Sunday, March 28, 2010

Palm Sunday with Rite of Confirmation

The text for our meditation on God’s Holy Word is the Old Testament lesson appointed for Palm Sunday. I bring you grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

During the Rite of Confirmation these two young ladies will publicly affirm their faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and confess that what our Lutheran Church believes and teaches—is also their personal confession of faith.

And they will make three solemn promises: that they will hear God’s Word and receive the Sacrament of the Altar regularly—that they will live their lives according to God’s Word—and that they will suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from the confession and faith of this church.

In other words, very simply, they will promise to follow and serve Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior throughout their days.

Each of us who are confirmed members of this congregation have made the same confession and the same promises. And this promise to follow and serve Jesus impacts every part of our life for it calls us to yield ourselves and our will to him completely.

God wants us to know it is not a burdensome, hardship to serve this king-- but a joyous, fulfilling pleasure and the only way to an abundant life full of God’s blessings. In fact, it is what we were created and redeemed and sanctified to do.
That is why it is such a blessing that God speaks to us in his word today to remind us all what kind of king this Jesus is, whom we have promised to follow and serve as Lord and Master throughout our days. Zechariah writes:

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

Just picture in your mind’s eye what you would expect to see as trumpets were sounded and red carpet unrolled and banner unfurled and attendants cry out: the king, the king! And ornate carriage or expensive limousine would arrive. A distinguished man with medals on his chest and a sword on his side and a crown on his head would come forth. The king, the king! We think we know how that scene plays out.

Rejoice greatly! Shout aloud! The king! And there he is: obviously a peasant—with the hands of a worker—riding upon a donkey, his feet just off the ground. All of the trappings of earthly power and might were nowhere to be seen that day Jesus rode into Jerusalem and so the only way to recognize him for the king who he truly was--was by faith. It had always been that way concerning the King we serve.

This king was not born in a palace but a stable. His parents were not royalty but peasants. He was not trained in the arts of war and statecraft but in carpentry. His only earthly crown was one woven from thorns and the only time his royal status was acknowledged by the rulers of the world was in ridicule when they hung a placard above his head proclaiming him the king of Israel as he died upon the cross.

And yet, there must be no doubt—Jesus he is a king—the King of kings and the Lord of lords—he is the ancient of days and the living God of the universe and the One to whom all of heaven and earth must bend the knee. But as great and powerful and majestic as he is, he came into this world in humility so that we might be saved. Paul writes that

Jesus did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

The king that these girls commit themselves to today and for the rest of their lives—the king we serve as our master and Lord-- is not a tyrant or dictator who demands obedience while we cower in fear—but a humble king, who, though he is God in flesh, laid down his life for us upon the cross bringing us salvation from sin and death and bestowing upon us his own righteousness as a gift.

When we hear from Zechariah that Jesus is a righteous king, we naturally think of his holiness--that he cannot abide with sin in any form or degree. And we think of his expectations of us—that we too serve must him in holiness and righteousness. And that’s true.

But the really good new about this king is that, his holiness and righteousness do not stand as an insurmountable barrier between us-- because he has bestowed his life upon us as a gift. This is what he came to do—to make a way for us to have a place in his kingdom as his people and destroy the enemies that would ruin our lives. Zechariah writes of the battle he would wage and the peace he would bring for his people:

I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall speak peace to the nations; his rule shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.

Girls, when we look at you, we look back, and we remember our own confirmation many years ago and the promises we made. But we also look forward-- because we know that you are a part of a future that most of us will never see.

And I know that I’m not the only parent or grandparent who feels a little bit of trepidation as I think about what lies ahead for your generation, because the picture of the future that we get from the media is so uncertain and even frightening.

We know our nation is going through difficult economic times and just this week began paying out in Social Security more than it took in. We saw in the news where North Korea has torpedoed a South Korean ship. And it was reported that, for the first time in our history, this generation of kids-on average- will not live as long as their parent’s generation due to poor diet. All of this makes for a frightening, uncertain future.

