Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost - Where Is Our Love for the Lord?
  • Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
    October 1, 2023
    Hymns                                     779,   355,   892: stanzas 1,18,3,   414
    First Reading                          Ezekiel 18:1-4,25-32
    Psalm of the Day                    25
    Second Reading                      Philippians 2:1-11
    Gospel                                    Matthew 21:23-32
    Matthew 21:23-32
    Where Is Our Love for the Lord?
    I. Lying on our lips?
           II. At home in our heart?

    In the name of Jesus, our Savior, fellow beloved by the Lord,
    This parable by the Savior puts those who claim to be children of God in two categories. The Savior’s questions asked before and after His earthly story with a heavenly meaning – “What do you think?” (v. 28) and “Which of the two did the will of his father?” (v. 31) – are questions He wants us to answer.
    Before we answer too quickly, God reminds us He sees everything, knows everything, hears everything. Jesus knows perfectly whether we answer honestly or reply deceitfully. The point of His lesson isn’t to guess which son showed true love to his faither. That’s obvious. The point of His lesson is to get us to examine our love for the Lord. Where is our love for the Lord? Is it just lying on our lips? Or is it at home in our heart?
    I. Lying on our lips?
    The Lord told this story the Tuesday before Good Friday. The people heard Him that day were of two very different types. “The chief priests and the elders of the people” (v. 23), the religious leaders of God’s chosen people Israel, were there. They had tried to trap Jesus by asking who gave Him the authority to drive money changers out of the temple (Jesus had done that the previous day) and to teach at the temple courts. We heard Him silence them with three simple sentences. Jewish laypeople who had traveled to Jerusalem for the Passover festival were there, too. Many were curious about reports that Jesus of Nazareth is the long-awaited Messiah. The Messiah Himself then fed them for hours with truths from heaven three days before He died to win heaven for them, for all.
    For which group was this parable taught? Both of them! And all of us! There are parts of both groups in each of us. Our sinful pride is like the church leaders who thought their good living and pious worship meant they needed no rescue – not by Jesus or anyone else. Our repentance before God is like those who hoped Jesus was the Savior they so desperately needed.
    The parable itself is easy to understand. A father asked two of his sons to work in his vineyard. Each son said one thing, but did the opposite. The first responded, “’I will not’, but later he changed his mind and went” (v. 29). The second replied, “’I will go, sir’, but he did not go” (v. 30). The answer to Christ’s question is clear. “Which of the two did the will of his father?” We, too, answer, “The first” (v. 31).
    The answer is obvious. But the point of the parable is not easy to take to heart and live in life. The Jewish nation appeared to all the world to be the people who told their Father in heaven, “I will do Your will!” The Jewish leaders especially promoted themselves as being God’s most obedient and favorite people. But what was their life really like? Love for the Lord overflowing from “changed” hearts? No! Just words that came from no deeper within them than lying on their lips.
    The Jewish leaders – and others influenced by them – twisted God’s words to say what He never said, to mean what He never meant. “If we make a good show of being Godly people, we stay on God’s good side! Look at how often we sacrifice to Him, keep His laws, worship Him. We are the best!” But they wouldn’t accept God on God’s terms. They did not heed His calls to repent of their sins and change their self-righteous hearts. Their love for the Lord went no deeper than lying on their lips. They talked a good game about their Godly lives. But their love for God ran no deeper than outward obedience.
    With this parable God points His accusing finger at us, too. We also want God and others to think we are good people, really good people! We worship weekly, haven’t been in jail, are good neighbors, obedient kids. Listen to the Savior! He doesn’t want us to show our love for Him only with words from our lips that say all the right things about being right with God.
    When God tells us to love Him more than money and family, to put Him above our work and fun and sports, how do we react? Do we use our lips to say, “I will” in here, but don’t do so out there? Where is our love for the Lord? If we have the uneasy feeling it’s really located on our lips only to talk a good game about what God wants, then we need to heed this warning from the Savior Himself, “Hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: These people honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me” (Matthew 15:7-8).
       II. At home in our heart?
    Please don’t misunderstand. God does want us using our lips to sing His praise, speak His glory, confess our faith in what He alone has done for us. But lip love for Him isn’t all He wants. Later that same day just before Good Friday, Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind (Matthew 22:37). Where is our love for the Lord? Only lying on our lips? Or also at home in our heart?
    What the first son said and how he acted is familiar, isn’t it? Kids, have you ever told your parents, “I don’t want to!” even when they haven’t given you a choice about a chore? And when they repeat their order, you whine some more, “Do I have to?” and grumble even more. It’s obvious to anyone who sees and hears you that you aren’t happy to do it. But when you think of all the loving things your parents do for you all the time, you lovingly and diligently do what they have asked. What “changed”? Your heart!
    When Jesus asked which son did what the father wanted, and the Jewish religious leaders answered, “The first”, those respected Israelites condemned themselves. But they didn’t see themselves in the son who “changed his mind and went”. Why not? They didn’t admit they ever said or did anything before God that ever needed to be “changed”.
    That’s why the Savior taught this parable. In love for them He warned them their love for the Lord was way too shallow, lying only on their lips, never at home their heart. They had told God, “No! I won’t go!” When? Every time they insisted they didn’t need to go to God’s Son for deliverance. They had told God, “No!” When? Every time they demanded their holy life on the outside be God’s reason to let them into His family and to call them, “My greatest people ever!”
    When Jesus made the crushing application of His story to their lives, were their mouths open in disbelief and hearts overheating with hatred for Him? To the religious leaders of the land, the Lord Himself said, “The tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you (v. 31). That’s right! Ahead of you who suppose yourselves the most God-pleasing people among God’s chosen people!”
    “The tax collectors” were hated in Israel not just because no one likes paying taxes, but mostly because they collected more than was needed and gave most of it to the Romans who controlled the Jewish nation. The prostitutes” were despised as immoral marriage wreckers who sold their bodies for sex.
    How could openly corrupt, sexually wicked people enter God’s family ahead of Jewish religious leaders? That, too, is why the Savior taught this parable. Those sinners “changed” not only the way they talked about the Lord and His will, but also the way they loved the Lord and lived His will. What had changed them? The way of righteousness” (v. 32) from God delivered through John the Baptist. What God told them through His prophet exposed their sins first, then showed them “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Those sinners trusted what God said and promised. Their love for God took hold and made a home in their heart. Their love for the Savior led them to change their corrupt, immoral ways. They repented. That’s the change God desires in every sinner.
    Where is our love for the Lord? Only lying on our lips? Or also at home in our heart? When we who rebel against God hear His laws about our selfish actions, our dirty thoughts, our unkind words about others, our grudges held against some, our greedy plans, our less-than-whole-hearted worship, God is using the knife of His law to slice us open and show us the cancer of sin and guilt spreading inside. How then can we be saved? On our own, we can’t, we aren’t, we won’t be saved!
    Then our loving Lord calls us with His love in Christ’s life lived in perfect holiness for us, in Christ’s suffering our hell instead of our suffering in hell forever, in Christ’s sacrifice paying our eternal bill with His holy Father. His “way of righteousness” tells us how much He loves us, how much He’s done for us, how much He wants us to be His people now and eternally. That message is how God keeps His love at home in our heart. And that’s why we need to hear and read His message often. 
    Jesus didn’t include a third son in His story, a son who did what is right in his father’s sight right away and every time. There is no such son among those born of man and woman. Martin Luther captured that in the very first of his ninety-five theses five hundred six years ago this month, The Savior wills that  the entire life of a Christian is to be one of repentance. What is repentance? True, God-pleasing repentance is sorrow over sins that seeks God’s help to turn from those sins, and trust that turns to the Savior who removed the curse for our sins.
    We are all sinners who don’t deserve anything good from God. Still, God gives us the best: His Son, and heaven through faith in Christ! Where is our love for the Lord? Only lying on our lips as we only say what God wants to hear? No! Our love for the Lord is also and always at home in our heart as we trust His forgiveness and love Him with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind, that is, with all our life.      Amen.
    Pastor David A. Voss
    Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost - The Kingdom of Heaven Is a Kingdom of Grace
  • Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
    September 24, 2023
    Hymns                         878,   573,   558,   932
    First Reading              Jonah 3:10 – 4:11
    Psalm of the Day        115
    Second Reading          Romans 9:6-16
    Gospel                        Matthew 20:1-16
    Matthew 20:1-16
    The Kingdom of Heaven Is a Kingdom of Grace
            I. It excludes those who demand wages
    II. It includes those who accept gifts
    In the name of Jesus Christ, fellow forgiven and saved sinners,
    I chose this lesson to be today’s sermon text back last spring.
    This lesson was chosen by worship committees to be today’s Gospel thirty years ago. So reading and hearing this lesson today is not a commentary on the current UAW union strike.
    But … Can you imagine any labor union agreeing to this contract: all workers will be given the same, regardless of how long they work? Can you imagine any company doing business this way: giving all workers the same, regardless of the work they did? This will never happen…in the business world.
    But this is happening right now…in God’s kingdom – not just a place, but also God’s activity. This is how God works on earth! It’s eternally important for us to know the kingdom of God isn’t a matter of paying our dues for membership. Many people, even some who claim to be Christians!, think that way. God’s kingdom isn’t based on merits. The kingdom of God is a kingdom of grace – God working with His undeserved love for us sinners who deserve His anger and punishment forever.
    That has huge implications for the way God’s people live, act, and trust in life. That has great applications for the way God’s Church does her work in this world. The kingdom of God is a kingdom of grace. Therefore, it excludes – keeps out, shuts its doors to – those who demand wages. And it includes – is made up of, keeps its doors open for – those who accept gifts.
      I. It excludes those who demand wages
    On the surface this lesson seems so unfair! But as is often the case in our study of God’s Word, the background helps. A rich man had asked Jesus, What good thing should I do that I may have eternal life” (Matthew 19:16)? To show him sinners can’t do anything to earn eternal life, Jesus said, “Sell all you own, then come, follow Me” (Matthew 19:21). Jesus wasn’t urging him to earn his own salvation. He could see the man’s heart. He knew the man loved his wealth more than the Savior. So when Jesus said, “Sell all you have, then follow Me”, He meant, “Until you trust God’s grace, and stop thinking you can pay for your ticket to heaven, you aren’t part of God’s family. The kingdom of God is a kingdom of grace. It excludes all who demand wages for the good things they do in life.”
    But Christ’s disciples missed that point. Next they piped up, “Lord, all twelve of us have left our possessions to follow You. What then will we have” (Matthew 19:27)?” That’s the same damning idea! “God, we have done great things for You. Give us what we deserve!” And that’s why Jesus said both right before and right after this parable, “Those who think they are first will be last, and those who think they are last will be first (Matthew 19:30; v. 16). My kingdom is a kingdom of grace! If you think you earn your way in, you are out! My kingdom is a kingdom of grace that excludes all who demand wages!”
    This parable was Christ’s way to teach that truth. The kingdom of God is a kingdom of grace that excludes any idea of earning one’s way in. The wealthy landowner wanted workers to pick grapes in his vineyard. He hired some to start working at 6 AM, others at 9, more at noon, some at 3 PM, others at 5 – an hour before dark fell and work would stop. Obviously some did more work in the vineyard than others. But that’s not the Lord’s point here. His point is the owner gave all the workers the same: “a denarius” (vv. 2,9,10,13)”, a fair pay for a day.
    Do we think, “That’s not fair!”? Don’t! No child of God gripes about what God gives! The workers sent out first, who put in twelve hours from sunrise to sunset, griped, “We want what we deserve for what we’ve done!” That sounds right. That seems fair. And in the work world, it is. Equal pay for equal work. Extra work? Extra pay!
    But the kingdom of God isn’t the work world. The kingdom of God is a kingdom of grace. The goal of God’s kingdom? Sinners forgiven, then taken to heaven! What must we do to get that? The Savior is clear! Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). But I’m not perfect. You aren’t perfect. No one is, except God! Still, many suppose if they try hard to be good, they will be golden forever. How does that agree with, Whoever keeps the whole law but stumbles in one point has become guilty of breaking all of it” (James 2:10)?
    What is a wage? What one deserves to get for what one has done, right? Ten dollars for mowing a lawn, fifteen dollars for babysitting, twenty dollars per hour on the job. If we keep God’s laws perfectly every second of every minute of every hour of every day of our entire life, our wages for our perfect life is heaven. But we don’t, so we won’t! God’s sentence is clear. “The slightest sin brings hell on you forever!” If we demand from God our wages, what we deserve for what we’ve done, God says, “Your wages are trouble, death, and hell!” 
    See that point of the Lord’s parable? He warns sinners, “Don’t demand that I be fair with you, that I give you what you deserve. You don’t want that! If you want me to be fair with you, I must send you to hell as payment for what you’ve done!”
    II. It includes those who accept gifts
    Some years ago, the judge who presided over a trial on US soil of a family of spies for Russia heard the jury convict the family of treason, with a mandatory sentence of 60 years in prison for each. The family’s defense lawyer rose to speak, “What my clients ask for is justice, your honor!” The judge replied, “The court has given your clients what they ask for: justice. What your clients want is mercy. But this court has no right to give mercy. I would be corrupt to overturn the jury’s just verdict.”
    Applying that court scene to this parable, those first workers hired were the ones demanding justice, demanding wages. Any sinners who demand wages to be in the kingdom of God are excluded, shut out, locked out of it. But unlike that court scene, there is a way for the Judge to grant mercy – and still remain just. That way is His Son’s payment for all sins. The kingdom of God is a kingdom of grace, and it includes those who accept His gifts.
    The wealthy landowner told each of the workers what he would give them. There would be “a denarius for the day” (v. 2) to those who went out at sunrise. They agreed to that; it was a good wage. When he sent others to work three hours, six hours, nine hours, eleven hours later, he promised, “I will give you whatever is right” (v. 4). Those workers were confident he would not go back on his word.
    The parable is not about secular labor. It’s about sinners forgiven and saved. That is a one-sided contract by the holy God with helpless sinners in His kingdom of grace. Once again, the goal in God’s kingdom is not to make money, but to save souls. Not to keep people busy, but to forgive sins and give sinners the gift of heaven. It’s a gift from God to sinners because sinners can’t do anything to be forgiven or saved. Jesus did it all for all sinners. He lived the sinless life we can’t live. He gave up His life and endured the dread of hell in our place so we won’t ever have to suffer hell. He paid the full price for all.
    All this is God’s doing. All this is His gift. All this is undeserved. We haven’t done any work which God credits as bonus points to get us into heaven. It’s all grace. It’s also His mercy, not giving us what we do deserve. God opens His hand to us sinners to say, “Here! A gift from Me to you! Tickets to a life of peace on earth as you live in the joy of full forgiveness won by My Son, followed by an unending life of perfection in the glory of My presence thanks to the work of My Son! Take My gift to you, dear sinner, dear redeemed, dear child!”
    Do you get this point of the parable? No sinner can work his or her way into the family of God. The kingdom of God, how God works, His activity on earth and in sinful hearts with His powerful good news, is grace! The only way in is Jesus, His gift of forgiveness each day and salvation for eternity given to all sinners. The kingdom of God is a kingdom of grace. You’ve heard that now more a dozen times in the last fifteen minutes. But we can’t say that too often. In most every other area of life in this world, we are taught, told, expected, and warned we need to work hard to get what we need and want.
    The kingdom of God is a kingdom of grace. Called workers and lay people are tempted to look down on other members of the congregation because others don’t do anything for the church or rarely worship with us. Pastor, teachers, laypeople, watch out! Hear what the Savior says when we want recognition of our harder work under harsher conditions, our superior life in this world of sin. It is completely out of place for a member of God’s family to complain about God’s grace, that He gives the same gifts of His forgiveness and salvation to one who comes to faith just before dying. To the thief on a cross Good Friday, what did, from His own cross, Jesus say? Today you will be with Me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).
    The kingdom of God is a kingdom of grace. We humbly, happily trust God’s invitation to work in His kingdom, never once worrying about wages, whether it’s our work in His kingdom of grace here behind the scenes or at home caring for spouse and children. We trust that He will give us “whatever is right”, which is exactly what God promises – forgiveness here, life as His children on earth, then with Him without end. All of that is ours through faith in Christ’s blood shed for us.      Amen.
    Pastor David A. Voss
    Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost - We Forgive As God Forgives Us
  • Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost
    September 17, 2023
    Hymns                                      782,   799,   733,  930 
    First Reading                            Genesis 50:15-21
    Psalm of the Day                      103
    Second Reading                       Ephesians 4:29 – 5:2
    Gospel                                      Matthew 18:21-35
    Genesis 50:15-21
    We Forgive As God Forgives Us
    I. Forgiveness in Christ is given to us
              II. Forgiveness in Christ is given through us
    In the name of Jesus, who lived a perfect life for us and suffered hell in our place to be the only Savior, fellow redeemed,
    Twenty-two years later, the words were displayed once again in many places last week. We will never forget! Those words were displayed in sincere sorrow and great gratitude for lives lost in the attacks against our nation on September 11, 2001. But a  man on the street interviewed for the national news last Monday said, “We will never forget! They will get what they deserve!”, shaking his fist at the camera in vengeance. God seethes in anger at our thoughts of revenge. Vengeance belongs to God and to God alone – not to us, whether it’s in sports or politics or court cases or personal disputes.
    What God wants from us is what God gives to us. No, not our money – though that is His, too. What God gives us from His richest treasure in heaven is spiritual, not physical. It’s eternal, not financial. It’s at the heart of this lesson and all His Word. Forgiveness. That’s hard to give to those who have hurt us, isn’t it? But it won’t be when we treasure what we have. We forgive as God forgives us because forgiveness in Christ is given to us and forgiveness in Christ is given through us.
    I. Forgiveness in Christ is given to us
    You know the Bible lessons about Joseph and his brothers that cover the last fourteen chapters of Genesis. The lessons are full of gripping drama, of high and low points in the life of Joseph and his family. We wondered – at least the first time we heard it – how things would turn out between Joseph and his brothers. But they’re not so much about that family’s drama as they are about God giving the world His saving forgiveness.
    When Joseph was still a boy, God sent him extraordinary dreams that his older brothers would bow to him. Joseph arrogantly let them know about the dreams. When the brothers had had enough of that – and of Dad’s favoritism to Joseph, they sold Joseph into slavery and told Dad, “Joseph was killed by an animal.” When Joseph had worked his way – with God’s blessing – up to lead overseer of the estate of wealthy Potiphar, Mrs. Potiphar ruined Joseph’s freedom by falsely accusing him of attempted rape, and Joseph was put behind bars. When Joseph used his God-given ability to interpret special dreams God had given two fellow inmates, one of those two failed to keep his promise to get Joseph out of prison. When Joseph once again revealed the meaning of dreams God gave Egypt’s Pharaoh, he was named prime minister of Egypt. But Joseph was still a stranger far from his home and family.
    When famine devastated crops in the Middle East, the brothers went to Egypt where there was plenty of food in storage – thanks to a plan God had given their brother Joseph. They didn’t recognize him since they hadn’t seen Joseph in sixteen years. But he knew who those foreigners were as they came to buy grain. In time, Joseph revealed himself to his brothers. Not because Joseph demanded it, but because the purchase of desperately-needed food depended on it, they bowed to their younger brother – just as God had foretold and the boy Joseph had sinfully boasted. In love, Joseph had the family move to Egypt. In joy, Joseph and elderly father Jacob and all the brothers and their families were reunited.
    But not all lived happily ever after. When Jacob, whose name God had changed to Israel, died, the brothers were worried. “Will Joseph hate us and pay us back in full for all of the evil that we did to him” (v. 15)? Now that Dad was dead, what would happen between Joseph and the brothers? Joseph was so powerful in Egypt that all he had to do was snap his fingers and soldiers would seize the brothers, then toss them in prison or lead them to execution. The brothers asked to be considered Joseph’s “servants” (v. 18), knowing they deserved far worse for what they had done to Joseph.
    What happened? Joseph forgave his brothers! How could he? Joseph knew and trusted the Lord had forgiven him – and them. Joseph saw the big picture. “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring this to pass and keep many people alive” (v. 20). That was more than millions of lives saved physically with food to eat due to Joseph’s judicious plan to store food before the drought God had predicted. Saving lives was the entire world being saved spiritually by the Savior to come from that family. These sons of Israel became the nation from whom the promised Savior would be born. Joseph knew and trusted that – then saw to it his brothers would live to extend the line of the Savior. This isn’t a story of forgiveness between brothers. This is the history of forgiveness for all the world from our Brother Jesus!
    All God’s Word is woven around two teachings. Sins anger God and disqualify sinners from heaven and condemn every sinner to punishment forever. Salvation is won by God Himself, the Savior who came from heaven to live in our world and pay the full price we owe for our sins and cover our guilt.
    Like Joseph and his brothers, we sin against God and rebel against His will. God doesn’t wag His finger at us to say, “Stop being so naughty!” He thunders His sentence against us to say, “Because you have not been perfect, you can’t get yourself into heaven, but deserve to be sent away from Me forever!” But God also says, “I’ve given the world My Son, who is God in the flesh, to forgive all. You can’t earn forgiveness with Me, but I give it to you in My Son who died for you, then rose from the dead to prove He is God and I’ve accepted His sacrifice!”
    The treasure of forgiveness won by Christ and given us sinners will outlast every other treasure. Our car, house, money, job, success, recreation, sports – none of those last. Our forgiveness in Christ – won free of charge to us – lasts forever!
        II. Forgiveness in Christ is given through us
    Who is the hero in these verses? The brothers for changing their hatred against Joseph to loving acceptance of Joseph? Joseph for not using his power to get revenge on his brothers? Their father Israel for urging Joseph to “forgive the offense of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you” (v. 17)? No. No. And no. The hero in every chapter of Scripture, in every moment of our lives, is the God of undeserved love and forgiveness. We forgive as God forgives. He has given us His forgiveness in Christ to save us. And now He gives through us His forgiveness in Christ to others – to save them, too.
    Why did Joseph forgive his brothers? Joseph was tested by troubles for years, yet trusted what the Lord had promised to do to forgive him. Joseph had learned from the ups and downs of his own life, from his own sins against God and his receiving forgiveness from God, to put his trust in God. And he knew his family’s vital role in God’s plan to forgive the entire world of sinners with the work of the Savior to come from them.
    Joseph did not tell his brothers, “I’ll spare your lives. I won’t throw you behind bars. But get out of my life for what you did to me!” Joseph trusted the good to come to the world from his family. Brother Judah had been blessed by dying father Israel with the God-given promise the Savior would be born from Judah’s line of Israel’s children. Joseph “comforted his brothers and spoke to them” (v. 21) kindly. Rather than rid them from his life, Joseph committed himself to help them. “I will nourish you and your little ones” (v. 21). Not vengeance, but forgiveness. Forgiveness from God in Christ given to him became forgiveness from God in Christ given through him. Joseph forgave as God forgives!
    Why do we forgive those who sin against us? First we need to ask, do we forgive them? Or do we simmer inside, I’ll never forgive them! I’ll hold a grudge until I die!? Do we silently seethe, Let him grovel before me for the evil he did to me!?
    No! We who have been forgiven every sin in Christ forgive others as God forgives us. Do we want God to react to our daily sins against Him the way our sinful self wants us to react to those who wronged us? Never! We who have been forgiven in Christ the mountain of sins with which we rebel against God will in turn forgive in Christ the tiny pile of sins others do to us. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ has forgiven you (Ephesians 4:32). We express our thanks to God for forgiving us by the way we deal with those who sin against us. That’s what Jesus has taught us to pray, “Our Father in heaven, forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
    God’s forgiveness in Christ is given to others through us. Joseph’s forgiveness of his brothers wasn’t just the kind thing to do. It was Joseph giving them God’s forgiveness in the Savior who would come from them. God wants us whom He has led to trust the payment made by Christ to forgive us to give that  forgiveness in Christ to others, especially those who don’t yet trust it. God’s forgiveness in Christ is given also through us.
    If we had never suffered any disappointments or setbacks, we couldn’t relate to the lessons about Joseph and his brothers. But we have. Like Joseph, we face tests and tears. Like Joseph, not all our days are sunshine and success. So, like Joseph, we trust the Lord’s power and love in tests, tears, sicknesses, sorrows. And, like Joseph, we forgive those who have wronged us because we know and confess how much more often we’ve offended the holy God – and trust how much love He has given us in giving up His life to forgive us and save us.
    What lessons in God’s forgiveness He has given us today! We live them. We forgive as God forgives us and all!     Amen.
    Pastor David A. Voss
    Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost - God's Word Builds Strong Lives
  • Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
    September 10, 2023
    Hymns                                     839,   563,   676,  762 
    First Reading                          Ezekiel 33:7-11
    Psalm of the Day                    1
    Second Reading                      Galatians 2:11-16
    Gospel                                    Matthew 18:15-20
    Sermon Text                           Matthew 7:24-27
    Matthew 7:24-27
    God’s Word Builds Strong Lives
    I. As we hear it
    II. As we apply it

    In the name of the sinner’s only Savior, Jesus Christ, fellow life-long students of His Word of life,
    I didn’t think our sons were old enough to be paying attention to the news. But when we told them we were going to an MSU basketball scrimmage open to the public in the early 90s, and that it would be our first trip to the still-fairly new Breslin Center, the oldest objected. “But the roof fell in when they were building the arena! It’s not safe!” It took a while before he was convinced the structure was sound.
    Here the Savior compares the foundation, the strength, the safety of a person’s life to a building’s foundation, strength, and safety. No one goes through life without a foundation. Even those who seem to drift aimlessly without direction do have a foundation – their own desires or values. As with buildings so with people. A strong life needs a strong foundation.
    “My Word builds strong lives!” That is God’s wisdom for us from this well-known paragraph of His Word. God’s Word builds strong lives as we hear it, and as we apply it.  
    I. As we hear it
    This lesson is part of the Savior’s Sermon on the Mount. In these three chapters Jesus is not teaching unbelievers how to be saved, but is instructing those who are believers what their life is like as they put their faith in Him into action. These four verses follow a section in which Jesus blasted the idea people could call on Him only every so often in life and still expect to enter heaven. These words are God’s words about what the believer’s everyday life is like. The believer, the child of God, the Christian “hears these words of Mine and … is like a wise man who built his house on bedrock” (v. 24).

    We don’t hear God’s words or discover His plan for us by watching sports or gazing at nature. We don’t hear God’s words or get His direction for us by waiting for special dreams. Nor do we hear God’s words or receive His strength for our faith by expecting Him to send us some subliminal message.
    We hear God’s words in God’s Word! This is not a collection of essays about God written by people who believed in Him. This is the truth of God Himself written by men who were given by God Himself every word to write. We hear Him here!
    But you didn’t need the pastor to tell you that, did you? We all know where God’s Word is. The critical question is, “Do we hear Him? Do we listen as He speaks to us?” People who claim to have a relationship with God, but do not “hear these words of” God, are deceiving themselves about their relationship with God. The “wise” person who has a “strong” relationship with the Savior is the one who “hears” His Word often. So, do we hear and listen as God speaks to us in His Word? Do we let Him build us stronger day-by-day with His Word? Or do we think a dose of His Word once a week – or once a month – is all we need? We know what God says. But do we “hear” Him?
    Construction workers constantly consult the plans to see just how the window will sit in the wall or where the wires come up through the studs. Do we constantly consult God’s plan for our life? Or are we content to scrap His plans and scratch out our own blueprints for life, sinfully supposing our plans fit our life better than God’s plans fit our life?
    Do we teach God’s plans for our lives to our children? Or do we let them draw up their own? It’s spiritual child abuse for a parent to say, “I won’t force religion on my children. I’ll let them decide about church and God and the Bible when they get older.” God’s greatest earthly gifts to parents are children. If parents don’t teach them God’s plans for life in their tender years, the devil will teach them his plans, convincing them they don’t need to live by God’s Word or trust God’s salvation.
    When God blesses husband and wife to become father and mother, He tells parents to “bring their God-given children up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). What a lousy legacy parents leave children if they are more concerned about their children learning to play soccer or succeeding socially than hearing often what the Savior has done to save them and how He wants them to live as His children.
    God has granted our congregation a rich blessing in our school and preschool where our children can hear God’s Word daily as He builds their lives stronger in Him. And classes here, too, for everyone from 3 years old to ninety-nine are centered on God’s Word as He builds our lives stronger in Him. Our school and Sunday School and Catechism and Bible Class don’t replace instruction in God’s Word at home, but assist parents as God’s Word builds strong lives in Christ and on His salvation.
    Parents see to it that their children eat healthy food to grow stronger daily. Christian parents also make sure their children eat from God’s Word to grow stronger daily. Moms and dads, grandparents, but also sons and daughters, teens and single people, we know where the Lord comes to meet us and speak to us. We go there often to “hear” Him in His Word.
    II. As we apply it
    But there’s more to our Savior’s lesson here. There’s more to a good spiritual foundation for the lives of sinners, for you and me, than to “hear these words of Mine”. You caught it, didn’t you? Both builders heard the Word. “Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on bedrock…Everyone who hears these words of Mine but does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand” (vv. 24,26). God’s Word builds strong lives as we also apply God’s Word to our lives.
    Storms have come and will continue to blast into our lives and against our faith. The rain of financial problems never seems to let up for some. The floodwaters of daily stress rise around others at work, school, or home. The gale force winds of temptation to sin howl every minute, threatening to blow us over and smash us against the rocks spiritually. Waiting until some of that, or all of that, storms into our lives isn’t the time to get back to the Word. Those are the times for us to lean on the Savior, to apply His lessons about His forgiveness and His salvation won, about His strength and His promises given. We put into practice, we “do”, we apply what we know from God.
    We can’t avoid storms in our lives. They come because we are sinful people living in a sinful world. Will the aftermath of each storm show our lives are built on the “bedrock” of God’s Word and anchored in the security of His salvation won by Him enduring our hell? Or our lives are built on the “sand” of human ideas and have nothing more than manmade strategy to try to survive the storm? When the watches in life become warnings, and the trouble brewing off the coast slams our lives full force, will God’s reporters say, They did not fall, because they were founded on the bedrock of Christ and His rescue!”? Or will the report be, “The rain came down, the rivers rose, and the winds blew and beat against them, and they fell… completely destroyed (vv. 27) due to a flimsy foundation”?
    It isn’t childish religious idealism to say hearing God’s Word and applying it to every aspect of life is how God makes our lives stronger. It is the truth given by God and lived by God’s people – Abraham, Job, Jeremiah, Peter, Stephen, Paul. This is also the truth lived by Satan’s people – Korah, King Saul, Ahab, Judas, Ananias and his wife Sapphira. We have heard God’s Word. Do we apply it? Live it? Use it in days good and bad?
    When we are tempted to sin, we apply the Word of God about the sin to say, “No, Satan! You will not have me, even though it seems everyone else does it!” We do that not to stay on the good side of the church, but because we are built on the “bedrock” of our Savior and His Word. We don’t just hear His words. We apply them. We “do” them in life as His children!
    When sickness levels us or serious surgery awaits us, we apply, put into practice, “these words of” God. His truths tell us that as long as we are connected through faith to Him who died for all sinners, not even death can destroy us and we have all we need. How? This life is just a short road trip. Our real home is heaven with Him who suffered hell for us. There is no better medicine to apply to our fears about the future!
    A spiritual skeptic would challenge all this. God’s Word can’t build strong lives in today’s world! It’s an outdated guide for modern life! Things have changed! Our plans must change! He’s half right. Things in life do change. The challenges we face now are different than the ones that kept us up at night nineteen years ago, right? But our lives dare not change! God’s Word remains the unchanging foundation to warn us, save us, guide us, comfort us, forgive us, sustain us, strengthen us no matter what Satan whispers to us or life thunders at us.
    We don’t just hear God’s Word. We apply it. To do so, we grow by His Word. Weekly worship, daily devotions, regular study of His Word are important. But there’s more. The “foolish” person hears it, but doesn’t apply it, do it, live it. The “wise” person also “does” it, applies it, lives it always! That isn’t my take. That’s the Savior’s truth! We hear His Word and apply it for a strong life!      Amen.
    Pastor David A. Voss
    Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost - Glory Be to Me?
  • Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost
    September 3, 2023
    Hymns                                     600,   694,   831,   867
    First Reading                           Jeremiah 15:15-21
    Psalm of the Day                     31
    Second Reading                      Romans 8:18-25
    Gospel                                     Matthew 16:21-26
    Romans 8:18-25
    Glory Be to Me?
    I. Yes! Heaven’s glory will outweigh earthly suffering
    II. Yes! Heaven’s glory is guaranteed by the Holy Spirit
    In the name of Jesus Christ who lived and died and rose to make us heirs of His eternal glory, fellow redeemed,
    A cartoon character in the 1960s often said, “Well, glory be!” I wondered, “What does she mean? Glory be to whom? She must mean, ‘Glory be to God!’. He’s the One who gets all the glory, right?” That made sense to me because every week in worship we sang “Glory be to God”. Some sixty years – and two hymnals – later, we still do. We just sang, “Glory be to God on high!” Each Lent we sing, “Glory be to Jesus.”
    Have we ever said or sung, “Glory be to me”? Preacher, that’s sacrilegious! We give all glory to God for saving us from the horror of hell, not claim any glory for ourselves. That’s right. And that’s wrong. We can claim glory for ourselves. God says so here. The glory that is going to be revealed to us (v. 18).
    “Glory be to me!”? Hearing that, saying that, claiming that just seems wrong. We confess here each week that, because of our sins, we deserve nothing but trouble here, then suffering forever. That hasn’t changed. That is what we deserve. But here God says we sinners can claim “glory” for ourselves. It’s not glory we will earn. It’s glory we will be given. Glory be to me? Yes! Heaven’s glory will outweigh earthly suffering. And yes! Heaven’s glory is guaranteed by the Holy Spirit.
    I. Yes! Heaven’s glory will outweigh earthly suffering
    The word the Holy Spirit gave the Apostle Paul to write here for “worth comparing with” painted a vivid picture for those who first read this in Greek. We’ll benefit from and better understand these truths if we, too, see that Word picture. God wants us to think of a huge scale, a balance scale with a plate or bowl on both sides. Got it? Now imagine all our suffering nd pain piled on one side of that balance scale.
    What have you suffered in the past? What are you suffering now? A loved one who died suddenly? Excruciating back pain day and night? Cancer? A bad heart and a plethora of pills you must take all day every day? Family trouble? Your company about to eliminate your position? Stress at school? Is it that no matter how often and how faithfully you proclaim the truths of God’s Word, people close to you don’t change – or even listen? Is it depression so deep that, even if Jesus came down from heaven and showed you blue sky stretching above you, you would focus on the small cloud in the distance and fear more storms like those ten days ago?
    What are your “sufferings at the present time” (v. 18)? Do you dwell on all that is wrong in your life? Even, in a sad way, revel in it? Try to convince others you have it worse than they do? It’s not that our troubles aren’t real. They are! But dwelling on them turns us into Don’t spoil my pity party! people.
    The man whom the Lord used to give us His Word here agreed life is full of suffering. God did not spare his faithful apostle, Paul, from  “beatings, imprisonments, riots…sleepless nights, hunger…dishonor, treated as a deceiver…grieving, poor, having nothing…shipwrecked…in danger from robbers…in danger in the city, in danger in the wilderness, in danger on the sea, cold and lacking clothing” (2 Corinthians 6; 11). Pain and suffering? Paul’s wouldn’t match, but overwhelm!, ours.
    We shouldn’t be surprised by our “sufferings at the present time” because all creation is now a prisoner to pain. “For creation was subjected to futility…All of creation is groaning with birth pains right up to the present time” (vv. 20,22). We don’t often think about those results of sin in the world: polluted rivers, oil spills, wildfires, floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, pests devastating crops, pets getting old and dying. None of that is what God intended when He created the universe.
    But that’s the way it is all over the universe. It’s been corrupted by sin. Sin leads to death for all. We’ll never be free from pain or sorrow here. Neither will our world. We can’t make heaven on earth. It’s no wonder that creation groans. Even we believers “groan inwardly while we eagerly await… the redemption of our body” (v. 23).
    The Lord of all urges us to see how the scale tips so far to the other side “with the glory that is to be revealed to us”. You’re right! That’s hard to see now – what with braces on our teeth, dentures in our mouths, orthotics in our shoes, Band-aids in our bathrooms. In fact, that’s hard for God to explain to us. Heaven is so glorious and so perfect He can’t describe it in a way our puny minds can fully grasp. So God had Paul paint another Word picture. All creation “is waiting with eager longing” (v. 19) is really craning its neck to see what is coming.
    We believers put up with this present painful time because we know it won’t go on forever. Paul compared this life to the pain of childbirth. We men are told nothing in life hurts worse. But no other pain in this life leads to greater joy and happiness than “birth pains”. The pains of this life will pass away when we believers receive “the redemption of our body”. Christ’s blood is the price paid for that redemption. Our future will be living with a glorious body like the one Christ has had since He rose from His grave. No more trouble or pain or sorrow of any kind, only the warming love and perfect presence of Jesus.
    Glory be to me? Yes! We can say that. You trust that. You long for that every day. The glory to come outweighs the worst earthly woes and tears and pains and sorrows!
    II. Yes! Heaven’s glory is guaranteed by the Holy Spirit
    But can we really be sure heaven lies on the other side of life? And, if so, is it really going to be that wonderful? Yes! Glory be to me? Yes! Heaven’s glory is guaranteed by the Holy Spirit.
    The sinful human nature demands, “Show me, or I won’t believe it! If I haven’t seen it, I’m not sure it’s real!” When it comes to future heavenly bliss, we’re like doubting Thomas. “After all,” the sinful nature in us whispers, “you’ve never been to heaven. How do you know what it’s like, that it’s so great, if it even exists? Maybe it’s just a tale preachers tell to keep you coming back to church.” The sinful nature is right. We’ve never walked heaven’s streets of gold or seen heaven’s gates of pearl. But the sinful nature is wrong to suggest  heaven isn’t real. How can we be sure heaven is so wonderful, so glorious, is real? The Holy Spirit who lives in us! 
    In spiritual matters, we disagree with the adage Seeing is believing. For four thousand years, sinners were saved by the Savior who had not yet been born of a virgin or lived in Israel or worked miracles to prove He is the Son of God or sacrificed Himself for the sins of the world. Sinners before Christ believed in the coming Messiah. But they did not see Him. God had shown them what the Savior would do by having the Jews offer frequent sacrifices. Yet all who trusted the many promises given were saved by “this hope” (v. 24). It was while there was only “hope” – hope not yet seen – that salvation came. And it is in the “hope” of what Christ has promised – that hope not yet seen – that we live as saints already cleansed by Christ and waiting to inherit heavenly glory.
    Is that just pious preacher prattle to make suffering people feel better for a while? No! It is the truth of God. And He goes on to deliver this truth: “You have the firstfruits of the Spirit” (v. 23). This, of course, is the same Holy Spirit whom we confess weekly in our creeds. This is the same Holy Spirit Jesus promised. “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Counselor to be with you forever. He is the Spirit of truth” (John 14:16-18).
    The Holy Spirit dwelling in us since Baptism goes with us each day to show us how the side of the scale of glory that will be ours far outweighs the sufferings that now assault us. Why would the Spirit build His home in our hearts and make our bodies His temple if He were only going to be with us for this little while of pain? We “have the firstfruits of the Spirit”. That doesn’t mean we have a bit of Him now and will get all of Him in heaven. That means having Him now in this sinful world is powerful proof and the rock-solid guarantee He will take us to heaven forever – unless we drop Him from our lives.
    Recall the Bible lesson of Joseph in Egypt seeing his brothers who had come from the Promised Land to buy grain? Before revealing himself to them as their long-lost brother, and when they were ready to head home with the grain they had purchased from him for the second time, Joseph demanded they leave a brother behind. That brother would be a guarantee the brothers would return. Joseph knew they wouldn’t leave their brother as a hostage in a foreign prison.
    God gives His Spirit to us daily as His guarantee Jesus will come back to get us and take us, through faith in Him, to be where He is and has prepared for us “glory” in His glorious presence. That is our Christian “hope”. We don’t see heaven yet. But we know heaven is as real as is the Holy Spirit who lives in us.
    Satan wants to blind us with his sin glasses to see the balance scale tipped torturously toward trouble and suffering. The Spirit uses His truths to keep on the eyes of our heart His Son S-O-N) glasses to see the glory that will be ours, the glory that far outweighs present suffering. That keeps life in perspective. That holds heaven before us. That fuels us to live for Him who died for us and rose from death and will take us to be with Him forever in His glory.      Amen.
    Pastor David A. Voss
    Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost - Sinners Have By-Faith Righteousness in Christ
  • Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
    August 27, 2023

    Hymns                                     869,   510,   667,   583
    First Reading                           Exodus 34:5-9
    Psalm of the Day                     138
    Second Reading                      Romans 10:5-13
    Gospel                                     Matthew 16:13-20
    Romans 10:5-13
    Sinners Have By-Faith Righteousness in Christ
      I. Christ brings salvation
              II. Christ produces a response
    III. Christ is needed by all
    In the name of Christ, in whom alone are sinners saved, fellow redeemed,
    The Savior’s question in today’s Gospel wasn’t just for His disciples long ago. The Savior’s question in today’s Gospel isn’t just for His disciples today. The Savior’s question in today’s Gospel must be answered by every sinner ever. The Savior’s question is “Who do you say that I am” (Matthew 16:15)?
    An answer that flatters Jesus as a tremendous teacher or wonderful man or powerful prophet, but goes no further, gets a failing grade from the Judge of all mankind. The answer that confesses Jesus of Nazareth as the Christ, the Redeemer, the Son of God is the only answer that works with the Judge. Either people proclaim Jesus as the Lord God and as the only Savior for every sinner, or they do not. If a person does not confess Jesus as his Savior, that person trusts either some other god or himself as his savior – or ignores altogether the damning guilt of sin, the guilt that must be removed to be right with God. So an incorrect answer to Jesus asking, “Who do you say that I am?”, results in unending punishment.
    Really? Isn’t there any wiggle room, any middle ground? God says emphatically and consistently in His Word, “No! I will by no means clear the guilty” (Exodus 34:7). Sinners need their guilt removed. Every sinner trusts either the right things he or she does to be rid of guilt and to be right with God, or “the righteousness that comes by faith” (v. 6) in Christ and His work to be rid of guilt and to be right with God. One of those works. The other doesn’t.
    Sinners have by-faith (not by-works) righteousness with God in Christ. Christs brings salvation. Christ produces a response. Christ is needed by all sinners.
      I. Christ brings salvation

