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2nd Sunday in Christmastide — St. Matthew 2.13–23

Grace to you and Peace, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus.

“behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him.” When he arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt”

This is Your Word heavenly Father. Sanctify us by the Truth. Your Word is Truth. Amen.

Fellow redeemed: The voice of lamentation, weeping, and great mourning heard in Ramah was his mother’s as she lay dying. Many a misstep, challenge, and adventure had passed since that terrible day, when Joseph had been unable to prevent Rachel’s dying, but now God had brought this mother’s son through an unlikely life to a position where he could keep that sound from the ears of many a son, and many were being saved from woe and lamentation as Joseph followed the guiding of the Lord. Most of all, he desired the saving of his own, and this too was brought about, and the sons of Israel at last were gathered into safety in the well-watered lands Joseph received to make their home for many years to come.

Just down the road from Ramah, another Joseph responded to the weeping of the mothers of Jerusalem, perhaps especially of that virgin mother, now under John’s care, and he too would protect the son and Lord of Israel in the only way remaining to him. So taking courage he made audience with Governor Pontius Pilate, in whose authority was given life and death– even the death of One whose Kingdom is not of this earth– and took away from him permission to protect and give care to Jesus, swaddling Him in clean linens, and anointing His tortured body in layers of aloes and spices, at last laying Him in Joseph’s own freshly made tomb, and secured the Lord safely, closing the entrance with a large stone.

This morning, in those wee hours before dawn’s rose red fingers would break the horizon into day, while all was still, and dark, and night, Joseph, warned in a dream, took up his ancient namesake’s great honor and vocation. Unlike the first, or that fellow of Arimathea yet to come, this Joseph had no property or position to boast. He was a builder, too poor to provide the proper sacrifice for his beloved and Child. He did not know the chambers of the powerful men of his land– unless by chance he had been part of a crew to build or repair– but he had suddenly, with Mary found himself entertaining strange kings of the distant east. Now they suddenly departed, by a round-about way too, not to be followed. With the gold they had provided, and such stuff as they could quickly carry, Joseph, angel-warned got his little family on the road too, and they journeyed suddenly that night, and into the following days, till they crossed the border, back into the safe havens once provided to the first protecting Joseph in Egypt.

It has never been easy, to serve the living God and His own. Uneasy, since man knocked himself off-kilter in sin. Like a downspout askew, the life-giving showers of God’s favor which once flowed naturally through and sustained us, now to serve the Lord too often is to place oneself at the receiving end of an uncontrolled torrent– the fault not the finger of God, but but the entire disorder of we sinful dying humanity. But for His eye and the love by which He moves all creation to save us, we would be all of us with the best laid plans of mice and men all gang aft a-glay and in ruin are never more. But God does attend His own, and so His hand shielded Joseph as he sought to protect Mary and the Child, that the sun should not smite them down by day, nor the moon by night, and through many perils, both seen and unseen the faithful protector Joseph was himself protected beyond his knowing till journey’s end.

God is with you too, dear one, as you would take that precious thing entrusted to your keeping, as holy charge and privilege from Him– that Word by which you take up Jesus, the Word made flesh– and carry Him along. Even in the midst of deadly danger, even when your own sinful flesh wars against it, combining with this fallen and disordered world– valley of death that it is– and satan too conspire to persuade, or beguile, or threaten, or force you to abandon the trust you have been given in Christ, even then, especially then know that the Holy One Himself is near you, covering you, uplifting and strengthening you against all alarums and peril. As the Protector of the Holy Family Joseph once acted against all odds to carry Jesus away from the untimely grasp of predatory and evil Herod, and took Him where He wanted to go, so you are called faithful to carry the Word of Christ through every crisis and hardship, letting if needs be, all other things go, but never abandoning Jesus.

For Jesus is taking you, as once He took Joseph and Mary, just where you best should be. And where is that place? We know the often repeated story, how those who would notabandon Jesus, who when challenged at gunpoint yet affirmed and kept Him, have been martyred for the sake of that Name of Names. How then is this to the good of the stubbornly faithful Christian? What then when all we once held dear have been taken, even our goods, fame, child, and wife? What then, when we even dare to let these all be gone? Take heart, dear friend, they yet have nothing won.

In days already ancient as the Holy family trod toward the border, when the first Joseph was taken into Egypt, he was taken stripped of everything, having lost his clothing, and even his liberty. And so he languished seemingly in eternal defeat for decades, being slandered, imprisoned, and without friend or any means whatsoever, but the faith once given. But having lost all, Joseph gained all, and was raised above all other men in the kingdom, and became the protector and savior of many.

This Joseph, protector of Jesus now is not too well remembered beyond this moment in Christ’s childhood, and is missing altogether from Mary’s side when their blessed Son becomes a man, already gone to ground. So your story, and my own may be obscure to a few and unknown entirely to most as the years to come roll on. But the Eye which beholds you now, and the Hand which keeps and protects you as you are kept faithful to protect the Priceless Treasure now entrusted to you– the Grace of Jesus– the God who Lives knows and marks your path well, and He shall remember you without fail. He even knows the hairs of your head, when they fall, and He marks your every footstep along life’s way. He is by grace bringing you where you belong.

Jesus came in Grace, out of love for sinners He was born and dwelt among us. In His suffering and dying it is Jesus who truly protected those who would protect Him, whether Joseph, or Mary, or those who would care for His body in laying Him to rest in the tomb, or you, as you refuse to abandon His Word today. Jesus is the Great Protector and makes of us all His holy and eternal family, grafting us through His wounds and realigning us from sin and death into His forgiveness and life without ending. Be faithful then, for Christ Jesus is faithful to you before you knew Him, and will be faithful forevermore. Jesus now forgives your sins, sets your feet on the way to go, and is bringing you in the end to Himself. Be at peace, even though the world round your head is howling, be at peace. You are in Christ, and His eye always sees you, His hand always shields you, His Word is your bread of life, and like a spring of living water forever.

The peace of God which passes all understanding is guarding over your heart and mind through Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

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Advent 3 — Gaudete

Grace to you and Peace, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus.

And when John had heard in prison about the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples and said to Him, “Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?” Jesus answered and said to them, “Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me.”

This is Your Word, Heavenly Father. Sanctify us by the Truth. Your Word is Truth. Amen.

Fellow redeemed: See what John does. He does what a good pastor does. He points not to himself, but to our Lord. He sends his followers not out to find a good lawyer, nor even to go fetch Jesus to come and spring him from death row. He sends his disciples to Jesus with a very specific question for them to ask: “Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?” John sent them, and so they expect to return to the Forerunner of the Christ with a report. But he sent them not with a question for his own curiosity. He sent them with a question to which he well knew the answer. Like a good teacher, John sent his followers to find wonder and great joy in discovering the Answer to their question. That answer would make them whole, would take them where they needed to go, where their old master John loved for them to go, loved for them to discover. He sent them on a quest toward something greater than himself.

John pointed the way. Everything he did, every lesson he taught was not an end in itself, not about him. Everything was pointing, pointing to the One Who would fulfill the desire of ages. John the Baptist to the end was a good pastor, a good teacher. He pointed those who would follow him to the One who was greater than him. He sent his disciples to Jesus. Only there would they find what John could only talk about, could only point to.

The place you find yourself in life today isn’t as important as the place you are going. This journey is only that– and the direction you follow is vital. What direction are you following? Are you following those who point you toward themselves? Are you following goals and objects which are ends in themselves, things which you desire really, only, ever to make you feel a bit happier, a bit less empty, maybe for the moment even fulfilled? Or do you follow the words of the prophets and apostles, and yes, pastors who do not point to things that might entertain you for the day, or down the dead-end streets to themselves, but beyond themselves, through the Word they are given, pointing always, leading you always, encouraging you always, whether you particularly want to hear it or not, in season or out, in fashion or not, always, always to Jesus? Only in Jesus will you find (well, no, not what you’re looking for... that can change from day to day... no, only in Jesus will you find) a better goal and destiny than you could desire or dream.

Jesus took John’s disciples and gave them eyes to see, ears to hear what He does. “The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me.” The reality of sadness and want are overturned before their eyes. Jesus does a New Thing. He makes dead things live, dead eyes, dead legs, dead skin, dead ears, dead people to see and walk and be clean and hear, and hear Good News they’d never heard before. Men can be proud, we don’t want to show our weakness, don’t want to let on that we don’t know the answers, don’t want to show how badly we really do need help. Jesus heals that too, heals that old scab of sinful pride, softens that old scabby heart of stone so that we hear and see and live in His help, grace, and joy, and are blessed not to be offended like the prideful goons we too often are, but in the end not to be offended, but glad to hear His Good News.