So it was for the people of Zechariah’s day. They had just returned from slavery in Babylon and these should have been the greatest days of their lives-except they weren’t. They didn’t have money to rebuild their city and homes. They were surrounded by enemies bent on their destruction. The very fabric of their culture was coming apart at the seams. And when they looked ahead at the future they were afraid.

But God promised them that those days would not endure—that their enemies would not win out—that the coming King would make peace. And so he did. The Bible says of Jesus that

he himself is our peace who has reconciled us to God through the cross—preaching peace to those who are far off and to those who are near so that we can all have access to the Father.

Now at first glance, the sacrifice of Jesus may not seem to have solved anything at all in terms of the world itself. After all, history went on as before after Jesus’ death and resurrection. But it made—and continues to make—all the difference in the world.

Because our king is the Prince of Peace who has made peace between us and God, no matter what happens to us in life—no matter what hardships we face—no matter what happens from day to day in the world—no matter what the future holds--we know that things are eternally right between us and God—and that what really matters—our salvation—is safe and secure in the Lord’s nail-scarred hands.

But there is even more. Not only is there peace between us and God but in Jesus the way has been made for peace between us and others—and the victory over the powers of evil and death that was won on Calvary-- will one day encompass all the world as our King stands upon the earth, punishes evil once and for all, and welcomes his people into his eternal kingdom of peace and plenty.

Until that day, the blood of Christ that has brought about the peace that now exists between us and God, is given to us again and again in Holy Communion as an enduring, tangible promise that we are a part of Jesus’ kingdom right now. Zechariah writes:

As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit.

Almost two thousand years before these words were written by Zechariah, God made a promise to Abraham to bless the world through his offspring—that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars. That covenant was sealed by the shedding of blood. God renewed that covenant with Moses and once again it was sealed by the shedding of blood. Every day in the temple God’s promise to forgive and restore mankind was renewed again and again in the shedding of blood.

And so it went in salvation history until one night two thousand years ago when Jesus ate the Passover meal with his disciples and he took bread and blessed and broke and gave it to them saying: this is my body. And he took the cup, and after he gave thanks he gave it to them saying: this is my blood of the covenant which is poured out for many.

What the shed blood of beasts had been pointing to for thousands of years-- was fulfilled in the shed blood of God’s Son—our Savior King, Jesus Christ. God’s covenant of love and forgiveness was no longer a promise—but was fulfilled in Christ’s death and resurrection. It is that same shed blood of Jesus Christ that made God’s covenant of love and forgiveness an accomplished reality, that is given to us in Holy Communion.

Throughout your life of faith, you can come to Holy Communion again and again and be assured that you are a forgiven child of God—that what Christ did on the cross for the world was done for you personally and individually. And eating his body and drinking his blood in faith, you can be confident that the King will grant you a place in the great marriage feast of the lamb in his eternal kingdom.

It is that promise of eternal life—sealed in Jesus’ blood—that makes us people of hope no matter what we encounter in the future. Zechariah writes:

Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope; today I declare that I will restore to you double.

Our King once said, I have come that you might have life and have it to the full. The life of faithful service to Jesus that you girls commit to today—and that I hope all of us will re-commit ourselves to--is anything but an unpleasant burden. It is a life of full of God’s richest blessings. Everything and more that was lost in mankind’s fall into sin has been restored to us through faith in Jesus and that promise transforms our life-- no matter where life takes us—and gives us hope--because our eyes of faith are always fixed upon a future full of God’s blessings to us in Christ our King.

May God grant that all of us—and especially you girls—would rejoice in your King all the days of your lives! Amen.

And now may the peace of God keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.

This Week at Mt. Olive

Good evening, fellow redeemed!

If Christ, who was true God by nature, has humbled himself to become servant of all, how much more should such action befit us who are of no worth, and are by nature children of sin, death and the devil! Were we similarly to humble ourselves, and even to go beyond Christ in humility -- a thing, however, impossible -- we should do nothing extraordinary. Our humility would still reek of sin in comparison with his. Suppose Christ was to humble himself in the least degree -- but a hair's breadth, so to speak -- below the most exalted angels; and suppose we were to humble ourselves to a position a thousand times more abased than that of the devils in hell; yet our humility would not compare in the least with that of Christ. For he is an infinite blessing -- God himself -- and we are but miserable creatures whose existence and life are not for one moment secure.
- Dr. Martin Luther, preaching on Philippians 2:5-11.