    God warns us about it all the time because it keeps creeping back into our hearts all the time. What is it? It is the idea that we need to – or at least are able to – do things to get us right with God. Exhibit A for how easy it is to step into that trap and how repeatedly we’re tempted to do so is God’s chosen people Israel. Though the promise of the Savior was given to them and though God committed Himself to send the Savior to the world through them and though God Himself in the flesh walked and talked among them, what did many in Israel trust as the way to “righteousness” with God? Their own wonderful lives, like the Pharisees boasted. Their own committed efforts to keep the law God gave Israel through Moses. And Israel refused and rejected the “the righteousness that comes by faith” in the promised Savior, Jesus of Nazareth.
    God’s people in Israel at Moses’ time, in Rome during Paul’s day, and in Ingham County right now need not climb “into heaven” (v. 6) to find by-faith righteousness. Why not? Because Christ came down from heaven to earth to give sinners His righteousness with His perfectly holy life and then His innocent suffering and death – all of that in our place. Never since the fall of Adam and Eve into sin until the day Christ returns in glory do sinners need to “descend into the abyss” (v. 7) to search for by-faith righteousness. Why not? Because Christ rose from the dead to give sinners His righteousness.
    But Jesus did all that long ago and far away from us. How can know that or trust that? “The Word is near you…that is, the Word of faith that we are proclaiming…If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (vv. 8-9)! God tells us in His Word what He has done for us. God uses the power of His Word to lead us to trust what He has done for us. God tells sinners to have His Word near them daily, that is, in their hearts and lives. Why? “It is with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and it is with the mouth that a person confesses, resulting in salvation (v. 10). The Word isn’t just a book. The Word of God – not our good life or helping hands – the Word of God about all the Savior has done for all sinners is what God uses to save sinners. Sinners have by-faith righteousness in Christ, and Christ brings “salvation”.
           II. Christ produces a response 
    The truth, “the word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” means more than, The Word about Christ’s righteousness that you believe is going to get you to heaven one day. Jesus didn’t die for us, then rise for us, then say, “It’s done! See you in heaven!” The by-faith in Christ righteousness that is ours through faith in Christ produces a response in sinners.
    When “the Word of faith” is in our heart, God’s Word directs our thoughts and actions to be thoughts and actions He approves, not abhors. The Word gives us the Godly set of values by which He wants us to live. The Word controls our speech so that we avoid nasty news about others, and declare to the world that joy in Jesus all sinners have. As openings in conversation arise, we tell others what God tells us in “the Word of faith” about hell being demanded for every sin, and about hell for every sin being paid by the loving Lord Jesus at His cross. Sinners have by-faith righteousness for a changed life here.
    It is often said that the only Bible an unbeliever may ever read is the life of a child of God with whom the unbeliever comes into contact. What does our attitude in life say to unbelievers about Christ’s work to save us? Do our words and actions in life give others the idea our faith in Christ is just for Sunday morning? Or for every day? Does the way we live our life give others the impression that we are no different than the sinful world? Or that we live to reflect that sacrifice by Christ in the loving, sacrificial way we deal with others?
    We have by-faith righteousness in Christ! The Savior produces in us the response that lives and loves and speaks and thinks daily as His forgiven, heaven-bound children.
    III. Christ is needed by all
    We heard a lot from the Word of faith in Isaiah last week about Christ’s forgiveness and salvation, His Word and work, being not just for Jews, but for people of all nations. There’s more of that in this lesson this week. “So there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, because the same Lord is Lord of all…Yes, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved’” (vv. 12-13). Sinners, and that covers all people born of man and woman – including you and me, have by-faith righteousness in Christ, who is needed by all sinners.
    When the Holy Spirit had Paul write here, “Everyone who believes in Christ will never be put to shame” (v. 11) and “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (v. 13), He was repeating Gospel gems from the Old Testament. Many Jews claimed the Old Testament was their treasure – and no one else’s. But the Lord used New Testament writers to quote Old Testament verses for us Gentiles, too. In the centuries since Paul wrote this the Lord has used His Word to tell people all over the world that salvation isn’t for only one nation, but that righteousness in Christ is for all sinful people.
    God also makes it clear the only power for forgiveness of sins and the only way for sinners to enter heaven forever is through the work of Christ. Jews are not saved one way and Gentiles another. Hindus and Muslims and Buddhists who worship gods that are not the God of Scripture don’t enter heaven in a different way than what Scripture proclaims. The only path to heaven is paved by the payment Christ made, sealed by the blood Christ shed, and marked through faith in His righteousness. All sinners who seek forgiveness, who desire life with God forever, in any way other than in Christ will be more than ashamed – they will be punished forever.
    Who is going to tell the Jews that? The Buddhists? The new age religion folks who worship ideas of enlightenment and find their god in crystals? The Muslims who depend on their devotion to the idol Allah to get them to Paradise? The people who shrug off religion and figure once they’re dead, they cease to exist? The by-works righteousness people who are convinced everyone earns their own eternal destiny? Someone needs to tell them they are wrong, right? When the Lord of life and heaven gives us opportunities to tell them the only way for forgiveness and to heaven, we will tell them that sinners need – and have – by-faith “righteousness” in Christ.
    Our world has a pile of problems. But all other problems pale compared to the problem of people headed to hell because they live apart from Christ and faith in what He accomplished with His life, death, and resurrection. That’s what it means to “call on the name of the Lord”. It’s not just using the right terms for God. It’s looking in faith to Him for salvation. By God’s grace we sinners have by-faith “righteousness” in Christ. Whom do we know who needs to hear that from us?      Amen.
    Pastor David A. Voss
    Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost - We Are Joined to the Lord
  • Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost
    August 20, 2023
    Hymns                                     914,   855,   566,   582
    First Reading                           Isaiah 56:1,6-8
    Psalm of the Day                     67
    Second Reading                      Ephesians 2:13-22
    Gospel                                     Matthew 15:21-28
    Isaiah 56:1,6-8
    We Are Joined to the Lord
    I. Thanks to the Lord
      II. Thanked by our lives
    In the name of the Son of God, our Savior, Jesus Christ, fellow rebels against Him and redeemed by Him,
    People join clubs or groups on their own and based on their interests or hobbies. Folks who like gardening, science fiction, computer gaming, floral arrangements, pickle ball, camping – you name it – can join other like-minded people.
    But the Lord has joined us to Him. Oh, you’re right. Our lesson does read, “The foreigners who join themselves to the Lord” (v. 6). But the Word of the Lord says that here about people in whom He has already planted trust in His salvation. It refers to the believer’s desire to stay “join”ed to the Lord who has saved them and made them His own. We who are joined to the Lord don’t chafe from or grumble about His laws and teachings. We who are joined to the Lord grow spiritually from, as well as live joyfully and thankfully and willingly under, Him and His truths.
    Is that an accurate summary of our daily living? Do we spend each waking moment glowing in the joy of being joined to the Lord? Sadly, we don’t! But, as the children of God we are through faith in His redemption, we ask the Lord to shape us more and more to enjoy the blessings and to live the thanks that rise from being joined to the Lord. We are joined to the Lord thanks to the Lord, the Lord who is thanked by our lives.
    I. Thanks to the Lord
    All that many people want to know about religion is the first words from the Lord here: “Protect justice, and carry out righteousness” (v. 1). But that does not cover everything that everyone needs to know about God. That was God’s call to sinners to repent!
    The sixty-six chapters of Isaiah are full of repentance sections. Some are quite harsh, starting with the second verse of Isaiah. God said, “I have raised children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against Me. The ox knows its owner, and the donkey knows its owner’s manger, but Israel does not know. My people do not understand” (Isaiah 1:2-3). Ouch!
    By comparison, this repentance rebuke seems tame. “Protect justice, and maintain righteousness”. But there’s a reason for this somewhat softer tone in this later chapter of Isaiah. Today’s lesson is addressed to Gentiles, non-Jews, people who did not have as much contact with God’s Word as did the Jews of Isaiah’s day. The Gentiles’ sins weren’t so much open rebellion against God, but indifference to and ignorance about God.
    Desiring also Gentiles to be part of His family, God warned them not to stray from Him, then tenderly invited them to stay with Him. His kingdom is not for Jews only, but Gentiles, too – an almost unheard of idea in Israel at Isaiah’s time.
    In love, the Lord urged those ancient Gentiles to repent. In love, the Lord assured those ancient Gentiles they, too, would be saved. “My salvation is coming very soon” (v. 1). In love, He wanted Gentiles, too, to say, “We need Your salvation!”
    God promised, My righteousness is ready to be revealed” (v. 1). Our righteousness, our right living, doesn’t help us because even “all our righteous acts are like a filthy cloth” (Isaiah 64:6), are stained with sin. So the only hope for Jews and Gentiles is another’s, someone greater’s, “righteousness”, the perfect life and cleansing death of Jesus Christ for us.
    We are joined to the Lord, but not because we made up our minds that it would be great to be joined to Him, but because He came to us, as promised, at Bethlehem and Calvary. Salvation” and “righteousness”, indeed!
    We are joined to the Lord thanks only to His love for sinners like the Jews, like those Gentiles who first heard these words, like us Americans. Our world says and sings much about love, yet little of that is really love. It’s mostly sappy emotions. Here is love, action love! “This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10). That is the beautiful, Biblical forgiveness that is the very center of every worship service here. 
    Not our love for God, but His love for us, joined us to Him. He found us and joined us to His heart, though we still lose interest in His Word, use carelessly His name, choose other activities over worshiping Him. His love for us sinners found us and joined us to Him – and that’s the central truth in the Bible lessons taught in our Sunday School rooms resuming in three weeks and our Lutheran School and Preschool starting Tuesday. Joined to the Lord? We are! Not by our decision, but all thanks to His sacrificial love for us and for all sinners!
      II. Thanked by our lives
    An Apache chief interrupted a Sunday School lesson taught by one of our missionaries in the early 1900s at the beginning of WELS work on the reservation in Arizona. The chief was certain he had an open-and-shut case to shoot down Lutheran Christianity and thus preserve the indigenous Indian worship of many gods. “You teach that only in One called Jesus are we saved, that He did it all! Such religion never works! Unless we are afraid of the gods and know we must please the gods before they give us any blessings, there’s no reason to obey the gods!” Almost 125 years later, the sweet news of salvation won by God alone is still at work, is still winning souls among the Apache people and Michiganders and around the world – including, after regularly hearing God’s good news, the soul of that Apache chief whom we will meet in heaven.
    The chief’s objection, also our sinful nature’s objection, still rises daily. What is the role of obeying God in the life of those who are joined to Him? The Lord tells His people, “You are joined to Me thanks to My love for you. And you delight to show you are joined to Me as you thank Me with your life!”
    We are joined to the Lord for more than an all-expenses-paid trip to heaven. God’s people “join themselves to the Lord to minister to Him” (v. 6), to serve Him. He doesn’t need our service; He wants our service. Cleaning bathrooms and dusting bedrooms, cutting the grass and drying the dishes, folding clothes and pruning shrubs, dealing with dirty diapers and spending all day with a sick child don’t feel like privileges. But they are! We are privileged to be joined to the Lord to serve Him as we live our daily lives – not just in church, but around the house and in the classroom and at the office. We are joined to the Lord to serve Him not as joyless, indentured slaves; but as grateful, happy children. We joyfully, eagerly show we are joined to the Lord in the way we serve others. As we do so, we are serving the Lord Himself.
    Is that the way we live daily? Do we selfishly insist we know what is best for us, proudly resist what we think is beneath our dignity, lazily ignore opportunities to thank the Lord with our lives? Or are we so moved by the unlimited love of God that led Him to give Himself for us sinners that we honor our parents by helping without being asked, befriend neighbors without expecting any favors in return, say only kind things about others and refuse juicy gossip about them? All that is serving Him, not just others, serving Him to whom we’re joined for salvation and whom we thank with our lives.
    We are joined to the Lord, thanks only to His love for us, And He wants us to thank Him with our lives as we “love the name of the Lord” (v. 6). You understand that that’s not just the consonants, vowels, and syllables we use to write and say the various names God gives Himself, right? The name of the Lord” is all God tells us about Himself in His Word, is His work of love to save sinners. To “love the name of the Lord” is to make the Lord and His work for us our dearest treasure in life.
    Do we? Do we make declaring at home God’s love for sinners the top priority? Do we delight in talking about the Savior’s suffering our hell more than we talk about our favorite team? Are you parents ready to review God’s salvation with the children the God of salvation has entrusted to you? All that is loving Him to whom we are joined. We thank Him with our lives.
    We are joined to the Lord, thanks only to the Lord’s saving love for us who rebel against Him. He, in turn, is thanked by our lives as we “keep the Sabbath and do not profane it” (v. 6). For us, that’s not setting aside one day of the week for worship and no work, but making the rest (that’s what Sabbath means) of forgiveness of sins in Jesus received in the good news about Jesus at worship services the weekly event around which all else is scheduled, and at devotions in our home daily. That isn’t just a good idea. That’s essential for our faith!
    For Old Testament believers, being joined to the Lord and thanking Him for His forgiveness meant “burnt offerings and …sacrifices” (v. 7) on God’s altar at Jerusalem’s temple. For us, it’s not slaughtering sheep and the demand of ten percent of income. It’s bringing a God-honoring percentage of ourGod-given income as regular firstfruit thankofferings to Him.
    “My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples of the world (v. 7). When God said that seven hundred years before Jesus was born, He was speaking about us, too. We are God’s fulfillment of this truth! We are Gentiles who have been joined to the Lord by the Lord and who thank Him by sharing His Word of salvation with others. By His good news about the only sacrifice for sinners, the Lord joins others to Himself.
    Being joined to the Lord is not cruel slavery or dreary drudgery. We are joined to the Lord for salvation. How can that not affect our living?! We are joined to the Lord not just to be saved, but also to give evidence of our faith in Him by thanking Him with our lives.    Amen.
    Pastor David A. Voss
    Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost - The Son of God Does More Than Walk on Water
  • Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost
    August 13, 2023
    Hymns                         805,   847,   819,   849
    First Reading               1 Kings 19:9-18
    Psalm of the Day         73
    Second Reading          Romans 8:28-39
    Gospel                         Matthew 14:22-33
    Matthew 14:22-33
    The Son of God Does More Than Walk on Water
     I. He comes to us
    II. He comforts us
         III. He conquers for us
    In the name of Jesus Christ, the Savior, fellow sinners whom He has rescued with His innocent suffering and death,
    When the wonderful qualities of athletes or actors or politicians are mentioned in glowing terms, to keep things in perspective someone may reply, “Remember, they can’t walk on water!” That expression is from this lesson. It means Don’t make more of people than they are. Only Jesus – and, as we heard, those whom He invites to join Him – can walk on water.
    But the Holy Spirit wants us to get more out of these verses than a kick from Christ stepping across waves. Whenever we ponder a miracle by God in His Word, we ask ourselves, Why did God do that? Why did the Son of God walk on the water and still the storm? The answer is in the confession of the disciples, “Truly You are the Son of God” (v. 33)! Jesus did miracles to prove He is who He says He is – true God, the Savior.
    Some see nothing more here than Jesus walking on water. God wants us to keep the Son – S-o-n – in our eyes – the eyes of our heart – to see that the Son of God does more than walk on water. He comes to us. He comforts us. He conquers for us.
     I. He comes to us
    Jesus stilled a storm twice. The other time He slept in the boat during the storm. Here He was nowhere to be found when the storm struck the Twelve. Many Jews were clamoring to make Jesus their earthly messiah, assuming His greatest value to them was to use His miraculous power to take care of their bodily lives. The disciples were confused by Jesus walking away from all that attention. Jesus was tempted by Satan to change the focus of His mission to make Himself more popular with the Jews, instead of being the world’s only Savior.
    So the Son of God sent them their separate ways. After feeding thousands with five loaves of bread and two fish, “Immediately Jesus urged the disciples to get into the boat and go ahead of Him to the other side of the lake, while He dismissed the crowd” (v. 23). That kept the Jews from feeding their well-intentioned, but wrong, desire to make Jesus their magic man. That protected His disciples from being misled by the misguided zeal of the people. And that allowed Jesus time to go to His heavenly Father in prayer – asking that He lead the people to the truth about His work, that God would give stronger faith to the disciples to battle false ideas about salvation and keep them safe in the storm He knew was coming, and that His Father would give His own human nature resolve to withstand Satan’s attacks on His work to save all sinners.
    But Jesus didn’t leave them. He came to the Twelve. He didn’t turn off His divine cell phone and let their cries for safety in the winds and waves go to voicemail. He heard them begging Him to deliver them from the raging storm. Mark’s account says Jesus saw them even before they prayed. The Son of God came to them “walking on the” (v. 26) water. Did Jesus walk for several miles on water through the gale to get to the boat? Or only a short distance on the water after He miraculously covered the rest of the way in an instant? We aren’t told and it doesn’t matter. Walking on the water is a miracle whether it covers miles or yards. What matters is the Son of God did more than walk on water. He came to His disciples.
    Jesus comes to us when storms of trouble arise in our lives. He comes not striding on water, but guiding with His Word. We find Him not in sunsets and clouds, but in His Word and sacraments. We don’t look for a superhero in the sky, but the Son of God coming to us where says He does so: in His truth to convict us of our sins and give us the forgiveness He wins.
    II. He comforts us
    Hold it! Our every sin is rebellion against God. So won’t God’s coming to us terrify us? No! The Son of God does more than walk on water. He also comforts us who seek His help.
    At least four of the Twelve had earned their living fishing on Galilee. They knew how suddenly storms arise when the wind barrels down the mountainsides that surround it. Storms didn’t rattle them. So this one had to have been very severe. The darkness, late hour, and threat of being swamped in the boat and drowning led them to think the figure coming toward them on the water was a “ghost” (v. 26). But instead of stringing them along and getting a chuckle from their fear, the Son of God did more than walk on water. He spoke to comfort the disciples. “Take heart! It is I! Do not be afraid” (v. 27).
    At Peter’s request, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water”, the Son of God invited Peter to do so. That, too, was the Savior’s way to comfort the Twelve in that raging storm that had them fearing for their lives.
    No one here has seen the Son of God walking on water across the Grand River or the Straits of Mackinac. No one here has walked on water at His invitation, either. That’s okay. The Son of God does more than walk on water. He also comforts us.
    His comfort comes in the good news about what He’s done to rescue us from hell. We are here not to do anything to show God how worthy we are of His love. We gather in the sorrow of knowing we are sick with the guilt of our sin, and in the repentance that puts sins behind us with God’s help and takes hold of His work to forgive us as He paid our debt. The Son of God does all the work to rescue us today – and every day.
    Jesus comforts us with the Word of life we hear here, in our classrooms, our homes. He comforts us communicants as He gives us His body and blood with bread and wine. He comforts the tiniest of infants in Baptism with the peace of faith in Him and the forgiveness He won for all by living and dying for us. The Son of God does more than walk on water. He walked on water that night to show His desire to comfort us forever.
    III. He conquers for us
    The reason the Son of God can comfort us forever is that He has conquered every foe. Our comfort isn’t that Jesus walked on water, but that He walked all over Satan. The Son of God does more than walk on water. He conquers for us.
    Jesus conquered Peter’s doubt that night. As long as Peter kept his eyes and trust on Christ, he kept walking on water. But when Peter suddenly focused on the wind tossing waves all around him, he feared for his life, struggled to tread water and keep his head above it. Peter could only beg, “Lord, save me” (v. 30)! Jesus did save him from a watery grave. It was Jesus’ power, not Peter’s faith, that kept Peter from drowning.
    We often miss out on blessings God wants to give us because we don’t always trust He will keep all His promises. Like the Twelve, we ask God to increase our faith. But then we don’t idly sit back and wait for something wonderful to happen to our faith. The Holy Spirit builds up faith in the Savior by the power of the good news about the Savior revealed in His Word and given in His sacraments. Any sincere prayer for a stronger faith is followed by faithful use of the ways God does that. Here and there and there He gives us His conquering power.
    “When Jesus and Peter got into the boat, the wind stopped” (v. 32). That was no coincidence. That was Christ’s conquering power over nature. He had created every drop of water in that lake and every gust of wind which wreaked havoc that night. There’s more. Mark’s account says they then were immediately on shore. Whether the boat flew through the air over the now quiet water, or whether time and space were suspended for an instant as the now thirteen in the boat got to dry land, doesn’t matter. Either way, Jesus conquered nature.
    If that’s all He did, He’d be a great weatherman, a perfect camping companion. But the Son of God does more than walk on water, then calm it. He conquers the world’s worst woes. The storm that night was nothing compared to hell’s torment. Jesus endured hell’s torment at the cross so we sinners who deserve hell won’t endure it. We thank God He does more than walk on water. He conquered hell for us!
    The disciples wouldn’t have been the first to die at sea had Jesus not come to them that night. All but eight humans died in the flood of Noah’s day. The Twelve were that night, and we are all today, one day closer to death. But we won’t stay dead. Jesus came to earth, died for sins, then rose from death for us. We thank God He does more than walk on water. He rose from death to conquer death for us!
    With each step Jesus took on the water that night He walked on Satan’s skull, saying, “I am the promised Messiah! I’ve come to crush you!” And in Jesus we have the power to tell the devil, “No!” to every temptation. We thank God that He does more than walk on water. He conquered the devil for us!
    But there are times we don’t feel all that conquering power in our lives, right? Well, what would you think of a sick patient who counted on her doctor to make her well, but refused to follow the doctor’s directions or take his prescribed medications? Our faith in Christ is a gift from the Holy Spirit. Once we have that gift, we are responsible to use what God directs and prescribes as His way to strengthen our faith in Jesus and His work. In Word and Sacrament, the Son of God gives us His conquering power over sin and death and hell and Satan.
    The Son of God does more than walk on water. He never did miracles to entertain the masses, but to prove He is “truly… the Son of God”. He comes to us in our troubles. He comforts us with His forgiveness and assurance He is with us. He makes us “more than conquerors” (Romans 8:37) by His work for us. We thank God that He does more than walk on water.      Amen.
    Pastor David A. Voss
    Ninth Sunday after Pentecost - God's Kingdom Is Full of Treasure
  • Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
    July 30, 2023
    Hymns                         629,   770,   633,   679
    First Reading              1 Kings 3:5-12
    Psalm of the Day        42
    Second Reading          1 Timothy 6:17-21
    Gospel                        Matthew 13:44-52
    Matthew 13:44-52
    God’s Kingdom Is Full of Treasure
     I. Find it
     II. Keep it
     III. Share it
    In the name of Jesus, the Savior, fellow redeemed,
    The Lord doesn’t want us to get a false impression of His kingdom. It isn’t all happiness and bliss. Two weeks ago we heard His parable about a sower, seed, and soils – His truth that not all who hear the good news of what He’s done as the Savior for sinners will believe that good news. Last week in His story about wheat and weeds Jesus lets the world know that unbeliever will exist next to believers for all of time on earth.
    But belonging to the kingdom of heaven” (v. 44) is joyful, too. Jesus teaches that in these four short earthly stories with His heavenly meaning. All four have a common theme: value and treasure. The sad realities of life in this sinful world – sin, unbelief, rejecting the Savior – are far outweighed by the treasure in His kingdom: salvation, certainty, joy in Jesus!
    Then why don’t we feel the joy, show the confidence, live the peace we have in God’s kingdom already now on earth? It’s not the fault of the King or His kingdom! It’s the fault of flawed, sinful reason. What’s most important to me is what I can see, touch, taste, spend, and want right now! All that religious stuff – ‘Do this! Don’t do that! Hear God’s Word! Support God’s work! Rejoice in Christ’s forgiveness! Wait for God’s heaven!’ – none of that is my idea of joy or happiness!
    No, it’s not our old Adam’s idea of joy and happiness. But our loving Lord tells us here again what a treasure is ours in His kingdom. We are the richest people in the world, thanks to Him! The Holy Spirit will fill our hearts as He leads us to review His truths here. God’s kingdom is full of treasure. We find that treasure, keep that treasure, and share that treasure.
     I. Find it
    In the time before banks, a person would have his “treasure hidden in a field” (v. 44) – a secret spot where no one would look. Sometimes the person died before retrieving his treasure; then it became lost treasure. Here, long after a wealthy man had hidden his fortune in his field, a worker plowing for the new owner of the field accidently snagged a sack holding a lot of silver or gold. He knew he had no right to keep it since it was buried on someone else’s land. So he reburied it there, then in his joy…sells all…he has and buys that field” (v. 44). That way, the treasure was rightfully his. If he paid a steep price for the field it was okay. He knew what lay beneath the field was far more valuable than all he owned.
    Unlike that worker, the pearl merchant knew what he was seeking: “fine pearls” (v. 45). He had likely examined and rejected thousands of pearls before he came across this one. It was a “very valuable pearl” (v. 46). And like the field worker, he “sold all that he had and bought” (v. 46) the pearl. A rash purchase by a compulsive buyer? No! He knew the pearl was more valuable than everything combined that he owned.
    You already know the hidden treasure and valuable pearl picture the treasure of “the kingdom of heaven” (v. 45). But it’s not just there. It’s also life here in God’s family. Some have gone through life with no idea of anything bigger, better, loftier than houses, cars, vacations, or honor. Then, having married a Christian woman or confided in a believing friend or by some other blessed circumstances, they found the full treasure in the God-man who loves sinners and gave Himself up to pay the price all sinners owe Him for every sin. They found Him without really looking for Him. God, in love, found them!
    Others have lived with the gnawing feeling there must be more to life than the here and now. That feeling is the work of the Spirit. And only He can lead sinners to recognize the full treasure and value of the perfect pearl of forgiveness and salvation won by Christ and His work to save the fallen world.
    What did people think when a farm worker announced he was holding an auction to sell all he had to buy a field he once plowed? Is it really such good soil? Is the real estate worth that much? Should he really get rid of everything else? Is he crazy? But he knew the true value of what he had had found. If I have that field, I have everything. I just have to have that field!
    When we have the Savior we have the kingdom of God – not so much a place beyond as the activity of God working in our heart. When we have the Savior, we have the greatest treasure in the world! Do our lives show that? We gladly give up our pet sins, wicked thoughts, and greed for more stuff since those keep us from the treasure we have found in Jesus! We consider a fancy house, fine car, latest fashions, prestigious job as nothing compared to the treasure we have in the kingdom of God as Jesus reigns – by His gospel! – in our heart!
     II. Keep it

    How can we be sure we have Jesus and that God counts us as His own? In the parable of the “dragnet” (v. 47), Jesus shows from another angle how full of treasure God’s kingdom is for us. It’s so full of treasure that we keep it once we’ve found it.
    You may enjoy fishing, but not this way. This was for business year round, not pleasure on a summer trip. This involved no bait, but a net “cast into the sea” (v. 47) with floats on top and weights on bottom as the net was dragged between two boats. When the boats had covered a certain amount of water ropes were pulled to close the net and it was taken to shore. The dragnet caught “fish of every kind” (v. 47). But not all were keepers. The fishermen “gathered the good fish into containers, but threw the bad ones away” (v. 48).
    You get the point. Not all people who come in contact with the kingdom of God are part of it. Some suppose heaven isn’t meant for certain sinners – like the Lansing man who recently killed a two-year old. But the net of the good news about Jesus stretches across cultures and skin colors and language differences and income levels and political positions and to people who are sinners – all people on earth, even murderers.
    The work of God’s kingdom is wide. But the catch of heaven-bound souls is small. “That is how it will be on the Last Day. God will…separate the wicked from the righteous…and  throw the wicked into the fiery furnace” (vv. 49-50) of hell. Those in whom the Spirit creates and keeps saving trust in the life, death, and rising of the Savior for sinners are “the righteous”, those who are right in God’s sight through trust in God’s work. Those who refused the Savior will have their sins held against them and spend forever in the unending fire of hell. One of those is the eternal destiny for every person.
    Not everyone who hears the good that Jesus took our place in suffering hell believes this greatest of all treasures. Not everyone who goes to church is still in the kingdom of God. Jesus warned the church-going Pharisees, “You honor Me with your lips, but your heart is far from Me” (Matthew 15:8). Jesus also still invites, as we heard last month, “Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened by your sin and guilt, and I will give you rest… rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:28-29).
    Do we keep the treasure we have in Christ? Or do we think we can pull the wool over God’s all-seeing eyes by showing up in His house and making things look good on our outside, but inside we don’t really trust His work, or aren’t willing to live His way and change our sinful ways? God’s kingdom is full of treasure for us in Jesus, so we keep it!
     III. Share it
    “Did you understand all these things” (v. 51)? The kingdom of God is built on Jesus, God’s Son, the Savior. The kingdom of God comes to perishing souls through the seed, His Word. Hard paths, stony soil, and choking thorns hamper receiving the Word. But the Word still works. We don’t make God’s kingdom come to us or to others. The Word produces faith to trust Jesus all by itself. It’s all God’s power.
    Still, God sends us weak and wayward sinners to sow His seed! What grace! What a marvel! Our Lord’s last parable in this chapter’s series of seven parables isn’t so much about the kingdom as it is about His workers in His kingdom. Every expert in the law who has been trained as a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his treasure both new things and old things” (v. 52). Because God’s kingdom is full of treasure, we share it!
    The owner here, like many in our Savior’s parables, was rich. It sounds like his precious items would have put the Antiques Roadshow to shame. He had “old” treasures. But he didn’t live only in the past. Some of his treasures were “new”, too. And he didn’t keep them locked inside his house. He brought them out to let people view them and use them.
    Christ’s point is not that we are to develop new teachings, but that we recognize the full treasure of His kingdom, a balanced spiritual diet. We ponder ourselves, and share with others, that on our own we are all condemned sinners who can’t do anything to save ourselves, so we desperately need God’s love. We ponder ourselves, and share with others, that God’s love for sinners flows in Christ’s blood to cover all sin and through faith in Him we inherit heaven. We grow in knowing all God’s truths, the promises of the Old Testament and the fulfillment in the New, to trust and share those truths better.
    Some say, “We need to hear what we’ve never heard before. If it isn’t new, people won’t keep coming back.” We don’t say that! We will teach each other – and those living without the treasure of the kingdom – the old, old story of Jesus and His love which excites us and other convicted sinners every time we and they hear it! Every person’s predicament is still sin – as old as Eden. Every person’s pardon in still Jesus – as old and as new as the cross and His good news.
    God’s kingdom is full of treasure. By His loving work, we’ve found it. In His Word, we keep it. With His power, we share it.       Amen.
    Pastor David A. Voss
    Eighth Sunday after Pentecost - In God's Eyes Am I Wheat or a Weed?
  • Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
    July 23, 2023

    Hymns                         873,   491,   668,   926
    First Reading               Isaiah 44:6-11
    Psalm of the Day         19
    Second Reading          Romans 1:18-25
    Gospel Text                 Matthew 13:24-30,36-43
    Matthew 13:24-30,36-43
    In God’s Eyes Am I Wheat or a Weed?
    I. Who planted me?
            II. What will come of me?

    In the name of Jesus Christ, the sinner’s only way to heaven, fellow sinners He redeemed for time and for eternity,
    Did God create weeds on one of the first six days? The Bible doesn’t list weeds in Genesis 1. But God’s Word does say on Day Three He made “plants and vegetation that produces seed according to its own kind” (Genesis 1:12). But what is a weed? Since the fall into sin, isn’t a weed any vegetation that grows where we don’t want it in farm fields and flower beds? Isn’t it whatever vegetation crowds what we want to grow?
    Jesus teaches that wheat and weeds, spiritually speaking, exist side-by-side in this world. The most important question in life isn’t Will I be rich? or Will I get married? or Will I become successful? or even Why does God let rotten things happen? The most important question in life is In God’s eyes am I wheat or a weed? The answer to that critical question is clear when we see in Jesus the answer to these two questions: Who planted me? and What will come of me?
    I. Who planted me?
    After the story about the sower and the seed – remember from last week?, Jesus told “another parable” (v. 24) in which a man “sowed good seed in his field” (v. 24). Not bad seed, but good seed. Here all the seed fell on the field – none on hard paths or rocky dirt or among choking thorns. Good seed on good soil by a good sower? We expect a bountiful harvest!
    But in this story from everyday life, while the farmhands were asleep the landowner’s “enemy…sowed weeds among the wheat” (v. 25). Weed seedlings of what is called darnel today look like baby wheat plants when both start poking out of the ground. It was weeks or more later, when the plants sprouted and produced heads of grain” that the workers could tell that “weeds also appeared” (v. 26) in the field.
    The parable is about every person’s life before God. “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man”, Jesus Himself. “The field is the world. The good seeds are the sons of the kingdom” (vv. 37-38), even you women and girls – all whom God has adopted as His firstborn “sons” through faith in Christ and to whom He promises the greatest inheritance: heaven!
    We don’t deserve to be part of God’s inheritance, members of His family, or even breathers of the oxygen He created and is giving us right now. We didn’t make ourselves right with the Father. The Son, God Himself, lived and died to reconcile us to God. We didn’t choose to become His wheat. The Holy Spirit brought us to faith in Jesus and thus planted us as His wheat.
    But not all are spiritual wheat. “The weeds are the sons of the Evil One” (v. 38), those who are still under the control of Satan. “The enemy who sowed them is the Devil” (v. 39). He had a glorious existence as an angel created perfect. But he wanted more glory, rebelled against God, was thrown out of heaven forever, then tempted our first parents to sin. The devil’s plans and desires are to ruin souls forever!
    Weeds among wheat – that’s the spiritual reality of life in this world. Could God wipe out Satan and “the sons of the Evil One” and all rotten things? Of course! He hasn’t told us why doesn’t do that. Instead, He tells us we wheat coexist with weeds. What do we do about that? More about that in a bit.
    But before we get to that, we need to consider this: In God’s eyes am I wheat or a weed? Who planted me? Friends, there is no third category. Every person is either spiritually alive or spiritually dead, either a believer in Christ or bound to Satan, either a child of God or one whose soul belongs to the devil.
    Don’t look in the mirror to see which you are. Many whom Jesus describes as spiritual weeds look just like spiritual wheat on the outside. Rather, look to who planted you and waters you. Some people are not the spiritual wheat they think they are. Just going to church, bringing regular offerings, praying daily, singing joyfully don’t make one “wheat”.
    But when done for Christ, acts like those show a sinner planted and still watered by God as His “wheat”. Those whom Satan planted and feeds point to what they do, glory in their achievements, live as they want. We whom God has planted and still waters look daily to what the Son has done for sinners, glory in His life and cross and empty grave where He defeated sin and Satan, live each moment as He wants. In God’s eyes am I wheat or a weed? The answer lies in the true answers to Who planted me? and To whom do I go for food?
           II. What will come of me?
    In their fields farmers don’t use weed trimmers in their fields. Too much wheat would be cut with the weeds. In God’s kingdom that’s true, too. Rather than whipping weeds, God has us focus on questions for ourselves and others: What will come of me? What will God’s judgment hold for me? Those answers also reveal whether, in God’s eyes, we are wheat or a weed.
    We get the farmhands’ plans to yank the weeds right away. It was their job. But the owner’s idea was even better for the wheat. When you gather up the weeds, you might pull up the wheat along with them” (v. 29). The plants would grow to the point that heads of grain had formed. Some of them would be entwined with weeds. So if the weeds were pulled, some wheat would come with them. “Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, ‘First, gather up the weeds, bind them in bundles, and burn them. Then, gather the wheat into my barn” (v. 30). The workers might not mind if a little wheat didn’t get to the silo, if a few stalks were burned up. But the owner didn’t want a single wheat plant lost or burned.
    In God’s kingdom, God Himself gives the plan of what to do with spiritual weeds. We want to clean house in the world and get rid of all evil by force. If only a nuclear bomb would rid the world of pagan terrorists. A rifle would gun down Christ-denying, Bible-ridiculing enemies of the Lord. A poison gas attack would wipe out all the hypocrites in Christian churches – those who claim to trust Christ, but really have little time for Him other than to show up in His house each week to look good; they don’t heed His Word.
    But the Christian Church leader Augustine was so correct when he wrote long ago about this parable, What today are weeds, tomorrow may become wheat! God’s Word has the power to do that. Should we end others’ lives because their religion doesn’t agree with God’s Word? Or should we use God’s truth with them – the message about Jesus who covered all sins, the message the Spirit uses to change hard hearts and win lost souls and plant them for God’s eternally glorious harvest? That, too, is God’s great grace at work!
    Let’s understand this, as well. God’s grace cannot be rejected indefinitely. Harvest time is coming. At the end of time, “The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will pull out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and those who continue to break the law. The angels will throw them into the fiery furnace where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (vv. 41-42). God will tell His angels which souls are to be welcomed to heaven and which are to be sent to hell. Then the angels will direct each to their eternal destiny. When they do, not a single weed in God’s eyes, not a single person who trusted in someone or something other than the Savior Jesus and His cross, will mistakenly be taken to heaven.
    Our role in God’s kingdom – described in Christ’s parables more as His powerful activity in human hearts than the place where we will live with Him forever – our role in God’s kingdom is not to use force to wipe out unbelievers. God’s Church, believers in Christ, are not to take up weapons to wage holy wars against those who deny His salvation. Our role is to rejoice in the truth that at the end of time the harvest will hold no terror for us who are wheat in God’s eyes. We trust our sins are covered by Christ. “Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (v. 43). Our role is also to declare to the weeds that Jesus is the only way to heaven, after we warn them of the eternal danger they are in because of their attitude about their sins and about the Savior.
    Not just in natural fields and gardens, but in all the spiritual world, weeds grow among the wheat. God’s churches on earth are not perfect, ours included. But the world and the work still belong to Him. He will bring the harvest – at His good time according to His unfailing Word. Those who think they can live in sin without changing and still enter heaven will find out from the Lord of the Harvest differently – and eternally.
    When the harvest comes, what will come of us?  We don’t look at our reputation or work. We don’t compare ourselves to others. We look to Jesus and His blood shed for sinners. We rely only on His work for sinners. He supplies us with all we need to know the gracious answer to the greatest question: In God’s eyes, am I wheat or a weed? We never stop getting God’s answers. ”Whoever has ears to hear, let him hear” (v. 43) His message of life in Jesus to grow in assurance that God has planted us as His wheat and will gather us to His heaven.      Amen.
    Pastor David A. Voss
    The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost - The Christian Is Planted by God's Word
  • The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
    July 16, 2023
    Hymns                         920,   644,   712,   640
    First Reading               Isaiah 55:6-11
    Psalm of the Day         65
    Second Reading          1 Corinthians 3:5-11
    Gospel                         Matthew 13:1-9,18-23
    Matthew 13:1-9,18-23
    The Christian Is Planted by God’s Word
    I. God’s powerful Word
      II. God’s productive Word

    In the name of Jesus Christ, our Savior, fellow redeemed,
    Teachers rarely use chalkboards or flannelgraphs any more. Instead, classrooms have smartboards and other interactive electronic devices. But no matter how ancient or modern the equipment, studies show that students learn better when they are able to see what they are being taught.
    Jesus knew that long ago. In His three-year earthly ministry He taught a lot with pictures. He didn’t haul around a projector and screen or laptop. He used word pictures. He called them “parables” (v. 3). The word means to put things side-by-side. The Savior’s simple stories were based on everyday life familiar to His hearers, and were used to teach spiritual life truths.
    Our Savior’s parables usually have one main point of comparison. Bible students are led astray when they try to find a heavenly meaning in every earthly detail of a parable. The emphasis here is on the seed and the different kinds of soil. The seed “is the Word of the kingdom” (v. 19). The different soils are different receptions of the Word by sinners.
    Some religions teach you must make yourself a candidate for heaven. Some Christian churches teach you must do something to become a believer in Jesus. That’s not what Jesus Himself taught. Here He says the Christian is planted by the Word – God’s powerful Word and God’s productive Word.
    I. God’s powerful Word

    Up north in Capernaum, people were flocking to Jesus because He had been working miracles there in bunches. Jesus wanted them to hear His Word, not just see His power. Without knowing who He is and why He came to earth, they wouldn’t see Him as the Savior, but only as a magician. So, sitting in a boat on the Sea of Galilee just off shore where the people stood listening, the Savior taught them this parable.
    A sower went out to sow” (v. 3), reaching into a sack and scattering “seed” (v. 4) as he walked through the field. In rural areas then there were no state highways or county roads, only paths between fields. On the hard-packed “path” (v. 4), the seed had no chance to germinate, and hungry birds devoured the seed. On “rocky ground” (v. 5) it sprouted early but withered because it had no root. Among “thorns” (v. 7) weeds grew faster than the seedlings and choked them out. But in “good” (v. 8) soil the seed ripened into a bountiful harvest.
    Was the problem with the seed that not all seeds spouted? No! The power is in the seed, not in the soil. Plant a credit card in rich soil and what happens? Nothing. Bury a one hundred dollar bill in fertile ground and what is the result? A ruined one hundred dollar bill. Put a new laptop in good soil and what will be the result? A dead computer. The power is in the seed.
    Jesus takes that fact of nature and uses it to teach the miraculous way God calls sinners to faith in Him through His good news, His Word. No, not all who hear His Word believe. In nature, not all planted seeds germinate and grow and produce a crop. Birds, bugs, weeds, and weather are beyond the control of farmer and gardener. The devil tries to snatch the seed before it takes root in a human heart. Cares and concerns of life can choke the seed of the Word in a sinner’s heart. Still, the Savior assures us that His seed in good soil will do His work.
    God’s powerful Word plants the Christian. God’s powerful Word works His way in His time. You are a testimony to that. You are right here right now because the Word, God’s powerful Word about the Savior, has brought you out of unbelief and into His family of faith – and has kept you in His family of believers in the Savior. Think about that! The message about a crucified Savior made you God’s own child! You’d never believe that on your own! But the message about Jesus, “the gospel,…is the power of God for salvation” (Romans 1:16). You didn’t decide to believe that. You didn’t devise your own power to get that. God’s powerful Word has planted that faith in you. The Christian is planted by God’s powerful Word! 
      II. God’s productive Word
    But three-fourths of this parable is about failure. Wasn’t the sowing farmer careless about where he scattered his seed? Wasn’t he upset and frustrated to watch the invading birds and scorching sun and choking weeds diminish the yield? Wasn’t that a feeble way to plant the seed?
    When Jesus explains the parable, those who hear it may well be frustrated. The “seed is the Word” of God. But we see failures all too often. Satan steals it before it ever takes root in the hearts of some. The sinful world overwhelms others and their shallow faith planted by the powerful Word dies. Worries and wealth rise like wicked weeds to strangle faith.
    Isn’t it discouraging to see what Satan does to the seed? Isn’t it disappointing to watch the world mock the Word of God? Some hearts are hard. Others are too shallow. Still others are very cluttered. Why does the Lord of the Harvest let things like this keep happening? “The Evil One comes and snatches away what has been sown…A person is not deeply rooted and falls away…The worry of this world and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the Word and it produces no fruit” (vv. 19-22). Why doesn’t God miraculously end all that? Isn’t this a week, unproductive way to plant God’s kingdom?
    Snap out of it, saints! There’s more! “But the seed that was sown on the good ground is the one who continues to hear… the Word…He continues to produce fruit: some a hundred, some sixty, and some thirty times what was sown” (v. 23). What a miracle crop! What a surprising harvest! The Christian is planted by God’s Word, God’s productive Word!
    This description of Jesus’ ministry, not all believed His teaching, is a description of His ministry as He carries it out through us. The Lord sows the seed of His Word to all, knowing that sometimes the seed of His Word will bear no fruit. This parable teaches the reality that God’s powerful Word faces great opposition from sin, Satan, and the sinful world. Newly planted faith can be snatched up or choked out of hearts that become apathetic to the news of Him who died to remove their curse of hell, out of hearts that misunderstand and misuse the Savior’s Word of forgiveness for the whole world to  suppose they can sin all they want without accountability.
    But that’s not the whole truth. Even now, among us and around the world, God’s powerful Word remains God’s productive Word. It looks weak, even lifeless – just like a corn seed looks in the gardener’s hand and the farmer’s planting machine. But God’s productive Word takes root and grows. Christians, we and some two billion other believers around the world, are planted by God’s Word. God makes it grow beyond our wildest expectations, as He has been doing ever since the fall into sin by Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and the promise of the Savior God gave that same evening.
    As we heard in today’s First Reading, God’s productive Word works – without our help – to bring saving joy to sinners who deserve damnation, and eternal glory to God for enduring hell in our place. We may plant the seed as Paul did in Corinth. We water the seedlings like Apollos did after Paul left Corinth. But God is the One who makes it grow and produce a crop.
    What is the crop God’s productive Word brings forth in the world? Fruits of faith – “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). The crop is also one seed telling other sinners about the love of Christ who rescues the world. In the family, God uses Mom and Dad, already planted as His crop by His Word, to plant His Word in their children to reap two or four or more for His kingdom. The crop size varies from believer to believer, from season to season. The crop isn’t cause for selfish pride in what we do. The crop is cause for daily thanks to God for what He does to save us and does through us to bring His salvation by His powerful, productive Word to others.
    Why did Jesus tell this parable? Not for us to look around the church or check out shoppers at Meijer, and determine which kind the others are. Jesus told the parable to urge us, “Whoever has ears to hear, let him hear” (v. 9) God’s Word.
    There will be frustration as we sow God’s powerful, productive Word. But frustration doesn’t keep us from sowing. Trusting what God’s powerful, productive Word has done to plant us in His kingdom and to be reaped through faith in His work for His heaven, we continue to sow His seed. And we leave the results to God’s perfect wisdom and power and glory.      Amen.
    Pastor David A. Voss
    Sixth Sunday after Pentecost - We Find Rest in Jesus
  • Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
    July 9, 2023
    Hymns                         917,   706,   670,   814
    First Reading              Exodus 33:12-23
    Psalm of the Day        71
    Second Reading          Romans 7:15-25a
    Gospel                        Matthew 11:25-30
    Matthew 11:25-30
    We Find Rest in Jesus
      I. When weary of our guilt before God
    II. When wanting to look good to God
    In the name of Jesus, our Savior from sin, our perfect rest, fellow sinners and fellow redeemed,
    Because we once looked into booking a room at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island in the off season, I’m on the hotel’s email offers list. Ten days ago I received a message that due to a few cancellations for the Fourth of July, our dream vacation on Mackinac Island was just a few clicks away. What an opportunity, right? Clicking on the link took me to a booking page – and the reality that a Grand Hotel room with a queen bed for the Fourth cost twelve hundred dollars a night! That’s not a dream vacation, but a nightmare cost for ordinary folks.
    You go on vacation – vacate your work place and home – to get away from the daily grind, to do what you (not your boss) want to do, to recharge and to rest. You understand your vacation plans will involve a cost. But you budget for that, right?
    The Savior invites us, not for several weeks each summer, but for every day of our lives on earth, to go on vacation with Him.  This vacation costs us nothing because it cost Him the steepest price ever paid. “Come to Me…and I will give you rest” (v. 28). We find rest in Jesus because we are weary of our guilt before God, and because we want to look good to God.
      I. When weary of our guilt before God
    Jesus had just warned fellow Jews who refused to see His miracles as proof that He is the long-promised Messiah, that His coming sacrifice would be the work to deliver all sinners. The Savior’s invitation to get rest in Him was rejected by “clever and learned people” (v. 25). What Jesus meant are those who suppose they’re so intelligent they don’t need anyone telling them how things work, those who suppose they’re so strong they don’t need anyone doing anything for them. They are the people who are smart in the world’s wisdom. But that wisdom is hostile to God’s truths. They judge things by human opinion, and if it doesn’t logically follow, if it isn’t politically correct, they want nothing to do with God’s truths.
    That wasn’t just true of many Jews then. We were that way once. By nature everyone is hostile to God’s truths. By nature we hate to hear God’s laws convict us of our sins and show we deserve hell forever. That insults my sinful nature which thinks that since I’m not a real horrible person I can get myself to heaven. By nature we have no use for God’s good news which proclaims Jesus as the sinner’s Savior. That startles our sinful heart. When God says, “There is salvation in no one else but Christ, for there is no other name under heaven given to people by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12), sinful wisdom argues, “You don’t need Christ! Trust your own life!” Worldly wisdom prevents people from seeing what only God can reveal, what mankind can’t figure out with brains or experiments or computer programs or satellite surveillance.
    In this prayer to the Father the Son is not saying God wants some people never to be saved. God wants all to be saved. The Son praises the Father for not making worldly intelligence necessary for trusting the only plan of salvation.
    In that sense, the “rest” we get in Jesus is only for “little children” (v. 25). Don’t worry, seniors in high school and senior citizens. That can’t mean a person’s age. The Holy Spirit made Ruth, the thief on the cross, the jailer at Philippi, the Ethiopian government official, the Zarephath widow, the Apostle Paul, the twelve disciples – all adults! – “little children” spiritually.
    Our Savior says here what He says elsewhere. “Whoever will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it” (Mark 10:15). Little ones believe what trusted adults tell them. We don’t need to be “learned” scholars to grasp true religion. We simply trust what God tells us in His Word.
    When we are weary of our guilt before God, when we wonder how our sins can ever be forgiven, we find “rest” not by our works to overcome our mistakes, but by the Savior’s work to remove our guilt. Those who first heard these words likely shook their heads in disagreement when Jesus said, “My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (v. 30). The yoke they knew was the heavy wooden frame binding two oxen together as their owner had them do the heavy work of pulling a plow through his field. What the Savior meant was a sinner being yoked to Him and His work through faith. When we come to Jesus weary of our sin and guilt, sincerely repentant, humbly trusting Him and His work, we find “rest” from our sins in Him.
    Our world insists there are many different paths to heaven, many different ways to think of God. But that calls God a liar! “No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wants to reveal Him” (v. 27). Those who are wonderful people, very devoted to a different god, extremely spiritual, but don’t rely on the revelation from the Father about the Son as the sinner’s only “rest” from sin and guilt are not saved.
    We confess that our sins deserve damnation before God. We are bothered about, burdened by, wearied with our guilt. By God’s grace, we have had the only Savior revealed to us. He is the Lamb of God whose payment at Calvary is the only payment God accepts for every sin and all sins’ guilt. We have “rest” in Jesus!
    II. When wanting to look good to God
    This “rest” isn’t physical – not a nap or vacation. This “yoke” isn’t physical – not a tool or farm equipment. This “rest”, this “yoke”, is Christ’s work to save us sinners. We find rest in Jesus because we sinners need Him to look good to God.
    Are we “weary and burdened” (v. 28)? Not by work or routine. Billions of people in the world who reject Jesus will get rest tonight. But “weary and burdened” by sin and its guilt? Or do we shrug off sin and guilt? One sin separates us from God. One sin is just cause for God to punish us forever. We have sinned millions of times. We are “weary and burdened” by our sin and guilt. We know from our conscience and from Scripture what we deserve because of how we look to God.
    That’s not a pastor’s scare tactic. That’s God’s truth. “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). “Everyone who keeps committing sin is a slave to sin” (John 8:34). There are hundreds of similar verses in His Word. We look horrible to God on our own. We have nothing to offer God as payment for one sin, much less millions of sins over a lifetime. Where is relief for our conscience, rest for our soul? The Savior invites us to find “rest” in Him. “I will give you rest…I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (vv. 28-29).
    You know all about the gentleness and humility of Jesus. Though He is the eternal, mighty God, He became a little baby to enter our world as our Brother. Though He is the sinless Son of God, He agreed to have all our filthy sins and their damning guilt slathered on Him at the cross. He rose from death three days later to prove He was, is, and always will be who He claims to be: the Messiah come from heaven to buy us back from our sins and Satan, death and hell.
    Jesus is widely believed to be a loving example of wonderful living and tolerating everyone. But we who insist that without trust in His payment a sinner will be damned forever are branded as intolerant religious nuts. Jesus is no shady salesman who talked about His mission, but wasn’t able to deliver it. He is our “rest” from the guilt of sins, “rest for our souls”.
    By the Holy Spirit’s work we are “yoked” to Jesus through faith. His “yoke” is not a clumsy fashion look. It is the sinner’s only salvation. And now we no longer look at His commands as rules we have to keep, but as ways to express our love for Him and His work to join us sinners to Him forever.
    We didn’t stumble on this wonderful, eternal “rest” sinners find only in Jesus. The Triune God has placed His rest in our hearts, on our souls, for our lives. To keep this wonderful, eternal “rest” sinners find and have only in Jesus, Jesus tells us, “Continue to learn from Me”. Constant contact with His Word isn’t a burden to bear, but blessed “rest” for us; the only, wonderful way to keep His “yoke” on us every day!
    The great Old Testament word sabbath means “rest”. For Jews before Christ the every seventh day and every seventh new moon and every seventh year rest were symbols from God about the “rest” Jesus would deliver when He offered His life at the cross, the “rest” Jesus delivers personally when He puts His “yoke” on us to keep us close to Him, the “rest” Jesus delivers in His forgiveness when we are weary of our guilt before God and need Him to look good to God. Only in Jesus do we find this “rest”.      Amen.
    Pastor David A. Voss
    Fifth Sunday after Pentecost - We Are Part of Something Incredible
  • Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
    July 2, 2023
    Hymns                         614,   702,   775,   774
    First Reading               Exodus 32:15-29
    Psalm of the Day         27
    Second Reading          1 Timothy 6:11-16
    Gospel                         Matthew 10:34-42
    Exodus 32:15-29
    We Are Part of Something Incredible
    I. Incredible rebellion
        II. Incredible redemption