You were going to die forever. You were going to hell. You couldn’t do anything about it. Jesus could, and Jesus did do something about it, overcame your death and hell, overcame the blood-price of your sin, paid it with His own life. You are forgiven. You are going to live forever. You are going to heaven. Jesus did this for you. His Word is Truth. Do not be offended, hearing it. This isn’t about how you got here, or where you are. This is about where you are going. This isn’t about John, or any of the prophets or apostles. This isn’t about me, or any other good pastor. This is all about the One we are all pointing to. This is about the One we are pouring out our lives, spending all our years pointing to. This is all about the One John was glad to be sitting in that dungeon, waiting for his execution, if it would only allow him at the last to just keep on pointing to Jesus, sending those who would hear him, hear the prophets, hear the apostles, hear me, to send you to Jesus. He has the answers. Jesus has the forgiveness, life, salvation. John is just a pointer. That’s all I am. That’s all all the saints and angels and the whole Host of heaven are about. We’re about pointing you, now, to Jesus. He is your salvation.

That’s what the people Jesus spoke with that day had gone to see. Not some big show, not an impressive looking guy. They went to see John because he was the most valuable thing in the world to a traveller who wonders where he is, and where to go– he was a sign along the road pointing the right way. Want forgiveness? Want life? Want joy? This way to Jesus. From the start to the end. Even from his prison John sent his disciples... to Jesus.

I want you to think about what it is we are doing here. We are looking at Jesus. Looking at, hearing His Word of Life. Receiving what He promises already here and now. Forgiveness, Life, Salvation, enduring peace and joy. Isn’t that amazing? What a wonderful thing, to have God’s Word and promises pointing you right where you most desire to go.
Every year my family goes over to see the Christmas lights at Shore Acres. They are beautiful and fun and I look forward to seeing the park every December. Several years ago, there was a young father was carrying his little boy. He was about two years old, just old enough to understand the story he must have heard about this magical place they were going to visit with hundreds of thousands of lights, just old enough to understand it and express his joyous anticipation. As that little boy was brought in to the park he was saying “We are here! This is the garden! Oh! Oh! I’m so excited! I’m so excited!” My goodness that little fellow was actually shaking with excitement! He was so delightful to see and hear that I couldn’t help but smile.

This is the place where you hear God’s Word and are pointed to your Savior. This is the place where you receive His forgiveness and are cleansed of your guilt. This is the place your shame is washed away, and you are brought near to Jesus. And His Word speaks, and He feeds you. Isn’t it time you peel away the old rough hide and remember what it was that brought you to this unlikely place for in the first place? Remember what happens here. Remember just Who is here for you. Jesus is here for you. Isn’t it time, Christmas is near, for you to realize that you are peeking into the wonders that saints and angels of old wanted so badly to see, and be just like that little boy, excited, so joyous by what is given you?
Here it is: your sin is taken and done away with. Jesus has paid for your place in eternal life. He loves you. He is here for you in His Word and Sacrament. And He is returning to bring you to the eternal Home He has prepared for you. “The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them.” And blessed is he who is not offended because of Jesus. They were sent back to tell John. You, go and tell your neighbor, go and tell the ones you love. Go and tell. It’s so exciting! It’s more than you dreamed it could be. Jesus is everything, and He is for you.

The Peace of God which passes all understanding keep your heart and mind through Christ Jesus our Lord.
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Third-Last Sunday in the Church Year — St. Isaiah 49.12-17

Grace to you and Peace, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus.

“the Lord has comforted his people and will have compassion on his afflicted. But Zion said, ‘The Lord has forsaken me; my Lord has forgotten me.’ Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands”

This is Your Word heavenly Father. Sanctify us by the Truth. Your Word is Truth. Amen.

Fellow redeemed: The bride had been hurting so long, she couldn’t remember what not hurting felt like. She was desolate, abused, and she knew two things: She knew that her Groom had finally abandoned her, and it was all her fault. Now she knew that she would be alone forever.

She had been the unfaithful one. Her Groom had loved her so deeply, had so tenderly cared for her. But at every opportunity she had turned her back on Him, had despised Him, had run after anybody else, but Him. Finally, as the bride steadfastly refused anything the Groom might do, her last dalliance simply took her— carried her far away. Since then, she had been beaten down, made a slave, treated shamefully. Only now did it begin to dawn, as the years ticked by, now that she was kept in thrall, away, and alone, how much, how fully the Groom had loved her all along. And now it was too late.

But the Groom had not abandoned His bride. He only gave her what she demanded, and for a little while let her live with the consequences of her foolish, unfaithful, sinful desires. He was still waiting patiently. What the bride thought she knew for sure, wasn’t quite as true as she imagined. Yes, it had been all her fault. No, He hadn’t abandoned her, and no, she wouldn’t be alone forever. He had never moved. He still loved her, in spite of so many wrongs she had done. In spite of how the bride had hurt her Groom, in spite of what a selfish fool she had been, He still loved her, and would gladly bring her to Himself again, and make her a home better than she might ever have desired or imagined.

Still, there were so many consequences. Her sons and daughters remained scattered and lost. She had whored herself out so blatantly, she knew she was undesirable, used up, played out, unlovable, ugly. No Groom could restore such a bride. Her tears only dried through exhaustion. The sooner death came, the better.

But not in His opinion. The Groom is steadfast, and unchanging.

Who is this faithless bride? The prophet Isaiah wrote this about Zion— that is, the people of Jerusalem and the Temple. They were about to be invaded and carried off into a seventy year long exile to far-away Babylon. Though she had been faithless, the Groom would remain faithful.

Who is this faithless bride? You are this faithless bride. As once there was a single nation through whom the Lord would bless the whole world, now the Church, and all who belong to Her, who are the Bride of Christ. And as you consider your own relation with the Groom, you will begin to see, here and there, where you have turned your back on the One Who Loves You. Then you will see more, and more, and more, and you may be tempted to despair that the love of Jesus must certainly not be for you. Your own thoughts, words, and deeds, time and again, disqualify you.

It is true. The people of Jerusalem to whom the Lord sent His Word through Isaiah, twenty-six centuries ago, were complacent at best, and had shown by their behavior how they preferred almost anything to the loving care of our Lord. The Temple had been clogged with the paraphenalia of many foreign idols. The hills around the city were topped by the so-called ‘high places’ of the fertility cults. They insisted on religion only on their terms, and their terms had led them far, far away from the true God with His loving care for them.

And we too have done very much the same thing, preferring our own desires and whims to the unchanging Word of the Lord. Things which culturally appeal, we take as being God-pleasing, whether or not they agree with what He has given us in His Word. As Zion twenty-six hundred years ago, so the prophet shows us our own ugly reflection in the mirror of God’s law.

There is nothing they could do then. There is nothing we can do now. Despair would seem the most reasonable thing. We are lost, and surely the Groom will forever leave us to our fate.

There is nothing we can do, but the Groom, you see, He can do all things. His love then, and now, is steadfast and unchanging. The Groom, our Lord Jesus, will have for Himself a spotless and perfect bride for His Church, no matter what it cost Him.

When you see your sin, and you admit there’s nothing you can do, then here is what Jesus says to you. Yes, it is the very same thing He has been saying for a long, long time, ever since His people of old were cast into exile. When the people of Jerusalem came to the dreadful reality of their faithlessness, “Zion said, ‘The Lord has forsaken me; my Lord has forgotten me.’” The Lord replies to you, as He said to the sinners who came before you “Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.”

Consider the most wonderful, most intense love a mother has for her nursing infant. She cannot forget her child, for his cries, and her own body continually remind her of him, and how she may provide the nourishment and comfort he needs. But even the best, most intense of loving-care is a thing which can be broken. We are all sinners, and yes, there are dreadful examples of parents being faithless and unfeeling toward their little children— hard to imagine as that may be! But even if a mother could forget her nursing infant, Jesus wants you to know that He has not, will not, CAN NOT forget you.

You are engraved on Him. Those nail scars identify you. There is your identity, held before your Savior forever. His love is perfect, He will not forget you.

In your sin, He turns you from your anguish and despair, turns you from self-contemplation to focus not within yourself, but on Him. Look to Jesus. He is the Author and Perfecter of the Faith. He is steadfast and unmoving. He loves you, and will not turn from you. You may have been faithless. You may have preferred many other things, but Jesus is faithful. And He prepares you even now as His own beloved, without sin, spot, wrinkle, or any defect in the eyes of the Father. Jesus presents you as perfect.

You see, Jesus has given Himself to pay the penalty of your sin. He offered Himself in your place. And with every stroke of the scourging whip, you are comforted. By His stripes, you are being healed. With every hammer-blow, as nails were driven through His hands, that He might be offered up on the cross to die, your name has been inscribed on Him. In Jesus’ wounds, you are made whole. You are grafted into Him, as branches into a vine, and His body and blood are given to nourish and sustain you as no mother ever could do for her nursing child.

Time and again the people of old turned away from the Lord. Time and again, every one of us, in our thoughts, words, and deeds have forgotten about Jesus. But He has not forgotten you. The Groom tenderly and lovingly gives Himself to prepare you as His bride. And He is bringing you home. And in His Father’s House are many mansions, and one for you. In sin we have forgotten our Lord. In His grace, Jesus has remembered us. In Him you are forgiven, restored, and made new. And one day you shall see Him as He is, and you, and I, and all the Church down the many ages will be made new.

