homes there is tension between those who are truly committed to Jesus Christ and those who are not.
And so the Words that the Holy Spirit inspired Peter to write to the early Christians also apply to your life 2000 years later. The Bible says:
Who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy,
The sense of these words is that, all things being equal, who is going to trouble us for striving to do good? If we Christians are good citizens and hardworking employees and loving family members--how can anyone be opposed to that? And in fact, that is the counsel that God gives again and again in this letter. Honor those who govern! Be honest and hardworking! Love your family! And all things being equal, not only will you not suffer hardship—but your life will be a blessing to others.
But of course, all things are rarely equal. That’s the sense of Peter’s words—“but even if you should suffer”. The grammatical construction is one of hopefulness about the future—“hopefully you won’t have to suffer—but then again you might”. And if you do have to suffer hardship and persecution—don’t be afraid or troubled about it—but set apart Christ the Lord as holy.
That little verse really is the heart of this whole passage—it is “what” we are to do in the midst of the difficulties of the Christian life-- and it is the “why”.
When you are facing troubles on every side—when it seems like the whole world is allied against you (from the great powers of the world to those you live with in marriage and family) you don’t have to be afraid or troubled because Jesus is Lord.
In other words, Jesus is in charge and there is no power or authority in heaven or on the earth or even the powers of hell under the earth-- that are greater than his rule.
So great is his power and authority that even the worst kind of difficulty you face is shaped by him into a blessing for you and an opportunity to bear witness to others. The Bible says that you are to:
Always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil.
When Christians refuse to adopt the values of the world and instead live by kingdom values—when you send material aid to those who hate and despise you—when you turn the other cheek and forgive those who misuse you—when a Christian spouse and parent is kind and loving to family members who are not believers—when you face hardships and difficulties with peace and confidence—you can well imagine the questions that unbelievers might have about that kind of behavior because it is so different from everything they know.
These are your opportunities for witness—to explain why your life and your attitudes and your values as Christians are so different than the rest of the world.
Of course, the assumption is that they will be different. That’s what the Bible means when it says that you are to “have a good conscience”. In other words, you need to make sure that your actions and attitudes really are Christian—to ask yourself: am I acting in accord with God’s Word—do I look and sound like Jesus in this difficult situation. If not, then you are simply receiving what your sins deserve.
But if you are acting in a Christ-like manner—if you are guided by God’s revealed will in his Word—you can be confident that it is those who oppress and persecute you who will be put to shame—not you—and not your faith in Christ.
So far we have heard that we are to be zealous to do good to others and that hopefully, living these kinds of good and decent and hardworking lives, we can avoid much of the travails that come with living counter to God’s Word.
But if and when you are called upon the endure hardships—remember that Jesus is your Lord and the ruler of the universe—that these difficult times are opportunities to bear witness to him—and that you can be confident that there is blessing for you and ultimately shame for those who persecute you.
But why is this so? Why can you be so hopeful and confident in the midst of hard time? Why is it better to have Christ as Lord than submit to the will of the world—even when there is a cost? Why can you be certain that there will be a final reckoning when hardship and persecution will be revealed to have been a blessing for the Christian --and the evidence for the eternal punishment in hell of those opposed to Christ?
The answer to those questions is what we are going to hear about in the rest of the sermon: that the Lordship of Jesus Christ encompasses the whole world—from the highest heavens to the deepest parts of hell to every person, place, and thing on earth. The Bible says that:
Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit,
The central person and event of all human history is Jesus Christ and his saving work. His death on the cross has atoned for the sins of the whole world—the sinless Savior for every sinner and every sin. He did this to bring you back to your heavenly Father whose creation you are. The sense of the word that Peter uses there is not merely bring you back—like a child brought to their father kicking and screaming—but to usher you into the presence of God’s greatness—assured of his gracious approval when you get there.
That is what Jesus did on the cross. Jesus died a real, human in the place of every person—his spirit yielded into his Father’s hands and his lifeless body laid in a grave. But God raised him from the dead and reunited his spirit with his body and in so doing made a promise: that so he would do the same for you—receiving your soul when you die and raising up your resurrected bodies on the Last Day—body and soul, perfectly united, unbroken by sin, never to die again—just like Jesus.
No matter the accusations of your heart—no matter the accusations of the devil—Jesus Christ has won forgiveness and life for you. Let the world say what they will about you—let them slander you and lie about the church—let them persecute you and put us to death—it does not matter-- because God has declared you right in his sight through faith in Jesus and promised you that death is not the end of you.
But God has done even more for you—the risen, victorious Christ descended to the deepest, darkest parts of hell and proclaimed his victory there in such a powerful way that not even in hell can the devil proclaim himself the master. The Bible says:
Jesus was put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God's patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water.
Jesus did not descend into hell to suffer. He suffered hell on the cross as he was forsaken by his heavenly Father so that you would never have to experience that forsakenness. When he cried out: it is finished—it was. Everything that needed to be accomplished for your salvation was finished on the cross as Jesus drank the full cup of God’s wrath over your sins.
And so when his heavenly Father re-united his Son’s body and soul—before his first resurrection appearance to mankind—there was a promise from God--made in the very beginning and fulfilled on the cross--that had to be proclaimed to the evil one who had caused it all.
That is what Jesus did—he descended into hell and proclaimed his victory over Satan. Just as promised to Adam and Eve, the Seed of a Woman, Jesus Christ, crushed the plans and purposes of Satan by dying on the cross and rising again. Jesus’ victory was proclaimed to the captives in hell--every evil spirit and every sinful, human soul who had every opposed him or his people knew that evil was defeated by Jesus.
Peter especially mentions that those who opposed the saving work of God during the days of Noah heard of Jesus’ victory—not necessarily because they were worse than others—but because the flood was a type of the final judgment and the evil people of Noah’s day were representative of the evil ones in every place and time who work against the saving purposes of God and reject his salvation for themselves.
For 120 years Noah preached the judgment of God against sin and proclaimed the opportunity to repent and believe in God and take one’s place in the salvation he offered in the ark. But his message was almost universally rejected—only his family came aboard the ark of God’s salvation and was saved.
The point for us is this: no matter how bad you think things are---no matter how desperate the situation—no matter how complete the rejection of God and the persecution of his people—even as desperate as it was in Peter’s day—Jesus is in control and he will judge and unbelieving world and he will save his people.