    In the name of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, fellow rebels against Him, fellow redeemed by Him,
    Among the more gentle adjectives used to describe the stretch of nearly fifty days when our area didn’t have one day with at least one-quarter of an inch of rain was incredible. Local forecasters and Midwest media marveled that the drought dragged on for so long. Until Sunday’s and Monday’s rains, we heard, “We are in something incredible weather-wise!”
    The drought will break. The Lord God will send more rain in His good and perfect time. No longer are newscasts leading with stories about the drought. But we’re all still wrapped up in something incredible. No networks nationally or internationally mention it. Most people worldwide choose to ignore it. But all are still part of something incredible.
    We shook our heads at Aaron’s absurd explanation here. But we are no different. Had we been there when the Levites rallied for the Lord, we may have wondered how they could kill their own relatives. But we are all daily part of the same scene as that at the base of Mount Sinai. We are all part of something incredible. Incredible rebellion. Incredible redemption.
    I. Incredible rebellion

    The gold calf incident is a very well-known Old Testament lesson. The details of what the Jews did here don’t require a detailed retelling. But they do demand a sincere soul searching.
    This was about three months after the Lord had miraculously led Israel out of Egypt. Moses had once again gone up Mount Sinai, summoned by God. This time Moses was away for forty days. And this time Moses received – did you catch it?“the two tablets of the Testimony…The tablets were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, engraved on the tablets (vv. 15-16). The Ten Commandments God etched in stone was God’s way to say, “My will does not change!” Do you recall the first of His laws He etched in stone? “You shall have no other gods” (Exodus 20:3).
    When Moses came down Sinai he heard Israel celebrating. But they weren’t celebrating God writing His commandments. God had already told Moses the people God chose had made an idol, an “other god”, to worship. But the reality of their idolatry really hit home for Moses when he heard and saw it for himself. It was incredible to him, unbelievable they would fall so far so fast. Moses “threw the tablets…and broke them” v. 19) to show how the Lord’s chosen people had broken the Lord’s commands. To teach them a lesson, Moses “burned the calf they had made, ground it to powder, and scattered it on the water. Then he made the people of Israel drink it” (v. 20). Imagine what drinking gold dust would do to your digestive system! Did more than one million cases of diarrhea demonstrate Israel’s incredible rebellion against the Lord?
    Just as incredible was Aaron’s spin on their sin. “Dear brother Moses, you know these people…are set on evil. The calf was their idea. They gave their gold to me. I threw it in the fire and out came this calf” (vv. 22,24). Aaron made it seem as if it were an accident or by divine design! Incredible!
    The Israelites had learned calf-idol worship in Egypt. Egyptians superstitiously supposed worshiping calf-idols would persuade deities to bless them with power, fertility, and more. But how could any deity top the Lord who had powerfully rescued His chosen people from slavery and a dead-end existence in Egypt, had promised to put Israel in her own fertile land, was determined in love to bless the whole world through a coming Jew – the Messiah?! That was how they treated that God? They created a substitute god because they hadn’t seen the Lord or their leader Moses in more than one month? What an incredible rebellion against the Lord who loved them so!
    This is how we treat the God who blesses us with all we need and who has saved us? We are part of something incredible – incredible rebellion against God! No, we’ve never bowed before nor sang to gods of gold or stone. There are no little Buddhas or Baals, golden calves or ivory goddesses in our homes! But how about the times we’ve put ourselves and our desires, money or career, fun and free time ahead of the one true God? That, too, is idolatry – incredible rebellion against Him who has given us all, including Himself!
    Like Eve and Adam in Eden, like Aaron at the base of Sinai, we, too, blame others for our rebellion against God. “It was their idea! I just followed along!” That’s how we treat the God who so richly blesses us and who saved us and who desires our loving obedience to His holy laws? Incredible rebellion!
    We smash God’s commandments in defiant sin, claiming if many others are doing it, it must be okay. We compromise God’s honor by making up things about Him that He’s never told us, figuring if it makes us or others feel better about God, it must be okay. Incredible rebellion!
    Sadly, we are all part of something incredible. Ours is incredible rebellion daily against the God who loves us, desires all our heart and soul and mind, who gave Himself for us. Agreed. But incredible rebellion, preacher? Isn’t that a little dramatic? What else it is when we don’t love the Lord our God above all else, with all – not just some – we are and have from Him?!
    II. Incredible redemption
    So what can we do to make it up to the Lord against whom we daily rebel? Absolutely nothing! Then what hope do we have? Only that God will do absolutely everything! And He has! Thanks to Him, we are part of that, too! We are part of something incredible – our incredible rebellion is forgiven by the Lord’s incredible redemption!
    Twice in Exodus Chapter 32 – once before and once after these fifteen verses – when God’s anger burned against Israel and He threatened to wipe the nation from the face of the earth, Moses appealed to the Lord’s plan to redeem all sinners. “Lord, don’t destroy Your chosen people, my relatives, the Jews because they rebelled against You! If You wipe them out, You know what the nations will say about You and the promises You’ve made! You promised that the Savior will come from our nation Israel. If the Savior doesn’t come from Israel, Your honor and reputation will be ruined! Remember Your promises to redeem all people. Deal with us and all people according to Your promises to redeem all sinners!”
    You understand, don’t you?, that Moses wasn’t bringing something to God’s attention that God had forgotten or overlooked. The Lord knew very well He couldn’t wipe out Israel and remain faithful to His promises. That was the redemption truth that – in faith – Moses grasped, and to which Moses – in faith – held the Lord! Moses appealed to God’s faithfulness, incredible faithfulness!, about His plan to redeem the world!
    Moses then appealed to the people’s faithfulness to the Lord. “‘Whoever is on the Lord’s side, come to me.’ All the descendants of Levi gathered themselves together to Moses… ‘This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says,…‘Go back and forth throughout the camp, from one gate of the camp to the other, and every man is to kill his brother, and every man his friend, and every man his neighbor.’ The Levites did what Moses said, and that day about three thousand” (vv. 26-28) in Israel died.
    The Levites, Moses and Aaron’s tribe of Israel!, showed their love for the Lord. Their solemn slaughtering of Jewish loved ones, friends, and neighbors showed that love for God goes ahead of love for relatives and friends if those relatives and friends come between us and God. They did so in loyal love to put into practice what we heard the Messiah say last week and again today, “Whoever loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me” (Matthew 10:37). Loving God above all things and all other people – even dear loved ones!, was how the Levites showed they treasured being part of His incredible redemption.
    We are part of that incredible redemption, too! Faithful to His loving promises, God sent His Son Jesus – born of the Jewish virgin Mary. Faithful to His plan to redeem the world, Jesus went to the cross to forgive every transgression by every sinner ever – present company included! Faithful to His love for all people, the Son of God bought us back from the devil and secured us for His heavenly Father’s family forever. He paid the price of His life and our hell when He was forsaken by God at the cross and died to redeem all sinners. That’s the incredible redemption He carried out and fulfilled!
    How do we respond to our Redeemer for His incredible work of redemption? We devote our lives to total commitment to God! We keep His commands – not to earn anything from Him; He’s done it all to save us – but to show He means the world to us, more than anyone or anything else. We keep close to Him where He meets us and fills us with His incredible redemption – in His unchanging Gospel that comes to us in His Word and sacraments! We keep cherishing the amazing love of the holy God who delights to come down to, and meet with, us sinners! We are part of His incredible redemption!
    Months-long droughts. Four-foot blizzards. Surviving a six-story fall. Rising from homelessness to become a millionaire. Stories like those are met with the reaction, “That’s incredible!” But stories like those that didn’t happen to us are nothing like this that has happened to us. We are all part of something incredible. Our incredible rebellion continues daily against the God who daily loves us and blesses us and saved us. We repent of that daily and seek God’s help to put that rebellion behind us! God’s incredible redemption out of love for those who sin against Him never runs out. We cherish that daily and go to Him daily to keep His redemption for us at the center of our lives.      Amen.
    Pastor David A. Voss
    Fourth Sunday after Pentecost / 493rd Anniversary of the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession - We Celebrate the Real Birth of the Lutheran Church
  • Fourth Sunday after Pentecost / 493rd Anniversary of the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession
    June 25, 2023
    Hymns                         921,   865,   630,   900
    First Reading               Isaiah 55:6-11
    Psalm of the Day         46
    Second Reading          Romans 10:5-17
    Gospel & Sermon Text     Matthew 10:32-39
    Matthew 10:32-39
    We Celebrate the Real Birth of the Lutheran Church
             I. Confessing courageously Jesus as true God
              II. Standing solidly on Scripture as God’s Word
            III. Living unconditionally our love for the Lord

    In the name of the Savior, Jesus Christ, fellow redeemed,
    October 31, 1517 is important for us Lutherans, marking Luther’s first challenge to the false teachings of his church body. 13 years later a number of people declared, “This is what we believe, and this is where we are convinced our former church body is wrong!” 493 years ago today, June 25, 1530, the Augsburg Confession, written by some of those people with Luther’s help, was read to the Roman Emperor and representatives of the Roman Church. Luther had been excommunicated by the church nine years earlier. Now hundreds of former members of that church body confessed what the Bible teaches, and outlined errors the Roman church taught.
    What does this mean for us? It’s more than a church history lesson. It’s an encouragement to be faithful to the Lord, not to Luther; to God’s Word, not to our church; with our lives, not just with our words. Not drawing from the teachings of Luther, but from the Lord, today we celebrate the real birth of the Lutheran Church. Jesus tells to confess courageously Him as true God, to stand solidly on Scripture as God’s Word, and to live unconditionally our love for the Lord.
       I. Confessing courageously Jesus as true God
    At Augsburg 493 years ago today there was no disputing who Jesus is. The Catholic Church taught, still does!, Jesus is true God. The Augsburg Confession, one of the six great writings from the Reformation era that declare the truths of God’s Word, has twenty-eight articles. Some reflect teachings with which the Roman church agreed, like who Jesus is.
    But we don’t confess Jesus as true God only in His house, then give others outside His house the impression any other view of Jesus is okay, too. “Everyone who confesses Me before others”, Jesus says, “I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven” (v. 32). Confess means say the same thing. Confess also means not saying the same thing as those who claim Jesus is just one of many ways to heaven, who say it doesn’t really matter whether you confess Jesus as true God or not, things even millions who call themselves Lutheran say today. Confess means telling them what Jesus says about Himself, even if that means telling them they are wrong.
    There’s an eternal cost for not confessing Christ courageously. Whoever denies Me before others, I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven” (v. 33). Would we say, “No, I don’t want Jesus to be my Savior, don’t want to be associated with Jesus”? We do when we do not defend Jesus as true God in the company of those who deny Jesus as the only One who made the payment to rescue all sinners from hell.
    It takes a special gift to “confess” Jesus when others put Him or His truths down, doesn’t it? We have that gift. It’s the gift of the Holy Spirit: faith. Our faith to confess Jesus courageously in a world that denies Him as the only way to heaven is strengthened by – and only by – God through His good news about Jesus given in Word and Sacrament. Thus strengthened here today, we confess courageously the work of Him who gave His body and shed His blood to save every sinner!
           II. Standing solidly on Scripture as God’s Word

    At the June 25, 1530 meeting was Dr. Eck, a Roman church official sent to Augsburg with a list of 404 charges of false doctrine against Luther. When an uneasy leader of the church in Germany told Eck, “I’m afraid we can’t refute the Lutheran side in a debate on doctrine”, Eck replied, “I will put them to shame – not with the teachings of Scripture, but with the writings of the church fathers.” That made the man more uneasy. “So the Lutherans sit on Scripture, and we sit beside it?”
    We wonder if he knew how true his assessment of the two sides was. Not to celebrate the 493rd birthday of the Lutheran Church, but to walk with our Savior, we don’t sit, we stand, stand solidly!, on Scripture as God’s Word.
    God provides peace. The Son of God is called “the Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). The night He was born angels announced,  “There is on earth peace (Luke 2:11) for sinners won by the Savior.” The night before Jesus died, He told the Twelve, “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you” (John 14:27).
    The same Jesus about whom and by whom all that was said, says, “Do not think that I came to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword” (v. 34). How can that be true? It’s because the peace established by God is peace between Him and sinful people – you and me. That peace is established by the sinless sacrifice of the Son of God to redeem all the world from hell for every sin. But the majority of this world’s people think they have what it takes to establish their own peace with God, and they resent anyone telling them differently – even the Prince of Peace Himself!
    That’s why a consequence of Christ’s coming is for some not peace, “but a sword”. Many have been killed because the world hated their message that Jesus alone is the sinner’s peace and salvation. That’s why a result of Christ’s coming for some is not peace, but division. A man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. A man’s enemies will be the members of his own household (vv. 35-36).
    Some families here have felt the tension of one speaking so clearly for Christ that some in the clan can’t stand it. Mom stands solidly on Scripture and urges her family to worship together and hear God’s Word at home. But some at home ask her to keep her beliefs to herself. Dad stands solidly on Scripture as God’s Word and speaks lovingly about God’s people living by God’s will as God reveals it in God’s Word. But relatives roast him as a pious, narrow-minded bigot. When that tension between our God and our loved ones, between our God and the world around us arises, what do we do? We stand solidly on Scripture as God’s Word, as the ultimate authority.
    Luther’s advice was blunt. What does the Lord here say about this? If the two, [family] and God, come into conflict, we must say, “We must obey God rather than men”, be they parents, [children], government, preachers, even the whole church. Parents, do you know what Scripture teaches as God’s Word and teach that to your kids? May we never be conflicting examples to children by saying to them, “Follow God’s Word”, then ourselves do or speak contrary to God’s Word. Kids, do you delight to learn more about what Scripture teaches so you can stand solidly on God’s Word without letting the devil push you off the Word? May we never stop studying His Word so we ever stand solidly on it, the only absolutely true authority!
        III. Living unconditionally our love for the Lord
    Martin Luther didn’t appear in Augsburg for the reading of the confession 493 years ago today. He was still under the ban of the emperor and pope, so he could have been assassinated had he been there. He wasn’t afraid to die, but his continuing work was important for the Church’s work. He had a huge hand in drafting the confession that was read. Thus it was to Luther’s deep disappointment that, in the months after the meeting at Augsburg, his right-hand man – Philip Melanchthon, one of the chief Augsburg authors, started compromising the confession, making concessions to the other side on matters Melanchthon considered less critical.
    Do we disappoint our God? Daily, as we sin against Him! Every time we are disloyal to Him and His Word! Forgive us, Lord! And help us, Lord, live unconditionally our love for You!
    We love God above all else! More than our money, our house, our career, vehicles, sports, our fun? Yes! God has first place in our hearts! Most of the time. But what about when choices conflict? What happens when God grants opportunities to use the money He’s given us to support His kingdom work more generously, but we also have our eye on a new car? Who gets the glory and what gets the love then? What happens when God’s Word is proclaimed at the same time our team plays or a special event is scheduled? Who gets our love then?
    What the pastor wants you to answer, what Luther wrote could be wrong. But the Savior never errs. “Whoever loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me” (v. 37). We live unconditionally our love for the Lord!
    We may be ridiculed if we give up golf for worship. We may have more car problems if we give the Lord more to support His work and don’t get a newer vehicle. We may have to live in a smaller house if we keep hearing God’s Word on Sunday and decline the job promotion requiring work every Sunday – and miss out on the pay raise that went with the promotion.
    The ridicule by people, recurring car trouble, cramped house are what Jesus calls, “taking up the cross and following Me” (v. 38). Sometimes people speak of any trouble in life as a cross. But getting the flu isn’t a cross. The “cross” of which the Savior speaks is what a believer suffers for the sake of following God and His Word. When we wonder, How can the Lord let me go through this?, we also trust, Heaven is my home, thanks to the Lord! Even if following Him costs me my life, whoever loses his life for Christ’s sake will find it (v. 39).
    493 years ago today a large group of Germans defied their mother church and stood on the teachings of God’s Word, as restored through the work of men like Luther. We who carry the name Lutheran do so because Luther was committed to God’s Word and God’s work, no matter what the earthly cost. We celebrate the real birth of the Lutheran Church by standing, not for Luther, but for the Lord and on His truth and with the salvation He alone has won for us!      Amen.
    Pastor David A. Voss
    Third Sunday after Pentecost - See the Heavenly Harvest
  • Third Sunday after Pentecost

    June 18, 2023
    Hymns                         902,   897,   896,   931
    First Reading               Numbers 27:15-23
    Psalm of the Day         100
    Second Reading          1 Corinthians 4:1-7
    Gospel                         Matthew 9:35 – 10:8
    Matthew 9:35 – 10:8
    See the Heavenly Harvest
    I. The fields are ready
           II. The workers are needed
      III. The machinery is here
    In the name of Jesus Christ, the Savior who with His blood has won salvation for all sinners, dear fellow redeemed,
    Last winter experts at an international convention estimated that our planet’s maximum capacity is 10 billion people, and that that number may well be reached by 2050. Where, they wondered, will we find food and water, medicine and health care for everyone? Nearly two thousand years ago, the Son of God, the expert in both the world’s population and the sinner’s salvation, said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few (v. 37). Which situation is more serious?
    Yes! The situation to which the world pays no attention. Harvesting souls for heaven is more critical than harvesting food, producing medicine, and improving the standard of living for the lives of 10 billion people. Oh, those are important, very important. But those are not the most important. The heavenly “harvest” is most important. Our eyes are directed by “the Lord of the harvest” (v. 38) to the heavenly harvest, to continents full of souls bought by His blood. Does His harvest have our attention, prayers, support, and work? We see – and get busy working in – the heavenly harvest. The fields are ready. The workers are needed. The machinery is here.
    I. The fields are ready
    Even those of us who know little about farming can tell when the grain fields we pass are ready for harvest. The tiny green grasses we see in fields when the snow melts grow into blue-green stalks, then become acres of golden grain. Farmers harvest the wheat at just the right time – before the heads get too heavy and while the stalks still stand tall for the combine.
    The number of souls to be harvested is staggering. Only one-fourth of the world’s people trust the world’s only Savior, Jesus. “The harvest is plentiful”, the fields are ready, indeed!
    All people are planted on earth against God by nature from conception and birth – sinners in God’s eyes and with no hope to enter heaven on their own. Without being harvested for the Lord, every soul is “troubled” (v. 36) by Satan and his helpers from hell. The idea behind “troubled” is going through a thick thorn patch and coming out a bloody mess. Without being harvested for the Lord, every soul is “downcast” (v. 36). This word is used by a shepherd of a four-legged sheep lying upside down and can’t get to its feet on its own. Without being harvested for the Lord, every soul is “like a sheep without a shepherd” (v. 36) to lead the sinner to the Savior.
    That’s what makes the heavenly harvest so urgent and the fields so ready. Jesus lived the perfect life for all that no sinners can live. Jesus died the sacrificial death to suffer hell that sinners deserve forever. His holiness is ours. His payment – as God and man – is credited to our account. He makes the heavenly harvest an eternal blessing for every sinner! But billions are blind to that. They plow through life in unbelief, trusting their own work while rejecting the only Savior.
    Fellow sinners rescued from hell by Christ, we keep the eyes of our hearts open to see the yet-unharvested souls around us. We see that the fields of souls are ready now. The heavenly Harvester says, “The harvest is plentiful”! His heavenly harvest doesn’t happen first on the Last Day. The souls of those who die trusting Christ for forgiveness are already harvested for the Lord and thus enter heaven when they die. The souls of those who die in unbelief without Him and His work in their hearts are sent to hell forever. The fields are ready now for the heavenly harvest work!
       II. The workers are needed
    The grain standing in fields today won’t make it to the elevator next month unless someone works to harvest it. Some in our nation are concerned that more stringent immigration regulations will result in some crops rotting in fields because there won’t be enough workers to harvest the crops.
    Will part of the heavenly harvest be lost because “the workers are too few”? We don’t have the answer. But we do have the Savior telling us, Pray that the Lord of the harvest will send out workers into His harvest. Workers are needed!”
    We pray the Holy Spirit moves all of us to identify people we know, relatives we love, folks with whom we have a relationship, and souls living without the peace of God and His forgiveness for Christ’s sake in their hearts. We pray the Spirit gives all of us the words to tell them what only Jesus has done to rescue them and us and all the world’s billions of souls, or at least to invite them to hear here the life-giving good news about the Savior and His work. We pray the Lord will continue to fill our members, and members of some eleven hundred sister churches, to support His kingdom work – not just in our own congregations, but for schools to train pastors and teachers, for mission fields around the world you will never enter.
    And when we pray for workers in the heavenly harvest, “the Lord of the heavenly harvest”’s answer may be, “Go! Get to work in My heavenly harvest! Use the opportunities I give you to harvest souls. Tell your boyfriend or girlfriend, neighbor or co-worker, friend or classmate. If you won’t speak to them about what sinners have in Me alone, who will? If you aren’t yet certain what to say to them about Me and My work, study what I tell you in My Word about Me and My work!”
    The Lord of the heavenly harvest’s words about needing workers are even spoken about the youngest of you. “Children, what about you studying to become a full time worker as a pastor or teacher in My heavenly harvest? The first full time workers in the New Testament I called to teach others about Me and My work – Simon (who is called Peter)…Andrew, James…John, Philip…Bartholomew (also named Nathaniel), Thomas, Matthew, another James…Thaddeus (also known as Judas), another Simon…and Judas Iscariot” (vv. 2-4) – were not intellectuals, not particularly holy in their living, not much different from others. They were ordinary people like you are. You might think you don’t have what it takes to be a full time worker in My harvest. But I will equip you for the work. Ponder it seriously, children! Encourage it earnestly, parents! Pray about it fervently, all of you! Workers are needed!”
      III. The machinery is here
    Would you harvest grain entirely by hand, no tools? Of course not! Even in Biblical times farmers had oxen roll huge stones over the cut stalks, thus separating the edible kernels from useless straw and chaff. Today’s harvest tools are machines.
    The same is true in the heavenly harvest. No one can work in the heavenly harvest fields without the right tools, machinery. Some say they harvest souls for the Lord with their manmade machines. They claim, “God is love and loves everyone into heaven!” But they don’t say Christ is the only way to heaven. That’s like using an ice cube to cook a turkey. It doesn’t work.
    God’s miraculous machinery is the message about who Jesus is, about what He did and still does for sinners. “As you go to work in the heavenly harvest, preach this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven is near’” (v. 7). Fellow workers in His heavenly harvest, to use that message, we need to know it! The kingdom of heaven” is not so much a place as it is the activity of the Savior ruling in human hearts with His Word about the sinners’ salvation won by Him and by His work.
    Some machinery mentioned then isn’t used for the heavenly harvest now. “Heal the sick. Raise the dead. Cleanse lepers. Drive out demons” (v. 8). That was needed for the heavenly harvest work in the early Church. Those miracles convinced souls the workers were sent by, and had the power of, the one true God. Today that machinery isn’t necessary because God’s Word is complete and shows what God has done and what He says. The machinery is here – His message of sin and salvation.
    The machinery then also included a map. “Do not go among the Gentiles…Go instead to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (vv. 5-6). During the Savior’s earthly ministry, His Word went to Jews first. But eighteen months after Jesus said this, on the first Pentecost, Gentiles, too, heard the Gospel from the apostles. And so it continues among us Gentiles today.
    A combine costs a farmer today as much as a house. The heavenly harvest’s machinery is free. “Freely you have received salvation; freely give (v. 8) salvation.” You don’t have to pay the pastor and teachers; we’re willing to work in the heavenly harvest for “free”. But our called workers and their families have expenses. If we didn’t receive a salary for our work in the heavenly harvest, we’d work elsewhere to earn a living, leaving less time for our work in the heavenly harvest. Our called workers give thanks to the Lord of the harvest for your loving, generous support so we are able to work full time in His heavenly harvest with His machinery, His law and His Gospel – His Means of Grace, the good news of “free” salvation, the good news He gives in His Word and His sacraments!
    Fellow workers in the heavenly harvest, He sends us to use His good news about the Savior after His threats show what every sinner deserves for every sin. The Lord of the heavenly harvest uses us as He gathers souls around the world for His kingdom and into His heaven. Amen.
    Pastor David A. Voss
    Second Sunday after Pentecost - Jesus Calls Sinners
  • Second Sunday after Pentecost

    June 11, 2023
    Hymns                         738,   575,   677,   510
    First Reading               Exodus 3:1-15
    Psalm of the Day         119 C
    Second Reading          1 Timothy 1:12-17
    Gospel                         Matthew 9:9-13
    Matthew 9:9-13
    Jesus Calls Sinners
    I. So that we don’t stay sick
     II. So that we do enjoy health
    In the name of Christ Jesus, the Savior, fellow redeemed,
    You can get forty-four ounce soft drinks at a reduced price all summer. But that doesn’t seem like a big deal. We who are grandparents remember when eight ounces of Pepsi once a week, every Sunday afternoon, was a big deal, a special treat. Now some guzzle five times that much several times a week. Now we don’t really consider soft drinks to be a big deal.
    Is that how we sometimes see our relationship with Christ? Have we had it for so long in such great abundance and without any interruption that we take it for granted? If so, there’s a lesson for us in how the Savior called Matthew to follow Him, and in how He exposed the Pharisees as frauds.
    Do we daily marvel that the holy, mighty, all-knowing God has made us trespassers His own? Do we wait eagerly all week to get to His house to join fellow believers to hear together what He who made the universe has done for us transgressors? If not, there’s much truth for us in how the Savior selected Matthew to be one of His Twelve permanently, and in how He scolded the Pharisees for their arrogance spiritually.
    Jesus doesn’t enter data into a heavenly computer to determine the kinds of people whom He calls. It’s very simple and very personal. “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (v. 13). We are “sinners”. Jesus calls sinners, you and me, so that we don’t remain “sick” (v. 12) – to use His word, and so that we do enjoy “health” (v. 12) – again to use His word, the “health” only He provides.
    I. So that we don’t stay sick
    In the King James Version they’re called publicans. Newer translations call them “tax collectors” (v. 10). Jewish boys never said, “I want to be a tax collector when I grow up!” Tax collectors were well off financially. And, as long as the Romans were in Israel and needed money for Roman roads and other projects across the Roman Empire, there would be plenty of money to collect. But Jews despised Jewish tax collectors.
    Is that surprising? What do we think of when we hear the letters I R S? But the Roman tax collection system was corrupt. A Jewish child heard his parents grumble, “Traitor! He takes our money and gives some of it to our Roman enemies!” Jews who became tax collectors for Rome had Roman permission to collect more money than required and keep the extra. Jewish adults also muttered, “Cheater! He doesn’t have to charge us so much as we pass his toll booth. But he takes our money, then keeps some of it to feed his greed!” Jews wouldn’t let tax collectors join their gatherings. Jews considered Jewish tax collectors the scum of society, down there with prostitutes.
    Such a man was Matthew at whose “tax collector’s booth” (v. 9) Jesus stopped in the northern city of Capernaum. To people, even if Matthew were the rare tax collector who didn’t charge too much, his occupation wiped out any qualification Matthew had to be a full time disciple of the Messiah. But not to the Messiah! Jesus knew Matthew didn’t deserve salvation. When the Messiah looked at Matthew, He saw what He saw in us. Unbelief. Sin. That’s what Matthew was and would have remained: a sinful unbeliever. But the Savior changed that.
    Jesus called a sinner like Matthew! Jesus calls sinners like us! What qualities in us convinced Christ to call us to be His own and part of His mission? Our cheerful attitude? Doesn’t cancel our complaining every day! Our helpful work? Doesn’t cover our dirty desires and selfish actions. Our faithful worship? Doesn’t do away with our misusing God’s name! Our only hope is that Jesus calls sinners even while sinners are still sinners. And that is what He does – and has done for us sinners!
    Only one of every four people in the world looks to Christ in faith for forgiveness. So nearly six billion people, twenty times the population of America, either haven’t heard of Jesus or, having heard, don’t care to hold to Him in faith. Statistics say that by the time a baby born tomorrow graduates from high school in 2041, another two billion people will have been born, most of them among unbelievers. Given those statistics, what were our chances of becoming believers? But we are children of the Heavenly Father! We are “sinners” who turn to Jesus for salvation! That is not because of what we’ve done. That is only because of what God does to call “sinners”.
    Jesus calls sinners so we don’t remain “sick” in sin and unbelief, stay headed to hell. That was true of the prostitute in Jericho, the criminal at Calvary, the Pharisee Saul, tax collector Matthew, is true of us here. Jesus calls sinners so that we don’t remain “sick”, separated from God now and forever.
     II. So that we do enjoy health
    Some sinners whom Jesus wants to call oppose what Jesus does. Today they say, “God wouldn’t welcome sinners into His heaven because of what someone else did! Sinners must do something, too!” Outside Matthew’s Thank You, Jesus! banquet that day the Pharisees said, “The true Messiah will never associate with sinners like this tax collector and his bad news buddies! Jesus is a blasphemer, calling Himself the Messiah!”
    Behind such comments is the idea that the Savior is only for good people, the lie that some are better than others. But the simple, powerful words of the Son of God smash those lies. “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners”. Jesus calls sinners so we sinners enjoy the health only Jesus provides.
    When the Pharisees saw Jesus associating at Matthew’s home with other tax collectors and other obvious sinners, the Pharisees sinfully insisted, “No righteous religious leader would have anything to do with such sinners. So Jesus clearly is not the Messiah He says He is!” That really revealed their hard hearts against God’s salvation. They supposed themselves to be perfectly “healthy” before God by themselves. But they were just as “sick” with sin as those sinners eating with Matthew and Jesus. Without Jesus, there is no health for sinners.
    “Follow Me” (v. 9), Jesus said. And Matthew did. Called by God’s undeserved love for him, Matthew followed the Savior as His disciple. That discipleship brought Matthew spiritual health. Certain forgiveness for all the times he’d cheated fellow Jews. Peace forever in the embrace of God’s family. Promotions in Rome’s tax collection system, receipts from goods passing through his toll station – all that had been Matthew’s treasure in life. Now all that was petty and passing in light of the treasures the Savior won for Matthew and gave Matthew.
    But for Matthew, discipleship also meant giving. He hosted a dinner for Jesus. But it was also for his friends. We imagine He hoped, prayed literally!, that by hearing the long-promised Savior – in Matthew’s house! – his friends would receive from Jesus what he himself had received from Jesus. The toll collector became a soul gatherer. The tax receiver became a Savior sharer. The former cheater enjoyed the ”health” Jesus gives.
    Will we ever want to give up what Jesus gives us? Grab money but leave behind the loving Savior whose “blood…cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7)? Go for fun but ignore the Lord who says, “I will never leave you, and I will never forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5)? Trust ourselves but shrug off the Christ who promises, “Because I live, you also will live” (John 14:19)? Strive for earthly fame, but shove aside “the kingdom prepared for” (Matthew 25:34) us by the risen Jesus? Will we ever want to give up His gifts that give us spiritual “health”?
    Pharisees then – and now! – don’t have the health the Savior gives because they don’t think they need it. Pharisees then – and now! – think their good lives, regular worship, kind generosity count before God. Pharisees then – and now! – ignore the chest pains, fevers, or broken bones of their sins. “I don’t need a doctor! The pain will pass. The fever will break. The bone will heal.” Those who ignore their sins and close their hearts to God’s threats of hell insist on being right with God their way. God gives the “health” every sinner needs: Jesus!
    Only when we see our guilt, take seriously God’s threats, admit there is nothing good in us do we treasure Jesus calling us “sinners” to Himself. Only when we see ourselves as God sees us – “sinners” who have nothing of their own to offer for any sin, do we invite fellow sinners to hear about Jesus and to rejoice in His healing their sick souls, too.
    The Savior says, “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice” (v. 13). The Pharisees made a big show of how well they obeyed God’s laws about sacrifices and tithes and more. But they did so only on the outside. What the Savior-God “desires” is a change inside, a heart that cherishes and trusts His “mercy” for sinners at the cross. When our entire life is driven by the love of Jesus who forgives us, not driven by looking good to others, we show love to Him who rescued us “sinners”.
    Sick”? We all are, on our own. And only that medicine makes us “healthy” forever. Enjoy that! Share that! Live that as we sinners, too, follow” Jesus!      Amen.
    Pastor David A. Voss
    Holy Trinity / 75th Anniversary - 75 Years of God Revealing Himself Here
  • First Sunday after Pentecost / Holy Trinity / 75th Anniversary

    June 4, 2023
    Hymns                         484,   483,   481,   855
    First Reading              Genesis 1:1 – 2:3
    Psalm of the Day         8
    Second Reading          2 Corinthians 13:11-14
    Gospel                         Matthew 28:16-20
    Matthew 28:16-20
    75 Years of God Revealing Himself Here
         I. His power
    II. His love
    In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, fellow sinners redeemed by His work,
    About 50 years ago a news crew traveled to a remote area in South America to see how life had changed in a village given a tractor by an American charity. While the crew was there the tractor broke down and wouldn’t budge. The natives didn’t understand how a tractor engine works – only how to start it and run it. So they hit the tractor with sticks the way they would hit an ox that refused to move. That strategy amuses us. But it made sense to the villagers.
    If we limited our knowledge of God to what makes sense, we’d be damned forever. But the Triune God reveals Himself to us – who He is, what He demands, how He works. He reveals Himself to us not just for us to be amazed and confess, “Yes, we believe in the one true God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit!” This lesson, the clearest statement in all God’s Word about the one true God being three distinct persons, sums up what the Triune God tells us about Himself and does for us.
    That’s why our congregation has existed for 75 years. God’s churches are not clubs offering activities, but are His churches focusing on His truth and mission. Today we mark both Trinity Sunday and 75 years of God’s blessings poured out on us, 75 years of God revealing Himself to us – His power and His love.
      I. His power
    “When they saw Jesus, they worshipped Him” (v. 17). Most other times His followers saw Him, they treated Jesus the way we greet friends at the store or in the narthex, with a warm, “Rabbi” or “Lord”. This time they “worshipped Him”, bowed before Him to confess Christ as God with them in the flesh.
    But some believers still “were uncertain” (v. 17) about how to greet Jesus. The promises about the coming Messiah combined with Jesus’ words about Himself as the Promised One combined with Christ’s powerful miracles combined with His hell-paying sacrifice all proved Jesus is true God in human flesh! They couldn’t have known that unless God Himself – the Triune God! – had revealed Himself to them.
    God the Son, speaking also for the Father and the Holy Spirit, says also to us, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me…I am with you always until the end of the age” (vv. 18,20). “All authority” and “with you always”. We can’t see that physically. But we trust that spiritually!
    That truth leads us sinners to tremble. The Triune God who knows and hears and sees all our sins – “with you always” – has the power – all authority” – to crush us forever for our sins! But that truth also moves sinners like us to shout for joy! The Triune God uses the “authority” He has over everything, everyone, everywhere – including hell – to rescue us forever from what we deserve. His pardon is with us “always”.
    That is the unending power of the Triune God. He reveals Himself to us not as three gods who each do their own thing, but as one undivided God who is three separate persons. That is the faith confessed by our congregation for 75 years. But it’s more than a confession of an impossible-to-figure-out truth that believers have been using for centuries. It is God revealing Himself to us as the God of all power.
    God made the entire universe in six twenty-four hour days, and made it perfect. Some angels rebelled and their leader Satan deceived Eve and Adam to follow his way. God’s perfect world was polluted and sinful mankind was marked for hell.
    But the Triune God had a plan to deliver sinners. He promised that same evening in Eden – then hundreds of times in the four thousand years of Old Testament history – to come to earth as both God and man to carry out the double requirement He has for us: to live a perfect life and suffer hell in every sinner’s place. God the Son did that perfectly, completely.
    But no sinner could look to God the Son in faith because all born of man and woman enter the world “hostile to God” (Romans 8:7), running from God, wanting nothing to do with Him. So God the Holy Spirit uses His powerful tool of the message about Christ’s work to give sinners faith in the only Savior.
    All of that is the “authority” the Triune God teaches here. All of that is the power the Triune God uses for our good. All of that is what we have – along with those followers of Jesus, with Adam and Eve after God’s promise, with every believer of all time. We don’t have a flighty god who might leave us or get pulled away from us any moment. We have the everlasting God who never changes, who has “all authority”, who is “always with” us, who daily forgives and blesses us sinners!
    Some churches have abandoned that power. It’s more popular for churches to give worshipers what they want to hear about their own power and their own authority to live as they want. But the Triune God continues to reveal Himself in His Word on His terms. We continue to focus on His saving power, and resist Satan’s suggestions to exchange that for our ideas!
    II. His love
    Children, when you realize you have the strength to swim the length of a pool, do you keep it to yourself? No! You tell your parents and friends, “Look at this!”
    Children of the Triune God (which is a far greater title even on this special day for our congregation than member of Memorial), God reveals His power and gives it to us in His pardon of our every sin by His gracious work; reveals His love in adopting us sinners as His children and giving us the inheritance of heaven with Him. What do we do with that saving power of God? Keep it to ourselves? That’s not the mission of God’s Church. Well, we are to keep it, lest we lose it. But here the Triune God reveals Himself to us also in His love – His loving mission that we tell others what He does in love for all sinners.
    Jesus spoke these words after His mission on earth was complete and before He ascended into heaven. Before He ascended, He gave His agenda to His Church for the rest of time.
    “Go and gather disciples from all nations” (v. 19).
    If the owner of the Tigers invited you to watch a game in his suite, wouldn’t you say, “Yes!” quickly? And if, while you sat there enjoying an exciting Tigers’ victory, he asked you to tell others about his team, wouldn’t you find it thrilling to tell others – even non-Tigers fans – about the owner and his team?
    The Triune God has already won our victory. Now He reveals it to us in His good news. And while we enjoy that victory – not over strangers from another state, but over Satan to free us from hell forever, the Triune God reveals His desire we tell others about His victory for all sinners. Do we find that embarrassing and an intrusion on our busy lives? Or do we find that exciting and a precious way to live here until He takes us to His heaven with Him? That’s why our congregation exists. To carry out that mission of love to tell the world of God’s love.
    We don’t use our own tools or ideas to carry out that mission. “Baptize all nations in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to keep all the instructions I have given you” (vv. 19-20). Radio, TV, computers, jets, internet – wouldn’t those have helped the apostles? Maybe. But they did God’s saving work without them – using instead sailboats, donkeys, their own legs and mouths and pens. It didn’t take long for much of the Mediterranean world and the Middle East to hear about the sinners’ salvation won by God.
    They didn’t have modern equipment. But they had all they needed: the eternal Gospel about God the Father sending God the Son, the eternal Gospel given to sinners by God the Holy Spirit through the Word – “teaching them” – and the sacraments – “baptizing them”. Our congregation exists to be used by God to bring His Word to, and administer His sacraments among, sinners who will perish forever without the Gospel.
    What love from God for us sinners! He doesn’t stay in His heaven and let sinners figure out the way to go to Him. He comes to us! He declares it in His truth! He delivers it in His washing! He distributes it in His supper! What love! And what a joy to tell a friend who doesn’t know how she can go on in life that the Savior gave up His life for her and rose for her so she can live with Him forever and live for Him here on earth!
    Nothing in life is more certain than God’s love! Nothing in life is more true than God’s Word. All of it. The devil knows that. And that’s why he still works to get churches to stop saying some of it. Behind us, Satan! Hear the God who reveals Himself to us tell us, “Teach them to keep all the instructions I have given you”. All sinners need both law and gospel. To give that to sinners is why God’s Church exists and what our part of God’s Church has been blessed by God to do for 75 years!
    When children of God sin and argue it’s okay because times have changed, we show them God’s law to convince them of their sin so God leads them to repent. When those who distort God’s message say they’ve found a new way for God to get in touch with us, we point out that God reveals Himself to us in His Word and gives Himself to us in His sacraments – and the idea God will use another way to be in touch with us is a lie.
    Had we promoted today’s service and celebration to our area with an ad, Come to Memorial to find out everything you’ve ever wanted to know about the Triune God!, that would have been false advertising. We know nothing more about how He can be one God and yet three persons now than we did when we started today.
    But the Triune God has revealed what He wants us to know about Him and how He works for sinners and what He’s done to make sinners His own. The Triune God uses His Word and Sacrament to create faith in Jesus for sinners, then the His Word and Sacrament to strengthen faith in Jesus for sinners. That’s why His Church exists. Ours is not a nice religious organization. Ours is a part of the Triune God’s saving revelation of Himself and eternal authority of His mission. God, ever keep us faithful to You and Your Word and Your mission!      Amen. 
    Pastor David A. Voss
    Day of Pentecost - The Holy Spirit Is Still Poured Out to Declare the Wonderful Works of God
  • Day of Pentecost
    May 28, 2023

    Hymns 592, 585, 593
    First Reading Acts 2:1-21
    Psalm of the Day 104
    Second Reading 1 Corinthians 12:3-11
    Gospel John 7:37-39
    Acts 2:1-21

    The Holy Spirit Is Still Poured Out to Declare the Wonderful Works of God
    I. To all people
    II. With all confidence