We are now in Holy Week, given to pondering the final days of the walk of our Lord Jesus to the cross. In the coming days, we will sense the sorrow of our Lord at the Passover with His disciples. We will hear His sweat falling to the ground as He prays in anguish, each drop breaking the silence as it hits the dirt. We will hear the false charges and find ourselves unable to listen to the mocking of the chief priests and scribes. We will see Jesus paraded before Pilate, submitted to Herod's taunting. Again, we will hear the crowds in the deafening roar, thirsting for the blood of Jesus. We'll recoil in horror at the tortures inflicted upon our Lord by the soldier, and jump with a start at each blow of the hammer. We will turn away in disgust at the sight of Jesus' blood falling to the ground, and strain to hear His labored words. We will hang our heads in sadness as Jesus breathes His last, and be sickened to hear the spear tearing the flesh of our Lord. And, Holy Week progresses, the caption of each scene becomes more and more clear: For You!

One final thought: I usually don't do this, because I try to put the best construction on everything. But, I felt a response was needed, at the very least to the flock my Lord has called me to serve. I recoiled in horror this morning when I read of a congregation here in Corpus holding a major giveaway on Easter Sunday. I won't name names; you can look this up in your paper or on the Internet. There are numerous problems with this, like trying to find the Gospel in it, or my favorite question: Did Jesus have to die for this to be true? And, where is Jesus' blood? The message that reportedly is being given is that heaven is a giveaway, but that is not true. Heaven has a tremendous cost. Just ask the Son of God who still bears the marks of the nails and spear in His body!

The story never grows old!

Many leaflets concerning services and the Resurrection Egg Hunt are still available on the Narthex Table. Take a few and walk your neighborhood! Distribute them to homes and families and friends!

Volunteers are needed for a significant outreach event at Mt. Olive this weekend, the Resurrection Egg Hunt. What ages? Just about any age has a place in this important event. Please check with either Kim Waddle or myself. Better yet, come by Friday morning at 9 a.m. and help fill eggs, and Saturday morning at 9:30 a.m. No, you are not too old to do this!

Here is the Choir Schedule for Wednesday night:
5 p.m. - 7 p.m.
Share snacks at 5 p.m. and start singing at 5:30 p.m. sharp. Even if you're late, even if you haven't seen any of the songs, please come to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord!

Special Services at Mt. Olive:
Holy Thursday
12:15 p.m. and 7:15 p.m., Divine Service

Good Friday
12:15 p.m., The Way of the Cross
7:15 p.m., Tenebrae Service of Darkness

Holy Saturday
10 a.m. Resurrection Egg Hunt

The Resurrection of Our Lord (Easter Sunday)
6:30 a.m. Sunrise Service
Afterward, the Easter Breakfast begins

8 and 10:30 a.m. Festival Service

9:15 a.m. - Sunday School, Bible Class, and the Breakfast continues

Every year, Messiah Lutheran Church in Calallen presents The Living Last Supper. This year, The Living Last Supper will be presented on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of Holy Week at 7:30 p.m.

Prayer Concerns:
Those who serve in our armed forces: Rob Vadney (about to deploy to Afghanistan), John Miller's niece (Afghanistan), Andrew Epley (Iraq), Richard Rhode (North Carolina), Ryan Radtke, John Sorensen, Dru Blanc, Michael Baker (Corpus Christi), William Worley (Kingsville)
It's also important to remember the families of those who serve!
Wanda Long, recovering from surgery here in Corpus after a fall
Those who are homebound: Ruby Rieder, Ann Cleveland, Norene Estes
The Holy Church throughout the world as she walks to the cross with our Lord Jesus and prepares to celebrate His resurrection

This Week at Mt. Olive:
Monday, March 29
Girl Scouts, 6:30 p.m.
Zumba Aerobics, 6:30 p.m.