And just as it was in the days of Noah when water was used the vehicle of both God’s judgment and salvation---so it is today in the church today through the waters of Holy Baptism that your enemies are drowned and you are made a part of the true ark of salvation which is Jesus Christ. The Bible says that:
Baptism, which corresponds to this (that is the waters of the flood), now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ…
When the devil accuses you---when the world persecutes you—when your frail human flesh fails you—there is one comfort that avails in all of it—one comfort that lifts you up again and again and empowers your witness to God’s goodness and it is this: Christ died for you. Christ was raised for you.
That promise was made to you in Holy Baptism where the Bible says that you died with Christ and you were raised with Christ and you began to live as Christians. Your baptism is God’s promise that you are his child no matter what befalls you—that your sins are forgiven-- and that you will certainly be raised in a resurrection like Christ’s because he rules heaven and earth for this very purpose: to bring you to himself and cause all things to work for your eternal good. The Bible says that your crucified and resurrected victorious King Jesus:
has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.
The child of God who sets apart Christ as Lord is able to endure hard times and give bold witness in the midst of it because the reign of Christ extends to all places and circumstances.
The depths of hell have no claim upon you because the Good News of Jesus’ victory over Satan echoed even into its darkest depths. The breadth of the earth and its people and institutions and events must ultimately serve your good because they are ruled by your King. And the heights of heaven are reserved as your dwelling place because Jesus has gone there to prepare a place for you.
The height and depth and breadth of Christ’s rule is complete and full and final and his ascension to the Father’s right hand—a position of ultimate authority and power and might—is your assurance that no matter what hardships and difficulties and persecutions you face in this life will ultimately work to your eternal good and that on the Last Day your bodies will rise from the graves and be raised to heaven just as your King has been. Amen.
Monday, May 23, 2011
The Sixth Sunday of Easter, Series A May 29, 2011
Lessons for the Sixth Sunday of Easter
Acts 17:16-31 ~ Paul proclaimed the good news of Christ in the Areopagus of Athens.
Psalm 66:8-20 ~ Praise our God! let the sound of His praise be heard.
1 Peter 3:13-22 ~ It is better to suffer for doing right, as Jesus did, than for doing evil.
John 14:15-21 ~ If we love Jesus, we will obey His commands.
GATHERING THE TEXTS: Let Me Tell You What God Has Done.
We are usually eager to relate the exciting things that are going on in our lives. It should be no different with the things God is doing and has done for us. St. Paul was not intimidated by the philosophers of Athens, but eagerly explained “the unknown” God's role in creation and redemption. Just as Noah built an ark to rescue the faithful people of God from the flood waters, we can bring people to the saving waters of Baptism by our witness. Jesus said that when we keep his commandments, the love that God has placed in our hearts comes shining through.
PRAYER BEFORE THE SERVICE: O Spirit of the living God, give me the right words when people ask about Your love they see in my life. Help me tell anyone who asks, about Your gift of love in Christ and Your promise of life in heaven. Amen.
STEWARDSHIP THOUGHT - Stewardship is our act of freedom and generosity through which God works to touch with His love those suffering under the burden of sin and injustice. It is our joyful response to God’s grace, not an act of obligation, duty, or social expectation.
OFFERING PRAYER: Dear Father, by our generous gifts and sincere care,
May Your love in Jesus be the message we share,
Until all the world’s people, both far and near
Experience Your love to banish their fear.
CONVICTION AND COMFORT: Jesus’ words are hard to hear because we profess to love Him, yet find it so hard to keep His commandments. It is precisely when we are slandered and mistreated unjustly that we think we have a right to revile and strike out in anger. We fall under the same judgment as our accusers. Jesus is the one appointed, who by His death and rising again, is proven to be also the one who rescues us through the waters of Baptism. He lives in us to help us make a good confession of the hope that we have through Him.
Sunday, May 22, 2011
Good afternoon, fellow redeemed!
The road to Pasco - the road of suffering. Jesus told His disciples they knew the way to where He was going. Thomas said he didn't understand. Soon enough, all of them would understand. The road to glory went through the cross. Jesus blazed the path to Pasco.
Every one of the disciples who heard Jesus that night learned the road to Pasco well. Only John would escape a violent death, and the attempts to silence him through violence and exile were numerous. Stephen, whose name was prominent in the first reading from Acts 6 and 7, took the trip to Pasco. Even Peter, the apostolic author of today's Epistle, would travel the road to Pasco numerous times.
The road to Pasco is suffering. It's not just suffering, but suffering for the sake of Christ. It's suffering for THE faith. "To this you were called," Peter wrote. We are called to suffering - to suffer with others. How might we travel the road to Pasco, the road of suffering with others?
This morning I told of the collections received for those who are suffering in other parts of the world. That's a step. Sometimes we fix meals, sometimes we simply listen. We do it because it needs to be done, this caring for those who suffer. That's what ministry - the Latin word for service - is all about. The call of our Lord isn't optional. How might we travel the road to Pasco? This isn't the time to become the suffering police and see what other people are doing. It's a time to examine our own walk with our Lord. It's time to take a turn on the road to Pasco.
By the way, the story I told of Laura this morning was true. Laura has since been received into the Church Triumphant, yet her deeds on the road to Pasco testify to the Lord in whom she believed. May the same be said of us.
Today is also Armed Forces Sunday. In late service, the active duty servicemen and women stood to be recognized. We talk about veterans a lot, and that's a good thing. I think it's just as much a good thing to have these men and women who are currently serving, and their families, are remembered in prayer for their service in these trying times.
This week at Mt. Olive, preparations are being made for the end of the school year. The Cub Scout pack has had it's last meeting until the fall. Many of our young people are making plans for their summer break. College students are beginning to return, even if just for a bit.
There will be no guitar practice this week as at least three of us will be making preparations for other things.
Please remember in prayer:
Those who serve in our armed forces and their families, including: Rob Vadney (Ft. Cambell, KY); Richard Rhode (North Carolina); John Sorensen, Dru Blanc, Dru Blanc (Corpus Christi)
Pastor Mark and Isabella Seaman at the birth of daughter #2, Anna Lucia
Alejandra Diaz, wife of Pastor John Diaz (George West), who is hospitalized
Emmet and Emma Wright, Ann Cleveland, Ruby Rieder, Walter and Pearly Theiss (Houston), Norene Estes (Oklahoma)
Students who are taking finals, returning home, and making plans for the summer
Teachers and instructors who are getting ready for sessions during the summer
Our state legistors who are completing their regular session next Monday
This Week at Mt. Olive:
Monday, May 23
Zumba Aerobics, 6:30 p.m.