    In the name of God the Holy Spirit, who shows us the seriousness of our guilt before God the Father, and fills us with the peace of forgiveness won by God the Son, fellow redeemed,
    There are countless Christmas TV specials. There’s usually an Easter parade on TV. But there are no Pentecost programs on TV today. If you wanted to send a Pentecost greeting card to a fellow believer in celebration of today’s festival, could you even find such a card? The world’s lack of attention on Pentecost leads to even some believers shrugging off Pentecost.
    We don’t need, nor do we want, the world to set the tone for Pentecost. We’ve seen what the world does with the real Christmas and Easter. The world will always stress the wrong part of any Christian festival. We don’t need the world to set the tone for Pentecost. We have God’s Word!
    What does God teach about Pentecost? It is the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on people. But that truth is twisted even in some churches. Why was the Holy Spirit poured out on people that Sunday seven weeks after the first Easter? Why is He still poured out on people today? Not to speak in tongues! Not to heal the sick! Not to hear miraculous sounds or appear with what seems to be flames on heads! We almost miss it for all the flashy events in these verses. But there it is! The Spirit is poured out to keep people “declaring…the wonderful works of God (v. 11). The Spirit is still poured out to declare the wonderful works of God to all people and with all confidence.
    I. To all people
    The day of Pentecost” (v. 1) was for those Jews a day to gather in Jerusalem to thank the Lord for the harvest. The way the growing season goes in Israel, the early crop is ready this time of year. Pentecost referred to the fifty days from the Sunday of Passover weekend to that Sunday of thanksgiving. God used that as a background for what He had planned for that year’s “day of Pentecost”. The harvest He had in heart had to do with souls, not crops. And the souls for harvest that Pentecost lived in bodies from many different lands, not just Israel.
    We won’t repeat the Pentecost parade of nations there, but simply summarize by saying people from three continents – Asia, Africa, and Europe – were there. Surprised? Don’t be! Recall that the once-proud nation of Israel for seven centuries had been two small nations split by petty arguments among them and pagan idolatry by them, had been taken twice into exile, then allowed to return. But when they returned, they were oppressed by foreign powers. So many Jews fled Israel.
    Therefore, those who resettled in the Holy Land may have seen the other Jews in town for the harvest festival as outsiders. God wanted them to see His kingdom work more globally. The Spirit was very active in the Old Testament. Before the Son came to earth, the Spirit planted in Jews faith that trusted the coming Messiah, then strengthened that faith. After Christ completed His work to save all sinners, the Spirit in the New Testament would work more openly among people in all nations, not just Israel. This first Pentecost Sunday began to fulfill God’s promise through His Old Testament prophet Joel, “God says, ‘I will pour out My Spirit on all’ (v. 17a) people.”
    The people asked, “What does this mean (v. 12)? How can these twelve Israelites be speaking in languages other than Hebrew or its cousin Arabic?” God answered, “The Spirit has been poured out on them to declare the wonderful works of God to all people – not only to Jews in Israel!”
    The same Holy Spirit still does the same work in all the world today. We are part of the Pentecost miracle. No, English wasn’t one of the languages in which Peter and the others preached. But ours is another nation, and we are another people, to whom “the wonderful works of God” are declared.
    What are the greatest “wonderful works of God”? Not the wonders of the vast universe God made in six twenty-four hour days – the wonders of green grass, human reproductive organs, majestic mountains, the Great Lakes. Oh, those are great wonders of God. But none of those top these! The holy God in love sent His Son, God in the flesh, to pay for our guilt! And, through faith in His Son, we are God’s children who will inherit His heaven! There is no greater wonder than these! The Spirit is still poured out to declare these wonders to us.
    Okay. So now what? Pack those wonders in a purse or put them in the trunk, and head home? Or be part of the Spirit’s work as He is still poured out on many other people that they, too, hear “the wonderful works of God” in their own language? We support our missionaries who’ve learned foreign languages to declare the same wonderful works of God in a tongue new to them because the Spirit is being poured out to declare those same “wonderful works of God” in Jesus to people who have not yet heard it. Pentecost continues as the Spirit uses us to bring God’s Word to others and to all nations. 
    II. With all confidence
    God used the miracles of a sudden sound of wind and sight of flames of fire to let people know He was about to do something amazing. But what was most amazing was what the apostles said, and the courage with which they said it. This was Peter who fewer than two months earlier had denied he even knew Jesus. These were men who ran in fear from Gethsemane, who locked themselves in a room lest enemies of Jesus arrest – and maybe crucify – them, too. Now they declared the risen Jesus just outside the temple, Israel’s most public place?! What happened? The Spirit was poured out on them to declare “the wonderful works of God” with all confidence.
    The last time Peter was challenged by Jews who hated Jesus he melted like an ice cube on a hot stove. But now when some “mocked” (v. 13) him and the other disciples, Peter didn’t back down. He “stood up…, raised his voice, and spoke loudly and clearly” (v. 14). All twelve apostles preached with great confidence that day and for the rest of their lives. Holy Thursday they had fretted when Jesus told them He’d leave them and return to heaven. But the loving Savior added, “When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father – the Spirit of truth – He will testify about Me. And you also are going to testify (John 15:26-27) about Me.” 
    That didn’t make the disciples feel better on their way to Gethsemane with Jesus the night before He died. They didn’t fully understand in the seven weeks between Christ’s rising and ascending. They likely had questions during the ten-day wait for the Spirit which Jesus promised again just before His ascension to heaven. But now they saw it clearly! Now the confidence which God Himself put in their hearts as the Spirit directed their words and blessed their work made all the difference in the world for their world-wide work for the Lord!
    Peter also declared this “wonderful work of God”, “On a future day this world will be destroyed. As that day draws near, there will be strange signs. When that day is here, the heavenly bodies will be destroyed. Don’t be caught unprepared!” Peter used God’s Word given to Joel about the Last Day. That will be a dreadful day for all who reject the work of Jesus to bear their punishment, but a glorious day for all who trust in Jesus. “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (v. 21). It took confidence given by the Spirit to say that about Jesus and declare that “wonderful work of God”!
    We haven’t heard or seen signs of the Spirit’s outpouring. But we have the same confidence to declare the same “wonderful works of God” from the same Pentecost Holy Spirit! When we declare the truth of God, we don’t need to back down. We uphold from His Word truths the world hates and truths even some Christian churches resist. Many take issue with God’s teachings. It isn’t comfortable to be mocked or challenged for standing fast in God’s truth. But we know we’re declaring the truth of God with the blessing of the Spirit. We have the confidence God is with us as we declare – in love – all His truths.
    Joel’s prophecy, quoted by Peter with the Spirit’s direction, included the wonder that the Word would be proclaimed with confidence to others by all God’s people. “Your sons and your daughters will prophesy…On My servants, both men and women, I will pour out My Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy” (vv. 17b-18). All the days from the first Pentecost to the Last Day, including this May day, are “those days”.
    Prophesy” means to declare God’s Word – what He has done, does, will do, and what God wants – not just to tell the future. You don’t need a divine call as a pastor or teacher to do that. All” (v. 17) people of God are called by God to do that. That doesn’t mean all people of God serve as pastors or teachers in His Church. God declares in His Word His qualifications for His Church’s pastors, teachers, and leaders. But every believer in Jesus is to declare to family, friends, and others “the wonderful works of God” that we sinners are forgiven for the sake of our crucified and risen Savior who took our justly deserved hell on Himself! We declare that with all confidence from the Spirit poured out on us.
    To those who insist Pentecost power today is Christians speaking in tongues and healing the sick, we confidently repeat the words of the very first Pentecost day listeners: We hear them declaring the wonderful works of God. That Pentecost miracle takes place in every service here, every class day in His school, every family Gospel devotion at home. We marvel at, and are a blessed part of, that work.     Amen.
    Pastor David A. Voss
    Seventh Sunday of Easter - Ascension of our Lord - Confirmation --Confirmand, Throw Yourself to the Lion
  • Seventh Sunday of Easter - Ascension of our Lord - Confirmation
    May 21, 2023
    Hymns                         474,   476,   715,   930
    First Reading              Acts 1:12-26
    Psalm of the Day        47
    Second Reading          1 Peter 4:12-17; 5:6-11
    Gospel                        John 17:1-11a

    1 Peter 4:12-17; 5:6-11
    Confirmand, Throw Yourself to the Lion
    I. He cares for you
                     II. He conquered your enemy
                  III. He calls you to His glory
    In the name of the sinner’s only Savior, Easter and Ascension believers, rejoicing that He rose from the dead and has risen to heaven, and especially you, Sophia and Jett,
    The phrase thrown to the lions is a way to say a person’s been put in a bad spot. A substitute sent to teach an unruly class for two weeks is said to have been thrown to the lions. The phrase comes from ancient people putting perceived lawbreakers in a cage or on the floor of an arena with lions, as happened to God’s faithful Old Testament prophet Daniel in Babylon. But you know that God kept Daniel safe from the hungry lions.
    Our text mentions a “lion” (v. 8), as does the sermon’s theme. Is the pastor urging you to throw yourselves on this lion, “the devil” (v. 8)? No, not this lion. But on the One referred to in Revelation as “the Lion from the tribe of Judah” (5:5), our Savior. Jesus is the Lion on whom we throw ourselves, as we “Cast (throw, right?), Cast all our anxiety on Him” (v. 7).
    Had this letter writer seen believers thrown to the lions? Perhaps. Peter was in Rome – first doing God’s Gospel work, then put in prison, and ultimately executed – when Nero was emperor. Nero was notorious for harming believers in Christ. And the first believers to read Peter’s two letters were suffering for their faith in Christ as we’ve heard the past few weeks.
    Confirmands, you likely won’t suffer physically for the faith you confess today and will keep for all your lives. But for believing Jesus is the only Savior and upholding all His Word, you likely will be ridiculed. What were those early believers, what are you young believers, to do? Resign themselves and yourselves, to be thrown hopelessly to the lion, Satan? No! Throw yourself confidently on the Lion, Jesus, the Savior. He cares for you. He conquered your enemy. He calls you to His glory.
    I. He cares for you
    You wouldn’t try to get between a lion and its cubs, right? He’d use his powerful paws, long claws, and sharp teeth to kill you if you did. Then why did Jesus, “the Lion from the tribe of Judah”, let His children who trust in Him suffer “fiery trial…for being a Christian” (vv. 12,16)? Why didn’t “the Lion from the tribe of Judah”, Jesus, do something about that?
    He did. He is. He will. “Cast all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you”. Sometimes the Lord allows us to suffer because we’ve gotten too full of ourselves, insisting we do things our way instead of living life His way. His allowing us to suffer in such situations truly is His “car”ing for us as He strives to drive sinful pride out of us. The holy God desires you confirmands and all His people of all ages and in all things live our relationship with Him as we “humble” (v. 6) ourselves, repenting of our sins against Him and relying on Him to forgive us.
    There is His greatest “care”. What good does having a good job and a happy life do people now if they’re going to hell forever for rejecting the Savior? Peter asked the rhetorical question, What will be the end for those who disobey (that is, reject) the gospel of God” (v. 18)? Peter knew the answer. You confirmands do, too! Hell – eternally!
    Christ has perfectly completed His mission of living in holiness for us and suffering hell in our place. He didn’t pursue His own comfort, but our eternal “care” at the cross and by rising from death. He humbled Himself and shed His blood to remove our guilt. He gives us the best, most blessed, and unending “care”.
    The Redeemer repeatedly taught, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Matthew 23:12). Proud, arrogant sinners think they control their lives and don’t need God or His forgiveness. Humble, repentant sinners turn from their sins and seek God’s pardon in Christ. “He cares for” us, indeed! When sorrow or setbacks, anguish or “anxiety”, little bothers or large burdens afflict us, we don’t try to figure our own way to deal with them. We throw ourselves on the Lion who “cares for” us. 
     II. He conquered your enemy
    We wonder, Why is life a struggle so often? Why don’t problems disappear? We go to church regularly and have devotions daily! Why are some people around us so careless, loveless, reckless? Why do we find some sins fascinating when we’ve been burned by them so often before? God answers, “Throw yourself on Me, the Lion who conquered your enemy!
    First the bad news, the warning. The devil prowls around… looking for someone to devour” (v. 8). Among believers, he’s a sneaky enemy. He whispers his sweet-sounding lie, “You should do what makes you happy.” He “prowls to devour” our souls. Remember how Satan got Peter, who thought he was so strong on his own, the night before Jesus died?
    Among believers, Satan is also a feared enemy, “like a lion”. Very early in history, Satan seduced many of his fellow angels – he and they had been created holy by God – to join his rebellion against God. Shortly after that Satan had his way with up-until-then sinless Adam and Eve. Satan’s not a silly, make-believe cartoon character. He’s our deadly, devouring “adversary” (v. 8). He wants to rule – and thus ruin – our hearts.
    We all know all of that. Yet we at times treat Satan as a friend. We keep what he uses to tempt us close by instead of getting rid of those thoughts and temptations, the anger and selfishness. We think his ways might be fun rather than his deception to “devour” our faith with false teachings, with the lie that if it feels good to us it must be okay, with shrugging off sin as no big deal. He “prowls to devour” our eternal soul.
    Now the good news, the victory. “Resist him by being firm in the faith” (v. 9), the faith that throws our sins and our souls on the Lion. Jesus is the promised descendant of Adam and Eve who crushed and conquered Satan’s power. The devil’s accusations (that’s what devil means, accuser), “You sinners can’t belong to God!” are exposed by the Lion who conquered him and paid for all sins. Satan’s power to control people is ruined when the Holy Spirit fills us with the Savior to “restore, establish, strengthen, and support” (v. 10) us.
    This isn’t ancient history! This is God’s strength for us this Confirmation Sunday. We throw ourselves on the Lion. His power is our power to “resist” Satan’s temptations. And that’s not mysterious power. It’s His Word. There’s nothing better to use in “resist”ing the lying lion than the conquering Lion’s truths!
    When the lying lion says, “God has forgotten about you,” run to the conquering Lion who says and shows by shedding His blood for sinners, “See how much I love you!” When the lying lion tries to roar, “You miss out on all the fun your friends have when you follow God’s Word”, the conquering Lion shouts, “There is no Godly joy in what saddens and angers Me, the God who died for you and rose from death!” When the lying lion tries to convince you, “No one understands you”, the conquering Lion assures you, “I lived your life! I am your Brother! I was tempted every way you are! Throw yourself on Me! I conquered the lying lion! You need not fear him any longer!”
             III. He calls you to His glory 
    How long, Lord, will pain and problems, being short on cash and long on misery, being stressed or depressed last? The Lord doesn’t answer us by pointing to a calendar to show us. He speaks from His Word to “strengthen” us. “Throw yourself on Me, the Lion, because I call you to My eternal glory” (v. 10).
    The same God “who called you into His eternal glory in Christ Jesus” (v 10) by the power of His good news about the Lion will not let your sufferings last one minute longer than He has planned. That’s why He says that, despite the way it at times feels for us, we “suffer only a little while” (v. 10).
    That is God’s perfect, heavenly truth. Sinful human reason can’t see that. But that’s the spiritual view so clearly before us from our Savior’s ascension. The Lion who lives forever in heaven – and also miraculously lives in our hearts through faith in Him and His work – uses hurting times to serve us and His Church, all believers. He uses suffering to turn us to Him for help, for strength, for deliverance. Not in hopeless despair but in confident joy, we throw ourselves on the Lion who calls us to be His own now and to live in His “glory” forever! He ascended not to leave us, but to assure us He’s our heavenly Lion who lives and loves to have us throw ourselves on Him!
    Do we live what the Lion gives us? We don’t ask, “Lord, my caring, conquering, calling-me-to-Your-side Lion, You won’t mind if I live life my way, will You?” We know better! We throw sin off us as we throw ourselves on Him who “cares for” us so dearly He suffered the worst in the universe for us – hell. We don’t say, “Lord, my caring, conquering, calling-me-to-Your-side Lion, You’ll understand if I don’t bother coming to Your house and reading Your Word this summer since we’ll be away each weekend, won’t You?” We know better! We throw off the lies of Satan and throw ourselves on the Lion as we use His truth daily and gather in His house weekly to hear His Word of life and praise Him for winning our salvation!
    Peter knew what it was like to give in to the lion of hell. What a lesson that the Lion of heaven used Peter to give us the Lord’s strength here! With Peter we realize God never throws us to the lion who wants to lead the world astray. God always gives us His strength which is His power from before time began and rises from His love at Calvary and is given in His Word and sacraments. We daily throw ourselves on the Lion who won and guarantees our life with Him forever!    Amen.
    Pastor David A. Voss

    Sixth Sunday of Easter - Christian Family - We Set Apart Christ as Lord
  • Sixth Sunday of Easter - Christian Family

    May 14, 2023
    Hymns                         449,   455,   557 (Communion distribution),   760
    First Reading              Acts 17:22-31
    Psalm of the Day        98
    Second Reading        1 Peter 3:13-22
    Gospel                       John 14:15-21
    1 Peter 3:13-22
    We Set Apart Christ as Lord
    I. In our life
        II. By our hope
    In the name of our crucified and risen Savior, Jesus Christ, fellow Easter believers still rejoicing at His resurrection,
    Graduates of colleges and universities have been told this spring to dream big, strive diligently, and work hard to get ahead. As graduates submit resumes and sit for interviews with companies the graduates hope will hire them, they are advised by experts to do or say something to make them stand out from other prospects. Aspiring job candidates need to set themselves apart from other applicants, promote themselves.
    But in the most important part of a believer’s life – the direction she goes, the treasure he follows – the believer doesn’t seek to promote herself, point to himself. The goal of each believer’s life is the same: Regard the Lord, the Christ, as holy (v. 15). Set the crucified and risen Jesus apart as number one.” Even on this American Mother’s Day Mom isn’t most important. Every day, it’s only Jesus who paid the price to set us free from the guilt of our sins. What the Holy Spirit used Peter to urge believers long ago, He tells us today. We set apart Christ as Lord in our life and by our hope.
    I. In our life
    The first readers of First Peter had been setting Christ apart in their lives “as Lord”. But they were being pressured to start setting themselves apart as more important. It wasn’t popular then to stand up for Christ. Some of those readers were believers in the Savior who had fled from Jerusalem and re-settled far to the north and west of their homeland because they were persecuted by people who hated the Savior.
    And how about the letter writer himself? Hadn’t Peter melted under pressure in the high priest’s courtyard? Did Peter set apart Christ as Lord that night? No! He denied he even knew Jesus. Then Peter did it again, this time swearing, “With God as my witness, and asking Him to convince you I’m tell the truth, I am not one of Jesus’ disciples!” Peter did it a third time, now with a curse, “May the holy God damn me to hell if I know this Jesus!” Lying under oath! Cursing! Denying Christ!
    Which course should those who read Peter’s letter follow? Keep quiet about Christ? Don’t rock the boat of those who rejected Jesus, and hope they wouldn’t notice who belonged to Him? No! That’s not the mark of a Christian! They, and we twenty-first century believers, set apart the Lord, the Christ, as holy in our hearts…always prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks us to give the reason for the hope that is in us” (v. 15).
    That isn’t just for making our Christian Mom happy on her day, nor just for Confirmation Sunday next week. That is every day using the faith given us and kept in us by the Holy Spirit. That is every day going to the Word to feed our God-given trust in Christ as our Savior. That is being ready to say every second that we trust Jesus who suffered for us as our Substitute.
    No! That’s not what people want to hear! Not many believe that anymore! Not Jesus as the Lord of your life, but you as lord of your life! You get to call the shots! It’s your life, your body, your time, your money! Peer pressure piles up like rushing water behind a dam on young people and not-so-young people. Do what you think is best! Don’t let church people tie you down with passages from a book written long ago. Think for yourself! That’s difficult to endure. Religious discussions become so personal. Why do you think you’re right? Are you God? What a blessing are Christian mothers who teach their children, This is what God in His Word so this is what we trust!
    We set apart “the Lord, the Christ, as holy in our hearts” and patiently give others the “reason for the hope” we have in the work of Jesus for us and for all sinners. Children, what a blessing that God gave you the believing mother you have! She told you about Jesus from your first days on earth! And Christians, what a blessing that God uses us to tell others about Jesus! Not arrogantly, with an I know better than you do attitude. But “with gentleness and respect” (v. 16). We don’t speak up to show anyone up, but to testify lovingly that Christ Jesus has done what everyone in the world needs: salvation!
    That doesn’t make everyone happy. Still, “it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil” (v. 17). We won’t be shocked if we face ridicule for setting Christ so prominently at the front of our lives. When ridicule happens, our sinful self wants to lash out. But our new person of faith in Christ won’t stoop to that level. He didn’t! Instead, with a “gentle” attitude we take those lumps. We do so not as wimps, but for the sake of the Savior.
    Do our lives lead others to wonder where the Savior fits in our hearts? Or do they see us as sinners who will give up all else for Him who gave up His life for all? Do we blend in with the crowd? Or “regard the Lord, the Christ, as holy” in our lives?
      II. By our hope
    But why? Because our parents did? Because we would dishonor the legacy of our grandparents if we don’t make the same Christian confession they did? Our Christian confession had better run deeper than family loyalty because family members might be wrong. The Lord God is never wrong. God the Holy Spirit has worked in us what much of the world lives without: Jesus, “the hope” we have.
    That hope isn’t a fuzzy feeling. It rests on Christ’ dying and rising. Peter was there when “Christ…suffered once for sins in our place, the righteous (holy, sinless Jesus) for the unrighteous (us sinners) to bring us to God” (v. 18). Without Christ’s payment as our Brother and Substitute, we sinners would still be separate from God, rather than being at peace with God.
    We confess Jesus descended into hell. Even many believers think He went to that place of eternal suffering to pay for our sins. What we said Resurrection Sunday five weeks ago, we say today. Jesus paid the full price there, at the cross where hell was dumped on Him. This is one of two places in His Word where God teaches Christ’s descent into hell. There Jesus “made an announcement to the spirits in prison” (v. 19).
    Jesus was in the devil’s home. He was alive and well that early Sunday morning, risen body and soul. “He was put to death in flesh” (v. 18) during His humiliation in which Jesus didn’t make full and constant use of His divine power as true God. But was made alive in spirit” (v. 18) in His exaltation as Jesus once again makes full and constant use of His divine power as true God. In His glorious exaltation He told the devil and all the spirits there, “I’m alive and have won the victory over you! You can’t change the results of My victory for all sinners!”
    Our hope is “the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (v. 21). We don’t cheer the memory of one who put up a valiant effort and died trying. Our hope is the reality of the One who rose from death and has returned “to heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to Him” (v. 22) as Jesus rules His universe!
    All that is our hope! All that is why we don’t put ourselves or anyone or anything else ahead of Christ, not even Mom on Mother’s Day. Rather, that’s what our Christian mother was used by God to give us from infancy. Not our gifts, but His work is our “hope”. He broke Satan’s power over us, and did all the work to buy us sinners back for God. Christ is our hope!
    How can we be sure Christ’s work works for us? God reminds us about our Baptism. “Baptism now saves you…the guarantee of a good conscience before God” (v. 21). The water of the world-wide flood at the time of Noah saved Noah, his wife, their three sons and three daughters-in-law. Well, the water didn’t really save them, but the water carried the ark which spared them as the rest of the world’s population perished. See the connection to the comfort and hope of Baptism? It was ordinary water there. But God connected to water His powerful Word about the rescue by Christ to make Baptism the gift by which He “saves” us sinners! What a blessing that our Christian mother saw to it we were brought to Baptism!
    How could we set ourselves up as our savior when our lives are full of evidence we did nothing to pay for a single sin, and God’s Word is the record of God doing everything to save us? Our hope is in Him alone! We set Him apart as Lord!
    That’s easy to hear in here. But is that what we do out there? Do our words and lives give evidence that we set apart Christ as Lord? Or is ours a double life – one priority in here, another priority out there? Setting apart Christ as Lord isn’t just for Sunday morning. It’s for every moment. When we do so, it’s the greatest tribute to our Christian mother.
    The bottom line in our life, our hope, isn’t church membership, isn’t a public confession on Confirmation Sunday. Our life, our hope is Christ as our Lord, the Master of our life because He won our life with Him forever. Our “Lord” has control over our most feared enemies, those in hell who want to drag us there with them forever. They can’t overpower us as long as we are connected to “the Lord, the Christ”. Christian mothers, we thank you for the vital role the Lord of salvation has had you play in our lives! Christ the Lord, we thank You with our lives and by our hope for the salvation You won for us and for every sinner ever!      Amen.
    Pastor David A. Voss
    Fifth Sunday of Easter - Jesus Is More Than a Name
  • Fifth Sunday of Easter

    May 7, 2023
    Hymns                         521,   458 (replaces “Glory Be to God”),   446,   471,   441
    First Reading              Acts 4:8-12
    Psalm of the Day        118
    Second Reading         1 Peter 2:4-10
    Gospel                        John 14:1-11
    Acts 4:8-12
    Jesus Is More Than a Name
    I. That is proved by His power
            II. That is revealed for our salvation
    In the name of Him whose name is above every name, our crucified and risen Savior, Jesus, the world’s only salvation, fellow Easter believers still rejoicing in His resurrection,
    Miguel Cabrerra. Steve Yzerman. Joe Biden. Donald Trump. Tom Hanks. Sally Field. Darth Vader. Harry Potter. A name says a lot, doesn’t it? Names are more than combinations of consonants and vowels arranged in syllables. How many thoughts arose at the mere mention of those names? Behind a name stands what a person is like and what a person does – even if the person is only a character in a movie or book. When people hear your name, they think of more than how it sounds. 
    So it is with “Jesus” (v. 11). Mention of the name Jesus to the Jewish leaders at the time of the apostles drove those dignified, spiritual men to shout and drown out the name, to plug their ears to keep from hearing the name. How could they?!
    Well, how can we?! Do we flock to hear the name of “Jesus”? Do we schedule time at home to declare the name of “Jesus”? Do we at times misuse the name of “Jesus” to punctuate our speech? Do we occasionally yawn at or let our minds wander when the name of “Jesus” is proclaimed, explained, praised?
    Shouting against the name of Jesus. Being apathetic about the name of Jesus. Both are wrong! The name of Jesus is more than a name. That “Jesus” is more than a name is proved by His power and is revealed for our salvation.
    I. That is proved by His power
    This lesson happened about two months after Jesus rose from His tomb. The day before this as His disciples Peter and John went to the temple grounds, they spoke with a man who had never been able to walk and so relied on donations from friends and strangers to scrape together enough to survive. He had asked Peter and John for money. Remember how Peter replied? “Silver and gold I do not have, but what I have I will give you. In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, get up and walk” (Acts 3:6)! And the man did! He followed Peter and John to the temple grounds, walking and jumping for the first time in his life,  “praising God” (Acts 3:8). What a miracle!
    Not Peter’s miracle, nor John’s miracle. Jesus’ miracle. And for giving credit where credit was due – to the crucified and risen Jesus, Peter and John were jailed by Jewish religious leaders! In church court the next morning, Peter and John were asked, “By what power or what name did you do this” (Acts 4:7)?
    Peter and John knew they were in danger of being kept in custody for a long time. But they didn’t back down or cave in. If we are being questioned today for a kind act that was done for the lame man, as to how this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that it was by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead! By Him this man stands before you healed” (vv. 9-10). The Jewish religious leaders tried to nail John and Peter for mentioning the name of Jesus, whom they despised. Christ’s disciples testified the church leaders had put to death the Lord of Life, “Jesus”.
    Peter and John also wanted everyone to know Jesus didn’t stay dead, but rose three days later and was once again ruling over all. Resurrection morning Jewish religious leaders tried to sweep evidence of Christ rising under a rug, bribing soldiers to keep quiet about the angels, the earthquake, the stone rolled aside, the empty tomb. Could a lifeless Jesus heal that lame man? No! Jesus was alive. “It is by the name of Jesus Christ…this man stands before you healed” didn’t mean the miracle was done in the memory of Jesus. It means it was done by the power of Jesus, the crucified and risen Jesus!
    Peter also showed how Jewish leaders rejecting Jesus proved the power of the name “Jesus”. Jews had used today’s psalm long before Jesus was born. Jews for one thousand years had been saying and singing, “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone” (Psalm 118: 22). Today, a cornerstone laying is only symbolic. But in ancient architecture the cornerstone was structurally critical. It had to be the perfect size and shape and have the perfect angles, or else the entire building rising from it would be out of line. “Jesus” was the perfect “cornerstone” sent by God for sinners. God foretold the Jews rejecting Him. And now those who rejected Him and wanted salvation without Jesus were smashing themselves against “the stone” of salvation to their own spiritual harm.
    Jesus is more than a name. He is the power of God! He is God! His fulfillments of Old Testament prophecies prove it. His miracles prove it. His life and death and resurrection prove it. And still people think they can live without Him, the only Savior.
    We regular worshipers and faithful Christians consider ourselves safe from rejecting Him. But those Jews who rejected Jesus, crucified Jesus, plotted to silence the name “Jesus” forever, considered themselves the most devout followers of God on earth. Some who confessed the same “Jesus” our two confirmands will confess in two weeks no longer enter God’s house or hear God’s Word. This warning is for us, too.
    The Good Shepherd told us last Sunday that the mark of His sheep is that His sheep hear His Word. All sinners need constant contact with the power of God in the name of “Jesus”, His Word. It’s more than a name. It’s the power of God. His name does more than heal the lame. He saves sinners forever!
    II. That is revealed for our salvation
    An observer of American culture notes that people name their boats with more meaning than their children. Walk the pier of a large marina and you’ll see what he meant. There are some clever names painted in fancy letters on the stern of the boats: A Reel Fish Story, New Kid on the Dock, Liquid Limo.
    “Jesus” is more than a name. He proved that with His power. But what He did two thousand years ago would go otherwise unknown had God not done more than send Jesus to earth with power. “Jesus” also reveals Himself for our salvation.
    “Jesus” is a sermon all by itself. God sent His angel to tell Joseph to take Mary as his wife, that the child she was carrying was the miraculously conceived Son of God, and this: “You are to give him the name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). The life of Mary’s son and God’s Son, the sinner’s Savior, showed how appropriate the name is. From His first appearance on earth in Bethlehem’s manger to His last breath on Calvary’s cross, He “saved His people from their sins”. That is very literally what the Jewish name Jesus, our name Joshua, means: the Lord “saves”.
    The Lord did not keep the work and power of Jesus a secret meant only for those who saw Him and heard Him on earth. The Holy Spirit preserved for all time the record of “Jesus” saving all sinners. The Bible is not a collection of random religious stories. It is the history of God’s Son paying for every sin.
    His hell endured is the only payment for sin. Jesus is the only Savior. “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to people by which we must be saved” (v. 12). The One Jews blasted as a blasphemer, the One Jewish leaders demanded Pilate crucify, is the only Savior!
    “There is salvation in no one else”. But what about Allah, the god of the Islamic religion? Just a figment of Mohammed’s imagination. Buddha, the idol adored by billions still today? Just a lifeless lump of stone who can’t hurt the flies that land on Buddha statues. Jesus a great man who set an example for us to follow, but is not true God? That, too, is an idol god! “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to people by which we must be saved” than Jesus. Thanks to God the Holy Spirit we trust Jesus and confess Jesus as the sinner’s only Savior, the world’s only “salvation”
    We live in a society that demands tolerance for just about every belief and lifestyle, except those God gives in His Word. How cruel that conservative Christians think that only those who confess Christ will go to heaven! But we don’t think that. God declares that, so we believe that! And God, the true God of Scripture, alone has done that. No other” payment for sin exists. And the religious idea that a loving God will never damn anyone to hell is a lie. We don’t say so. God Himself says so!
    And will do so! All who trust another god - one without “Jesus” as the only Savior – will not be saved, but will be damned. Therefore we, who by God’s grace are connected to “Jesus” through faith, dare not add to the devil’s damning delusion by suggesting – as do so many, “I believe in the God of the Bible. You don’t. But that’s okay as long as we both are sincere about whatever we believe.” God has called us to faith in Him and now calls us to tell the world that “Jesus” is more than a name. “There is salvation in no one else than Jesus!”
    Companies protect the value of their products by not going public with the secret to their products’ power. The only God of salvation is just the opposite. He reveals to the world that “Jesus” is the greatest power in the world, and the only Savior for every sinner in the world. What He calls Himself, “Jesus”, Savior, is who He is. What His name means, “He will save His people from their sins”, is what He does. And what He promises, eternal life for all who trust in Him, is what we have, “salvation”. Salvation is found in nothing else and no one else than “Jesus”.    Amen.
    Pastor David A.Voss
    Fourth Sunday of Easter - God's Sheep Use the Divine Door Daily
  • Fourth Sunday of Easter

    April 30, 2023
    Hymns                         445,   938 (replaces “Glory Be to God”),   552,   555,   452
    First Reading              Acts 2:42-47
    Psalm of the Day        23
    Second Reading          1 Peter 2:19-25
    Gospel                        John 10:1-10
    John 10:1-10
    God’s Sheep Use the Divine Door Daily
    I. He protects the life of His sheep
     II. He provides the life for His sheep
    In the name of Jesus, our crucified and risen Savior, the Good Shepherd for the sheep, fellow Easter believers still celebrating His resurrection from the dead, fellow sheep of Jesus,
    A tourist in Israel asked about a structure with no roof, made of stones stacked chest-high and set in a C-shape. When told by a resident working there, “It’s a sheep pen”, the tourist asked, “Why doesn’t it have a gate?” The man replied, “I am the gate.” He went on to explain that several shepherds bring their flocks from the fields each evening into the pen for safe-keeping and he curls up in the small entrance to the pen as a human gate for the sheep. No sheep, shepherds, and certainly no strangers get in or out of the opening without passing him.
    We love the picture of Jesus as our Good Shepherd. But Jesus Himself wants us to love, to find comfort and to hear warning in Him describing Himself also as “the door” (v. 1). It doesn’t make as nice a picture on the wall. It seems kind of boring. But let’s let the Lord tell us, “I am the door for the sheep” (v. 7). God’s sheep use their divine Door daily! He protects the life of His sheep and He provides the life for His sheep.
    I. He protects the life of His sheep
    One of His sheep had just been attacked, and the Door swung shut to protect His sheep. All of John 9 is about a man born blind whom Jesus healed by spitting on the ground, making mud, putting the pack on the guy’s eyes, telling him to wash in a pool, and – for the first time in the man’s live – he could see! Children, imagine how he must have felt! Had that happened to you, wouldn’t you tell others what Jesus did for you?
    That’s what the man did! And that’s why he was attacked! The Pharisees, self-righteous Jews who hated Jesus, said, “Jesus is a sinner (John 9:24)! No way He healed you! And because you say He did, you no longer have a part in our church!”
    Do you remember what Jesus did? The Good Shepherd sought the sheep. Jesus told the man, “I am the long-awaited Messiah, proved by miraculously healing your life-long blindness.” The man confessed, “Lord, I believe (John 9:38) in you as the Savior!” Then the Savior told the Pharisees, “You…hold on to sin (John 9:41) because you reject Me as the Savior! There is only way to the true God, to heaven. I am the door” (v. 1).
    That background explains why Christ starts this chapter, this great Good Shepherd chapter of the New Testament, by calling Himself “the door for the sheep”. It’s rich assurance for us, too, that He protects the life, the spiritual life, of His sheep.
    Our risen Lord lets only legitimate shepherds, ones He approves, come in through “the door”. They are your parents, children, who teach you God’s Word at home; your Sunday School teachers and Lutheran School teachers and Vacation Bible School teachers and pastors who serve you with God’s pure Word. To such shepherds the Door opens because Jesus knows they will repeat His truth about our sins and our guilt and our deserved damnation, and His truth about His life and His death and His resurrection for our salvation!
    To every other shepherd, “the door” is shut! Jesus is the Door who warns about and protects us from false shepherds. They can’t come in through the Door because their teachings aren’t the Door’s doctrines. So they try to sneak in by climbing over the wall. They don’t help God’s sheep. They harm our faith. They come not to bless us, but to separate us from God’s flock.
    But if an intruder climbs into the pen, how do we know he’s a wolf in sheep’s clothes out to get us? For all we know, he got in through the Door and with the Door’s permission. Oh, we can know! We “will never follow a stranger, but will run away from him, because we do not know the voice of strangers” (v. 5). The Door for the sheep warns His sheep, protects them.
    We test religious teachers. Do they agree with all God’s Word? Do we recognize the voice of the Good Shepherd and the approval of “the Door” in all that they say about a sinner’s relationship with God? Or from their teachings recognize them as “thieves and robbers to whom we dare not listen” (v. 8)?
    We carefully test every religious idea we read or hear. Does it just sound good? Or does it come from God’s Word? If we follow the idea, does it lead us to a closer walk with the risen Lord? Or with those who “steal and kill and destroy” (v. 10)?
    That’s why constantly being in God’s Word is the top priority for God’s sheep! That’s why the work of God’s Church is always centered on God’s Word! Just because a religious teaching seems right doesn’t mean it is true. We need to know what comes from the Good Shepherd and what comes from sinful people. False teachings are tempting. But only Jesus is “the Door”, and the divine Door, at that! If a teaching goes against what He teaches, if it is a teacher who hasn’t come through the divine “Door”, we “run away from” (v. 5) that teaching and teacher. God’s sheep use the divine Door daily! The Good Shepherd protects the life, the spiritual life, of His sheep!
     II. He provides the life for His sheep
    Sheep aren’t cute and cuddly the way they’re pictured in bedtime stories. Sheep are skittish and frightened. Sheep have no sharp teeth, no elusive speed, no keen mind, no good vision. They need a shepherd. And they know their shepherd’s voice. 
    Jesus calls us sinners His “sheep” to remind us we can’t survive spiritually on our own. We sinners need Him. God’s sheep use the divine “Door” daily who provides the life for His sheep.
    Jesus isn’t our divine “Door”, to keep us locked up. He leads us “out to His pasture” (v. 9). In the “pasture” of His forgiveness of our sins by His life on earth and death on the cross, the Savior who rose from death feeds us. Not in how we feel about God, but in what the Savior has done for us, do we have the food of everlasting life, the life, “abundant” (v. 10) life.
    Jesus used this illustration to expose those Pharisees who thought they had “life” by their own wonderful living. They were false shepherds. They had nothing to offer for anyone’s spiritual good. Not their teaching, but the teaching about the Messiah they rejected, is the divine “Door” to life, to heaven.
    Jesus leads us out each day to feed us. He does so through shepherds who serve under Him, the Good Shepherd. They are the full-time shepherds who devote their lives to teaching God’s law and gospel – pastors in our churches and teachers in our schools. Our called workers thank you for your mission thankofferings years ago, before we knew each other existed, that God used to provide us with the best training in the world to present in pulpits and classrooms the crushing curse of our sins against God and the sweet salvation won by the sacrifice of the Lamb of God for the world’s sinful sheep.
    Parttime shepherds who have access through the divine “Door” are our Sunday School and VBS teachers, parents and grandparents, and all who speak God’s truths to others. Give thanks to God for the privilege to serve Him and others that way. Go daily to feed in His “pasture” because He must fill us with His truths before He uses us to give His truths to others.
    “When he has brought out all his own sheep, he walks ahead of them. The sheep follow him because they know His voice” (v. 4). Do you hear Him? Sheep of the Good Shepherd hear His Word! Those who say they grazed in God’s gospel earlier in life so they don’t need to do so now clearly haven’t eaten enough of this chapter or of the Good Shepherd psalm. Jesus leads us out daily into the meadow of His message, to His still water of life. Those who ignore going there often aren’t listening to Christ’s voice, but to the voice of some false shepherd.
    Jesus, our divine “Door”, leads us out to feed in His pasture so we are “saved” (v. 9). He does that so personally! Loves me every day the same / Even calls me by His name. We are not a faceless number to God, not just a name in His book, not cold data on His computer. He knows us intimately – our weaknesses, pet sins, damning guilt, desperate need for salvation. And He leads us out to give us what He knows we need spiritually – His strength, His forgiveness, His saving grace in Word and Sacrament, His guidance for life. All of that He personalizes for us, for “His own sheep whom He calls by name” (v. 3).
    It was not our own strength or wisdom or life that brought us into God’s family. The only reason we are His sheep is His work. The Son bought us by His blood, the Father accepted His sacrifice to pay our hell, and the Holy Spirit used His gospel to bring us into His kingdom, His family, His “sheep pen” (v. 1).
    Jesus, our divine “Door”, leads us out to feed in His pasture for His perfect purpose: “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (v. 10). This is the life! The “Door” who won our heaven uses His gospel to grow our faith. This is the life! We are secure in our Savior who died for us and rose from death and took care of everything we need to be His sheep here and His heirs forever! This is the life! We have all we need in Christ. We keep grazing in His Word. The risen Savior is the divine “Door”, who says, “Whoever enters through Me will be saved” (v. 9. This is the life He provides for His sheep.
    So, is Jesus the Good Shepherd who comes through the Door? Or is He the Door through which His shepherds come and go? Yes! He is both! The Good Shepherd is also the divine “Door”. His good news is the door through which He daily comes to us and through which He daily leads us to secure safety from Satan and to deeper trust in Him. Fellow sheep of the Good Shepherd, hear Him call to us, “My sheep, use Me, the divine Door, daily! I protect your spiritual life as My sheep! I provide the life, eternal life, for you, My sheep. What do you, My sheep, do daily? My sheep listen to My voice!”    Amen.
    Pastor David A. Voss
    Third Sunday of Easter - The Redeemer's Resurrection Restores Our Hope
  • Third Sunday of Easter

    April 23, 2023
    Hymns                         442,   459,   443 (Communion distribution),   450
    First Reading              Acts 2:14a,32-41
    Psalm of the Day        116
    Second Reading          1 Peter 1:17-21
    Gospel                        Luke 24:13-35
    The Redeemer’s Resurrection Restores Our Hope
    I. Hope for sinners cut by God’s law
    II. Hope for sinners changed by God’s gospel
    In the name of our crucified and risen Savior, Jesus Christ, fellow Easter believers, still rejoicing in His resurrection,
    It’s a cherished painting of a serene scene. But as the two believers walked on the road to Emmaus, they didn’t feel serene. The risen Christ asked them what they were discussing so deeply. “The things concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet, mighty in deed and word before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed Him over to be condemned to death. And they crucified Him.  But we were hoping that He was going to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:19-21). Those disciples had placed their hopes on Jesus. But their hopes had died with Him at Calvary. For three days – part of Friday, all of Saturday, and now well into Sunday – followers of Jesus dealt with their dashed hopes. How could Jesus be the Messiah if He was dead?
    How could they not anticipate the Redeemer’s resurrection? Well, how do we fail to lean on the Redeemer’s resurrection? They let their wants and their culture’s expectations cloud their view of God’s truth. We do, too! Then the Redeemer’s resurrection restores our hope. It is hope for sinners cut by God’s law. And it is hope for sinners changed by God’s gospel.
    I. Hope for sinners cut by God’s law
    Like last Sunday’s First Reading, today’s First Reading is the second part of Peter preaching to Jews at Pentecost. Here, too, the Holy Spirit had Peter repeat Old Testament prophecies about the promised Messiah, prophecies that the Jews who hated Jesus knew and trusted. God was lovingly, but seriously, leading them to see Jesus as the One, the only One, who fulfilled the entire Old Testament. David’s descendant is also David’s Lord. Jesus descended from David according to His human nature. But as the eternal God, Jesus is also David’s Lord and David’s Savior.
    Then God had Peter proclaim, “Let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ (v. 36). Though Jesus didn’t look like your idea of the Messiah, don’t you see it now? His humility was God’s plan all along! And by raising the Son from the dead seven weeks ago and welcoming Jesus back to heaven ten days ago, the Father shouts, ‘This Jesus is the Chosen One, the Messiah, the Christ! This Jesus is My Son! This Jesus is your Savior! This Jesus is the world’s Savior!”
    “And you crucified Him!” That was God’s law. Imagine the guilt of having the innocent Savior’s blood on your hands. Jewish leaders insisted Good Friday morning, “Let His blood be on us and on our children” (Matthew 27:25). Peter said fifty-one mornings later, “See what you did to the Christ!”
    When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, ‘What should we do?’” (v. 37) Through Peter’s preaching the Holy Spirit led those Jews to realize they deserved God’s judgment. They didn’t argue, “We didn’t crucify Him; the Romans did!” They didn’t deny, “He is not our Christ!” And now they didn’t accuse, “You’ve had too much to drink, Peter!” “They were cut to the heart”. God prepared the first Easter believers for His greatest news by first smashing them with His worst news.
    We Easter believers weren’t actively involved in crucifying the Lord of life. But we, too, are responsible for it. How do we react to that truth? Are we “cut to the heart” by God’s law? Are we deeply troubled by our sins? Or do we shrug them off as mistakes everyone makes? Do we truly admit Jesus had to die for our sins? Or has Satan led us to believe, “Those who commit the really big sins did that!”? With terrified consciences do we confess to God our sins against God? Or do we figure that since so many misuse sex, we may; since some use God’s holy name in unholy ways, we may; since others gossip about us, we are free to fire back with bitter gossip about them?
    Our hope for heaven is lost when we base it on ourselves, on what our culture values, even on our regular church going. Like those Jews, we, too, might choose to believe only those parts of Scripture that meet our preconceived ideas of what the Messiah should be and what the Messiah should teach. We need God to “cut us to the heart” with His law each day, to say, “You sin against Me! You deserve hell! Stop excusing your sin and ignoring your guilt! Repent!” (v. 38)
    II. Hope for sinners changed by God’s gospel
    But resolving, “I will not sin again!” doesn’t solve the problem. We will sin again! And what about the sins we’ve already committed? God told the first Easter believers to forget about getting right with Him by their own efforts or beliefs. God tells us the same. God directed the first Easter believers to the cross and empty tomb as assurance their guilt was removed. God directs us to the same. The Redeemer’s resurrection restores our hope, the hope for sinners changed by God’s gospel.
    After the thunder of God’s law comes the gentle rain of God’s gospel – only His rain doesn’t dampen moods or ruin weekends, but waters souls and restores hopes. The crushing question, What should we do?”, was answered, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (v. 38).
    “Repent” means more than regret. The Jews regretted their past rejection of God’s chosen One as the world’s Savior and their part in Christ’s crucifixion. “Repent” means turn from your sins and turn to Jesus. Repentance is turning from trusting self to make things right and turning to trusting the Redeemer’s work. The good news God used Peter to present and the forgiveness that God gave in Baptism works repentance.
    Baptism isn’t a cute ceremony. Baptism is taught in numerous verses of the Word as a way God grants His saving grace. Baptism is “for the forgiveness of your sins”. That forgiveness, won for the world by the crucified and risen Savior who suffered our hell, is given by God to individual sinners in Baptism.
    And “the gift of the Holy Spirit” is given in Baptism. That isn’t an extra blessing that comes later, after the baptized turned their lives over to God. The “gift of the Holy Spirit” is the comfort and strength that flows from God-given faith in God’s work to send away our guilt. And this gift “is for and for your children and for all who are far away”. Along with the first Easter believers, we bring our infants to “be baptized” so the Holy Spirit will give them, sinful from conception, the precious gift of trust in Christ, the priceless gift of a changed heart.
    Did God’s gospel change those first Easter believers? Or did they change themselves? A wrong translation leads many to a wrong answer. Both the King James Version and New International Version translations read, “Save yourselves”. But it’s a passive verb, meaning it is done to us, not done by us. Either “Be saved” or “Escape” (v. 40) gets the sense of the word. It’s not that we flee our forever in hell by anything we do, but “escape” the route our risen Redeemer paved with His life, death and resurrection for us. The Redeemer’s resurrection restores hope for sinners changed by His gospel, His good news.
    As we’ve said several times already, if we sinners are counting on what we do in anything to be in God’s good standing, we have no hope. The Savior who lived a perfectly holy life for us, the Savior who agreed to be forsaken by His Father in heaven to take all our punishment on His holy soul, the Savior who then rose from death is our hope. He is hope for sinners who see what they deserve and are “cut to the heart” by God’s law, then are rescued by what they don’t deserve and are changed by God’s gospel. That’s the truth of all God’s Word. Not sinners’ efforts, but God’s gospel, saves sinners. And see God’s gospel at work among the first Easter believers. First the spoken gospel from God in Jesus through His apostles, then the sacramental gospel from God in Jesus through Baptism. “Those who accepted the message were baptized, and that day about three thousand people were added” (v. 41).
    Peter and the other apostles didn’t add souls. The Lord did! God alone changes hearts. Still today He persuades and saves sinners by His gospel, not by our religious routine or pleasant personality or great good works. The Redeemer’s resurrection (who then or today would want to be connected to a still-dead savior?) restores the hope of sinners! When we stop “hoping” God will grant us here a life that has no troubles, stop “hoping” more than anything for more money, stop “hoping” that God will smile upon us because are such faithful worshipers, and live with confident hearts that He has changed in Christ, we have the certain hope that will never disappoint us!
    Since the fall into sin, the hope of God’s people is tied to the Messiah who would crush the serpent’s head – but in so doing would have His heel crushed. The plan for redemption always included “the precious blood of Christ” (1 Peter 1:19). The certain hope of eternal life for sinners with God is built on the sacrificial death of the innocent Lamb and the victorious resurrection of the whole world’s Redeemer. He restores our hope forever!     Amen.
    Pastor David A. Voss
    Second Sunday of Easter - The Risen Lord Is Our Living Hope
  • The Second Sunday of Easter

