SERMONS

    Eighth Sunday after Pentecost - God Is the Key to True Enjoyment
  • Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
    July 31, 2022
     
    Hymns                        912,   820,   807,   930
    First Lesson              Ecclesiastes 1:2,12-14; 2:18-26
    Psalm                         90
    Second Lesson         Colossians 3:1-11
    Gospel Lesson         Luke 12:13-21
     
     
    Ecclesiastes 1:2,12-14; 2:18-26
     
    God Is the Key to True Enjoyment
          I. He provides satisfaction in our work
    II. He promises salvation for our life

     
    In the name of our Savior Jesus Christ, our sure hope for heaven and our greatest reason for living, fellow redeemed,
     
    This book of the Bible doesn’t get a lot of attention. The part  of it many people know is the verses quoted in a song from the 60s. But there’s more to what King Solomon wrote in this book than A time to give birth and a time to die…a time to weep and a time to laugh” (Ecclesiastes 3:2,4), and so on.
     
    Some people dismiss passages like “Nothing but vapor…Totally vapor. Everything is just vapor that vanishes” (v. 2) as the depressed ramblings of a pessimist. But, like all the Bible, these are spiritual lessons from God Himself in His Word!
     
    And who of us hasn’t felt this way? This life is pointless! Workers back from vacation, adults scrambling in life’s busy cycle, students groaning about going back to school in one month wonder, “What’s the point?” No secular psychologist has the answer. But the Holy Spirit had Solomon, the wisest and richest man in the world in his day, write these words as king of Israel for all people of all time. God taught Solomon, the hard way, and He teaches us for good times and tough times that God is the key to true enjoyment. How? He provides satisfaction in our work, and He promises salvation for our life.
     
      I. He provides satisfaction in our work

    Most translations have meaningless. The precise definition for the word used seventeen times in the first four chapters of Ecclesiastes is “vapor”,  something here one moment, gone the next. Life here is fleeting and unstable. Life can seem frustrating, without purpose, empty. It’s a good word: “vapor”. Beneath the hustle and bustle of life, behind the tinsel and glitter of good times, lurks a depressing sense of emptiness.
     
    That isn’t how God intended life to be. In Eden, before our first parents fell into sin, there was none of that. But part of God’s judgment on sin is that “creation was subjected to futility, not by its own will, but by the will of the One who subjected it” (Romans 8:20), that is, God Himself.
     
    That’s ancient history, isn’t it? Things are better now, aren’t they? There have been great advances in technology since Adam and Eve. We use computers more than paper at work, cars more than feet to get around, efficient gas furnaces more than smoky wood fires to heat homes. But where have those advances gotten us? Nowhere with God!
     
    We have a far more varied and comfortable life than Solomon could have ever imagined. Yet we nod in agreement with the king’s commentary, “I hated all the results of my hard work, for which I worked so hard under the sun, since I must leave it all to the man who comes after me. And who knows – will he be wise, or a fool? Yet he will have control over all the results of my hard work, for which I worked so hard and so wisely, under the sun” (vv. 18-19).
     
    God had blessed Solomon richly. “God gave Solomon wisdom …greater than all the wisdom of the men of the East and greater than all the wisdom of Egypt…From all the people and from all the kings of the earth…people came to listen to his wisdom” (1 Kings 4:30,34). God also blessed Solomon with vast wealth. The king made silver and gold as plentiful as ordinary stones” (2 Chronicles 1:15). But what good did that do him beyond this life? Even before Solomon, Moses drew the same conclusion. “The days of our lives add up to seventy years, or eighty years if we are strong. Yet the best of them are trouble and sorrow, for they disappear quickly (a vapor, right?), and we fly away” (Psalm 90:10).
    Trying to figure out how to get ahead, how to wring more value out of life, how to keep good times going makes our heads spin, our minds race, our stomachs churn. I can’t control the future! “This too is vapor. It’s so unfair” (v. 23)! What is the meaning of life? There has to be more than seeing how much money we can make, because we can’t take money with us. There has to be more than being well-known or well-liked, because we can’t control what others think of us.
     
    The key is God! He reveals that here. “For there is nothing better for a man than to eat and to drink and to find joy in his work. This too, I saw, is from God’s hand (v. 24). The bumper sticker is wrong. The one with the most toys does not win. Life isn’t about living for ourselves. God is the key to true enjoyment.
     
    He provides us with satisfaction in our work. All lasting enjoyment comes from Him “in whom we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). Why? It’s because of what He has done for us! Who owns everything we have? Not we who work hard for it, but He who gives us the ability to work! Even life itself is a gift from His gracious hand. So who has the right to say, “This is your purpose on earth! This is how you are to use what I have given you?” God! He is the key to true enjoyment.
     
    The faithful factory worker and industrious farmer, the successful corporate executive and devoted stay-at-home mom, the retired adult and the high school student all find meaning for life when they look to Him who gives life and blessings – and who has removed sin’s curse! That is the greatest satisfaction in this life! True enjoyment is “from God’s hand” (v. 24).
     
    II. He promises salvation for our life
               
    For centuries philosophers have sat and thought and sat and thought and sat and thought still more about the meaning and purpose of life. But centuries of sitting and thinking have led to no definite answers to the key questions, “Why am I here? And where am I going?” It can’t be to get ahead in life because in many ways we take one step forward, then one step back. And even if we were to make it to the top of our profession, where would that get us? We can’t take it with us when we die. God says, “For you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19). Death is the great equalizer. Everyone dies.
     
    So, what’s the point? Listen to the Lord! He is the key to true enjoyment! He doesn’t just give us reason to live here. He also gives us purpose as He promises salvation for life hereafter.
     
    Some suppose this life is all there is. But that gives them nothing to anticipate after life in this world of sorrows. There’s no true enjoyment in that world view. There are those who know there’s a life after this one, so they try to earn heaven by impressing the Lord and wondering where they stand with Him. There’s no true enjoyment in that religious view. We know life lasts beyond the grave and know we sinners can’t do a thing to get to heaven. True enjoyment is knowing God has taken care of all we need for our salvation.
     
    That’s only happens for sinners by the work of God’s Son, Jesus, a descendant of King Solomon. His death for us is the full payment of what we owe God: hell for every sin. His promise of life forever is more than a wish. It is the reality in which we live, connected to Him through faith. And His rising from His grave proves all this is most certainly true! He is the key to true enjoyment. He promises salvation for our life.
     
    The Jesus who died for sinners invites sinners, “Come to Me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). The goal of life isn’t grabbing as many dollars and acres as we can. That doesn’t give us “rest” at night – or eternally – from the guilt of our sins. The goal of life is getting sweet “rest” and relief from our sins and guilt by the blood of the Lamb, and looking forward to joy in the presence and palace of God forever. God is the key to true enjoyment! He promises salvation to all who trust His work to save them.
     
    Without God’s promise of heaven, life on earth is “vapor. Totally vapor. Everything is just vapor that vanishes” (v. 2) and is empty. Apart from Him who can eat or enjoy himself” (v. 25)? But with God’s undeserved gift of salvation for us in Jesus, connected to and given “rest” by our Savior, we find meaning and enjoyment – even when enduring life’s troubles.
     
    Job. Family responsibilities. Studies. Boring sameness? Dreary chores? Endless work? Yes, when done just to bring home a check, just to keep the house humming, just to pass classes. But when God’s people go through their work days, home routines, class assignments trusting what God has done to rescue sinners from hell forever, then ten hours in an office, all day and night changing diapers, all evening doing homework is full of meaning and fulfillment in Christ.
     
    That applies to our service as members of God’s Church, too. Cleaning the church and doing Altar Guild work, teaching Vacation Bible School and Sunday School and daily driving children to and from our school, attending meetings and greeting worshipers isn’t the way we’d choose to spend what little free time we have if it were all about us. But it isn’t all about us. It’s all about what Jesus has already done for us. With His undeserved and blood-bought forgiveness filling our heart, we find enjoyment in all we do in His kingdom work, too.
     
    Even with God at the center of our life, not everything in life will make us smile. Rainy days on vacation or unexpected car repairs, saying goodbye to loved ones as they leave home or depart for heaven, a job loss or family friction – all of that and more in life is disappointing or sad or crushing. But God is the key to keeping any of that from overwhelming us. He provides satisfaction in our work done to honor Him and to help others. He gives us salvation in Christ for life after this life. With that in front of us, the lows in life aren’t so devastating, the setbacks don’t lead us to seek solace in substances, the frustrations don’t make us frantic. God is the key to true enjoyment!
     
    Imagine thinking you’re only living to work, spend money, and then die – like the guy in today’s Gospel Lesson. How pathetic! Jesus our Savior knew His purpose – then completed it perfectly for us. In Him we have the meaning of life – His and ours! Our attitude in life and among others this week and for the rest of our lives will give evidence that our life is centered in the cross of Christ. He is the key to true enjoyment!      Amen.
    Pastor David A. Voss
    Seventh Sunday after Pentecost - The Lord Teaches Us to Pray
  • Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
    July 24, 2022
     
    Hymns                         776,   720,  721
    First Lesson                 Genesis 18:20-32
    Psalm                          138
    Second Lesson            1 Timothy 2:1-7
    Gospel Lesson             Luke 11:1-13
     
     
    Luke 11:1-13
     
    The Lord Teaches Us to Pray
    I. More spiritually
      II. More persistently
    III. More confidently
     
     
    In the name of Jesus, our Savior, fellow beloved by the Lord,
     
    The ancient theologian Bernard admitted to a friend his mind frequently wandered while he prayed. He couldn’t even finish the Lord’s Prayer without distraction. His friend bragged, “I find it easy to keep my mind on God, especially when I pray the Lord’s Prayer!” Bernard suggested a contest. If his friend could make it through the Lord’s Prayer without a distracting thought, he could have Bernard’s stallion. The friend began to pray, “Our Father”, but before he got to “Thy will be done” he was wondering whether the horse’s saddle would be his, too.
     
    “Lord, teach us to pray” (v. 1). The Savior’s disciples asked for prayer instruction then. His followers still need it today. We, too, are often distracted when we pray. Like believers in every age, we wonder why God doesn’t answer us. Like the disciples, we have questions about what we should ask for when we pray. “Lord, teach us to pray”. There is no instruction here about to whom we should pray. It is only to God, never to angels or departed saints. There isn’t any direction here about when we should pray, where or in what posture. We may pray any time, any place, standing, sitting, kneeling, or lying down.
     
    What those disciples wanted, we disciples need: “Lord, teach us to pray”. What the Lord answered them, He answers us. “Pray more spiritually, more persistently, more confidently.”
     
    I. More spiritually
     
    This was the second time Jesus taught the Lord’s Prayer. The first time was during His Sermon on the Mount to many believers. This time, right after Jesus Himself had finished praying, He instructed His twelve disciples. “Lord, teach us to pray”. Maybe the request arose from the kind of petitions, the kind of requests, the disciples had heard Jesus make when He prayed regularly. The sinless Son of Man on earth sent prayers to His Father in heaven. How more should we sinners!
     
    In this lesson about prayer, the One after whom the model prayer is named said, “When you pray, say…” (v. 2). Jesus doesn’t give us words to say in mindless recitation, as though the mere repeating the words pleases Him. The Lord’s Prayer, the perfect prayer, focuses on the spiritual. The Lord teaches us to pray more for blessings for the soul than for the body.
     
    We can’t make God’s holy name any holier than it is, but we do ask Him to help us keep it as holy as it is when we speak about Him and as we live for Him. We can’t make God’s kingdom come, but we do ask Him to use His Gospel to keep His kingdom ruling in our hearts through faith in Christ and to bring to faith those living without the Savior. We can’t do God’s will perfectly, but we do ask Him to help His will be done among us. We can’t do anything to erase our sins, but we do ask the Father to forgive the monstrous mountain of our sins against Him because His Son purchased our pardon, and we seek God’s help to forgive the little mound of sins others do against us. We can’t keep temptations from flying all around us in this sinful world, but we do ask the Lord to give us the power of His Word to overcome them. We don’t know when God will call our soul out of this life, but we do ask Him to keep us focused on the perfect life – free from evil – He won for us.
     
    Of the seven petitions in the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus gives six that have to do with our spiritual life, our souls, and only one for our body, the one about daily bread. The Lord teaches us to pray more spiritually. Do we? “Lord, teach us to pray more often for our souls and the souls of others, even people we don’t know. Teach us to pray more spiritually!”
     
    And how does the Lord reinforce His lesson within us? By His Word! Here He tells us His kingdom coming daily is more important than our making money. Here He tells us He is not honored when we do and say what we want, but when all we do and say lines up with His will. Here He shows us only His payment covers all our guilt, and here and there He gives us the motivation to forgive everything everyone has ever done or said against us. Jesus prayed for all those spiritual blessings. The Lord teaches us to pray the same way!
     
      II. More persistently
     
    “Lord, teach us to pray?”  Isn’t it more, “Lord, answer me when I pray?” So often I don’t seem to get any answer to my prayer! The Lord teaches us His reason for divine delays in answering our prayers. The Lord teaches us to pray more persistently.
     
    Don’t overanalyze the first illustration Jesus used where the man inside replied, “Don’t bother me” (v. 7). It can’t mean that God gets grumpy when He’s disturbed late at night and shouts at us, “Go away!” The point is that the friend persisted.
     
    Visitors had arrived at midnight. Custom called for the host to serve a meal to the guests. But the host had no bread. His wife would bake in the morning, but he needed bread now. He knew his friend had bread, so he went to him to ask for some. His friend said, “No! Everyone else here is asleep and I would wake them by opening the door to you.”
     
    Jesus explained, “I tell you, even if he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his bold persistence, he will get up and give him as much as he needs” (v. 8). He didn’t care if he woke people. He’d pound on his friend’s door until he got what he needed. Persistence”.
    The Lord teaches us to pray more persistently! We don’t have to keep ringing God’s divine phone line to let Him know what we need. Your Father knows what you need before you ask Him (Matthew 6:8). We pay persistently, keep bringing our requests to God, to show our trust in Him and need for Him.
     
    God doesn’t delight to see us squirm while we wait for His answer. He often withholds Yes or No as His way to drive us back to Him. We need God to do that with our prayers at times because we too often rely on our own awful efforts to get what we think we need. Our Father in heaven delays His answers to some of our prayers because He wants us constantly communicating with Him. Are we? Or do we give up too easily?
     
    Some of us are timid when it comes to asking for help. We don’t want to bother others. But Jesus teaches us to pray more persistently, not concerned about “bothering Him with our prayers. He invites us to come to Him again and again and again with the same requests since that reveals our trust in His unlimited power and inexhaustible treasure, rather than us grumbling, “Okay, God! I guess I’ll have to do this myself!” God is glorified when we repeat our prayers to Him since that shows we look longingly to Him who saved us by opening heaven to us through Christ’s sacrifice for us and to see Him as the One whose ears are always open, rather than us impatiently, sinfully thinking, “If you’ve not listening, Lord, I don’t need you!” The Lord teaches us to pray more persistently.
     
    III. More confidently
     
    “Lord, teach us to pray?” Isn’t it more, “Lord, give me what I want?” We tend to treat God as though He’s a pharmacist. “God, here’s what I need, and I want it in an hour!” Doesn’t that attitude suggest we know better than the all-knowing God? His answer is always best for us, even when He answers, “No” or “Here is something different than what you are seeking?” The Lord teaches us to pray more confidently.
     
    The point of Christ’s second illustration in this lesson is crystal clear. God gives us what is best. When He describes parents as “evil” (v. 13), He means we are sinful and selfish and far from perfect in our dealings with our children. But we don’t intentionally harm you children whom the Lord Himself has given us to raise and train. We do what God teaches us to do for you children as we “give good gifts to” (v. 13) you children. You don’t get everything you ask for from your parents. And that’s good! That is your parents showing love to you by wanting only what is good for you, and refusing to give you what our Lord and life experiences teach us is bad for you children.
     
    Our “heavenly Father” (v. 13) is perfect, and won’t ever harm us. He always does what is best for us, including when answering our prayers. We don’t get everything we ask Him for, do we? We prayed for the recovery of a  loved one, but he only got more sick and died. The Heavenly Father knows best! We’ve prayed for a new job, more money, a reliable vehicle, but received none of that. The heavenly Father knows best!
     
    In His perfect love, God’s will was to use the illness to lead our loved one to see his forgiveness in Christ as the greatest treasure. What is better than that? God knows the new job, bigger bank account, nicer car would have led us more toward the things of this world and further from His Word of salvation. Not immediately clearing up the trouble we face is His way to drive us back to His Word. The “heavenly Father” knows best!
     
    The Lord teaches us to pray more confidently. God is not an angry slave owner, but our loving Lord. We are confident He will give us only what is good for us in the long run. “We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God” (Romans 8:28). Through faith in Christ we are children of God. As a little one doesn’t hesitate to ask her parents for anything, confident they won’t give her anything to harm her, so we children of God go to Him often in prayer, confident His answer will bless us best. We “receive, find, and open” (v. 10) what He wants us to have, which might not be the same as what we hoped to receive, to find, to open.
     
    The power of prayer doesn’t lie in our efforts or asking. The power of prayer lies entirely in Him who invites us to pray, who teaches us to pray, and who promises to hear and answer His children. Prayer works, but not because we whine loud enough and long enough. Prayer works because prayer is heard by our gracious God and answered from His perfect will.
     
    And we’ve already received more than we could ever have hoped and asked for, the greatest gift of all: “the Holy Spirit” (v. 13) who has brought us to faith in the Savior and kept us in that faith! That is reflected in the Lord’s Prayer where the Lord teaches us to shape our prayers to what He has promised, and to bring our will in line with His will for us.      Amen.
    Pastor David A. Voss
    Sixth Sunday of Pentecost - Which Service Do We Need?
  • Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
    July 17, 2022
     
    Hymns                        913,   645,   633,   893:1,9,3-4
    First Lesson              Genesis 18:1-14
    Psalm                         119B
    Second Lesson         Colossians 1:1-14
    Gospel Lesson         Luke 10:38-42
     
     
    Luke 10:38-42
    Which Service Do We Need?
       I. Our service to Jesus is important
    II. Jesus’ service for us is essential
     
     
    In the name of Jesus, the only Savior for every sinner,
     
    Morning medications or other issues make it difficult for some of you to attend the 9:00 service summer Sunday mornings. So I’m sorry my absence wiped out the Thursday evening summer service last week. But our purpose in these minutes isn’t to discuss times for worship, but to learn about service.
     