Jesus, your Groom, loves you, and He remembers you. He will not leave you alone in sin to die forever. He brings you in Him, and you will be made whole. You are engraved into the palms of His hands.

The peace of God which passes all understanding, guard over your heart and mind through Christ Jesus. Ame
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The Feasts of the Reformation & All Saints’ Day

Grace to you and Peace, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus.

“Whoever confesses Me before men, him the Son of Man also will confess before the angels of God. But he who denies Me before men will be denied before the angels of God.”

This is Your Word heavenly Father. Sanctify us by the Truth. Your Word is Truth. Amen.

Fellow redeemed: Today we are marking two feasts— Reformation Day, and All Saints’ Day. With both it is easy to celebrate the heroes of the Faith and go away feeling satisfied, but not quite connecting their history to our every-day reality. So we are going to focus on Christian martyrdom and learn how this is a part of our daily life in Christ and is rolled up with the doctrine of vocation.

“Do you believe in God?” Cassie Bernall answered “Yes.” For this confession she was struck down and murdered. You may not remember the name of this teen who was often seen with her Bible, and was known for her Christian Faith. This happened years ago, at Columbine High School, in Colorado.

Assembled with the kings and princes of Europe, Emperor Charles V, through his spokesman asked:

“Do you wish to revoke or defend the doctrine you have taught?”

Martin Luther’s answer concluded:

“Since your most serene majesty and your high mightinesses require of me a simple, clear and direct answer, I will give one, and it is this: Unless I am convicted by Scripture or by right reason (for I trust neither in popes nor in councils, for they have often erred and contradicted themselves)— unless I am thus convinced, I am bound by the texts of the Bible, my conscience is captive to the Word of God, I neither can nor will recant anything, since it is neither right nor safe to act against conscience is neither. Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise. God help me. Amen."

More recently we all have heard what happened in a classroom just north of Roseburg. The students were asked if they were Christians. Those who affirmed that they were, were shot in the head. Others, not giving this answer, were shot in the leg or elsewhere.

To these examples we could easily offer many more. Your brothers in Christ from Egypt, beheaded on a Libyan beach some months ago. Stories of boys and girls in Syria affirming their faith in Jesus, their parents watching them struck down, and then joining their children in confessing the Faith. Employment, and academic opportunities forfeited right here in Oregon, because Christians would not compromise their faith and practice. Businesses being subjected to the full force of state authorities and the vicious expressions of hatred from their neighbors because their owners would not lend their services to practices which would demand they turn their backs on God’s Word.

When we consider martyrdom, we are not only telling stories of long ago and far away, dear Christian, but we are telling stories which demand a stand and action from you, here and now, and in the days ahead.

The word ‘martyr’ is Greek. Although we now think of those who have been murdered for their stand, it actually means ‘witness,’ and was a term employed in law. When you would give testimony in court, you were a ‘martyr’, or ‘witness.’ The consequence of such testimony as proclaimed and stuck with one’s faith in Jesus has so often resulted in death, the word took on the connotation we usually associate with it. Christian martyrs so often, having been brutally punished for their good and true testimony in this unbelieving world, where many hate Jesus, and so also despise those who dare to affirm their faith in Him.

This good answer, regardless of the price that you may pay, is the work of the Christian martyr.

Jesus says “Whoever confesses Me before men, him the Son of Man also will confess before the angels of God. But he who denies Me before men will be denied before the angels of God.” So the matter is not optional, is it.

In your daily life in Christ, you are incorporated into the ongoing work of God, whereby He provides the needs of your neighbor. He accomplishes His work of providence by the things you are given to do. As you care for other members of your household who cannot care for themselves because they are too young, or have grown weak by age or disease, I want you to understand that the humble, difficult tasks you undertake are holy. Your heavenly Father is working through your feet and hands, even through your tongue, as you deal with that one.

As you go out into the community and go about your job, again, the providence of your heavenly Father is being accomplished. Your daily vocation and work is most certainly thereby sacred, though you may be called to do lowly things which may even be despised in the eyes of the world, which do not understand or see what our Lord is doing for them through your labors.

In your vocation you are not to be making up reasons to talk about your faith in Jesus. As Luther wrote concerning this, the shoemaker doesn’t cut little crosses into the shoes he makes. Rather, for love of neighbor and in gratitude to our Lord, he makes the best pair of shoes he is able, and charges a fair price for them. God Himself is thus using his labor to provide for his fellow man the things he needs.

But there are times when you will have an opportunity to speak about the Faith. When, through your daily vocation, your unbelieving neighbor asks  the reason for the hope that is in you, which impels you to work at your tasks as you do, then you must be prepared to given an answer, and not shrug it off, but point to the Source and Reason for that hope— the grace of Jesus which so transforms your life that they see it in what you do— that you swept clean that corner nobody would see, that you cared so tenderly for that one who needs your attention, though the world largely goes by unheeding. That you did not cut corners on that assignment, but did your work rightly. You see, in these things, through your daily vocation, you become to the world a curious person, and when you then are asked and answer to the hope of Jesus in your life, your neighbor will be all the likelier to hear what you have to say, for God has already been at work in their lives through the humble tasks you have been doing. You see, here is your work as martyr, for you here have given an answer to the good news of Jesus! And would that we all recognized this workaday form of the Christian martyr’s vocation! Surely this is the form it takes in nearly all our lives, nearly all the time. When I remember those in my life who are now among the saints in heaven, it most commonly is the kind word, the encouragement, yes, even the delicious food they made as they lived in Christ, and I was made the better for it.

Sometimes a Christian is put to it, for satan and the demons infesting this sin-sick planet would murder Jesus Himself, if they could— they tried, and thought they’d succeeded, seeing Him brutally tortured and hung till dead on the Cross. But He defeated death itself, and rising, descended right into that gloomy prison He prepared for them, undoing their stronghold in hell and declared His triumph forever. But if not Jesus, then— make no mistake!— they have set their sights on those who are in Christ, and would make you deny the Faith, or at least to be silenced. And if they cannot silence you, then they would do you harm, and even murder you if they might do so.

Luther was put to it. He was not to speak and teach the true doctrine of God’s Word. The Gospel was not to be spoken! But his vocation was literally to speak and teach that very thing, for he was a doctor of theology and a professor of God’s Word, lecturing and writing daily on many books of the Bible.

Because he would not recant and shut up, the emperor declared Luther an outlaw. For the rest of his life, Luther lived without any protection from the laws of the Holy Roman Empire. He could have been hurt or murdered, and the one doing so would not have broken the law. That’s what it meant to be ‘outlaw.’ But his prince, Frederick the Wise protected the great Doctor, so long as he remained within his principality of Electoral Saxony. He preached and taught and wrote and published for years to come! But yes, Luther was a martyr for he was a faithful witness to Jesus.

When you are told to shut up, and threatened if you speak about Jesus, then as a Christian you must stand and be counted. For many of our fellow Christians, the result has been their harm— financially, in their career or schooling, through physical beatings, scorn and mockery, and yes, even being murdered. Because of His great mercies, such things have been rare for us, here in Oregon. But they are no longer unheard of, are they?

So I must remind you of your work in this world. Normally you are to go about your daily labor and recognize that here God makes your vocational activities a holy thing. Sometimes you are privileged to give answer to the hope that is in you for Jesus’ sake! What a wonderful opportunity! And yes, this is the common, daily work of being a martyr, that is, a witness to Jesus. And you must be prepared, dear friend, if needs be, to give all, rather than deny Him who saved you and in Whom you have already the promise of eternal life.

Fear not those who can only kill the body, who can only take what you have from your property, who can merely destroy your place in society. They can harm you none. Rather, fear and love Him Who has given you this life, and life eternal for the sake of Jesus! Would you turn from Him? Never!

In complacency, many have turned from Jesus without any threat from the world at all. Some run at the least hint of threat. I therefore charge you to heed Jesus’ words: “Whoever confesses Me before men, him the Son of Man also will confess before the angels of God. But he who denies Me before men will be denied before the angels of God.”

Confess Jesus in your daily life and labor. Confess Jesus when you are asked to give an answer to the hope that He gives you. Confess Jesus if a gun or blade are held against you. Better to lose everything in this world, than to lose eternal life in the world to come.

You are not left on your own in this, dear Christian. You have one another. The mutual conversation and consolation of the brethren is for you. Do not be a lone ranger in your religion and life. You are woven together into the Body of Christ, the Church. And here receive what your Good Lord has prepared for you— His means of grace freely given to sustain and heal you through Word and Sacrament.

Follow Jesus. Even when death loomed before Him, He would not deny you, but from the Cross has given you His Gifts of eternal life, forgiveness, and salvation. Follow Jesus, for even now He bears you up and sustains you. And soon you will behold Him, and He will wipe every tear from your eyes. And with all the saints, you will receive an eternal home in Him. Lift up your heads, your Redeemer is nigh! Fear not. Though devils should overrun the world entire, you are in Jesus. Give the good confession, fight the good fight, and in Him, you shall stand, dear fellow Christian martyr and saint, come the dawning of that unending New Day.

