Tuesday, October 4, 2011

A Recovering Methodist

What follows is my devotional address for the Ohio District Church Worker's Conference. Typically the Vice Presidents serve as devotional leaders. I have been honored to serve as a vice president and this is my last year. Here is the message I gave last night.

Devotion for Pastor’s Conference
Text: Isaiah 55:10-11
Theme: Trust the Word

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
it brings forth and sprouts,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

In the name of Jesus:

I will confess to you here and now that I am a recovering Methodist. I don’t say this lightly. It is something that as a parish pastor I struggle with daily. The type of Methodist I am referring to does not bear any similarly to being a member of a particular church denomination, or a follower of John Wesley. A recovering Methodist is one who constantly seeks a method that will work in the parish. Looking around the room, maybe I am just not the only recovering Methodist in the room!

So let’s have a Lutheran moment and ask, “What does this mean?” When a new stewardship program becomes available and has met with some success, do you wonder if it would work in my parish and have the same success rate as another congregation. When new types of groups are introduced in other congregations do you think: “Will it work at my church? Is it something that I can use?” If there is a new technique in evangelism that brings in new members, will it bring in the masses in Lancaster Ohio? Or Cleveland? Or Dayton? As a parish pastor it seems that of a practical nature I am continually on the lookout for something that works. Perhaps you are a recovering Methodist like me. For when we wonder, “why is such and such a church is growing, and mine is not, something must be wrong in what I am doing! Maybe a new methodology will work! It certainly wouldn’t hurt, or so we think.

Now that is not to say that this is inherently wrong. After all, if we are not concerned about doing a good job for the Lord and giving an account of our ministry, we are slothful servants. However, the temptation for me as a recovering Methodist is this: do I place my faith in the method, or in the Lord?

As I read continually read the Scriptures daily I am struck by one theme that is played over and over again throughout the pages of the Bible, namely, trusting in the Word. The problem that we have as pastors is that we are sinners and that first sin that our first parents committed rears its ugly head in our lives and ministry. Remember in the Garden, when God gave to Adam and Eve that simply command: Don’t eat? How did Satan tempt our first parents, simply with a question: Did God really say that? And in response to that question, Adam and Eve, doubting God and His Word, fell horribly short of God’s demand of perfection.

Throughout the Old Testament God’s people are given the Word, and they come up horribly short, don’t they? Abraham and Sarah are to have a child, and Sarah laughs. Moses is told to lead God’s people and Moses stammers and looks for an excuse. Namaan is told that in order to be cured of leprosy he simply needs to follow orders, but he becomes incredulous. Even during the era of the prophets, God’s messengers called Judah and Israel to repent, to turn to the Lord and listen to Him. Isaiah called God’s people to turn from idols and other gods, to cease trusting in what sinner man could do. Trust in the Lord, turn to Him, LISTEN TO HIS WORD. But Israel and Judah thought that they knew better. As they chose to despise God and His Word, God left them to their sinful desires and they were placed into exile! Throughout history, time and again God asks sinners to trust in Him, but sinners look for another option.

Isn’t that what happens in our lives and in our parishes? We are called to trust in the Lord, but we don’t. We are called to follow Him but we look for a convenient detour. Rather than trust in the Word to work, we look for another method, a better way of doing things, placing our trust in our own efforts rather than trusting in the Lord and His Word.

So what are we do to? Repent. When Jesus began His ministry He said: Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand. We need not forget that! Jesus calls us to repent to turn from TRUSTING OUR METHODS AND WORKS AND TO TRUST IN HIM. Why? Because Jesus is God’s Word, incarnate, sent to deliver you and me from the messes we make of our ministry and lives.

Doesn’t God say in His Word: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God…14 and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:1,14)” Jesus, throughout His life, lived to give glory to God through doing the will of the One who sent Him. When Satan tried to tempt Jesus asking as he did of Adam and Eve: Did God really say, Jesus used the Word to defeat Satan. God in Christ kept His Word to sinners by living the life you and I could not live and by dying on the cross for our forgiveness and eternal salvation.

New life is given by the power of Christ’s Word! The Word brings new life to sinners for the Word brings Christ! God works through His Word, for you have been “born again not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding Word.” (1 Peter 1:23). God works through His Word, for in Baptism sinners are given a new birth by the washing of the Holy Spirit. God works through His Word read and proclaimed, convicting sinners of sin and comforting the damnable with the Good News of His grace. God works through His Word leading sinners to repentance. God works through His Word forgiving sins in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God works through His Word for at His Word we eat and drink the Lord’s body and blood for forgiveness and life. God works through the Word.