    We call worship a service, right? Well, that leads to a question we don’t often consider – and when we do, we often answer incorrectly. The question? In worship, who is serving whom? It’s easy to focus on what we do in worship. “I set aside time to come to church. I sing praise to God. I bring God my thankoffering. I am serving God!” That’s true. But through the center of truly Christian worship, the Word and sacraments, God serves us. Through His Word and sacraments, God delivers every spiritual gift He wants us to receive.
     
    Our service to God is good. His service for us is perfect. God loves our service to Him. But we desperately need His service for us. In fact, receiving His service for us is really the highest form of our worship, as one of our Lutheran confessions explains. “God wants to be worshipped through faith so that we receive from Him those things He promises and offers.”
     
    We learn from our Savior’s words here how He wants us to answer the question, Which service do we need? The answer in summer isn’t, “7 PM” or “9 AM”, nor is it the rest of the year “8:00” or “10:30.” Which service, sinners, do we need? Our service to Jesus is important. Jesus’ service for us is essential.
     
    I. Our service to Jesus is important
     
    Remember the background of these middle chapters in Luke’s Gospel? “Jesus was determined to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51). Passover was coming up. The disciples might have thought, “Sure, He’s leading us to Jerusalem for the festival.” But Jesus was going to Jerusalem to fulfill the Passover, to suffer hell and die, to use His blood so that the curse of hell we deserve would pass over us. We don’t know how close this was to Passover that year and the first Holy Week. But He knew where He was headed: to Jerusalem, to the cross.
     
    When Jesus came to the house of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus in Bethany, two miles east of Jerusalem, just over the Mount of Olives (roughly the distance from here to Meech Road), He was likely taking those three siblings up on an open invitation. “Lord, whenever You are in Jerusalem, You are welcome to stay with us!” Martha “welcomed Him into her home” (v. 38).
     
    Keep that in mind as we work through this lesson. It wasn’t that Mary loved Jesus, but Martha didn’t. Do you recall what Martha said when Jesus came to that same home on another occasion, a less happy time, at the death of their brother Lazarus? Martha confessed to Jesus, “I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world” (John 1:27). This day, Martha was doing her best to make Jesus comfortable, to prepare a meal fit for the King of kings! Martha’s service was wonderful service to the Savior. Martha loved Jesus dearly because she trusted Jesus deeply as the One to come for her salvation – and the world’s. In that sense, Martha’s service to Jesus was important for her and for Him.
     
    Our service to Jesus is important, too. It isn’t wrong to do things for the Savior – using our worship, our time, our money, our abilities as we do so. And we will use all that not caring one bit if no one but Jesus knows about our service to Him. Of course, in here for worship services, others will see our service to God. Our love for Jesus, like Martha’s love for Jesus, leads us to want to serve Jesus.
     
    Our service to Jesus makes us feel good. We give Him the best of our worship, not a mere appearance in God’s house during which we’re thinking about other things. We give Him the best of our time as we attend worship each week, not worship only when there’s nothing else on our Sunday schedule. We give Him a fair percentage of our income, not the four dollars left on Sunday after Friday night and Saturday spending. We give Him our faithful abilities, not a few minutes every so often. We give God our lives, not just our words. And our service to God is important!
     
    II. Jesus’ service for us is essential
     
    Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest, and let these gifts to us be blessed. A mealtime prayer, right? And a wonderful one! It’s important that God gives us food to eat. It’s important we acknowledge that our food comes from God. But it’s essential that the Lord Jesus come to us with more than food.
     
    There were two meals being served at the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus that evening. One was important for the body – the meal Martha worked hard for hours to prepare. One was essential for the soul – the meal Jesus served to Mary, and wanted to serve to Martha, and Lazarus, too, if he was around. Which service do we need? It’s not an evening or morning, early morning or late morning worship service. Jesus’ service for us is essential.
     
    You know well the Bible verse. The Bible verse proves this lesson isn’t just about making the right choice, like Mary did. This lesson is another lesson about what Jesus was determined to go to Jerusalem to do: save sinners. The verse? The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His live as a ransom for” (Mark 10:45) the world. Did you hear Jesus say it? He came not to be served, but “to serve” sinners!
     
    Martha, Mary, and Lazarus were lost and condemned sinners. Martha showed it by daring to scold the Savior. “Lord, don’t You care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her to help me” (v. 40). Really, Martha? Telling Jesus what to do?!
     
    Mary hung on the Savior’s every word because she knew and trusted Jesus had come to rescue her from what her sins deserved. It wasn’t that Mary lazily let her sister take care of all the work in the kitchen while she sat at the feet of Jesus doing nothing but listen to Jesus talk. It was that Mary wanted to hear what the Word made flesh Himself – at their own home! – had to say about His coming payment for her damning guilt.
     
    Though Lazarus isn’t mentioned in these verses, he, too, needed to be served by the Savior, rescued from hell by his Redeemer. Lazarus died twice. Jesus brought Lazarus back to life when Lazarus had died the first time. But Lazarus didn’t stop sinning. He died again, still sinning and gasping for his spiritual life amid the suffocating smog of his guilt.
     
    Those three siblings needed Jesus “to serve” them. And He did. That’s why He said to Martha, “One thing is needed. In fact, Mary has chosen that better part, which will not be taken away from her” (v. 42).
     
    We are no different than Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. We, too, need Jesus “to serve” us. We confessed that earlier. And even if you were just saying the words, but not really saying them from your heart, it’s still true you are sinful by nature, have not loved God with your whole heart or others as you should, do deserve God’s punishment now and forever. The surveillance footage God has of our actions, even our words and thoughts, from this past week is damning evidence of the damned eternity we ought to endure. We need the only One who came to rescue us and all sinners “to serve” us. 
     
    But how does what the Savior did two thousand years ago and so far from here enter our hearts, cleanse us, “serve” us, save us? Through His Gospel! That’s not just His words – as though Jesus pleads, “Come on, people! I need you to listen to Me!” His Gospel is His power by which He serves and saves sinners, the “one thing” we sinners need. Yes, the Gospel is what He says about what He has done. But His Gospel is also who Jesus is, something we’d never know had He not told us in His Word that He is true God from forever and true man since He was conceived in Mary’s womb. And His Gospel is His life and death, His keeping all His own commandments for us and His taking our guilt on His holy soul as our serving Substitute.
     
    So, the “one thing” isn’t really a thing in the sense that we can develop it inside ourselves with a disciplined life or purchase it for ourselves at some spiritual specialty store. Even more committed to serve than Martha that evening, Jesus was committed to do all that was needed to serve us, to save us, to redeem us by paying the price necessary to remove the choking grip of our guilt from us. He gives that to us in His Word and His sacraments. The infant at the font receives faith to trust her Savior two years before she can say His name or sing His praise. The elderly believer at the Supper receives Christ’s body and blood to assure him he is forgiven. The Savior serves every sinner ever in His Gospel, giving us what we need to be His children, to be forgiven, and be with Him in glory forever.
    There is, therefore, only one thing” that our congregation needs. We exist, only by God’s gracious blessing, as His Church to which, and through which, He comes with His good news “which will not be taken away from” us as we trust Him.
     
    Standing in His house and talking to God in our worship? That, among many other things we do each week, is our service to God. This is our worship service. Our service to God is important. But our doing worship doesn’t save us. What saves us is what we receive in worship here – and in our school and at home: the Word by which the Savior gives Himself to us. The service that is essential is our Savior’s service for us.      Amen.
    Pastor David A. Voss
    Fifth Sunday after Pentecost - Christian Love Is Living Love
  • Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
    July 10, 2022

    Hymns 921, 726, 506
    First Lesson Ruth 1:1-19a
    Psalm 25
    Second Lesson Galatians 5:1,13-25
    Gospel Lesson Luke 10:25-37
    Ruth 1:1-19a
    Christian Love Is Living Love
    I. Love founded on God’s love
    II. Love following God’s love

     

    In the name of Jesus, the only way to heaven for every sinner on earth, fellow beloved by the Lord,
     
    Some years ago, a stranger called to say, “I’ve heard yours is the most loving church in town, so I know your church will give me a love gift for my rent this month.” I replied, “Our members contribute monthly with food and cash donations for the local food bank. May I give you that phone number?” Her tone quickly went harsh. “You aren’t loving! I don’t need no food; I want nine hundred dollars!” I told her, “Our church has a love gift for you. Come Sunday morning to hear about God’s love in Jesus which costs us nothing and gives us everything!” She shouted, “That’s not love! That’s religion!” and hung up.
     
    That’s not love? Maybe not to some. My idea of love might not be your idea of love. And both of our ideas of love might be wrong. But He who is never wrong and who is ever love tells us what love is and – just as importantly – what love does.
     
    Many refer to the 4-chapter book of Ruth as a charming story, and it is. It’s also a gripping story all by itself. But looking at this Bible book as a touching story about family love misses the main lesson. Do you realize Ruth, born in pagan Moab, became the great-grandmother of David, which made her also an ancestress of Jesus? The Holy Spirit tells us about Ruth to teach us about Christian love. Christian love is living love – love founded on God’s love and love following God’s love.
     
    I. Love founded on God’s love

    What God’s love gave Ruth began in Israel with Elimelech and his wife Naomi, a marriage blessed by the Lord with two sons, “Mahlon and Kilion” (v. 2). Did you catch where the family lived? The little town of “Bethlehem” (v. 2).
     
    Why did they leave their home in Bethlehem for pagan Moab? A famine in Israel led them to “to stay awhile” (v. 1) elsewhere to get enough food and find steady work. Why did God-fearing Naomi, who became a widow in Moab when Elimelech died, allow her sons to marry Baal-worshiping women from Moab? It wasn’t because Naomi forsook her faith in the one true God. It looked to her like they’d never return to Israel. Should she stand in the way of her sons having families of their own? Naomi and Elimelech had raised their sons to trust the only true God. Naomi was confident the faith of her sons would not be eroded by the idols their wives worshiped. Her life was founded on God’s love for her, in spite of the loss of home and husband her Lord had allowed to darken her life.
     
    When “the Lord had graciously visited His people” (v. 6) by ending the drought, Naomi was ready to move back to Bethlehem. But she was now not only a widow; her sons had died, too! Before Mahlon and Ruth and Kilion and Orpah could make Naomi a grandma by having children, both husbands died. Naomi was resigned to returning to her longtime home alone, broken-hearted, crushed. Oh, she had politely invited her daughters-in-law to move with her, but Naomi didn’t really expect them to do so. Orpah didn’t. She “kissed her mother-in-law” (v. 14) good-by and stayed in Moab.
     
    You know what Ruth chose. She had probably grown up bowing before Baal. But the new family with which God had blessed her when she and Mahlon married was used by God to build Ruth’s new life on God’s love, not on a stone statue.
     
    Elimelech, Naomi, and their sons – lives founded by God on His love in the promise of the Savior to come from Israel – lived that love and faith in a foreign land. Ruth received her faith in the same Savior through them! That led Ruth to vow to her mother-in-law, both of them now widows, Wherever you go, I will go, and wherever you make your home, I will make my home. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May nothing but death separate me from you” (vv. 16-17). What a blessing from the true God to Ruth through that family – not just to keep Ruth alive, but to have the Savior from sin living in her heart! Christian love is living love, is salvation joyously ruling in the believer’s heart!
     
    We have that living love! It’s not found most in a mother’s gentle touch or a father’s protecting hand, not most in a boyfriend’s kind cards or a girlfriend’s caring gifts, not most in a neighbor’s helping act or a stranger’s willing work. Love is found most purely and eternally in God’s love for sinners.
     
    God’s love has given us – like Elimelech and Naomi and their family – all we need to live. The family – one man married to one woman and, when God wills, children – is the basic building block of society. That is what God Himself has designed!
     
    But the love God showers on us goes beyond family and food. The holy God took us into His family when He made us His own children through faith in the Savior. We who entered life running from and rebelling against God were gathered in His arms and are now safe in His hands through the outstretched arms and nail-pierced hands and hell-suffering sacrifice of Jesus. We who deserve to be thrown out of God’s sight and endure a fate far worse than famine, now belong to the Lord and are heirs of heaven because Christ took our guilt on Himself. We who had no hope to save ourselves are saved by the descendant of Ruth, the Son of David, the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ!
     
    Christian love is living love, love founded on God’s love for us sinners. Young people, insist on a spouse who sees God’s love in Christ as the most important foundation for marriage. Parents, enrich your family life by going to God’s Word at home daily to be set ever more solidly on God’s love in Christ. Members of Memorial, be a blessing to each other and to others by living the forgiving love Christ has given us, and by getting a fresh supply of that love in His Word and Sacrament.
     
    II. Love following God’s love
     
    Once God plants His love in our hearts, do we live life unaffected by His love? His living, dying, and rising love for us who deserve His punishment leads us to love Him and others. Christian love is living love, love that is following God’s love.
     
    God’s people follow God’s love. Ruth didn’t follow Naomi, sobbing, “I’m lost without you!” Ruth knew the consequences of staying in Moab among unbelievers. Ruth knew, too, what it would mean to move to Israel, to live among God’s people and in the Christian love that follows God’s love. “Your God will be my God”.
     
    Read the four short chapters of this Bible book later today. But in case one of you won’t, here’s the rest of the book. Back in Bethlehem, Naomi and Ruth face a dilemma: no husbands and no sons to earn an income to support them. How would they stay alive? Shortly after they arrived in Bethlehem, a relative of Naomi’s husband Elimelech came into the picture. Remember his name? Boaz. Wealthy. Single. Boaz used his love for God and his God-given wealth to take care of Elimelech’s widow Naomi and daughter-in-law Ruth, then married Ruth! It sounds like sappy made-for-TV stuff. But it’s not. Boaz and Ruth were blessed with a son. They named him Obed. He became the father of Jesse, the father of David (Ruth 4:17). One thousand years after David was born in Bethlehem as Ruth’s great-grandson, Jesus was born from that family line in Bethlehem as the world’s great Redeemer.
     
    This isn’t just a wonderful love story. This is salvation! This is the gracious God using a Moabite woman in the line of the Savior. This teaches all who are founded on God’s love to keep following God’s love as they run into problems! For Naomi and Ruth, it was poverty and loneliness. This is God’s lesson to all who are founded on His love to keep following His love in the way we deal with one another. For Boaz, it was being driven not by greed and fame, but by love from God and for others.
     
    Christian love is living love. The woman on the phone refused our offer of the free gift of life in Jesus because she knew forgiveness won by the Savior isn’t accepted as rent payment. But the sacrifice by Christ is accepted as the payment that “takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29)!
     
    What God offers in each class and in each service through His work in our church and school is not money for daily expenses. God offers here the Savior who lived and died in love to save us. We follow God’s love for us with kindnesses done for others every day. We follow God’s love for us by living in love with our loved ones at home, making our home a Christ-centered home where His love shines in the way we talk and live, work and help, plan and schedule. We follow God’s love for us by bringing regular, faithful thankofferings to Him for His work.
     
    The Holy Spirit has used this lesson to dust the cobwebs off some names we’d forgotten: Elimelech and Naomi, Mahlon, Kilion, Ruth, Orpah, and Boaz. More important, God has set these verses before us to show us His love for sinners in preserving the line of the Savior. God has given us these words and all the good news of Christ to build up our faith in His love for us sinners in Christ. God teaches us in this short book, and in all His books in His Word, to put Christian love into action.
     
    The world suggests that as long as love is in the heart, it doesn’t matter if you believe in God or not. The world is wrong. The Savior who is the center of all the Bible says, “My love for you saved you! My love for you moves you to love Me and each other and all others!” Christian love is living love. Our lives again this week will live His love for us!      Amen.
    Pastor David A. Voss
    Fourth Sunday after Pentecost - The Lord Sends Harvest Workers
  • Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
    July 3, 2022
     
    Hymns                         900,   745,   775,   774
    First Lesson                 Ezekiel 2:9 – 3:11
    Psalm                          67
    Second Lesson            1 Peter 5:1-4
    Gospel Lesson             Luke 10:1-12, 16-20
     
     
    Luke 10:1-12, 16-20
     
    The Lord Sends Harvest Workers
        I. With His support
         II. With His message
    III. With His power
     
     
    In the name of Jesus, whose sacrifice at the cross is our greatest freedom, fellow sinners saved by His gracious work,
     
    There are nearly eight billion people in the world today. An average of one hundred people die each minute, more than one person per second. How true it is that The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few” (v. 2)! That’s why God wants to use us in His harvest work – both called servants who make that work their life’s work, and laypeople who do that work as God sends them opportunities to do it.
     
    What do we say to the Lord when He says, “Go” (v. 3)? “No, I’m busy now”? “No, I’m not good with words”? “No, I just don’t want to go”? Last week we heard the Savior warn us about losing focus on His kingdom’s work. This week we learn from Jesus how blessed it is to be part of that work – full time or part time – and how equipped He makes us for that work.
     
    We must understand that the Lord doesn’t need us. He’ll do His work without us if we refuse to do it. But what more precious role can we have in God’s kingdom work than to be His workers, full time or part time?! The Lord sends harvest workers with His support, with His message, and with His power.
     
      I. With His support
     
    Jesus had just taught that His focused followers are to be ready to set aside anything that gets in the way of following Him. Did His words about having “no place to lay His head” (Luke 9:58) and “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62) keep people from His work? Apparently not. “After this, the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them out two by two (for encouragement and support) ahead of Him” (v. 1). He let them know His harvest work isn’t always easy work.
     
    The workers are few” for God’s harvest fields. “I am sending you out as lambs among wolves” (v. 3). The workers aren’t always welcomed by those in the towns and homes they visit. Some harvest workers come face-to-face with enemies of the Lord’s harvest work. And the Lord doesn’t send harvest workers to get rich or to enjoy travel. Those workers were to travel light. They were not to be engaged in idle chat along the way where their simple greeting, “How are you?” could lead to listening for twenty minutes about the weather. There would be other times for small talk. This time was for kingdom work.
     