The peace of God which passes all understanding, stand guard over your heart and mind through Christ Jesus. Amen.
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Trinity 13 — St. Luke 10:23-37

St. Luke 10:23-37   And Jesus turned to His disciples and said privately, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. For I tell you, many prophets and kings wished to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.” And behold, a scribe stood up and tested Him, saying, “Master, what must I do to inherit everlasting life?” And He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” He answered and said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And He said to him, “You have answered rightly. Do this, and you will live.” But he wished to justify himself, and said to Jesus, “Who then is my neighbor?” Then Jesus answered and said, “There was a man who went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, and left him lying half-dead. Now it happened somehow that a priest went down the same road, and when he saw him, he passed by. And likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by. But a Samaritan was journeying, and came that way, and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, went to him, bound up his wounds, and poured oil and wine into them, and put him up on his animal, and brought him into the inn, and took care of him. The next day he journeyed, and pulled out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying to him, ‘Take care of him, and if you spend any more, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three do you think was the neighbor to him who fell among the robbers?” He said, “He who had mercy on him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Then go your way and do likewise.”

Grace to you and Peace, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus.

“And Jesus turned to His disciples and said privately, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. For I tell you, many prophets and kings wished to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.””

This is Your Word, heavenly Father. Sanctify us by the Truth. Your Word is Truth. Amen.

Fellow redeemed: Many prophets and kings wished to see what the disciples were seeing, as Jesus turned to them and spoke privately.

What were they seeing? Jesus was speaking with them privately. He had just turned to them. They were looking at Him. Many prophets and kings had wished to see Jesus. Of course prophets wanted to see Him. Jesus is the One they were prophesying of, all those years! And the life of a prophet oftentimes was not filled with good things to see. One prophet had to be sustained by ravens bringing him food. Another kept himself from starving by eating locusts. So, yeah, you might think, no big deal, of course the prophets wanted to see Jesus. But what about the kings? Why had many kings longed to see Jesus? Kings have most everything a man could want. It sort of goes with the job, doesn’t it?

Why did many kings long to see Jesus? What did He bring that they didn’t already have? Think about it— where were all these kings as Jesus spoke to the Twelve? Where were the Davids and Solomons and all that lot? For all their power and great wealth, the kings who had so desired to see Jesus were long dead, weren’t they? Jesus was born in the royal line of Israel, descended, according to His humanity from no less than David, that great king who had reigned over nine centuries before Jesus’ birth.

All the power and might, wealth and fame of all the great kings in the end came to what? Vanity, vanity, saith the preacher, wise Solomon wrote. All their stuff could not prevent those valiant men of ancient days from returning to the dust from which all men are made. They were gone to ground, and nothing could save them.

Prophet or king, highborn or lowly, rich or poverty stricken, all men die. And you know what the man who realizes this really, really wants to see? He wants to see the One who is mightier than death itself. He longs to see the One who, promise of old, is mightier, even, than the death which already is claiming you. He desires the One who takes the death of all mankind onto Himself, with all our guilt, with all our shame, with all our hurt, with all our sin, takes it on Himself, and undoes it, destroys it, reigns rampant over it, descends right into the bowels of hell and damnation for us and smashes it forevermore. And takes us from its cruel grip, breaks the chains of sin and death which drag us down, and gives us life such as no man could even dare to dream— life without death forever. Life without tears forever. Life without loss forevermore.

That’s what prophets and kings and you and me (if we have any wisdom at all), that’s what we long to see. They would see Jesus.

Death makes life a cruel joke. You have spent your whole life knowing suffering and loss. Even your borning moment was defined by pain, and danger. We speak of childhood diseases as though that was normal. Normal? The fevers and assaults of things trying to turn our guts to jelly, leaving us scarred and our parents sleeplessly anxious for the moment to pass, that we might recover? Recover, but left weak and sweating, stinking, and pale, and knowing there’s going to be a next time, and after that, another thing. And that is how we have gone through life, enduring one assault after another. Death never so far away that we cannot catch the stink of it.

Not even the high and mighty, the kings of our age can escape the marks of death. A billionaire who speaks whatever’s on his mind, before whom nearly everything seems to yield, declares he’s going to be our next president. He might just do that. But his baldness is a badly combed-over, open secret. Death in a million little ways can already be seen flicking away at him, just like the rest of us little and mighty alike. None shall escape. All are brought down to the grave. It does not matter how grand a tomb you make, even a wonder of the world tomb still contains nothing but the rotted corpse of one who could not stand.

Sin waylays us all, and it assaults us on our way through life. Sooner or later it has its way with every one of us. The sting of sin is death. And it steals everything, and it leaves us beside life’s road for dead. And you are helpless to stop it.

Fine and good men pass by, but they cannot do a thing to help. In fact, they fear your uncleanness. And who can blame them?, for they are just as weak as you are. Sin takes you down, and shamefully strips you bare for all to see. And there’s none to do a thing about it.

But for us comes the Valiant One, Whom God Himself elected.  Who is This? To the eyes of the world, He appeared nothing special. Indeed, He was despised and rejected. But This One came down life’s way, and has beheld your lost condition. Though better looking candidates prove time and again useless, helpless, and afraid of sin’s sting of death upon you, this One has found you, and He has come down to you, setting aside His right, His dignity, His glory, and He had knelt beside you, here in the dirt and filth of sin and death. He alone has been unafraid to get that stench and grime on Him. He comes to you with His good Gifts to heal you. He has washed you clean in His watery Word in which you have been Baptized. He has laid the healing unction of His Good Spirit on you, to revive you, and raised you up already in a new life. The sting which has plagued you lessens. Sin has got all over Him, your Good Savior who tends to you.

Jesus is the Good Samaritan, you see. And you are the one waylaid, robbed, left for dead. He has come to you, taken your sin, your death onto Himself, lifted you above Himself, as He has bourn the full weight of your sin and death in your place. Jesus has given you His Word, His Spirit, His Grace that you might not be dying any more, but be living.

Now, for this little while you yet hurt. Your suffering is abated, but you do still suffer. But Jesus has delivered you to this inn—the Church— entrusting you to the ministering care of His Word and Sacrament, so that by these two coins you are to be strengthened, renewed, and kept, till He returns.

And should we fellow redeemed suffer loss and pain even as we receive the Means of Grace? If we should even suffer and die? Know this dear one, Jesus, your Good Samaritan promises: “I will repay you when I come back.” Though we suffer loss and pain, though we grieve the death of our beloved, yet, we no longer grieve as other men do, who have no hope.

Jesus is returning. Of this we have confidence, for He has promised it, and Jesus always keeps His promises.

Now, for this little while, we sojourn on, here in the inn of His Church, and we serve one another, and we practice the kindness toward our neighbor, even the least and lowliest, which Jesus has shown us. We love the Lord our God, for He first has loved us, and given Himself, even suffering our death and pain in our place under the burden of sin. So we love Him, and in loving gratitude, we show kindness, and, insofar as we are able, we bear one another’s burdens, and we show kindness and hospitality toward our neighbor. And we live in the well founded hope, and the wondrous, surprising joy, which is borne up in us by our Lord’s Word, His promise, His love in which we now may love one another, and love our neighbor as ourselves.

Our Good Samaritan, Jesus, is delivering us to His most wondrous Home. Your sin is forgiven. You are at peace with God. Live in His love, live as forgiven, live at peace toward Him, and toward all around you.

The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your heart and mind through Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
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Trinity 8 — St. Matthew 7.15–23

Grace to you, and Peace, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus.

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits.”

This is Your Word heavenly Father. Sanctify us by the Truth. Your Word is Truth. Amen.

Fellow redeemed: False prophets sneak into the fold of the Christian faithful, seeking to bite and kill and destroy. Beware of those who claim spiritual authority and speak to you of spiritual stuff. As your pastor, I charge you in Jesus’ name to listen carefully to what I preach and teach you, for even in the case of a faithful servant, I may lead you away from the green grasses and quiet waters of God’s Word. So put my words to the test: am I speaking from God’s Word, reading, and faithfully applying it for your sake in a cross-centered, Christ-focused manner? Even if I were to say something to you in error through the accident of misspeaking (as I know that I have done), you do well to mark it, and bring it to me that I may repent of the error and correct it at our next Service. This is important!

From this text I also sternly warn and charge you to take heed to all those other voices who would speak of spiritual things to you. Do not allow strangers you hear and see in the media, or who may come among you in your daily life to get away with spiritual sounding stuff that perverts and twists God’s Word, or imports demonic teachings from strange religions and philosophies, lest you be beguiled and led astray, and so wander from the flock in which our Good Shepherd has kept you. Be on guard, dear Christian, for you must take care always to listen for your Master’s Voice, that is, the Voice of Jesus, and only follow Him. Do not allow appearances to deceive you, as it is easy to put on sheep’s clothing; but listen to what is being taught, and, if it is not centered in the grace of Jesus, do not follow such a one!