Tuesday, May 24
Bokenkamp Advisory Board, 11 a.m. (Pastor out of the office)
Newsletter Articles are due
Wednesday, May 25
School Chapel, 8:30 a.m.
Bible Study, 9:30 a.m.
Zumba Aerobics, 6:30 p.m.
First time parents can read all the books—they can take all the classes—they can assure themselves they are prepared for whatever comes--but until they bring their baby home they really don’t understand that their newborn has a single-minded desire to be fed and nourished- that immediately becomes the top priority in their home that everything else revolves around.
That’s the picture that God uses to tell us how it ought to be for us when it comes to having our spiritual needs met and our souls fed by his Word. The Bible says:
Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.
Like a baby with its single-minded desire to be fed, it ought to be our highest priority to have our life of faith nourished. We ought to have a spiritual hunger. And just as there is one perfect food for newborns (its mother’s milk) --so there is one perfect food for the child of God who desires to grow in their faith—and that is the Word of God—as it is read in the Bible and listened to in sermons and studied in Sunday School and received in the sacraments.
God has caused us to be born again through his living Word and that same Word is the means through which the Holy Spirit works in our life to help us to grow into that new life of faith that God has already provided.
Babies yearn to be close to their mothers and have their tummies full—and so we Christians yearn to have our souls filled with the food God provides and be close to him as we hear his voice and receive the real presence of our Savior in Holy Communion.
It goes without saying that new parents are concerned that their baby receives the very best nourishment they can give. In the same way, we are to make sure that the spiritual food we feed our souls with-- is the very best—that it is pure spiritual milk.
It never ceases to “amaze and sadden” me that people can be fanatically concerned about the food they and their children eat--but then fill their souls with the spiritual junk food they hear from TV preachers and read from the shelves of Christian bookstores. False doctrine is just as dangerous to our souls as spoiled food is to our bodies-- and we ought to avoid it for ourselves and for our children.
GOD wants to feed us with the pure spiritual milk of his Word that we need to grow up in our salvation-- because God’s plan for our lives extends far beyond just saving us—but he nourishes us spiritually so that we can serve him and others as his priests. The Bible says that:
As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
When the faithful women went to Jesus’ tomb on the first day of the week, their concern was how they would roll away the massive gravestone across the entrance. But that cold, impenetrable sign of death could not contain the living stone inside!
God raised Jesus from the dead and rolled away the stone so that all could see that death was no longer the last word about mankind—but that God had chosen Jesus, a living stone, to be the foundation of a living temple where he would be praised and served by his living people.
As baptized, believing Christians we have a share in Christ’s resurrection-- and like the living stone Jesus Christ (the foundation upon which the church is built)-- we too are living stones that God is constructing into a spiritual house where his people are fed-- and from which--his saving name is proclaimed for the salvation of others.
You will note that the Bible says that we are stones—not bricks. Christians are not all the same—we have different qualities and characteristics—we don’t all look the same--but we all fit together—each of us has a particular, unique, important spot in the church that only we can fill—a place where only we fit.
And not only are we a part of the spiritual house that God is building—but we are the priests in that temple--servants of God who can come into his presence by faith in Jesus --and serve him in this world in the power of the Holy Spirit by offering up spiritual sacrifices that serve God and our neighbor.
And so what are these spiritual sacrifices that we offer up to God as his priests? The Bible speaks of a number of them.
There is the sacrifice of a broken and contrite spirit that recognizes our sinfulness and unworthiness and offers it up to God for healing. There is the sacrifice of praise that acknowledges and stands in awe of what God has done for us in Christ. There is the sacrifice of thanksgiving that responds with gratitude for God’s good gifts. There is the sacrifice of good works and tithes and offerings that helps others. And finally there is the sacrifice that encompasses all of them—the sacrifice of our lives.
The bible tells us in we are to offer up our bodies as living sacrifices—that this sacrifice of our whole being is our true, spiritual worship.
Every child of God who has been given spiritual birth through faith in Christ-- and fed spiritually through the Word --and made a part of the church and a priest within it--is called by God to offer up these spiritual sacrifices in their daily life.
All of the confusion and conflict that afflicts the church at times over the role of the laity and clergy falls away when we understand that being a priest before God is the highest status and greatest honor in the church and...
The Bible promises us that when we live our lives as God’s priest, we will never be disappointed here on earth-- or thereafter in eternity! The Bible says:
For it stands in Scripture: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame. So the honor is for you who believe,”
To fully understand the picture that Peter is using we need to recognize that in the ancient world, a cornerstone was not just a foundation stone upon which the building rested but the stone that set the direction for every other stone that followed. If the lines of the building was to be true—it had to follow the line of the cornerstone.
So it is with the cornerstone that God has chosen to build his church upon—his Son Jesus Christ. Jesus’ life and example and words set the direction for our lives.
Jesus’ words of Law remove all rationalizations and excuses and moral compromises from our lives. We know exactly what God’s expectations are for us—how he would have us live—the things we ought to value—and the truth about our great need for his salvation.
Jesus’ words of Gospel assure us that his forgiveness earned at the cross is our salvation-that he is the way and the truth and the life—that because he lives we also will live—that the devil’s accusations against us will not stand in God’s sight.
Our Christian lives—built upon the foundation of Jesus Christ—directed by his words—lived after his example—WILL stand the test of time and eternity—will NEVER disappoint us as we are about the work of being priests in this world—and we will NOT put us to shame when Christ comes again. But for those that do not believe, the Bible says:
“The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.
The Living Stone that is the cornerstone of our lives and the foundation of the Church—the living stone that was rejected by so many of his own people and is still rejected by much of the world today—will be the destruction of those who do not render to him the obedience of faith and life.
The Bible says that Jesus will be for them a “rock of offense” and the word that is used there—skandalon—refers to a deadfall trap—a rock placed upon a trigger with bait—that when tripped, falls upon the prey—killing it.
The biblical picture is this: the same stone that we build our lives upon—the same stone that is the direction for our lives—will serve as the judgment for those whose lives are NOT built upon him and NOT guided by him.