In an era when we as parish pastors and professional church workers hear about a “new paradigm” or a “new model” or “a different way of doing things, perhaps it would be best to be reminded of how the Lord Jesus Christ Himself describes our work.
“A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. 5 Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, 6 but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. 7 Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8 Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9 He who has ears let him hear.”

Jesus likens our work to sowing seed. The seed is the Word. Certainly there is much work to be done in preparing the soil and fertilizing the soil, the seed still needs to be sown. God’s Word is the good seed. He blesses His Word and our work so that whenever and wherever it is sown, God brings forth fruit. Remember Luther’s analogy, where he says that when he planted a garden he prayed as if his work meant nothing, and when he worked he worked as if his prayer meant nothing. Perhaps that is what we need to remember, that God’s Word works and that God uses we lowly workers to sow the seed so that God will give the increase. Just as God promises in Isaiah: ““For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”

The Word works, my friends. Christ and His Word is all we need. And maybe it is just that that a recovering Methodist needs to hear.

Am I My Brother's Keeper?

GENESIS 4:1-15 ESP. 9

Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord.” 2 And again, she bore his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a worker of the ground. 3 In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, 4 and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, 5 but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. 6 The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? 7 If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” 8 Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him. 9 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother's keeper?” 10 And the Lord said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother's blood is crying to me from the ground. 11 And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother's blood from your hand. 12 When you work the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength. You shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.” 13 Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is greater than I can bear. 14 Behold, you have driven me today away from the ground, and from your face I shall be hidden. I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” 15 Then the Lord said to him, “Not so! If anyone kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.” And the Lord put a mark on Cain, lest any who found him should attack him.