So far, you may have expected what I have proclaimed today. But our Gospel reading is not only about how you must judge all who claim spiritual authority to teach. It is also about your own dealings and doings.  Jesus teaches us about the false prophet, but then he also teaches us about those who do things in His Name, whom He does not know, and rejects.

This may very well be describing you. In fact, this calls for a second sermon for us all to hear and to heed:

Grace to you, and Peace, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

This is Your Word heavenly Father. Sanctify us by the Truth. Your Word is Truth. Amen.

Fellow redeemed: Yes, today we get a two-fer. You may already have known well how you must take care to judge those who would teach you spiritual things, but what about the things you are doing in your own life, which, whether you realize it or not, you do for spiritual purposes? Jesus plainly teaches that there are those who will be tragically surprised that their “many mighty works”, even those they thought they were doing in His Name, result in the pronouncement of Divine rejection “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.”

I had a small taste of this myself, years ago, as I worked as the assistant to one of the owners of a business. As he was going to be away for a few days, the boss left me a short list of things to do, if I had time, after taking care of my routine responsibilities. On his first day away, I received data for him, and decided that I could develop a report with simple graphics on sales and inventory and so forth, and I even worked up seasonal projections. I wound up working the better part of a couple of days, and I was proud, when he returned, to show him what I had been doing.

His response was less than gratifying. “This is interesting, but I didn’t tell you do do any of this!” And then he noted that none of the things on my list had been completed. A few weeks later, rather than receiving a promotion, I was let go. My works were unacceptable, because they were not what I had been under orders to do.

I fear that many of us are habitually guilty of doing something like this when it comes to the sort of things we seek to do in Jesus’ Name. I must warn you that our culture around us, and our own sinful and fallen nature continually encourage us to attempt to please our Lord with works He has not asked us to do. The subtle philosophies around us urge us to spend our time distancing ourselves from the ordinary duties of life, through forms of exercise, or the practice of stillness, to focus on inner spiritual enlightenment. We defend our practice, claiming that such spiritual meditation is surely good! But where has Jesus asked you, through exercise, or stillness, to open yourself to supposedly enlightened inner spiritual wisdom? Indeed, doesn’t He rather charge you to meditate on His Word night and day? Not an emptying, but an intentional filling of your heart and mind through feasting on every Word of the Lord! In fact, such pursuits come not from Jesus, but from the false religions of the East, Hindu and Buddhist practices which these days hold natural appeal to fallen minds— that through such martial or physical exertions or silencing, you should make yourself better.

In fact what you may be doing is opening yourself to the voice of that one who thought he should take the place of the Creator and led a rebellion in heaven, and was cast down. Ever since, the devil has been suggesting this thing or that practice or that device whereby you may be made as a god yourself, knowing good and evil. But such enlightenment from the beginning has only ever resulted in disastrous falling and shame.

Or you may have pursued a special program of good works by doing things which are purported to help yourself and others, which are nowhere approved or commanded you in God’s Word. I am reminded of a film I saw not many months ago, of a father who pursued a long pilgrimage, leaving his family, business, and community to obtain peace after the untimely death of his son. He supposed that by it, he would be made a better Christian, and that in time those who were bewildered by his rather abrupt absence would benefit also. But where are such things in God’s Word?

We are encouraged to do all manner of things, yes, in Jesus’ Name!, by our flesh, and by the world around us. But are these things from Jesus? Or do you think that you would make for Him a delightful surprise? Did you not know that all things that are, He has created? Did you not know that He already has set before you such things are pleasing to Him, and good for you as well? No, as the prophet Jeremiah has written: “Thus says the Lord: ‘Stand in the ways and see, And ask for the old paths, where the good way is, And walk in it; Then you will find rest for your souls. But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’” Do not wander into all the bright shiny ideas of what should please God which come from your flesh, or the fallen world around you. There is no reason to adopt the supposedly good works of pagans, who do not know the true God, in order to please Him.

Stick to the old paths. God calls you to Himself, as we have sung in today’s Psalm “We have thought, O God, on Your lovingkindness, in the midst of Your Temple.” As the people of old looked forward to the Coming Redeemer, and so gathered in His House to Hear His Word, so we, to whom the Redeemer, Jesus has come, are gathered in His House and here feast on His Word and rejoice in His Means of Grace. Here we are shown the mercy of the Lord, and our salvation. Here we receive His promise, and His ongoing forgiveness, life, and salvation.

And if you would know what pleases God, to do it, as His Good Spirit enables both the desire, will, and ability in you, then consider your life according to the Ten Commandments, and serve your neighbor according to your vocation, as father, mother, husband, wife, son, daughter, worker, student, neighbor, and so on. Here you see, and not through some exotic form of stretching or sitting or pilgrimage or other way of avoiding the world, Jesus would have you live in the midst of and engage one another in His good hope and joy and pleasure. Repent of the special stuff you may have been doing, and return, rather, to the most brilliant, most gracious, most divine form of living which to the world looks dull and boring. But which you know from hearing God’s Word and receiving His Grace, is His work in and through your living and being as His beloved, that the lost and dying might yet see and wonder at the hope that is in you for Jesus’ sake.

And know, dear one, that for Jesus’ sake you are forgiven all those bright ideas and foolish philosophies and disciplines which have so annoyingly keeping you from the House of the Lord, and from your joyful service toward your neighbor. Yes, you are forgiven all your sin, even those you supposed were your good works! And you are restored again to the grace and favor of Jesus. He loves you, and by His grace, on the Last Day will know you, and welcome you into His Kingdom forevermore.

The peace of God which passes all understanding, mount guard and keep watch over your heart and mind in Christ Jesus. Amen.
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The Second Sunday after Trinity St. Isaiah 25.6–9

Grace to you and Peace, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus.

And in this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all people a feast … And He will destroy on this mountain the surface of the covering cast over all people, and the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever, and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces; the rebuke of His people He will take away from all the earth; for the LORD has spoken. …

This is Your Word, heavenly Father. Sanctify us by Your Truth. Your Word is Truth. Amen.

Fellow redeemed: There is nothing theoretical about your life. You endure pain, suffer loss, know heartache, and the hurt goes to your very core. You do theorize though, about why there must be so many tears, and you create rationales to explain the cause of such sorrow. Very often you point to the person or thing instrumental in the crisis of the moment and consider yourself its victim. Sometimes though, you attempt to get to the root and source, the true and essential cause of the ongoing tragedy of life. Some may see an overarching conspiracy of powerful and evil men behind it all. Others grow fatalistic and resign themselves to the notion that this just must be the way it has to be. Or you may have peeled the outrages and tragedies of life back deeply enough to be convinced that God is behind all your tears.

There is nothing theoretical about your life. There is nothing theoretical about your pain. So it follows that your theories aren’t going to get you very far in uncovering the truth. If you start from a false premise, your conclusion is bound to be false as well. The one thing you do not, under any circumstance wish to admit is that the source of your misfortune is the very sin which you bear. So it has ever been for you, for you were born already weighed down and suffering the thorough corruption of sin, causing you to think and do evil always in the sight of your Creator. You, in a word, are the problem, for you carry with you that sin which fatally poisons you.

It’s too easy to hear our Lord’s parable today and think yourself on the side of the saints. In fact along with the guy who said he had to go inspect the property he’d just bought, the guy who claimed he needed to go test drive the oxen the salesman had just delivered, or that newlywed couple who supposed the whole world had to stop just because they’d gotten married, you are in that gang. Jesus says that “they all with one accord began to make excuses.” and then “For I say to you that none of those who were invited shall taste my supper.”

When Jesus tells a parable, if you want to understand it, hold it up in front of you like a mirror. You are the one He’s talking about. Your sin is a stench in His nose. There’s no sense wondering why bad things happen to you. You’ve got it coming. In fact, you’ve earned eternal captivity to eternal death. Yeah, there may be somebody or something who was the instrument behind the latest bad thing that happened to you. Yeah, for all I know there may be some conspiracy of powerful guys conspiring to rule the world. But go deeper, peel back the layers, and you’ll see—no, not God— you’ll see it’s your own sin dragging you into hell. And there’s nothing theoretical about that at all. Get over yourself, stop making excuses, you know this is so. Your own heart, always ends up accusing you. And as harsh as my words may be, your heart’s accusation, where God’s Law is written, is far worse.

