Sermon – Hebrews 5:1-10 (Fifth Sunday in Lent, March 22, 2015)

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From the Pastor’s Study . . . April 2015

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Dear Friends,

For those who follow major league baseball, opening day is fast approaching. Fans of every team are looking forward to the prospect of their club winning the pennant, or perhaps even the World Series. This anticipated event in the life of our nation reoccurs every single year, and yet for most of us, it never seems to lose its magic.

Easter is also that way. For more than 2,000 years, the Church has gathered on Easter morning to celebrate our Lord Jesus’ Resurrection from the dead. We know what happened, and nothing is going to change that – and yet, there is an excitement and anticipation that befalls the Church every year in our preparations for this joyous celebration. Perhaps some of the excitement and anticipation is fueled by our desire that through our Easter celebrations, God will renew us personally. Perhaps at the conclusion of a long winter season, we are found longing for God to lift us out of the everyday experience of this life – with the numbness that it can produce – and transform us with joyful hearts and spirit-filled lives. Is it unrealistic for us to think this way? Are we being foolish and fanciful? Or is this kind of thinking, in fact, quite logical?

On that first Good Friday, Joseph and Nicodemus took a life-less dead Jesus, wrapped him in a linen cloth, and laid him in a grave. Jesus was dead. With the exception of a beautiful act of devotion on the part of the women who planned to anoint Jesus’ remains – things had reached their end. When God raised Jesus from the dead, his body which had been dead came back out of the grave alive. What’s more – he was raised to never die again, and the same is promised to those who are baptized and believe in him. Paul writes in Romans, chapter 6: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” (Romans 6:3-5).

If God promises to us such a great thing, is it too large a thing to expect that God will renew us now by His Holy Spirit? This Easter, we will again be confronted by the power of God working on our behalf. As we see the dead man Jesus hanging upon the Cross on Good Friday – we see God who is for us, taking away our sins by dying for them. When we peer into the barren tomb – we see God who is for us, giving us the promise of eternal life by raising Jesus bodily from the dead. As we gather to celebrate and worship our Lord Jesus, who was crucified for our sins and raised for our justification (Romans 4:25), may God renew your spirit, enliven your joy, and fill you with undaunted hope!

In Christ Jesus,

Pastor

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Sermon – Numbers 21:4-9 (Fourth Sunday in Lent, March 15, 2015)

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Sermon – John 2:13-22 (Third Sunday in Lent, March 8, 2015)

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

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From the Pastor’s Study . . . March 2015

291

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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