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Sunday, November 5, 2017

Times of Service

Sunday School:  8:45 am
Divine Service:  9:45 am

The Blessed Life with Jesus

November 5, 2017
All Saints= Day

Our Gospel reading for today is what is often called the beatitudes.  I want to reread a couple of them to begin this morning.  Matthew 5:2-5
    And [Jesus] opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
    [3] "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
    [4] "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
    [5] "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Jesus sat with His disciples and taught them about life. Specifically, he taught them about what life is like when His people are with Him. Jesus would teach his disciples, including us, his modern day disciples, how Life with Him is blessed. Jesus shows us What life with Him looks like – life in the Kingdom of Heaven, which is to come. And Life now when we are with Him by faith – that is, because we believe we are with Him, even  though we can’t see that we are with Him. Hearing from Jesus about this Blessed life is going to help us understand what things are truly valuable, admirable and diserable.
    [3] "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
All Saints’ Day is a time designated by the church for Christians to come together and remember the fellow believers in God who have died and now are in heaven. God’s word gives us comfort in this sure and certain hope that those who die in the faith are with God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ in the heavenly kingdom, and there, God will wipe away every tears from their eyes.
This verse allows us to imagine our loved ones now at peace and enjoying the company of the Lord Jesus. For many of us, the last memory we have of our departed loved ones is in the hospital room, or sick bed, as life was weakening in those final days or hours. When people are confronted face to face with death, you feel so weak, so helpless, so poor in spirit. Jesus invites such people into the Kingdom of heaven.
Let this teach you something about life. keep this in mind. “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” Leave each day remembering how poor, weak, helpless you are to save yourself from death. And look to your Lord Jesus daily to give you salvation and His new and eternal life.
Then Jesus says,    [4] "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Now we don’t like this one so much, at first. Given our druthers, we’d rather not mourn, we’d rather not be sad, we’d rather not lose anything or anyone that we are going to miss and mourn. But it’s just not an option for us. There will be pain in this life, there will be suffering. Our hope and our prayer is not that God would constantly do everything necessary to make us happy and prosperous. Who are we to hold our desires and our pleasure up to God and tell him to make them the greatest priorities. No instead our prayer is that God would grant us the blessed life with Jesus and thereby comfort us.
Then when difficulties come, when we suffer loss, the comforting Gospel of our Lord will be strength for us in our weakness. Faith will grow not when we have easy and glorious days. Faith grows when our Lord comforts us with His gospel in the midst of weakness and loss.
    [5] "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
This is a call to repentance and change. This is a word from the Lord to each of you to put away all pride. The meek are they who admit that they are weak and helpless, in the midst of their suffering and sin and ultimately in the face of death. The meek see that by themselves they’ve got nothing to bargain with. They can’t say to God, “I deserve better than this Lord.” The meek have no prayer but, “Lord, have mercy.”
The world despises the meek. The world says, just run over the meek, they aren’t going to get anywhere anyway, don’t waste your time on them. The fittest survive, the meek will perish in the natural selection of things.
But Jesus says blessed are the meek. Jesus calls you to be meek, to lay down yourself and your desires before Him, in service to Him. And then Jesus tells you,    for [you] shall inherit the earth. That’s an encouragement for patience. You can’t have it all now. It’s completely futile to chase after the things of the earth. This teaches us that our reward and our joy is still to come, so why be so disappointed if you don’t get what you want right now?
These words from Jesus describe what our life with Jesus looks like. Actually, they describe what Jesus is like and how He is bringing us to look and think and be more like Him. As it says in today’s Epistle reading: 1 John 3:2
    Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.
So it is especially Jesus who is meek and who shall inherit the earth. He, the Son of God, has all power and authority, all glory, wisdom and honor as the angels sing about Him. He could have conquered the earth with power, calling down the hosts of angels to fight for Him. But in meekness and humility He chose to do His Father’s will and to save our race not by power, but by weakness and suffering, even suffering to death on the cross. Now He who has been slain for our salvation, is raised to life and ascended to the right hand of the majesty in heaven so that He rules with the Father and the Holy Spirit over all the universe.
Next Jesus says, Matthew 5:6
    "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”
Here and elsewhere the blessings of the cross, what Jesus provided for us by His death and resurrection are talked about as food and drink for the hungering, thirsting soul. Those who seek this righteousness are brought to be satisfied by Jesus. The body broken for us on the cross, the blood He allowed to be poured out for us, is now food and drink, strengthening our faith, building us up in righteousness.
Finally, Jesus says, Matthew 5:9
    "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”  This now is our call to service. Having been saved by His meek death for us, having been fed fully by His body and blood, Jesus now sends us as His children to serve Him and bring the peace He has given us, to others. As His children we share His peace with each other and with our neighbors. As forgiven sinners, we forgive those who trespass against us. We the Blessed of His Kingdom, are ready and able to be a blessing to many others.