    But neither does the Lord send His “harvest workers” out on their own. God would provide the seventy-two with lodging and meals from the shelter and food He had given their hosts. The harvest workers Jesus sent out then were not to “keep moving from house to house” (v. 7), looking for a better bed or more fancy furniture or a lakefront getaway. Enough to live on would be plenty enough for His harvest workers.
     
    What do His instructions to those harvest workers two thousand years ago mean for us? The Lord still sends His harvest workers with His support. Young people, if you are considering working full time in His harvest, the Savior doesn’t want you thinking you will live in poverty and never be able to support a family. The worker is worthy of his pay” (v. 7).
     
    The Lord also has instruction and encouragement for you who will never be a pastor or a Lutheran school teacher. When the Lord sends into your life, workplace, circle of friends some people who aren’t hearing about Christ’s sacrifice as the only salvation for sinners, He give you His assurance of His support as you speak His message. And pray. “Ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest field” (v. 2). 
     
         II. With His message
     
    The Lord doesn’t physically lead us as He sends us to His harvest field. When we’re a little shy or downright frightened, we can’t feel His holy hand squeezing our hand tighter to assure us, can’t hear Him whisper, “It’s all right! I’m right here with you!” to calm us. But He gives us what is much greater and far more powerful. The Lord doesn’t send “harvest workers” with His chuckle, “Don’t worry, you’ll think of something to say!” The Lord sends harvest workers with His message.
     
    Did it sound like Jesus sent the seventy-two to say not much of anything? “Whenever you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house’” (v. 5). There is more to this message than meets our English ears. The Jewish greeting Shalom, “Peace”, wasn’t a casual How are you? It was God’s Word full of meaning. People who have “peace” know they’re no longer in a state of hostility or anger with another. This wasn’t a greeting between Jewish nationals, but the message from the Lord to sinners. “You have peace with the Lord God because the Messiah will do His work to pay the price to win you back to God’s family!” Then the harvest workers would explain that the Messiah, Jesus, had come and would soon be in their town!
     
    “Heal the sick who are in the town and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near you” (v. 9). The healing would show these were workers from the Lord. Then, once they had the town’s attention, they were to tell residents about God’s kingdom. That is not just heaven hereafter, but also the blood-bought forgiveness of sins ruling in sinners’ hearts here and now through faith. “The kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21).
    The Lord sends harvest workers with His message, which includes God’s blessing or God’s judgment on all who hear His message. “Whoever listens to you listens to Me” (v. 16). Sinners in whom the Holy Spirit works humble faith to rejoice in the eternal peace won for them by Christ, humble faith to confess sin daily and look daily to Christ for cleansing, have God’s blessings now and ever. The “peace” we have in Christ we share with the world by talking about Christ with those who are living without Him, and by sending with our thankofferings others to reach those with whom we can’t speak on our own. “The kingdom of God” is in us now, thanks to the Holy Spirit. We give evidence of that with the spiritual message we speak to others and the spiritual life we live among others.
     
    But those who reject the Savior’s message from the Savior’s workers about the Savior’s work, those who shrug it off (“I’m not interested!”) or throw it away (“That’s foolishness!), are to hear from us the danger of their hard hearts that “reject” (v. 16) the Savior-God. “It will be more bearable for Sodom, a city that did not have the Savior physically present in it, on that day than for (v. 12) you who had the Savior in your town. You will forever regret rejecting the Savior who was with you.”
     
    Shaking from their sandals the dirt from the town’s streets symbolized God’s eternal punishment for all who die shrugging off or rejecting God’s Son. We warn those who deny the Savior that the consequences of thinking that they don’t need the Lord’s payment of their hell and that they can live comfortably without Him is unending suffering. That is His message. “Whoever rejects you really rejects Me (v. 16).
     
    We don’t hope for the best when we speak to a friend, neighbor, or loved one about the harvest of souls. We have the Savior’s forgiveness filling our hearts. Along with that forgiveness He won, we have the Savior’s message about that forgiveness and salvation. The Lords sends us out with His message.
     
    III. With His power
     
    The Lord sends harvest workers. But He doesn’t want the workers keeping score, “I harvested more souls for the kingdom than they did!” Why not? Because that is the worker taking credit for the harvest. The results are God’s, not ours! The Lord sends harvest workers with His power.
     
    “The seventy-two returned with joy” (v. 17). Unfortunately, their joy was at least a little misplaced. “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name” (v. 17)! What’s wrong with that? The demons work for the chief demon, Satan. All of them, Satan included, are fallen angels. It’s good they can’t do all they want to do, isn’t it? Yes! But the seventy-two seemed more impressed with their power than with the Lord’s power.
     
    The Lord reminded them what His power does in His harvest work. “I was watching Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (v. 18). Satan’s fall is swift and sudden, even when weak and sinful believers use the Lord’s power against the forces of hell. Jesus rejoiced that Satan’s power to afflict people as a result of demon possession fell, and that it previewed Satan’s loss to hold sinners as slaves once Jesus made His sacrifice at Calvary.
     
    “I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and over all the power of the enemy. And nothing will ever harm you” (v. 19). That isn’t divine permission to handle with poisonous reptiles or spiders. That is the divine promise that the Lord is in control, and that Satan can’t ruin the Lord’s harvest work. The Lord sends harvest workers with His power.
     
    What matters more than any power we display over evil powers is the power of the Lord for the sinner’s salvation. Do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names have been written in heaven” (v. 20). We whom the Lord sends to His harvest field trust our names are in Christ’s blessed Book of Life – written with the ink of His blood!
     
    That’s the power of the Lord to fuel our lives, give us hope on dark days, set our priorities in everything. The Lord gives us the power of His salvation, and sends us into His harvest field with that power. We share that power with a world that damningly thinks it has all the power it needs if the gas tank is full and the bank account is growing. The Lord blesses us with His power in His world’s most important work as He sends us.
     
    The Lord sends “harvest workers”, you and me. Will we say, “I’m not comfortable doing that”? Moses did, and the Lord dealt with Moses by reminding Moses the Lord supplies the tools and the power. Will we say, “I’m not ready to go”? Jonah did and the Lord got his attention by nearly taking his life, then reminding Jonah what is most important. Won’t we say with Isaiah, “Here I am. Send me! (Isaiah 6:8) Send me to those you want to reach with Your message from my lips”? We go” confidently, joyfully, eagerly into the Lord’s harvest field knowing the message, the power, and the results are all His.      Amen.
    Pastor David A. Voss
    Third Sunday after Pentecost - The Focused Savior Has Focused Followers
  • Third Sunday after Pentecost
    June 26, 2022
     
    Hymns                         711,   695,   932  
    First Lesson                 1 Kings 19:19-21
    Psalm                          62
    Second Lesson            2 Corinthians 11:21b-30
    Gospel Lesson             Luke 9:51-62
     
     
    Luke 9:51-62
     
    The Focused Savior Has Focused Followers
           I. Our profession despised by the world
    II. Our priorities directed by the Lord
    III. Our purpose distracted by nothing
     
      
    In the name of our Savior, Jesus Christ, fellow redeemed,
     
    “Focus!”, Mom tells kids who were asked to set the table, but are messing up because they’re watching a video on a tablet as they do so. “Focus!”, teachers tell students on a warm spring day as thoughts of fun outside override their attention to math inside. “Focus!”, the family says to Dad who is trying to find music he likes while driving on an unfamiliar road.
     
    “Focus!” is something no one ever had to say to our Savior. “When the days were approaching for Him to be taken up, Jesus was determined to go to Jerusalem (v. 51). The cross outside Jerusalem had ever been the Savior’s focus. He knew it when Mary and Joseph took Him to Jerusalem as an infant. He knew it when Mary and Joseph found Him in Jerusalem as a twelve-year old. And now, as the time for winning salvation drew near, though Jesus knew all the suffering that lay ahead, His commitment, His resolve, His focus did not waver one bit.
     
    His words to the crowds and His disciples then are just as true for the world and His disciples now. “As this earth was not My real home, so it isn’t your real home. Stay focused on your real home, heaven, and your ultimate identity, My disciples!” Jesus was focused on His ultimate destination. He wants followers who are just as focused on that in life here. The focused Savior wants focused followers. We need to know that as our profession is despised by the world, our priorities are directed by the Lord, and our purpose is distracted … by nothing.
     
       I. Our profession despised by the world
     
    Jesus had said frequently for more than two years that people would reject Him and His followers. His followers were about to experience that. Jesus and other Jews from Galilee were traveling to Jerusalem for a religious festival. The one hundred mile trip took several days on foot. With no hotels along the way, travelers spent nights on the ground inside city gates. 
     
    The most direct route went through the land of the “Samaritans” (v. 52). The Samaritans were part Jews, part Gentiles – descendants of Israelites who had intermarried with Assyrians. The Samaritans kept some Old Testament teachings, but also added some different beliefs for a hybrid religion. The Jews considered themselves genetically, and spiritually!, superior to the Samaritans. The Samaritans resented the Jews.
     
    Was it any surprise then the “Samaritan village” (v. 51) where Jesus stopped “did not welcome Him” (v. 53)? Those traveling with Jesus felt firsthand the world’s rejection of the Savior. It wasn’t just that He and His followers were despised Jews. It was also that Jesus was going to worship at the temple in Jerusalem, the place God designed to point to the Savior, rather than worship at the place of worship the Samaritans selected.
     
    Why did James and John react as they did to the Samaritans snubbing Jesus? They recalled how Old Testament prophet Elijah once asked God to send fire from heaven to consume the soldiers of wicked King Ahaziah – and God sent it! So these New Testament disciples assumed the rude Samaritans deserved the same flaming fate from the same Almighty God.
     
    But Jesus “rebuked” (v. 55) His disciples. Elijah acted against a king who had hardened his heart against God despite many warnings from God’s prophets. Jesus entered this village not just to get some rest, but also to provide rest – the spiritual rest of His forgiveness to Samaritans who didn’t hear that message often. The focused Savior said, The Son of Man did not come to destroy people’s souls, but to save them (v. 56).
     
    The focused Savior wants focused followers who know that our profession – not our job, but our beliefs – will still be despised by the world. The apostles were attacked for calling Jesus the Son of God, and we are considered close-minded for professing Him to be the only Savior for sinners. The Samaritans supposed Galilean Jews were snobs for traveling many miles south to worship when they could have stayed closer to home to worship with Samaritans, and the world is convinced we are worse than rude for not worshiping with or inviting to the Lord’s Supper those with a different profession than ours.
     
    Does the world despising our beliefs result in us losing focus on following the focused Savior? Not when we remember our beliefs are given us by God in His Word. When our beliefs are assailed, the attack isn’t against us, but against God. He never loses focus on His work. We are ever focused on His Word and are willing to be despised, even attacked, for it.
     
    II. Our priorities directed by the Lord
     
    Some say Christians are religious robots who blindly follow God’s demands because we’re brainwashed and can’t think for ourselves. The truth is we are soul-washed by Christ’s blood and willingly live for Him daily. What many consider our foolish following of the Savior is really the focused Savior leading His focused followers. Our priorities are directed by Him.
     
    Jesus drove that point home by His answer to a man’s request, then by the Savior’s invitation to another man. A member of the traveling party boldly vowed, “I will follow You wherever You go (v. 57), Lord!” The focused Savior warned, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head” (v. 58). Jesus didn’t turn the man away, but didn’t say, “Great!”, either. We don’t follow Jesus for an easy life here, but follow His priorities in everything.
     
    The next conversation, Jesus initiated. He said to another man, ‘Follow Me’” (v. 59). But this guy asked to be excused from following the Savior for a bit, and for such a good reason. “Lord, first let me go and bury my father” (v. 59). Christ’s reply seems cruel. “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God” (v. 60). Jesus can read every heart. Had the man’s dad already died, the man would have been at home for the funeral, not heading to Jerusalem. And it sounds like the man’s dad was dying as an unbeliever, spiritually “dead”. So the focused Savior was directing him and us, too, to His priorities: making sure we and others stay focused on being God’s children now and ever.
     
    This lesson leaves us hanging a bit. We’re not told what either an did, are we?. Maybe that’s the Spirit’s way to get us to hit the pause button of our busy lives to consider how we react to the same direction by the focused Savior for our priorities.
     
    God’s Son came in the flesh at Christmas to die on Good Friday and rise Easter morning. All that was to destroy the devil’s grip on us and rescue us sinners from deserved damnation. During His earthly ministry the One who made the entire universe had no place of His own to call home. Focused followers of the focused Savior are ready to give up worldly security and daily comforts, if need be. God commands us to respect, love, and honor our parents, even in their old age. God’s answer to the man who talked about burying his dad can’t contradict God’s command, “Honor your father and mother.” The focused Savior tells us focused followers, “Set your priorities in line with what I direct for you and for all!”
     
    Don’t look for writing in the sky or listen for whispers in your bedroom from God. He directs our priorities here. Here He tells us He suffered to remove the guilt of every sinner. Moved by His sacrificial love for us, we let Him direct our priorities.
     
    The focused Savior tells us our spending and giving, our work and play, our conversations and recreation, our chores and choices flow from love for Him. When the Lord who gave Himself for us sets our priorities, we rejoice to “follow” (v. 59) Him!
     
    III. Our purpose distracted by nothing
     
    The end of this lesson is also awful for our selfish sinful nature to swallow. But when we understand what the focused Savior meant, our new person of faith follows. Focused followers of the focused Savior have their purpose distracted by nothing.
     
    Still on the way to Jerusalem, another man said, ‘I will follow You, Lord, but first let me say good-bye to those at my home” (v. 61). A very reasonable request, right? And in today’s First Lesson didn’t Elijah allow Elisha to do exactly that before Elisha because a fulltime prophet of the Lord? He did! Why wouldn’t the Savior let this man do the same?
     
    Jesus was not saying the man could not bid farewell to his loved ones first. Jesus was able to read this man’s heart, too. He saw some distractions lurking inside. Jesus spoke as He did to warn this man. “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” (v. 62).
    Even those of us who’ll never touch a single-bottom plow or hitch a forty-foot plow to a tractor get the point. Christ wants His followers distracted by nothing! Kids, how accurately do you draw a straight line if you look up from the paper? Cooks, how tasty would a meal be if you looked over your shoulder as you poured salt from the spout? How good would the lawn look if we constantly glanced behind us while mowing?
     
    The most important mission in the world is working “for the kingdom of God” (v. 62). The tool God gives us to use is the good news about the Savior, who was never distracted on His mission to save the world full of sinners. Those who serve in God’s kingdom, and that’s all of us believers, dare not be distracted. If we think, “I’ll take care of some business today, look after personal affairs tomorrow, then see about God’s kingdom work come fall!”, it might be too late then for a lost soul God sends our way and gives us opportunities to serve now.
     
    Laypeople, you, too, serve in “the kingdom of God”. If you follow the Savior, you serve in His kingdom. There’s no such thing as a Christian life without Christian serving with the Christian message. Let nothing distract you from that as you do what you can in various ways here, at home, and everywhere with the goal of helping to proclaim the message of life in Christ.
     
    Our salvation depended on the Savior staying focused on His work to rescue us. He never once wavered! He “was determined to go to Jerusalem”. The focused Savior wants His followers focused, too – always focused on His goal, His Word, His work!     Amen.
    Pastor David A. Voss
    Second Sunday after Pentecost - The Truth Has Given Us His Testimony
  • Second Sunday after Pentecost
    June 19, 2022
     
    Hymns                         871,   770,   573,   931  
    First Lesson                 Isaiah 43:8-13
    Psalm                          66
    Second Lesson            2 Timothy 1:3-10
    Gospel Lesson             John 16:12-15
     
     
    2 Timothy 1:3-10
    The Truth Has Given Us His Testimony
         I. He feeds our faith with it
    II. He tells us to hold to it
     
     
    In the name of Christ Jesus our Lord, fellow sinners whom He bought with His blood in the greatest work ever,
     
    With His disciples in the upper room the night before He died, Jesus told them, “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life” (John 14:6). Early the next morning, before He was crucified, Jesus told Pilate, “For this reason I was born, and for this reason I came into the world, to testify to the truth” (John 18:37). Then why has Jesus left this world? If He is the Truth and came to testify to the Truth, what is the world going to do since the Truth isn’t here, but in heaven?
     
    A faith-building fact about our lives on earth as God’s people is that Jesus’ words have Jesus’ power even when those words don’t physically come from Jesus’ mouth. Jesus puts His words on our lips. Jesus testifies to others about who He is and what He has done for the world through His people. That was true of Paul. That was true of Timothy, the first one to read this letter. That is true of us. The Truth has given us His testimony. What do we do with it? Shrug off His testimony? No! He feeds our faith with it! Look for some other testimony when it becomes clear people don’t like it? No! He tells us to hold to it!
     
       I. He feeds our faith with it
     
    Second Timothy was likely the last letter Paul wrote. He was in a Roman jail cell with little hope he’d ever be freed. At the end of this letter Paul wrote, “The time for my departure has come” (2 Timothy 4:6). Parts of this lesson and of the rest of this letter are what you would expect from a person in Paul’s situation. Paul dearly missed many, including the young man Timothy whom the veteran missionary had trained for the pastoral ministry. If they didn’t see each other again on earth, this letter would be a farewell to a dear friend and cherished co-worker. But the letter doesn’t drip with tear-jerking emotion. It’s packed with faith-building advice. That makes this letter such a treasure – not just for Timothy, but also for us.
     
    If we were in prison because what God called us to do – preach Christ crucified – the government decided was illegal, we’d likely complain to God, It’s not fair! Paul didn’t. He gave thanks to God that God had led Paul to trust, worship, and “serve” (v. 3) the same God Paul’s Jewish “ancestors” (v. 3) had trusted, worshiped, and served – ancestors Moses, Samuel, David, Josiah, Isaiah, Daniel, and others. Paul thanked God that God had given Timothy, too, “the sincere faith” which God had used Timothy’s grandmother and mother to plant in him. We read later in the letter that from infancy Timothy had known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (3:15).
     
