Our Lenten journey of repentance and renewal culminates this week. The journey of Lent has prepared our hearts to ponder anew the Passion of our Lord and his glorious triumph over death and grave. With repentant hearts we join our Lord's triumphant entry into Jerusalem, confident in his everlasting rule, hailing him as our Eternal King. At the same time, we are mindful that he is our King because he is the Messiah, the promised Son of David sent as the sacrificial Lamb of God. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!
"I'd rather be..." You've seen the bumper stickers or social media posts. And we can all think of places we'd rather be and things we'd rather be doing at certain times, especially when we are dealing with troubles and pain and persecution. But, as Christians, our perspective on what is most important and most desirable is shaped by faith and not by sight; by the world to come and not by this world.
You are not proud of what you did. You screwed up! And some of the damage you did simply can't be undone. What do you do next? Do you come clean or cover it up? Do you make excuses or make amends? Do you hide from God or hide in God? In God's Word for this week, a broken king and a loving Lord show us how to handle our guilt.
Lent is a season of repentance and renewal. We come before our God with hearts battered and bruised from the daily battles we lose against temptation. We come weary and burdened by guilt. We come, hoping to hear a word of hope and a promise of mercy. Of all of the reasons to come to church, this is the one that keeps us coming back. Here we find what we so desperately need--mercy, hope, forgiveness, life!
Imagine what it must have been like for him. He left heaven to rescue those who sinned against him. But many rejected him and even tried to stop him from doing what he came to do. How often he must have been tempted to give up, to abort the mission. But nothing would stand in his way. In his determination, we see his love and find hope and strength to go on when we feel like giving up.
Do you ever you just want to run and hide? One problem after another comes at you. One person after another seems to want to make your life difficult. But the truth is that you really can't escape. There's an enemy in your own heart that will always be there, tempting, taunting, and troubling you. Jesus was no stranger to troubles and temptations, either. His battle is the source of our comfort and confidence in our own daily battles.
"It is good for us to be here," Peter said on the mountain that day (Luke 9:33). He didn't want the moment to end--that moment in the presence of the glory of God, listening to his Lord and God's holy prophets. Peter was right. It is good for all of God's people to see God's glory. When days are dark and difficult, that glory assures us that everything will be okay. When death and disappointment cast their shadow over us, that glory provides light and hope that will never go out.
It sounded almost comical - Jesus, the son of a carpenter, telling experienced fishermen how to do their job. A little reluctantly, they listened to his advice. And what happened changed their lives forever. What Jesus calls us to do sounds just as foolish. Will we trust him? And what will happen, if we do? Miracles? Life-changing experience? Are we willing to find out?
They grew up with him. They thought they knew him. They were so excited when he came back home. How their thinking changed when they heard what he had to say. Their excitement turned to murderous anger in an instant! What was it that Jesus said? What keeps us from reacting the same way?
Do you ever feel completely unworthy to be a Christian, much less to tell others about Jesus? Your past and present sins haunt you. Your shortcomings stare you in the face. Your fear of failing both yourself and God cripples you. This Sunday, we hear from someone who has been there. And we marvel at how God steps into his life and into ours.
"Do you know who I am?" That question often is asked when someone isn't getting the treatment they expect based upon their wealth or fame or position. "If you knew who I was," the question implies, "you would treat me differently." There were many different ideas about who Jesus was. When Jesus asked a similar question, his goal wasn't to shame anyone into honoring him. Instead, he was inviting his followers to make a clear confession of the life-saving truth based upon the faith that God had planted in their hearts. It is good for us to hear the answer they gave and to wrestle with our own answer to Jesus' important question.
Children need to know that their parents love them. They long for their parents' attention and approval. A simple hug or the words "I love you" go a long way. Jesus needed his father's love and approval as well--not for his own sake but for ours. This Sunday, as we remember the Baptism of our Lord, we will witness that approval and be amazed at what it means for us.
Murder Mystery Dinner Theater is a form of interactive entertainment in which audience members become part of the action along with the actors, as together they try to solve the mystery presented to them. Almighty God, in perfect love and wisdom, also involves us Christians in the "mystery" of his plan for the world.
Have you given up trying to find peace? You've decided it will just have to wait...until the holiday preparations are done...until the kids are grown up and move out...until you can finally retire...until you leave this world and go to heaven. But does peace really have to wait? Or is there a way to have peace, even in the chaos, stress, and struggle of life...even during the waiting season of Advent?
"It's the most wonderful time of the year." Do you agree? Or do the "magical" moments of the days before Christmas get overshadowed by the stress of how much has to get done with limited time and money before Christmas comes? Does the illness or death of a loved one steal the joy out of the season? This week, our God wants to lift our spirits above the troubles of life and fill us with true and lasting joy.
Do you ever feel completely unlovable? You've done or said something that really hurt someone. You've given in to that same temptation all over again. You've let someone down. And you feel terrible about it. How can they forgive you? Why would anyone love you? If we take God's law and his coming judgment seriously, we should be asking, "Why would God love me?" In this sermon, we hear what God promises to do, when we are unlovable.
This Sunday, we begin a new church year with the season of Advent, a time in which we focus on the advent (coming) of the Christ as the Savior born in Bethlehem, on his coming to us in Word and Sacrament, and on his coming on the Last Day as King and Judge. For us who see him as their Savior, Advent fills us with real and certain hope in a world made hopeless by sin.
On this last Sunday of the Church Year, we rejoice because Christ our King reigns--the King who once came as a sacrifice; the King who still shepherds us day by day; the King who one day will conquer all of our enemies. Rejoice in his reign and look forward to the day when every knee will bow with us before the King of kings and Lord of Lords!
Maybe you've heard from friends who are somewhere warm this week. Is there a part of you that wishes you were there? No need to bundle up. No threat of snow. A break from the daily routine. This week, we get a glimpse of someplace far better, and we get to stay there forever! And every week, our time together in God's house is a sweet foretaste of the glory to come!
The other day on the radio, I heard someone say, "I don't like being called a sheep." (I think they were talking about being accused of blindly following the crowd.) The Bible often compares Christians to sheep. Do you like being called a sheep, especially when Jesus tells us that he sends us out "like sheep among wolves"? Like it or not, it's a good illustration of our life and mission as Christians in this world.
When a couple celebrates a milestone wedding anniversary (25, 40, 50, 60 years), people might ask, "What's your secret? How has your marriage lasted so long?" If someone were to ask us similar questions, as we celebrate the 45th anniversary of our congregation's founding, how would we answer? What is our secret? How has it lasted this long? God's Word gives the only real answers to those questions.
Parents have certain expectations of their children. Bosses have certain expectations of their employees. Teachers have certain expectations of their students. When those expectations are not met, there is a problem and there are often consequences. This week, Jesus tells us a story that helps us to understand God's expectations of us and how those expectations are met.
We have basic standards by which we tend to measure fairness: rewards for hard work and good deeds, punishment for doing wrong. The more you work, the more good things you do, the more you deserve. It's something that's so ingrained in us that we expect God to operate by the same standard. But this week, Jesus tells a story to teach us that God doesn't work that way, and for that we praise him!