Monday, October 30, 2017

It’s Still All About Jesus -- Romans 3:21-22

Reformation Day, 2017

Grace, Mercy and Peace are yours from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Romans 3:21-22
    But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— [22] the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.
Hearing these words of our Epistle reading today, Believing these words of Romans chapter 3, leads us to agree that it is all about Jesus.
·         The reformation of the church in the 1500s, was all about Jesus
·         Our commemoration of that reformation, 500 years later is still all about Jesus
·         Actually, everything we do in our church.
·         All of our faith
·         All of our faith, here in this world and forever in the world to come
So, if it’s all about Jesus, I want us to take this moment now, not just to have a history lesson, not even, a theology lesson, nor a lesson about culture and our heritage. Let’s think about Jesus.
            The Scripture lessons that we hear on Reformation Day tell us all about Jesus.
In the Gospel reading, He tells how He sets us free. In this Epistle reading of Paul’s letter to the Romans, Jesus is our Redeemer. Our propitiation. And the one who justifies us.
            Starting with Jesus words, John 8:36 “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”  He sets us free. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is that He has set you free from all sins, from death and from the condemnation of the law. By His death on the cross, Jesus has freed you from the bondage of your sins and of the uncertainty of your future and your destiny. Redeemed by Jesus you have freedom from the worry and fear of what lies in store for you the rest of your life and on Judgment Day. There is great freedom in saying and believing, “It’s all about Jesus.”
Now, if you say, “It’s all about Jesus,” it means you have to repent. You have to repent of having it be all about something other than Jesus. It’s not all about you, if it’s all about Jesus.
It’s easier not to repent, not to change, to stay self-involved. But you have to face reality. It’s not all about you.
Also, It’s not all about what other people think of you.
Of course it’s important that people think well of you. You want others to consider you trustworthy, moral and kind. But it’s not what it’s all about. When we make it all about what others think of us, it becomes obsessive. We go to great lengths to build up a sort of image to present before others. More often than not, that image is different than reality, of who we really are. We try to prove ourselves to be smarter, nicer, less sinful, less prone to mistakes, than what we really are.
When we get the feeling it’s all about what others are thinking of us, the temptation is great to be dishonest about who we really are. The Biblical word that describes us when we are dishonest about ourselves is “hypocrite”.
But because of Jesus, and because it is all about Jesus, you are now free to be open, honest and transparent.  You are fee to let others know who you really are:  a sinner. Sinful from birth. Sinning everyday. But saved by Jesus
Romans 3 tells us how you’re saved by Jesus. It says, “[Jesus], whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.” (Romans 3:25)
Propitiate means to make someone be not upset anymore. Jesus the propitiation, has propitiated God the Father and removed His wrath from us. God is not upset about our hypocrisy, our lies, our self-involvement because Jesus has redeemed us. Now it’s not as though, God has gone soft on sin. Romans 3 is a careful description of how Jesus has overcome the very serious problem of sin. The propitiation of Jesus had to come at the cost of His blood.
    It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:26)
God is just and the justifier. Jesus makes it possible for God to be both at the same time.
God is just. He can’t stand sin. He can’t say sin is “ok”, “no problem”.
Sin upsets God.
And He’s right to feel that way. He is not overreacting. God is true. And the God’s honest truth is that sin is bad. It’s horrible. It’s devastating to life, to our relationships, to our faith. And I’m not only talking about the worst sins here, the notorious sins. I’m not talking about the sins of bad-behaving hooligans, like women chasing movie producers or crooked politicians. I’m talking about your sins, my sin: our jealous and covetous thoughts, our lack of love, our poor charity. These are the kinds of things that damage our relationships, warp our minds and tear our faith.
In regard to those sins, God is just in saying your sins deserve wrath and punishment. And the deserved punishment is death. But because of Jesus, who shed His blood for you, God can be both just and the justifier. Because of Jesus, God can declare you justified. You are not left with all that guilt. You are not stuck in all that sin. You’re not left to wonder and worry about how to straighten out the problems you’ve got because of sin. Thanks to Jesus, it’s not about all that horrible sin, and its devastating effects.
Thanks to Jesus we can rejoice as the people of God, trusting that He is now pleased with us. We can rejoice in the Gospel of Jesus and sing our praises to God for this glorious Gospel.
Now a little about this word “Reformation”. When Martin Luther was talking about Reformation 500 years ago, he meant curriculum reform at the University and among the scholars. He was trying to reform the “system”. The larger work, the work that was to go into the churches and into the ears and hearts of the people of the church, he simply called, “preaching the gospel.” So our prayer for this church of the reformation is simply that the gospel of freedom in Christ, the Propitiation of God’s wrath by Christ, the gospel of our justification in Christ, be preached in this place and around the world for our children and for as many years as the Lord allows.


Sunday, August 27, 2017

To Him be Glory Forever; Romans 11:36

Romans 11:36
    For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.
The study of the things of God leads naturally to the praise of God.
That’s what Paul has done here.