    Do you hear it? The Truth gives us “the testimony” (v. 8) about what He did to save the world as His way to bring sinners to faith in Him. His same “testimony” is what God uses to keep the fire of faith alive in sinners who are damned without being connected to the Savior through faith. Paul’s mission travels, and Timothy joined Paul on some of them, had borne much fruit. Through the “testimony” about the Truth, the Way, the Life, many people in western Asia and Europe were given by God faith in the God who alone saves sinners.
     
    Before Paul died, he wanted Timothy to hear once again about what the Truth wants His followers to do with His “testimony” as Timothy now took over for Paul in the congregations the Truth had called Timothy to serve as pastor. Some people in the cities where Timothy would take up the work the Holy Spirit had used Paul to begin were promoting new teachings and opposing violently “the testimony about our Lord”. Would Timothy cave to pressure to be popular and forsake “the sincere faith” God had given him to trust Christ alone? Or would Timothy keep using the “testimony” from the Truth to build up his faith in the only true Way to life with God?
     
    That’s why Paul wrote right of the bat in this letter, “I am reminding you to fan into flame the gift of God” (v. 6). Clearly that included God’s gift of faith to Timothy. The next phrase, “which is in you through the laying on my hands” (v. 6), might mean an additional, special gift God had also given Timothy for the ministry work Timothy was taking up. But the gift Timothy had was trust in the Truth by “the testimony” the Truth had used Timothy’s mother, grandmother, Paul, and others to give and feed in him: trust in Jesus and His work for salvation.
     
    Nineteen hundred fifty years later, not much has changed. The truth that Jesus is the only way to heaven is challenged as hate speech because it says all other ways to heaven are false. But that’s not our hate speech. That is the Truth’s “testimony” about Himself and His work for sinners. And let’s look in our own hearts, too. The truth that Jesus is the only way to heaven is boring to our sinful nature. Tell me something new! I’m tired of the same old truth! It’s not the same old truth. It’s the truth from the Truth that saves eternally. Exchange it for something more exciting? Never! There is no other “testimony” to make us wise for salvation through faith in Christ! The “testimony” from the Truth is His way to feed the faith He gave us. It did so for Paul, Lois, Eunice, and Timothy. It does so for us, too.
     
    II. He tells us to hold to it
     
    The work of believers in God’s kingdom on earth has been called correctly a religious relay race. We believers are not, of course, carrying an aluminum baton while we run around an oval. We believers are carrying the most precious treasure in the world, “the testimony about our Lord”, the only testimony that rescues sinners from hell. The Truth used parents or spouse or friends or others to put that “testimony” in us. What are we going to do with it? Drop that “testimony” because some people don’t like it? No! The Truth gives us His testimony to hold to it – and to pass it on as we hold to it. 
     
    Had Timothy expressed some doubts about how powerful the “testimony” is and how necessary it was for Timothy to pass on all of it? Paul wrote to him, “God did not give us a timid spirit, but a spirt of power and love and sound judgment. So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me His prisoner. Instead, join with me in suffering for the gospel while relying on the power of God” (vv. 7-8). The very real threat of prison hung over Timothy as he was called to carry on God’s work with God’s “testimony as Timothy replaced the imprisoned Paul. Maybe if I tone down the message a bit, tweak it a little, I can escape the imprisonment Paul is enduring. Paul wrote, “Timothy, don’t be timid. God gives us His power, love, and sound judgment. Be cheerful, positive, and confident, Timothy, as you take to others what God has used His testimony to work in us!” And when others would tell Timothy what he was teaching couldn’t be correct, Timothy was to hold fast to the pattern of sound words that you heard from me. Through the Holy Spirit, who lives in us, guard the good deposit…entrusted to you” (2 Timothy 1:13-14).
     
    The “testimony” is revealed by the Truth in His truth, not drawn up by theologians in ecclesiastical conferences. The “testimony” is revealed by the Truth in His truth, not decided by people based on popular opinion or personal preference. A reference late in the letter of Hebrews tells us Timothy was faithful in holding to God’s “testimony”, so much so that Timothy himself was later put in chains for teaching the full “testimony” from the Truth.
     
    But why, if some of the “testimony” ticks people off, should we hold to it and pass it on? Isn’t it better to keep ourselves free and other people happy? No. A lot of people who were or are very free and happy in this life will suffer in hell forever because they didn’t like “the testimony about our Lord” as the only true Way to heaven for sinners. The Truth is the One who “saved us and called us with a holy calling, not because of our works, but because of His own purpose and grace” (v. 9). The Truth controls all things and tells us how to live as His blood-bought souls. He blesses our holding to and passing on His “testimony” for as long as He keeps us alive to do so here.
     
    And then we will live with Him there! “This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began, and it has now been revealed through the appearance of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (vv. 9-10). Death is not the end for us who are connected to the Truth through faith in His work. As He rose from death, so will we. We deserve punishment for our every trespass. But Jesus let hell cover Him at Calvary for all our trespasses so that hell won’t be our final destiny. That’s why, until we die, we hold on to all the truths from the Truth, and also pass on all the truths from the Truth. Through the gospel” in the Word and in the sacraments we have “life and immortality”. The Truth wants all to have that, and uses us to pass to it on His way to as many as we can so that many more will have “life and immortality through the gospel”, too.
     
    The prince of hell knows how powerful the “testimony” from the Truth about the Truth is. Since Satan didn’t stop Jesus from making the sacrifice that pays for every sin, Satan suggests to sinners there are other teachings people will find more appealing. But there is no other saving truth than the saving truth from the saving Truth. The Truth has given us His “testimony” to feed our faith in Him and to hold to it even as we pass it on. That’s His way to bring His salvation to us and others.      Amen.
    Pastor David A. Voss
    Holy Trinity - The Triune God Can't Be Figured Out, But Can Be Counted On
  • Holy Trinity
    June 12, 2022
     
    Hymns                         484,   483,   617  
    First Lesson                 Numbers 6:22-27
    Psalm                          8
    Second Lesson            Romans 5:1-5
    Gospel Lesson             John 16:12-15
     
     
    Romans 5:1-5
     
    The Triune God Can’t Be Figured Out, But Can Be Counted On
    I. For peace with Him
        II. For access to His grace
       III. For hope of His heaven
     
      
    In the name of the only true God – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, dear beloved by the one, true, saving God,
     
    How is that when you tap an icon on your phone, a split second later all your contacts or an up-to-date radar image is displayed? Information technology experts could diagram the binary system computers use, but few of us would understand any of that. For most of us, it’s enough to know that the phone application works to show us what we want to see.
     
    Today’s Holy Trinity service focuses on the truth that there is one true God who is three distinct persons. This side of heaven we will never figure out how the one true God can be three separate persons. But we can ever count on the one true God to fill us with the greatest of gifts. The Triune God can’t be figured out, but He can be counted on for peace with Him, for access to His grace, and for hope of His heaven.
     
    I. For peace with Him
     
    Polls show that well over half of those who believe in God also believe they are at peace with God because they try hard to keep God’s laws. Those who believe that are wrong. All people are sinners who anger and offend the holy God often each day. Even the good things we believers do are stained with sin. “All our righteous acts are like a filthy cloth” (Isaiah 64:6) before the holy God. Even just one sin against God damns us forever. Whoever keeps the whole law but stumbles in one point has become guilty of breaking all of it” (James 2:10).
     
    Our status with God, based on our performance before God, is war. On our own, we would consider God the enemy from whom we should run and with whom we want nothing to do. If we’re going to be at “peace” (v 1) with God, God has to do it because we are by nature “helpless…ungodly” (Romans 5:6), “sinners” (Romans 5:8). We did nothing, but God did everything that “we have been justified by faith and thus we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 1).
     
    Do you recognize the three persons of the one God at work for us condemned sinners? God has “justified” us, declared us, “Not guilty!”, no longer holds our sins against us. Why not? Did He change His mind, bend His rules, relax His standards? The holy God will never do that! Rather, the Father sent the Son to keep His laws perfectly, to pay completely the hell we deserve. That’s what the life of Jesus and His death have done for sinners. Still, we’d think that to be the dumbest plan in the world if not for the Holy Spirit placing in our hearts the humble “faith” by which the work of Jesus is made our own personal, prized possession.
     
    We can’t figure out how three persons can be just one God. But we can count on the Triune God for “peace” with Him. Because it is all God’s work, our doubt is dispelled. Even our “faith” isn’t our work; it is God’s gift to us and in us. The Triune God gives us “peace” with Him, the peace we count on because it is won by His perfect, saving work.
     
    II. For access to His grace

    Some say, “I hope I don’t die while I’m sinning!” Such people don’t know what sin really is. Of course we’re going to die while we’re sinning! We all fall short of God’s demands in every way. Even not being perfect is sin, so we will die while we’re sinning. That’s horrible news. But here’s the greatest news from the Triune God. He can’t be figured out, but He can be counted on – counted on for access to His “grace”.
     
    “Through Jesus we also have obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand” (v. 2a). That, too, is all done by the Triune God. We didn’t cause the Father’s love at Christmas to send the Son to become one of us that we might be brought into His family through faith in the Son. We didn’t help the Son live and die for us, didn’t raise Him from death. We didn’t prod the Holy Spirit to put faith in our hearts by His mighty work in the Word and Holy Baptism. God alone did all that!
     
    The Triune God has given us access to His grace. When they sinned, Adam and Eve ran from God in the Garden of Eden and tried to hide from God. We sin daily. But we aren’t on the run from the Lord because we have now what Adam and Eve didn’t have at the moment they sinned – but would receive it before that day was over: “access by faith into God’s grace”.
     
    Access”. Think of a room. By faith we walk into that room, the room named “grace”. The ceiling, the walls, the floor, the furniture – all “grace”. We live inside God’s grace, His love for us who deserve the very opposite of His love, His forgiveness He won for us entirely. Yes, we’re always sinning. But we’re also always forgiven! Don’t think about forgiveness as taking place every once in a while, as if we pile up sins for a time and our sins get to a certain point that they flip on the switch of God’s forgiveness, like some salvation sump pump. Forgiveness isn’t like taking a bath once a week; it’s like standing in the rain all the time. We are forgiven all the time! “Grace” is ours: access to the one true God from the one true God!
     
    The believer is free to come to God’s throne in prayer. We pray to the Triune God not because we’ve been good enough to please Him so He gave us His prayer hot line number. We pray to the Triune God because He invites us to approach His throne of “grace”. We ask the Father to give us what we need daily and to deal with our illnesses and injuries according to His power and perfect will. We ask the Son to forgive us each day because of the sacrifice He made at His cross, and to bring His good news to friends and strangers who are banished from His presence without trust in Him. We ask the Holy Spirit to build up our faith in Jesus with that good news from His Word, and to lead others, too, to trust in Him alone.
     
    The only reason we can come to God in prayer is that He has given us “access” to Himself. The Triune God who has every right to ban us sinners from His presence forever, instead in “grace” grants us “access” to His blessings, to His riches. How the three persons of the Triune God are just one God, we can’t figure out. But we can count on Him every second to forgive us and to hear us and to answer us for our good.
     
      III. For hope of His heaven
     
    The Holy Spirit had His apostle Paul write here, We rejoice confidently on the basis of our hope for the glory of God” (v. 2b). Our rejoicing isn’t because we finally figured out the Triune God. We haven’t. We can’t figure out here how one God can be three distinct persons. But we can count on the Triune God for the “hope for the glory of God”, which is the same as the hope of being with God in the glory of His heaven.
     
    Our sinful nature wants us to think we have what it takes to stand in God’s presence. But our sinful nature is wrong, blind, ignorant to God’s way, God’s standard. Only the Spirit can turn us from seeking reasons inside of us for God to love us to rejoicing in what the Son has done to change our status with the Father and His attitude about us. That is what we count on!
     
    What we count on? Doesn’t the verse read, “hope for”? It does. But this isn’t “hope” in the sense we really want it to happen, but can’t be sure it will – like you hope for a particular birthday gift, but aren’t sure you’ll get it. This is the “hope” we know is ours, is the inheritance God promises, is the “glory” we will most certainly and truly enjoy in His heaven.
     
    Until we get there, the Triune God continues to work in us toward that “hope of His glory”. And what a glorious work God’s is in us! We also rejoice confidently in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces patient endurance, and patient endurance produces tested character, and tested character produces hope” (vv. 3-4). The idea behind “suffering” is pressure. Troubles squeeze every believer. Trusting in the Triune God while living in a world full of evil is tough. Enduring ridicule for doing what is God-pleasing when others want us to do what is flesh-pleasing, that’s pressure. But we “rejoice” even in those situations because the Triune God uses them to help us evaluate what is most precious in life, then leads us to His truth in His Word.
     
    And with His Word God works “patient endurance”. As times get tough, God’s children stand on God’s promises found in God’s truth. God works in Word and Sacrament to assure us repentant sinners that in Jesus we’re His now and will be His forever. He gives us the “patient endurance” to carry on.
     
    Through that “patient endurance” God also works “tested character”. The meaning of this word is genuineness, dependability, what is real. Sufferings come, yet we remain in the Lord. Why? Because He is genuine, His promises are dependable, His salvation is real. That gives us the “tested character” that counts, that lasts forever.
     
    This “hope will not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, who was given to us” (v. 5). We won’t find out ever that our hope didn’t work out. The Triune God’s love for us is action love. He sees what we need and takes care of it in Jesus. Always! We can count on God to fill us with His “hope” in any situation. Whether it is our congregation’s finances or your family’s cash flow, your own health or that of a loved one, trouble with someone at work or stifling loneliness in life or whatever, the Triune God holds us up in the “hope for His glory”.
     
    The work of the three-persons-in-one-God God isn’t a divine assembly line where each of the three persons does His perfect part, then passes the product to the next divine person at the next salvation station. Each person of the Triune God is active in each part of the work for us and for our salvation. Then why not just one person in one God? Dare we suggest we have a better way than God? And how can He be three in one? We can’t figure out the Triune God. But we can count on Him for everything that truly counts and eternally lasts!      Amen.
    Pastor David A. Voss
    The Day of Pentecost - The Spirit Wants All to Speak the Same Language
  • The Day of Pentecost
    June 5, 2022
     
    Hymns                        588,   585,   592,   593
    First Lesson              Genesis 11:1-9
    Psalm                         104
    Second Lesson         Acts 2:1-21
    Gospel Lesson         John 14:23-27
     
     
    Genesis 11:1-9
     
    The Spirit Wants All to Speak the Same Language
     I. That we seek God’s kingdom first
    II. That we trust God’s Gospel most
     

    In the name of Jesus, whom we’d never trust as the Savior by our own thinking or choosing, but whom we’ll ever trust as our Savior thanks to the Holy Spirit’s work, fellow redeemed,
     
    Evolutionists and anthropologists want it both ways. They say primitive man was far less advanced intellectually than modern man is. They also say the existence of many languages long ago testifies to man’s wisdom. Both can’t be true.
     
    There are some five thousand languages and dialects spoken today. Whether one is a humanistic scientist supposing people evolved from a common mammal, or a Bible-believing child of God confessing God as man’s Creator, the fact that so many languages arose from one common ancestor is a puzzle to ponder, not an achievement of power. What good purpose is there in the world’s seven billion people speaking so many different languages? Is that testimony to the intelligence of the human mind? No! So many different languages lead to many difficult problems in communication and cooperation.
     
    God’s plan for man was not that different languages be spoken by those He made. God wanted all people to speak the same language. And do so in more ways than one. On this 50th day after Easter, the day when the Holy Spirit came centuries ago with astounding spiritual gifts for the first apostles, we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit to us today. The Holy Spirit wants all to speak the same language so that we seek God’s kingdom first and so that we trust God’s kingdom most.
     
     I. That we seek God’s kingdom first
     
    The Holy Spirit – and the Father and the Son – desired the whole human race speak the same language with the tongue and from the heart. The Triune God made the first man from the dust of the ground, then later that same day made the first woman from one of the man’s ribs. He put our first parents in the paradise of Eden, a perfect life where God’s kingdom always came first. Then, Adam and Eve gave in to Satan’s lies.
     
    When sin entered the perfect world, it spread worse than weeds in a garden. Already in Genesis 6 we read, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of mankind was great on the earth, and that all the thoughts and plans they formed in their hearts were only evil every day” (Genesis 6:5). Wicked, man-centered thinking led God to send the Flood. The only humans who survived were the eight the Lord protected in the ark.
     
    When Noah’s family set foot on dry land for the first time in a year, God told the people with whom He was starting the human race all over again, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth (Genesis 9:1). Put My kingdom first by taking to everyone My promise of the salvation I will win for the world!” But some of Noah’s descendants didn’t. In this Babel incident about one hundred years after the Flood, man was again putting his plans ahead of God’s will, God’s Word, God’s kingdom.
     
    That’s judgmental! Theirs was an ambitious building project. Was that wrong? No, not by itself. But hear again their plan. Let’s build a city for ourselves and a tower whose top reaches to the sky…let’s make a name for ourselves, so that we will not be scattered over the face of the whole earth (v. 4). It wasn’t their project that angered God; it was their purpose. God had said, “Fill the earth and seek My kingdom first!” Man replied, “Why should we spread out? Our people moved down from Mount Ararat, where Great-grandpa’s ark came to rest. It’s great in the plains between the Tigris and Euphrates. Let’s make ourselves famous right here!”
     
    The Holy Spirit wants all to speak HisisHis language so His kingdom comes first. But already a few generations after the Flood people again put their plans first. The pronouns in one sentence here prove it: “us…ourselves…us…ourselves...we. We don’t want what the Lord wants. We want what we want!”
     
    The Triune God – not “Let Me”, but Let us” – the three-persons-in-one-God God (the doctrine of the Trinity will be our focus next Sunday) disrupted man’s building project. He did so not only for His glory’s sake, but also for mankind’s good. “The Lord came down to see the city and the tower that the people were building” (v. 5). It’s not that the all-knowing God had to get a closer look. He knew perfectly well in heaven what was happening on earth, and why! This is God’s way to say He acted according to facts, not on impulse.
     
    God didn’t send a life-erasing flood this time. He “confused” (v. 9) their language to confound their plans. It would be hard to work on the skyscraper if the workers couldn’t understand each other. The Smiths wondered what the Joneses were saying in a language the Smiths couldn’t understand. The city they had hoped would “make a name for” them came to be named “Babel” (v. 9), close to the Hebrew word for confusion.
    Rather than letting them pursue their idolatry to make themselves first, God jolted them His way to put His will and His kingdom first. That was the reason God intervened.
     