So it has been ordained from the beginning. God has prepared for mankind “one and only one” way of salvation—and that is his Son Jesus Christ who is the way and the truth and the life—apart from whom no one will come to the Father.
That’s what the Bible is talking about when it says that those who disobey the Word are destined to stumble and fall under God’s judgment. God is not saying that he has destined certain individuals to fall under his judgment-- but that all who turn their backs on his salvation are destined for judgment and eternal punishment in hell.
Until that day, there is a day of grace—a God-given opportunity for everyone to come to faith and build their lives on the living stone and find guidance in his Word.
As God’s priests, we have a part to play in helping others come to that place. The Bible says that we are:
… a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
The message that goes out from the people of the church to the people of the world is this: at one time we were just like you – we too were lost in the darkness of unbelief—we too were under the wrath of God on account of sins—we too were alienated from our heavenly Father and orphans in this world.
But God bestowed his mercy upon us in Christ- and shone the light of his Spirit into our hearts- and made us a part of his people--and he wants to do the same for every one in the world.
This is the saving mission of God—to incorporate people from every tribe and language into a chosen race—to take those who serve false gods and make them his priests—to rescue those that are caught up in the godless culture of our day and make them citizens of a holy nation—and to take those who are alienated from him and adopt them into his family. That is the saving mission of God.
And we Christians - who he feeds with his word- and builds into his church- and calls to be his priests- are a vital part of that saving mission—each of us offering up spiritual sacrifices that bear witness to him in our daily lives-- and proclaiming the wonders and goodness and mercy of the God who has saved us and made us his own-- so that others might hear and believe.
To this end may God grant us his grace and help to live as his priests for the sake of his saving mission! Amen.
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
The Fifth Sunday of Easter, Series A May 22, 2011
Lessons for the Fifth Sunday of Easter
Acts 6:1-9; 7:2a, 51-60 ~ Stephen gave his faithful witness and his life for the name of Jesus.
Psalm 146 ~ Blessed is he whose hope is in the LORD his God.
1 Peter 2:2-10 ~ In Christ we are God’s people, to declare his praises to those in darkness.
John 14:1-14 ~ Jesus is the Way to the Father; He is the Truth, and the Life.
GATHERING THE TEXTS: You Know the Way.
Thomas' problem was, simply stated: "If we don't know the destination, how can we get there?" Jesus' answer was simpler still: "Thomas, you know me; trust me! I am the only one who will get you to the Father's house where I am going." Through the witness of God’s faithful people in Holy Scripture, we also know Jesus and trust him. Our faith makes us bold, like Stephen, to give a faithful witness before those who mock Jesus’ name. Our lives are built on his fulfilment of love that has claimed us as his holy people. Those who resist his promise and will not trust his word, stumble over the Foundation Stone on which our faith is built.
PRAYER BEFORE THE SERVICE: Lord Jesus, let me be constant in trusting you and faithful in my witness to your Lordship in my life. As my life is built on the foundation of your forgiveness, do not let me be a stumbling block to anyone who needs to know you as the Way to the Father. Amen.
STEWARDSHIP THOUGHT: Rather than looking at new church members as potential donors, we should see them from the biblical understanding, as gifts from God to His church.
OFFERING PRAYER: Heavenly Father, bless our offerings mightily,
these gifts of love we bring for You.
May they show our love so faithfully
that all may know Your grace is true.
CONVICTION AND COMFORT: Even more than Thomas, we are a society of people who want to know the reasons and explanations for everything. If we cannot understand something, how can we trust the outcome? Jesus calls us to trust Him and put our lives in His hands, as Stephen did, believing and giving clear witness that Jesus held his future as securely as He did His present. When we know Jesus, we are His people, eager to declare His wonderful deeds that have called us out of our dark past and into His bright future.
Monday, May 16, 2011
Good evening, fellow redeemed!
Here's another Sunday with three great texts, ripe for proclamation! Of course, the preacher can only proclaim one. I'll treat Acts 2:42 later this week on my blog. In the mean time, consider Jesus' words from John 10:10: The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
These days, there are a few popular preachers tell us that Jesus intended by these words that people possess great earthly wealth, that our best life is now. Yet, this same Jesus was poor. He was from Nazareth, after all. In fact, all four Gospels make a big deal of Jesus' rejection, suffering and death. I'd say Jesus' concern was not a great abundance of earthly wealth. Instead, His concern was the abundant life that comes in a now and not yet life in the Kingdom of God ushered in by Jesus Himself. This life now, on this side of our own Good Friday, is abundant in God's mercy and grace shown to us in Christ as He comes to us in the Gospel, in the waters of Holy Baptism, the word of absolution, and in His holy Supper. Yet, the life in this now is not our best. We still live in this sinful flesh. We struggle temptation and we still fall. We still have to face death.
Thus, our life now is also a not yet life. On the Last Day, when our risen and ascended Lord Jesus Christ returns in glory, there is life - REAL life. When Christ returns, there is resurrection, not to die again, but to live as Jesus lives, to live as God the Father intended us to live in the beginning. There is the life of not yet - the constant yearning for the day of resurrection and restoration.
This morning's service had some of the great hymns. I really love, "I am Jesus' Little Lamb." And, what better way to begin and complete the Sacrament of the Altar than with the hymn "At the Lamb's High Feast." It's a privilege for Jonathan and me to play with such talented musicians, too.
I'm sorry to say that I won't be able to provide the response to the coming "May 21, 2011 is Judgment Day" posters, automobiles, and billboards we've all seen. We did discuss this at length this morning in Bible Class. Attached is the Bible study we used today.
The Board of Elders will meet Monday evening at 6:30 p.m.
Wednesday morning, Bible Study returns at 9:30 a.m. I think we'll be starting 1 John 2.
A couple of volunteer opportunities for two of the greatest ministries God has given us:
Summer Sunday School kicks off in June. This is a time we still teach the great Bible stories of the faith, and give our regular Sunday School teachers a break. Many of you have years of wisdom from hearing, learning, and perhaps even teaching the Bible. Currently, Kim has two volunteers; more are needed. To paraphrase Mayor Richard Dailey, sign up early and sign up often!
Vacation Bible School will be 11-15 JUL and your service is greatly needed. Keep an eye open for announcements on this important ministry.
Finally, it was good to see a number of the college age folks in church this morning. I know the finals were difficult, and I hope you enjoy at least some time off.
I will be out of the office on Tuesday.