Tuesday, March 30
Pastor's Information Class, 6:30 p.m.

Wednesday, March 31
School Chapel, 8:30 a.m.
Bible Study, 9:30 a.m.
Choir Rehearsal, 5-7 p.m.

Thursday, April 1 (Holy or Maundy Thursday)
Divine Service, 12:15 p.m.
Divine Service, 7:15 p.m.

Friday, April 2 (Good Friday)
Egg Filling and Preparation for Saturday, 9 a.m.
Way of the Cross, 12:15 p.m.
Tenebrae (Darkness) Service, 7:15 p.m.

Saturday, April 3 (Holy Saturday)
Resurrection Egg Hunt, 10 a.m. (Volunteers arrive at 9:30 a.m.)
Set Up for Easter Breakfast, 1 p.m.

Sunday, April 4 (The Resurrection of Our Lord)
Sunrise Service, 6:30 a.m.
Easter Breakfast, 7:30 a.m.
Festival Service, 8 a.m.
Sunday School, Bible Class, Breakfast continues, 9:15 a.m.
Festival Service, 10:30 a.m.

God bless!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Mt. Olive Update

Good afternoon, fellow redeemed!

Last night and this morning, the Jr. Youth and company could have taped their own "Dirty Jobs" episode! Weeding, planting, and mulching, these young people and their leaders cleared flower beds and planted new flowers in preparation from the celebration of our Lord's resurrection. Praise God! If you get a chance tomorrow, don't forget to give kudos to these young people. Serving were: Sarah and Abigail Waddle, Jonathan Jennings, August Worley, Trevor Johnson, Matthew Catherman, Bethany Waddle, Kim Waddle, and Keith Waddle.

Sunday afternoon, following Confirmation Instruction, there will be neighborhood canvassing at Mt. Olive to invite the community around us to the Resurrection Egg Hunt and to hear the story of Jesus' Passion, death, and resurrection to save sinners. Canvassing begins at 2 p.m and will last until about 3:30 p.m. at the latest.

Is a scheduling conflict keeping you from making the canvassing event tomorrow? Take home some flyers and distribute them in your own neighborhood!

Also tomorrow, each bulletin will contain three flyers about the Resurrection Egg Hunt and Holy Week services. One of those is for your own refrigerator. The other two flyers are to be given away - give them away to your neighbors, friends, coworkers, or an acquaintance on the street! Don't leave them in the pew at church - here's the chance to tell the Good News about Jesus!

God bless!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Annunciation of Our Lord

The text for our meditation on God’s Holy Word is the Gospel lesson for the day. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Beginning in the 19th century and extending until the middle part of the 20th century there was, on the part of liberal scholars and theologians, a concerted attack upon the truth of Holy Scripture. For example, Adolph Von Harnack proposed that the truth claims of Christianity were not unique to it at all but rather an amalgamation of various ideas from other religions. Rudolf Bultman insisted that modern man could not be expected to believe in what was essentially an ancient myth—that it was absurd to think that a modern, scientific person would believe that God could or even would intervene in our world and do the miraculous—suspending the natural laws of the universe. Both of these men of course denied the Virgin Birth of our Lord.

Built into this kind of thinking is a kind of intellectual pride that assumes that ancient people were not as intelligent as modern people. That is simply not true. While they didn’t have access to our technology—their ability to think and reason and be discerning was no less than ours.

And so when Mary is visited by an angel she is afraid and confused and troubled. She tries to discern what it all means because being visited and spoken to by an angel just didn’t happen every day anymore than it does today.

When Mary hears that she is to bear a Son without a human father and that her elderly, sterile relative Elizabeth is pregnant, she wonders how this would take place because there is absolutely nothing in her world that would suggest such things are possible anymore than they are today.