    This is history. It’s also current events. How much that goes on – and that goes wrong – in the world is due to man-centered ideas pushing aside God-directed living? The Holy Spirit still wants all to speak the same language of seeking His kingdom first. The problem remains what brought about the many languages at Babel: sinful, selfish plans of man. These days so much of what dominates education, politics, even too much so-called religion is man wanting to elevate man. The result is confusion of more than language; it’s also confusion of values. Criminals claim their rights are violated. Wicked morals are defended as free expression. God’s Word is shrugged off.
     
    But Pentecost undoes Babel. The God who “confused the language” of people, later empowered the apostles to speak about His kingdom in languages they’d never studied. The God who is furious when man plans to ignore His will turns man back to His kingdom of salvation and peace won by His life and death for sinners. The God who loves the people He made promises His Word will never pass away nor His kingdom end.
     
    II. That we trust God’s Gospel most
     
    We miss the Pentecost power completely if we hear different tongues spoken, but don’t hear the message spoken. The Holy Spirit wants all speaking the same language. Why? So we seek God’s kingdom first. How does that happen? By His Gospel. Do we see how it fits together? The Holy Spirit wants all to speak the same language so that we trust God’s Gospel most.
     
    The sinful nature in us opposes that. The attitude on display at Babel still shows its ugly face in America four thousand years later. The attitude says, “We can do anything we put our minds and will to!” That view of life insists, “I can do whatever makes me feel good!” When that’s the way people think, they deceive themselves into supposing they can fend for themselves, decide what is best. From there, it’s only a step to say there is no seriousness in sin, no need to repent, no need for the Savior who takes away the sins of the world.
     
    If that were true, why did God’s Son come to the world? If man can save himself with his deeds or gets to decide what is right and wrong, why does man need Christ? The truth lies in the one language given by the Spirit throughout His Word. “Those who sin, and thus pull down on themselves God’s forever anger, are rescued only by the holy life and sacrificial death of God’s Son and man’s Brother, Jesus Christ!” That’s the Gospel.
     
    That good news first came to Adam and Eve the very day they rebelled against God. The Lord promised He would send His Son to “crush” (Genesis 3:15) the devil’s power. That good news was given to Adam’s descendants – including Noah and his family, then Abraham, Israel, and God’s prophets. All of whom spoke of the coming Messiah. Then the Savior was born from that family. That good news was fulfilled by what Jesus said and did – by His living in perfect holiness, suffering hell in place of all sinners, and rising from death in victory.
     
    That good news is the Word of God Himself speaking to us and giving Himself to us in His sacraments. Notice, nothing done by man; nothing determined by humans; nothing planned by people. Rather, salvation planned by God; redemption bought by God; eternity assured by God. What a difference from “Babel”! What unity the Holy Spirit works in hearts with the Gospel which He has led us to trust!
     
    The Spirit wants all to speak the same language, the language that trusts God’s Gospel most! What a change the Spirit has worked in us who look to Christ’s cross for our forgiveness! Our sinful nature wants us to trust “us and we ourselves”. Our faith, given by the Spirit, leads us to trust Him and His work!
    What courage the Holy Spirit works in man! Disciples formerly afraid to be seen in public as Christ’s followers were heard the first Pentecost proclaiming to thousands Christ crucified and risen! People who wouldn’t know the first thing about God’s salvation without the Holy Spirit are now led by the Holy Spirit to speak of God’s salvation of the world to the world!
     
    Today, faithful missionaries sent by our Synod with our mission thankofferings learn foreign languages. But they speak the same message of the Gospel about Jesus. Pentecost was the beginning of what will be true forever in heaven. Believers from many lands and languages will gather at God’s throne to sing in one language the praises of Him who saves sinners. The Spirit already in this life wants and empowers us to speak the same language, the one which trusts Christ’s Gospel most.
     
    Whatever we do as a congregation deals with the soul. That’s not because we’re spiritually brainwashed, but because the Spirit has led us to trust the Gospel as the only way to heaven! Whatever we do as a congregation is done in keeping with the Gospel about Jesus. That’s not because we have to do so, but because the Spirit has led us to trust the good news about Jesus as the only power for salvation. May we never take the Gospel for granted, or use any power other than God’s Word! Our work is not done for this congregation or to meet its budget. We do it “declaring…the wonderful works of God” (Acts 2:11) to others, as Peter did in his Pentecost sermon.
     
    Man’s proud plans work against God’s saving plan and work. Praise be to the Holy Spirit He uses the same language with us He has used since Eden! That language seeks God’s kingdom first. That language trusts God’s Gospel most. With the Holy Spirit’s year-round Pentecost blessing, that language will be at the center of all we think and say and plan and do.      Amen.
    Pastor David A. Voss
    Seventh Sunday of Easter and Ascension - We Are Still Praying, "Come, Lord Jesus!"
  • Seventh Sunday of Easter & Ascension
    May 29, 2022
     
    Hymns                         474,   472,   476,   441
    First Lesson                 Acts 1:1-11
    Psalm                          47
    Second Lesson            Revelation 22:12-17,20
    Gospel Lesson             John 17:20-26
     
    Revelation 22:12-17,20
     
    We Are Still Praying, “Come, Lord Jesus!”
             I. Come to us in Your Gospel each day
    II. Come to get us on the Last Day
     
     
    In the name of the Lord Jesus, our crucified, risen, and ascended Savior, fellow sinners whom He has redeemed,
     
    The Easter season ends today, and with it this series of lessons from Revelation, the most talked-about book in the Bible. But what most people mention about Revelation hasn’t been listed in these lessons. Not once have we tried to figure when the Last Day is going to be based on references in Revelation.
     
    The Holy Spirit didn’t inspire John to write the words of Revelation to give us a calendar so we can calculate the date of Judgment Day. The theme of Revelation is tThe Triumph of Christ and His Church in Time and for Eternity. Instead of us scratching our heads as we read Revelation and try to come up with dates and scenarios for the end of time, we let the Lord fill us with His assurance we will live with Him forever. 
     
    So here, in the very last verses of Revelation and of all the Bible, Jesus repeats what He said at least five times earlier in this book, “I am coming soon” (v. 20). Not, “I am coming in one thousand years.” Not, “I am coming after a future battle at Armageddon.” Not, “I am coming after some rapture.” But, “I am coming soon!”
     
    It's been more than nineteen hundred years since John heard that. Is it still “soon”? It is to God, who is not bound by time. Is it still exciting to hear our Savior that He’s coming? It is for us, who know He has covered our guilt.
     
    Many people either dread or try to ignore the day when God will bring this world to a crashing and burning close. But we don’t dread it or ignore it! We learn from our Savior, so we are still praying, “Come, Lord Jesus (v. 20)! Keep coming to us in Your gospel each day, and come to get us on the Last Day!”
     
    I. Come to us in Your Gospel each day
     
    As we combine this Seventh Sunday of Easter with the Savor’s forty-days-after-His-Resurrection ascension into heaven, the Word made flesh reminds us that though He has ascended He is still with us, still revealing Himself to us, still giving Himself to us. “Come, Lord Jesus!” is more that a quick prayer that He come from heaven and take us with Him to heaven. It’s a daily prayer that He comes to us continually in His good news.
     
    Jesus said, “Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the Tree of Life and so that they may enter through the gates into the city” (v. 14). You know from the Word in what the robes of the blessed are washed. Jesus says it repeatedly in His Word. The cleansing agent is “the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:14).
     
    That’s the good news that adds strength to our faith and gives power to our lives! We haven’t seen the blood flowing from His wounds. But we hear in His Word of His atoning sacrifice of blood, and we communicants receive in His Supper His blood and body with the wine and bread. In His Word and sacraments the Lord of life gives us His “water of life…as a gift” (v. 17) that is ours daily here, not just at the end of time there.
     
    How can anyone’s blood give us “the right to the Tree of life” and entrance “through the gates into the city”? Not just anyone’s can. Only Christ’s can. He is “the Root and the Offspring of David, the bright Morning Star” (v. 16). If you’ve recently been pulling up weeds by the roots or covering tomato plant roots with soil, you know a root is the source of something. “I am the Root of David” means Jesus is David’s Creator, our Creator, the Creator of all. Jesus is true God! 
    He is also “the offspring of David”. That means Jesus came after David. Oh, as true God, Jesus is before David from before time. But as true man, Jesus was conceived in Mary’s womb and born in Bethlehem. As true man, Jesus is David’s descendant – born after David and born from David’s line.
     
    The Savior had to be both to be our Savior – God and man in one person. He still is both God and man in one person right now, ascended into heaven and ruling there with power. He is our “bright Morning Star”. He comes to us with the light of His Word to show He is the sinner’s only path to heaven.
     
    But not all people will be in heaven. “Outside are the dogs, that is, the sorcerers, the adulterers, the murderers, the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood” (v. 15). Our world’s casual attitude about sexual sins, cheating, aborting babies, lying, and more is dangerous to souls. We need God to show us sin in its damning ugliness. This word for “dogs” isn’t the one for trained house pets, but for wild stray dogs interested only in eating, reproducing, devouring. Such people, in the stubbornness of their unbelief, refuse to turn from their sins to the cleansing forgiveness found in Christ.
     
    We still pray, “Come to us, Lord Jesus, daily in Your Word, regularly in Your sacrament, constantly to preserve our precious faith in You from the devil’s attacks” Do we listen to His “testimony” (v. 16) about sin and salvation He gives in His Word? Or listen more to the world? Do we pray daily, “Jesus, come to me”? Or do we pray more often, “God, give money to me”?
     
    When we pray, “Come, Lord Jesus, be our Guest”, we don’t mean only, “Give us food to eat.” We also mean, “Come, Lord Jesus, to give us the food that is the good news of the salvation You have won for the world.” 
     
    II. Come to get us on the Last Day
     
    “I am coming soon!” is Christ’s promise to come on the Last Day. We don’t dread that day. We don’t pray that day never closes in on us. As sinners cleansed by the blood of Christ, we eagerly hope and earnestly pray for that day. “Come, Lord Jesus, to get us on the Last Day and take us to heaven!”
     
    Heaven? Do we have a chance at that? It sounds like Jesus is shutting the gate to heaven on us when He says, “My reward is with Me, to repay each one according to what He has done” (v. 12). We do sin. But the gates of heaven are still open to us because heaven is “a gift”. The “reward” of which Jesus speaks in His last words is the result of His victory for us.
     
    “But a gift, Jesus? What about your words, ‘to repay each one according to what he has done’ (v. 12)? Doesn’t that mean we have to earn heaven with a good life?” No! That would contradict everything the Bible says so clearly about sinners saved by grace, by God’s undeserved love for us!
     
    To repay each one according to what he has done” is Christ’s way to say, “The kind of works you do in life, and the reason you do them, is evidence of your faith in Me – or your lack of faith in Me. It is faith in Me that saves, faith that is God’s free gift to you and that trusts My free forgiveness of your sins!”
     
    We deal with glitches in our plans, delays in our travels, interruptions in our work. Will Jesus? What if He who says He’s coming soon, gets held up in heaven? He won’t! “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End” (v. 13). Circumstances don’t control Christ. Christ controls circumstances. Time doesn’t trap Jesus. Jesus is beyond the boundaries of time. He is eternal, “the Beginning and the End”. He is God and has authority over everything. He will take us home to heaven on the Last Day when He is ready for the Last Day to come, the day that He has already set.
     
    “The One who testifies about these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming soon’” (v. 20). Those are the very last words of Jesus in His Word. How assuring to us that His last words give us His unbreakable promise to come “soon” to get us! When He comes, Jesus won’t set up a kingdom here on earth where we can walk up to Him and shake hands, won’t need a secret service detail to protect Him from assassin’s bullets, won’t need a private jet to fly Him around. When Jesus comes it will be in great glory to bring an end to this sinful world, to welcome His people into heavenly bliss as He raises believers with glorified bodies, and to condemn all those wild “dogs” to forever in the punishing fires and literal God-forsakenness of hell.
     
    “Amen (v. 20) ,eams This is most certainly true! It is most certainly true that the Lord Jesus is coming again. “Come, Lord Jesus.” Each morning, we pray that way. “Come, Lord Jesus. Take me home to heaven today. I’m ready and eager to join You, my loved ones who died trusting in You, and all the saints of all time and Your angels in heaven. Camping next month, graduating this spring, getting my own phone, celebrating my birthday and Christmas with loved ones – all of that is nothing compared to You taking me to heaven to live there with You!”
     
    “Come, Lord Jesus.” Each night, we pray that way. “Come, Lord Jesus. Take me home to heaven as I sleep. Take me away from the sufferings that so often make this life so dreary. Take me away from the dangers that threaten us so frequently. Take me away from this life with its financial worries, moral wickedness, and political bickering. Take me safely to Your perfect home to live there in Your presence forever!”
     
    This weekend marks the beginning of the vacation season. The thoughts of many turn to time away, more leisurely schedules, summer travel plans with family. All of those are blessings from God. But none of those are more important than the coming of our ascended Lord. “Come, Lord Jesus”, we continue to pray. “Come to us each day where You promise to meet us – in Your gospel good news. And as You ascended in glory, so come back to get us on the Last Day when You take us home with You forever. Come, Lord Jesus. Amen.”
    Pastor David A. Voss
    Sixth Sunday of Easter - The Living God Is Among Us!
  • Sixth Sunday of Easter
    May 22, 2022
    Hymns                        460,   557,   713
    First Lesson              Acts 14:8-22
    Psalm                         65
    Second Lesson         Revelation 21:21-27
    Gospel Lesson         John 16:16-24
     
    Acts 14:8-22
    The Living God Is Among Us!
     I. Revealing Himself to us, not made up by us
      II. Giving Himself to us, not demanding from us
     
     
    In the name of our living Lord Jesus, crucified and risen from death, the sinner’s only Savior, fellow redeemed,
     
    Most every Christian congregation claims to follow God and says, “God is among us, and we worship Him!” That sounds good, until we hear explanations by some about who their god is, what their god desires, or how their god wants them to live. Some of that doesn’t line up with what the only true God has said about Himself and His will in His Word. And that false thinking about God threatens to infect us, too.
     
    So we’re not done growing in knowing God’s Word. What we believe about Him and what we intend to do with Him in our lives is not what we decided to accept or do. It is what the Lord has planted, watered, nurtured, and grown in us. The living Lord is still among us to keep us growing His way and doing His work. The living God is among us, revealing Himself to us, not made up by us, as the way of truth. And He gives Himself to us, not demanding from us, as the way of salvation.
     
     I. Revealing Himself to us, not made up by us
     
    This is Acts 14. At the end of the Acts 13 we read about a new phase in God’s mission work. Paul and Barnabas were the first workers since Christ’s resurrection to be sent exclusively to Gentiles, non-Jews. Before this, they had worked among Jews who knew the history of their ancestors, the Israelites, and who believed in one God, though many Jews rejected Jesus as God. Now Paul and Barnabas were in Lystra (south central Turkey today) preaching to pagans, people who had no idea of one true God. Their religion revolved around many different gods with many different powers and personalities.
     
    There, a lame man “was listening to Paul…speaking” (v. 9) about the one true God. God’s great apostle to the Gentiles was speaking about Jesus the Savior, maybe mentioning miracles Christ did to prove He is truly God.
     
    Then the living Lord further revealed Himself. It was not in the flesh like Jesus did to Thomas, the rest of the disciples, and others in the first forty days after He rose from death. Jesus revealed Himself to the man and the rest of the crowd in Lystra by the power of His Word from the mouth of Paul.
    “Paul looked at the man closely” (v. 9) because the living God had let Paul know God wanted that man healed. “Paul said in a loud voice, `Stand up on your feet’” (v. 10)! No touching, no feverish gibberish, no crying or pleading or ranting. Just the healing Word of the living God. That’s how the living God revealed Himself to that man and to the Lystrans that day.
     
    But what of the phrase, Paul “saw that he had faith to be healed” (v. 10)? Never is one healed because of anything he’s done. If so, the healed person would get at least a bit of credit for getting better. The living God let Paul know the lame man had been filled by God with “faith” to trust what God was about to do. From the power of God’s Word he had heard, the man trusted the living God was with him and could heal him.
     
    Why was he healed and no others? Surely there were other injured, sick, handicapped, dying people. It’s not that God didn’t care about them. But the living God used him, known to all in Lystra to be hopelessly handicapped “from birth” (v. 8), to show all in Lystra His power as the one true God. 
     
    That there is only one God was a new idea to those pagan people. Their religion was, “We see the sun; there must be a god who sends it”, so they made up a sun god. “We see grain grow, flowers bloom, rain fall”, so they made up a god for grain, one for flowers, another for rain, and so on. But all that religion the living God condemns as ignorant, damning idolatry.
     
    We’re tempted to congratulate ourselves for not worshiping false gods. But we have and still do! How? We make up our own gods to fit our nice niches in life. We convince ourselves God approves of what we like to do because He wants us to be happy. That’s the lie Satan uses so often on God’s people.
     
    That lie is idolatry! We don’t make God what we want Him to be. The living God is among us, revealing Himself to us, not inviting us to dress Him up according to our wishes. God reveals Himself to us here, in His Word. Here God speaks to us. Here He tells us who He is. The truth is not man’s mistaken ideas like A loving God will never damn anyone to hell. The truth is the living God saying, “This is who I am and what I do!” When His Word guides everything, the living God is among us. 
     
      II. Giving Himself to us, not demanding from us
     
    Some say, “Religion is complicated.” But every religion really boils down to one of two categories: Your god demands you do something to earn his favor, or, Your God has already done everything to give you His favor. Which do we want? Yes! And that’s one we have! Not because we worked hard to get it. But because the living God is among us, giving Himself to us, not demanding anything from us, for salvation.
     
    The Lystrans were convinced Paul and Barnabas were gods. They had heard Paul and Barnabas speak, and at Paul’s words the man who’d never taken a step in his life “jumped up and began to walk” (v. 10). They thought Paul and Barnabas were “gods…come down…in human form” (v. 11). The priest of Zeus in town “brought bulls and garlands to the city gates…to offer sacrifices” (v. 13) to Paul and Barnabas.
     