In the name of Jesus:
Have you checked the labels on your grocery items lately? You may be getting less than you thought. I noticed this trend a couple of years ago when, while eating at the local establishment, the portion size I received was much smaller than what I remembered. And if you would look closely in the supermarkets, some manufacturers are selling us the same size packages we are accustomed to, but they are putting less of the product in the box. For example, a box of well-known detergent that once held 61 ounces now contains only 55. Same size box, less soap. Companies realize that you can’t keep marking up the price on things, because then no one will buy them. So, as an alternative, the portion size gets smaller. The price will remain the same, but you are getting less and still paying more money.
How something is wrapped doesn't always show us what's on the inside. That's true with people as well. We can wrap ourselves up in the same packaging every day -- nice clothes, big smile, friendly demeanor -- yet still be less than what we appear to be. Take the case of Cain in the Old Testament lesson for today. He is the firstborn son of Adam and Eve. I have no doubt that Adam and Eve after the fall into sin were godly parents. They trusted in the Lord, specifically His Word, in spite of their eating of the forbidden fruit. How do we know that? God’s last Word to Adam and Eve was the Gospel promise of Genesis 3: 15: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head and you shall bruise your heel.” Here God promises to sinners a Savior. All the while, in the process of living on this fallen planet, Adam and Eve would have to trust in the Lord. Certainly there would be consequences to pay for sin. Women would bear children in pain and long for their husbands, while men would toil and work hard for food. And all who have fallen into sin would ultimately return to the dust in punishment for their disobedience. These punishments were true for Adam and Eve and their children, and hold true for us today.
However Eve and Adam trusted in the Lord. They clung to the Word. Listen to Eve’s words at the birth of Cain: “I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord.” Eve’s role as a mother was a gift from God and she credited God for the new life of Cain, even though she gave birth in pain. And I have no doubt that Adam and Eve raised Cain, and later their brother Abel, to trust the Lord. Abel was faithful to God, Cain was not. In the responsibility of offering a sacrifice to the Lord and bring to the Lord gifts, Abel did so willingly, out of love for God. Cain, well, he was another story. He gave grudgingly. God looked favorably upon Abel’s offering, but the text says: “for Cain and his offering (the Lord) had no regard.” Abel’s offering sprang from faith and love for God. Cain loved himself. He was self-righteous. Just note his response: “So Cain was very angry and his face fell.” Cain got angry, at who, God! He thought his offering was good enough! God should have been pleased with what He got. But Cain would have none of it. His whole attitude was one of being argumentative with God. For the Lord said to Cain: “ Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” Cain didn’t do right by the Lord, his offering was less than acceptable, and Cain was unjustly angry at God, thinking that God had too high of a standard. Cain thought that it was God’s fault for not accepting the offering. Rather than turning to God in repentance, Cain in anger turned on his brother Abel, killing him in cold blood.
After this first murder the Lord said to Cain: “Where is Abel your brother?” Now, God knows what happened. This question is pedantic in nature, God asks Cain so that Cain can come to his senses and realize what he did. But Cain lies to God and says: “I do not know” Well, he did know, and then Cain goes deeper and in anger says to God: “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
What hypocrisy! Yes, Cain knew, but lied to God. His offering was not acceptable to God, and so because of this Cain kills Abel, lies to God, and in indignation says: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” It needs to be noted that God punished Cain by making him a fugitive and wanderer on the earth. Cain was a marked man; so much so that Cain believed his life would now be in danger. But God in His mercy reached out to Cain and put a mark on his Cain, to protect him, for if anyone took Cain’s life God’s vengeance would be poured out on the perpetrator sevenfold.
The question that begs to be answered here is this:” Am I my brother’s keeper?” Cain asked it to absolve himself of any and all responsibility to his brother. He was cold hearted to God and to the needs of those around him. Cain thought that he could just look out for old number one and everything else would turn out okay, much like Adam who said to God after eating of the fruit: “Don’t blame me, its your fault God because the woman YOU GAVE ME made me disobey you.” No pun intended, but the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Cain acted just like his father Adam, in shifting blame and responsibility. But God in His knowledge sees through the hypocrisy and the self-justification. And God calls sin what it is: disobedience, lawlessness. And the sinner stands guilty before God.