All of this is reported by Luke, himself no fool, but instead a doctor and a man of science who no doubt had a healthy skepticism. But based on the evidence that he personally researched and collected, he could come to no other conclusion but to recognize that God did indeed intervene in the most wonderful ways in human history—that with God nothing is impossible.

I would like to say that the Von Harnacks and Bultmans of the world who worked to destroy the Faith from within the church are no more—but that is not so. They have died and are being treated as they deserve by the One whom they discovered to their terror is no myth-- but the outward, visible church is still afflicted with theologians and pastors and scholars and laity who want to deny the miraculous and destroy what they can’t understand—to do away with what isn’t reasonable and what doesn’t make sense to them when it comes to the Christian faith.

They deny the creation because they say it is an impediment to the faith of the scientifically minded. They demand that the hard teachings of the Bible on sexuality and marriage and gender be removed because we are so much more enlightened today. They denounce the blood atonement as something unworthy of civilized people. They sound so sincere and concerned and well-meaning when it comes to making the Faith accessible to the world-- but what they really are, are destroyers of the Faith.

You see dear friends in Christ, a God who cannot create—a God who will not act within his creation—a God who does not have the highest of expectations for his creatures—a God who did not redeem-- does not become more believable—but less—undeserving of even the name of God—and unrecognizable to the writers and readers of Holy Scripture.

Instead, the people of God have always known and believed that nothing is impossible with God. Adam and Eve knew it as they looked at creation. Noah knew it as he saw the rain begin to fall and fill the earth. Moses knew it as he saw the Israelites leave their slavery in Egypt. And Elizabeth and Mary and Luke knew it with the birth of the Savior. Nothing is impossible with God. May God grant to us today, that through his Word, we might know the same—that nothing is impossible with God.

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and said, "Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!" But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.

As much we Lutherans look askance at popular Marian devotion in the Roman Catholicism—particularly what we see around us in south Texas, we make another kind of mistake when we fail to recognize what a special person the Virgin Mary was, and how essential she was to God’s salvation in Christ.

For thousands of years, ever since God’s promise to Adam and Eve in the garden that he would send a Savior, the seed of a woman, who would destroy Satan and his works-- every pious, believing woman, beginning with Eve herself, dreamed and hoped and prayed that she would be the One to carry in her womb the Savior of the world. The one that God favored with that incredible blessing was the Virgin Mary.

We Lutherans do not believe that she was sinless, we do not believe that we should pray to her, we do not believe that she is a co-mediator of redemption along with her son—but we do must certainly affirm and believe what the Bible teaches: that Mary was highly favored by God and chosen by God to be the means through which the Savior came into the world. Her obedient faith said yes to God in spite of her fears and confusion—in spite of what seemed impossible--and in this she serves as example for all of us to follow as God calls us to do his will in this time and place—even when it seems impossible.

The choosing of the Virgin Mary ought to inspire hope in us that we can be used by God in mighty, miraculous ways to accomplish his will in this day and time like Mary did in hers. As a young, poor, woman of that day she was the least likely to be used by God in such a mighty way as the vehicle through which he would fulfill his promises to send a Savior and King—and yet that is exactly what God did because nothing is impossible with God—not even a virgin birth.

And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end." What was foretold by the prophet Isaiah 700 years before was fulfilled in the womb of the Blessed Virgin—the birth of the Messiah—the Savior and King of the world—true God and true Man.

In Confirmation we spend a good bit of time talking about this biblical teaching that Jesus was true Man—having receiving his flesh from his blessed Mother Mary—and true God by the power of the Holy Spirit—as no other, Son of the Most High.
And when we talk about the two natures of Christ, I always want the kids to know that this is not just a theological construct or a pious statement but nothing other than the foundation of their salvation.

Jesus is the LORD who saves because he is God and Man. That you and I go to heaven through faith Jesus depends upon his true divinity and true humanity and so these biblical teachings are not just lessons for children that can be forgotten when we are confirmed—but are the very heart of our faith and the story of our salvation. So why does it matter that Jesus was true Man.