Those who serve in our armed forces and their families: Rob Vadney (Ft. Campbell), Richard Rhode (North Carolina), John Sorensen, Ryan Radtke, Dru Blanc (Corpus Christi)
Emmet and Emma Wright, Ann Cleveland, Walter and Pearly Theiss, Norene Estes, Ruby Rieder
Julianne Stacy and her family at the death of her grandmother
Students at all levels who are barreling toward the end of the year, and some who have already reached it, that they would be diligent in their studies and safe in the travels
This Week at Mt. Olive:
Monday, May 16
Zumba Aerobics (Fellowship Hall)
Board of Elders (Pastor's Conference Room)
Tuesday, May 17
Happy Birthday, Dad!
Wednesday, May 18
Happy Anniversary, Jay and Connie!
Bible Study (1 John)
The Bible says that “Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.” The Greek word that is used there (that our English versions translate as “example”) is only used in this one place in the New Testament. The Greek word is “hupogrammon” and it has a very specific meaning.
It’s the word for a copybook that a student would follow by re-tracing, in his own hand, the letters and words he saw there so that he could learn how to write.
The Bible says that this is what Christ has done for us in his life—he has left us a “hupogrammon” that we are to copy out in our own lives. Jesus’ life is the original and each facet of his life is to be written out by us in our life in what we do, say, and think.
In our epistle lesson today, we hear of a particular characteristic of Christ’s life that God wants to make sure that we Christians are following in our own lives: and that is patient endurance in the face of unjust suffering. The Bible says that:
This is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.
The occasion of this letter was a very difficult moment in the life of the early Christians. Nero was the Roman ruler and when he burned much of Rome to the ground, he blamed it on the Christians. All over Rome Christians were being persecuted. They were being martyred in terrible ways in the Roman Coliseum for the amusement of the Roman citizens. And while life for Christian slaves in pagan households had always been difficult—their suffering in this moment was profound.
And so what was Peter’s apostolic counsel? What did the Holy Spirit inspire him to tell those who suffer unjustly? To rise up and throw off the shackles of oppression? To give back as good as they got? To seek revenge? To demand justice? No!
In the midst of unjust suffering, God wants Christians to know that we are to endure it patiently-- and not only that (as difficult as that is)--we also are to do good to others in the midst of suffering!
You will notice that God says that it is simply expected that Christians will avoid those actions that could justly earn rebuke and punishment—there is no credit for suffering when our own sins have earned it! But to endure suffering for doing good—to be patient in the midst of injustice—this, the Bible says, is a gracious thing.
Now what does God mean when he says that it is a gracious thing to endure suffering and do good in the midst of it? Well, two things.
First of all, this kind of life of patient endurance requires the grace of God. To patiently endure unjust suffering and to do good to those who mistreat us can not be done in our frail human strength.
Our flesh rebels against the very idea! We want validation that others are on our side—we want vindication that our cause is just—we want victory over those who mistreat us. But by God’s grace (that is by his help and favor) it is possible for us to follow Christ’s example and patiently endure unjust suffering.
Second of all, this is a gracious thing not only because it requires God’s grace, but it is evidence of God’s grace in our life—it is a witness and testimony that by God’s grace, Christ lives within us—his life written in our life.
Now, the Christians of the early church were no different than us in that they were burdened and weighed down by the same sinful flesh as we are. I have no doubt that, when in the midst of their suffering they received this apostolic counsel to endure suffering and do good to those who misused them, their flesh rebelled against the very idea! “Surely, if we follow this advice, the church will perish from the earth!” “We need to take matters into our own hands and rise up in rebellion!” “To endure this kind of mistreatment is suicide!”
That is why they were told to be “mindful of God”: to remember that God: 1. knows exactly what is happening to us--every hair of our head is numbered. 2. is ultimately in control of the whole situation. 3. loves us and has proven that love beyond any shadow of a doubt at the cross with the death of his own Son.
When the early Christians remembered these things—when they were mindful of God—they enjoyed God’s peace even in the midst of persecution and within a very short period of time (historically speaking) the entire Roman world was converted to faith in Christ through their witness to Jesus in how they lived.
What about us here today? It’s almost embarrassing to compare the sufferings that we are called upon to endure as modern Christians in this country-- with those of these early Christians who were martyred --and yet there are certainly times in our lives when we suffer unjustly as Christians.
Our boss takes a dislike to us because we will not cheat a customer or take shortcuts with our work and we get passed over for a promotion and pay raise. Our classmates at school single us out for ridicule because we refuse to participate in their sin. We are made to feel like second-class citizens in our own nation because we take a stand for Christian morality. There is nothing just in any of these situations.
So what are we to do as modern Christians? The same as ancient Christians: God says that we are to endure it patiently and do good to others in the midst of it.
This is no easier for us than it was for the early Christians-- but neither has God’s grace diminished over the years and what we cannot do in our own strength-- we can do by his grace. It is still true that God knows just exactly what we are going through—that he is in control of the situation and working all of it for our good—and that we are loved by him with an everlasting love in Jesus Christ whose life is to be a pattern for our own. The Bible says:
To this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.
It must have been a shocking thing for the early Christians, undergoing terrible persecution, to hear that they were supposed to patiently endure it and do good for their persecutors in the midst of it.
But then to hear that this kind of life was not to be considered an unusual situation—that it was not to be considered out of the ordinary—but that it was to this kind of life that they had been called—a life of patient endurance in suffering—to learn that this kind of crucified life is at the very heart of our calling as Christians--must have been almost beyond belief. It certainly is for us!
The false Christianity of our modern day tells us that we can have our best life now. The false prophets of the false Gospel of health and wealth tell us that if we struggle financially or if we are sick it is because we do not have enough faith. And the false church tells us that Christianity is really about us in the end and our faith in Jesus merely a tool to get what we want.
God tells us something totally different. God tells us that because Christ suffered unjustly and did not cease doing good to those who misused him even in the midst of it—we are called to exactly the same kind of life—that his life is an example that we are to follow so that our path through life carefully follows his own life, step by step--that Jesus has given us a “hupogrammon”—a pattern for how to live our own lives.
As we consider that, let me ask you a couple of questions for personal reflection. First of all, is Christ’s life the pattern for your life-- or have you chosen a pattern for your life that comes from the world?