All too often we like to use the phrase “Am I my brother’s keeper?” to absolve ourselves of any responsibility toward another. So, if we see someone in need, we try to justify our inactivity by saying, “I am not my brother’s keeper.” If we see something happen to a neighbor in need, we bask in our apathy by declaring: “ I am not my brother’s keeper.” When someone has less, whether it is food, clothing or is in need of shelter, we justify our inactivity by declaring: I am not my brother’s keeper! But is this attitude God pleasing? Was God happy with Cain’s answer? Is God pleased with you when you shift the responsibility to care or show love to your neighbor in need? God is never pleased when the sinner sets himself to be God. God is never pleased with your own self-justification and self-righteousness. Doesn’t Paul write: “You were dead in your transgressions and sins and that your are saved by God’s grace through faith in Christ and not of your own works? “ And doesn’t Jesus teach that: “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled and he who humbles himself will be exalted?” God sees through your stubbornness and pride and unbelief. And He calls you to repent.
God answers the question: Am I my brother’s keeper? With a resounding YES!!!. HIS ANSWER IS FOUND IN HIS ONLY BEGOTTEN SON, JESUS CHRIST. Unlike Cain, who fled from God in fear, God calls you to turn from your sin and turn to Him. When God is angry with you, come to Him with a humble confession of sin and ask for His forgiveness. For God has seen you in your need of a Savior. That is why He kept His promise to Adam and Eve by sending a second Adam, Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ was born, not just for Adam and Eve and Abel, but for Cain as well! Christ came to be a brother to sinners, for He who knew no sin became sin for US that we might know the righteousness of God in Him. Christ came to be born of our flesh but sinless, to offer Himself as the blood offering to forgive sinners of their sins. In Jesus God says: “I am your keeper.” (Psalm 121:5). In Christ the Lord blesses you and keeps you. Incredibly, the same thing happened to Christ as to Abel. Even as Abel was murdered and his blood was innocently shed, so also Christ was the innocent Lamb of God led to the cross, so that by His shed blood sins would be forgiven and guilt remitted. Jesus’ blood cries out from the cross saying: It is finished and all is accomplished! God’s anger is appeased through the blood of Christ, which cleanses you from all of your sins. It is as the hymn writer puts it in that great Lenten hymn: “Abel’s blood for vengeance pleaded to the skies but the blood of Jesus for our pardon cries.” (LSB 433 v 4). The blood of Christ offers mercy, forgiveness and peace to the sinner.
Even as God placed a mark upon Cain’s forehead, so too you have been marked. For in the waters of your Baptism God has placed the mark of the cross of Christ upon you and has made you His child. In Baptism your hypocrisy, self righteous, and sinful self was drowned and put to death so that by the power of the Spirit you might rise to newness of life. God daily calls you live out your Baptism, humbly confessing yours sins, trusting in Christ for forgiveness, and receiving the ability to live your life in service and love toward your neighbor.
God has marked you to be his own in Baptism. Today He gives you His gifts for forgiveness, love, mercy, peace, and reconciliation so that you might share these gifts with others. Jesus says: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” When you see your neighbor in need, you are called by God to share His gifts with those who are in need. Doesn’t God say in His Word: “Whoever loves his brother abides in the light and in him there is no cause for stumbling? “ And “ By this (Christ’s love) we know love, that He laid down His life for us and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But is anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and truth.” (I John 2:10 and 3: 16-18). “For if anyone says I love God and hates his brother, he is a liar for he who does not love his brother who he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him, whoever loves God must love his brother.” (I John 4: 20-21).
The world would have us think that each and every person is an island. But we do not live alone. God provides us with our daily bread so that we might, in faith, share God’s provisions with others. While some may like to hide behind excuses to give credibility to their hypocrisy, bragging of their freedom of responsibility to help those in need, we are compelled by the love of God in Christ to reach out an help others in the of Jesus. May God provide us with the love of Christ continually, that we never commit the sin of Cain by arrogantly asking the question of God, "Am I my brother's keeper?" for God's answer is, "Yes, you are."
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Jesus Weeps

