A new church year begins this Sunday with the season of Advent, which means "coming." While we don't know when Christ is coming again, we know that he is coming. His coming shapes our thoughts and our lives, because he comes with judgment on the unbelieving world and grace for his people. Because of his coming, we are filled with hope, with love, and with light. With eager and joyful anticipation we say, "Come, Lord Jesus!"
Many Lutherans think of Luther's words, "Here I stand," as the motto of the Lutheran Reformation. But the symbol pictured here represents what was adopted by the church of the reformation as a better motto and confession. It is based on a Latin phrase, Verbum Dei Manet in Aeternum, which means "The Word of God remains forever."
The unchanging Word of God is what the Lutheran Reformation and our Christian faith is all about. To be a confessional Lutheran is to one who takes God's Word seriously and takes God at his Word.
We believe what God says, even when the whole world and our own experiences and ideas disagree. We cling to God's promise to forgive our sins and give us eternal life as a free gift of his grace apart from our works. We trust Jesus, when he predicts that things will get worse, especially for his Church, before the end of the world, but that he will use his unchanging Word in our hearts and on our lips to preserve his Church until he comes again. Those are truths worth standing for and truths worth celebrating.
Over the last several years, there has been a resurgence of interest in life after death. Books and movies have been made about those who claim to have seen heaven and returned. But we don't have to count on those kinds of experiences to know what awaits us after death. God has given us some vivid, beautiful descriptions in his Word. When life is hard or our hearts are troubled by doubt, uncertainty, fear, and guilt, how comforting it is to see what lies ahead through the eyes of the God who is already there.
499 years ago, Martin Luther posted 95 statements for discussion that God used not only to bring about needed reformation within the church, but also to change the world in profound ways. But what Luther did was really nothing new. He simply held up and held out the beautiful gospel--the good news of salvation by grace through faith. That message continues to change the world--one heart at a time--still today.
Day after day, police officers, fire fighters, and military personnel willingly put their lives on the line for the people of their communities and their nation. But this Good Shepherd Sunday, we celebrate One who is even greater. Our Good Shepherd laid down his life for us sheep, who love to wander, and then he took it up again. The Good Shepherd cares perfectly for us sheep and lives again to bless and keep us forever.
Jesus once told the story of a Samaritan who went the extra mile to help a desperate man, even when his fellow Jews simply ignored him. What drove him to act with such generous love is the same thing that creates faith and love in our hearts and lives--the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It's no ordinary message. Paul calls it the "power of God." Come, experience and celebrate its power.
It's Friday. When you are worn out from the week and ready for some rest, the weekend is a welcome opportunity to relax and recharge your body and your mind. But don't forget to take time for some hard work. I'm not talking about chores and tasks around the house. I'm talking about praying. Does prayer seem like hard work to you? This week, God's Word gives us the encouragement we need to keep praying, whether we would better describe ourselves as "tired from praying" or "tired of praying."
Are you going to get some rest this weekend? Are you going to take advantage of the holiday weekend to recharge your batteries? It is good for us emotionally, mentally, and physically to get rest from our labors. But God has also designed us to need spiritual rest. He gives us rest for sin-weary souls in his Word. And he encourages us to come together, so that we can share that Word and that rest with each other.
"Dry bones, hear the Word of the Lord!" (Ezekiel 37:4). When God breathes his Spirit into the nostrils, hearts, and graves of dead people, life begins anew. Jesus promised to pour out the Holy Spirit on his Church. As the Spirit works through the Word, people believe and speak words of truth in every language and in every tongue, giving witness to the work of Christ and to the peace and new life they have in him.
The ancient church had Latin titles for all their Sundays. They called the third Sunday in Advent “Gaudete Sunday.” The Latin word gaudete means rejoice. On some Advent wreaths, the third candle is a pinkish rose color, symbolizing joy.
An encouragement to rejoice might sound odd in light of this Advent season’s themes, especially Christ’s second coming to this world. We have seen that when Jesus comes again he is going to judge all mankind and destroy the universe. Even the gospel reading for today warns about “the coming wrath” which will include “unquenchable fire.” If that is what Christ will bring at his second coming, how can we possibly live joyfully?
Answer: because of Christ’s first coming. When Jesus came that first Christmas, it wasn’t to bring judgment, but to bear judgment. Jesus was born, not to punish sin, but to be punished for sin. All those with faith in Christ know that when he comes for the second time, it will be to deliver us, not destroy us. He will not increase our pain but take every pain away. Then, and not a moment before, our lives will finally be perfect! And so, we live joyfully and thankfully, looking forward to Christ’s return.
Never could there be a king like Christ, our king. Beyond all comparison is the rule he exercises in time and in eternity. Incomparably great therefore is also our joy in worshiping him even now as we await his triumphant return to transform our worship in faith and under the cross to worship in sight and in glory.
At the foot of Mount Sinai, the Israelites formed a calf out of gold and began to worship it. Yet there, the Lord gave the people a beautiful blessing, assuring them of their Lord's continued faithfulness, even in the face of their unfaithfulness. How impossible for human minds to possess a full understanding of the depths of God's grace! But the Spirit comes, planting confidence in the heart that clings to the Father's faithfulness and the eternal blessing he brings through the Son. On the road to the Promised Land or on the road of life, believers travel at peace in the Triune God's three-fold blessing.