First of all we have to confess that the command of Almighty God to all people to be holy just as he is holy goes unfulfilled in our lives. Despite all the sinful illusions that we may have that we are better than the next guy or gal, none of us can ever go to heaven because of our own righteousness. We do not do the good that God commands and instead we do the evil that he forbids.

That was not true in Christ’s life. Yes, he was born as a man, under the same righteous law that we are born under—except that he was born without sin through his miraculous birth. Where we have failed in keeping God’s Law —he succeeded—keeping the law perfectly in thought, word and deed-- for us—in our place-- so that now through faith in him, his righteousness and holiness is counted as our own.

And the punishment that God promises to humanity on account of our sins—the punishment in time and eternity according to his holy wrath over our sins that each of us truly deserves—was placed upon Jesus. He suffered on the cross the righteous wrath of his Holy Father-- not for his sins-- but for ours.

Everything that we deserve for our sins, including forsakenness by God—he received on the cross—and not just for our sins, but for the sins of the whole world—for each and every person who has lived or ever will live. His suffered in our place and reconciled the entire world to God—and when we put our trust in his Son we personally and individually receive forgiveness for all our sins.

But of course the holy life he led and obedient death he suffered is not the end of the story at all-- but as God en-fleshed he did what no human could ever do—he forgave the sins of the world—he defeated Satan—and he rose up glorious from the grave—and all the benefits and blessings of life and salvation he came to give the world are ours personally and individually when we believe in his resurrection.
Through the work of the God/Man Jesus Christ a holy God and a sinful humanity are reconciled because nothing is impossible with God. Today he invites to set aside our sinful doubts, enter into his Kingdom, and believe in his promises—just like the Holy Spirit led Mary to believe his promises.

And Mary said to the angel, "How will this be, since I am a virgin?" And the angel answered her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy— the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God."

Each week we confess our own personal faith in these words of the angel Gabriel when we confess along with the church in every place and every age that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary. She does not doubt, she does not ask how can it be—but how will it be. We wonder too but it ought to be a holy wonder born of a faith that simply trusts in what God has revealed—that it was by the power of the Holy Spirit that the Son of God was conceived within the womb of the Blessed Virgin.

The miracle of the Incarnation is that the One who was in the beginning with God—the One who was God—the One through whom all things were made—became flesh and dwelt among us in the person of Jesus of Nazareth who from his very beginnings in the Virgin’s womb was God.

An ancient title for the Virgin Mary that Lutherans affirm with the Church throughout the ages is that Mary is the Mother of God. That may make us a little nervous but we need to remember what this title really means—what it says about Christ, not Mary--not that Mary comes before God, as a mother comes before her child, but that from the very moment of his conception Jesus was God who in his Incarnation took upon himself our human flesh in Mary’s womb--God and Man in that moment and forever more.

There is no part of our lives—no time in our lives, from conception to death—that Jesus did not come to save and renew and make whole—no part of your life where Jesus is not present with you to strengthen you and lift you up and comfort you and bring you ever closer to himself.

The world around us hates the idea of a God who won’t be made into their image--of a God who is greater than themselves--of a God who has a claim upon their lives as their Maker and Redeemer. Sadly, there are people still like this in the world--even within the outer boundaries of the Church. But for all of us who like Mary and Elizabeth and Luke have come to faith in Jesus by the powerful work of the Holy Spirit, it is the greatest comfort and hope that we have: that nothing is impossible with God. Amen.

And now may the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.

Monday, March 22, 2010

This Week at Mt. Olive

Good evening, fellow redeemed!

This morning, the Adult Bible Class took up the sentence, "Evangelism is one beggar telling another beggar where to get some bread."

The great truth of the Bible about mankind is that we bring nothing to God. How many times I've heard that we're all basically good at heart, but we're not. We are, in fact, inclined toward evil. In Genesis 6, "God saw that the thoughts of man's heart is only evil continually." Many in our world say that we have free will when it comes to belonging to Christ, but the Bible says otherwise. If we have a choice, the Bible makes clear, it's sin.