LUKE 19:41-48

41 And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, 42 saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43 For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side 44 and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”45 And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold, 46 saying to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of robbers.”47 And he was teaching daily in the temple. The chief priests and the scribes and the principal men of the people were seeking to destroy him, 48 but they did not find anything they could do, for all the people were hanging on his words.
In the name of Jesus:
Those of you who have known me for a while know that I am, at times, prone to tears. I have cried tears of joy at my children’s baptisms and confirmations, at their graduations, and I have cried tears of sorrow at the death of my parents. The last time I had a good cry was two years ago at the death of my father. Exhausted from being up with him all night and present when he died, I collapsed in our hotel room in tears later that night, my heart overcome with emotion.
When was the last time you had a good cry? Was it when the kids left the house for the last time and you were faced with an empty nest? Was your last good cry when you tried to balance your checkbook and realized that you can’t make it to the end of the month? Have you had a good cry at the death of a family member, or at the news of an unexpected diagnosis? When did you last have a good cry?
Jesus was known for having a good cry. He was the Son of God in human flesh, exposed to our travails and He experienced the full range of human emotions. He cried at the tomb of Lazarus. That instance records probably one of the best-known verses in the Bible, at least it is best known because it is the shortest: Jesus wept. He felt the pain of death in Lazarus’ death and the Scriptures records Jesus’ emotions. In our text for today, Luke 19, we see Jesus weeping over Jerusalem. It is a most misunderstood passage today. Why would Jesus weep over Jerusalem? Why not Lancaster, or Detroit or Cleveland? Those are cities to weep over, with the high unemployment rates and drug use which has become prevalent. Why weep over Jerusalem?
Many people misinterpret Jesus’ tears. He isn’t weeping over a physical city, He isn’t weeping over Jerusalem because of the beauty of the city or because of its locale or name. A great many people misinterpret Jesus’ tears today, thinking that Jesus is crying over a physical city, and then they translate Jesus’ tears into how Americans or the Church today should support Israel and the city of Jerusalem. Certainly Jesus weeps because Jerusalem is about to be destroyed in 70 AD but there in an underlying reason, if we would only listen! For in Jesus’ tears He weeps for the people of His day and our day as well. If we would just listen to the Scriptures, and let the Scriptures explain the situation, we would have a better understanding as to why Jesus wept over Jerusalem.
The religious situation at this time was in dire straights. Yes, even though Jesus was present, the religious situation was dire. How so, if Jesus was present? Only because the people would not listen to Jesus, they would not listen to God! The city of Jerusalem was the foundation of the religious life of the Jewish people. The Temple, God’s House, was located in the city. People came to Jerusalem to worship and to offer their sacrifices to God. You could say that Jerusalem represented the Church at that time. People would look to Jerusalem in reverence because this is the city where God chose to dwell in His Temple. This is the city where the people would meet God. But the situation deteriorated to such an extent, that Jerusalem became more known for its religious corruption and its hypocrisy.
You know the saying, that the more things change the more they stay the same? That could be said of Jerusalem, for this religious hypocrisy had been going on for centuries. Just note how Jeremiah describes the situation in his day, and how he prophesies about the impending doom and demise of Jerusalem: “5 Why then has this people turned away
in perpetual backsliding?
They hold fast to deceit;
they refuse to return.
6 I have paid attention and listened,
but they have not spoken rightly;
no man relents of his evil,
saying, ‘What have I done?’
Everyone turns to his own course,
like a horse plunging headlong into battle.
7 my people know not
the rules of the Lord.
But behold, the lying pen of the scribes
has made it into a lie.
10 Therefore I will give their wives to others
and their fields to conquerors,
because from the least to the greatest
everyone is greedy for unjust gain;
from prophet to priest,
everyone deals falsely.

