Sermon – Genesis 22:1-18 (First Sunday in Lent, February 22, 2015)

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From the Pastor’s Study . . . March 2015

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Dear Friends,

It’s Lent, should I be giving up something?

For Lutherans, whatever is not commanded or prohibited by the Holy Scriptures is open to each person’s consideration and discretion. Thus, Lutherans have a rich diversity of disciplines, practices, and traditions that they observe during the Lenten pilgrimage. This diversity exists within congregations and families, and also among regions and congregations themselves. There are, of course, customary ways that the Church has marked and observed this season. Traditionally, Christians have observed Lent by being more intentional and regular in their praying and reading of Holy Scripture, attending additional services of worship on Wednesdays, fasting, and disciplining the body with its passions by abstaining from certain luxuries or foods.

Lent is a season of repentance and preparation for Holy Week and Easter. It is a time in which Christians are encouraged to examine their lives and repent of their sins – in order that we might more fully enjoy the forgiveness of sins won for us by the Lord Jesus in his death. While it is true that the Christian should be doing this every day – as sinners we fail to do this and forget the right relationship with Himself that God has so richly gifted to us. When we do not examine ourselves according to God’s Word and repent of our sins, we deprive ourselves of the precious gift of the assurance of God’s forgiveness. The consequences are that we forget the Lord’s benefits given to us, and lose our desire to receive these most-treasured gifts.

Perhaps you are asking yourself – “when is he going to talk about giving things up in Lent?” I have not addressed it yet, because quite frankly, it is not all that important. The sinner within us always wants to have our relationship with God on our terms, and the attention focused upon what we are doing. However, the Christian faith has everything to do with what God has already done for us. For the sake of Jesus, who died in your place and answered for your sins, our Father in Heaven bids you “come and receive the gifts that I delight in giving you.” For those who trust that these gifts of forgiveness of sins and eternal life with God are for them – for Christ’s sake – the Holy Spirit will produce good works. Typically, the Holy Spirit brings forth good works from us for the sake of our neighbor. The Holy Spirit also creates a desire in us to cling more fully to Christ only. While we are certainly born anew in the Spirit through baptism, we also remain creatures of the flesh (see Romans 7). There are many times when our carnal selves become like demanding children – and must hear a firm “no.” The business of abstaining from or “giving up” certain pleasures during Lent is intended to aid us in disciplining the body.

The practice of disciplining the body is to learn to resist some of our desires, so as not to be so impulsively controlled by our flesh. HOWEVER, as long as we are in the body, our sinful selves remain active, and so it is a foolish and dangerous thing to presume that we can gain complete control over our flesh with its desires.

We do well, instead, to put our sinful flesh to death daily through repentance and trusting in the forgiveness granted to us for the sake of Christ Jesus. Knowing that we are sinners and our human wills are bound to sin – we pray that the Holy Spirit would work in us and upon us – which the new creation formed in us in baptism would arise again each day within us. That being said, many Christians find it beneficial to abstain from one or two of their enjoyments during Lent – in order to experience the resisting of the body’s desires, and to devote more time to prayer and study in the Holy Scriptures. Some people give up chocolate or sweets as a reminder that we do not need these things – they are simply gifts given to us by a gracious God who loves us – and God who gives the gifts is alone worthy of our devotion and yearning.

If you find it meaningful to “give something up” during Lent, you are certainly free to do so. The Church’s only caution is that we do not somehow come to believe that God owes us something for our sacrifice. To think thus is to believe that our sacrifice is a merit before God. If I believe that I have earned anything before God – I am denying the glorious merits of Christ who died for me – and my soul is in peril. Similarly, it is a devilish teaching to propose that all Christians must abstain from something during Lent, because that is to teach that we earn God’s favor – which is always a denial of the finished work of Christ.

The Father’s love given to us in Jesus is a glorious and unearthly thing to behold. Our old evil foe would deprive us of this joy at every turn; and one of his favorite ploys is to focus our attention upon what we are doing or not doing. I pray that during this blessed season of Lent that the Holy Spirit will work upon you to draw your attention to the finished work of Christ upon the Cross – and confirm in your hearts and minds that the gifts of God merited by it belong to you.

A final word about repentance: if our repentance does not produce in us the joy and freedom of knowing and being assured that our sins are completely forgiven for our Lord’s sake – it is not Christian repentance. The Lord bids you to repent – so that you might know the inexhaustible joys of the grace wrought through His Son for you.

In Christ Jesus,

Pastor

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Sermon – Mark 9:2-9 (Transfiguration Sunday, February 15, 2015)

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Sermon – Mark 1:29-39 (Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, February 8, 2015)

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Sermon – Mark 1:14-20 (Third Sunday after Epiphany, January 25, 2015)

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Discipleship

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From the Pastor’s Study . . . February 2015

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Dear Friends,

I am delighted that so many of our small groups are studying 5 Things You Can Do to Witness Christ. As I have mentioned previously, this book helps Lutherans to ably articulate what they believe – in order to share the Gospel message with others. I not only love Sias’ clear way of explaining what Lutherans believe, teach, and confess – but also his unique insights in the area of evangelism. For example, I was struck by his explanation that our level of engagement in Christian worship has a very real impact on our witness and effectiveness in inviting others to join us for worship.

Sias writes:
. . . if you are not faithful in attending your Lord when He comes, why should anyone else listen to you when you speak about Him? Why should they think they should be where you often are not? Of course, simply being marked present doesn’t exhaust your witness, your testimony, in the Divine Service. What witness does it give to your fellow Christians or to visitors if you appear to be aiming merely for attendance? Do you listen attentively to the readings from God’s Word and the sermon and help your children learn to do the same? Do you treat the words coming from the pastor as words coming from God’s servant and meant by God for your salvation? When the liturgy bids you respond with “Amen”—“ Yes, yes, it shall be so,” as Luther puts it (Small Catechism , Conclusion to the Lord’s Prayer)— do you say it with vigor and certainty? Or might that word at the end of your prayers just as well be a shrugged “whatever”? Likewise, how do you respond when you are invited to sing with “angels and archangels and all the company of heaven,” the joyful song of the heavenly throne room, “Holy, Holy, Holy” (see LSB, p. 161)? Joined to the angels’ song is the song at Jerusalem’s yearning gates, “Hosanna,” where Christ Himself comes to you in the flesh by humble means to enliven soul and heart and body with the foretaste of the feast to come . Thus we sing, preparing to eat the holiest and most precious food on earth: the body and blood of the Son of God, given into death to save you from all sin, death, and the power of the devil. Quite a song befits that occasion—“ as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup”— so as to “proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (1 Corinthians 11: 26). Such a song teaches (Colossians 3: 15– 17)! What is more full of awe and more full of joy? Maybe you’ve never thought that way about the Sanctus, sung before the Words of Institution in the Lord’s Supper. Do these words have your attention? Your fullness of voice and heart? Do you plumb these inspired words, meaningfully combined, like a gold mine for the treasures packed into them?

(Sias, John W. (2013-07-02). 5 Things You Can Do to Witness Christ (You Can Do It!) (Kindle Locations 129-137). Concordia Publishing. Kindle Edition).

In addition to our small groups, I also commend this wonderful book to the study of individuals and families. I pray that this short volume will be of much benefit to you, and to our congregation’s mission to make disciples.
In Christ Jesus,

Pastor

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Sermon – 1 Samuel 3:1-20 (Second Sunday after Epiphany, January 18, 2015)

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