Secondly, if we have chosen Jesus’ life as our example, can we honestly say that our lives—drawn in the pencil marks of our decisions, and words, and actions, and priorities—look like the man of the cross who patiently endured suffering—who did good to those who mistreated him—who forgave those who wounded him?
Much too often the answer is no. There are parts of our life that don’t even come close to matching up with the pattern of Christ’s life.
We want the resurrection blessings that come from a life with God-- but we don’t want the sufferings that come with taking up our cross and following Jesus. We want the word of the cross “Father, forgive them” to be spoken to us-- but we don’t want to speak them to others. We demand justice for others --but beg for mercy for ourselves. If we were to see our life drawn out on the pattern of Jesus, much of it would be outside the lines of the original.
That is why it is such good news for us today that the life of Christ is not just a example for us to follow-- but also our salvation and hope and peace. The Bible says that:
Jesus committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree
It is only in Jesus that we find someone who patiently endured suffering, doing good in the midst of it-- and the Good News for us is that God the Father counts that holy life as our righteousness. And all of the times that we have spoken ill of others—all of those times we have sought revenge—all of those times we have lashed out in anger—Christ has carried those sins to the tree of the cross where they were forgiven.
Through faith in Jesus, God the Holy Spirit gives us a fresh sheet of paper to begin again today sketching out a beautiful life for ourselves that is a copy of Christ’s own life. God says that it was for this purpose that Jesus lived and died:
“that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
As we compare the picture of our life with the patient, loving man of the cross, we see how far outside of the lines we have gone. We recognize that as we pursue revenge, as we withhold forgiveness, as we pattern our lives after the world—that we have wandered far from the fold of the Good Shepherd.
Today Jesus calls his wandering sheep to return—to know and believe that by his death and resurrection there is forgiveness and new life and a fresh start for us—to rejoice that the wounds inflicted upon our hearts by others- and the wounds that we have caused to our own souls- have been healed by Jesus.
And in this healing, we begin again to die to sin and live to righteousness, walking in his footsteps, following his example, patterning our life after his own. It is to this life—Christ’s life--that we have been called. Amen.
Monday, May 9, 2011
The Fourth Sunday of Easter, Series A May 15, 2011
Lessons for the Fourth Sunday of Easter
Acts 2:42-47 ~ The believers lived in unity, sharing their goods and their faith.
Psalm 23 ~ The Lord is my Shepherd.
1 Peter 2:19-25 ~ Christ, the Shepherd of our souls, gathered and healed us by his suffering.
John 10:1-10 ~ Jesus is the gate for his sheep; he came to give us abundant life.
GATHERING THE TEXTS: One Way and Only One
Jesus' claim to be the only Door to the abundant life, the only gate to heaven, is sometimes ridiculed in our world of democratic diversity and tolerance. In reality His promise turns hearts from despair to hope as it did for the first believers who lived in unity, sharing their faith and their food, praising God in their worship and prayers. Our Shepherd is the One who laid down His life for His sheep and who carried our sins in His body on the cross so that by His wounds our empty lives may be filled with hope and strength and love. The abundant life is one lived in fellowship with the Shepherd.
PRAYER BEFORE THE SERVICE: Lord Jesus, my good Shepherd, you call me to life, and I hear; you lead me through death, and I follow. As you have sought and found me, so help me trust your voice, and know your love, and share your grace with others. Amen.
STEWARDSHIP THOUGHT: We teach stewardship more by what we do than by what we say.
OFFERING PRAYER: O Lord, You prepare a table before us in the presence of our enemies.
You anoint our heads with oil; our cup overflows.
Surely Your goodness and love will follow us all the days of our lives.
O Lord, bless the use of these gifts to Your glory forevermore.
CONVICTION AND COMFORT: We are inclined to hold onto our abundance and avoid the suffering in our neighbors’ lives. Christ suffered for us so that we may be generous in sharing the sorrows of others. By his suffering and sacrifice, Jesus has gathered us into his fold and given us abundance in spiritual blessings and life eternal through the forgiveness of our sins. Experiencing his generosity moves us to share our goods and our faith with others as we help them bear the burdens of their sorrows.
Good evening, fellow redeemed!
In observation of Mother's Day, I offer the following from the Small Catechism:
Honor your father and your mother.
What does this mean?
We should fear and love God so that we do not anger or despise our parents or others in authority, but honor them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them.
From the Large Catechism:
To this estate of fatherhood and motherhood God has given the special distinction above all estates that are beneath it that He not simply commands us to love our parents, but to honor them. For with respect to brothers, sisters, and our neighbors in general He commands nothing higher than that we love them, so that He separates and distinguishes father and mother above all other persons upon earth, and places them at His side. For it is a far higher thing to honor than to love one, inasmuch as it comprehends not only love, but also modesty, humility, and deference as to a majesty there hidden, and requires not only that they be addressed kindly and with reverence, but, most of all, that both in heart and with the body we so act as to show that we esteem them very highly, and that, next to God, we regard them as the very highest. For one whom we are to honor from the heart we must truly regard as high and great.
Secondly, notice how great, good, and holy a work is here assigned children, which is, alas! utterly neglected and disregarded, and no one perceives that God has commanded it, or that it is a holy, divine Word and doctrine. For if it had been regarded as such, every one could have inferred that they must be holy men who live according to these words. Thus there would have been no need of inventing monasticism nor spiritual orders, but every child would have abided by this commandment, and could have directed his conscience to God and said: "If I am to do good and holy works, I know of none better than to render all honor and obedience to my parents, because God has Himself commanded it..."
Have a happy Mother's Day!
A few changes for the schedule this week at Mt. Olive.
Monday, there is a Church Council meeting, but no Zumba Aerobics.
Tuesday, there is no Bible Study to address the whole May 21 thing, but the Lutheran Women's Missionary Leauge (LWML) is headed to Golden Kitchen for their Spring Dinner. They invite the women of Mt. Olive (and those who have been worshiping there) to join them for a night at the Asian buffet. If you're not already signed up and wish to attend, please call the Church Office MONDAY, as Mary needs to get a count for the reservation.
Wednesday, Bible Study on 1 John resumes.
Thursday, Guitar Worship practice will be at 7 p.m., and, yes, there will be Guitar Worship Sunday morning! For those who haven't been to the guitar services, hymns are sung with guitar accompaniment and the liturgical elements are preserved.