    April 16, 2023
    Hymns                         449,   456,   444,   465
    First Reading              Acts 2:14a,22-32
    Psalm of the Day        16
    Second Reading          1 Peter 1:3-9
    Gospel                        John 20:19-31
    1 Peter 1:3-9
    The Risen Lord Is Our Living Hope
         I. Hope for our family’s inheritance
    II. Hope during our life’s grief
    III. Hope in our faith’s goal
    In the name of our crucified and risen Savior, fellow redeemed, still rejoicing in His resurrection and its results for us,
    Holy Week we moved spiritually from somber to sorrowing to soaring in Easter joy. Easter Sunday attendance is the highest of any Sunday of the year. But already this second Sunday of Easter the excitement is diminished. The excitement fades,  but the results don’t - ever! After hearing much from Paul last Sunday, today it’s Peter’s turn to teach what the Lord teaches about the everlasting Easter effects, the resurrection results.
    Do you know the background of Peter’s two short letters? Peter likely wrote them from Rome, where he and other believers were being harmed because of their faith in Christ. It seemed the persecution of Christians would spread north and east to batter believers in Asia Minor (present-day Turkey). It was to believers there these letters were sent, warning them life wouldn’t be getting easier in the short term, and encouraging them to hold on to their Easter hope now and forever.
    Living and working among unbelievers today isn’t easy, either. What Peter told believers of old still holds for us. We likely won’t be physically accosted for our faith, but we are emotionally blasted because of what we hold so dear. Still, we have hope, living hope” (v. 3). That hope is there even when our vehicle breaks down, bank account dwindles, health fails. How? Our “living hope” is anchored in our risen Lord. He makes our “living hope” the hope for our family’s inheritance, the hope during our life’s grief, the hope in our faith’s goal.
    I. Hope for our family’s inheritance
    Even when we strive to do the right thing for the right reason in the right way we can’t be confident in what we do before God and with God. Why not? We are sinners. So how wonderful to hear God say our “living hope” isn’t anything we do, but is a gift from “His great mercy” (v. 3)! The undeserved love from God to us sinners sent His Son to suffer our hell. The mercy of God led Him to raise Christ from His sacrificial death to give us this rock-solid, living, hope”. By Christ’s resurrection, God “gave us a new birth” (v. 3), the new birth by faith that trusts Christ and His work for life’s greatest blessings.
    Possessing that God-given faith, we’re different. We are members of God’s family. Our sinful nature now is in the back seat of our heart. The new person of faith is at the wheel of our lives, guided by its eternal driving instructor, the Holy Spirit. Though the Old Adam still tempts us to sin and stray, “through faith you are being protected by God’s power” (v. 5).
    The Old Adam keeps trying to grab the wheel, but our faith is a screen between the front and back seats, preventing our sinful nature from taking control of our life again. And it is the power of God, His power to us in His good news of Christ in His Word and sacraments, that is strong enough to resist even Satan’s most savage attacks. The devil may distract us by his scheming, may cause us to swerve occasionally, but he can’t take control of us unless we let go of our “living hope”
    Our “living hope” is the risen Lord. He conquered sin and death, and gives us His heavenly inheritance. Most religions hold hope before their followers, the hope of blessings here and maybe blessings hereafter, if the individual earns them. Where is the sure hope there? How can people know they have done enough? On the Last Day every hope not standing on the risen Lord will be exposed as false hope, a cruel hoax.
    We will receive the “inheritance…kept in heaven for” (v. 4) us. Since we have been adopted into God’s family, been given in Baptism the new birth to make us members of His family, “we are heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17). Since the inheritance comes as a gift from God, it is a sure thing, the “living hope” guaranteed by the risen Lord!
    Some people worry their worldly inheritance will be eaten up by taxes or lost to a stock market crash. Not this one! Our spiritual family’s inheritance is “undying” (v. 4). Nothing can end it. Our family’s inheritance is “undefiled” (v. 4). Nothing can tarnish its beauty. Our family’s inheritance is “unfading” (v. 4). Nothing can make it grow stale or go away little-by-little. Can we really be sure? Yes! The risen Lord is the “living hope” we have for our spiritual family’s inheritance!
    II. Hope during our life’s grief
    Until we receive our family’s inheritance in the great unending glory of heaven, we have to trudge through disappointments, disasters, deaths. So we keep the eyes of our faith focused on Christ’s empty tomb. That puts grief in perspective. The risen Lord is our “living hope” even during our life’s grief.
    The sad times and bad times we endure in life do not indicate that God is on vacation, that His powerful hand is no longer over us. The risen Lord Himself says it’s necessary that we undergo troubles. He compares that to the process of refining gold. As then, still today, gold is heated to eleven hundred degrees Fahrenheit to turn the gold to liquid. Because gold is heavy, the gold sinks and impurities float to the surface where they are skimmed off. When the heat is removed, the gold cools and hardens. What is left is purer gold than to start.
    “Because of this you rejoice very much, even though now for a little while…you have been grieved by various kinds of trials so that the proven character of your faith” (vv. 6-7) is displayed. Peter tasted the bitterness of failing such a test. He fell on his faith in the courtyard of Caiaphas, denying he even knew Jesus. But Peter also tasted the sweetness of forgiveness from the risen Jesus and His powerful atonement.
    We have God’s promise no trial will be more than we can bear. “God is faithful. He will not allow you to be tested beyond your ability, but when He tests you, He will also bring about the outcome that you are able to bear it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). God tests us for our good, not for His knowledge. God provides “the outcome” in His Word, telling us our faith and our eternal salvation are worth far more than anything else.
    Our faith shows its “proven character”, the real thing from the risen Lord, when we use what God gives us to handle burdens bearing down on us. The world is watching us Easter believers to see if we really are different. Adversity shows the difference between us who have “living hope” and those who don’t. What does the world see in the way we handle “trials”?
    What makes even the worst tragedy bearable? Knowing it’s only temporary. When a believer dies, surviving Christians are crushed by grief and sorrow. But the reality we will meet again in heaven is God providing our “living hope” in our risen Lord. When our financial condition is bleak, we are concerned. But the reality the risen Lord has not forsaken us is our “living hope”. When we are picked on at school, we aren’t happy. But the reality the risen Lord loves us more than anyone is our “loving hope”. God’s forgiveness of our sins in Christ and His promises of life forever bring us through “trials” and grief.
    So when we Christones handle His way our losses, hardships, and grief our faith is shown to the watching world as real time evidence of God’s love and power. Who gets the credit? It results “in praise, glory, and honor”, not for us, but for our risen Lord. He brings us through life’s grief with the “living hope” that comes by His death and His resurrection for us.
    III. Hope in our faith’s goal
    You don’t believe there are genies in old bottles or a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow, do you? No one has ever seen them. They aren’t real. They are only stories and legends.
    So is your so-called Savior!, skeptics say. Have you ever seen Him? Has He appeared to you? No! He’s just your imagination! So they say! We know different. We believe different. Christ not only lived on earth. He rose from death! He lives! The risen Lord is our “living hope”, hope in our faith’s “goal” (v. 9).
    We heard in the Gospel how Peter saw the risen Lord sweep away the doubts of fellow disciple Thomas. Then we heard that, as blessed as were Peter and Thomas and the rest of the disciples by the risen Savior’s presence among them, even more blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29), people like you and me!
    We look forward to something we haven’t seen, something promised by someone we haven’t seen. “Though you have not seen Him, you love Him. Though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him” (v. 8). The world says that’s foolish. God says that’s His miracle of trust worked in us by His power.
    Too often believers act like folks who suppose they are losers now, but will win in the end. We will win in the end! But we are also winners now! You are “filled with a joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, because you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (vv. 8-9).
    Salvation is not ours when first we get to heaven. Jesus Himself said, “The one who believes in Me has eternal life” (John 6:47). We don’t wait until we leave earth to gain the blessings won at Calvary. We have them now! The risen Lord is our “living hope” to trust the “goal” of our faith in being His now.
    How do we live? As Easter believers, basking in the “goal” of our faith! We were on the brink of becoming eternal fatalities when Jesus snatched us from disaster at the cost of His life. We express our “hope” with “joy” and gratitude, with “love for Him” and “faith in Him”. We walk and talk like people who have the “goal” in front of us every second, the goal that can’t be taken from us unless we let go of it. But why would we?!
    Easter isn’t over. Easter never ends. The risen Lord is our “living hope”. That is confidence for this life and the life to come. That is ours in Jesus who died for us, then rose from death. The risen Lord is always our living hope.      Amen.
    Pastor David A. Voss
    Resurrection Sunday - What Really Happened at the Tomb?
  • Resurrection Sunday
    April 9, 2023
    Luke 24:12
    I. The Son of God proved His deity
    II. The Father accepted His sacrifice
     III. The sinner receives God’s promise
    In the name of Jesus Christ, our crucified and risen Redeemer, dear Easter believers who know that our Redeemer lives,
    The whole state was buzzing Thursday for the Tiger’s home opener. That buzz wasn’t as loud yesterday. And, if the season goes as predicted for the Tigers, there won’t be much emotional interest or investment in the games come August.
    Will that happen to us tomorrow – or already tonight – about Easter? We went to church for Easter, as we always do. Then the kids found their Easter baskets and we had Easter dinner with the family, as we always do. We had a wonderful Easter. If Easter is over for you tomorrow, that’s not God’s Easter. What happened the very first Easter isn’t something to watch, then walk away. It’s the truth we take to heart every day.
    What really happened at the tomb? Jesus rose, you answer. True. But what happened at the tomb didn’t just happen to Him. It is also for us. Peter was “amazed at what had happened” (v. 12) at the tomb. God filled Peter with His Easter truths, then sent Peter out to preach it. God refills us with His Easter truths, then sends us out to live and share them. We start this truth: at the tomb the Son of God proved His deity.
    I. The Son of God proved His deity
    There could be no resurrection from the dead by Jesus had Jesus not died. Some suggest He didn’t die at Calvary, but only lapsed into a coma on the cross and seemed dead, then came to in the tomb, shoved the stone aside, snuck out, and said, “I’m risen!” The testimony of soldiers and of God’s Word is that Jesus died on the cross before the other two died, that blood and water flowed from His side when sliced by a spear. Jesus died, and the tomb held His dead body.
    And then the tomb was empty! The wax seal and Roman soldier were requested by Jewish church leaders to keep Christ’s disciples from stealing the dead body and saying, “Look! Jesus has risen, just as He said He would!” Then, when the soldiers reported what really happened at the tomb, those churchmen bribed them to lie, “gave a large sum of money to the soldiers and said, ‘You are to say, “His disciples came at night and stole Him away while we were sleeping”’” (Matthew 28:12-13). What really happened at the tomb? The soldiers heard and felt “a great earthquake” (Matthew 28:2). An angel of the Lord…rolled away the stone” (Matthew 28:2). What really happened at the tomb? The crucified Savior rose to life!
    That means that Jesus is God. No one else in history had ever, will ever, promise to return to life on earth from death, and actually do it. Only Jesus did! He is the true God He says He is.
    What would be the consequences were Jesus still in a tomb somewhere? If He who said, “On the third day I will be raised” (Matthew 20:19), did not rise as He said He would on the day He said He would, He’d be a laughingstock, not worth our worship or our time. He might live on in our memory as a wonderful man. But Jesus would be nothing more than that.
    But enough of that! That’s not what happened. What really happened at the tomb is Christ rose, so He is the true God on whom we place our every hope for everything spiritual and eternal! Jesus took back His life, which proves He is fully God. He gave up His soul Friday afternoon, then brought His soul back to His body very early this morning. He is “declared to be God’s powerful Son by His resurrection from the dead (Romans 1:4). We sing about both His Good Friday victory and His Resurrection Sunday proof of who He is in Luther’s great Resurrection Hymn, Hymn 439, stanzas 1,3, and 4.
    II. The Father accepted His sacrifice
    Some resurrection misunderstanding comes from the creed. It sounds like Jesus first descended into hell, then came alive. What God’s Word declares is that very early Sunday morning Christ’s soul came from heaven to rejoin His body; Jesus was alive! Then, as we read in 1 Peter, Jesus went to hell – body and soul together – to preach to the spirits there. We’ll get to that in a bit. By the time the earthquake hit and the angels took care of the stone, Jesus was long gone from the tomb. When we say in our creed, “The third day He rose again from the dead”, we mean He left the place of the dead and appeared alive to people outside the tomb that third day.
    More crucial than getting the day’s events in correct chronological order is knowing what happened to Jesus and for us that day. What really happened at the tomb is also that the Father declared His acceptance of His Son’s sacrifice for sins.
    Had Jesus not risen from death, “your faith would be futile; you’d be still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17). If His body were still in a grave, decayed and nothing but a skeleton after all this time, what good would your trust in Him be? If Jesus were still dead, how would His death have been different than John the Baptist’s or President Lincoln’s? A tragic assassination, but no value to anyone. If the crucified Christ didn’t rise from death, it would mean He didn’t pay for a single sin.
    But He did rise, proof He has fully paid for all sins. When He went to hell very early that morning, He went not to suffer any more, but to declare His victory. He told Satan and the rest of the wicked angels, “I am here in the flesh and in your horrible home of hell! I have destroyed your power! I’m here to show you that You can’t touch Me and you can’t have My people!”
    The angel told the faithful women who’d come to the tomb, “He is not here. He has risen, just as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay” (Matthew 28:5-6). How did the angel know? He was God’s messenger from heaven to tell humans what really happened at the tomb. This is God’s Easter sermon: “Christ is risen! Trust what that means! He was raised to life because of your justification” (Romans 4:25).
    Justify is the great Bible word that means, to declare, “Not guilty!” Oh, we are guilty, very guilty! We look so nice and sing so loudly and are so full of Godly joy this greatest morning of the year. But we remain sinful. And sin will mar our lives today. We will snap at a loved one, think unkind thoughts about others, consider selfishly only what we want.
    But our damning sins are no longer held against us! What really happened at the tomb is that the Father showed He accepted His Son’s sacrifice for our sins. Raising the Son was the Father’s way to tell the world, “His work is perfectly completed! His sacrifice removes the curse of hell you deserve!”
    Our Savior so properly gets the resurrection glory. But what really happened at the tomb is that we also get the resurrection blessing of sins fully covered. When Satan holds the huge pile of our stinking mess before us, we might wonder whether we’re forgiven. Then the Father shows us the empty tomb to say, “All your sins are fully forgiven. My Son really meant it when He shouted about sins’ payment, ‘It is finished’” (John 19:30). What really happened at the tomb is that the Father declared, “Your sinfulness is covered by My Son’s holiness. Your guilt is exchanged for His innocence!”
    Bible verses that say Jesus rose from death emphasize He is God. Verses that say The Father raised Jesus teach He accepted His Son’s sacrifice. Both statements are true! We sing those glorious Resurrection truths with the words of stanzas 1,2, and 3 of Hymn 446.
     III. The sinner receives God’s promise
    Peter left the tomb that morning amazed at “what had happened”. He’d never seen a once-filled tomb empty. But the risen Savior would use Peter to preach, teach, and write about what really happened at the tomb. That guarantees what will happen at our tombs. The empty tomb of Jesus is God’s way for us sinners to receive God’s promise of eternal life!
    The night before He died Jesus told the disciples in the upper room, and us disciples in this Easter room, “Because I live, you also will live” (John 14:19). He said that while talking about His death. His resurrection from the dead means death is no longer a punishment for us; remember, our sin is fully paid! Death is no longer a one-way ticket to hell, but the quick trip to heaven. The risen Lord guarantees that for our soul. Then, on the Last Day, our body with our soul takes that trip, too.
    What comfort when death seems to have snatched from us a loved one. In the fifty-one weeks since last Easter, death has visited the families of several of our members. The temptation is to mourn as if there is no eternal joy. Almost without realizing it we can act as if Christ’s tomb were still full and our hopes empty. But then we hear His Resurrection message, “Because I live, you also will live”, and we are filled again with His certainty that our loved one who died in faith is in heaven – and we will follow! What really happened at the tomb? We sinners receive God’s promise for life with Him hereafter!
    With that promise, we also receive God’s purpose for life here. The angel told the women, “Come, see the place where the Lord lay. Then go quickly and tell His disciples, ‘He has risen from the dead!’” (Matthew 28:6-7). Will we who have seen the risen Savior with the eyes of faith go back to following the dictator of darkness? Back to the damning, dead-end slavery to sin? Back to slathering our souls with slime and filth? No way! The risen Jesus so fills our lives that we eagerly walk in the light of His Word, trust only in His cross and empty tomb, gladly put on the robe of His holiness every day.
    Four hours from now, four days from now, four weeks from now, will we be living the power of what really happened at the tomb? We will as we keep using the risen Savior’s Word to fill our hearts. Some of you are here only because it’s Easter, and this is what you always do at Easter. But that isn’t what really happened at the cross and tomb. Jesus fills us for every day, not just holy days. We go to His Word at home, and come to His house each week, to be refilled regularly with the life and joy and power and purpose His resurrection gives us.
    Jesus rising from His tomb so filled the early believers they began to celebrate His resurrection not just once a year, but once a week! Every Sunday is Easter for us who trust what really happened at the tomb. We’re happy for Jesus that He is proved fully God. We’re also happy for us, and so hear each week how His Father accepted His sacrifice for our sins, how His rising from His tomb will one day be our rising from our tombs. His work to pay for the world’s sins is completed. Now He gives us the privilege to spread that power and purpose in what really happened to Him, and for us, at the tomb!     Amen.
    Pastor David A. Voss
    Good Friday - God Died
  • Good Friday
    April 7, 2023
    Matthew 27:50-51
    I. For what?
     II. Now what?
    In the name of Jesus, fellow grieving, forgiven sinners,
    What does it mean that God is eternal? It means He has no beginning and no end, He is immortal. He will not die. So, scoffers insist, Your Jesus either is not God or He did not die! You can’t say that He is the immortal God and that He died.
    But we do. That is our confession. And we’re tempted to cut Scriptural corners to explain. Have we said, Jesus is both God and man. His human nature died. His divine nature didn’t.? That’s not true. God died. The divine nature Jesus has had since before time began – He is eternal – didn’t have glued to it the human nature Jesus took on when He was conceived in sinful Mary’s womb. It is not true that this part of Jesus is man and this part of Jesus is God, and one part died while the other did not. Jesus is God and man in one person, not two persons put together to make Him God and man.
    God died. That goes beyond our understanding. But that is His Word’s teaching. So that is what we believe. We don’t try to make the Son of God’s Good Friday death more understandable. We hold to what the only true God has said. God died.
    God died? Yes! For what? God tells us. God died? Yes! Now what? God tells us that, too.
    I. For what?
    School shootings leave harmless students dead. Drug overdoses rob little ones of a parent. Attentive drivers die instantly when vehicles operated by drivers under the influence cross the center line. All the time people die due to no fault of their own, and their loved ones ask, the world asks, What for?
    God died. The sinless One “gave up His spirit” (v. 50). That was different than any other death ever. In every other death, God took the soul from the person. At three that afternoon, God “gave up His spirit”, soul. You get the difference, don’t you?
    Jesus wasn’t in the wrong place at the wrong time. Jesus didn’t unknowingly put Himself in harm’s way. Jesus knew what He was getting into by agreeing to leave heaven’s glory. He knew His willing suffering and death would be gory. Why? What for? For me. For you. For all. For the world’s salvation.
    The capture the night before at Gethsemane wasn’t because Jesus had broken any laws. The verdict by the Jewish leaders  wasn’t because undeniable evidence proved Him guilty. The chant, “Crucify Him!” wasn’t because He was a violent felon. God died. What for? He was covered with sin. Mine. Yours. Everyone’s. Except for His. Christ Jesus has no sin.
    Good Friday would be easier to observe if it were because someone else had messed up. But He’s our Brother. Our Substitute. Our Redeemer. His suffering is ours. That’s why God died. For us. Our every sin deserves the sentence of hell.
    Our sick world largely ignores sin. I have my relationship with God, and God loves me just the way I am. You can’t make me feel guilty for going against what you quote from the Bible! We aren’t making anyone feel guilty. God is. Sin is so serious and carries a penalty so unending that God died for every sin.
    Our sick sinful nature always downplays sin. Of course you’re not perfect. But who is? At least your sins don’t make headlines like sins of sexual predators and drug dealers and mass murderers. But the truth is that no sin outranks any other. Whoever keeps the whole law but stumbles in one point has become guilty of breaking all of it” (James 2:10). God died for every one of my sins, of your sins, of everyone’s sins. What for? Because the wages of sins is death” (Romans 6:23).
    For every second of His six hours on the cross the weight of hell for every trespass past, present, and future crushed the holy God. For every moment He endured the pain of nails and thorns, was scorned and mocked, He was “forsaken” (Matthew 27:46) by His Father in heaven. That. Is. Hell. Will we excuse our sins with a breezy, So what? No one’s perfect, and at least I’m not that bad!? Never! God died! For what? For every dirty thought, every immoral act, every wicked word, every bitter grudge, every disrespectful comment, every lustful look, every careless use of His name, every proud moment we put ourselves ahead of others – even God, every greedy urge, every cheating scheme. Every sin deserves hell.
    A good definition of death is separation. The Son was separated from His Father for His six hours on the cross – a living death, in a sense. God died. For what? For me. For you. For all. When His six hours of suffering literal hell for every sin ever was over, His “spirit”, His soul, went to heaven but His body stayed on earth. That, too, is death, a separation, as “He gave up His spirit”. God died. For what? For me. For you. For all.
     II. Now what?
    God died. It wasn’t a tragic accident. It wasn’t a senseless murder. It was His willing, once-for-all-sinners-and-for-all-sins sacrifice. The Triune God taught that with several miracles at the moment God died. God died? Yes, God died! Now what?
    One of the miracles at the moment God died was this: “Suddenly, the temple curtain was torn in two from top to bottom” (v. 51). Our Savior did many miracles during His three year ministry. Each of those miracles proved He is true God. And each of those miracles filled a need for one or more people. Jesus never did miracles to entertain. And the miracle of the temple curtain tearing when He died filled a need.
    The temple in Jerusalem had two rooms: the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place. The rooms were separated by a curtain 30 feet wide, 30 feet tall, and as thick as a man’s hand. Only priests were allowed to enter the Holy Place; laypeople never set foot in it. The Most Holy Place had originally been home to the Ark of the Covenant. But the Ark had disappeared during the invasion by the Babylonians. So, at the time the Savior walked on earth, the Most Holy Place was empty. Still, God allowed only Israel’s High Priest to enter the Most Holy Place, and that only once each year – on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. On that day, the High Priest sprinkled blood from a sacrificed animal to picture atonement for the sins of the world by the blood of Good Friday’s sacrificed Lamb of God.
    Other than the Yom Kippur ceremony, no one was to enter – or even look into – the Most Holy Place. Anyone who did died. Jesus died at three in the afternoon, a time when at least several priests would have been serving in the Holy Place. Surely they heard the “curtain being torn”. Don’t you think they would have reacted by looking in that direction? But none of them died for looking into the Most Holy Place.
    Why not? Because God died. In doing so, God made the sacrifice to which all the animal sacrifices had pointed for the fourteen hundred years between Moses getting the law on Mount Sinai and Jesus suffering the world’s hell on Mount Calvary! Because God died, God’s anger against sinners was taken out on Jesus, and God’s anger is turned away from us. As a result the door to heaven was open to sinners. The temple curtain”, which showed sinners were barred from being in God’s presence, “was torn in two from top to bottom”. What does this mean? The door to heaven was now open to sinners.
    God died. Now what? We don’t have to make sacrifices for sin. The once-for-all sacrifice has been made. But God wants from us the daily sacrifices of living the God-pleasing life that puts Him first, keeps our minds and bodies pure, loves our neighbors and our enemies, tells others about His love, rejoices in His work to save us and all the world.
    God died. Now what? We don’t have to make sacrifices for sin. We don’t fear the wages of sin that is death. God died. Now what? We will face our dying day confident in what God did to live for us and die for us to take us to Himself.
    God died. It wasn’t the result of those who hated Him getting the upper hand on Him. Jesus “gave up His spirit”. Before His last word and breath from the cross, He shouted His word of victory, “It is finished” (John 19:30), which means, It is perfectly completed! All you owe God is paid in full! How? By God being forsaken by God. Then Jesus said, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit” (Luke 23:46). God died. Not because sinners took His life from Him. But because He gave up His life for sinners willingly, sacrificially, lovingly, completely.
    You’re right. Here we’ll never fully grasp how it is that God died. But God died. It had to be that way for us to live with Him. There is more that happened west of the city walls of Jerusalem that weekend. Some forty-five yards from where God died and some thirty-six hours later another miracle happened. That miracle is the center of Sunday’s services here.

    God died. For what? Not a senseless death, but the sacrificial death for us. God died. Now what? We need not offer sacrifices for our sins. But we do live our lives for Him, for the God who died. God died. For what? For us.     Amen.
    Pastor David A. Voss
    Palm Sunday - Are We Ready for Our King?
  • Palm Sunday

    April 2, 2023
    Hymns                             414,   411,   511,   548
    First Reading                   Zechariah 9:9-10
    Psalm & Sermon Text      Psalm 24
    Second Reading              Philippians 2:5-11
    Gospel                            Matthew 21:1-11
    Psalm 24
    Are We Ready for Our King?
        I. Behold Him
      II. Serve Him
    III. Trust Him
    In the name of our crucified and risen Savior, our eternal and glorious King, Christ Jesus, fellow Holy Week worshipers,
    Lessons used with the new hymnal shift slightly the use of  Psalm 24. We used to sing it the Sunday before Christmas; now we sing it the first Sunday in Advent. But in both hymnals Psalm 24 is sung on this Palm Sunday. Both in Advent and on Palm Sunday we anticipate the arrival of Christ the Lord.
    Psalm 24 paints the Word of God picture of a pious procession from outside Jerusalem’s city walls by “the King of Glory” (v. 10). On this Sunday so long ago the descendant of the David  to whom the Spirit gave these words rode into His city. Not David or his son Solomon or any other king who sat on the throne in Jerusalem is the king in this psalm. Only Jesus fits this psalm. Only Jesus is “this King of Glory” (v. 7).
    So what does this psalm have to do with us? As the Spirit used this psalm to get the children of Israel long ago to ask themselves, My King is coming! Am I ready for the King of Glory?, so the Spirit uses this psalm to get us children of God in these first hours of the holiest week of the year to ask ourselves, My King is coming! Am I ready for the King of Glory? 
    The Palm Sunday lessons from God set the tone we need for the solemn Holy Thursday, the dark Good Friday, the glorious Resurrection Sunday services to come. His Word strengthens us so we’re not knocked down spiritually when horrible things happen to God’s Son this week. Are we ready for “the King of Glory”, our King, to come? Behold Him! Serve Him! Trust Him!
      I. Behold Him

    Imagine going with your family to Hawaii, but you spend all week in your hotel reading a book. Your loved ones come back each day to tell you about the scenery, the weather, the beaches. “You are missing so much!”
    Today, and each time we’re in God’s Word, God says, “Lift up your heads (v. 7) to behold, to see the King of Glory!” Many people yawn at Him. They think, “So what? I’m not missing much! I have better things to do!” Many people see the Lord God as only an option, as One they can do without, certainly not One worth a special effort to behold, to see, to worship.
    God is not ordinary. He is not an out-of-touch deity who would never damn anyone. Nor is He a wimpy god who can only watch the world pass by Him. God is “the King of Glory”! He created the universe. He still preserves the universe He created. He owns the universe! “The earth is the Lord’s and everything that fills it…because He founded it” (vv. 1-2).
    Are we ready for our King? Do we behold Him in our heart as He really is – or as our selfish, puny minds want to see Him? The whole world belongs to Jesus, who is the center of Holy Week, and who shares with the Father and the Spirit the work of creating and keeping the world. Do we behold our King as such? As the King who has “the Glory”, the power to save us sinners who rebel against Him, to return us straying sheep to His flock by His work as He gives it to us in His Word?
    We behold our King who entered Jerusalem this day to complete that work for us! The donkey colt on which He rode, the palm branches waved before Him, the cloaks put on the road to keep the dust off Him, the people who sang His praises – He made them all! Do we behold Christ Jesus as a kind friend, who by no fault of His own, found Himself in deep trouble? Or as “the King of Glory” who comes to win the war for us?
      II. Serve Him 
    Do you get the imagery in “Lift up your heads, you gates” (v. 7)? Gates don’t have heads and can’t do anything on their own. This means that people at the gates are to ready to open the gates for their king, right? On this Palm Sunday God uses His Word to tell us our King is coming. Are we ready for our King, “the King of Glory”? Yes? Then we will serve Him!
    If, as we said a bit ago, our King has the power to destroy and damn us, do we really want our King to come to us? Yes. Is He going to flatten us like a tank rolling over tiny cars? No! As strange as it seems, His power is precisely why we want our “King of Glory” to come to us sinners. Not to use His power to devour us for our already-admitted sins against Him. But to use His power to cover our damnation-deserving guilt.
    The greatest “Glory” of God is His serious, saving work to rescue everyone from the poison of their sin, resulting death, and eternal hell. The greatest “Glory” of God is His unfailing faithfulness to carry out His plan of salvation so He no longer holds our sins against us. We lift up our heads” to see the King of Glory ride right into Jerusalem, right into the teeth of the hatred and execution Jesus knew lay ahead of Him and would happen to Him by the end of history’s most important week.
    It’s by Holy Spirit-given trust in Christ’s innocent life and death that we “receive blessing from the Lord and righteousness from the God who saves us (v. 5). The King of Glory won’t send us to the hell we deserve. Why not? He suffered it for us.
    Are we ready for our King? Yes? Then we serve Him who came at Christmas to be our Savior, who died Good Friday to remove our guilt, who rose from death Resurrection Sunday to assure us our guilt is gone and we will rise from our graves on the Last Day. We serve Him who sends His Holy Spirit to keep us trusting Him as our King, our Savior, our true way to eternal glory. We happily, joyfully, daily, constantly, generously, faithfully live for Him with “clean hands…pure heart…soul not set on what is false…and as ones who do not swear deceitfully” (v. 4). That covers our deeds, our thoughts, our words, our worship – all our living! That covers our attitudes and actions toward God and toward one another and toward all people.
    Those who don’t want to serve the Savior in all their lives ought to fear “the King of Glory”. Any who say, “I believe in Him!”, but only say that without truly relying on and living for Him ought to fear “the King of Glory”. But we who see and know and love and trust the coming King of Glory as the One who came to take our place want nothing more than to serve Him with all we say and do and think. Are we ready for “the King of Glory”? Or are three more services in the next one hundred sixty-seven hours too much for Him to ask of us? We who trust Him serve Him with everything – including with the priorities we set and the schedules we keep. 
    III. Trust Him
    Hundreds of years before He rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, Jesus had His Old Testament prophet Zechariah and King David describe Him as the world’s coming King. That wasn’t pompous self-promotion, but an accurate picture of Christ’s gracious work to redeem the world. “Who is this King of Glory? The Lord strong and mighty…in battle…The Lord of Armies – He is the King of Glory” (vv. 8,10). The King of Glory defeated the devil by entering our world to pay for our sins. His glory was hidden when He was on earth – hidden except to the eyes of faith. Are we ready for our King? We trust Him!
    You understand the dynamics of what was going on the first Palm Sunday, don’t you? Jews from all over were heading into Jerusalem for the greatest week of their year, Passover week. Jesus joined them. As He rode into town Sunday, He was praised as the people’s King. But by that Friday some of the same mouths shouted for His execution! How could they? Many Jews were looking for a different kind of king – one who would make Israel a political power again, one who would restore her military might, one who would rout the dreaded Romans who ruled their land.
    Against that background we measure our Holy Week attitude. “Who is this King of Glory?” Are we trusting the King of Glory on His terms, His eternal work to save us by our King taking on Himself what His subjects deserve? Or do we want to shape the King of Glory into what we think He should be and do? Wouldn’t it be great if Jesus did something this week to settle the war in Ukraine, to bring us better weather, to reduce food prices, to rid the world of dementia and heart trouble and senseless shootings? No! Not if that meant He doesn’t pay for the sins of the world! What good would it do us to trust a god who takes care of ills in this world, but does nothing about our relationship with Him in this world – and in the next?
    Are we ready for “the King of Glory” and all He will endure for us this week? We see the salvation, assurance, forgiveness, life, and heaven in what He suffered that holiest week in history. We trust the work He did that week, as He gives us the blessings of His work through the good news in His Word and in His Supper to us communicants Thursday evening. We serve Him as we live thanks to Him for all He’s done to deliver us from what we deserve. We behold Him as “the King of Glory” even when Holy Week events are ugly and gory, when hell itself is loaded on His sinless soul at the cross…for us.
    Are we ready for the King? Our “King of Glory” is coming to save us by His suffering, then His rising, for us!     Amen.
    Pastor David A. Voss
    Fifth Sunday in Lent - We Have Perfect Spiritual Security
  • Fifth Sunday in Lent

    March 26, 2023
    Hymns                         913,   846,   668,   502
    First Reading              2 Kings 4:17-37
    Psalm                          130
    Second Reading          Romans 8:11-19
    Gospel                        John 11:17-27,38-45
    Romans 8:11-19
    We Have Perfect Spiritual Security
         I. Because God has adopted us
    II. Because God will glorify us
    In the name of Jesus, who died that we might live forever with Him in heaven, fellow heirs of eternal life through faith in Him,
    For ninety years it’s been a great plan. Workers pay in to a federal fund. Portions of the fund are sent regularly to retired workers who paid in to the plan. Recent estimates show Social Security income is guaranteed in full until 2034, and after that at a slightly reduced rate – unless changes are made to secure full payments beyond eleven years from now. What will Social Security be like in eleven years? We don’t know. Systems set up by governments and businesses will always have question marks. And such nagging questions lead to some anxiety.
    The Word of God delivers security made in heaven by the One who owns the universe and paid for every sin. God’s security plan isn’t one that should work if everything falls into place. God’s security isn’t really a plan. God’s security is the reality He carries on in us each second. God makes His spiritual security ours! We have perfect spiritual security – perfect because God has adopted us and perfect because God will glorify us.
      I. Because God has adopted us

    We can pick what flavor juice to drink tomorrow morning, what television show to watch tonight, which shoes to wear this afternoon. But none of us picked parents. We didn’t go up to a husband and wife to say, “I’ve read your records and watched you for some time. I like you! And I pick you to be my parents!”
    None of us picked the Lord’s family to live in, either. Truth is, we weren’t even born naturally into His family. We entered life sinful by nature and belonged to the devil and had no power or desire to change that damned reality.
    But that doesn’t mean the Lord wanted nothing to do with us. You know and trust what He had in heart and promised on earth and did in Christ to give us perfect spiritual security. His is the security we see so vividly this Lent season and will celebrate so joyfully in two weeks as Resurrection season starts.
    We have perfect spiritual security because God in love sent His Son to take our place. Not just anyone could carry out that rescue mission. Only Jesus could – and did! Not a parent urging us to trust Jesus. Not a spouse begging us to hear about Jesus. Not even we deciding it is time to turn our life over to Jesus. The one who raised Christ from the dead will also make you alive through His Spirit, who is dwelling in you” (v. 11). God put His security in us by bringing us to trust Christ.
    We who have perfect spiritual security “by the Spirit” react to having that perfect spiritual security by “putting to death the actions of the body” (v. 13). That’s not like trimming the fat off the edges of a delicious steak. That’s driving a stake into the heart of our sinful nature. That’s not a one-time execution tried by saying, “Get out of here, sin, and don’t come back!” That’s a daily drowning of the Old Adam, the drowning the Spirit works by terror we have angered the holy God, and by trust that turns us sinners to Christ alone for pardon and life.
    God here lists only two possibilities for one’s relationship with Him: “slavery” (v. 15) or “sons” (v. 14). There’s nothing in between. The Romans who first read this letter knew “slavery”. All wealthy families had obedient slaves. But how obedient? And why obedient? Slaves obeyed only what they were ordered to do. And slaves obeyed so they’d not be punished.
    Children who give thanks to the Lord for the blessings He gives them through their parents lovingly obey and gladly listen to their parents. Children who give thanks to the Lord for the blessings He gives them through their parents don’t obey their parents because they fear punishment, but because they love their parents who love them so dearly.
    Which describes our lives? Slaves or sons? You did not receive a spirit of slavery so that you are afraid again, but you received the Spirit of adoption as sons of God” (vv. 15,14). How could we, who began life in Satan’s grip and not in God’s kingdom, now be in God’s family? Not our choice, but God’s! He adopted us as “sons”, which here doesn’t refer to gender, but to a close relationship with rights to an inheritance.
    By the Spirit we call out, ‘Abba, Father’” (v. 15)! That’s the talk of a tiny child. The first sounds by Jewish babies then were the same as the first sounds by American babies now, something like “Ab, ab, abba”. The Jews used that sound to make “Abba” the Hebrew word for “Father”.
    That’s the language of security. When a little one wanders from her parents for a minute at Meijer, what does she do when she sees her mom in the next aisle? She runs to hug Mom tightly and say loudly, “Momma!”, an exclamation of security now that she’s safely with Mom again. That’s how it is living in perfect spiritual security with God, the One who adopted us. When things are caving in on us, we run in prayer to our gracious Father, confident and secure in His care for us. When we stray in sin from Him, we run to Him who adopted us and beg, “Abba, Father, I’m lost without You! Forgive me for Jesus’ sake, and by Your Word keep me close to You!”
    When it comes to Social Security, we aren’t allowed to look into the federal reserves to see how much money is in there. But when it comes to our spiritual security, we look into God’s Word to see how rich we are! We don’t rely on our feelings about God because our feelings are as up and down as spring temperatures in Michigan. Instead, “The Spirit Himself joins our spirit in testifying that we are God’s children” (v. 16).
    When Satan tries to drive a wedge between us and God, he often uses his tool labeled Doubt to move us bit-by-bit away from God. The Holy Spirit speaks to us from His Word, reminds us daily what He did in us at Baptism, works in us communicants through His Supper – all to tell us, “You have perfect spiritual security because I have adopted you as my own!”
    It's not feeling close to God or far from God that makes a sinner a child of God or enemy of God. It is trust in Jesus worked by the Spirit that makes us God’s own. When we adopted children of God doubt our security, we run to God’s good news about the payment Jesus made to win perfect spiritual security, the payment which is the basis for God adopting us.
    II. Because God will glorify us
    A neighbor asked the birth dates of two boys whose family just moved next door. “We’re both seven,” one said. “I was born June 8, and my brother was born June 23.” The man replied, “That’s impossible!”. The boy said, “No, it’s not. One of us was adopted right after birth. But we don’t know which one. We asked Mom and Dad, but they say, ‘We love you both the same so it doesn’t matter!’” Wow! What security!
    We have perfect spiritual security. God “adopted us as His sons” to give all sinners – male and female, young and old, rich and poor – the greatest inheritance, the way a Bible-era father gave the firstborn son the largest inheritance. We have perfect spiritual security because God will glorify us.
    As little ones grow into young people, they often become a little critical, especially of their family. “We live a boring life! Nothing exciting happens here! My parents don’t let me do what I want!” When young people enter their mid-twenties or become parents themselves, they see things differently. Parents do what they do to make their children secure in life now and for their role as  adults and parents in the next generation.
    Even more so, our great and gracious God! He gives us perfect spiritual security for life now and forever. Since we are children, we are also heirs – heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, since we suffer with Him, so that we might be glorified with Him” (v. 17). Some adult children await security to come from an inheritance they’ll receive when their parents die. God’s Son became our Brother to die and win for us the eternal inheritance of life with Him in heaven. Living as God’s children will bring us ridicule from those who don’t trust God. But we don’t let any such “suffering” rob us of our joy or security. We keep living as children of the living God.
    We “conclude that our sufferings at the present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed `to us” (v. 18). What security the early believers in Rome found in that truth. They were persecuted for their trust in Christ crucified and risen as the payment for every sin, as the ticket to heaven for all sinners, as the promised Messiah. Did they wonder, “If persecution is the result of holding to Christ, is it worth it?” No, they didn’t! “Our sufferings at the present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us (v. 18) when we enter glory with Christ! It is worth it!” That’s the perfect spiritual security we have from God who will glorify us forever there after our troubles here.
    Will Social Security survive? Is there financial security for the future of today’s younger generation? What lies ahead? Only God knows. But He hasn’t given any details about any of that.
    That’s okay. We trust what God has given us. He has given us forgiveness in His Son and in His promises to His children. He has given us the gracious adoption as His sons. He has told us He will glorify us forever. What more do we want? What more do we need? We have perfect spiritual security in Him!      Amen.
    Pastor David A. Voss
    Fourth Sunday in Lent - We Live as Children of Light
  • Fourth Sunday in Lent

    March 19, 2023
    Hymns                        576,   537,   706,   517
    First Reading            Isaiah 42:14-21
    Psalm                         27
    Second Reading       Ephesians 5:8-14
    Gospel                       John 9:1-7,13-17,34-39
    Ephesians 5:8-14
    We Live as Children of Light
        I. Powered by the Light
    II. Reflecting the Light
    In the name of Jesus, fellow formerly condemned sinners redeemed by His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death,
    Benjamin Franklin taught his home town about street lighting without saying a word. He hung a lantern outside his front door and lit the wick at dusk each evening. Soon his neighbors put lanterns outside their front doors. Before long much of Philadelphia was lit for a bit each night – to the great delight of many citizens. But that’s not surprising, is it? We don’t need to encourage people to walk in light, right? It's natural!
    But not spiritually natural. We people of the one true God live in His light through faith in Christ and are light in the Lord” (v. 8). But Satan always lurks in the dark like a drug dealer, whispering to us, hoping to lure us with his damning, “Psst! Over here! I have something for you to try! Check it out! See if you like it!” Who here hasn’t often considered the devil’s deceptions about how delicious his ways will taste to us?
    That battle is being fought inside all of us all the time. All of us need the Lord to tell us all the time who we are and how we live. We “are light” and live “as children of light” (v. 8) who are powered by the Light and who are reflecting the Light.
    I. Powered by the Light

    We’ve seen pictures of streets before the pothole crew came through and after, of homes before the remodeling and after, of people before their weight loss and after. Here the Holy Spirit gives us a spiritual before-and-after slide show. You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord” (v. 8). Oh, it’s not that a picture taken right after our baptism would show any visible difference. But we get God’s point.
    You were once darkness”. What else could that metaphor mean than unbelief, rejecting the Savior, and all the disgusting garbage that goes with unbelief? People in the dark can’t see where they’re going. People in the spiritual dark can’t see the only way to heaven, but are headed to hell – the life God describes as “living in the land of the shadow of death” (Isaiah 9:2). The darkness covering the whole planet Good Friday pictured the hopelessness of life forsaken by God as a result of being filled with sin and guilt. It’s what God said through Peter about our natural condition from conception: we had to be “called out of darkness” (1 Peter 2:9). That condition wasn’t choosing to keep the lights off and struggle more than those in the light. It was the horrible reality in which we once lived: “dead in trespasses and sins”, “darkened in our understanding, alienated from the life of God” (Ephesians 2:1; 4:18).
    That was then. But now you are light in the Lord”. What else could this be but faith, trust in the Savior, and all the blessings that come with Him? We now see the way to heaven, which is only through faith in Jesus. He said, “I am the Light of the World. Whoever follows Me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). That is the Son of God sending His light into our hearts by His Word to save us. It’s what God used Peter to call God’s “marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). That isn’t just knowing what unbelievers don’t know. It is the saving reality in which we live now that “God, because He is rich in mercy…made us alive with Christ” (Ephesians 2:4-5).
    How did this change from darkness to light happen? It was not a bit our decision to leave the darkness of unbelief. We loved it there and hated God. We considered ourselves God’s “enemies” (Romans 5:10). It was all God’s work, not at all our plan. It was all God’s Son who kept perfectly God’s commandments for us, suffered fully hell’s punishment for us, and rose triumphantly from death’s grave for us. It was not our strength, but all God’s power in His good news. God “made light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the person of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6). We live as children of light thanks only to the power of God’s Light.
    How do we stay in that light? We don’t walk away from it! We stay where “Christ will shine on” (v. 14) us – in His Word. We “live as children of light” by staying awake” (v. 14), not sleepy, in our lives with God, lives powered by His Light. 
    That’s how others stay in the light, too – or get back to the light. God wants to use us to guide them to His light, or remind them what they give up by not going regularly to the light of our Savior who is “the Light of the World”. Who is there whom we love, whom we know dearly, who needs to get back in the Light of Jesus through the Light of His Word? This season’s special services provide a welcomed opportunity to invite them to get back to, or to see for the first time, the Light!
    II. Reflecting the Light
    Motel 6 ads always ended, “We’ll leave the lights on for you!” This lesson isn’t an ad. But in His Word here the Lord says, “I want My light left on also for others through you!” We “are light in the Lord”, so we reflect the Light.
    That’s not a choice we make about our life. That’s a result of who we are in life: “children of light”. Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth…You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:13-14). He didn’t say, “You should consider being the salt of the earth. Please strive to be the light of the world,” but, “You are the salt of the earth…are the light of the world”. Because God’s children, those who trust Christ alone to save them from the hell they deserve for their sins, “are” light, the children of God – you and I – live “as children of light”.
    Hold it! If Jesus says, I am the Light of the World”, how can He also say to us, You are the light of the world”? How can both statements be true? We reflect His light!
    All week Satan will suggest, “You don’t have to live as a child of light, don’t have to reflect the light of Jesus, all the time!” In these first hours of this week, the Lord, our Light Himself, tells us, The fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness, and truth” (v. 9). Children of light don’t shrug, “I don’t feel like being my Redeemer’s reflecting light right now!” Our life is to be an every moment reflection of our Lord. Ours will be a life of all goodness, righteousness, and truth”. We see those in Jesus. And He wants to see those – and wants others to see those – in us. We are forgiving, honest, joyful, kind, patient, and more as we reflect the Light, our Savior.
    “Try to learn what pleases the Lord” (v. 10) doesn’t tell us to search the world. We “learn” from His Word, then show others, what “pleases the Lord”. That, too, is a beautiful, bright reflection of what the Lord has made us: “children of light”.
    Just as important a part of our reflecting the Light who is our Savior is this: Do not participate in fruitless deeds of darkness. Instead, expose them. For it is shameful even to mention the things that are done by people in secret” (vv. 11-13). We are to be a deterrent against, not a participant in, all that angers the holy God, all that brings no Godly good. We avoid all that. As a police spotlight exposes what some try to hide in shame under cover of darkness, so children of light “expose” sins for what they really are: rebellions against the Light!
    Is that what the Lord sees in us and what the world sees from us? Or does He and does the world see something less brilliant from us? On October 14 much of America will have the sun blocked by the moon in the middle of the day – a solar eclipse, a spectacle in the heavens, we’ll be told. But it’s no thrilling spectacle when, in our lives, there is even a bit of a spiritual eclipse, when we who are “children of light” let something or someone block our reflecting the light of the Savior in our life and our attitudes. Let there be no dimming of our reflecting the Savior who loves us sinners so much He let sinners nail Him to the cross, where the full force of the hell we deserve for every sin was poured over Him who had no sin. We “are light”, so we let nothing cast a shadow over our reflecting Jesus who rose from His grave to assure our salvation.
    This appeal to live God’s way isn’t to help us become acceptable to Him. It is to show God’s light with our lives as sinners who through faith in Christ have already been accepted by God for the Savior’s sake. In love and thanksliving for what Jesus has done for us, we reflect God’s will in all we do and think and say – and in all the evil we refuse to do and think and say.
    Do you know how this season of the Church Year got its name? Lent is an old English form of lengthen. It refers to the fact that daylight lengthens this time of year. What Jesus did with His suffering and death in our place, and what we see in His suffering and death in our place, is more than daylight; it is the “light” of salvation! Thanks to Him we are “children of light”! Powered by Him we “walk”, we live, as children of light! Reflecting Him we show what a difference Jesus, who is the Light, makes in life – our life and the life of others!      Amen.
    Pastor David A. Voss
    Third Sunday in Lent - Jesus Gives Us Living Water
  • Third Sunday in Lent