    Legend had it that Lystra was on the blacklist of the gods because earlier Zeus and Hermes had come to town, but were given hospitality by only one elderly couple while the rest of the Lystrans ignored Zeus and Hermes as ordinary humans passing through as strangers. This time they’d spare no effort or expense to show Zeus and Hermes appropriate praise. Behind all the fuss making and sacrificing was the thought If we don’t treat them right this time, they’ll never bless us again!
     
    The living God was among the Lystrans, but not in the form of Paul or Barnabas. That’s why the two apostles did all they could to show the people they weren’t gods, but were only humans “with the same nature as you. We are preaching the good news to you so that you turn from these worthless things (idols) to the living God, who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and everything in them” (v. 15).
     
    And the best news Paul and Barnabas taught was about the Savior. It worked! Disciples” – the New Testament term for believers in and followers of the Savior – “disciples then gathered around” (v. 20) Paul and Barnabas at Lystra. As has happened to us, so there the Holy Spirit used the truth about Jesus paying for all sins to bring sinners to trust the Son of God who took our place to suffer our hell and open heaven to us.
     
    The living God” is among us, not tapping His foot impatiently or wiggling His finger menacingly to demand money from us before we get gifts from Him, or to drain blood from us in payment for our sins against Him. The living God” is among us to give us and all the world His forgiveness, grace, and heaven. Some people are terrified about the living God coming to them. If you know any like that, tell them what God has done for you and for them! “The living God sacrificed Himself to pay our debt for sin! He loved us before we do anything for Him!”
     
    Others are bored by the thought of the living God being a part of their lives on earth. “Give me something more interesting or valuable!” If you know any like that, tell them what He has told you. “The living God has what all sinners need – full forgiveness of every sin, given us before we lift a finger for Him!”
     
    Some people are tempted to abuse the gift of the living God being among us to give us Himself. All my sins are covered? Then I can sin all I want and come crawling back to God, right? Wrong! If you know any like that, tell them, “The living God is among us all the time. He has given us Himself to save us forever. But those who trust Him and His work will not go out and misuse His love as a license to sin. We thank the living God by living for Him with all we do and think and say!”
     
    The living God is among us. No one else can give us what He has won for us and given to us: forgiveness of sins every moment every day, perfect commitment to keep us His own, the rock-solid guarantee He’ll take us to heaven when we die. No career or sport or political view or even family member is more important in our lives than the living God”. By giving us Himself, He makes us the richest people in the world.
     
    There is only one true God! And that living God is among us to reveal Himself to us in His Word as the only true God and as the only truth in this sinful world of lies whispering, We can make our god anyone or anything we want to and still be okay. There is only one true God! And that living God is among us to give Himself to us as our only salvation. How great He is! How blessed we are to have the living God among us!      Amen.
    Pastor David A. Voss
    Fifth Sunday of Easter - What Does Love Have to Do with Glory?
  • Fifth Sunday of Easter
    May 15, 2022
     
    Hymns                        443,   469,   445,   450
    First Lesson              Acts 11:1-18
    Psalm                         67
    Second Lesson         1 Corinthians 13:1-13
    Gospel Lesson         John 13:31-35
      
    John 13:31-35
     
    What Does Love Have to Do with Glory?
    I. Love is founded in God’s glory
    II. Love is followed to God’s glory
     
     
    In the name of Christ Jesus, whose blood cleanses us from the guilt of all sin, fellow redeemed,
     
    Love isn’t often associated with glory. To many, love is only an emotion, and most see glory as honor resulting from a great victory. But here the Lord taught about love right after talking about glory. Clearly Christ Himself connects love and glory.
     
    That’s not a connection sinners can make on their own. Like the people of Paul’s day, so we people who’ve just been fed by God with Paul’s familiar words in 1 Corinthians Chapter 13 need to be reminded all the time that true “love” isn’t waiting for someone else to be loving toward us. Like the Lord’s disciples, so we disciples of God frequently fall into the trap of self-glorification, of thinking, Glory be to me for what I did and do!
     
    So, what does love have to do with glory? The Savior tells us! The word for “love” (v. 34) He used here and Paul wrote there, and the idea behind being “glorified” (v. 31), teach us that love and glory aren’t just for us to get some tender affection and rousing recognition. Rather, true love is founded in God’s glory and true love is followed by us to God’s glory.
     
    I. Love is founded in God’s glory
     
    John Chapters 13 through 17 are full of words the Savior spoke in one spot – the upper room the night He was betrayed, before He prayed in Gethsemane and was then arrested and tried and crucified and risen. In fact, the term our new hymnal no longer uses for that night, Maundy Thursday, is from this lesson. Maundy comes from the Latin word for command, “A new commandment I give you” (v. 34). But few people know that. Holy Thursday covers the events more completely, right?
     
    Did you think we were past the Passion History of our Lord? After all, Good Friday was thirty days ago! But if we don’t know the background of these words, we won’t get the full truth from them. When “Judas left” (v. 31) the room in a huff, Jesus told him, “What you are about to do, do more quickly” (John 13”27). The eleven others thought Jesus meant, “Judas, since you handle our funds, get more food for our Passover meal.” But the all-knowing Lord knew what Judas had already plotted with the Jewish church leaders to do.
     
    “After Judas left, Jesus said, ‘Now the Son of Man is glorified, and God is glorified in Him” (v. 31). What Judas had left to do would start the chain of events and actions God would use to bring all honor to Him since those events and actions would bring salvation to sinners. What would glorify God was the Son of Man and the Son of God, man and God in one person, Jesus!, suffering death and hell for all who rebel against His holy will. Those events and actions would include the Redeemer rising from death, His ascending into heaven, and His right-now reigning in all power.
     
    That chain of events and actions is the essence of love, the foundation of love. God the Father planned the events with the Son and the Holy Spirit, then with Son and Spirit set them into motion for our salvation. Jesus wasn’t giving a riddle to the rest of disciples when He said, “I am going to be with you only a little longer. You will look for Me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come” (v. 33). Jesus was laying love’s foundation when He said that. He was talking His going to the cross in a few hours, not just to hang on a tree, but especially to suffer the punishment of hell for all sinners in the whole world. Since that was the plan of God to rescue us, successfully completing that loving plan is God’s glory. “Now the Son of Man is glorified, and God is glorified in Him”. Do you see what love has to do with glory?
     
    Christ tells us, “Love one another” (v. 34), and is Himself the foundation of love. As we said earlier, we too often view love as a feeling or emotion of tenderness and concern for others. But true love is more than that. The “love” of which Jesus spoke and in which He laid down His life for all sinners is much more than a feeling or emotion. It is “love” which sees what the ones He loves need, and then acts to give the ones He loves what they need! That “love” is how God is “glorified”!
     
    That’s the Good Friday and Easter season angle in this lesson: what God does for us in “love” and to His glory. It’s also the foundation of our love for others. Notice, believers in Jesus, what “love” is not. It is not love God owes us; it is His undeserved love given us. It is not love that waits for the one we love – spouse, child, friend, neighbor – to do something lovable or to nudge our love into action. Love acts first! Love even loves the unlovable! Love doesn’t say, “Do I have to do that?!” Love says, “I want to do that to help others!”
     
    Jesus says, “Love one another” and displays love’s foundation as undeserved love, unconditional love, full love, action love. That is not a “new” love. That is love God has always desired. What would be “new” about it would be the model of Christ’s sacrificial love at Calvary just hours later. His loving suffering our hell is God’s greatest glory – and our eternal life!
     
    II. Love is followed to God’s glory
     
    True love isn’t forced, doesn’t need a law or command to be followed. True love is produced by, and founded on, Christ’s love for sinners – love that is the Savior-God’s greatest glory. And that connection between love and glory is another lesson from the Lord here. “Love one another. Just as I have loved you, so also you are to love one another” (v. 34). Love is followed to God’s glory, as we give God glory.
     
    It sounds easy, but it’s not. We know about love. We talk about love. But the Savior who says, “Love one another” tells us to go deeper than what poets and writers and others describe or imagine about love. “Love…as I have loved you.
     
    Our love is to be patterned after the love Christ has for us, the love which led Him to give Himself for us. True “love” isn’t most of all concerned with What will this mean to me? Will it hurt me financially or in some other way? True love is Christlike care and concern which most of all asks, What do the ones I love need? What am I able to do to help them?
     
    The Savior says, “Love one another”, then teaches this love lesson: “By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (v. 35). When the world sees us sacrifice our rights or blessings to help others, even if it costs us time or money or popularity, the world thinks, They follow the One they claim gave Himself for them.
     
    That was the love followed to God’s glory by the Savior’s followers in the earliest Christian congregations. We are hearing about those early believers in the book of Acts this Easter season. They looked for opportunities to share earthly gifts they had been given by God with those who didn’t have as much as they had. Let that be part of the love we follow to give glory to God as we help those who need help. Everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another”.
     
    Unbelievers don’t understand the standard the Savior sets for love. Only those who are, thanks to the Holy Spirit, connected to Christ in faith can begin to show this kind of love. Only God changes our hearts and powers us to “love as I love you”.
     
    Children, is the way you play with one another, the way you talk to your parents, the way of the Savior’s love? Or it is often the way of selfish Satan, expecting everything to go your way?
     
    Spouses, is the way we speak with one another, treat one another, the way of the Savior’s love? O is it often the way of the sinful nature? You be nice to me first, then I’ll be nice to you.
     
    Parents and spouses, is the way we deal with problems in life the way of the Savior’s love, looking for more we can do to change the situation? Or is it often the way of the scheming world, insisting the only solution is for others to change?
     
    Young people, is the way you are looking for a future spouse the way of the Savior’s love, searching for a young man or woman who will with you grow more deeply rooted in Christ as the most important quality for your husband or wife? Or is it often infected by the world whispering, “Look for looks and fun, and when those run out the marriage can be ended!”?
     
    Parents, is the way you raise your children and set examples the way of the Savior’s love? Or is it at times the foolish and harmful idea that says, “We’ll let our children decide about religion”? Is that a love that is followed by those who are loved forever by the Lord? Does that idea give glory to God?
     
    The Savior says, “Love one another”, then adds, “The world is watching! The way you love – or don’t love – says volumes to the world about you being – or not being – one of My disciples”. It’s not that we’re out to gain favor with the world. It’s that we love others to give glory to God for saving us. The sinful world desperately needs love followed to the glory of God by us who are filled with Christ’s saving “love”.
     
    The Savior says, “Love one another as I have loved you”. That love extends beyond last Sunday’s Mother’s Day and next month’s Father’s Day, beyond “I love you!” spoken on Valentine’s Day and in marriage vows and at wedding anniversaries. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with those emotions of love discussed and displayed on such special days. But our lasting love will be discussed and displayed daily – not just on special occasions, because the Savior speaks of and displays His love for us daily – not just on special occasions.
     
    Our lasting love is founded on God’s glory in saving us. And love is followed by us, too, to give God glory for saving us. Not, Glory be to me! But “Glory be to God in the way I love Him and others, doing so the way God has loved me first.”      Amen.
    Pastor David A. Voss
    Fourth Sunday of Easter / Christian Family
  • Fourth Sunday of Easter / Christian Family
    May 8, 2022
     
    Hymns                        452,   552,   465
    First Lesson              Acts 13:15-16a,26-39
    Psalm                         23
    Second Lesson         Revelation 7:9-17
    Gospel Lesson         John 10:22-30
     
    John 10:22-30
     
    Sheep of Jesus Stay Close to the Good Shepherd
    I. Because of what He says to them
             II. Because of what He knows about them
      III. Because of what He keeps for them
     
     
    In the name of Jesus, still our crucified and risen Savior, still our reason for living and our hope upon dying, fellow sinners washed by His blood and led by Him, our Good Shepherd,
     
    The Lutheran teacher taught her students Psalm 23 and told them it would be used in church on Sunday, Good Shepherd Sunday. Later that day she helped the students make a project to give their moms that Sunday, Mother’s Day. A student asked, “Mother’s Day is Good Shepherd Sunday? What if moms don’t want to share the day?” The kind, wise teacher replied, “Christian moms always put Jesus first in everything!”
     
    Mother’s Day is a cherished date on the calendar and in family life. The risen Jesus serving as our Good Shepherd is a cherished Word of God picture. There is, of course, no conflict between Mother’s Day and Good Shepherd Sunday. Every believing Mom is blessed, above all else, to be one of the Good Shepherd’s sheep. Every believing Mom wants, above all else, her loved ones, too, to be sheep of the Good Shepherd.
     
    Sheep of Jesus stay close to the Good Shepherd. We do that not only out of loyalty to Him who’s done so much for us. Sheep of Jesus stay close to their Good Shepherd most of because that is the best place to be! Sheep of Jesus stay close to the Good Shepherd because of what He says to them, what He knows about them, and what He keeps for them.
     
    I. Because of what He says to them

    It’s not a compliment to be called “sheep” (v. 26). Sheep aren’t very smart. Some have followed others off a cliff, falling to their death without seeing the danger in the last step since sheep have poor eyesight. Sheep are slow, don’t have long claws or sharp teeth to defend themselves when attacked.
    So when the Good Shepherd calls us “sheep”, He tells us we are weak spiritually by ourselves – defenseless, blind, headed to hell. That’s what He told the Jews who had tried to trap Him by asking, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly” (v. 24). Thinking the humble Jesus of Nazareth couldn’t possibly be the promised Messiah, the One come from heaven as God in the flesh, they refused to accept what they had heard Him say and seen Him do. Jesus did say He is God’s Son, the Savior. “I did yell you, but you do not believe. The works (miracles) I am doing in My Father’s name testify about Me. But you do not believe” (vv. 25-26).
     
    We don’t like to hear that part of what the Good Shepherd says to “sheep”. God calls it the Law. The Good Shepherd’s truth shows us how we really are: sinful from conception when we took on the sin inherited from our sinful parents, separated from God, headed to hell, unable to save ourselves.
     
    Sheep” on the one-way path to hell need to be turned around. The Good Shepherd does that. Sheep of Jesus stay close to the Good Shepherd because He also says, “You are My sheep. And My sheep listen to My voice” (v. 27). He warns against drinking the poison of lies, walking into the devil’s traps of temptation to lust or greed or pride, trying to build a ladder to heaven with the rotten wood of our own works. He removes the curse of our guilt by telling us of His love – His forgiveness of our every sin, His living a holy life in our place, His suffering the full force of hell as our Substitute, His rising from the dead to assure us all of this is most certainly true!
     
    Four-legged sheep recognize their shepherd’s voice; if a different voice calls to them, they run away! Do we? Any spiritual voice we hear that goes against what the Good Shepherd says in His Word is an voice from which we run!
     
    We stay close to the Good Shepherd where He speaks to us! We stay close to the Good Shepherd long after formal years of instruction in the Word as children are over. We never graduate from learning God’s Word until the Good Shepherd takes our soul to heaven. Do we listen daily to the Good Shepherd? Or do we think once a month enough? That’s not the pastor pleading for people to attend services and classes. That’s the Savior telling His sheep, “Listen to My voice. Stay close to Me!” And we give thanks to the Lord for our Christian mother and family whom the Good Shepherd used to teach us that.
     
        II. Because of what He knows about them
     
    They won’t say it on Mother’s Day. But most young people go through a stage when their parents can’t tell them anything the young people don’t know. Too many teens suppose they have it all figured out and know exactly what to do. But sometimes they find out the hard way they don’t have it all figured out or know the right thing to do. Adults don’t know it all, either. But  we, too, sometimes act like we do. Only the Good Shepherd knows it all, including knowing it all about us!
     
    How does a famer know all the animals by name? To us, all the cows look alike, same with the pigs and sheep. But farmers know little details to tell one sheep from another. The Good Shepherd knows His sheep intimately. “I know My sheep (v. 27). I know them as individuals, not just as one huge group.”
     
    He knows our sins – which of us are tempted to steal, are lazy, spread gossip, ignore Scripture, think we are the best, pick on some and plot against others. All of that, and all the other dirt in the dark corners of our heart, dirt we suppose no one else knows, the Good Shepherd knows. “I know them”. He knows our weaknesses – which of us are often afraid, easily depressed, lonely, sick, hurt, worried about inflation or finances, nervous about changing jobs or entering a new school.
     
    That’s why “sheep” of Jesus stay close to the Good Shepherd! Isn’t it great to know He knows everything about us? No! Not when we realize He knows our wickedness and sins. None of that is hidden from Him. But “I know them” is also great news because He knows best what we need – and He gives it to us!
     
    The doctor looks at the test results and knows what the patient needs: a brain which isn’t full of cancer. But there’s no such thing as a complete brain transplant, so there’s nothing any doctor can do for that patient. The Good Shepherd looks inside us and sees we’re full of sin and guilt. He knows exactly what we need: forgiveness of every sin. And He delivered that with His saving mission on earth!
     
    Fellow “sheep” of God, the Good Shepherd has not promised to give us what we want. He knows earning millions of dollars might lead us away from Him, getting promoted might mean work hours preventing us from hearing His Word, having a boyfriend or girlfriend now might lead us down a wrong road. The Good Shepherd doesn’t always give us what we want.
     
    But He always gives us what we need! Jesus walked this earth as much more than a teacher. He came as the world’s Deliverer. He suffered hell so we won’t be sent there. He knew we needed His sacrifice at Calvary and rising from death. He knows we need His Word and the life found only in Him. We “sheep” of the Good Shepherd stay close to Him because He knows us the way on one else ever will. Even your loving Mom doesn’t know you as well as the Good Shepherd does. And He acts in love to bless us with what He knows we need most.
     
    III. Because of what He keeps for them
     
    Moms, you’ll keep what your children give you today. Even if it has little monetary value, the love behind the gift they made or bought for you makes the gift precious beyond words. And God has used you, Christian moms, to tell them what is most valuable of all. You’ve told your children, and may do so again today, “Sheep of Jesus stay close to Him, the Good Shepherd, because of what He keeps for us!”
     