You can’t make this better. But there is hope. When the Disciples despaired and cried to Jesus “who then may be saved?” He told them “with man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

The Lord can save you from your own fault, from your own wrong, from your sin. The Lord alone can remove your shame, your offense, your damnation. Hear again, what He says to you today: And in this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all people a feast … And He will destroy on this mountain the surface of the covering cast over all people, and the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever, and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces; the rebuke of His people He will take away from all the earth; for the LORD has spoken. …

In typical Hebrew style, the meat of this passage is the middle bit, with everything else orbiting around it. The Lord promises through His prophet Isaiah that He will destroy the veil that is spread over all people, and swallow up death forever. When you hear about a veil, that’s a covering that keeps you apart. The veil in the Temple stood as the barrier separating the Holy of Holies from the rest of the world. The veil which keeps the Lord and humanity apart is the offense of sin. But God has vowed that He would destroy this veil. And the effect is to bring us back together with Him. In our sin, to be brought near God is to surely die. But He vows that “He will swallow up death forever…”

The Lord promised to destroy the veil that kept us from Him. He Himself promised to swallow up death. There is nothing theoretical about it. And Jesus has kept His Word. For He sent His Word, He emptied Himself of His glory and humbled Himself to be born a man. Jesus is God, the Lord, and He suffered the same disaster of sin you are suffering, but, He had no sin of His own. He suffered the same disaster of pain and loss and hurt as you, but He suffered not only your sin, but the sin of the entire human race. And He took your sin and the burden of the eternal death you have coming to you, and He climbed His mountain, from Jerusalem up to the top of Golgotha, or Calvary, the mountaintop where sinners were executed. He went for you to this mountain, and was lifted up to suffer death, your death, to pay the penalty of sin, your sin, and dying, took death itself into His own body, and swallowed it up forever. Death sought to take that man who had no sin, but bore yours for you, and He took death itself hostage, and has confounded and destroyed it. At that moment, as Jesus gave up His spirit into death, what happened? The Scripture tells us at that moment the veil of the Temple was torn down in two from top to bottom.

Jesus kept His ancient promise, He has taken your sin and torn it in two, for He paid for it. He suffered your death, and swallowed it up forevermore.

And your salvation from eternal death, the consequence of your sin, has been accomplished by Jesus, the One alone who has delivered sinners from their sin, and the dying from eternal death.

So now, we have seen the central thing, let’s take another look at what the Lord promises around the Triumph over the destroyed veil of sin, and the conquest of death. Back out to the first promise made in our text from Isaiah, and see it written “And in this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all people a feast” Again, none of this is theory. Our Lord is not speaking in word pictures. He means what He says. So what feast has the Lord your God made for you? It is the feast which Jesus made for you on the night He was betrayed. Looking toward what He would accomplish for your salvation, He took bread, blessed it saying “take eat, this is my body” and the cup too, saying that here, in His blood is the remission of your sin. The Holy Supper which we receive in thanksgiving from the Lord’s Table, His Body and Blood, broken and shed for you delivers to you what Jesus promises, and where there is forgiveness, there is also life and salvation. It is here, at the Feast Jesus sets before you, a foretaste of the ongoing feast of heaven, that Jesus connects you by His means of Grace to His Triumph and Victory, wherein He has destroyed the veil of sin and swallowed up your death forever.

And in the end, on the Last Day, the last promise is effected, and right now you may be comforted by it. Having made all things new, having brought you who are in Him through death to eternal life, identified here in the Old Testament prophecy of Isaiah as the Lord who is Yahweh, and again in the Revelation we find the promise again made, “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” [And the Lamb] who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.”

Your sin is dreadful indeed, for it leads you to eternal death, and every evil which befalls you is a foretaste of it. But God has sent His son Jesus to remove the penalty of your sin in His own death, and so has taken the sting of death forever. Even the misfortune which may now bring tears to your eyes, the Lord who loves you is using in the end to refine and strengthen your faith in Him, so that “we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” God loves you, in Christ Jesus you are forgiven, by His Word and Means of Grace you are kept and strengthened through this life of sorrow, already rejoicing in the forgiveness you have received and the eternal life which is to come. The Spirit works in you now, and is bringing you home, and you shall receive every blessing won for you.

The Peace of God which passes all understanding guard your heart and mind through Christ Jesus our Lord.
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Trinity 1— Psalm 13

Grace to you and Peace, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus.

Our text today is the thirteenth Psalm, which we just heard a bit of, in the introit:

How long, O LORD? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me? How long shall I take counsel in my soul, Having sorrow in my heart daily? how long will my enemy be exalted over me? Consider and hear me, O LORD my God; Enlighten my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death; Lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed ‘against him”; lest those who trouble me rejoice when I am moved. But I have trusted in Your mercy; My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation. I will sing to the LORD, Because He has dealt bountifully with me.

This is Your Word heavenly Father. Sanctify us by Your Truth. Your Word is Truth. Amen.

Fellow redeemed: Will your Lord forget you forever? Given the state of your heart, doesn’t He have plenty of reason to abandon you? When you consider your sin, hopelessness can loom very large indeed. When you consider the suffering you may be enduring, as your life may be surrounded by crisis, your loved ones fall to serious sickness, death visiting all too often the ones so dear to you. You may be heartsick as you suffer through the consequences of all manner of dreadful afflictions. Your personal hopes and dreams may seem a cruel joke. Life has revealed itself to you as only so much suffering in this dim and dying world. Why shouldn’t the Lord forget you forever, when everything and everybody else seems to have done so, and you are tempted to despair. If this short life is so sad, why should you expect anything better to greet you in eternity? Your heart resonates with the words of the psalmist: “How long shall I take counsel in my soul, Having sorrow in my heart daily? how long will my enemy be exalted over me?”

Poor Lazarus, covered with sores, invalid, laid at the rich man’s gate, hungered, starved, hearing, smelling, the sumptuous feasting within, greeted only with the rough tongues of dogs lapping at his open wounds, forgotten, abandoned, suffered. And things only grew worse, didn’t they? The rich man ignored him as he lay there, sick, weak, starving, dying. “How long, O LORD? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me? How long shall I take counsel in my soul, Having sorrow in my heart daily?” But against all this, contrary to every fact in his life, Lazarus hoped in the kind mercies of the Lord. And in this hope, that poor man died.

The rich man was not to be despised for his wealth, but his self centeredness was his sin. He did not lift his eyes to inquire over the pitiful moan from the beggar at the gate. He could without any loss of comfort have had him fed, had him clothed, given him simple comfort. But instead, the man looked only to his own desires, and trusting only in his riches, also died.

Would the Lord forget Lazarus forever? It surely seemed he had been forgotten in this world.

When Jesus told this story, the fate of such indigent beggars was simple: dying, they would be carted out of town, and dumped onto the always smoldering trash heap below Jerusalem called Gehanna. There the exposed would be left to the flies, rats, the dogs, no longer only licking, and perhaps, to the flames. In short order, nothing would remain.

Will you be forgotten forever in your misery?

Jesus tells us that when Lazarus died, something astonishing happened. The holy angels fetched him to Abraham’s bosom. There he received comfort.

Even as the world disposed of Lazarus, the angels bore him home, to Abraham’s bosom.

Every faithful Jew knew that Abraham was their ancestral father. The entire nation of Israel descends from him. But what does this mean, that angels carried Lazarus to his bosom? Is it, as our translation puts it, merely to be delivered to his side? Or is there something more?

Will you be forgotten forever?

When Jesus first told this story, there was something interesting going on in the way the dead were treated. Yes, the poor beggars without families were tossed on the trash heap. But most people were washed, wrapped in a long linen shroud, and laid to rest in tombs. You are familiar with this, for that is what was done for Jesus after He suffered and died on the cross. But in those days, tombs were rather large man-made caverns, with an outer chamber for preparation, and then for mourning, and then an inner chamber, with a shelf where the dead were laid. But then there were niches in the walls of that inner chamber, where stone boxes were kept. After a couple of years, the bones of the dead would be collected carefully from the shelf, and placed into one of these boxes, which would then be labelled. So long as the family kept that tomb, their dead were not forgotten.

But there was a problem when it came to small children. A little one, from infancy through his first few years, if he died, would leave very fragile, only partially formed bones behind. And they were so small, it really didn’t make sense to make an ossuary (that’s what the bone boxes were called) for him. Would the little ones of Israel be forgotten? No. They were loved, and their short lives cherished, even as we love and cherish our children today. So the Jews in those days did something different. When the bones of the babies were gathered from the resting shelf in the family tomb, grandpa’s box would be slid from its place and opened. The little bones would be gently placed in the rib-cage of his ancestor. The box would receive his name, next to grandpa’s (or grandma’s or another close family member).

Do you understand? Lazarus was taken by the heavenly angels and placed in the bosom of Father Abraham. He would not be forgotten. Even as the world would move on, insensible of the loss, Lazarus was remembered.

In this sad world, Lazarus’ body was disposed of, and the rich man doubtless was placed in a fine tomb befitting his station and wealth. But the holy angels do God’s will. So Lazarus was remembered, and placed in the most honored, loving, intimate association with his ancestor, Father Abraham. The Lord does not forget His own. He remembers them, and He keeps them to wait with all the saints who have gone before— to wait for the Last Day, when the dead in Christ shall rise, and this corruption shall be made incorrupt, and this mortal shall put on immortality.

This is what I want you to get. Very often we hear a lot about the rich man, and his conversation with Abraham. But right now, today, I want you to understand that Lazarus was truly remembered by our Lord, who sent angels to tend to him.

And I want you to take note too, that this story is not called a ‘parable’ which is a yarn to make a point. Jesus tells the story matter-of-factly. This appears, in fact, to be a matter He is simply relating as it happened. Remember, Jesus is fully true God. He knows what happens to those the world may take little note of, nor long remember. Jesus remembers.