    March 12, 2023
    Hymns                      526,   703,   893: stanzas 1,10,3,4
    First Reading            Exodus 17:1-7
    Psalm                       95
    Second Reading       Romans 5:1-8
    Gospel                      John 4:5-26
    John 4:5-26
    Jesus Gives Us Living Water
     I. We need it
     II. We drink it
    In the name of Jesus, the sinner’s only salvation, fellow sinners redeemed by His holy life and innocent suffering and death,
    A person can survive several weeks without food, but only two to five days without water. That’s true because the human body is more than sixty percent water. The human body, God’s creation, needs water to eliminate waste from the body, control the temperature of the body, move nutrients through the body, and to digest food for the body. Water is essential for the body. Without it, people die. That’s serious.
    Even more serious is this. Sinners die forever without “living water” (v. 10), the forgiveness of sins won by Jesus. We are sinners, so we need the living water. And we think we drink the “living water”. But so did this woman who explained she was very religious, then was exposed by the Savior as being worse than spiritually dehydrated. To sinners, even daily to sinful believers in Him, Jesus gives His “living water” – water we need and water we drink.
     I. We need it

    In the verse right before our lesson we read, Jesus had to go through Samaria” (John 4:4). It’s not that the only road from where He was (Judea down south) to where He was going (Galilee up north) went right through Samaria. No, Jewish travel intentionally bypassed Samaria, central Israel. It’s not that there was any danger there, but that Jews considered Samaritans unclean. That’s why Jews went well out of their way to steer clear of Samaritans. Our Savior had to go through Samaria”, not to see the sights or to save time, but to save the soul of a Samaritan He knew He’d meet at the well there.
    Most of what the Son of God said to the woman is easy to understand. But don’t overlook the truth behind the Word-of-God pictures Jesus drew for her as she drew water. He showed her the need she had, but didn’t realize, for His “living water”.
    Jesus began the conversation by asking the woman for a drink of water. The Redeemer’s request made her curious. Though she didn’t recognize Jesus, she could tell by His accent He was a Jew. And she knew “Jews do not associate with Samaritans” (v. 9). Having gotten her attention, Jesus kept the Samaritan interested by talking about the “living water” He had for her.
    Living water? She’d never heard of that. After more of the Word from the Word-made-flesh, Jesus, she realized Jesus wasn’t offering physical water from the well at Sychar – or any other water anywhere else in the world. Her objection, Where do You get this living water? You are not greater than our father Jacob, are You? He gave us this well (eighteen hundred years before) and drank from it himself, as did his sons and animals” (vv. 11-12) – her objection was met by the Savior’s diagnosis, “You need more than any well’s water. Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again. You, and all sinners need the water I give (vv. 13-14), spiritual life.”
    And if she needed spiritual life, it meant she didn’t have spiritual life at the time, meant she was trapped in spiritual death at the time. She came to the well alone. That was odd because the well was where women gathered to visit while drawing water. This woman was an outcast because she lived in sin.
    She tried to hide that from the Jewish Stranger who asked her to bring her husband to the well. “I have no husband” (v. 17), she replied. Then Jesus revealed her sinful lifestyle. “You are right when you say, ‘I have no husband’. In fact, you have had five husbands, and the man you have now is not your husband” (vv. 17-18). The all-knowing Son of God showed her His x-ray of her heart. It revealed lack of repentance. She was comfortable living in adultery. By telling her what no stranger could know about her continuing to live contrary to God’s will, Jesus showed the woman her need for His “living water”.
    We know how she felt, a life of sin exposed. We are sinners, too. Our sins might not be as public as hers (though some who claim to be God’s children still try to justify living together without being married as something acceptable to God). But all sins carry the same sentence: hell. And our sins are just as obvious as hers to God. God Himself could appear right here right now to list every sin we’ve ever done, said, and thought.
    We all slap the Lord in the face with actions, words, and desires He clearly calls sin. We get greedy, itch for more, and aren’t satisfied until we get more. We burn with hatred for others or with lust that is impure. We gossip and say things that harm a person’s reputation. We ignore God’s saving Word and misuse God’s holy name. What can we come up with to quench our spiritual thirst caused by rubbing our filth all over the holy ground of God’s commandments? Nothing!
     II. We drink it
    We need the “living water” only Jesus gives. The “living water” we already know and trust is the forgiveness of sins won only by the life and death of the perfect Savior. Living water” is the unending blessing of eternal life. We know that. But do we take that? Only Jesus gives “living water”. Do we drink it?
    The sinful Samaritan woman finally got it. “Oh! You’re talking about God, religion, worship! Well, then, I do have living water. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain (v. 20), and we still do. We’re still very religious. We still offer sacrifices.”
    Do you know the history of the Samaritans? Jews in northern Israel were attacked by the Assyrian army to the north 722 years before Christ was born. The Jews who survived that assault were allowed to resettle in Samaria, but were joined by Assyrians sent there to keep things under control. Before long, the Jews and Assyrians intermarried. The mixed race of Jews and Assyrians came to be called Samaritans.
    The mixed-race Samaritans developed a mixed religion. The Jews there had worshiped the Lord, the God of their fathers Abram, Isaac, and Jacob. The Assyrians there had worshiped idols. Gradually the Samaritans mixed worship of the true God with worship of false gods. They built a temple on Mount Gerizim, near the well where Jesus gave His “living water” that day. The only part of the Old Testament the Samaritans valued was Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.
    All that was behind Christ’s evaluation of the Samaritans’ religion. “You Samaritans worship what you do not know (v. 22). You know a few promises from God and many sacrifices required by God of Israel. But you don’t see what the faithful Jews in Jerusalem see. All the promises from God and many sacrifices ordered by God point to the one great Gift of God: the Savior and His coming sacrifice to win forgiveness of sins.”
    The Savior also said, Salvation is from the Jews (v. 22). But it’s salvation for all people, you Samaritans included! Salvation is the living water I give! Jews who long for the promised Messiah worship what they know. It doesn’t really matter where one worships. What matters is worshiping God in spirit and in truth (v. 24). You can be extremely diligent with religious ceremonies and services. But if you aren’t deeply repentant for every sin, and don’t desire daily forgiveness from the only true God who will suffer hell for your every sin, you don’t drink living water from God – even if you think you do.”
    What a Teacher! Jesus started by asking the woman for water, then gave her the “living water” only He provides! He said,  “The Savior to whom all the promises and sacrifices point, the Messiah (v. 25) you mentioned? I, the One speaking to you, am He!” (v. 26) Then, drinking deeply from His “living water”, she hurried to town to tell others about the Savior he just met!
    We confess Jesus gives “living water”. Do we drink it? Or drink something else? Much modern religion includes man-made messages from preachers who say what people want to hear, but not all the truths of God’s Word. Hear Jesus say it again: “Those who worship God must worship in spirit and in truth. Those are the kind of worshipers God seeks” (vv.23-24).
    We dare not become smug in knowing, confessing, and trusting the only true God. We dare not go through the motions of worship. Just showing up here does not please God. “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth. God knows our hearts. He wants our “spirit”, our heart of faith, in our worship. Is our heart in our worship? Or do we daydream through part of it? Do we see if we will be entertained by what is said and sung? Our “spirit” is in our worship when we worship with this attitude: Open my heart to hear You, God, as You speak to me from Your Word and give to me Your crucified and risen body and blood in Your Supper!
    God wants His “truth” in our worship, too. His truth hurts. His law is His scalpel to cut out the sin infecting our soul. May we never downplay the “truth” of what God calls sin! His truth also heals. His gospel is His medicine to cure the infected soul. We don’t offer or take any spiritual medicine other than what Jesus gives at His cross as full payment for all sin! Worship that leaves out law or gospel is not worshiping in God “in truth”.
    The “living water” Jesus gives is not just for Sunday morning. It is “a spring of water, bubbling up to eternal life” (v. 14). His work for us and His Word in us don’t stand stagnant like scummy pond water. They produce lives which glorify God in all things! His work for us and His Word in us move us to do what He desires and to share what fellow sinners need. We keep drinking the “living water”, and invite those without it to drink it with us! They and we always need the living water that is Jesus!      Amen.
    Pastor David A. Voss
    Second Sunday in Lent - Lord, Give Us Such a Faith
  • Second Sunday in Lent

    March 5, 2023
    Hymns                      394,   570,   581,   927
    First Lesson              Genesis 12:1-8
    Psalm                        121
    Second Lesson         Romans 4:1-5,13-17
    Gospel Lesson         John 3:1-17
    Genesis 12:1-8
    Lord, Give Us Such a Faith
    I. Trusting Your promises
      II. Acting on Your promises
     III. Spreading Your promises

    In the name of Jesus Christ, the promised Savior, the One on whom our faith rests, fellow faith-filled children of God,
    Faith. A well-known religious leader proclaims, “All faiths offer something to someone.” Lutherans mention faith all the time. But just what is faith? Faith is not another term for religion. And the idea that it doesn’t matter in what or on whom your faith lies, just that you have faith, is silly. If I have faith that what’s left of our last live Christmas tree will all by itself Easter morning turn back into the beautiful Christmas tree it once was, my faith is useless. The power of faith isn’t in the believing. The power of faith is in the one in whom one trusts.
    What faith Abram had! Would you like faith like his? You have it! How? Not because you are famous heroes of faith like Abram. But because your faith is anchored in the same One Abram’s faith was. When we pray, “Lord, give me such a faith as Abram’s”, God answers, “I am giving you such a faith!”
    You don’t feel you have this kind of faith? Well, are you looking for a great faith so you can do great things and become a great person and get great applause? That’s not this kind of faith, friends. The Lord promises to give us a faith that trusts His promises, acts on His promises, and spreads His promises.
    I. Trusting Your promises
    To see the kind of faith God gave Abram, we need to hear the kind of command He gave Abram. “Get out of your country and away from your relatives and from your father’s house and go to the land that I will show you (v. 1). Spend the rest of your life in a place you’ve never been and where you know no one else.” God gave Abram a faith to trust His promise that such a drastic move wouldn’t harm Abram.
    God went on, “I will make you a great nation…bless you and make your name great. You will be a blessing…All of the families of the earth will be blessed in you (vv. 2-3). A huge nation from you, Abram! The Savior for all people from you, Abram!”
    Human reason told Abram, “You’ll never be a blessing to others. You’re seventy-five, so you don’t have long to live!” But his God-given, trusting faith told Abram, “The Lord promised it, so I trust it!” Human reason told Abram, “Why leave where you have it so good? You’re rich! Stay put! Don’t move!” But his God-given, trusting faith told Abram, “The Lord promised it, so I trust it will work out best for me and my loved ones!” Human reason told Abram, “You won’t be the father of a great nation. Will you and your elderly wife, still childless, have a son? Come on, Abram! Don’t be so naïve!” But His God-given, trusting faith told Abram, “The Lord promised it, so I trust it!”
    The Lord gives us the same faith to trust His promises. Let’s be honest. Often our sinful flesh shouts, “Why believe this stuff? It’s just print on a page!” God, give us faith to trust what You say on every page about heaven being open to us sinners through the death for us of Abram’s descendant, Jesus. Often our human reason argues, “Why believe what you can’t see? Have you ever seen God? So why believe in Him?” God, give us faith to trust what You say, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). Often our sinful nature whispers, “Why believe God created all things out of nothing? Why believe the Word used with ordinary water brings infants to faith in Jesus? Why believe Christ’s body and blood are really present in the Supper?” God, give us such a faith to trust all that is so because You say so! “Faith is being sure about what we hope for, being convinced about things we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1).

    How much joy, peace, security, and comfort – especially when death draws near – we have with such God-given, trusting faith! Lord, give us such a faith to trust what we can’t yet see with our eyes or hold with our hands. Lord, give us such a faith to trust it because You have said it and You promise it.
    II. Acting on Your promises
    We miss the main point of this lesson if we don’t see the Lord approached Abram, the Lord initiated everything. Abram did not make the first move to God. But when God filled Abram, God changed Abram. The faith God gave Abram didn’t simply lie on his heart – as Luther said, like foam on beer. The Lord gives such a faith that acts on His promises.
    To see the kind of faith God gave Abram, see the trip on which He sent Abram – a permanent, one-way trip. “So Abram went, as the Lord had told him…Abram took Sarai his wife, Lot his brother’s son, and all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired…They set out to travel to the land of Canaan. Eventually they arrived” (vv. 4-5) there.
    The move was several hundred miles. That’s not a long distance move today. But Abram and Sarai had no phones to keep in touch with relatives, no car for summer visits, no mail or email to send news to and receive news from loved ones. Once they left, ties with the rest of the family were gone.
    Remember, Abram and Sarai had made a fortune in their homeland. They were set for life. To move meant risking robbery by ruthless land pirates who hid along travel routes. And even if the Lord granted them safe travel, they were still taking a chance they might not be as successful in the new land. To their human reason, the move made no sense.
    Abram and Sarai went anyhow. Why? Because “the Lord had told them” to go. The Lord Himself gave Abram the strength to do what the Lord Himself had commanded. With Abram’s faith focused on the certainty of God’s promises, Abram had what He needed: God-given faith to act on God’s promises.
    The Lord gives us such faith to act on His promises. We need such God-given faith when Satan’s helpers suggest, “Why obey God? He’s asking you to make an unreasonable sacrifice when He tells you to get rid of sinful entertainment, plotting against others, not hearing His Word regularly.” God, give us such an acting faith in Jesus who made the ultimate sacrifice, who gave His life for us, who suffered our hell on that hill.
    We need such God-given faith when our sinful flesh tempts us, “Why obey God? The family next door doesn’t make any time for God, yet makes twice the money you do.” God, give us such an acting faith in Jesus to live the contentment that comes from being rich toward You in spiritual matters more than being rich before the world in money matters.
    We need such God-given faith to defy the devil who suggests, “You already have faith in God. You don’t need to change your lifestyle. Do what you want. You trust Christ, so sin, then ask Him forgive you!” We need such God-given faith to trust the change He worked in us when He snatched us from Satan and made us His own! God, give us the sincere faith that confesses, and lives for!, Him who died for us and rose from death. God, give us such a faith to act on Your promises!
     III. Spreading Your promises
    Though the Lord has given us the faith to trust and act on His promises, He’s not done with us. As we read on in this twelfth chapter of His Word and in the rest of His Word, He wants to give us the faith that also spreads His promises.
    What do you do when you get to your destination after a long trip from home? Lie on the hotel bed? Swim in the pool? Check out the area? Hear again what Abram did when their journey was done. He “built an altar there to the Lord” (v. 7). Why an altar? It was a spiritual marker, a visible confession of faith in the Lord who brought them safely to the new land the Lord promised to give to Abram and Sarai’s descendants.
    Then Abram “proclaimed the name of the Lord” (v. 8). Abram preached to and taught his wife, nephew, and workers about the Lord. He conducted worship services, Bible classes, and home devotions. “We give thanks to the Lord who gave us a safe journey to our new homeland. We ask the Lord to continue to grant us good health and Your happiness here. Lord, teach us to trust You for all we need. Lord, grant us growing faith to tell our new neighbors about You and Your promises to save sinners through the Savior You will send from us.”
    “The Canaanites were then in the land” (v. 6). Abram knew those pagan Canaanites would make life difficult for him and his family to settle and serve God there. But God promised to give the land to his descendants, so Abram trusted God. Abram didn’t run when he saw his family outnumbered there.
    Lord, give us such a faith to rely ever more on You and Your salvation for us and all sinners. May we sinners see Jesus, the descendant of Abram, as our Savior. May we show Jesus to others we’ll invite to our Lent and Holy Week services to hear more about You. Lord, give us the faith to see always that You use Your good news in Word and Sacrament to increase our faith, and to equip us to spread Your promises to others!
    What is faith? It’s the hand God gives us to receive faithfully all He’s done for us and promises to us graciously. We can’t get this faith on our own. God plants faith in us. Lord, give us such a faith! How great to know what God will do among us and through us as individual believers, as Godly families, as a congregation and church body by working in us with His promises! Not our act of believing, but His promises produce that faith in Jesus – and produce the works and life that flow from it.      Amen.
    Pastor David A. Voss
    First Sunday in Lent - We Sinners Have a Savior!
  • First Sunday in Lent

    February 26, 2023
    Hymns                        499,   863,   676,   669
    First Lesson              Genesis 3:1-15
    Psalm                         46
    Second Lesson         Romans 5:12-19
    Gospel Lesson         Matthew 4:1-11
    Genesis 3:1-15
    We Sinners Have a Savior!
          I. Shattering news for the devil
         II. Sobering news for the Savior
    III. Saving news for the sinner
    In the name of Jesus, the Seed of the woman, the Savior of the world, fellow redeemed,
    The parent protested, “If I tell him what he did at school was wrong, he’ll think he’s a bad boy and won’t see me as his friend.” The teacher said, “You’re his mother, not his friend!”
    The view of most people about God is like that mother’s view of her role. God is love, they say. God wants me to be happy. True and true! So God is okay with what I do if it makes me happy. False! The all-seeing, all-knowing, all-hearing, ever-present Lord watches from heaven, warns us in His Word about our sins, then warms us from His Word with the Savior.
    What we could never do on our own, what we need above all else, God has done and God has given. We sinners have the Savior we need! This first promise of the Savior was shattering news for the devil, sobering news for the Savior, and saving news for the sinner.
    I. Shattering news for the devil
    This first promise of the Savior wasn’t spoken directly to Adam and Eve. “The Lord God said to the serpent (v. 14), really Satan, who used a snake’s body to deceive Eve. The devil was created a good angel. But he then rebelled against God and was thrown out of heaven with other rebelling angels.
    God gives us the scene in Eden. Adam and Eve cowered before Him as He confronted them with their first sins against Him. Like stubborn children, they had run from their Father, supposing they could be happier and more complete human beings living on their own and disregarding God’s will. For a second they saw Satan as their counselor. They listened to the devil suggest what God had forbidden: eat fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. More on that later.
    God had shattering news for Satan. “There was briefly friendship between you and the woman. She believed your lie that I don’t want what is best for her and Adam. You suggested they turn from Me for a moment and try life your way. They did. And sin entered the world! Unless I do something about sin, Eve and Adam and the whole human race to come from them will live forever with you in darkness, sin, then hell. I will change that. I will put hostility between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed (v. 15). I will rip the disguise of friendship off you and expose you to sinners as what you really are: their darkest nightmare and eternal foe.”
    That “hostility” would be on three levels. There would be bitterness “between you, Satan, and the woman”. There would be enmity between Satan’s “seed” (unbelievers throughout history) and her seed” (believers in the Savior every sinner needs). But most shattering of all for the devil was “hostility” coming to a head in one particular descendant of Eve. “He will crush your head” (v. 15)! Even worse than exposing the devil, God would send the Champion to crush the devil’s power.
    Martin Luther pointed out that with these words the Lord mocked Satan. Since God didn’t identify the exact descendant of Eve – would it be Cain? Abel? Seth? Methuselah? Enoch? Noah? – Satan had to worry each time a baby boy was born. Is this the One who is going to crush my head, my power? Sinners have the Savior! That’s shattering news for the devil.
       II. Sobering news for the Savior
    God came to earth to fight our worst enemy. Not a rival at work or a bully at school. But the prince of darkness. The closing words of the lesson, “and you, Satan, will crush His heel” (v. 15), foretell the war would be grim, bloody work. We sinners have the Savior, and that’s sobering news for the Savior.
    As we see very vividly this Lent season, Jesus didn’t avoid the war with Satan. As He crushed the serpent’s head, the devil crushed His heel”, not a literal wound, but a word picture for Good Friday. Do you know anyone who died from being hit in the heel by a tree limb, a brick, even a bullet? No! Heel” wounds aren’t fatal. Of course Jesus died. But His death was not the end. He rose three days later, just as He said He would. Still, He suffered the most wretched agony and death ever. He was not only rejected by fellow Jews and deserted by friends. He was forsaken by His Father as He hung on the cross and took the punishment of hell for every sin ever.
    The Lord in Eden foretelling the Savior is the first promise of the Savior. God came from heaven to earth knowing the damningly difficult and hell-to-pay assignment that is the Triune God’s plan to rescue sinners even before time began.
    Sin isn’t easily removed by God waving a wand or saying a divine Abracadabra. Defeating the prince of hell and rescuing the world of sinners from hell is the greatest miracle ever. Rescuing the world cost Christ His life and put hell on Him! He made the payment of hell we all deserved. That sobering news for the Savior is on display prominently this Passion season.
    III. Saving news for the sinner
    Russia invaded Ukraine one year ago this weekend, but the conflict continues without Russia really gaining any territory they covet. How long will the conflict last? The “hostility” foretold in Eden would have a clear-cut, decisive winner. We have that winner, the Savior. This is saving news for us sinners.
    To many it seems silly to make a big deal of the sin by our first parents. So what if Eve and Adam took a piece of forbidden fruit? Kids sneak cookies all the time. It. Was. Not. About. The. Fruit! God used that tree and His prohibition about its fruit to give Adam and Eve a way to live thanks to Him for all He had given them – created in His image, the perfect world, unlimited love and joy. By thinking about, then doing, what God had forbidden, Adam and Eve were in effect saying, “Maybe God hasn’t told us everything we need to know. Maybe there’s even greater happiness to discover and experience.” That was the deceiving, damning lie the devil told Adam and Eve.
    They sinned already by desiring what was forbidden. Their sin broke up God’s family and chained sinners to the devil. And look at the results! For the first time ever, they felt shame in their nakedness and no longer directed their sexual impulses only to their good and God’s glory. They felt fear. They tried to hide from God, blamed each other. Adam even blamed God. God, the woman You gave to be with me…gave me the fruit (v. 12), so it’s at least a little Your fault!” What insolence!
    What grace, then, for Adam and Eve to have God seek them out, then hear God tell Satan, “The Promised Descendant of the woman will crush your head, break your hold on sinners.” A snake with its head crushed has lost its power to harm. The first promise of the Savior is saving news for us and all sinners!
    Satan still whispers, “God wants you to be His religious slaves. He doesn’t care if you’re happy or not. I want you to do whatever makes you happy. Go ahead and disobey God. If you want to return to Him later, you can do so. Just try it my way for a while.” When the devil whispers, we hear the Savior shout, “The devil is a liar and the father of lying” (John 8:44). We trust the perfect life and innocent death of Jesus. He defeated the devil. He frees us from Satan’s control.
    Connected to that saving news for us sinners is who we sinners are in the promised Savior. When the devil succeeded in getting Adam and Eve to view themselves as their own bosses, and God as an unfair dictator, Satan planted his evil nature in them. It is not true that people now, like Adam and Eve at creation, are created in God’s image. What is true is that we began life with a sinful nature, and we will keep it until death. But brought to faith in the Savior and His work to redeem the world, God’s image has been partially restored in us, and we desire to serve Him. That is the spiritual identity the Savior gives those who trust Him alone for salvation. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Because the Savior has broken Satan’s power over us, we are free to live for God now on earth, then live with God forever in heaven.
    Does this promise of the Savior seem strange, especially for a service in Lent? It doesn’t mention Christ by name. It doesn’t directly declare what His work would be and how He would “crush” the devil. This first promise of the Savior used picture language, which makes it seem a bit vague. But the fulfillment is perfectly clear! At Calvary, Christ “crushed” Satan’s power. 
    Satan didn’t find this promise difficult to understand. When he learned the Savior was to come from Abram’s descendants, the devil concentrated his efforts on making trouble for the children of Israel. Despite the devil’s damning efforts, he did not derail Christ from coming. Jesus came to earth, knowing full well what He would suffer here. What love! What a Savior! What certain salvation we sinners have in Him!
    More than an end to senseless gun violence, more than new lodging for hundreds of thousands displaced by the earthquake in Turkey, more than a cure for cancer, sinners need the Savior to rescue them from the hell they deserve. He has been sent! He has won! He calls us to trust in Him and to live for Him because He lived and died and rose to save us.      Amen.
    Pastor David A. Voss
    Last Sunday after Epiphany - The Transfiguration of Our Lord - The Savior Reveals the Glory
  • Last Sunday after Epiphany - The Transfiguration of Our Lord

    February 19, 2023
    Hymns                        522,   388,   383,   389
    First Lesson              Exodus 24:9-18
    Psalm                         2
    Second Lesson         2 Peter 1:16-21
    Gospel Lesson         Matthew 17:1-9
    Matthew 17:1-9
    The Savior Reveals the Glory
      I. Of His person
    II. Of His power
      III. Of His purpose
    In the name of Jesus Christ, the Savior, fellow redeemed,
    After Monday night’s senseless shootings at MSU, a politician said, “What good does it do to pray? The God to whom many pray must be awfully weak if He didn’t see this coming and use His supposed power and glory to stop it.” How do we, who do pray to the only true God, respond? We say, “God reveals His power and glory in ways we don’t expect, but always need. His way is not to prevent every tragedy; people will die either suddenly or slowly until He returns on the Last Day. God rather reveals His power and glory as He saves all sinners!”
    Here, Jesus used sights Peter, James, and John had not yet seen to show them more about Him. “Six days” (v. 1) earlier Peter confessed about Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). But moments later, when Jesus spoke solemnly and clearly of going to Jerusalem soon to suffer, die, and rise, Peter blurted, “Never, Lord! This will never happen to you” (Matthew 16:22)! At times Peter forgot who Jesus is, the power He has, the reason He came.
    Sadly, we sometimes set that aside, too. We view Jesus as a friend, teacher, counselor, but nothing greater. That view of God is only for this life, like the politician in Lansing blasting God for not stopping the shooter. We watch and listen to this lesson of His transfiguration where Jesus, on the mountain with His disciples, and in His Word with us disciples, reveals the glory of His person, of His power, and of His purpose.
    I. Of His person
    The Savior “was transfigured” (v. 2). The Greek word here is one we carry into English as a scientific term, metamorphosis. But His wasn’t a slow, months-long process like a caterpillar becoming a butterfly, or a tadpole a frog. This Savior’s transfiguration was instantaneous and glorious! “His face was shining like the sun. His clothing became as white as the light” (v. 2). Why? To take on the appearance of the true God that Jesus ever was, is now, and always will be!
    Jesus didn’t use that moment to become God or to say He is true God. He had proved that with His many miracles and had said that often to the Twelve. But on that mountain Jesus allowed the splendor of His divine nature to shine. He did so to  show He is true God, even as He is true man. God and man in one person is the Savior revealing the glory of who He is.
    This display of His glory was not just for three disciples. It’s for us disciples, too. Jesus wants us to see Him as our glorious Savior. The One who came to be the Savior needed to be true man to keep His law and die our death in our place. We see Him as true man in His birth of a woman, His thirst and hunger, His suffering and pain, His crucifixion and death. But the One who came to rescue us from forever in the hell we bring on ourselves with our sins needed also to be true God to keep the law perfectly for us and to die that death to cover our guilt.
    This is the Jesus we’ll see in heaven. Isn’t this the same Savior  revealed in Revelation? “Clothed with a robe that reached to His feet, and around His chest He wore a gold sash. His head and hair were white, like white wool or like snow. His eyes were like blazing flames. His feet were like polished bronze being refined in a furnace” (Revelation 1:13-15). The Savior here reveals the glory of His person as man and God.
    II. Of His power

    On the mountain that day a “bright cloud” (v. 5) appeared and enveloped Jesus, the disciples, Moses and Elijah. It wasn’t to confuse them then or us now. Clouds are dark or puffy or thick or wispy; never “bright”. This cloud was miraculously unusual. It was God appearing to man, revealing the glory of His power.
    This wasn’t the first time God had appeared to man in a cloud, was it? He led the Israelites out of Egypt and to the Promised Land as a pillar of cloud by day. He came down in a cloud to receive from the high priest once a year the sacrifice made on the Day of Atonement. That God chose to appear as a “bright cloud” that day points to the power the Son of God possesses.
    That God the Father spoke so lovingly about His Son from the “cloud” also reveals the power the Savior has. “This is My Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased. Listen to Him” (v. 5). That’s exactly what the Father said about the Son three years earlier at the Son of Man’s baptism when Jesus began His earthly ministry, the baptism that showed the Savior’s willingness to do what was necessary to redeem and save sinners.
    This is beyond human reason. Here is God talking about God, the truth grasped only by faith: God reveals Himself to be one God in three distinct persons. The power to save the world lies in God the Son, here approved by His Father as the one “with whom the Father is well pleased”. Jesus had the power of God resting in Him as true God, had the approval of God the Father working with Him for God’s mission to deliver the world.
    “Listen to Him”, says the One who has all authority and power in heaven and on earth. “Take His Word to heart!”, says the only true God. Sadly, few have time for Him, don’t care to hear and heed what He says. The Father tells us, too, today, “Listen to Him when He says, ‘I am the Way and the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me’ (John 14:6). He is the only true Way to life with Me in heaven.” There is no other power for eternal life.
    “Listen to Him”, says the One who loves us so much He sent His only-begotten Son to die for us. Sadly, some who claim to love God want little to do with some of His truth. That’s too confining! That’s not fair! That’s not the way the world thinks!
    The Father tells us, too, today, “Listen to Him when He says, ‘This is love for God: that you keep His commands. And His commands are not burdensome’ (1 John 5:3). Do you really want to rebel against our power and authority? Do you really know better than the Son does, than I do? Do you really mean to say that My way isn’t good, isn’t fair, isn’t current?” There is no other guide for life as God’s child than God’s pure Word.
    We see the Savior reveal the glory of His power on that mountain. We hear our Father in heaven from the “bright cloud” shout His approval of His Son. There is no greater power in all the world. We are blessed Jesus uses His power to save us!
      III. Of His purpose
    Contrary to popular opinion then and now, the Savior didn’t then and doesn’t now come for the purpose of making life on earth comfortable and wonderful. We see that, too, on that mountain. The Savior reveals the glory also of His commitment to the work needed by all, the glory of His purpose
    “Just then, Moses and Elijah appeared…, talking with Jesus” (v. 3). Luke’s Gospel tells us what Moses and Elijah talked about with the Savior. It wasn’t the weather or violence, the economy or politics. It was Jesus fulfilling what He promised through Moses, Elijah, and others: His suffering, death, and rising in the weeks to come. The Savior revealed His purpose.   
    How could Peter, John, and James identify Moses and Elijah? They’d never seen photos or footage of any Old Testament prophets. Jesus was giving His three New Testament disciples a little glimpse of heaven where everyone knows everyone.
    Why were Moses and Elijah chosen? Why not King David and Isaiah or other Old Testament heroes of faith? God doesn’t answer those questions. But their appearance on the mountain proves there really is life beyond the grave. Moses had died. Elijah had left this world, too. Yet there they were talking with Jesus about His mission to be save all people. There was not one way to be saved in the Old Testament and another system set up for the New Testament. Jesus reveals the glory of His purpose: to redeem the world of sinners!
    Some suppose Christ contradicted that purpose when He ordered the disciples on their way down the mountain, “Do not tell anyone what you have seen until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead” (v. 9). That’s no contradiction. It’s a confirmation of His purpose! Jesus knew any premature reports about His transfiguration would further feed false ideas about His purpose. Look at His glory! He’ll use His glory to make our lives easier! That would cloud people from seeing His real purpose. He had come to redeem the world.
    Peter’s idea to put up “shelters” (v. 4) was meant to keep the transfiguration miracle going. But staying here would have kept Jesus from going there: His ultimate purpose on earth. Like Peter, we want life to be full of wonderful experiences on earth, instead of facing the reality that we live in a sinful world as sinful people who deserve death and damnation. All sinners – Moses, Elijah, Peter, James, John, you and I included, needed Jesus to go down that mountain and up that mountain. Here the Savior revealed the glory of His purpose!
    Are we listening to Him? Do we agree with and trust in Him? Jesus won’t make our earthly life nothing but a delightful existence. Better, He has made the sacrifice to pay the price for our life with Him forever. That’s the glory He revealed at His transfiguration: who He is – God and man in one person, what He has – divine power, and why He came – using His person and His power for His purpose, to rescue us.    Amen.
    Pastor David A. Voss
    Sixth Sunday after Epiphany - The Redeemer Reveals Real Righteousness
  • Sixth Sunday after Epiphany
    February 12, 2023
    Hymns                      370,   695,   835
    First Lesson              2 Samuel 11:1-17,26-27
    Psalm                       119A
    Second Lesson        1 Thessalonians 4:1-12
    Gospel Lesson         Matthew 5:21-37
    Matthew 5:21-37
    The Redeemer Reveals Real Righteousness
       I. The perfect righteousness demanded of us
     II. The precious righteousness delivered to us

    In the name of our perfect, precious Savior, Jesus Christ, fellow redeemed who desire to live for Him who died for us,
    As we noted when introducing the service two weeks ago, many misunderstand our Savior’s Sermon on the Mount. They suppose in these three chapters of Matthew Jesus lists what sinners need to do to get to heaven. The Holy Spirit had Matthew write at the beginning of Chapter Five that Jesus speaks here to “His disciples” (Matthew 5:1), people who look to Him as the Savior, trusting the only way to heaven is through faith in His work to live perfectly and die innocently for sinners.
    Jesus is not urging people to do things and live right to earn salvation. He is instructing His followers – sinners who humbly admit they are powerless to save themselves and lovingly look to Him to win their forgiveness and open Paradise to them – is instructing us how God desires the saved to live on earth.
    The Redeemer here reveals real righteousness. The complete teaching of His Word about righteousness is far different than what the sinful world thinks about righteousness, even what some believers think about righteousness. We listen carefully and look diligently at what the Redeemer reveals about real righteousness – the perfect righteousness God demands of us and the precious righteousness God delivers to us.
      I. The perfect righteousness demanded of us
    Most in Jesus’ day assumed the most religious and righteous people anywhere were the teachers of the Jewish law and the Jewish Pharisees. But right before this lesson Jesus had said, “I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and experts in the law, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20).
    Hear the gasps from the crowd on the hillside that day? Listen to the whispers. “If that’s true, how can anyone be saved?! No one keeps God’s laws like the Pharisees and our law experts!”  Those Jewish groups did make a big show of doing what God’s law demanded. But theirs was only an outward obedience. Their obedience certainly didn’t please God. Their interpretation of what God demanded was way too shallow. While they might have kept the letter of God’s law, they failed to say that even sinful thoughts are forbidden, that wicked motives are already transgressions, that evil scheming is just as much sin before God as are the acts which spill out from evil scheming.
    We could spend the rest of the day dissecting these seventeen verses about murder, adultery, divorce, and improper oath-taking. We devote weeks of Catechism classes to the commandments against those sins. I hope you recall what you were taught and will review that regularly. But rather than go through those commands individually today, we take them together as the Redeemer reveals real righteousness, which begins with the perfect righteousness He demands of us.
    Did you notice how the Son of God began each of these four sections? “You have heard that it was said…‘You shall not murder.’…You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’…It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife’…You have heard that it was said…‘Do not break your oaths’” (vv. 21,27,31,33). Then Jesus continued each section, “But I tell you…But I tell you…But I tell you…But I tell you” (vv. 22,28,32,34)?
    What is the Redeemer revealing? Clearly, there’s a difference between what was heard and understood about the commandments and what God teaches and demands in the commandments. Everyone knows it’s a grievous sin against God to murder a person. But doesn’t it hit us between the eyes to hear that, before God, feelings of hatred and words that hurt are just as sinful and serious as murdering a person?
    We know it’s a sin to be unfaithful to one’s spouse. But doesn’t the finger of God’s law point at us, too, when Jesus explains that “adultery” includes dirty desires, lustful looks, sexual jokes, and immoral entertainment? Do we see those  as sins the way we see marital infidelity as sin? God does!
    How many of us carelessly use God’s powerful name as we speak? God, it’s nice outside today! Oh my God, what a bad break! Doesn’t it frighten us to hear God Himself say such unthinking use of His name is sinful because it is unthinkingly asking God to witness to others about the weather or a coincidence? If a matter is serious enough to warrant using God’s great name to convince others we are telling the truth, we may do so. But adding a few God’s to spice up our speech is as serious before Him as is telling a lie after taking an oath in His name! God holds us responsible for all the words we speak.
    Such sins – so often ignored, so seemingly trivial, so frequently brushed off with the chuckle, “Everybody does it!” – are really death-dealing, deserving of eternal punishment in “hell fire” (v. 22). They are as spiritually destructive as are the heinous crimes and destructive scandals reported on the news.
    Hateful thoughts that fester in us spoil the perfect righteousness God demands of us, even if we never say what we’re thinking or act on what our sinful nature wants to do. The leering look at what we see on the screen God condemns as “lust” (v. 28) which pollutes the perfect righteousness God demands of us – even if we never intend to do the naughty things we watch. The cold silence, icy stares, and sarcastic comments we send our spouse’s way defile the perfect righteousness God demands of us – even if we never seriously consider divorce.
    Okay, so we can’t deliver the perfect righteousness God demands of us. So what? “The wages of sin” – even what society and our sinful nature call a little, tiny sin – “is death” (Romans 6:23). To God hatred equals murder. Looking with lust at anyone other than your spouse of the opposite sex is already adultery. Misusing God’s name by saying it without even realizing it is evil. We do all those, don’t we? The Redeemer reveals real righteousness to show how far we’ve fallen short of the perfect righteousness God demands of us.
     II. The precious righteousness delivered to us
    A faithful preacher will use every sermon to preach himself and other worshipers down to hell until we sinners cry, “Lord, have mercy on me!” There’s no problem with that in this lesson, is there? A faithful preacher will also use every sermon to comfort the sinful speaker and listeners with the Lord’s promises of mercy and salvation. But where is the comfort here?
    It certainly isn’t our righteousness. God demands perfection, and our righteousness isn’t perfect. The comfort is only God’s good news. God’s good news needs to be applied to this lesson from other parts of His Word. God’s good news is the truth of what the Redeemer has done for the world. That truth is also righteousness. The Redeemer reveals real righteousness, which is also the precious righteousness delivered to us.
    Righteousness is rightness. Specifically, it’s being right in God’s sight, which we aren’t by ourselves. This part of the Sermon on the Mount makes that painfully clear, doesn’t it? But Jesus is perfectly right, as God for us. He did what we don’t do. “Just as through the disobedience of one man (Adam) the many became sinners, so also through the obedience of one man (Jesus) the many will become righteous (Romans 5:19).
    True, Jesus was nailed to the wretched tree of the cross for us. But it’s just as true – and just as saving! – He kept His holy law for us, in our place, as our Substitute. Equally crucial in Christ’s work to be the Savior was His living under His own law. Not one hateful thought, not one dirty desire, not one wicked work or word. Not one sin in action, word, or motive stained His record for even a second of His thirty-three years on earth. And His perfect record, His precious rightness, becomes ours! On the Last Day we will say, “He lived a perfect life for me!”
    “And He died my death!” “God made Him, who did not know sin, to become sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21). It was our sins for which He suffered. It was our petty little disagreements, even before they mushroomed into fits of rage, for which He made the payment. Will we be too busy to gather in God’s house for the Lent services beginning next week? Not when we rejoice that Jesus made the sacrifice for all our rebellions against Him, enduring damnation for every sin!
    Another Gospel truth ties into this lesson about real righteousness. The love of Christ compels us…One died for all; therefore all died. And He died for all, so that those who live would no longer live for themselves but for Him, who died in their place and was raised again” (2 Corinthians 5:14-15). The power to do what God wants us to do, and to say “No!” to what God forbids, flows from what He has won for us.
    Our lives won’t be perfect until we are home in heaven. But until we are, we strive to do and speak and think and desire only what pleases the One who did all that for us. We do that not to pull ourselves into heaven, but to thank the Redeemer for being our perfect, precious righteousness.
    The Redeemer reveals real righteousness. We are shamed by how frequently we blatantly break and blindly ignore the perfect righteousness He demands of us. But we also trust His precious, saving righteousness He delivers to us.      Amen.
    Pastor David A. Voss
    Fifth Sunday after Epiphany - Be Confident in the Lord's Covenant
  • Fifth Sunday after Epiphany
    February 5, 2023

    Hymns                        373,   630,   821,   375
    First Lesson              Exodus 19:1-8a
    Psalm                         112
    Second Lesson         1 Peter 2:9-12
    Gospel Lesson         Matthew 5:13-20
    Exodus 19:1-8a
    Be Confident in the Lord’s Covenant
     I. A wonderful blessing to us
     II. A great responsibility for us
    In the name of the God who, in love, sent His Son, as promised, to rescue us forever, fellow beloved by the Lord,
    Some contracts aren’t worth much. How about some of the service contracts you’ve read? They contain hidden clauses and confusing phrases in tiny print, making the service agreement difficult to understand and practically impossible to use.
    This lesson is about a contract – God’s contract with His people. Here it’s called a “covenant” (v. 5). But it’s the same as a contract, an agreement between two parties. Will God ever break His end of it? Does He put hidden clauses and phrases in it to trip us up later? Never! God’s covenant is for our confidence, not confusion. Be confident in God’s covenant – a wonderful blessing to us and a great responsibility for us.
     I. A wonderful blessing to us
    The Lord made His special “covenant” with the children of Israel at Mount Sinai. He summoned Moses, His chosen leader for His chosen people, to meet with Him on the mountain. The region was familiar to Moses. Not even one year earlier Moses had been tending sheep of his father-in-law Jethro right there when Moses saw and heard something amazing.
    Remember? Moses saw a bush on fire, but it wasn’t consumed by the fire. He heard a voice speaking to him from the burning bush. It was the Lord telling Moses, “Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy ground…When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will serve God on this mountain (Exodus 3:5,12).
    God kept that promise. He had led Israel to that “mountain”. God wanted His people to know He was faithful to His promise and to be confident in His promise. It was a wonderful blessing for them to be free from Egypt and headed to the land God had promised to give them!
    The Lord said, “You have seen what I did to the Egyptians” (v. 4). He had sent plagues: water turned to blood; frogs, gnats, and flies all over the place; dead livestock, festering boils; horrendous hail that stripped the fields, then grasshoppers that ate any crops left standing; thick darkness for three days; finally, the firstborn Egyptian males dead. In all of that God said, “Be confident in Me! I will continue to protect you!”
    “You have seen…how I carried you on eagles’ wings” (v. 4). A mother eagle builds her nest in a protected place and defends her eaglets fiercely. She uses her huge wings to shade her babies from sun. When her little ones to learn to fly, she cruises just beneath them lest they fall during their first flights.
    Hadn’t the Lord done the same for Israel? He protected her during the hot, hard times under Egyptian taskmasters. He led her as a pillar of cloud by day and of fire by night. He had them safely cross the dry bed of the Red Sea – two million men, women, children, babies, elderly – then drowned every pursuing Egyptian soldier by making the walls of water wash over them. He gave them manna each morning and quail each evening, no small feat for so large a nation, then water in that barren region from an unlikely source – a rock! He gave them victory in a battle, though she had no trained military yet, having Israel prevail as long as Moses’ arms were raised. “Be confident in Me! I’ll continue to do all this and more for you!” What a wonderful blessing God’s “covenant” was to Israel!
    But there was an “if” (v. 5) in His covenant with Israel. “Now if you will carefully listen to My voice and keep My covenant, then you will be My special treasure out of all the nations” (v. 5). In order for God’s promise of protection and blessing to hold, Israel had to obey. More about that in a bit.
    This covenant made at Sinai, with its hundreds of laws, was meant for just one people, Israel, and for a limited time, until the Savior came from them. Of all those laws only the unchanging will of God, summed up in His Ten Commandments, applies to all people of all time, including you and me.
    But we do have a covenant with God, one in which we are to be very confident. It was made at another time, in another place, for another purpose. When the faithful Jew was distressed at his failure to keep God’s laws given through Moses on Sinai, the Lord wanted him to turn to the covenant, the promise, the agreement made with Abram much earlier, already made in Eden the evening of the first human sin. That covenant, of course, is the promised Savior from sin.
    The Lord kept that covenant, too! He repeated it over and over through the four thousand years from Eden to Bethlehem. Then He fulfilled it when the Messiah was born in humility, lived in perfection, died our death, and rose from the dead. Jesus is the fulfillment of the covenant that saves us.
    The “covenant” with Israel at Sinai was two-sided – both God and man had obligations to fulfill to keep it in force. That covenant made with Adam and Eve and Abram and meant for every sinner ever is completely one-sided. There is no “if” in the Lord’s covenant of salvation. There are no conditions for us to meet. The Lord does it all. What a wonderful blessing!
    Be confident in the Lord’s covenant! As great as were all the mighty miracles He worked to keep Israel safe on the way to, and in her conquering of, the Promised Land, the covenant the Lord has made to save every sinner ever is far greater! It’s not enough for us to be kept out of harm’s way for this life. What really matters is being God’s forgiven children for eternal life! The covenant we have with the Lord gives us that!
    We need not wonder where we stand with God or question whether we are forgiven. We are confident in the Lord’s covenant with us because all is done and heaven is won for us! That is written with the blood of Jesus in the Lord’s covenant with us, His promise to us, His wonderful blessing for us!
     II. A great responsibility for us
    “You are” (Matthew 5:13,14), Jesus said. Then He added, “So be!” God doesn’t want us sitting like sponges simply soaking up His blessings, but doing nothing else. We don’t need to earn God’s blessings. But He does desire grateful living from His redeemed people. The Lord made that clear to Israel in the covenant He established with them at Sinai. He makes that clear to us, too. We are confident in the Lord’s covenant, one that carries a great responsibility for us.
    The Lord told Israel, “If you will carefully listen to My voice and keep My covenant…you will be My kingdom of priests and My holy nation” (vv. 5-6). That was a great honor and a great responsibility. Christ is the great High Priest who went before the Father to make full payment and to beg full forgiveness for sinners. Old Testament priests would go before God for the people. But how could all Israel serve as “priests”? By going between the Lord and others, not to pay for the sins of foreigners, but to take God’s promise of salvation to them.
    “You will be…My holy nation” (v. 6). In Scripture, “holy” can mean set apart. God’s people were to be different, set apart from how others lived. The unique laws God gave Israel at Sinai dealt with diet and dress, hygiene and holidays, worship and the work week to set Israel apart from others. They were to be completely dedicated to the Lord in everything.
    But dedicated to Him for the right reasons! God didn’t want a forced obedience, “If You say I must, I will!” The Lord began His covenant with Israel by reminding the chosen nation how much He had done for her. “Keeping in heart My many miraculous blessings to you, here is how you may say, ‘Thank You’ to Me.” That’s the attitude of gratitude with which the Jews were to approach their side of this “covenant” with God.
    They did, at first. “All the people answered together, ‘Everything…the Lord has said, we will do’” (v. 8a). But forty days later those same Jews made a calf-god of gold and worshiped it! That was the first of many Jewish violations of this covenant. They had quickly changed from shouting joyously, “We want to serve You, Lord!” to grumbling sinfully, “We’ll serve You, God, some of the time. But we aren’t happy about it!”
    The Lord hasn’t given us the long list of laws He gave the Jews who lived to the time of the Sacrifice. Now that the Savior has come, God expects us to be more spiritually mature than the Jews before Jesus arrived and finished His work to buy sinners back from Satan. The Lord wants us to look at what happened at the cross and realize, “How richly God has blessed me!”
    The Lord desires the same loving, willing obedience to Him that He desired from Israel. We are confident in that covenant completed at Calvary. It’s a wonderful blessing to us. But it’s also a great responsibility for us. Like Israel, we too are His “kingdom of priests and His holy nation”.
    Will we say, “Lord, please forgive my sins for Jesus’ sake, but don’t ask me to share Your Word with others, to go between them and You with Your promises to save”? We will tell others what the Lord has done to give them and us life forever.
    Will we say, “Lord, keep me Your child forever, but don’t expect my life to be different than the life of my friends. I want to have the same fun they do”? Then we’d be making our own golden calf and worshiping the way we want.
    Will we say, “Lord, I’ll obey You, but I won’t enjoy it”? That isn’t being confident in that covenant God has made with us. To rejoice in all He’s done to save us and in all His promises to us, we gladly do and say and think all He wants from us.
    We are confident in God’s covenant, fellow sinners saved by His death! It’s a contract unlike any other. God’s covenant with us is signed and sealed with His Son’s blood. That covenant is our salvation. It’s also our motivation until we enter heaven!      Amen.
    Pastor David A. Voss
    Fourth Sunday after Epiphany - Only God's Will Works
  • Fourth Sunday after Epiphany
    January 29, 2023
    Hymns                      372,   563,   386,   923
    First Lesson              Zephaniah 2:3; 3:11-13
    Psalm                       1
    Second Lesson        1 Corinthians 1:26-31
    Gospel Lesson         Matthew 5:1-12
    1 Corinthians 1:26-31
    Only God’s Will Works
            I. In what He chooses
    II. In what He uses
    In the name of the only Savior, Jesus Christ, fellow redeemed,
    Sinful humans express their will with votes for candidates and proposals, with shouts from the back of the vehicle about KFC or Culver’s, with eye rolling at the TV show the parents chose. Three times in six verses here the Spirit had Paul write, “God chose” (vv. 27-28). That is God expressing His will, His way.
    Many people suppose religious truth, like political and fast food and family TV choices, is set by what most people think or want – or both. Shouldn’t churches and church bodies shift teachings and doctrines to meet what most worshipers think or want – or both? If a teaching of Holy Scripture is so different from the way things work in the world, shouldn’t the world’s ways win the day in how the Bible is presented? Isn’t the majority of the church customers, er, members, always right?
    No! There is only one ultimate authority in the world, whether sinners acknowledge the Lord God’s authority or not. Even if every sinner were to vote God’s way of doing things is not the best, that wouldn’t change God’s will and way of doing things. God’s will is always right, always best, always perfect.
    There were serious differences and strong opinions in the church at Corinth which first received this letter. Who was right? Who was wrong? Only God’s will would work to settle those differences, not the church members who contributed the most money or had the most influence. That will never change. When it comes to the sinner’s relationship with God, only God’s will works in what He chooses and in what He uses.
    I. In what He chooses