Looking ahead, May 15, Sunday after next, will be a Youth Outing night. The night will be either a movie (an appropriate one) or a night of dogs and suds (the "root" kind) with games. I'll keep you posted through online updates.
Finally, and very importantly, thirteen very important weeks are approaching rapidly. Those thirteen weeks are Summer Sunday School. Volunteers are needed to teach classes in a convocation style setting - usually grades K-2, and 3-8, with high school help. There is also the possibility of teaching all grades - trust me, it's not all that difficult. Lessons are available, as is help and support. Currently, the first volunteer has already signed up - me! I urge you to consider prayerfully this important ministry opportunity and sign up - often!
Those who serve in our armed forces and their families: Rob Vadney (Ft. Campbell, KY - yes, he's back!), Richard Rhode (North Carolina), Dru Blanc, John Sorensen, Ryan Radtke (Corpus Christi)
Those who are sick: David Simonds, Emmet Wright
The homebound: Anne Cleveland, Walter and Pearly Theiss (Houston), Norene Estes (Oklahoma), the Wrights, Ruby Rieder
Students in our midst who will be taking final exams in the near future
Mt. Olive Lutheran School as we end the of the school year
This Week at Mt. Olive:
Monday, May 9
Church Council meeting
Tuesday, May 10
LWML to Golden Kitchen
Wednesday, May 11
Bible Study, 1 John
Thursday, May 12
Cub Scout Pack 278
Guitar Worship practice
Monday, May 2, 2011
The Third Sunday of Easter, Series A May 8, 2011
Lessons for the Third Sunday of Easter
Acts 2:14a, 36–41 ~ Peter urged his hearers to repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins!
Psalm 116:1–14 (ant. v. 5)
1 Peter 1:17–25 ~ You were redeemed with the precious blood of Jesus.
Luke 24:13–35 ~ The two disciples on the way to Emmaus met Jesus.
GATHERING THE TEXTS: In the Breaking of the Bread
The body of Christ, broken on the cross for the redemption of the whole world, is still broken and distributed among the members of his Body, the Church, in the elements of bread and wine. Over 3000 people, their consciences broken by the accusation of their guilt and then healed by God’s word of forgiveness, were joined to Christ’s Body to live for Him in this world. It was in the breaking of bread that Jesus made himself known to Cleopas and his companion. He still shows himself present to us in the broken bread of the holy Eucharist. It is in the Body of Christ broken for the healing of this world's ills, that the people of the world must see Christ present among His people.
PRAYER BEFORE THE SERVICE: Christ, my Lord and Savior, you gave your life to be broken on the cross, and you still give your body, broken in the sacrament, for the healing of all life's shattering forces. When my life is restored and made whole again, allow me to use it in service to my neighbors in this hurting and fear-filled world. Amen.
STEWARDSHIP THOUGHT - Brothers and sisters in Christ are a gift from God. This is why it matters how we treat and respect on another, how we steward our relationships within the Body of Christ and how we use our time to work with God’s people.
OFFERING PRAYER: Christ, my Lord and Savior, You gave Your life for me.
Your body broken on the cross, has set my conscience free.
Gifts we bring to You, dear Lord, may stop the flowing tears
Of those who haven’t known the hope that drives away our fears.
CONVICTION AND COMFORT: What we need is a new start – a new beginning! This human sinful state that we have inherited from our first parents is as corruptible and perishable as the fragile grass of the field. We may place our hopes in mighty men and powerful prophets, but in the end we have to say, “We had hoped . . .” There is one, however, who has the good news, the righteous Word of God from the beginning, who gives us a new generation, a new birth from the imperishable seed of the God Himself, in whom we have an abiding hope of life beyond the grave.
Good evening, fellow redeemed!
A particular name stood out in today's First Reading that immediately caught my attention.
But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in honor by all the people, stood up and gave orders to put the men outside for a little while. (Acts 5:34)
Gamaliel was a famous Jewish teacher whose name means, "God is my reward." Gamaliel taught in the early to mid first century in Jerusalem, instructing young would-be rabbis in the ways of the Pharisees. Not much is known about Gamaliel, but you probably know his most famous student: Saul of Tarsus, who would later be known as the apostle, St. Paul.
What is striking about this text from Acts 5 is the reaction of Peter and John as they were beaten, commanded not to preach in the name of Jesus, and then sent away. Luke records,
"Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name" (5:41).
May we join the apostles, those sent for the purpose of the Lord Christ, in rejoicing to suffer dishonor for the name of Jesus.
This Week at Mt. Olive is again short:
Monday is Zumba at 6:30 p.m.
Wednesday, Bible Study will not meet, but there will be chapel and Zumba will meet at 6:30 p.m.
Thursday, there will be guitar practice at 7 p.m.
I will be out of the office for a pastor's conference until Thursday morning.
In your prayers, please remember:
Emmet Wright who is hospitalized, and Emma;
The Vadney family, as they rejoice in Rob's safe return;
All those who serve in our armed forces and their families: Rob Vadney (Ft. Campbell, KY); Richard Rhode (North Carolina), John Sorensen, Dru Blanc, Ryan Radtke (Corpus Christi)
Haley Willoughby and Tony Petrillose, who will be united in holy matrimony this weekend;
The families and communities who continue to dig out from the destructive weather over the last few weeks;
Students who will be taking their finals in the next few weeks and then journeying home.
Sunday, May 1, 2011
The picture we have of Peter during Jesus’ passion is that of a man who has failed greatly—not because he was being tortured for his faith—not because he was facing imminent death—but simply out of cowardliness. And not only did he deny the Lord, he called down the curses of God Almighty upon himself to back up his denial.
And yet the Lord loved him. Despite his denials—despite his cowardliness—despite his weakness-- the Lord loved him. After his resurrection, Jesus specifically sought out Peter to forgive him and restore him and to give him an opportunity to re-commit himself to following the Lord.
That’s the whole point of Jesus’ resurrection: forgiveness and new beginnings for us-- despite our fears and failures.
In the Book of Acts we see the difference the resurrection of Jesus Christ makes in the lives of his people: Peter and the other apostles boldly preaching Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior to…the religious leaders who put Jesus to death—the leaders of their own people of whom they were so afraid.