No, they were not at all ashamed;
they did not know how to blush.
Therefore they shall fall among the fallen;
when I punish them, they shall be overthrown,
says the Lord.: (Jeremiah 8:5-12, selected verses).”
The people worshiped God with their lips, but their lives told different stories. The Scribes and Pharisees preached one thing and did another. They sought to establish their own man made rules instead of following the Lord. The Church was corrupt, more interested in selling merchandise and buying and selling for sacrifices for use in the Temple rather than devoting their lives to the Lord. There was no repentance, no sorrow for sin, no turning to the Lord in faith, no mercy, no peace, only man made righteousness and man made regulations to follow. The sin soaked religion of the Jewish people sickened God to the point that He promised to pour out His wrath on the sinner and destroy what Jerusalem, the Church, had become. And so Jesus, knowing all things, and knowing that the destruction of Jerusalem was imminent, wept over a people He had chosen and nurtured, who had willfully chosen to forsake God. They had rejected and forsaken God in the past, and they had rejected Jesus and His message and ministry. “. 43 For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side 44 and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.” They did not recognize God incarnate in their very midst! When God was physically present, they rejected Him out of hand, seeking His death and demise.
It should come as no surprise then that Jesus took action after His tears. Note what Luke records: “And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold, 46 saying to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of robbers.”47 And he was teaching daily in the temple. The chief priests and the scribes and the principal men of the people were seeking to destroy him.” Some commentators suggest that Jesus, in this act, spent the entire afternoon at the Temple, teaching leading people to a right understanding of God’s Word. If it is true that the Temple at that time stood on 35 acres of land, then it stands to reason that Jesus didn’t just overthrow one table of sacrificial merchandise. Jesus overthrew those who bought and sold throughout the Temple grounds, blocking entry and exit ways, causing even the casual observer to recognize that Jesus was none too pleased and that Temple worship at that time needed to change for the better.
How would Jesus look at your worship? Would He be pleased, or would He weep? That is an interesting question! Does your worship show a living faith in Christ, or is it based in hypocrisy? Do you trust in Christ or your own right way of doing things? Consider where you are today. Church, a sanctuary, a place that is called God’s house. You came to church today to meet God. Is that the reason why you came? Have you ever thought about not coming to church, to the place where God is? Has your church attendance been hit and miss? Why is that? Have you thought your schedule, your interests, your life more important that coming and meeting God? Has your worship been half hearted, your singing of the hymns lackluster, your presence more an attempt to be seen by others?
Yes, Jesus wept over the cold heartedness that was evident in the worship and lives of the people, but more than that, Jesus lived and died for the sins of the people. Jesus loved the sinner so much that He set His face to go to Jerusalem, to change the hearts and lives of sinners by suffering and dying for them. And Jesus has come to shed His blood for you! The Son of God who came to cleanse the Temple came also to cleanse you of your sin. He did this by offering the Temple of His Body on the cross. His very life and shed blood on the cross cleanses you and every sinner from all sin.
Today Jesus comes to visit you and give you comfort and peace in your life. This is the place where God dwells, Jesus comes in fullness to give you His gifts. In Baptism He has claimed you to be His own. In His Word He calls you to turn from your sins, your lifeless worship, and your halfhearted attempts to serve God to serve Him with the life He now gives you. You were bought with a price, not with silver or gold but with the very blood of Christ shed on the cross for you. He calls you to repent of your sins, to turn to Christ and receive His gifts of forgiveness and peace. Jesus visits you this day in Word and Sacrament to bless you. He says: “Come to Me all you are burdened by your sins and I will forgive you and give you rest.” Learn of God’s judgment for sinners: that you are judged forgiven and saved by a free gift of His grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Christ offered the Temple of His Body on the cross so that your bodies might become temples of the living God!
Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. God now lives with you in Christ. So honor God in the life that you live. Seek first God’s will in all you do. Seek to serve the Lord with joy! Do not neglect the assembly of the saints on Sunday, but come to the house of the Lord to meet Christ and receive His gifts. Use the life that God now has given to you to share His gifts with others. Jesus’ heart breaks for those who do not know Him, for He came to seek and save the lost. Pray for your family, friends, and neighbors, that they may come to faith in Christ. Ask God to use you and this congregation to proclaim the love of Christ to others. For God’s good and gracious will is this: that sinners repent, come to faith in Christ, and live their lives to the glory of God. There is joy in heaven over one sinner who repents. May God enable you to spread that joy for Christ has come to save sinners.