    You tell your children that, Mom, because the Savior tells us that. “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of My hand” (v. 28). What security! We emphasize grace in our services and classes, we confess God does all the work for the sinner’s salvation, because the Good Shepherd says so here – and in thousands of other places in His Word. “I give them eternal life”. It’s a free gift from God, nothing we earn. The most powerful being in the universe has given us life. No one and no thing have the power to rip us away from Him who saves us. We have the unending “life” of connection to God now and forever – guaranteed!
     
    But, we “sheep” of the Good Shepherd could say to Him, “I no longer want to be part of Your flock, Your family, one of Your sheep. I’m leaving!” That would upset and sadden the Good Shepherd. But finally He would say, “If that’s the way you want it, that’s the way it will be! But without Me, it will be hell for you forever!” But why would “sheep” of the Jesus ever give up that precious gift?! He wants to keep us for Himself forever. May we never let His gift to us slip through our fingers because of our faithlessness to Him and to His Word!
     
    Many who were once sheep of the Good Shepherd have gradually strayed. They may think they’re still sheep of the Good Shepherd. But if they don’t listen to His Word any more, they aren’t His sheep. “My sheep hear My voice”! Some of the Jews there that day had stopped hearing all God’s Word, and thus hated the center of the Word, Jesus. The only way our faith is fed is by the Good Shepherd leading us to the green pastures of His gospel. Every Christian mom wants her children always to hear the Shepherd’s voice, walk in His ways, and join her in heaven with Jesus through faith in His work.
     
    Lots of people, things, and ideas want to be our shepherd. But only One is our Good Shepherd! He called us out of unbelief and into His family. Even before we – or the world – existed, He knew we needed His life, death and resurrection, so He came to earth to rescue us from what we deserved. He calls to us daily in His Word to tell us what we need to hear from Him, what He knows about us, and what He keeps for us. “I give them eternal life”. And that’s what you believing moms want for yourselves and all your family. Sheep of Jesus stay close to the Good Shepherd.      Amen.
    Pastor David A. Voss
    Third Sunday of Easter - The Lamb Is Worthy of Praise
  • Third Sunday of Easter
    May 1, 2022
     
     
    Hymns                        446,   459,   885,   510
    First Lesson              Acts 9:1-22
    Psalm                         16
    Second Lesson         Revelation 5:11-14
    Gospel Lesson         John 21:1-14
     
     
    Revelation 5:11-14
     
    The Lamb Is Worthy of Praise
    I. Because He was slain
      II. Because He now reigns
     
     
    In the name of Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, fellow redeemed still rejoicing at His rising, 
     
    To many, the book of Revelation is a confusing collection of brutal battle scenes, scary creatures, awesome angels, and lots of songs. Even to regular church-goers Revelation verses like these may lead to the reaction, “Saints and angels praise God in heaven. We know that. Tell us something new!”
     
    God doesn’t tell us much about what the throngs of angels and the saints in heaven are doing from now until the Last Day, other than a lot of praising God. That sounds boring to us who long for homes in heaven. We who enjoy going to games, playing outside, watching TV, tinkering with cars, chatting online, doing crafts, working with wood, going out to eat, hunting and fishing and camping, taking vacations, and playing video games, at times think it a bit dull that we will spend forever praising the Triune God. Where does the problem lie? With the Lord for being boring? No! It’s with us for being too earth-bound! And it’s not that we’ll have to praise God in heaven. We will want to praise God in heaven.
     
    And we want to praise Him here on earth. Praise flows sincerely and delightfully from sinners who have peace with God in our Savior, the living Lamb. Praise flows from us who live in a world that sometimes seems out of control, but who trust the Lamb is still very much in control of our lives and family, church and church body, of everything! The Lamb is worthy of praise – from those in heaven and from us on earth – because the Lamb was slain and because the Lamb now reigns.
     
    I. Because He was slain
     
    What God revealed to John in Revelation is like a lengthy slide show, picturing the victory of God and His people over Satan and all evil from many different angles and in many striking scenes. The scene in Revelation Chapters Four and Five is God’s throne. “There was a door opened in heaven!…A  throne was standing in heaven” (Revelation 4:2). There were twenty-four thrones around the elaborate central throne. On those thrones were twenty-four “elders” (v. 11), twelve Old Testament tribes of Israel plus twelve New Testament apostles, thus representing all believers of all time. Between the twenty-four elders on those thrones and the throne were four “living creatures” (v. 11) with six wings – most likely angels. 
     
    All that was fascinating. But the center of attention is the One on the central throne. That One is the Triune God. John saw the Triune God holding a scroll. But John “began to weep bitterly because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or to look into it” (Revelation 5:4). Then John’s sobbing stopped at this message: “The Lion from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed and is able to open the scroll and its seven seals” (Revelation 5:5). Next, John saw not the Lion, but “a Lamb” (Revelation 5:6), the Lamb who is “worthy to take the scroll and open it” (v. 9).
     
    The scroll is the future. God the Father at the throne handed it to God the Son at the throne as God the Holy Spirit at the throne watched. Why was the Son the One “worthy” (v. 12) to open it? Not because He is stronger than Father or Spirit. Not because He knew the combination. The Father and Spirit are all-powerful and all-knowing, too. The Son is “worthy” to open it because He “is the Lamb who was slain” (v. 12a).
     
    The Lion is Jesus, the great descendant of David from the Jewish tribe of Judah that used a lion for its symbol. Jesus is the great King who conquered our worst enemy. The Lamb is Jesus, the sacrificed lamb, “slain” for the world’s sins. What He who is both the Lion and the Lamb accomplished in the past determines the present and the future for all. Who better to open the scroll?! The Lamb’s blood shed for us wins our power over the devil now. The Lamb’s life given for us guarantees our future glory in heaven.
     
    The future does not depend on political legislation or peace for Ukraine or increased giving by our members. The future is secure for sure and forever in Christ! Because of His work, our today and forever are bright and eternally blessed! That’s why the Lamb “who was slain” is worthy of our praise!
     
      II. Because He now reigns
     
    If the Lamb who was slain is worthy to receive praise now and forever, the Lamb must no longer be slain. And, of course, Christ is risen! But He’s more than risen. The Lamb is also worthy of praise because He now reigns!
     
    The Lamb is praised by all created beings. The angels John heard singing the Lamb’s praises didn’t just pop up out of nowhere. The Triune God created them. Some of those created spirit beings, maybe as many as one third of them, rebelled against God’s reign and were thrown out of heaven before Adam and Eve sinned. How many remain permanently holy heavenly hosts? Ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands upon thousands” (v. 11). Billions, it seems! All of them were made by God to serve God forever.
     
    And not just angels praise the Lamb, but also “every creature that is in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them” (v. 13). Mammals and insects, plants and trees, lakes and mountains, the moon and sun, laws of nature and forces of wind. Their very existence and steady purpose in the universe praise the Lamb, Father, and Spirit – the Triune God who made them and who keeps them.
     
    And especially rescued sinners praise the Lamb. “The elders bowed down and worshipped” (v. 14). Our pets don’t know Jesus shed His blood to rescue us, but we do! When we, the crown of God’s creation, keep in mind and heart where we’d be without the Lamb – in hell! – we gladly praise Him!
     
    “Amen” (v. 14) means This is most certainly true. What is most certainly true? The Lord created all that exists. People who sin and deserve hell get pardon from the Lamb slain to shed His precious blood for all. The Lamb who was slain is alive and all-powerful, is risen and reigns. All that is most certainly true!
     
    The Lamb is worthy of praise from us. Is that why we’re here and is that the attitude with which we’re here? The elders, all believers, remember!, bowed down and worshipped” the Lamb. That will include us when we spend a few quiet moments Saturday night reviewing our life over the week coming to a close, recalling our countless sins against the loving, mighty God! If you’re not in the habit of doing that, consider starting a Saturday night review. Such a daily and weekly spiritual review sharpens our sense of awe and heightens our eagerness to come to God’s house as our first activity each week. Such a review will strike us with the realization we don’t deserve even to stand in His presence at worship, but ought to hide our faces from His holiness and burn in hell. Do we praise the Lamb with a yawn, thinking instead in here how we’ll spend a spring Sunday? Or do we praise the Lamb with reverent hearing His every word and giving Him our very best?
     
    As we praise the Lamb here and at home and everywhere, we do so for all He is and does and has as He reigns. “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power…and strength” (v. 12). Hold it! Didn’t the Lamb have power and strength? Yes! Even before time began! But He set aside the full use of His power and strength to let wicked men capture and slay Him that we might be free and live. With His mission accomplished, He’s taken back full use of His power and strength.
     
    He reigns with “wealth” (v. 12). Christ became “poor” (2 Corinthians 8:9) to make us rich spiritually. But at His resurrection He regained and keeps ownership of all – our clothes, homes, bank accounts, vehicles – all belongs to the Lamb!
     
    He reigns with “wisdom” (v. 12). During His earthly ministry Jesus didn’t make constant use of His perfect knowledge. But now He again uses His “wisdom” without interruption. He reigns with “honor and glory” (v. 12). The Lamb’s enemies didn’t heap honor on Him or give glory to Him during His work here. But now He reigns in heaven and is worthy of all honor and glory. On the Last Day even His enemies will have to honor and glorify Him – but it will be too late for them to be saved.
     
    The Lamb reigns to receive “blessing” (v. 12). That sounds nice. But do we know what “blessing” is? It’s more than an admiring, “You’re great, Jesus!” Blessing is used in most Jewish prayers to address God. Get it? If “blessing” is used for Jesus, then the slain Lamb is the risen Jesus, true God, our living Lord, our reigning Redeemer!
     
    The Lamb is worthy of praise. We know that. We do that. But what we need held before us – and what many in the world need to hear from us – isn’t so much how we praise Christ, but why we praise Him. He “was slain”. As great as they were, Christ’s greatest acts were not showing pity for the paralyzed or restoring life to the dead or saying loving things to the poor or scolding things to the self-righteous. “The Lamb…was slain”. Christ’s greatest acts were living in perfect obedience to His own laws for sinners and dying in innocent sacrifice for sinners who break His laws. Without that, we had no hope!
     
    The slain Lamb is risen and reigns. Christ’s greatest acts today aren’t delivering the stricken from disease and keeping travelers safe and giving us money to buy necessities and oxygen to breathe. He reigns in us with His good news of the full forgiveness He has won for us. Christ’s greatest acts until the Last Day are speaking to us in His Word, washing our infants in Baptism, giving His body and blood to communicants. The Lamb who was slain now reigns and gives us the victory won there for the world! The Lamb was slain and now reigns in us!
     
    The Lamb is worthy of praise. Why? Because He purchased our redemption. Because He has reserved a place in Paradise for us. When Satan comes to convince us that praising the Lamb at home in devotions and here in services is a boring waste of time, we tell Him to take a hike back to hell. And Satan has to listen to us. Why? Because the Lamb who was slain now reigns!     Amen.
    Pastor David A. Voss
    Second Sunday of Easter - We Are God's Resurrection Remodeling Project
  • Second Sunday of Easter
    April 24, 2022
     
    Hymns                        438,   456,   470: stanza 4,   449
    First Lesson              Acts 5:12,17-32
    Psalm                         16
    Second Lesson         Revelation 1:4-18
    Gospel Lesson         John 20:19-31
     
     
    Acts 5:12,17-32
     
    We Are God’s Resurrection Remodeling Project
      I. Believers made stronger by the message of this new life
     II. Testimony made bolder about the power of this new life
     
     
    In the name of our crucified and risen Savior, Jesus Christ, fellow Easter believers, still rejoicing at His rising from death,
     
    On remodeling project shows, viewers see how a house’s structural problems are solved, how a dilapidated dump becomes a delightful place to live. Your remodeling projects redo what you don’t like about the original design or repair what has broken. And it helps when money isn’t an obstacle.
     
    Every Resurrection season we take a long look at God’s remodeling project from the book of Acts. We see how Christ’s resurrection changed the early believers. God’s remodeling project isn’t necessary because He didn’t design us correctly. It is His way to repair what we’ve broken and to restore us as He wants us to be. Not just those early Easter believers, but you and I, too, are God’s resurrection remodeling project. Believers are made stronger by the message of this new life, and testimony is made bolder about the power of this new life.
     
      I. Believers made stronger by the message of this new life
     
    “I can’t believe this is the same house!”, they say near the end of remodeling shows. “I can’t believe these are the same disciples of Jesus!”, we say after hearing this lesson. This was a few months after the resurrection appearances by Jesus on back-to-back Sunday evenings from today’s Gospel Lesson. What a change in His apostles from those Sundays to this day! There, huddled in hushed and frightened fear. Here, assembled in open and joyous confidence. There, stubborn Thomas. Here, strengthened Peter, James, John, Thomas, and the other apostles. There, “behind locked doors because of their fear of the Jews” (John 20:19). Here, in “the temple courts… to teach” (v. 21) the work of Jesus and preach, “He is risen!”
     
    What made the difference? The whole message about this life” (v. 20). God had made the apostles invisible and led by one of His angels as they left the jail unnoticed. God wants the world to hear “the whole message about this life”. So He freed His main messengers to allow to tell more people about the Author of this new life, God’s Son, the world’s Savior.
     
    What did the apostles do with their freedom? Sleep late after a nervous night in jail? Leave Jerusalem lest they be arrested again? “They entered the temple courts at daybreak as God had His angel tell them to do, “and began to teach” more about the Savior, preach “the whole message about this life”.
     
    Men who had been too timid to talk about Jesus now risked a return to jail by publicly proclaiming Jesus, strengthened by God with the message of this new life. Those who heard the message of this new life and believed it “continued meeting in Solomon’s Colonnade” (v. 12) outside the temple. There they heard and studied the Word, encouraged each other in the faith, and expressed their joy in this new life in Christ. God strengthened preachers and hearers with this same message.
     
    What is “the whole message about this life”? Eternal life? Yes! But more than heaven hereafter. We are sinners from conception, were spiritually dead and separated from God by our sins and unbelief, on a trip to hell we were powerless to stop. But Jesus left heaven and came to earth to live and die in our place so sinners “may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). In Him we live, no longer separated from God but connected to Him. In Him we live with God here now, not just there forever. Right now we enjoy “life” as God’s children. We receive forgiveness of sins, won by His death and assured by His rising. All that is “the whole message about this life” in Christ who took back His life for us and is our victorious King!
     
    That message powered God’s resurrection remodeling project for the first Easter believers. It also changes and strengthens us Easter believers. How were our lives different last week due to the resurrection truth? Sin didn’t stay away because of the resurrection, did it? But don’t we find it easier to resist Satan as we trust more than ever Jesus died and rose for us? No? Then we aren’t using “the whole message about this life”. Trouble, sickness, and disappointment didn’t vanish because of the resurrection, did they? No. New sorrows arose, right? But don’t we find it easier to handle life’s assaults and setbacks as we trust more than ever Jesus died and rose for us, He lives in us, and He won the victory for us? No? Then we aren’t using “the whole message about this life”.
     
    God’s resurrection remodeling project continues in us. As we receive “the whole message about this life”, we grow in our faith, our joy, our confidence in Him, our desire to serve Him with all we do. Others notice our spiritual growth and our change, just like people noticed the growth and change in the apostles. When they notice, we give all glory to Him who caused the change: the risen Christ. When they ask about our spiritual remodeling, we point to God’s good news of the Savior’s removing hell from all sinners by taking it on Himself – the worst of His Good Friday suffering, and to the Savior’s rising from His tomb – the best of our Easter Sunday celebrating.
     
     II. Testimony made bolder about the power of this new life
     
    Some homes on remodeling shows look completely different after the project due to bold decorating statements. Here we receive a bold faith statement. God’s resurrection remodeling project in the apostles and early believers continues in us, too, as testimony is made bolder about the power of this new life.
    “I can’t believe they are doing that!”, high priest Annas maybe muttered when he heard the apostles were teaching, “Christ is risen!” at the temple. That they were free wasn’t found out until morning when they were to stand trial before their church’s leaders. The officers “found the jail securely locked and the guards standing at the doors, but when they opened them, they found no one inside” (v. 23). God let His apostles leave jail unseen, and had the angel bolt the doors again. 
     
    The escape was bad enough for Annas. But the apostles doing what he had forbidden them to do infuriated Annas. “Did we not give you strict orders not to teach in this name” (v. 28)? Did the Jewish apostles sin by defying the Jewish high priest? No. “We must obey God rather than men” (v. 29). Before they saw the risen Christ, the apostles were afraid to mention publicly their connection to Jesus. Once they had, they did! Their testimony was much bolder about the power of this new life.
     
    They weren’t arrogantly defiant. When led from the temple courts to “the Sanhedrin” (v. 27) court, maybe the same room where Jesus stood before Caiaphas and Annas and near where Peter denied he even knew Jesus, Peter and the others spoke boldly against them – but also to them, and for their salvation.
     
    “The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you arrested and killed by hanging Him on a cross” (v. 30). Imagine saying that to your accusers! That’s believing boldness! The Jewish church leaders couldn’t even bring themselves to say Jesus’ name. But Peter proclaimed the same Jesus risen from death, a report the Sanhedrin had paid a big bribe to the Roman guard to keep quiet. And the apostles’ message wasn’t a new one. It was the same truth and the same faith held by Jewish “fathers” Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Samuel, Elijah, David, and every faithful Jew. The promised Messiah would sacrifice Himself, then rise from the dead, to save them and all sinners.
     
    “God exalted Him to His right hand as Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and the forgiveness of sins” (v. 31). Being at God’s “right hand” is word picture language that the risen and ascended Jesus has all power and authority there. After urging them to repent for rejecting Jesus, the apostles urged their accusers to trust Jesus as the powerful and saving Lord of life. Only through faith in Him are sinners rescued from hell. What bold testimony about Jesus by men who had locked themselves in a room for fear of being associated with Jesus!
     
    “We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him” (v. 32). After the Spirit gives sinners faith in Jesus as their Savior, believers “obey”, that is, say, “Yes!” to what the Spirit works in them. The Spirit gave them boldness about the message of this life. 
     
    We are part of God’s resurrection remodeling project. The same Spirit has given us the same testimony for the same faith in the same risen Savior. The power for God’s project remains “the whole message about this life” we have in Jesus. 
     
    When we talk about the risen Savior, we won’t be arrested for our testimony. But if a friend or loved one, if a church or job or government authority tells us to reject the risen Savior, or orders us to do something the risen Savior commands us in His Word not to do, we answer respectfully, firmly, and boldly, “We must obey God rather than men”.
     