And those who denied the Lord—who hid in fear when he was on trial—who abandoned him in his deepest need—rejoiced that they had been counted worthy to suffer for a living Lord who had given them: a new life and a home in heaven -and was working through hardships to being them there. Peter writes of this living hope in a living Lord:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy
Can you just imagine what the word “mercy” meant to Peter and the other disciples--to know that because of Jesus’ mercy, their life with God did not come to an end because they failed so completely? Can you imagine how profoundly grateful they were to their heavenly Father for sending his Son Jesus Christ to make forgiveness and new life a reality for them despite their sins?
Each of us knows what it means to stumble in our walk of faith. Each of us knows how often our lives in the words we say, the things we do, and the thoughts we have are outright denials of the Lord-- no less than Peter’s denial.
That is why we join our voices with his words of praise for God’s great mercy in the gift of his own Son—because we also know what Peter knew: that through faith in the resurrected Christ we have a living hope in a living Lord who has raised us up to new life in Christ. Peter writes about that new life that is ours through Christ’s resurrection:
God has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…
Peter calls our new life in Christ “being born again to a living hope” and there is no better way to describe the change in his life in the light of the resurrection than being “born again”. Very simply, a new life had come for him. He was a different person than he was before because Jesus rose from the dead.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ still has the power to change lives from spiritual death to spiritual life.
When the Good News of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is preached, the Holy Spirit works in our hearts to raise us from the death of unbelief-- to the life of faith.
In Holy Baptism, it is not the water that causes new life to be raised in the hearts of those born dead in sin, but it is the powerful promise of God’s Word in that water that causes us to be born again—the promise that we have died with Christ in his death on the cross and been raised with Christ in his resurrection from the dead.
It is the resurrected Christ who is present at our altar offering forgiveness and new life in his own body and blood crucified and raised.
Christ’s death and resurrection--preached and given in the sacraments-- takes children of Adam, born to die, and causes them to be born again as children of God and gives them a living hope in a living Lord with a precious inheritance of eternal life--an inheritance that is: imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you,
It took Peter and the other disciples a while to get this heavenly inheritance straight in their minds. For much of Jesus’ earthly ministry, what he taught the disciples about life with God “went in one ear and out the other”.
Their minds were fixed on Roman enemies and national pride and a physical homeland. But AT the death of Jesus on the cross they saw these earthly dreams and misplaced hopes come to an end.
It was only AFTER Jesus’ resurrection that the disciples began to see the truth about what he had been teaching all along: that this world is not all there is and we ought not live as if it is—that God’s kingdom is not of this world but resides in human hearts through faith—that God has something infinitely better for us than simply satisfying our fleshly desires here on earth—an eternal home in heaven. This is a living hope.
Like the disciples, we bear the weight of our sinful flesh that simply wants to live life with all our wants and needs met. We value success and happiness above everything else. We are not nearly as concerned with spiritual things as we ought to be-- but we certainly want God to give us material blessings in abundance.
But a life focused on upon the things of this world is a life of futility—a life without meaning and purpose—a life that death will always destroy.
God wants more than that for us—he created us for an eternal life—and he redeemed us by the death and resurrection of his own Son so that we could live that life in heaven with him. That is the living hope of the Christian and that is the purpose of God’s redeeming work for us.
Moment by moment-- he is working in our lives to bring us to our heavenly home. Peter tells us that we have a living hope in a living Lord who is present and powerful even in the trials of life—that we:
by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
During the last days of Jesus’ life, the disciples lost faith in the power of God to protect them. In our Gospel lesson today we see them cowering in fear behind locked doors.
But after Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, there was no doubt in their minds that the God who had the power to raise his own Son from the dead-- also had the power to guard and protect them and bring them safely to their heavenly home. From then on…
They faced their enemies unafraid. They were beaten to within an inch of their lives and thrown out of town and went right back into the same town still preaching Jesus. They were shipwrecked and jailed and exiled and finally faced a martyr’s death.
Did those hardships mean that God’s power to guard and protect them had failed? Absolutely not! In fact, the miraculous power of the resurrection was that their faith remained intact no matter what kinds of trials they faced!
Every time they came through some kind of difficulty with their faith in Jesus still strong, God’s almighty power—the same power that raised his Son from the dead—was validated and vindicated again and again in their lives.
The same is true for us. God’s power is not necessarily shown in keeping us from times of trial—though he can certainly do that! But God’s power is shown in that he keeps us strong in our faith through times of trial so that we emerge with an even stronger faith than what we started with! That is what is really important-- for it is only through faith in Jesus that are born again and have the hope of entering eternal life.
When we finally come to the same place in life as Peter did-- in realizing that our faith in Jesus Christ is the most precious gift that God has given us-- there is no comfort that we would not forgo and no hardship that we would not endure to keep our faith.
The trials in our lives are not the failures of God to keep us safe—but a necessary part of God’s work in helping us to keep the only thing of eternal value that we have—and that is our faith in Jesus. Peter writes about the meaning and purpose of trials in the believers’ life from his own first-hand experience:
you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
Trials are necessary to the Christian life if we are to mature in our faith and obedience to the Lord because they test and refine our faith.
It was only when Peter was tested in the courtyard of the high priest that he could really see the truth about himself—that his own strength was absolutely insufficient to remain steadfast—that he needed to repent of his trust in himself and put his trust in the strength of God alone.
Trials show us where we are weak so that we can turn to the Lord for strength and ask the Holy Spirit for help in those areas of our faith and life.
Trials refine our faith just like fire refines gold—getting rid of doubts and removing worries as we discover that God will protect and provide for us again and again.
It is only when we begin to see our faith as something infinitely more precious than gold that we can begin to THANK God for the refining fires of hardships and REJOICE in the trials of life because we know that through them God is shaping us and molding us for a glorious eternity with him.
That was the living hope of these Christians to whom Peter wrote even though they had never seen the resurrected Lord—folks just like us. Peter writes:
Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
When the living Lord appeared to his disciples he spoke this blessing to Thomas and the other disciples who doubted: Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed. We see the power of that blessing in the believers in Peter’s congregation and down through salvation history to our own day and the believers sitting in these pews who have never seen Jesus and yet believe in him and love him.
Faith in Jesus did not end with those who personally saw Jesus alive-- but spread to all who believed the Good News of the resurrection proclaimed by the apostolic witnesses—first in Jerusalem, then in Galilee and Judea, and then throughout the world down to this place and time.
Our living Lord continues to give a living hope to all who believe in him—promising new life, an eternal inheritance in heaven, and his powerful presence in our lives even in times of trial. Amen.