History is Prologue


6 Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. 7 Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” 8 We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. 9 We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, 10 nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. 11 Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. 12 Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. 13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

In the name of Jesus:

Someone much wiser than me (my wife, Luann) has a saying, which rings true: History is prologue. History has a way of showing us the way to the future, of repeating itself time and again. Another way of saying this is by stating the old adage, one learns from one’s mistakes. When you learn from your mistakes, it can be a painful proposition, in that you have the painful experiences to live through in order to try to do something differently. If you have ever gotten into credit card debt, you know from painful experience how difficult it is to get out from under that burden. How much easier it would be if we could learn from other people’s mistakes, for it is less painful for us but we can benefit greatly in learning from the experience of others. Sadly, we are slow to learn from the experience of others. Oh that the Lord would give us open ears and hearts to hear and learn from the experiences of the people of Israel! For in our text today, the Apostle Paul cites several examples from the Old Testament people on how God expects us to live. These serve as types, as examples of how we are to live our lives as God’s children.
God called the nation of Israel to be His own people. Why did God call the Jewish nation to be His own? Not by their might, not by their own power, not by their own gifts. God called them by His grace. God repeated said that He would be their God and they would be His people. Called by God, Israel was expected to live as God’s people. But learning from history, we see that Israel serves as a powerful example for us, as a people who forgot about God, worshipped idols, and fell into sin and was punished by God. Paul cites five illustrations for the Church at Corinth in this letter. He does so because the people of the Church of Corinth were prone to the same sins. They needed to hear this message. You and I do as well.
Paul begins by reminding the people:” 6 Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. “ Who desired evil? Once Israel set out from Egypt immediately after the Exodus, some craved for the meat and vegetables they ate in Egypt while still captive. Their freedom from Egypt, their deliverance by God was not enough. They grumbled and complained to God. Yes, God gave them manna and quail from heaven, but some perished, being struck with a plaque. Food became their god and God punished them accordingly.
The sin of coveting reared its ugly head again when God gave to Moses the Ten Commandments. Paul writes: “7 Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” When God was speaking to Moses on Mount Sinai, some grew impatient in waiting for God to act, and urged Aaron to construct a gold calf along with an altar where the people would now worship. This was in direct defiance of the First Commandment where God said: “You shall have no other gods.” God’s anger was kindled against the people, so much so that God nearly wiped out the entire nation! God only relented when Moses interceded for the people.
Paul warns the Corinthian Church, as well as you and me, to guard against falling into sexual immorality. Just as Israel worshipped the golden calf and fell into sexual sin, some of the people in the church at Corinth were acting the same way. As Israel worshipped the gold calf, the people’s worship of this idol degenerated into sexual sin. They were guilty of breaking the First and Sixth Commandments! So too some in the church at Corinth indulged in idolatry and lived as if they were sexually emancipated. Paul had to warn them, and his warning is to us as well, that the sexually immoral, including adulterers and homosexuals, will not have a part of God’s kingdom:” Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality.”
Paul next cites a third illustration, another example of sexual sin: “ 8 We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. “ Israel didn’t learn from their mistake with the golden calf. You would think that they would, but they didn’t. For later in the plains of Moab the Moabite people invited God’s people to live as they did, and so God’s people turned their back on God once again and participated in idolatry and the fertility rites of the pagan Moabite religion. Once again, God’s anger was kindled so that He sent a plague to kill thousands of those who participated in this immoral act and the leaders who encouraged the people to sin were killed as well.
God’s anger was kindled against Israel many more times, Paul here cites two instances, where God’s people complained bitterly against God and His Word. “9 We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, 10 nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. Throughout their wilderness trek the Israelites continually complained and grumbled along the way. They said that there was: “no food and water and we detest this food.” They were not satisfied with what the Lord had provided them, and even when the people were about to enter the Promised Land, they balked at Joshua and Caleb’s report of how beautiful the land was. In spite of the many blessings of God, the people complained and doubted God and His Word. And God punished them with death.
Why did the Israelites travel for 40 years in the wilderness? Simply because they continued to doubt the Lord, placing their trust in their own wisdom or the idols of others instead of trusting in the God who saved them. And Paul writes: “11 Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written do down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. “ God would not be mocked and God will never be mocked. His judgment is swift and certain. He has punished sin and will punish sin. Paul called the people at Corinth to turn from their sinful ways and to trust in Christ for forgiveness and all things. He wanted the people at Corinth to learn the painful lessons of Israel from the past.
Paul tells us: “12 Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. “ Recognize the sinful times that we are living in. God has called you by His grace in the waters of Baptism. Just as God called the people of Israel out of bondage in Egypt, so He has called you out of the bondage to sin. He has healed you by the wounds of Christ. You have been freed from the power of sin, Satan, and death. So how now should you live?
Too many people have not learned from the lessons of the past. After receiving forgiveness, they go on and live their lives as if God does not matter. They repeat their sinning, retuning to their former ways of life. Even though they were baptized, they have turned their backs on Christ and hold fast to the evil deceptions of Satan and the culture we live in. As the Apostle Peter has written: “22 What the true proverb says has happened to them: “The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire.” (2 Peter 2:22).
The very same thing can happen to you unless you seek to stay on the path that the Lord has placed you on. The same evil that attacks those who have fallen away from Christ attacks you too! The same sinful flesh which has lured them to sin and death lures you as well. So what shall you do? Repent of your sins. Trust in Christ for forgiveness. God is faithful and just. God says if you confess your sins He will forgive you your sins and cleanse you from all unrighteousness. There is only ONE MAN who lived the way that God wanted Him to live, and that is Jesus, who lived to do the will of the Father. Jesus alone trusted in God with all of His heart, soul, and strength. It pleased the Father to nail His Son to the cross, so that whoever looks to Christ will be saved. Jesus is the very Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
In your Baptism God has called you from the darkness of sin into the light of Christ. If anyone is baptized in Christ that person has put on Christ. Your body has now become a temple of the Holy Spirit; so don’t live so as to satisfy your carnal flesh, live instead to give glory to God. You have been bought with a price, not with silver or gold but with Jesus’ very own body and blood on the cross. So now, live to honor God with the life He now has given to you.
Who will you live for? Who will you place your trust? Satan will throw everything he can to make you fall in your walk with God. But Christ is faithful. He is your ever-present Help. When tempted, God will give you help in time of need. Today He comes as your ever-present Help, offering to you Christ’s very body and blood for the forgiveness of sin and the strengthening of your faith. He promises in Scripture: ” No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” Rooted and made strong in Christ, you will give glory to God.
So stand in Christ. Rely on His grace. Live your life to the glory of God, living not for yourself but for Christ’s glory and the salvation of sinners. Yes, pride comes before the fall, so remain humble, daily confessing your sins and placing your trust in Christ as your Savior. You cannot serve God and the world. So learn of Christ, trust in Christ. Live for Christ. He will never fail you and He will never let the righteous fall.