They are some of the most well-known and beloved words in all of Scripture. They give us hope and comfort when days are dark and dreary. They give us hope in the face of despair and even death. They are our confident confession, even if everything we are experiencing tries to convince us that they aren't true. In this sermon, we meditate together on the 23rd Psalm.
Every spring, students graduate from Martin Luther College after completing degrees in education, staff ministry, or preseminary studies. And men graduate from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary after completing their training for pastoral ministry. Many graduates from MLC and WLS receive divine calls to serve in the congregations and classrooms of our synod. We thank God for these gifts to his Church. They will serve us and our children with God's Word and carry the gospel to places where we cannot go. This Sunday, we thank God for those who have shared God's Word with us (including our mothers!), and we see how he answers our prayers that he would continue to provide for his Church until he comes again.
Do you feel connected to your church? We want you to. That connected-ness is one of the goals of our worship, bible studies, and fellowship events. But even more important than being connected to the congregation is being connected to Jesus by faith. Without that connection, you are spiritually dead. But with that connection that is strengthened and nourished by Word and Sacrament, you are alive and bear fruit that is pleasing to God, including growing in knowledge of God's Word, encouraging fellow Christians, and supporting Christian ministry.
"I'm not qualified." Look through the Bible, and you will find that attitude in many whom God called to share his Word and lead his people. And often, their opponents agreed that they no right or authority to speak as they did. Amos was like that. He had no special training. He was unqualified and unworthy. But he was sent, and he went. His story inspires and encourages us unworthy witnesses to whom the Lord says, "Go."
We live in a world in which the cacophony seems to be growing every day. So many competing voices want our attention and claim to have the answers to our problems. It can leave us feeling alone, afraid, confused, and overwhelmed. Whom do we trust? Where is God? What is the truth? God in love seeks to silence the noise and steps in to save us, as only he can. Come and listen to his voice.
Do you ever have your doubts? Does God really care? Can I trust him? Our faith is most often put to the test in difficult situations. We come face-to-face with our fears, seemingly trapped with no way out. And when we cry out, "Where are you, Lord?" he speaks in the gentle whisper of his Word and assures us, "I am here. Don't be afraid." Come as you are - fears, worries, and all - and receive comfort and strength from God's Word.
"Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil." This petition resonates on the lips of God's people in the Lord's Prayer. It is God who guards us from the devil's cunning deception. Jesus himself rallied against Satan in the wilderness. He intimately knows the perils of facing temptation. Knowing that the Lord provides the greatest sacrifice in the death of his only Son, fortified by the Word of truth, let us also remain steadfast.
The Olympic Games wrapped up a few weeks ago. The Paralympic Games conclude this Sunday. Athletes from around the world have been competing to be called the greatest. Whether we are athletes or not, donâ€™t we all throw ourselves into that competition for greatness? But often, we go about it all wrong.
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.
Imagine being Simeon or Anna, those to whom God had revealed the true identity of the baby whom Mary and Joseph brought into the temple that day. What a blessing to see their salvation with their own eyes! You and I have that same blessing, as we also know who that child was. We praise God for the privilege of seeing our Savior and find perfect Christmas peace in him.
One of the most beloved pictures of Jesus in the Scriptures is that of the Good Shepherd caring for his sheep. Psalm 23, in which David confesses, "The Lord is my Shepherd," is often read at funerals. But we don't have to wait for heaven to experience the blessings our Shepherd gives to us.
We may not always talk or think a lot about the Holy Spirit, but he is worthy of the same honor and praise as God the Father and Jesus our Savior! Without his work, the work of the Father and the Son would be meaningless for us. By his work in our hearts, we have peace to face each day, hope for eternity, and gifts to use to give glory to our gracious God! We celebrate the Holy Spirit's often unsung, but vitally important, work in our lives.
"God is love." Both Christians and non-Christians quote these words from 1 John 4:8. And the temptation is to stop there. It's easier if I just ignore what comes before or after those words and let those words, "God is love," mean what I want them to mean. Then, I can use those words to convince myself and others that God loves me all the ways I want him to love me, approving of my efforts, granting my every wish, doing only what brings happiness to my life. In this sermon, we look at those words in their context and find a far more beautiful understanding of how we are loved and called to love.
In these last few days of 2017, you can find many reviews of the past year online, on TV, and in newspapers and magazines--the biggest news stories, the latest trends, the things that have changed. Social media channels can also give you a review of your personal highs and lows from the past year. As our world and our lives constantly change, it is so comforting to rely on a God who never changes. Bring your ups and downs, your sins and successes, and close out the year with God's comfort and strength.
Jonah had just witnessed something completely unexpected and amazing, but he wasn't happy about it. What God did didn't seem fair. They didn't deserve it. And Jonah was right. So often what God does is not fair. And whether we celebrate that or complain about it will depend upon how we view what God does for us.