Up to this point in Romans, Paul has studied and presented the great things of God. He has taught the Gospel of Jesus Christ; He has laid out the doctrine of justification, that we are not good enough for God, but God has made us good, justified us because of Jesus; He told about the peace that is ours because of this Gospel and justification, that God, who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all will also, with Jesus, graciously give us all things (Romans 8:32); He talked about faith, which comes as gift from hearing the Gospel of Christ (Romans 10:17) and He expounded on God’s heart’s desire, that He wants all to be saved, Jew and Gentile alike, all. To Him be glory forever!

Much of these things Paul described and taught are different than expected. These things are not what we’d have guessed. God gave up His Son to save sinners? Who would have expected such a thing? And the humble means by which God does His glorious works:  the poor manger bed in Bethlehem where the King of the Universe was born; the ugly cross of Calvary where the greatest love was given. The ordinariness of water applied for the glorious promises of baptism. It seems strange the way God works.

These verses in Romans 11 are words of praise for exactly those strange ways of God. Romans 11:33
    “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!”

God’s ways of doing things are unsearchable and inscrutable. And it’s not just that God’s ways are beyond our abilities to understand and reason it all out.  There’s more to it than just that God’s works are surpassingly greater than our reasonable attempts to understand them. The ways of God are contrary to our ways. They are uninviting to our natural reason.

Martin Luther taught about this describing it as “the Theology of the Cross”. It’s about this surprising truth that the ugliness and humiliation of Jesus’ cross is actually the point of His greatest glory and love. Luther said, “Although the works of God always seem unattractive and appear evil, they are nevertheless really eternal merits.” (Luther’s Works, vol 31, page 44)

So now, someone in the midst of the most horrible things life can offer has to wrestle with this Theology of the Cross. God’s ways seem unattractive. They appear evil. Why is God doing this to me? Why does He allow my loved one to suffer? Why has He left me with this loss? How can this be love?
Luther’s teaching is that God brings low, so He can exalt. He brings us to the point of despair that we might trust nothing else but Him.

Further Luther would teach us that when our reason and God’s word clash and disagree, faith must abandon reason and cling to God alone. This is necessary for salvation. Human reason says that there must be things I can do that will make God happy. Your reason urges you to trust yourself and your works. It makes sense that God likes good people, so the mixed up human reason says, I am pretty good. God gotta like me. Who wouldn’t like me? This faulty reasoning leads you away from repenting and away from faith in Christ’s forgiveness.

Romans 11:35
    "Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?"
When we hear that question, we have to admit: No one.

God doesn’t owe you or me anything. But in the mystery of His inscrutable ways, He shows mercy, He forgives and He saves.

These mysterious ways of God, His unsearchable, inscrutable ways, show that God is God. We are not God, He is. We are not in charge, He is.

Romans 11:36
    For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory

God is God and so He is not compelled by any force or power beyond Himself. He can do whatever He wants. So when reason starts to say, “Why is God doing this? He shouldn’t be doing that. He should be doing better things for me.” Then you must abandon reason, and submit to God’s inscrutable ways. God can do whatever He wants.

And here’s the thing, you know what God wants? He wants to save you. He wants you to repent and turn to Him. He wants you to trust and love Him. And that trust and love leads you to praise Him, to praise Him with your words and with your thoughts and attitude and praise Him with your life of service to Him and to others.

Romans 11:36

    For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. 

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Vacation Bible School: Jesus Victorious Donkey Ride

Tonight at Vacation Bible School, children made their own snacks in the shape of a pathway, like the road on which Jesus came into Jerusalem.

For the craft tonight, we made a depiction of stained glass crosses. We remembered the reason why Jesus rode into Jerusalem, to die for our salvation.

We will wrap things up tomorrow by remembering how Jesus died for us on the cross and rose to life again in Victory, so He will always be our Mighty Fortress.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Storms don't stop VBS!

The crazy wind and thunderstorms hit right at the start of VBS tonight, but that didn't stop the fun at St. Paul's tonight!  Learning how King Hezekiah's priest found the "Book of the Law" that had been lost in the temple for many years, making scroll snacks and burning off energy in an obstacle course are some of the activities the kids participated in tonight.  Hearing the children of our church and community reading from 2 Kings, and discussing the fact that God forgives people when they are sorry for the bad things they have done shows that the church is alive and well in Fredericksburg.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

A MIGHTY FORTRESS (Vacation Bible School 2017)

Who is Hezekiah?  Ask the children who attended our Vacation Bible School tonight!  (But don't be surprised if they reply, in a sing-song voice "Nanny, nanny boo, boo" )  Tonight's lesson was based on 2 Kings 18.  They made shields, had sweet and salty treats and knocked down castle walls as they learned about King Hezekiah.  Was he victorious?  Ask the kids and see!