MARK 1:14-15

14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

In the name of Jesus:
Change is in the air, and you can feel it! After the hot summer months, you can now feel the drop in the temperatures. Nights are now met not with the whir of the air conditioning unit trying to keep the temperature down in the home, but with windows open and the feel of cool breezes cooling off our bedrooms. Change is in the air, as jackets are worn when stepping outside in the morning going to work. Plants are beginning to lose their greenness and are starting to change color. Change is in the air, as the days grow darker earlier.
People today talk a lot about change. Politicians always seem to talk about change but things hardly ever seem to change. When things do change, people gripe and complain wanting the status quo. In the church, the culture around us HAS already changed, as we find ourselves living among people who are less inclined to go to church. In the good old days parochial schools were busting at the seams with full enrollment, church membership was on the upswing, and people were going to church. Nowadays, church schools are closing, Pre School and day cares find fewer children enrolled, and fewer people are inclined to go to church. More and more people seem to be openly critical and even hostile to the Church and to its teachings, saying that the Church is out of date and those who believe in traditional values are irrelevant or hate mongers. Things need to change, people need to change. The change needs to begin with each and every one of us.
When Jesus began His ministry, Scripture records His words. Not for posterity, but for purpose. Jesus could have said anything He wanted but Scripture records that when He speaks for the first time in His ministry, these words are important, and serve to set the stage for what follows. We all remember Jesus’ first words as recorded in Scripture, when He as a boy the age of twelve. He was teaching the learned in the Temple, and when asked by His parents as to what He was doing, Jesus replied that He was simply going about doing His Father’s business. Those words capture the essence of Jesus’ ministry, that Jesus was sent to do the will of the Father, but not being served but being a Servant so that He would give His life as a ransom for many.
But Jesus’ first words as He begins His ministry are telling. These set the stage for what follows. And what does He say? Does He say God is great, God is good, and so we should thank Him for our food? Does He say that I just want to praise the Father for all that He has done? No, the Gospel writer Mark records that after John was arrested, that Jesus came into Galilee proclaiming the Gospel of God saying: “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand, repent, and believe in the Gospel.”
The time is fulfilled, that is to say, the long awaited time as come! The Promised One in the Old Testament has arrived. The One promised to Adam and Eve in the Garden, the One pointed to by the prophets is here! King Jesus, God’s One and only Son has been sent by God the Father to do the Father’s work. Jesus has come to seek and save the lost, namely, all who have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Jesus came to fulfill all of God’s promises concerning the world’s salvation. Throughout His ministry Jesus invites sinners to live under His gracious rule and righteousness. Come to Me, says Jesus, you who are burdened by your sins and the changes of life, and I, your Savior and King, will give you rest.
We need that type of rest, that type of change in our lives, don’t we? I do and you do too. All too often we find ourselves like the rich young man in the Gospel of Mark who asks Jesus what he needs to do to inherit eternal life. He knew the Commandments, in fact he told Jesus point blank what a fine religious person he was! Jesus told him that he lacked one thing, a heart that followed Jesus. This young man needed to change but he didn’t want to. He turned and went back to life of possessions and self-righteousness. His life was full of things, and himself. How many times do we act like this one did, with lives full of things and stuff and gadgets which are supposed to make our lives easier and yet in the end we still seek the peace that surpasses all understanding?
When we talk about change, it is usually spoken about in terms of what others need to do. The person who has wronged me must change the way he treats me. The person I don’t get along with needs to change his attitude. It usually is someone else’s fault. But note Jesus’ words. He says that you need to change. You need to repent because God’s Kingdom is at hand.
When Martin Luther started the Reformation by nailing the 95 theses to the Church door in Wittenberg, his first theses set the tone not only for the Reformation but for life of the believer in Christ AND the life of the Church. Luther wrote: “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said repent he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” Consider this for a moment. Let’s have a Lutheran moment here; a what does this mean moment. Jesus is calling you to repentance, for you are a sinner. You have tried to justify your own actions in your life and have fallen short of God’s commands. It is not just the people around you who need to change, you need to change. You need to see yourself in the light of God’s commands and realize that you are a poor wretched sinner. The good that God wants you to do you can’t do perfectly, and the evil He forbids you end up doing! Who will save you from this sinful state? Not your reason, not your strength, not your words and not your actions. Christ will and has. Only Christ.
So Jesus tells you and me to turn from your sin and trust in Jesus. How can that happen? It has! In your Baptism God the Holy Spirit has washed away your sin and given to you a saving faith in Jesus. Luther explains it in this way: “In Baptism the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever, for St. Paul writes: “We were therefore buried with Him through Baptism into death in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. (Romans 6:4).”
What God demands He gives to you in Baptism. Do you want change in your life? God has already changed you in Baptism, and He invites you to live a changed life daily. How? By remembering your Baptism, repenting of your sins and trusting in Christ who lived, died, and rose for your salvation. Do you want others to change? Then live the changed life that Christ has given to you, letting the Light of Christ shine forth in your life so as to give glory to God. Do you want others to believe in Christ? Then begin at home, teaching your family and witnessing to them the love and power of Christ. It is not by accident that Luther, in his Small Catechism, begins each section by stating: “As the head of the family should teach them in a simple way to his household.” Change begins at home. Personally and as a family. Witnessing begins at home and as an individual. Rather than wringing our hands at the state of things in our world and the Church, perhaps it is high time to let the change begin with you, with me, with each of us assembled here.
To change our life by seeking first His kingdom and righteousness. To be glad when it is time to go to the house of the Lord. To place the Lord and His work as a priority. To become students of the Word by daily devotions and in corporate Bible study. To seek to share the blessings God has given to us with others, so that they might be blessed. The change we seek begins with us.
Change is inevitable in life. Seasons change. Today will soon change to tomorrow. The challenges we face will change. But one remains---Jesus. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Repenting of sins we rise to follow Jesus, to announce to all His Kingdom is here! The age-old problem of sin and human failure will be with us. However in Christ you are forgiven. In Baptism you have been changed! And you are sent to announce to others what Jesus offers and gives.
“Lord, help us to see you clearly and so believe that your Kingdom is still among us. Move us to a steadfast hope for the future and to daily repentance and new life. In Jesus’ name. Amen

I need to start updating the Blog

Well, time has gotten away from me again. Other things have taken my time, oh that I would be able to blog like my daughter Rachel! But, seeing as I now a little time since the bulk of my duties as facilitator for the Ohio District Church Worker Conference has now concluded, I will try to update this blog. So get ready, the posts will come fast and furious! After doing this, I will head out to the Palmer Course at Ogelbay for some golf this afternoon