    Smooth magicians and slick pickpockets divert attention. With a big gesture or wave of a cape, a magician slips something out of his sleeve while we’re looking at something else. An apparently innocent bump by a stranger is really timed perfectly so an accomplice can snatch your phone while you regain your balance. Paul wrote as he did here to let us know Satan works the same way, though the stakes are much higher.
    Consider your call to faith in Christ. Not many of you were wise from a human point of view, not many were powerful, and not many were born with high status” (v. 26). Satan tricks sinners into supposing that even in the church and in one’s relationship with God worldly influence counts and works.
    The Corinthian congregation members were foolishly divided over superficial differences in worldly views. Some felt Paul was a wiser scholar than Apollos, and you were only wise if you supported Paul. Others saw Peter as more influential than other church leaders since he had walked with Jesus, and it was thus a “status” symbol to be on Peter’s side. Because few important people from the city of Corinth had joined the congregation, the opinion outside the church was, “That’s a shallow, simple, weak, and unimportant group of people.”
    Erastus, the director of public works in Corinth, was one of the few notable citizens to be part of the Christian congregation there. Almost all the leading citizens of Corinth shunned the Christians there. The people of wealth, city fathers, business owners, deep thinkers, and first families of the city wanted nothing to do with what seemed to them a silly religion peddled by a Jew who had traveled to their city. It seems that some of the church members suggested, “We need to attract more influential, scholarly, notable people to our church!”
    In the business world, that strategy works. Companies pay big money to acclaimed actresses and athletes to pitch their products. But that’s not God’s way or God’s will. He doesn’t choose based on a person’s education, political power, or family ties. If churches make marketing their great priority, what is done with God’s truth? Many in Corinth considered God’s truth one of many religious ideas a person might pursue, but called God’s truth “foolishness” (1 Corinthians 1:18) and thought God’s truth to be what only the uneducated would follow.
    But only God’s will works in whom He chooses. God doesn’t say, “Now that’s the kind of person I want in My family, as a member of My Church, singing My glory!” That would be salvation by our works, not by God’s grace. “God chose” us to be His own through faith in the work of Jesus before we could do anything good for Him. Choosing a little infant? What has an infant done to prove worthy to God? Precisely! God’s “call” to us to trust Jesus as the Savior by the power of His good news about Jesus given with plain water in Baptism, delivered in the Word we read and hear and study, received in the Supper, proves it is His power, His will, His way, His grace, His love.
    In the world, people have to prove themselves worthy before being given a treasure. But only God’s will works in the ones He chooses. “God chose the foolish things of the world to put to shame those who are wise…the weak things of the world to put to shame the things that are strong…the lowly things of the world and the despised things…to do away with the things that are” (vv. 27-28) wise, strong, and great to others.
    When we sinners ask ourselves the really deep questions – Who am I? Where did I come from? Where am I going? How do I get there? – we realize the devil leads many to answers resulting in envy and division, comparison and rivalry. Only God’s will works, and He leads us to marvel and rejoice at His choosing us who’ve admitted again today we’re sinful from conception. It’s not we who earned it. It is God who gave it. Only God’s will works about whom He chooses to be His own.
    II. In what He uses
    How many media influencers, leading entertainers, billionaires, and noted scholars are sin-confessing, Christ-trusting, Bible-reading, church-going Christians? A few, but not many. Does that prove Christianity is a second-rate religion? A spiritual WalMart rather than Saks Fifth Avenue? Not at all!
    God not only “chose” to make a supreme blessing of what the world despises as foolish and weak – the death of the Messiah to pay for the sins of the whole world. God also exposed all worldly wisdom, power, and influence as spiritual foolishness. Only God’s will works in what He chooses and in what He uses.
    What Satan, our sinful nature, and the sinful world suggest is important, God values as nothing in spiritual matters. Why?  So…no one may boast before God” (v. 29). Worldly wisdom, power, and prestige are worthless currency if sinners hope to purchase their tickets to God’s good side. So that no one may boast before God”. Sinners stand before God as weak fools if they try to impress Him by what they’ve done in their lives or with investments. In spiritual matters, we had nothing to offer God as a reason to welcome us, knew nothing to get into His family, did nothing to be right with Him. We couldn’t even take credit for knowing what God has done for us, or for trusting Him to be saved. No one may boast before God”, indeed!
    Then how is it we sing hymns of salvation and praise God in certainty of our salvation? It is “because of Him you are in Christ Jesus” (v. 30). At one time the believers in Corinth had been lost. They had nothing to “boast” of before God, had no eternal joy to anticipate. Then the Lord used His Word from Paul and others, used His Word with water in Baptism by Silas and Timothy, used His Word sent to them in this letter. God used His good news about “Christ Jesus” and His work to give them what they had no power to get in any others, and without which they would perish forever. Only God’s will works in what He uses to bring sinners to Him now and forever.
    The Corinthian believers lost nothing of value when they left behind trusting what others boasted: wisdom, power, honor. They had unending blessings! “Christ Jesus, who became for us the wisdom from God, namely, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (v. 30). We glory in that, too! Those who are joined to Jesus through faith in what He alone has won for sinners receive the blessings He has won.
    As the Corinthian believers then, so we now are dressed in the Savior’s perfection, made God’s people, no longer have our sins held against us by God: “righteousness and sanctification in Christ Jesus”. We look forward most of all not to the next payday or vacation, but to the day God delivers us from all evil and takes us to His heaven: redemption in Christ Jesus”.
    What a blessed exchange! We who had nothing to offer God have everything “in Christ Jesus”. He lived in humility here, then gave up His life to suffer our deserved hell. That’s not the way the world would work the guarantee of life forever. But only God’s will works – even in what He uses to save sinners!
    “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord” (v. 31). Those who trust what Jesus did for sinners, but insist they made a decision for Christ, run into trouble here. They boast about a decision they think they made to reach out and grab Jesus. But even faith in Jesus is God’s work done in us and to us, not our thinking or choosing. Only God’s will works in what He uses!
    God is not teaching us here to refuse to grow in worldly wisdom, claim it’s sin to try to influence others, say it’s wrong to be rich. God’s truth here is that when it comes to who we are on our own, how we sinners are cleansed before Him, what the only ticket to heaven is, then worldly wisdom, power, and influence mean nothing. Only God’s will works in whom He chooses to be His own – sinners like us. Only God’s will works in what He uses to make us sinners His own – the precious blood of His Son and faith worked in us stubborn rebels by His Holy Spirit through His Word and sacrament. It’s only “because of God that we are in Christ Jesus”. That’s foolishness to the world. But only God’s will works! He “chose” us to be His. He ”chose” to use the power of His Son to do so!      Amen.
    Pastor David A. Voss
    Third Sunday after Epiphany - Jesus is the Light
  • Third Sunday after Epiphany
    January 22, 2023
    Hymns                        381,   330,   528
    First Lesson              Isaiah 8:18 – 9:4
    Psalm                         27
    Second Lesson         1 John 2:3-11
    Gospel Lesson         Matthew 4:12-23
    Matthew 4:12-23
    Jesus Is the Light
       I. To show Him as the Savior
    II. To lead sinners to repent
         III. To move His people to serve

    In the name of Him who is the Light of the world, Jesus, fellow souls on whom He shines with His everlasting light,
    Light. There is no life without it. That’s true biologically and horticulturally. That’s also true spiritually and eternally. And what’s just as true is that there aren’t many different spiritual lights to follow, but only one Light who saves sinners.
    What too many had already shrugged off in our Savior’s early earthly ministry, what too many still today yawn about as boring and the same old stuff, is the most important power of all. I know, we way something like that every Sunday here. But we do so because the message about the Savior and from the Savior is the way He shines His “light” (v. 16) on sinners. Jesus, and only Jesus, is the Light to show Himself as the Savior, to lead sinners to repent, and to move His people to serve.
       I. To show Him as the Savior

    Before politicians, comedians, and talk show hosts step from backstage and in front of the crowd, someone warms up the audience and then introduces the speaker. Jesus had someone like that. John the Baptist was called by God to show sinners, “We desperately need the Savior! Here He is: this Jesus  of Nazareth is the lamb of God” (John 1:29)!
    But John the Baptist wasn’t able to proclaim that for long. He had been “put in prison” (v. 12) for daring to tell Herod that Herod’s sexual relationship with a woman not his wife was sin. The Baptist’s imprisonment didn’t turn off the Light. It was time for Jesus to begin preaching publicly, “I am the promised Savior!” Did that get Jesus in trouble, too? Was He in danger of prison? Is that why He left southern Israel, “withdrew into Galilee” up north, “and went to live in Capernaum” (v. 13)?
    No! Christ never ran from trouble. He chose Capernaum because it fit perfectly His mission and His message. Jesus hadn’t come to earth to rub shoulders with the rich and famous, to be treated like a celebrity. He came as true God and true man to be, and to show Himself as, the sinner’s only Savior.
    When He went to the “synagogues” (v. 23), Jesus taught His Word to show sinners He fulfills the prophecies He had given His Old Testament prophets about Himself. His message was the same everywhere: The people dwelling in darkness have seen a great Light” (v. 16), “the gospel of the kingdom” (v. 23). When Jesus used His divine power to heal “every disease and every sickness among the people” (v. 23), His purpose was the same as with His preaching and teaching: to show He is the Light of the world, the Savior from the darkness of sin.
    That Christ made Capernaum His headquarters is vital! It was on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee. It was in the area given by Moses to the Israelite tribes “of Zebulun and…Naphtali” (v. 13). It was considered a backcountry region where lower-class Jews lived, near where pagan temples were used, close to Gentiles. And it was, as we heard in today’s First Reading, a place where God foretold the Messiah would come with His saving “Light” (v. 16). In what Jesus said and did, and where He said and did that, He was shining His saving “Light” to show sinners He is the Savior, their Savior.
    That Light is shining on us right here, right now. This isn’t the same old stuff. This is only saving truth and light and life! But at times we treat it like cheap goods at a dollar store. The Light shines on us in every worship service, Meditations devotion, Bible lesson at His school, classes here, private study of Scripture at home. In all that, the “Light” shows He is the world’s Savior. Boring? Never! The “Light” is shining on us!
    II. To lead sinners to repent

    Some people are sensitive to too much light. All people are sensitive to some of what Jesus the “Light” teaches. His truths are essential for all born of man and woman because we sin against Him. We squirm, like insects under a rock when the rock is turned over, under some of His truth. But we need all His truth because Jesus is the Light to lead sinners to repent.
    Jesus made His headquarters in an area inhabited by poor, uninfluential folks. He did so because He didn’t want to seem interested in only the wealthy, the noble, the famous. He came for all people. But spiritually proud people close the eyes of their hearts to the “Light”. Without Jesus, all are “dwelling in darkness; in the region and the shadow of death” (v. 16).
    We know it’s like to be in the dark. But total darkness? Can’t-see-a-thing darkness? Need-to-be-led-by-the-hand darkness? Many in northern Israel had lost worship of the true God by mixing in worship of idols. Many in southern Israel, too, were “dwelling in darkness” by trusting their keeping God’s laws as the reason they should live with God forever.
    That’s what we were like once, too. We were spiritually blind from our conception and birth, “dead in our trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). We were no more able to find our way to heaven than a blind baby could drive to Detroit. We were no more able to make it to heaven than a dead squirrel could pick its squished self off the road and get safely back up a tree.
    Those who refuse to admit they live in spiritual “darkness” and deserve eternal punishment see no need for the “Light”. But children and adults, students and teachers, those living in poverty or prosperity – all who see they were separated from God at birth – take to heart the Word from the “Light” that leads us to repent. The “Light” preached there and then, and preaches here and now, “Repent!” (v. 17)
    True repentance is worked by the Word of God that is His law, His truth that we offend Him by what we say and do and think, and what we leave unsaid and undone and unthought – all that is contrary to His will He gives in His Word. And there’s more to the law. It also hammers us with the truth we deserve to have the Holy God send us off to suffer forsaken and burn bodily forever in hell. Repentance is the terror of realizing we have spit in the face of the Almighty God, the loving Lord.
    That truth would overwhelm us if the “Light” did not shine on us with “the gospel of the kingdom” (v. 23), His truth that He has made the sacrifice to remove our guilt, forgive us, declare us sinners, “Not guilty!” by His work. His “gospel” also delivers the heaven He died and rose to open to us sinners. Repentance includes trusting that glorious truth about the “Light”!
    “Repent,” the Light tells us. “Turn from your sin and turn to your Savior, because the kingdom of heaven is near”. That’s not just where we’ll be forever. The kingdom of heaven is near” us right now, right here. It is the activity of God working in hearts by His truth. His “light…dawned” on us in Baptism and is seen daily in His Word and given regularly in His Supper.
    The “Light” leads us sinners to repent. Not a quick, “I’m sorry, God!” every so often. But daily sorrow that we anger God, and daily trust that we are forgiven by God in Christ and His work.
       III. To move His people to serve
    In other words, the “Light” isn’t something we keep handy so we can turn it on at the moment of death and say, “Take me to heaven, Jesus, because You have led me to trust Your work as my Light of life!” The “Light” is shining on us every second. Jesus is the “Light” to move His people, us!, to serve in joy.
    Consider the four men here, two sets of brothers: Simon and Andrew, James and John. Theologians? Geniuses? Holy men? No, no, and no. Fishermen” (v. 18). Everyday people. Plain folk. The “Light” was shining on them and they basked in the Light who then told them, “Come, follow Me…I will make you fishers of men” (v. 19). This wasn’t the first time Jesus met them. When John the Baptist pointed to Jesus in southern Israel and declared Him to be the long-promised Savior, Jesus spoke to them there as their “Light” of life.
    When Jesus came to them on the shore of Galilee, their place of business as casting-net “fishermen”, He called them to use the net of His gospel to gather souls. He told them His Word would bring the results, not their background or effort or personality or training. His “Light” about His sacrifice would lead others to trust Him as those first disciples now did. “Then,” Jesus went on, “when I finish My work and return to My heaven, you will tell others My Word about Me and My work for all sinners.” Both sets of brothers left their nets and boats “immediately” (vv. 20,22) and followed Jesus. They trusted Him to provide for them and their families. The “Light” had called them to serve Him, and in doing so to serve others.
    The “Light” is shining on us just as powerfully. Teachers, pastors, parents, and grandparents are ordinary people through whom the “Light” of Christ shines. Christ wants all His people to serve Him by proclaiming His Word of “Light” to others. Are you afraid you won’t know what to say about Him to others? That’s why study of His Word of “Light” never ends until we die. His “gospel” is His net put in our hands and heart and mouth to do the greatest work of all, His “kingdom” work!
    The same old stuff? I suppose, in the sense that God’s Word never changes. But not in the sense that the “Light” loses its luster or power. We can’t turn on the Light; the Light must appear to sinners. As He does, we hear, learn, grow in Him, then go with Him, the sinner’s only “Light” for life and salvation.      Amen.
    Pastor David A. Voss
    First Sunday after Epiphany - Baptism of Our Lord - Why Inaugurate a Servant?
  • First Sunday after Epiphany – Baptism of Our Lord
    January 15, 2023
    Hymns                        384,   377,   374,   351
    First Lesson              Isaiah 42:1-7
    Psalm                         2
    Second Lesson         Acts 10:34-38
    Gospel Lesson         Matthew 3:13-17
    Isaiah 42:1-7
    Why Inaugurate a Servant?
           I. To hear His mission
           II. To heed His manner
    III. To hail His might

    In the name of that Chosen One, Jesus, the Savior, the Light to enlighten us Gentiles, dear fellow redeemed,
    Because it happens every four years, a presidential inauguration isn’t a huge deal to us. We Americans pay far more attention to the months of campaigning and results of the election.
    It was different in Israel. The king’s coronation was a great celebration since it usually happened just once per generation. When Israel welcomed a new king or high priest, there was a public ceremony in the presence of thousands of Jews, highlighted by oil poured on the head of the man being installed to office. That visual ritual was God’s special way to show God’s chosen people, “This man is My choice to be your next king, your new high priest, your respected prophet.”
    We’re still singing Christmas, and now Epiphany, hymns to our newborn King. But here Jesus is called a “servant” (v. 1). Not king, priest, prophet, judge, governor, but “servant”. All three lessons today teach, “God anointed Jesus” (Acts 10:38). What did God anoint Jesus as? Our King who rules us with His Word? Yes! Our High Priest who made the ultimate sacrifice, Himself? Yes! Our Prophet who preaches that He is the Savior? Yes!
    We see the celebration in those prestigious offices. But celebrating a “servant”? The sinful nature inside us mocks the new person of faith inside us, “You inaugurate, you crown, a servant? How foolish!” Well, why do we inaugurate a “servant”? The Triune God answers, “So that you hear His mission, so that you heed His manner, and so that you hail His might!”
    I. To hear His mission

    The actual rite of presidential inauguration is very brief. The president-elect promises to carry out his office to the best of his ability, and to defend and protect the Constitution of the United States of America. Upon his promise, he is installed to office and is reminded what the president is elected to do.
    Jesus was inaugurated, anointed, not so He could learn His duties, but to remind us what He came to do and still does for us. Why inaugurate a “servant”? To hear His mission, which includes to “be a covenant for the people” (v. 6).
    A covenant is an agreement. God’s “covenant” is His commitment to make sinners His own forever. How wonderful! How did we react? We broke His law! We rebelled against the great and loving Lord who established it! We followed the temptations of the sinful world around us! We told Him, “I don’t want to be Yours all the time! I want to have some fun in life, too!”
    The Lord God didn’t respond to our insolence and defiance by tearing up His “covenant”. Instead, God sent His Son to “be a covenant for the people”. And what a covenant-keeper Christ was for us sinners! He lived every moment in holiness so His holiness might be credited to our account with the holy God. There’s more! Because our sentence of hell had to be paid, He took our hell on His soul as He suffered on His cross at Calvary.
    Why inaugurate a “servant”? To hear that His mission is to “announce a just verdict” (v. 1), to “establish justice” (v. 4). People scream for “justice” to allow people to live sexually in defiance of what God has condemned! People push for “justice” to be done so inconvenient pregnancies can be ended, killing unborn in the womb! None of that is God’s “justice”.
    Justice” is judgment based on a legal decision. God’s legal and judicial decision is, “I declare the world, ‘Not guilty, innocent, holy, and right’ in My sight!” Hold it! Isn’t that twisted justice? We are guilty! Hear the mission of the Servant! Jesus is God’s “chosen one” (v. 1) who gave His life to redeem the world full of sinners. That is divine “justice”!
    Why inaugurate this “servant”? Because His mission gives us life! Not because we made the right new year resolutions, but because He made Himself our “covenant”, He has “opened our blind eyes” (v. 7) to see the way to heaven in Him. Not because we worked hard, but because He is our Savior, we sinners are brought out of our deserved “dungeon” (v. 7), hell.
    II. To heed His manner

    Presidential inauguration ceremonies are dignified affairs. Two years from now our president won’t be haughty at his installation or cocky in his speech. “Here is My servant” (v. 1), God the Father says about God the Son. “Look at Him! Why inaugurate this ‘servant’? So you can heed His manner, the way He carries Himself – not arrogantly, but humbly!”
    How long has Jesus been the Anointed One? From before time began. Seven hundred years before the first Christmas the Father here called the Son, “My servant”. The Messiah who had been doing His work from eternity was publicly anointed as the Messiah when the Baptist poured on His head not expensive olive oil, but muddy Jordan River water. What humility!
    “He will not cry out. He will not raise His voice. He will not make His voice heard in the streets” (v. 2). Jesus doesn’t  boast like an arrogant athlete or scream like an intimidating military man. He quietly preaches His message of salvation, of the forgiveness of sins He wins, of peace with God for sinners.
    Why inaugurate a servant? So we pay attention to His manner! He doesn’t promote Himself, but helps those who need His help. “A bent reed He will not break” (v. 3). Jesus doesn’t pounce on people when they are down, does not take advantage of them when they are distressed and confess their guilt and express their need for His help. A dimly burning wick He will not snuff out” (v. 3). When a sinner’s faith and hope are barely flickering, about to go out, God’s great Servant does not finish them off by gruffly brushing off the repentant. The Servant serves us repentant sinners with what we need: assurance His blood has perfectly covered all our guilt.
    Why inaugurate a “servant”? So we who are served by Him aren’t offended by His manner! In kings of the Old Testament and rulers of other worldly realms we see greed, outward power and pride, ego. But here’s the most important King ever for everyone. How does He come? In humility to serve!
    The Father inaugurates His Son as our “servant” lest, because of His bearing, we miss His blessings. The world looks for flashy status and visible power in those who rule, or try to rule. The eternal plan of God delivers for us the humble Savior who became one of us to win peace and heaven for sinners!
    Why inaugurate a “servant”? To heed, pay attention to, His meek manner. His lowliness on earth isn’t evidence of weakness; it is His way to save us! At His inauguration – and forever – we rejoice that Jesus assumed such humility, even to “death on a cross” (Philippians 2:7). And in that humility, in that seeming weakness, Jesus defeated our deadly foe, the devil.
    III. To hail His might
    At inauguration, our presidents are reminded they command the US military. We don’t ask our president to be our nation’s army, but to oversee our country’s military might. When God the Son was inaugurated, anointed by God the Father Himself, He wasn’t asked to oversee anything. Jesus is our strength. Why inaugurate a “servant”? So we hail His might!
    Behold the Trinity! The Father says,  “Here is My servant, My chosen one (the Son) in whom I delight. I am placing My Spirit on Him” (v. 1). At His inauguration we see the Son equipped with the Spirit’s power for His salvation mission.
    Exactly what that power is is described throughout the Word. “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, because the Lord has anointed Me to preach good news to the afflicted (Isaiah 61:1). Preaching doesn’t seem like power. But the good news about Jesus “is the power of God for salvation (Romans 1:16). “The Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him: the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord” (Isaiah 11:2). Mightier than an arsenal of atomic bombs is the Spirit working with His Word and through His sacraments! That’s the might the Servant of the Lord uses to give us His victory!
    We inaugurate the governments’ presidents and governors, even the Church’s pastors and teachers and councilmen. We do so to show who has the official authority, the divine call, the ecclesiastical responsibilities. No one has the right to say, “I make myself the mighty one around here!”
    Why inaugurate a “servant”? Throughout the centuries of history, throughout the verses and chapters and books of His Word, throughout the course of His saving work, the Father shows us, “Jesus is My chosen one”. A lot in the world causes skeptics to wonder, “Is everything spinning out of control?” How assuring to hear the One “who creates the heavens…the earth and everything that it produces” (v. 5) say, “Jesus is My Servant on the most vital mission ever! I am well pleased with Him” (Matthew 3:17).
    The world looks for more might than words about forgiveness and “righteousness” (v. 6). Our world wants earthly success, social justice, global peace, and worldly wealth. Jesus doesn’t promise any of that, so the world judges Him to be, at best, an excellent example to follow; at worst, a miserable failure. The problem is the world’s expectations, not the Savior’s power.
    As the Father’s hand-picked choice, Christ’s success was guaranteed even before He began His work. To despairing sinners, Christ accomplishing everything He was sent to do, Christ fulfilling everything promised about Him, Christ forgiving both Jews and “the coastlands” (v. 4), all the world beyond Israel – including Americans, this is God’s might that frees us forever!
    Why inaugurate a “servant”? It is the Father’s way to show His Anointed One to people blinded by earthbound success. In our Baptism God opened the eyes of our heart to see and trust Christ – God’s successful “servant” because He is the heaven-sent Savior.      Amen.
    Pastor David A. Voss
    The Epiphany of Our Lord - Epiphany Means the Mystery Has Been Revealed
  • Epiphany of Our Lord
    January 8, 2023
    Hymns                        354,   333,   332
    First Lesson              Isaiah 60:1-6
    Psalm                         72
    Second Lesson         Ephesians 3:2-12
    Gospel Lesson         Matthew 2:1-12
    Epiphany Means the Mystery Has Been Revealed
           I. About the Savior
    II. In the Gospel
             III. Through the Church

    In the name of God’s Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ, fellow Christmas Christians, still rejoicing in His birth for us,
    The word “mystery” (v. 3) is used twenty times in Paul’s thirteen letters. Six of those twenty are in Ephesians, and four of those six are in this lesson. Clearly, the key thought here is “mystery”. There’s no crime to be solved, money found, or crook caught. But there is the treasure revealed and given, crooks set free. This “mystery” is the mystery of salvation.
    The fun of the last few weeks is over, but the blessings and happiness remain. Oh, you were back to the grind at work or school last week, and the weather was wall-to-wall gloomy. But the blessings and happiness remain because God reveals this “mystery” to us. That’s the theme of Epiphany. Jesus is revealed to Gentiles – not just Jews – as the Savior.
    For most of us, there’ll be nothing new here. But for all of us, there’s salvation renewed here as we gather for the first time in 2023. The Spirit uses His truth to build up our faith by telling us again the “mystery” has been revealed about the Savior, revealed in the gospel, and revealed through the Church. 
    I. About the Savior
    Every time we come here, we get the same message, called here “the mystery of Christ” (v. 4). Really? What’s the mystery? Christ died for us and we sinners are saved! It’s as simple as that! True, the message is so simple you little ones confess it. But it’s also so foolish to logic many learned ones reject it.
    Most of us have had “the mystery of Christ” revealed to us for so long we might lose sight of the miracle about Christ. But recall what we heard fifteen nights ago, fourteen mornings ago. A baby born among animals is also true God? An infant lying in a feed box is the eternal Savior? There’s no way we could figure out on our own “the mystery of Christ”!
    There’s more to the mystery of Christ than the message of God become flesh and born in a stall. Paul described it as “the unsearchable riches of Christ” (v. 8). This word for “unsearchable” pictures a person trying to track an animal. The person comes upon one set of tracks, then another and another; soon it’s hard to tell which tracks to follow since there are so many. We experience some of that spiritually, and in a good way.
    When we try to list the mysteries we can’t track all the “riches of Christ”. Think of all you’ve learned about Him. Eternally existed. All-knowing. Incarnation. True God and true man. Humbled Himself. Exalted for us. Perfect life. Suffered hell. Vicarious atonement. Rose from death. Descended into hell to proclaim victory. Ascended into heaven. Sits at the right hand of the Father. Rules in us. Anointed Prophet, Priest, and King. Don’t each of those phrases bring to mind still others, many divine tracks to follow? What a rich “mystery” about Christ!
    The mystery of Christ” is revealed to us so we’ll be with God in heaven forever. That is His “eternal purpose” (v. 11) in revealing the mystery of Christ to us. But God making that mystery known to us also has a present, right now!, purpose. We can freely approach God with confidence through faith in Him” (v. 12). Connected to Christ, we don’t have to enter passwords or clear checkpoints to come before God. Jesus opens the way for us to pray to God and receive His gifts. Connected to Christ through faith in Him, we don’t fear God lashing out at us in anger. Jesus has turned God’s anger with us over our sins away from us and onto Himself. In Jesus, the Father makes us His children. That’s the joyous “mystery of Christ”.
    II. In the Gospel
    But before we live in that joy and bask in its warmth, we need to know it. The mystery of God about His Son, our Savior, is revealed in His gospel.
    God reveals it. It’s “the mystery…made known…by revelation (v. 3). Ours is not a man-made religion. All other religious ideas are invented by people. But not the good news about Jesus! The “mystery” about salvation is that God’s Son came from heaven. Man didn’t develop the story of a Savior slain to save. It didn’t evolve as ages passed, with God constantly refining and tweaking it. God wasn’t like kids changing rules of their games as they go along. God revealed His “mystery”.
    God reveals His mystery to us in His good news, reported in His Word and received in His sacraments. We do not find the way to heaven floating in the air, appearing in our dreams, filling us by our feelings, touching us by what we think. The weather and our dreams and feelings and thoughts change all the time. God’s truth doesn’t! The way He reveals His mystery of salvation to us is through His gospel Word and sacraments.
    Before Jesus came, God revealed the “mystery” about His Son mostly among the Jews, the people to whom He sent a steady line of “prophets” (v. 5) to proclaim His promise of the Savior of the world to be born of the Jews. After Jesus completed His work, God revealed His “mystery” about His Son “by the Spirit to His holy apostles” (v. 5) – Paul and Peter, James and John, Andrew and Matthew and more – to both Jews and Gentiles!
    To both Jews and Gentiles! Jews and “Gentile are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and people who also share in the promise through the gospel” (v. 6). We take for granted we Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of Christ’s body, sharers of the greatest promise of all. But in the years right after Christ’s work was completed, the idea that Gentiles could eat pork and still enter God’s house, that Gentile males could remain uncircumcised and still be part of God’s family, was thought to be a radical change. But that is what God revealed!
    God reveals His “mystery” in His gospel. Those who claim to see a path to heaven that doesn’t include Jesus, His crude crib, and cursed cross are wrong. Those who say God reveals His truth in His Word, but insist they can live a way other than what God teaches because they really prayed about it and God’s okay with it, are wrong; God will never answer prayers in a way that contradicts His Word. When we claim to know something spiritual, God directs us, “Go to My Word to see what I say! Don’t rely on what you think!” Again in 2023 we’ll never look anywhere other than God’s gospel for God’s assurance that He dwells with us, lives in us, gives heaven to us.
             III. Through the Church
    An entertaining mystery is spoiled if the ending is revealed, well, before the end. This mystery isn’t to entertain, but to save. So, unless this mystery is revealed, is told, it remains a mystery. God reveals His “mystery” through His Church.
    By “the church” (v. 10) God doesn’t mean a building, but people. Not just Spartan fans or Dodge drivers or cat lovers or girls with dark hair. But people who have been brought by the Spirit to trust Jesus as their Savior. One of those people was Paul. We call Paul the greatest missionary in Christian history. He called himself “the very least of all” (v. 8) God’s people.
    For half his adult life, Paul was a fanatical Pharisee. He was violently opposed to Jesus. He was absolutely sure Jesus was a blatant blasphemer to be silenced, not the true Savior to be trusted; and after Jesus died, His followers had to be silenced, too. On a trip to persecute more of Christ’s followers, Paul’s live was changed forever. God stopped Paul literally in Paul’s tracks, and brought Paul into His family of believers in Christ.
    How could a man with that background reveal to others the “mystery” about the Jesus he had hated? That, too, is a mystery! Paul clearly didn’t deserve to do it. But God chose him to do it – after God had called Paul out of the darkness of unbelief and into the wonderful, brilliant light of salvation in Jesus.
    Our stories are no different. Who would have thought God would save us from what we had coming – hell! – after we had slapped God in the face with our unbelief and disobedience? Who would have thought God would sacrifice His Son as the Substitute for every sinner ever? Then who would have thought God would plan to use sinners like you and me to tell others about salvation won by Jesus? Who would have thought this “mystery” would bring spiritual corpses to life? God did! God “did this so that, through the church, the multifacted wisdom of God might now be made known” (v. 10).
    If Paul called himself “the very least of all” God’s people, dare we consider ourselves any better? We receive God’s undeserved forgiveness in Jesus, then repeat the very sins for which we begged God’s eternal pardon! We begin each week confessing we believe in the Triune God, then spend some of the rest of the week living as though there were no God!
    Still we are His “Church”. Still we are His messengers! Still He reveals His mystery in His Word through us. Do you know one who is depressed now that the world’s holidays are over? Tell him of the “mystery” of Christ who saved all! Do you know someone who once rejoiced at the good news of the Savior, but now shrugs it off? Tell her the “mystery” of Christ again!
    Parents and grandparents and young people, right now we are the confessing Christian adults to whom God has entrusted His work of spreading His gospel. What we do with it, how we support it, the extent to which we become involved in it, will have a huge impact on how much of God’s “mystery” our children and grandchildren will have and hold. That’s a wonderful opportunity – and a weighty responsibility!
    Epiphany is more than Magi worshiping infant Jesus. Epiphany means revealing. God reveals His Son as our Savior. God uses us to reveal His Son to others as their Savior, the plan that remains a “mystery” to them until God uses us to tell them. 2023 will be another year of God’s blessings on our work for Him as through His Church – us, we use His tool – the gospel, to reveal His “mystery” – salvation for sinners in Jesus!      Amen.
    Pastor David A. Voss
    Circumcision and Name of Jesus - On the Eighth Day of Christmas My Savior Gave to Me . . .
  • Circumcision and Name of Jesus
    January 1, 2023
    First Lesson              Numbers 6:22-27
    Psalm                         8
    Second Lesson         Galatians 3:23-29
    Gospel Lesson         Luke 2:21
    Luke 2:21
    On the Eighth Day of Christmas My Savior Gave to Me …
       I. … His blood for my redemption
    II. … His name for my confession
    In the name of our Savior, Christmas Christians who begin this year in worship to celebrate His greatest gifts to us,
    Do you know why we celebrated our Savior’s birth last weekend? There was no annual celebration of Jesus’ birth for several centuries after the first Christmas, and the exact month and day of His birth wasn’t – and still isn’t – known. When followers of Jesus chose a date centuries after His birth to celebrate His birth, they picked December 25. It’s a date near the winter solstice when the sun shines slightly longer than it has been shining in the Northern Hemisphere. But that’s about it. Nor is there any solid explanation why Christians chose January 6 to mark the Magi, the first Gentiles, worshiping the newborn Savior.
    But what do you get when you count from December 26 to January 6? 12 days of Christmas! In medieval Europe there were worship services every one of those twelve days. Gifts were given on each of them, too. Sadly, all that most are familiar with is a silly song about twelve days and twelve gifts.
    No reason for choosing the date we celebrate – nor any customs in the way we celebrate – our Savior’s birth changes what happened the first Christmas. And Christmas joy continues in us one week later the same way giving from God continued one week after Christ’s birth. What giving? Joseph and Mary didn’t wake up slowly that morning one week after Mary gave birth and wonder, “What should we do today?” They knew what they’d do on what we call this eighth day of Christmas. What happened is God’s gifts to us this first day of 2023.
    We won’t sing a mind-numbing melody. But we will say, On the eighth day of Christmas my Savior gave to me His blood for my redemption and His name for my confession.
       I. … His blood for my redemption
    “After eight days passed…the child was circumcised” (v. 21). Today, when a son is born, staff in the maternity ward ask the parents if they plan to have him circumcised, have a small piece of skin removed from the baby boy. For us, it’s a curious, optional procedure. For Joseph and Mary, it was entirely a serious, spiritual ceremony for their son, also their Savior, Jesus.
    For them and all Jews, it was a God-commanded rite given to their ancestor Abraham, who didn’t become a father until he was ninety-nine. God told Abraham then, “Every boy among you who is eight days old shall be circumcised…It will be a sign of the covenant between Me and you (Genesis 17:10-11). Cutting off a tiny piece of skin wasn’t for health or hygiene. It was a visible reminder God would send from Israel the Savior from sin, the Savior no sinner ever deserved. It was a reminder of the best promise ever made. Circumcision also symbolized a sinner’s pledge to cut evil out of his life – a sinner’s Thank You lived to God for promising the Savior.
    For centuries Jewish baby boys had been circumcised on the eighth day, as God commanded. Now Jesus was. But why? He is the promised Savior, true God come to earth. He was already true God and the Savior before He was circumcised. As true God He certainly didn’t need a reminder He is the Savior. He was circumcised because He also became true man for us.
    He is true God, the sinless Savior! He certainly didn’t need that visible reminder to cut sin out of His life. Jesus was circumcised to show He was putting Himself under God’s law as our Substitute to keep God’s law for us and shed His blood for us. Already on the eighth day of His life Jesus gave His blood for us to show His determination to His mission to save us!
    It’s not cute to say On the eighth day of Christmas my Savior gave to me something. It’s God’s truth in God’s Word! Sin defiles us. Its guilt must be removed. Only the shedding of the God-man’s blood removes guilt. Jesus gave His blood for our redemption, to buy us back. He didn’t lounge in luxury at a posh Mediterranean resort with servants waiting on Him until it was time for Him to bleed at the cross and die. Just as important as His Holy Week suffering and death were His previous, precious thirty-three years here living under His own law, including His law that a Jewish baby boy be circumcised on the eighth day of life outside the womb. Our Savior’s circumcision preaches the sermon, “I am going to do it all for you! I am born under the law, in order to redeem you under the law, so that you would be adopted as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5).
    For those reasons, we believers see January 1st as more than New Year’s Day. We see it as the day Jesus first willingly shed His blood to show He was going to go all the way to redeem us from the guilt of our sins. Ours isn’t a savior who suggests He’s so powerful He doesn’t need to keep the law. Ours is the Savior who leaves no doubt about what He’s done to save us! Already as an eight-day-old infant, already in these first hours of 2023, Jesus is showing us He came for us to redeem us, to buy us back by His blood!
    II. … His name for my confession
    Circumcision wasn’t all there was on the eighth day of the first Christmas. During the circumcision ceremony a Jewish baby boy would be named. Remember Zechariah and Elizabeth? Eight days after Elizabeth gave birth, Zechariah wrote during the circumcision ceremony, “His name is John” (Luke 1:63). So here. As with Zechariah and Elizabeth, Mary’s relative, so for Joseph and Mary this wasn’t a time when they announced what they had decided to name the child. God made that decision for them. He placed His name on the Child sent for the world, for us! On the eighth day of Christmas our Savior gave to us also His name for our confession: “Jesus” (v. 21).
    That is a divinely declared name for the Savior. God sent the angel Gabriel to tell Mary the miraculous news that she, a virgin, would conceive the Savior, and the Savior in her womb was to be called “Jesus” (Luke 1:31). When God used an angel to tell Joseph the life-changing news his fiancé was pregnant miraculously from God, the angel told Joseph, too, he was to give the Savior in Mary’s womb “the name Jesus (Matthew 1:21). Though Joseph had nothing to do biologically with the conception of the Savior, as the man of the family he would be the one to declare officially what God had determined eternally. The Savior “was named Jesus.
    That’s a divinely designed name for the Savior. “Jesus” wasn’t chosen because it was popular, but because it confessed salvation. Whenever she was asked, “What’s his name?”, Mary’s answer preached salvation: “Jesus”. Whenever Mary called her son in from playing outside, whenever Joseph called his stepson to supper, the name preached salvation: “Jesus”.
    That name is a Hebrew sentence. In Hebrew, “Jesus” sounds like our name Joshua, and it means exactly what the angel told Joseph, “The Lord saves. He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). What a perfect name for that perfect Child, our perfect Savior! Every time the Hebrew name was spoken, it said exactly what the Child had come to earth to do: The Lord saves! “He will save His people from their sins”.
    That’s a divinely directed name for the Savior. Every time we hear and use the name “Jesus” in 2023, we’ll think about what it means and tell others what He’s done. We were drowning in a sea of sin and guilt, headed to hell forever – what we confessed to start this service, to begin this year. But Jesus came to rescue us. Exactly what His name means, we confess to Him and before the world. “Jesus. The Lord saves us sinners!”
    There’s more. In our modern age, when a child is born the baby takes on the family name as a last name. When a sinner is brought to saving trust in Christ – as God did for us in Baptism, the sinner is given the name child of God the Father, of God the Son, and of God the Holy Spirit. We sinners were given God’s uniform as He dressed us in the Savior’s holiness. What a great gift God gave to us – on the eighth day of Christmas!
    And with that gift comes great responsibility. As we hear our Savior given the name “Jesus” today, the Holy Spirit uses His Word to remind us to live like people who belong to Jesus, who believe “Jesus” has saved us from the guilt of our sins. That means cutting off our sins of selfish grabbing and disrespectful talking and filthy thinking and all other sins. That also means putting on the new person of faith in “Jesus”, His name given us for our confessing to the world, “I belong to Him!” Will our confession to the world by our living throughout 2023 glorify Him whose name we carry? Or shame Him? “Jesus!”
    On this day when people start following their resolutions, “Jesus” shows His resolution, His resolve, to be the Savior. On this eighth day of Christmas our Savior gave to us His blood, and we don’t have to do anything to get on His good side; His mission is to do all that for us. On this eighth day of Christmas our Savior gave to us His name, “Jesus”, and with it our status with God couldn’t be better. What a God we have, working for us already as an infant! What a God we serve as we rededicate our lives to Him each day, our most important resolution for every moment of 2023! On this eighth day of Christmas – and every day of His mission on earth – Jesus gave us everything we need to be His forever. Because of our Savior-God, 2023 will be a very blessed year!     Amen. 
    Pastor David A. Voss
    The Nativity of Our Lord - THIS is CHRISTMAS!
  • The Nativity of Our Lord
    December 25, 2022
    Hymns:   343   -   362   -   363   -   344   -   350   -   331:12-15   -   345
    Luke 2:1-20
      I. Humble deity (vv. 1-7)
         II. Eternal victory (vv. 8-14)
          III. Joyful ministry (vv. 15-20)
    In the name of Jesus Christ, fellow recipients of the greatest Gift ever: He who is born to save us and all sinners,
    The reality is that the world observes several different Christmases. One is the Christmas in which money is spent on gifts for your hairdresser, spouse, parents, and children. There’s nothing wrong with any of that. But that’s not Christmas. That should be called Giftsmas, maybe. There’s the Christmas for which businesses close for several days and schools shut down for two weeks to allow loved ones to be together for the holiday. There’s nothing wrong with that, either. But that’s not really Christmas. That’s perhaps Familymas, right? 
    Then, there’s this. “She gave birth to her firstborn, a son… ‘Today in the town of David a Savior was born for you; He is Christ the Lord’…When the shepherds had seen Him, they told others the message they had been told about this child” (vv. 7,11,17). This is Christmas, the celebration of Christ come to earth for us.
    Swaddling cloths. Manger. Sheep. Angels. Shepherds. God used those objects and animals as props for the real Christmas, used His heavenly hosts and common shepherd folk as proclaimers of the real Christmas. But the real Christmas is this: the long-awaited Savior is born for us! These next minutes, if we haven’t done so already, we clear our heads of gifts and food, lights and loved ones, parties and plans. We focus on – and delight in – the real Christmas. This is Christmas: humble deity, eternal victory, and joyful ministry.
    I. Humble deity (vv. 1-7)
    Many in Israel had been looking for a physical and political Messiah to make their earthly lives more comfortable by breaking the hold of the hated Romans on them. For centuries most Jews had not been seeking the spiritual Messiah the God of grace had promised. They said, “The Messiah will be born a king! He will help us become a great nation again!”
    People today, too, want to bend the Lord Jesus into their own kind of Messiah. “If He really loved me, He wouldn’t let me suffer so!” is a bitter, cynical view some have at Christmas. “If He really were the Son of God, would He have been born there? Would He have lived in all that poverty?” is an understandable, but still unbelieving view many have at Christmas.
    This is the promised Messiah. “She gave birth to her firstborn son, wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn” (v. 7). This is the real Christmas because this is what we need – His humble deity! Jesus didn’t leave heaven and come to earth to sit on a throne and have people wait on Him. He left heaven and was born of a virgin mother to live in humility and serve us sinners with what we need, not necessarily what we want.
    This isn’t a novelty, a baby born among animals. This is humble deity. The One who is truly and powerfully God from forever is also become truly and humbly man. As true man Jesus kept His own laws in our place, perfectly so. As true God His obedience is the power of holiness for every sinner. As true man He suffered hell on the cross as our Substitute, completely condemned for all our sins. As true God His death is the complete payment applied to every sinner’s account. Still, some rip up this Christmas insisting, I don’t need, I don’t want, this Jesus!
    This is Christmas: true God takes on our flesh and blood in one person. This is Christmas: You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that although He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that through His poverty you might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9). This is Christmas: true God comes in humility for us. Hymn 344 captures that real Christmas truth, asking – and answering! – the question about the Child who is God and man in one person. We sing What Child Is This.
         II. Eternal victory (vv. 8-14)
    Some of us remember the song Snoopy and the Red Baron from December 1966. But what Christmas bells, those Christmas bells have to do with fierce World War II air battles is beyond me. With no apologies to the Royal Guardsmen who recorded that song, and with every desire to get Christmas right, we turn again to God’s Word. “Today in the town of David, a Savior was born for you. He is Christ the Lord…Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward mankind” (vv. 11,14). This is Christmas: eternal victory!
    Christmas is the Savior born to us, the Savior we desperately need. We love to call Jesus our Savior. But we must also realize what we are calling ourselves when we call Jesus our Savior. We are confessing, I need to be saved! The real Christmas is right only if also admit the real crisis. I am a sinner who angers the holy God every day. I deserve His punishment forever for my every sin. I can’t pretend God hasn’t seen all my sins.
    What are we going to do about that ugly truth that threatens to ruin this glorious Christmas morning? We can’t do anything to cover our sins, remove our guilt, pay for a portion of our trespasses. That’s why Jesus is born for us: the Savior, Christ the Lord”. His perfect life for thirty-three years is credited by Him as our holiness. His sacrificial death Good Friday is counted by Him as our payment. His mighty resurrection from death is His guarantee we will rise from our graves.
    This is Christmas: the Savior is born for us, the Savior we trust for our eternal victory. He knows as an infant what will happen to Him for us on that altar, and still He comes to win our victory forever! He commits His life on earth to walk right into the worst anyone ever endured – hell, forsaken by His Father there, so we will have the victory with Him in heaven forever! He lives His love for those who rebel against Him every day so there is “peace on earth”. That’s not between nations; war will be waged somewhere right up to the Last Day. But there is “peace on earth” for us sinners with the holy God in Him.
    This is Christmas: the victory is won for us sinners by our Savior, the victory that has unendingly blessed results. We sing the triumph song about the real Christmas with the words of Hymn 350, Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.
    III. Joyful ministry (vv. 15-20)
    For many this season’s good feeling fades once work resumes and school reopens, when loved ones leave town and decorations come down. Can’t this day’s, this week’s, this season’s joy last? Not if it’s just a feeling. But it’s not just a feeling. This is Christmas: “When they had seen Him, they told others the message they had been told about this child…Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart” (vv. 17,19). This is Christmas: joyful ministry!
    The shepherds didn’t shrug off the angels’ message. They didn’t see it as an intrusion on their work or lives to go to the little town of Bethlehem, to see what God had used His angels to tell them about “Christ the Lord” come as a baby and lying in a manger. Astounded by the news from heaven about the Gift from heaven, they left their flocks, their business, their earthly livelihood. “We have to see Him! Let’s go (v. 15)!”
    Did they go because they were curious? Or faithful? We’re not told what they thought as they “hurried” (v. 16) to town. But we are told what filled them after they had gone to Bethlehem, had seen the Savior, had worshiped Him. They told others the message they had been told about this child” (v. 17).
    What Mary did was similar. She meditated on what God had used His prophets to foretell about the Messiah whom God had now sent to the world from her womb! The real Christmas filled the Savior’s mother, like those ordinary shepherds, with “the good news of great joy…for all people” (v. 10).
    How do we keep Christmas going all year long? This Christmas keeps going as we keep going to the message about the Savior and keep going with His message to the world. That’s our joyful ministry, just as it was for Mary and the shepherds.
    Ministry means service. The Savior’s people serve Him and others by bringing His harsh news about our sin and His great news about His work to souls bought by His blood. Not just called workers, but all Christmas Christians carry out His joyful ministry, doing so in the spirit of Mary and the shepherds.
    When the holidays are done what will our children and grandchildren be talking about and rejoicing in most? Things they got for Christmas? Or the Savior come to earth for them and all sinners to save them and all sinners? The real Christmas is what God wants discussed most at home. That doesn’t happen by accident. That happens by doing what the shepherds and Mary did: going to the Word, even at home – taking it to heart and rejoicing in what God has sent us in Jesus. Parents, that is your most joyful ministry, most joyful service, and most joyful work for the Savior and to your children!
    We’re not going to get the world to stop calling Christmas all sorts of customs and celebrations this time of year that have nothing to do with “Christ the Lord”, Jesus, our “Savior”. We Christmas Christians can, and do!, enjoy our customs and gifts and meals and celebrations with loved ones this time of year. But we put none of that above the real Christmas!
    This is Christmas! The deity of God come in such humility. The eternal victory over sin and death and Satan and hell won by the Son of God come to earth for us. The joyful ministry God gives us all to ponder on our own and tell the world of the only Savior for sinners. No one can take the joy of the real Christmas from us. Nothing dims the real Christmas in our hearts.
    Oh, and the real Christmas season isn’t almost over, it’s only last night begun! We’ll be here twice next weekend as real Christmas Christians to hear more about the life we live because of the Gift, and His gifts!, we’ve been given. Christmas Christians put the Christmas Savior and worship of Him first all year long and in everything. And Christmas Christians tell others, “This is the real Christmas: the Savior is born for us!” This is Christmas – and it never ends!      Amen.
    Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and might belong to our God forever and ever. Amen.
    As we remain standing we sing part of Luther’s great Christmas Hymn “From Heaven Above to Earth I Come”, Hymn 331, stanzas 12-15
    Pastor David A. Voss
    Fourth Sunday in Advent - The Lord Himself Gives Us His Sign
  • Fourth Sunday in Advent
    December 18, 2022
    Hymns                        305,   327,   328,   313
    First Lesson              Isaiah 7:10-14
    Psalm                         89
    Second Lesson         Romans 1:1-7
    Gospel Lesson         Matthew 1:18-25
    Isaiah 7:10-14
    The Lord Himself Gives Us His Sign
        I. About His faithfulness
    II. About His greatness
    In the name of our coming Savior, Jesus, fellow redeemed,
    Ralph fell through the ice on a large lake and was holding on to a small section of floating ice. But that ice was breaking and Ralph would drown if not rescued soon. He hollered in prayer, “Help me, Lord!” A guy crept out on the ice to slide him an innertube, but Ralph wouldn’t let go of the ice floe to take the tube. Next came a snowmobiler who tossed him a rope, but Ralph wouldn’t let go of the ice to grab the rope. Finally a helicopter hovered over him and dropped a ladder, but Ralph wouldn’t reach for that, either. A little later Ralph drowned. You know the joke’s punch line. As Ralph’s soul was taken by God he asked, “Lord, why didn’t You help me?” The Lord replied, “I sent you an innertube, a rope, and a helicopter!”
    The last verse of this lesson is a familiar, cherished prophecy about the Savior. It was spoken as the word of the Lord to King Ahaz – not Ahab, but Ahaz. These words, though, are more than a wonderful promise of the Savior. The Lord Himself will give a sign for all of you” (v. 14). That was both good news and bad news. The good news was about the Savior. The promise would be perfectly fulfilled. The bad news is that, like drowning Ralph, King Ahaz had rejected God’s help. Thus, this “sign” would mean judgment for Ahaz. More about that later.
    For now, a question as we worship for the final time before the real Christmas begins. Do we look for the sign God gives us, or for other signs? To people who prepare to celebrate the Lord coming to earth in Bethlehem and who anticipate the Lord returning on the Last Day, the Lord says, “I Myself give you My sign about My faithfulness and about My greatness.”
       I. About His faithfulness
    Ahaz was a disaster as ruler of Israel. He was so immersed in idol worship that he sacrificed “his sons in the fire” (2 Chronicles 28:3)!, removed furnishings from – and locked the doors of – God’s temple at Jerusalem!, and “made altars for himself in every corner” (2 Chronicles 28:24) of the holy city! When God sought to humble Ahaz and lead him to repent, Ahaz turned not to God but to the nation of Assyria for help. At the time of our lesson Ahaz and the Jews were about to be invaded. God would not let the nation He had chosen from which the Savior would come to be wiped out. God sent Isaiah to tell Ahaz, “The invasion won’t destroy the nation. But if you, Ahaz, don’t trust God, you will not stand at all” (Isaiah 7:9).
    To assure Ahaz of God’s faithfulness to God’s promises, God invited Ahaz, “Ask for a sign from Me, the Lord your God (v. 11), and I’ll give that sign to you as a pledge that Israel won’t be destroyed in the next battle!” What an offer to a king who had rejected God! What sign did Ahaz request from God? None! His reply sounds so pious. “I will not ask. I will not test the Lord” (v. 12). It’s not testing God to take Him at His Word.  Ahaz was so full of himself that he insisted, “I’ll fight this trouble on my own. I don’t want You, God! I don’t need You, God!”
    This lesson doesn’t seem very Adventish or Christmasy, does it? But when we look closely we see God’s faithfulness extended to wicked sinners in their unfaithfulness! That is Advent and Christmas and the history of the world!
    God didn’t withdraw His promise to deliver Israel. He told Ahaz, “You are going to get a sign, whether you want one or not!” Ahaz rejected God’s offer, so God’s “sign” was no longer a promise to help Ahaz. It was now a sign of God’s judgment on Ahaz. God had Isaiah tell Ahaz, “Is it not enough for you to test the patience of men? Will you test the patience of my God as well” (v. 14)? The sign was, “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son and name Him Immanuel” (v. 14).
    That sign is good news of great joy for all people. But to Ahaz it was not. “Ahaz, God Himself gives you this sign as judgment on your unbelief. The eternal God will take on human flesh and be born of a Jewish virgin. But He will be born in a downtrodden nation. The royal line of your family will have long since ended. Israel will have no earthly king when this child is born. At that time Israel will be subject to other nations.” And that happened, right?! Jesus was born when Caesar Augustus and the Romans controlled Israel.
    God is faithful. His Christmas fulfillment of His Advent prophecies proves His unfailing faithfulness. “The Lord Himself has given us, too, His sign”. The Savior promised is the Savior delivered!
    We are led by Satan to seek other signs of God’s love, signs which God has not sent. Satan tells us to listen for a voice in the air or count on a dream at night. Then, when such signs don’t come, the devil wants us to slander God, give up on Him, assume He has forgotten us.
    We too often seek the wrong kinds of signs. God gives us His signs in His Gospel Word and Sacraments. There is the washing of rebirth! Here is the message we are forgiven by the work of the Son! There God connects us communicants to Himself as we receive the very body and blood born there and hung there and risen from death! Here God connects us to the manger in Bethlehem and the cross at Calvary and the open tomb – and all the blessings He won in those places for us. 
    Many despise those signs, doubt their power, neglect their use. When the Lord Himself directs us to use His “sign” of His faithfulness, do we tell Him, “I will not”? Do we insist on doing things our way and shoving aside God’s faithful salvation? We’ve done that, haven’t we? We repent of that, seeking forgiveness from Him in the Savior who won forgiveness for all!
    What are we hoping to get yet this week before Christmas? Snow or music to get us in a so-called Christmas spirit? We can’t do any better than this: “The Lord Himself has given His sign for all of you” in His Gospel. We use what He Himself has given us about His faithfulness, and from His faithfulness!
    II. About His greatness
    These wonderful words about a virgin conceiving and giving birth to Him who is the Son of God, God with us, seem to demand a Christmas message even though Christmas doesn’t start until Saturday night. Are these words a few days early? Not really. Every day is Christmas and Good Friday and Easter for the believer, even this Advent Sunday. But we’ll back in God’s house Saturday night and next Sunday morning, right? Why would we want to miss out on any of what we get from the Lord Himself in His “sign” about His greatness?
    God’s greatness is evident in the “virgin” (v. 14) birth. Was Mary really a virgin? The Hebrew word means either “virgin”, or a young woman who’s old enough to marry and who might have had sexual relations before marriage. But would it be a miraculous “sign” from God that a young, unmarried woman who had been sexually active was pregnant? No. And if Mary were pregnant in the normal way, would her son be any different than any other person – sinful from conception and birth? No. God’s “sign” included telling Joseph he should not be alarmed about his fiancée’s pregnancy and that Mary had not been unfaithful to him. This was a miraculous conception “from the Holy Spirit”, a miracle “to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: ‘Look, the virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son’” (Matthew 1:20-23).
    This is a sign of God’s greatness. God Himself would come to earth. “Immanuel” (v. 14), three short Hebrew words rolled into one divine title, says it all: God with us. What a gift from God’s greatness to fallen, condemned mankind!
    In what way is God with us? We don’t have the rest of the day to spend here examining all the ways. But a few for us for now and until Saturday night. God is with us to see us through struggles and to hold us up during difficulties. God is with us as the Son of God come in the flesh to take on our human nature for His mission to live a holy life for people who ruin themselves with sin and to suffer hell for us who deserve to burn there forever. God is with us as the all-knowing God who hears our angry words and knows our dirty thoughts and sees our selfish acts – and forgives our every sin. What a gift we were given when the Lord Himself decided to give us His “sign”, this “sign”, and more than just a sign – the very Savior!
    “The Lord Himself will give a sign for all of you” about His unequaled greatness. We haven’t seen God with our physical eyes. But in Jesus we see God’s greatness displayed in His every miracle. We aren’t able to know the mind of God. But in Jesus and His Word we know what God thinks and plans and desires and says and does. We haven’t yet been to heaven. But in Jesus we have the kingdom of heaven reigning in our hearts. What a “sign” of His greatness among us!
    This is the “sign”, the promise. We live after the promise was perfectly fulfilled. What God promised to Ahaz through Isaiah is the way God deals with every sinner. God is patient, persistent, faithful to His plan. Not just Ahaz – or just Joseph or Mary or people of Bible times – but also you and I have been given by God His “sign”. Unlike Ahaz, we don’t turn away in unbelief. Rather, we praise God for it and will return in faith-filled joy to His house as we go in spirit to Bethlehem Saturday night and next Sunday morning to adore Him for what He has done for us in His faithfulness and His greatness to save us.      Amen.
    Pastor David A. Voss
    Third Sunday in Advent - Be Patient - or Perish!
  • Third Sunday in Advent
    December 11, 2022
    Hymns                        307,   324,   519
    First Lesson              Isaiah 35:1-10
    Psalm                         146
    Second Lesson         James 5:7-11
    Gospel Lesson         Matthew 11:2
    James 5:7-11
    Be Patient – or Perish!
    I. As we wait for our coming Lord
      II. As we live in the corrupted world
    In the name of Jesus, who came to earth to redeem us, who comes in His Word and Sacraments to give Himself to us, and who will come again to take us to heaven, fellow redeemed,
    “Be patient,” a rider in the front seat tells the driver fuming as construction constricts traffic. “Be patient,” the heart doctor tells the bed-ridden patient wanting to go home. “Be patient,” parents will tell children eager to open presents in two weeks. 
    Be patient, (v. 7) the Lord tells His people who despair when so much seems to be going so wrong. But that’s not just something said from heaven to calm, comfort, or correct us. The divine truth by which God’s children live centers on the first coming of Christ in Bethlehem and His return on the Last Day. Until that last great day dawns, He tells us to “be patient” for Him to come, or we will perish from pursuing false hopes.
    It is not a spouse or doctor or parent. It is the Lord God Himself who teaches us to be patient” as we wait for our coming Lord and as we live in the corrupted world.
    I. As we wait for our coming Lord