In your sorrow, in your pain, in the miseries which you may endure, will you be forgotten? The world may forget you, it is true. The world will surely forget me too. But what of it? Your Lord remembers you. Don’t you know that even now He has given His angels charge over you, who always behold His face? And for Jesus’ sake, in Whom you trust, and in Whom you are baptized and grafted into Him, and Who feeds you His body and blood, that you participate already in Him now (though the world has no time for such stuff), for Jesus’ sake, you are not forgotten. You are by grace kept now through faith, by Word and Sacrament, no matter what else befalls you in this vale of tears, and soon, when you fall asleep in hope and trust in Him, He will keep you faithfully to the Last Day, when with gleaming eyes, and lungsfull of living breath, you shall be raised with all the saints to greet your Savior.

You are remembered for Jesus’ sake. And with the psalmist you too may praise Him, saying “But I have trusted in Your mercy; My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation. I will sing to the LORD, Because He has dealt bountifully with me.” Soon we all shall be joined with the choir of saints and angels and all the host of heaven. But even now, with this great good news, that Jesus’ has given His life into death that you are forever redeemed and rescued back into His loving arms, even now you too may join, rehearsing already the ongoing song of the saints, rejoicing that you are not forgotten but are remembered. You are by faith already at peace in the bosom of father Abraham. You are by faith, already living eternally. And the song of praise will never die. Long after this life and world are passed, the song will endure.

Lord, let at last Thine angels come,/ To Abram’s bosom bear me home,/ That I may die unfearing;/ And in its narrow chamber keep/ My body safe in peaceful sleep/ Until Thy reappering./ And then from death awaken me/ That these mine eyes with joy may see,/ O Son of God, Thy glorious face,/ My Savior and my Fount of grace./ Lord Jesus Christ,/ My prayer attend, my prayer attend,/ And I will praise Thee without end.

The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your heart and mind in Christ Jesus. Amen.
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Cantate — The Fifth Sunday of Easter — St. John 16.5-15

Grace to you and Peace, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus.

Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.

This is your word heavenly Father. Sanctify us by the truth. Your Word is Truth. Amen.

Fellow redeemed: Without the Helper Jesus promises, you simply cannot exist as a Christian. The Helper He is talking about sending, once He ascends, is the Holy Spirit. And Jesus doubles down in describing just how vital it is, that He send the Spirit. In today’s Gospel, Jesus uses two terms that would have lit up the flashing lights in the minds of those who first heard, and later, read His words.

The first term Jesus uses in our text is ‘Helper’. He promises, when He goes, to send the Helper to you. Later in the reading, Jesus calls Him ‘the Spirit of truth.’ Let’s take these two terms, ‘Helper’ and ‘Spirit’ in order today.

Even today our military commonly uses an innovation attributed either to Philip of Macedonia, or his son, Alexander the Great. Whatever branch of the military you may serve in, you will have your wingman, shipmate, or battle buddy. We work best in the trials and danger of warfare when we pair up. In ancient times— the days of Alexander the Great, and later too, when the Roman legions marched out to battle in Europe, Asia, and Africa— the Greek term was ‘paraclete.’  It means ‘the one who comes to your aid.’ You trained with your paraclete (and you were his), you marched with him, you bunked with him — in fact you were only issued half a tent, and he was issued the other half! And you received your rations and pay with him. And you marched into battle with your paraclete. If things went badly, if your phalanx— your group of soldiers— was broken, you and your paraclete stuck together. In fact, you wore a belt and armor that hooked together for that purpose, back to back. Your paraclete fought for you where you couldn’t fight for yourself. And if you were struck and fell? Your paraclete leaned forward, hoisted you on his back, and bore you off the field of battle. A good paraclete was the difference between life and death.

Why am I telling you all this military science and history stuff? I’m telling you this, because Jesus’ words are written for us in Greek. Our Gospel reading today is an English translation. But now you know a Greek word ‘paraclete’ that is, ‘the one who comes to your aid.’ Where the translator wrote down ‘Helper’, in the original, in the Greek, the word is a military term— ‘paraclete.’ Jesus promises to send the Paraclete to you. And He is the difference between life and death. He bears you up and fights where you can’t, and He defends and saves you here and now.

The Holy Spirit is your Paraclete. Unfortunately, you have failed Him time and again. Remember, you are partnered with Him. But time and again, you have wandered off into the very sin He has identified for you in His Word as being hostile territory, a deadly place for you. And you have forgotten that your sustenance and welfare are dependent on sticking to Him. You have preferred the words of this fallen and dying world, to His Conversation and Consolation, you have not always attended to the rations He would share with you, nor do you always find shelter and rest with Him. You see, He speaks to you in the Divine Service, through His Word, and there He gives you rest, and even dines you on the rich supper of the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus. Your Paraclete trains alongside you for your spiritual strengthening and vitality in coming to Bible study, and in the ongoing discipline of your morning, mealtime, and evening prayers, as conveniently outlined for you in the Catechism, and supplemented in such good and orthodox publications as Bishop Laache’s Book of Family Prayer.

In fact, your spiritual welfare and fitness rely on your disciplined and diligent adherence to the Word and Sacrament and the prayers too, you receive in the good offices of the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete sent by Jesus for your ongoing life as a Christian. Apart from Him, you cannot live as a Christian. And the Paraclete is with you, connecting you to the good things God gives, and would yet restore you to these Gifts in this brief moment of grace remaining, if you now consider and know you have wandered too far away. Now He bids you return, and will fetch you gladly home again, that He may restore you in Christ’s good grace and merit.

For you see, the Paraclete give you nothing of His own. He gives you what Jesus has won for you. Thus He does not speak on His own authority, but endorses to you the word of our Lord Jesus. The Paraclete delivers to you the blessing of Jesus. That is what He does. Any who teach of special gifts of the Spirit apart from what Jesus first and definitely has done, speaks false doctrine and is unreliable. Pay no attention to such natterers.

Jesus calls the One He sends the ‘Paraclete’, which is commonly translated ‘Helper’ but in fact means so much more. The second alarm-triggering term Jesus uses is ‘Spirit.’

“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”

Jesus names the One He sends, ‘the Spirit.’ and commonly we call Him the Holy Spirit, or, the Holy Ghost (the two mean the same thing). What is so special about the term ‘Spirit’? Well, it can mean a few things. Spirit, as we commonly think of it, but also breath or wind. And even in our language, we talk about a spirit level, and we get words like ‘pneumatic’ from the Greek ‘pneuma’ which we translate ‘spirit.’ In the beginning, God made man a living being when He breathed into him. But in our fall into sin, mankind lost that life, that breath of God, didn’t we. But Jesus would restore the life and breath He made us to have. He literally would breathe on the disciples, saying, ‘receive the Holy Spirit.’ So they were restored. On the day of Pentecost, fifty days after Easter, the Holy Spirit came upon the holy apostles with the sound of a mighty wind. This enlivening presence of the Holy Spirit henceforth was bestowed through the washing of water and the Word of God in Holy Baptism. In today’s Gospel, Jesus promises the coming of the Spirit of Truth. The Holy Spirit would deliver to the Apostles what He had received from Jesus, who is the Word Incarnate. So these men would not only preach and teach boldly, as the Spirit now breathed through them, enabling them to do so, but they would also take up their pens and write. The Holy Spirit would breathe into that written word, His very presence, and abiding life. A technical term meaning ‘to breathe into’ is ‘inspire.’ We call the Holy Scriptures the ‘Inspired’ Word, because indeed, the Holy Spirit there dwells for us. Even long after the days of those Apostles, whenever we pick up the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit breathes out into all who might hear God’s Word, and creates in us faith by which we may receive His Gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation.

Notice that Jesus teaches concerning this ongoing work of the Holy Spirit, who inspires the Word, and enlivens those who receive it: “he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” Note well, that He does not do anything, does not bring to you anything, except what is Jesus’ doing and teaching. We see time and again in the Gospels that what Jesus taught, the disciples couldn’t understand— but that after the coming of the Holy Spirit, His teachings were brought back to mind, and they were given understanding. This is what the Holy Spirit brought to the Apostles— nothing Jesus hadn’t given and taught— and what they then were enabled to write as they composed the Scriptures of the New Testament, which are inerrant, and into which the Holy Spirit has breathed His presence, that we now, hearing that word, find that it is not alone, but the Spirit attends and enlivens it for our good, that we also are given faith to believe it in turn.

Those today who seek to make up new, exciting, works of the Holy Spirit, and attribute to Him additional works, directly contradict Jesus. But the persons of the Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Spirit are ever one, in perfect agreement and harmony. The charismatic claims you may hear today are not of God. They are the fictions of false teachers, for they directly contradict Jesus, and would make Him a liar. His Word does not lie, and the Spirit He sends is the enlivening, empowering, blessed, Spirit of Truth. He abides now with you, dear one, for you have heard His Word. The Holy Spirit has enlivened you through the watery Word of Holy Baptism. Have no doubt, He stands with you, and you with Him, and even in the valley of death, even in the midst of your enemies, satan, and his demonic host, you may yet stand, and even feast on the Good Gifts of God.