    Parents, don’t make your children choose between your plans and God’s will. Your family’s priorities on Sunday mornings, the way you use God’s name, your decision about devotions at home dare never force your kids to say, “Dad and Mom, God gets first place in everything! Please drop me off at church when you go shopping Sunday morning. God wants us to praise His holy name, not to use it to damn a phone that isn’t working. God wants His Word heard daily, not shrugged off because we are too busy for devotions at home .”
     
    We are God’s resurrection remodeling project. We tell “the whole message of this life” to those who don’t yet have joy in Jesus and His forgiveness, who don’t yet know the boldness of trusting Him and the comfort of being saved by the crucified and risen Savior. We want those we know to have that, too.
     
    We are God’s resurrection remodeling project on earth. He works to keep us growing in faith, knowing His Word, showing with our lives we do everything to thank Him for saving us. The crushing load our sins deserve is lifted off us by the triumphant work Jesus did to pay for our sins in full, and by His rising from death to prove it. The whole message about this life” in Christ strengthens us. God continues in us His resurrection remodeling project until the project is complete and He takes us to heaven through faith in Him.      Amen.
    Pastor David A. Voss
    Resurrection Sunday - Jesus Wasn't Taken; He Is Risen
  • Resurrection Sunday
    April 17, 2022
     
    Hymns                      442,   458,   824,   471,   444,   461,   441
    First Lesson              Matthew 27:62-66;  Mark 16:1-8;  John 20:10-18
    Psalm                         118
    Second Lesson         1 Corinthians 15:1-8, 19-24, 51-57
    Third Lesson              Isaiah 25:6-9; Job 19:23-27
     
     
    John 20:1-18
     
    JESUS WASN’T TAKEN; HE IS RISEN!
    I. By His own power (vv. 1-9)
                II. At His Father’s approval (vv. 10-17)
            III. For His people’s rising (vv. 17-18)
     
     
    In the name of Jesus, the Savior crucified for us and risen for us just as He said He would rise, fellow Easter believers,
     
    What did the women expect to see early that Sunday morning? A Roman squad guarding the tomb. A wax seal around a large disc-shaped stone covering the tomb’s opening. And a cold corpse. What did they find when they got there? The soldiers  gone. The seal broken. The stone rolled to the side. And inside, no body!
     
    We know and trust the explanation. Jesus wasn’t “taken” (vv. 2,13,15), as Mary said three times before the risen Christ revealed Himself to her. Taken is the big lie Satan still spreads. Jesus did what only God can do. He is risen! That truth is not just what you expect to hear in His house this most glorious day of the year. That truth that changes life forever. Jesus wasn’t taken; He is risen! That changes life in the greatest ways, three of which we’ll ponder in Resurrection devotions. 
     
    I. By His own power (vv. 1-9)
     
    The first is He is risen by His own power! What those humble, believing, devoted women and two of Christ’s disciples saw early that morning puzzled them. The stone problem – “The soldiers won’t roll it aside so we can put these spices on the body of Jesus. How will we few women shove the sealed stone out of the deep groove?” – the stone problem was solved.
     
    But that revealed a new problem. The body of Jesus was gone. They supposed grave robbers added insult to the injury of their Lord’s death. What the women didn’t notice, the disciples discovered later. Jesus recorded in His Word to prove His power every Easter after this fact: “the linen cloths were lying there. And the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head was not lying with the linen cloths, but was folded up in a separate place by itself” (vv. 6-7). Would body snatchers take time to unwrap the burial cloths, then one say to the other, “Before we go with the body, let me fold this face cloth just so”? No! Jesus wasn’t taken; He is risen!
     
    Jesus took back His life on the third day by the Jewish way of counting time, just as He had promised He would through His prophets and to His twelve disciples. John “saw and believed” (v. 8)! The next Resurrection verse, “(They still did not yet understand the Scripture that He must rise from the dead)” (v. 9), means they didn’t connect Christ’s resurrection with the Old Testament passages that predicted it, especially what King David had been given by the Holy Spirit to write one thousand years earlier about the Savior. “You will not abandon My life to the grave. You will not let Your favored One see decay” (Psalm 16:10). John had great joy in the linen proof Jesus had done what only God can do: destroy death’s power by His own power. Jesus was, is, and always will be truly God! That’s what His powerful resurrection from His sacrificial death means!
     
    And that changes us forever! The memory of Jesus would be a cruel joke, and our trust in Him would be a false belief, if He was still dead. But He isn’t! He is risen from death! He isn’t who His enemies said He was, “A liar and a heretic to call Himself God’s Son and the promised Messiah.” Jesus is who He says He is: the eternal Son of God and the world’s only Savior! He isn’t dead and defeated. He is alive and well and ruling! The empty grave proves He is God. Jesus “was declared to be God’s powerful Son by His resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:4). That’s the life-changing truth God declared the first Resurrection Sunday. That’s the life-changing truth that drives our lives. That’s the life-changing truth we now confess in song: Hymn 471, stanzas 2-3.
     
      II. At His Father’s approval (vv. 10-17)
     
    Even serious students of God’s Word get confused by the order of events that Resurrection day. The events are written in all four Gospels. But by the Spirit each Gospel writer focused on different scenes. Let’s put the four together. The soul of Jesus returned from heaven and reunited with His body well before dawn that day. Then Jesus slipped invisibly and silently from the sealed tomb and went to hell to declare His victory over Satan to Satan and all wicked angels. Then two holy angels came down from heaven, punctuated by an earthquake, rolled the stone away, and their sudden arrival, gleaming appearance, and mighty power frightened the soldiers. The soldiers ran to town in fear when they saw the just-opened tomb was empty. Returning from declaring His victory in hell over the devil, Jesus appeared to some of His followers that day.
     
    The Holy Spirit recorded many Resurrection details for all time and all people to prove that Jesus wasn’t taken, but is risen! That glorious truth changes our lives also because it proves Jesus is risen at His heavenly Father’s approval.
     
    In John’s Resurrection report Mary Magdalene moved quickly from emotional wreck to ecstatic worshiper. It seems the two angels at first made themselves invisible to Mary, who turned right around at the empty tomb and ran maybe 800 meters to get Peter and John. When they arrived, they didn’t see the angels, either. But when Peter and John headed back to town, and when Mary peered deeper inside the tomb, she “saw two angels in white clothes sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying” (v. 12). Either she didn’t recognize them as angels, or didn’t consider why heavenly beings were at the empty tomb, because all Mary said was, “Someone has taken the body of my Lord!”
    Then Mary “turned around and saw Jesus standing there, though she did not know it was Jesus” (v. 14). It’s possible Jesus somehow disguised His appearance to Mary, as He would do later that afternoon with two believers on the road to Emmaus. But there would be no mistaking the voice of her Lord. “Jesus said to her, ‘Mary’” (v. 16). At once Mary knew it was Jesus – dead on Friday, but risen from death on Sunday!
     
    When Mary hugged Him and tried to hang on to Him, Jesus told her He was headed to heaven. “Do not continue to cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father…I am ascending to My Father and your Father – to My God and your God” (v. 17). The risen Savior wasn’t forbidding Mary Magdalene to touch Him. The next Sunday evening the Savior invited Thomas to touch Him. There is a greater truth here. Jesus didn’t want Mary to think He was staying on earth, and so let her know His mission on earth was perfectly accomplished.
     
    For several Sundays we’ll hear how Jesus spent forty days appearing in various ways to His followers before He ascended to heaven. There the Father welcomed Jesus as the successful Savior returning home. The Word of God says in some places that Jesus raised Himself from death, in other places that the Father raised Him from death. That’s not a contradiction. That is the glorious mystery of the Triune God. The verses that say the Father raised the Son from death emphasize this saving truth: the Father accepted His Son’s payment for our sins and approves of His Son’s work for our redemption.
     
    Jesus wasn’t “taken”; He is risen! The resurrection is also the Father’s shout to sinners who deserve hell for every sin, “You are forgiven!” By raising His Son from death, the Father declares to the world, “My beloved Son’s work for you is accepted! Live assured My Son has My approval! And through My Son, you have My approval, too!” We don’t stop praising God for that! We do so now with Hymn 444, stanzas 4-5.
     
           III. For His people’s rising (vv. 17-18)
     
    The Resurrection of the Savior changes life forever! This holiest day of the year isn’t only to tell Christ, “Well done! Good for You that You rose after all You went through!” He died for us, and rose for us! Jesus wasn’t “taken”; He is risen! That life-changing truth also assures His people’s rising from the dead.
     
    Mary Magdalene passed the Resurrection report on to others. Now she knew, had seen, and would for the rest of her life believe Jesus wasn’t “taken”; He is risen! Mary “went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’” (v. 18)! Her life had meaning.
     
    And so does ours! Our life doesn’t end. It leads to heaven where the loving Father waits for His children who trust the Savior’s work to cover their sins completely. Life’s first short chapter is written on earth. But life-in-heaven’s chapter has no end! The death bed is only a station where the believer’s soul is carried to heaven on the early train of the Savior’s death and resurrection, while the body waits in the grave for the later train when the Savior comes back on the Last Day. The Resurrection truth is how we deal with the death of believing loved ones. We will rise with them, guaranteed by the fact that Jesus wasn’t “taken”; He is risen!
     
    Until we die, we live here as sinners connected to the Savior through faith. We see our life’s span as the time God grants us to sink the roots of our faith in His Son’s empty cross and empty tomb so we’re ready every day for our rising to heaven. We see our life’s purpose as greater than making money, eating well, entertaining others, and enjoying ourselves. We live for Jesus in all we think, say, and do. And we shine the light of His death and resurrection that others live with Him, too.
     
    The risen Savior’s sermon to Mary ended, “My God is your God” (v. 17). His sermon is for us, too! “My God is your God. Your faith is in Me, the powerful Son who died for you and rose for you! My Father doesn’t hold your sins against you! He won’t let you rot in the grave forever. Because I live, you, too, will live! I am risen, which means you have it all!”
     
    Christ was not “taken”. We rejoice as we confess and sing today, “Christ the Lord is risen today! He isn’t still dead; we know that our Redeemer lives!” How long will our joy last? How long will we keep coming to hear that? The Resurrection truth is good forever! We hear it and use it today, tomorrow, next Sunday, and forever. The devil’s lie is Jesus was taken. The Triune God’s truth is Jesus is risen! That truth changes us forever!    Amen.
    Pastor David A. Voss
    Palm Sunday - Our King Comes to Us...As a Servant!
  • Sixth Sunday in Lent – Palm Sunday
    April 10, 2022
     
    Hymns                        511,   411,   548
    First Lesson              Isaiah 42:1-4
    Psalm                         24
    Second Lesson         Philippians 2:5-11
    Gospel Lesson         Luke 19:28-40
     
    Isaiah 42:1-4 
    Our King Comes to Us…As a Servant!
    I. Chosen by the best
            II. Committed to the worst
     
     
    In the name of God’s suffering Servant, Jesus the Christ, come to us to save us, fellow Holy Week worshipers,
     
    Each time we gather here, we praise God for His great acts to pay our price by the death of His Son. The events we review and view anew this holiest week of the year are the culmination of Christ’s saving work for all the world.
     
    But the first Palm Sunday events seem like an exception. Oh, there was certainly a lot of activity. A donkey colt ride. A processional amid palm branches. Crowds chanting words from Psalm 118 we’ll sing a littler later. But it seems nothing Jesus did that Sunday was essential for His saving work. No sacrament established for His Church. No betrayal by His disciple. No crooked trials. No literal God-forsaken suffering. In fact, shortly  after riding into Jerusalem from the east, Jesus turned around and went back to Bethany the way He had come.
     
    But to ponder Palm Sunday as nothing more than an afternoon procession – as a minor moment compared to the events in the upper room, Gethsemane, Caiaphas’ court, Pilate’s place, and Calvary – is to miss the point of how the Redeemer came to us. The way Jesus entered Jerusalem that day set the tone for the holiest week in history – both in what He did then and in how we now worship Him and the Father and the Holy Spirit. The events of the first Palm Sunday are heaven’s introduction for the enitre Holy Week, a faith-building fulfillment of Old Testament promises. The Palm Sunday events answer the question of the Palm Sunday psalm, “Who is this King of Glory” (Psalm 24:8)?
     
    Along with many other Old Testament verses, this lesson foretold the kind of King who was coming to the world for the world. Jesus came to be the kind of King many in the world never understand, but the kind of King all in the world always need. On Palm Sunday the King comes to us as a servant. But not just any servant. Our King comes to as the Servant who was chosen by the best and who is committed to the worst.
    I. Chosen by the best
     
    “Here is My servant” (v. 1). The Lord had many Old Testament servants: Abraham, Moses, Samuel, David, Jehu, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and others. In some places, the Lord even called the ancient nation of Israel His servant. But the Lord said about none of them or any others, Here is My servant”. This announcement signaled the importance of this servant over all the others. And in the twelve chapters of Isaiah 42 to Isaiah 53, the Lord showed what makes this “servant” so important. Isaiah 53! What does that Bible reference mean to you? Yes! The suffering Servant of whom we’ll hear Good Friday,  “stricken, smitten, and afflicted…pierced…crushed” (Isaiah 53:3-5). A King crushed? Yes! The King. This “servant” is the Savior!
     
    Who chose Jesus to be King? Who sent Him to be our servant? God the Father chose God the Son for that. “Here is My servant, whom I uphold (v. 1). With My backing, no one can stand against Him and win. He is also My chosen one in whom I delight” (v. 1). With those words God the Father takes us to the Jordan River when God the Son began His public ministry. Remember? “This is My Son, whom I love. I am well pleased with Him” (Matthew 3:17). He also takes us to the Transfiguration near the end of His public ministry. Remember? The same words from the same Father about the same Son. The King comes to us as a servant, the Servant chosen by the best!
     
    That’s not just the Father. It’s also the Holy Spirit. “I am placing My Spirit on Him. He will announce a just verdict for the nations” (v. 1). The King who comes as a servant has the power He needs to do His work because the Holy Spirit from heaven gives Jesus what He needs for His mission on earth. The King comes to us as a servant not to roar “in the streets(v. 2) on a chariot or in a tank to crush, rout, and plunder opponents. The King comes to us as a servant to conquer by restoring people. The King comes to us as a servant to announce His “just verdict”, “I declare you Not guilty in My sight!” But how is that a just verdict”? We are guilty of sin! We just confessed that! His is a just verdict” because He, our King, comes as a servant to carry our guilt on Himself. 
     
    Are we disappointed our King comes to us as a servant? Not disappointed, but delivered! Christ is greatest King ever, chosen by the best! He wasn’t “chosen” after we told the Lord what kind of King we wanted, as though we were ordering an outfit for Easter. He was “chosen” by the best to give us what we need. Riding into Jerusalem that day was the One chosen by the best for us. Let there be no doubt about the success of His mission as it reaches its culmination this week. See who He is and who chose Him: the best chosen by the best.
     
       II. Committed to the worst
     
    Okay. So His mission is guaranteed to be a success. But this is awfully humble, isn’t it? A King riding a rented donkey colt? A King going to the capital city, not to stay there in the royal palace but to go back to a guest room in Bethany? Yes! Our King comes to us as a servant, chosen by the best – His Father and Holy Spirit, and committed to the worst – sinners like you and me. That is the reason for all His humility.
     
    Our King comes to us. See Him! He’s not strutting like an arrogant athlete or screaming like an intimidating military commander. He quietly proclaims His message of salvation, of the forgiveness of sins He wins for sinners who are damned without Him. His way of doing things isn’t to promote Himself, but as a “servant” to help those who need His help – all sinners.
     
    “A bent reed He will not break” (v. 3). Our King comes not as a tyrant to trample His subjects. Our King comes as a servant to help those bruised by their guilt, broken by the realization they have angered the holy God, “bent” almost to the breaking point under their desperate condition.
     
    “And a dimly burning wick He will not snuff out” (v. 3). Our King comes to us not as a ruthless ruler to ruin all who have ever wronged Him. Our King comes to us as a “servant” to help us sinners when our faith and hope are barely flickering, at risk of going out. He doesn’t gruffly brush off those who repent of their sins. Our King comes to us as a servant to assure us His blood covers all our guilt. “Come to Me…and I will give you rest for your souls (Matthew 11:28-29). I am riding into Jerusalem to pay for your every sin!”
     
    Why would a King do that for His subjects? Why would the mighty Ruler of the universe He created come to us as a “servant” and do that? Because He loves the worst, us! Because He is completely committed to the worst, to us and all sinners!
     
    And not just for a brief battle. “He will not burn out, and He will not be broken until He establishes justice – again, that verdict of Not guilty!on the earth” (v. 4). We need this Palm Sunday promise of the Savior when we get to Gethsemane and the courts and the cross this week. In all those places it will look like our King to whom we sing today has lost the fight and hangs broken in death. His commitment is to the worst, us sinners. So His work takes on the worst, the hell we deserve. It takes a King humble enough to be a servant to do that, and to do that in our place.
     
    That commitment to victory in the worst war ever for the worst in the world, sinners, requires the most powerful tool ever. He has it. “The coastlands (an Old Testament expression for all the earth) will wait for His law” (v. 4), which here means all His Word – not just the words about our sins deserving hell, but also about His sacrifice winning our heaven. There is no more powerful force in all the world. His Word shows He remains the King, even as He hangs for us. Our lives live thanks to Him for coming not as King to give us what we deserve, but for coming as a servant-King to give us what we don’t deserve!
     
    The Palm Sunday truth is exactly what we need God to put in us for the intense lessons and services this Hoy Week. Jesus rode into Jerusalem as the King the world doesn’t see as successful because the world can’t see a king as a servant. But the King is the “Servant”. He conquers His enemies by surrendering to them in Gethsemane. He crushes His foe by letting the opposition convict Him in court, though He’s sinless, and crush Him at Calvary. He rides to ultimate exaltation in heaven on the path of willing, loving humiliation here on earth that includes His very real suffering of our hell. This is the King who marches into battle as one of us and for us this holiest week of the year. We see all of that in Christ as we, too, sing to Him, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Amen.”
    Pastor David A. Voss