    We hate to wait. We hate to wait for websites to load, for ads to end and the movie on TV to resume, for the Christmas party in the classroom to start on Friday. We expect instant satisfaction, want the item ordered today to have arrived yesterday.
    Doesn’t impatience infect our spiritual lives, too? The children of Israel hated the wait for Moses at Sinai, so they made gods of gold and worshiped them instead of the God who had delivered them from Egypt and was feeding them every day. They weren’t patient with God – and thus deserved to perish forever at the hand of God. It’s just as bad with us! Who here has not wondered, “God, are You still in control? And if You are, what’s going on?! Why does all this evil happen? Are You really running the universe? Then what are you waiting for?” We hate to wait, even – maybe especially – for the Lord!
    We hate to wait. But how good God is – and how blessed we are – that God has been “patient” with us. He is not the God who simply tells us, Be patient”! He is the God whose plan to save us centers on His patient dealings with the fallen world.
    Six thousand years ago God created everything in six twenty-four hour days and made everything absolutely perfect. But some of His created angels rebelled. Then the chief rebel led our first parents to rebel against the only command God had given. Eve and Adam ate fruit from the only tree that was off limits to them. Thus, God’s perfect world was ruined. How did God react? In impatient anger to destroy in a second all He had made? No! With a patient promise to save sinful mankind.
    Israel, God’s chosen nation, repeatedly rebelled against the Lord. They broke His laws despite Him appearing often among them. How did God react? In impatient wrath to wipe out His special people? No! With patient resolve to preserve the family line from which Jesus would be born to rescue the world.
    We say great things about God and how important He is to us. Then we turn around and make money more important than Him, misuse His holy name with our O my Gods, ignore His Word, mock His representatives placed over us, seethe in bitterness about others, pollute our hearts with dirty thoughts, steal from God by wasting what He’s given us, harm the reputation of others with our gossip and lies, greedily covet what God hasn’t given us. Are we any less guilty than Adam and Eve and Israel? How does God react with us? In impatient fury to send us to hell on the spot when we sin? Clearly, no! We’re still here. In patient faithfulness to forgive us in His Son.
    God’s faithfulness flows to us in what Lutherans call God’s Means of Grace, the ways He brings the good news of Jesus to us. Many of us received His patience first at the tender age of just weeks old in the washing of Baptism. All of us are covered by His patience given in the Word we hear weekly here and read daily at home. We communicants get a wonderful dose of His patience in the Sacrament He prepares for us today.
    When the Lord’s patience with us sinners is our strength, it’s easier to “be patient” for the Last Day. An example. “See how the farmer waits for the valuable harvest from the ground, patiently waiting for it, until it receives the early and late rain” (v. 7). Farmers know you can’t rush the crops, and that there are no shortcuts to the harvest. More important, we are “patient…because the coming of the Lord is near” (v. 8).
    A person’s lifetime is the only opportunity to repent and be restored to the Father’s family. So the Lord waits to allow more people to repent, be brought to Him, rejoice in His forgiveness and salvation. He waited for His work to be done in us! Should we now be impatient with Him? No! Rather, we will continue to be diligent in His kingdom work until He returns!
      II. As we live in the corrupted world
    Some say patience is weakness. He’s not doing anything because he’s afraid! Real patience is not weak. The idea behind patience is putting up with a lot without rashly striking out. Patience isn’t weakness. Patience is a fruit of faith in Christ who went willing to the cross for us! God says, Be patient – or perish!” We are patient as we live in the corrupted world.
    Some suppose the best way to “be patient until the coming of the Lord” is to forsake society and live in isolation with no distractions. But that isn’t what God says. The Spirit had James write to believers about being “patient” as they lived among people, even when people made their life messy or miserable.
    The first readers of this letter had been afflicted by wrongdoers and oppressed by the wicked. Such mistreatment caused God’s people to wonder, “Where are you, Lord? When are you coming to bring an end to this evil?!”
    How about in our world, our congregation? Christ’s congregations weren’t immune to trouble then, and they aren’t now. We, too, are tempted to “complain about one another” (v. 9).
    That shouldn’t happen, but it does. Tough times sometimes bring constant complaints. We try to bite our tongue when we’ve been wronged – or think we’ve been wronged! But frustration and irritation build up inside, then a slight comment or look or action ignites our bitter, bottled-up emotions. And our spouse or children or parents or friends or fellow members, people who deserve our courtesy and cooperation and respect and trust at least as much as do the people who’ve hurt us, bear the brunt of it! That should not be! Be patient with each other and don’t complain about one another”.
    It's hard to bear up under the blows of life when we feel bruises. That’s why God tells us to strengthen our hearts” (v. 8) by His Word until He returns. When Jesus comes back He will take us from earth’s little while of sorrow to heaven’s eternal life of joy. Growing in knowing God’s will makes the Christian’s patience more than silent suffering in trouble, but also living in saving certainty of His return. Until then He gives us His strength in His Word to endure and not grumble so much. When He says, “You are forgiven in Me!”, we have the Savior’s power to stop snapping at others.
    We are not the first God has told, Be patient as you live in the corrupted world.” And now to us God says, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord as an example of suffering with patient endurance (v. 10). Follow the way they lived in this corrupted world! Prophets like Moses, Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and others.” And what about “Job” (v. 11)? He was not perfectly “patient”; read Job Chapters 3 to 41. But his was a life of “patient endurance” (v. 11). He held up under the heaviest blows life in this corrupted world could deal a person without losing his trust in the Lord. Though Job suffered, questioned, and wondered, he still trusted the Lord even when he couldn’t understand the Lord’s ways.
    We won’t endure anything like those Old Testament believers did. We should “be patient” as they were, lest we perish in this corrupted world. We should see, like they did, “what the Lord did in the end, because the Lord is especially compassionate and merciful” (v. 11). But sadly, when the going gets especially rough and especially with our loved ones or fellow members – those who are near us most often – we find reasons to “complain”. That doesn’t excuse it, but it happens.
    In those situations and into this corrupted world Christ came. When they threw insults at Him, He didn’t fire back. While He suffered, He didn’t spit and sputter threats at those who slapped and nailed Him. He was “patient” when His first disciples were slow to understand His teachings. And He is patient with us when we find fault so easily in others, but somehow can’t see anything in ourselves to criticize or change.
    Be patient” – or perish in this corrupted world. That patience isn’t anything we dig deep to find. It’s found in the Savior, the sinless one who endured hell for sinners. He turns our hearts to His coming again. When He allows the blows of affliction to fall on us, His goal is not to see how we will react; He already knows. His goal is always to have us look more eagerly for His return – and until then lean more certainly on His redemption.
    In those great acts we see history’s crowning events. In those great acts we understand “what the Lord did”, brought about the salvation of every sinner. Our goal isn’t an early New Year’s resolution to “be patient’. Our goal from God is to put on His patience with us as we live in this corrupt world and as we wait for Him to come back on the Last Day.      Amen.
    Pastor David A. Voss
    Second Sunday in Advent - Who Are You Rooted In?
  • Second Sunday in Advent
    December 4, 2022
    Hymns                        321,   316,   312,   304
    First Lesson              Isaiah 11:1-10
    Psalm                         130
    Second Lesson         Romans 15:4-13
    Gospel Lesson         Matthew 3:1-12
    Romans 15:4-13
    Who Are You Rooted In?
      I. The God who deserves all glory from us
     II. The God who gives great blessings to us
    In the name of Christ Jesus, our Redeemer, fellow sinners redeemed by the saving flood of His blood,
    “Who are you rooting for?” Watching sports – or even reality shows, I suppose – on TV we sometimes ask or are asked, “Who are you rooting for?”
    Have we ever asked or been asked, “Who are you rooted in?” Probably not. But we should! We should ask ourselves in personal devotions, ask our neighbor if we don’t know what her answer will be, ask our loved ones, “Who are you rooted in?”
    This lesson refers to “a Root” (v. 12), as the Holy Spirit had the Apostle Paul quote Chapter 11, verse 10 of the Old Testament prophet Isaiah’s book and today’s First Reading. This root doesn’t clog sewer lines to cause messy, smelly backups. This root doesn’t protrude from the lawn to nick a mower blade or trip a toddler. Should we chop this Root up? Cut it out? Curse its existence? Is this Root a frustrating nuisance? Never!
    This is the “Root of Jesse” (v. 12). This Root is Jesus, the Savior who came from Jesse, as promised in Isaiah. This Root bears much wonderful fruit. We are that fruit because we are connected to that Root who said, “I am the Vine; you are the branches” (John 15:5). Who are we rooted in? Christ Jesus. With the Father and the Holy Spirit, the Son is God who deserves all glory from us and who gives great blessings to us.
      I. The God who deserves all glory from us
    There are thousands of religious ideas in the world. Some shout, We alone are right! More insist, No one can say for sure what’s right and what’s wrong. A person decides what is truth for him, which might not be truth for her, them, or anyone else.
    What about that, fellow shoots from the “Root of Jesse”, believers in the Savior? Is there any absolute religious truth? Is anyone’s teaching perfectly correct? When we get to the Root of the matter, when we listen to the words and study the earthly life of the Root of Jesse, Christ Jesus, we are convinced He is the Truth and His every Word is the truth.
    Jesus came not just to be seen – as though He were a walking, talking brilliant jewel or shiny new car or pretty tree. He came to work for the world! Then, after His living and dying, preaching and teaching, performing miracles and enduring hell, rising from death to prove He is indeed the Son of God and that His sacrifice has paid for all sins, Jesus instructed His followers of all time, Go and gather disciples from all nations by baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). That’s how the holy God connected us sinners to Jesus, the Root, the only Savior!
    Then, in the next breath, the ascending-into-heaven Jesus said, “and by teaching them to keep all the teachings I have given you (Matthew 28:20). Not, “Pay attention to most of what I’ve taught you.” Not, “Teach the things I taught you if you agree with those teachings.” But “teach all the teachings I have given you”. We delight to be rooted in Christ, right? So we are delighted to be united in all His truth!
    Do those who claim to be rooted in God “glorify” Him by thinking, We decide what is truth!? Do those who claim to be rooted in God “glorify” Him by ripping verses or chapters from His Word when those verses or chapters don’t fit their views? No! May God…grant that you agree with one another in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that with one mind, in one voice, you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (vv. 5-6).
    The ”Root of Jesse” comes in His Word to unite us to Him, to root us in Him. But He does so on His terms, not ours. He unites us to Him to His glory and for our good, not our convenience. The Christians in Rome who first read this letter were troubled by a split in their church. Jews who trusted Jesus thought they were better believers than Gentile converts to faith in Jesus. God wanted those Jews and Gentiles to “glorify” Him together. After all, they were all shoots from the same Root. “Rejoice, Gentiles, with the Jews…On Him Jews and Gentiles will place their hope” (vv. 10,12).
    We don’t have Jew-vs-Gentile tension here. But God-glorifying unity is always attacked by Satan. We fight the devil. We won’t pollute God’s glory by agreeing all religions have legitimate ways to heaven. The only way is to be rooted in the only Savior through faith in Him. God deserves all the glory from us since He’s done everything to bless us and save us. He desires we “glorify” Him as we stand united on His Word. As shoots from the Root of Jesse, we who are rooted in Him, who are connected by God-given trust to Jesus, put His Word – all of it – into practice in every area of life. We “glorify” God His way.
    II. The God who gives great blessings to us
    Roots spread. Grass roots grow into gardens where you don’t want grass. Shrubs send suckers under the fence where your neighbors don’t want them. Spreading roots can be bad news.
    But it’s never bad news when the “Root of Jesse”, Christ Jesus, spreads and grows and takes root and produces fruit in more and more hearts and lives. Who are we rooted in? The God who deserves all glory from us because He is the God who spreads His wealth to give great blessings to us.
    We mentioned tension between Jews and Gentiles in the Roman church. Many Jews thought keeping Old Testament laws about sacrifices and ceremonies made them closer to God than Gentiles who didn’t. But those Jews were wrong. “Christ became a servant of the Jews to confirm the promises made to the patriarchs” (v. 8). What does that mean?
    In the centuries before the first Christmas, God promised “the patriarchs” – Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – the Savior would come from their descendants. God gave their descendants, the Jews, lots of laws and certain ceremonies to picture the Messiah promised to “the patriarchs”. Then, when Jesus came, sinners would recognize Him from all that had been foretold about Him. When Jesus finished His work, those laws and ceremonies were no longer needed. So those who said those laws and ceremonies had to be kept after Christ were wrong. Jesus, the fulfillment of those sacrifices and ceremonies, had come! That’s why God used five passages from Old Testament Jewish prophets in this New Testament letter to show Gentiles and Jews both have been blessed by God with the same Savior, that even in Old Testament Israel God had promised the Savior for the Gentiles’ blessings, too.
    The truth is that God doesn’t accept any imperfect keeping of any of His laws as any payment for any of our sins. The truth is that sinners can’t offer God anything to pay for even one sin. The truth is that God saved sinners, all of whom deserve hell, by the work of the “Root of Jesse”. Trusting Him is the way to life. Since all that is true, God teaches, Accept one another as Christ also accepted you” – notice, not, “As you accepted Christ”, but “as Christ accepted you” (v. 7). We don’t let grudges fester in His family. We “accept one another” as fellow shoots from the “Root of Jesse” who has given us the greatest blessings: forgiveness, faith, salvation!
    Newspaper ads and TV spots the next three weeks will wish us all the joy of the season. But what is the joy of the season? Strolling in a soft snowfall? Getting a new toy or expensive shoes or video games? None of that gives real joy.
    This is real joy. May the God of hope fill you with complete joy…as you continue to believe, so that you overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (v. 13). The joy of this – and every – season is that the “Root of Jesse”, the One born in an animals’ rest area and crucified on a cursed cross, is our Savior. Sinners who are bound for hell because of their guilt are handed in Bethlehem and Jerusalem the greatest Gift, the best Blessing, of all. That is “joy” to – and for – the world!
    There’s more. May the God of hope fill you with complete… peace as you continue to believe, so that you overflow with hope” (v. 13). What is this peace? A cease fire between Russia and Ukraine? Helping the homeless this month? Resolving conflict in our family? That would be great. But would any of that do any of us or any people in the world any eternal good?
    The peace of which the Christmas angels sang is only in the work done by, and the blessings spreading from, the “Root of Jesse”. True peace comes “by the power of the Holy Spirit” who leads us “to believe” the “Root of Jesse” is the Savior. True peace comes when God fills us with the faith that in the Son the Father no longer holds our sins against us. True peace is going to bed each evening and rising from sleep each morning confident we are members of the greatest family in the world: God’s family through being rooted in Christ. Joy and peace” in Jesus are the greatest blessings from God!
    Advent preparation for Christ’s birth and His return includes honest evaluation of our hearts. A great battle still rages there. Satan was defeated at the cross, so he’s lost the war to control the world. But he still wants to win your soul and mine. Who’s winning the battle for our souls right now?
    The answer depends on the one in whom we’re rooted right now. Too many are rooted in the feel-good god of this age who wants sinners to suppose doing more good than bad will lead to heaven. Or trusting any god will do to get a person to a good life after this. Or no god is needed at all because there isn’t any life after this. Those are the most dangerous lies in the universe because they lead those who cling to them to hell with Satan forever. But we are rooted in the “Root of Jesse”, Christ Jesus. He was born in humility for us, lived in perfect obedience for us, died on the tree for us, then rose to tell us, “You are Mine forever!” Who are we rooted in? By God’s grace and His greatest blessings, we are rooted in the “Root of Jesse”! We glorify God for that with all our lives.      Amen.
    Pastor David A. Voss
    First Sunday in Advent - Our New Church Year Resolution: Walk in the Light of the Lord
  • First Sunday in Advent
    November 27, 2022
    Hymns                        301,   548,   309
    First Lesson              Isaiah 2:1-5
    Psalm                         24
    Second Lesson         Philippians 4:4-7
    Gospel Lesson         Matthew 21:1-11
    Isaiah 2:1-5
    Our New Church Year Resolution: Walk in the Light of the Lord
        I. A message intended for all
    II. A message needed by all
    In the name of Jesus, who came once to save the world, who will come again to judge the world, and who comes in His Word of Light each day to the world, Advent worshipers,
    We take light for granted, until intense lightning or strong winds knock out the power. Then, when power is restored, we rejoice. Those who’ve been in the dark won’t choose to go for hours, days, weeks, months, or years without light, right?
    That’s God’s lesson here. Of course, it’s not about keeping electricity flowing. The people to whom the Old Testament prophet Isaiah preached had no idea about power lines or light bulbs. God says here, “Keep walking in My spiritual light!”
    As we’ve already noted we enter a new church year today. How fitting that God gives us here the perfect new church year resolution: “Walk in the light of the Lord” (v. 5).
    And how blessed we’ll be to keep that resolution! “Walk in the light of the Lord” helps us prepare for the coming of Christ on the Last Day. “Walk in the light of the Lord” guides everything we people of God will do throughout the church year beginning today. And it’s not as though we can choose either to “walk in the light of the Lord”, or not, and still be okay with God. “Let us walk in the light of the Lord” is a message intended for all people and is a message needed by all people.
      I. A message intended for all
    Well, of course it’s for all people, preacher. That’s obvious! It wasn’t so obvious, and certainly not accepted, when Isaiah served as God’s prophet in the 700s BC. The people of Israel to whom Isaiah preached presumed their identity as God’s chosen nation meant they alone were guaranteed always to have God’s “light”. But in Isaiah’s day, the Israelites were straying and decaying spiritually. In verses just before this God had Isaiah compare them to “Sodom and Gomorrah” (Isaiah 1:9). Whoa! Was there any hope for Israel then?
    “This will take place in the latter days: The mountain of the Lord’s house will be established as the chief of the mountains. It will be raised above the hills, and all nations will stream to it like a river” (v. 2). What was, what still is, “the mountain of the Lord’s house”? Not any terrain or building, but all God’s faithful people. And when are “the latter days”? In the Old Testament that phrase always refers to the days between the first coming of Christ and the second coming of Christ. So today is included in “the latter days”.
    Whenever God’s faithful people gather around His saving Word is when “the Lord’s house is raised above the hills”. The people of Isaiah’s day would have associated that with the holy hill in Jerusalem where God had His temple built. The faithful after our Savior’s ascension would have associated that with the hill just beyond the temple where God gave Himself for all sinners. It’s also God’s way to say His Light lasts forever, long after all the lies of all false religions are burned up on the Last Day. God’s Word is the truth, far above all well-meaning, but still false, teachings that we are free to adopt our own values to fit our situations and lives. God’s good news is centered on the sacrifice made by Christ when He came the first time. What a perfect new church year resolution for God to set for His people: “Walk in the light of the Lord”!
    The Old Testament children of Israel were chosen by God to receive His Word in a special way for a special reason: from them the Savior for all the world would come. But “in the latter days”, the time from Jesus on earth until Jesus returns from heaven, the Word of God goes out to all the world. “All nations…many peoples” (vv. 2-3) walk in the light of the Lord. We American believers are blessedly among them.
    But even before the Savior was born, His Word was spread beyond the Jews, right? Didn’t Moses proclaim it to Pharaoh’s court in Egypt? Didn’t Jonah teach it to heathens in Nineveh? Didn’t Daniel confess it in Babylon, as we began studying in Bible Class today? God’s Word is revealed widely to all “nations”. We give thanks to God we are among that “many”!
    What a blessed note on which to enter the new church year! “Let us walk in the light of the Lord”! God’s message is intended for all, not a privileged few. We thank God for that! Had He given His truth only to Israel, we’d still be stumbling in darkness far worse than a power outage. We’d be headed to hell in unbelief. Thanks to the gracious God, we have His truth, His “light”, His life in Christ who took our guilt on Himself, and thus from us!, by His sacrifice at Calvary. Now, in daily living thanks to Him, we walk in the light of the Lord. We walk in the path of His work and of His Word in everything! And in daily living thanks to Him, we give His saving Word to friends and loved ones, to neighbors and classmates who are not yet walking in the light of the Lord. His light is intended for all people!
    II. A message needed by all
    A decent salesperson won’t try to sell you on his company’s product with, “We intend all people have this gadget!” You’d reply, “No thank you! I’m doing just fine without it!” God isn’t a salesman. He is the Savior. God isn’t content to say, “Walk in My light because I intend it for all.” He adds, “You need My light! Resolve to walk in My light because without My light there is no life with Me! My light is needed by all people!”
    That is true because all people – Jew and Gentile, male and female, young and old – begin life belonging to Satan. Already at conception we carried the sin of our parents, who got it from their parents and so on all the way back to Adam and Eve’s sin. Sin sticks to us for all our earthly life. We’re idolators like Baal worshipers were. How? We’ve never bowed before idols! No, but we put money and fun and our own ideas ahead of the Messiah and His forgiveness and His Word. We don’t have time to do a crushing soul search with all God’s other laws. But we must see our hearts under the spotlight of God’s law to see how dark our hearts are by nature. We smash His laws and spit in His face every day by defiantly deciding to do things our way, rather than walk in His “light”. We deserve to burn in hell for the sin in which we were born and for every one of the sins we pile up every day.
    But we won’t burn in hell because the Lord rescued sinners – all sinners. The little Lord Jesus came to earth “not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom” (Mark 10:45) for all. What we couldn’t accomplish, Christ alone could – and did! He lived the perfect life for every imperfect sinner. He paid the price for every sin because no sinner can pay for even one sin. What we couldn’t know on our own, God made known to us in His Word. Receiving that good news needed by all people God pictures here with “Come…to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob…For from Zion the law (here, all of God’s truths – exposing our sins and revealing His forgiveness in Jesus) will go out, and the Lord’s Word will go out from Jerusalem” (v. 3).
    Hold it! How can words on a page save us? It’s not the ink. It’s the truth of the reality of history and victory on Calvary those words convey. The Lord “will judge between the nations, and He will mediate for many peoples” (v. 4). That doesn’t help, preacher! If God “will judge” me, I’ll fail! Here, the idea of judging is to govern, to rule. The Lord rules with His Word. His rule isn’t a burden. He rules in His love for us. He wants nothing but the eternal best for us. We have been snatched from hell by Christ who lived and died and rose in the place of all sinners. When we “walk in the light of the Lord”, we live like the forgiven children of the Savior we truly are! “Let us walk in the light of the Lord” isn’t a forced march, but a joyful walk arm-in-arm with Him who gave His life for us.
    Part of this lesson is etched on a wall of the United Nations building. “They will beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into blades for trimming vines. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, nor will they learn war anymore” (v. 4). Isn’t this why the United Nations exists? Not really. That organization seeks the noble goal of peace between nations. Here, God is describing peace between His holy self and us guilty sinners. Two parties that had been separated are brought together by the work of the Advent Savior, Jesus.
    “Let us walk in the light of the Lord”, the light of salvation all people need. Many insist that there are different roads to salvation. But only the work of Christ removes the guilt of sin. Only the message about Jesus is the saving “light of the Lord”.
    On New Year’s Day people make a fresh start and get rid of rotten habits. This first day of the church year is all of that in far more important ways. We rededicate our lives to “walk in the light of the Lord”.
    We don’t enter this new Church year blind to the challenges we face as a congregation, in our homes, on our jobs, with our classes. The challenges are real. But so is the Lord who urges us to walk in His “light” as we deal with every challenge before us. We apply the unchanging truths of God’s Word to every situation by “walking in the light of the Lord”. We do so to stay ready for the day when the Lord returns to bring an end to life here and take His own to heaven.
    Walking in the light of the Lord means we use His light in our house and in His house. In these first hours of a new church year, we commit ourselves to life for Him who gave His life for us, to use His Word, to “walk in His light” each second, to see the heaven that awaits us through faith in Him.      Amen.
    Pastor David A. Voss
    Last Sunday of the Church Year - We Wait for the Lord's Return
  • Last Sunday of the Church Year
    November 20, 2022
    Hymns                        629,   511,   559,   512
    First Lesson              Habakkuk 1:1-3; 2:1-4
    Psalm                         130
    Second Lesson         Revelation 22:6-13
    Gospel Lesson         Luke 12:35-40
    Luke 12:35-40
    We Wait for the Lord’s Return
          I. Watching for His promised banquet
    II. Watching for Him every moment
    In the name of the Savior who came to rescue us, who comes to us in His Word, and who will return, fellow redeemed,
    “Our long wait is over! The holidays are finally here!” So said an ad for Lansing’s Silver Bells in the City event. But whether the holidays are really here depends on what we consider the holidays to be – the tree on the front lawn of the Capitol building being lit, the weeks from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day, the holy days of celebrating the Savior’s birth. And, as long as that third one is most important, what do during whatever people call the holidays won’t ignore the holy days.
    For centuries the Christian Church has used this last Sunday of the Church year to ponder Christ’s truth from Christ’s Word about Christ’s return. For fifty-one weeks we have heard about the life of Christ and His work to win forgiveness, life, and salvation for mankind. We have gathered here around the Word the Triune God uses to deliver forgiveness, life as His children, and salvation to us sinners – to produce and then strengthen in us the faith that lays hold of those blessings.
    But when will our wait for salvation end? We don’t know. In His very last words to us in His Word, words we heard in today’s Second Lesson, Jesus said, “I am coming soon” (Revelation 22:20). But it’s been nearly two thousand years since Jesus gave those words to His apostle John. “Soon”? His time isn’t our time because He is eternal, the Alpha and Omega. His coming at the end of time will take the world by surprise.
    So what do we do? We wait for the Lord’s return. We don’t do so by twiddling our thumbs as we look skyward, but by being in His Word as we look forward. We wait for the Lord’s return, watching for His promised banquet and watching for Him every moment.
      I. Watching for His promised banquet

    The Savior’s Word picture here might not thrill you. “Be dressed, ready for service (v. 35). Satan suggests, Seriously? You work all your life, then when your Jesus returns He wants you to work some more, be ready for service? Forget that! That’s not the Savior’s point. He compares His return with a master returning to his house, now with his bride from their wedding banquet to live in his house as husband and wife. The groom would expect his servants at his house to be ready for his return, even if that was in the middle of the night, “dressed for service” and “lamps burning” (v. 35) as they waited.
    You know how people in Bible times dressed. Even the men wore long flowing robes. Scurrying around and hurrying to get things done with the robe dangling at the ankles would slow servants down, maybe trip them up. So workers tucked the hem of the robe into a belt around the waist, ready to work quickly, efficiently. The King James Version is gird their loins
    Then the returning Lord went on to teach how His faithful servants are “blessed”. The master “will dress himself, tuck his robe into his belt, and have them recline at the table, and he will come and serve them (v. 37). What an amazing reversal of roles! What an unexpected development! What trillionaire would get married, then tell his workers to loosen their cummerbunds and make themselves comfortable while he brought food and drink to them in his own house?!
    That’s not the way we’d expect things to go. But that is the way of our gracious, saving, returning Lord. When He returns on the Last Day, He will usher us, body and soul, into the great  banquet of heaven and invite us to enjoy ourselves. What an encouragement to keep waiting for the Lord to return!
    We don’t wait by dropping out of school, resigning from work, selling all we own, and moving to a desolate location to watch the sky for signs of the Lord’s return. We wait by being in His Word all the time, the spiritual equivalent of having the hem of a robe tucked into a belt. This is the Lord’s way to keep us “ready” through trust in His sacrifice. We don’t want to miss His banquet, so we keep going back to His blood-bought invitation where He sends it to us – in His Word. We don’t arrogantly suppose we make ourselves worthy to attend the banquet. We marvel at His love for us sinners who deserve forever banishment from Him, not the forever banquet promised and prepared by Him. He who already lived and died and rose to open heaven for sinners, has now prepared a lavish life for us.
    We will be seated at that banquet when the Lord returns. Until then, we who trust Jesus as the sinner’s greatest treasure don’t seem to be too blessed on earth. We struggle and suffer, groan and grieve. But still we use His Word of truth to watch for His promised return and His promised banquet which we anticipate far, far more than the upcoming four-day holiday.
    II. Watching for Him every moment
    That all sounds wonderful. But when will it be, Lord? It’s not like looking at the radar to see when the snow will start or a hurricane will make landfall. It’s not like keeping the invitation to a holiday party on the fridge so we’re constantly aware of the day and time. The instruction the Savior gives us about His return in glory is simple, but crucial. “The Son of Man is coming at an hour when you are not expecting Him (v. 40). We wait for the Lord’s return by watching for Him every moment.
    They are not trying to deceive, but they do. Some people scour Ezekiel and Daniel in the Old Testament and the book of Revelation in the New Testament claim to find a key to the date of Christ’s return. They say a battle must first be fought between these world powers. Or a throne must first be set up in that city. Or a pestilence must first infect many. “Then,” they tell us, “look for the Lord to return.”
    They are wrong. The returning Lord, the God of all history, alone is right! Right? Throughout His Word He tells His waiting people in every age to be watching for Him every moment, not waiting for important world events to unfold first. All signs have been fulfilled. He says, “Be ready (v. 40) every moment!”
    He doesn’t give subtle clues in His Word. Yet some people misuse Revelation to check off world events and think, Just one more to go and then Jesus can return! He does give clear instruction in His Word that even the newest student of Scripture can grasp. “If the master of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into” (v. 39). The point isn’t that Jesus is a thief, but that His return could be any moment now. “You also be ready, because the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you are not expecting Him”.
    Thieves don’t announce to residents their intent to break in and make off with the family’s possessions, don’t inform the residents what night and what time they’re coming. Neither does Jesus give even a general idea what month or year He will return. He will not reveal that to us. “No one knows when that day and hour will be, not the angels of heaven, not even the Son (spoken that Tuesday before Good Friday in His state of humiliation, Jesus was not making full use of His divine power), but only the Father” (Matthew 24:36). We wait for the Lord’s return by watching for Him every moment.
    “Be dressed, ready for service, and keep your lamps burning”. The Lord could return at any moment to end time on earth. Or the Lord could come invisibly at any moment to take your soul in sudden, tragic-to-your-loved-ones, death. Until one of those takes place, the Lord wants you who trust His payment of our hell to serve Him joyfully and faithfully each day, each moment!, as you wait for Him. As was the case when Jesus came to earth in the flesh, as is the case when Jesus comes to us in His Word and in His sacraments now, so it will be when He comes on the Last Day – “not to be served, but to serve” (Mark 10:45). Thus, His faithful, blood-bought people serve Him daily. That isn’t just worship one hour per week – well, two hours this week. That’s also doing His will in everything. That’s speaking to others of His sacrifice to cover the guilt of every sin. That’s watching for Him every moment.
    “The Son of Man is coming at an hour when you are not expecting Him”. If we don’t know when it will be, how can we be ready? We keep waiting and watching! The Savior points us to His Word. The promises He made before He suffered, died, rose, and ascended into heaven fill us with hope as we wait and watch. Jesus didn’t just speak those words of promise. He and His Father and the Spirit had them miraculously given to human writers and preserved in His holy Word for us.
    As we wait for Him to keep the one promise He hasn’t yet fulfilled, “I am coming soon” (Revelation 22:20), He directs us to His Word. He uses His Word to keep us from becoming impatient. Lord, look how horrible things have gotten in this world! All the immorality! All the senseless shootings! So many people have no use for You! Where are You?! He uses His Word to keep us from becoming indifferent. Boring! Tell me something new, preacher! I know Jesus lived and died for me. I know He’s coming back some day! Give me something I can use!
    Just one promised event has yet to be fulfilled: the Lord’s return. Until He does, we wait, we watch for His promised banquet. We wait, we watch for Him every moment.     Amen.
    Pastor David A. Voss