And come the close of this fleeting day, the Holy Spirit remains beside you, enlivening you with the gift of Jesus’ grace. And in Him you shall safely be brought to your eternal Home. You see, it was never about the battle of this sad life. Jesus has passed through death, destroying it’s power over you, that through even death itself, you would be brought to that life which shall never end. The Word is breathed on you, and the Holy Spirit enlivens you now, and unto eternity. Lift up your head, dear Christian, your Redeemer is nigh, and His Good Spirit brings you alive, restored, forgiven by the blood of the Lamb, Jesus, who has taken away the sin of the world. Lift up your head, the Spirit of Truth is with you. He has your back, and is bringing you Home.

The Peace of God which passes all understanding keep your heart and mind in Christ Jesus. Amen.
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Jubilate — The Fourth Sunday of Easter — 1 Peter 2.11–20, St. John 16.16–23

Grace to you and Peace, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus.

For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men– as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God.

This is your Word, heavenly Father.  Sanctify us by the Truth.  Your Word is Truth.  Amen.

Fellow redeemed:    Our Lord prepares us today, for the fact that there is going to be time in between His ascension and His glorious returning.  It is in this context that Peter writes how we then should live.  Context is important, especially today.  Jesus, speaking to His disciples and telling them that even though they saw him then, soon they wouldn’t see Him, for He was going to the Father, is telling them these things after He has destroyed death’s power over us and bought out the penalty of our sin.  Jesus has died and risen again, and it is during the forty days in between His resurrection that first Easter, and His ascension that He so teaches us.

Keep this in mind:  Jesus has already redeemed you from the penalty of your sin, and death now no longer holds you.  Your salvation is achieved.  You can have confidence in it!  Seeing you in your sin, knowing all the bad stuff about you, God has already loved you so much that He took on death and hell for you, and has won you.  You are His.  Jesus loves you.  Your sin is forgiven you.  You are free.  Keep that in mind, dear Christian.

So Peter is not talking about how you can  be saved.  He’s not talking about how you can earn a special place in heaven.  That is yours.  Jesus has already earned heaven for you, and given it to you.  That’s off the table, ok?  But as Jesus says, there’s going to be a while now, when we do not see Him with our eyes, when things may really get hard for us.  Now we see Jesus not with our eyes but by Faith, where He has promised to be for us– in His Word, and where He has applied His promise to be with you.  He has promised to wash you clean so that you may stand against all the accusations of the devil, the world, and know that your conscience is clean before God, for Jesus has washed you in His Word and water in Holy Baptism.  And Jesus has given you His Body to eat and His Blood to drink in the Holy Communion of His Supper.  With His Word and under bread and wine you are brought to Him, and He is put into you, to strengthen you, to bring you anew the forgiveness of sins He won for you, with His life and salvation.  For this little while (this little while which seems so very long to us now), we don’t see Jesus with our eyes, but we see Him by Faith.  We cling to His promises.  And we know that we are His own, beloved, forgiven, and free.

How then shall we live?  Don’t spend your time trying to earn your way into God’s good graces.  You already have that in Jesus.  You are free, and you shall live!  How then shall we live, if not to earn what is already ours in Christ?   Live unselfishly.

Live unselfishly?  What does that mean?  I want you to consider what a person may be selfish about– common things we’re all familiar with.  How about your house or your car?  Would it be ok with you if somebody just came and changed the locks and started living in your house, or drove away in your car?  Well, why not?  Don’t you have lots of houses and cars?  Well, no!  Those things are expensive, hard to come by, and you need them!  Is it selfish to want to keep those things, take care of them, and even to call the police if necessary to get them  back when they are taken?  Of course not!

So what does it mean to live unselfishly, as you live your life in Christ?  Think about some other common things:  How about … we live on the coast; lots of beaches around here, and dunes… how about sand?  Are you going to be selfish about it if somebody wants a bucket of sand off the beach or out of the dunes?  What if somebody came to you and asked if they could pull all the sand out of your living room carpet?  We’re talking about respectable folk, you aren’t afraid of them doing other things, would you let them?  Hey, I’d rejoice!  How come?  Because I can’t get rid of the stuff fast enough!  What good is it doing just laying around in my carpet?  I think it would be rather easy to be unselfish with sand, don’t you?

You can be unselfish with sand because there seems to be a never–ending supply of it around here!  Ok, so if you think about it, it should be natural to be completely generous with something you’ve got in such great abundance.  Well then consider, you have an infinite supply of the love of God.  You have an infinite supply of the grace of Jesus.  You have eternal life!  Even though it can be hard, and you can be subject to all sorts of hardships during this little while before His returning to bring us Home, already now by faith in God’s Word you can be confident that you are on the receiving end of infinite joy.

In this dying, sin-sickened world, anything, anything that promises even an instant’s pleasure is prized.  You have infinite joy and eternal life ahead of you.  In this dying, sin-sickened world, people will do anything to feel better, even if in the long run the behavior which makes them feel better now is going to hurt them in the end.  But you have God’s love and grace and life and joy, you live now by faith and not sight, but even here and now you have God’s Word, His wondrous promise of things to come, and you have communion in Him through His means of grace.  So, you don’t have to just live for today.  You know that you may confidently live for that forever tomorrow in Christ.  Your joy is already there for you.  Your life is in Him.  Your priceless treasure is kept already for you where moth and rust cannot corrupt and thieves may not break in and steal.  You have something this world cannot give.

So… live like it!  Live knowing that you don’t have to scrabble after every shred of promised pleasure in the death-dealing ways of sin.  Though for a moment you may feel the twinge of loss, what is that when you consider what is already yours, which soon, and forevermore you shall enjoy completely in Christ?

You might wonder, is this unselfish sort of living really necessary, since we aren’t earning our way into heaven, and the law has already been fulfilled for us in Christ?  Well, isn’t that missing the point?  You have heaven itself, but your neighbor doesn’t.  You have eternal life ahead of you, but the lost and dying all around you don’t.  How then shall you live?  Live in a manner which brings honor to Jesus, who has bought you not with silver or gold but with His precious blood spilt upon the cross.  Live in a manner which brightens the heart of your neighbor.  Do not live as though you were a hopeless wretch just living for today like those who know no better.  Live for that tomorrow, and be gracious and kind along this life’s way.  You are only here for a little while.  You are on bivouac.  You are a pilgrim, a sojourner.  Your native land looms even now before you, and it is wondrously fair.  Live as one whom God has called and loved and ennobled.  Even in wanting and hardship, live not for today, not seeking the moment’s sinful pleasure (which does you no good anyway), but seeing what the world cannot see, which only those eyes tuned by the promises you have in God’s Word may see.

This world is hurting, and it is dying.  The lost cannot find their way, and seeing that you are one of those Christians, they may even hate you, and see what they might be able to throw at your reputation, whether it might stick. But you are not dying, but living, and living for a life to come where there shall be no more sorrow, no more hurting, but only the love and joy and grace of Christ.  So live in a manner which will cause even those who may hate you, for they hate everything, and themselves for their sin and shame most of all!, live in a manner which will capture their respect.  And as Peter elsewhere says, be ready dear one, be ready to give an answer to the hope they see in you, doing so with gentleness and respect.

Why are you to be obedient to the laws of man, so long as they do not require you to break God’s law?  Why are you to submit to those whom the world raises over you, when you know that you are the noble child of the King of heaven, and indeed by grace, a royal heir?  You are free, and yet why are you not to take every advantage of the Christ-won liberty you have to do whatever seizes your attention in any given moment to do?  Why are you to live unselfishly in the grace of God?  Do it not because you think you might get a reward, but having already the promise of reward in Christ, so live in love of the God who so loves you.  Please Him out of the love you have received from Him.  And see in those around you the ones Jesus also has so treasured that He suffered and died to gain them life.  Jesus loves the lost and dying, should you not now generously, and gratefully love them too?  Do so in living among them in a noble, gracious, and loving way, not giving in to the passing pleasures and whims of this fallen world, but always holding up before yourself and those around you that which is coming, that which is forever, that which is already yours now in the grace of Jesus.  And if you suffer in doing good, then let the world see it and wonder, and let them know, those who would know, of the One in Whom you live and hope.  When you have forever ahead of you, waiting and enduring this little while is no big deal. You can be patient now, for a little while, for you will see Jesus with your own eyes very soon, and forevermore.

You are a child of paradise, you are blood-bought of Jesus, your sin is forgiven.  Put aside all vice and envy of this dying world and life, and see the grace you are given by the Gracious One.  Love one another, for you are dearly loved.  Love your neighbor, Jesus died for that one too!  Live, insofar as you are able at peace, and know the best is yet to come.  Jesus has won eternity for you.  Live then, as the beloved one you are.  Your sin is forgiven.  You are free.  Live as forgiven.  Live as free.  Astonish the world with the light and grace of Jesus!

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your heart and mind through Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.