But the great truth of the Bible about the true God brings unimaginable comfort. Where we bring nothing, God brings everything. "God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself," Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5. In 1 John 2, the apostle reminds us that Jesus died for the sins of the whole world. Through the preaching of the Word of God about Christ, God the Holy Spirit works faith in hearts. It's like we rehearse every time this comes up in Bible Class or Confirmation or anywhere else I can get away with it: How does the Holy Spirit get into our hearts to work faith? Through our ears! It all seems so plain: the spoken word, splash of water, morsel of bread, sip of wine. Yet, in these simple ways God has promised to come to us - He doesn't demand that we come to Him.

Evangelism, then, isn't about technique; it's about content. It's one beggar (you and I) telling another beggar (those with whom we have the opportunity to share the faith) where to get some bread (Christ coming through Word and Sacrament in His Church).

We continue in the way of the cross during this Lenten season. This week, in Life Together, our focus is "What do We Thirst For?"

Also this week, the Lenten meal is furnished by the Fellowship Committee with a menu of tacos.

I'll be sending out an email later this week after the Board of Elders and I have had an opportunity to look at the Holy Week Schedule.

In your Holy Week plans, don't forget to include the Living Last Supper at Messiah Lutheran Church in Calallen. Messiah will be hosting this important presentation on March 29, 30, and 31.

One important note: Because of a scheduling conflict at this time in the Church Year, it was necessary for the Voters Meeting originally scheduled for March 21 to be moved. The new date for the Voters Meeting is 11 APR. I hope this generated minimal confusion.

Prayer Concerns:
My family at the death of my cousin, Robert Koenig
Those who serve in our armed forces: Rob Vadney (preparing for deployment), John Miller's niece (Afghanistan), Andrew Epley (Iraq), Richard Rhode (North Carolina), Michael Baker, Ryan Radtke, Dru Blanc, John Sorensen (Corpus Christi), William Worley (Kingsville)
The leaders of our nation
Pastors of the church and their families as the Church begins the final week of Lent and enters Holy Week
Our Altar Guild as they begin a very busy time of the year
All of us, that our Lord would guide us in the way of true repentance and faith

This Week at Mt. Olive:
Monday, March 22
Girl Scouts, 6:30 p.m. (Overflow)
Zumba Aerobics, 6:30 p.m. (Fellowship Hall)
Board of Elders, 6:30 p.m. (Pastor's Conference Room)

Tuesday, March 23
Pastor's Information Class, 6:30 p.m.

Wednesday, March 24
School Chapel, 8:30 a.m.
Bible Study on Philippians, 9:30 a.m.
Lenten Prayer at Midday, 12:15 p.m.
Lenten Meal, 5:30 p.m.
Choir Rehearsal, 6 p.m.
Lenten Evening Prayer, 7:15 p.m.

Thursday, March 25
Cub Scouts, 6:30 p.m.
STARC, 7 p.m. (Fellowship Hall)

God bless!

Rev. Franke's Theme Thoughts

The Sunday of the Passion, Series C March 28, 2010

Lessons for Sunday of the Passion (Lutheran Service Book)

Processional: John 12:12-19 - Some Greeks came to see Jesus when the hour of his glorification was near.
Deuteronomy 32:36-39 -There is no other God who puts to death and brings to life and can help in trouble.
Psalm 118:19-29 (antiphon: v. 26)
Philippians 2:5-11 - Jesus showed His eternal Lordship through service, by dying on the cross for us.
Luke 22:1-23:56
or Luke 23:1-56 - The King of heaven and earth was judged by a representative of a king of this world.

GATHERING THE TEXTS: Lord of All, We Bow before You!
Suffering in our lives begins to make sense as we observe our Lord on this Sunday of His passion. Moses sang a song of deliverance in times of trouble, recalling that only the God of Israel can rescue from catastrophe and bring life out of death. In another song of the people of God, St. Paul recorded how God, in Christ, took upon Himself our humanity and willingly suffered as servant in order to rescue us from sin and death. The Gospel Lesson recounts Lord Christ before Lord Caesar, and in the appearance of defeat, reveals God’s victory at the cross.

PRAYER BEFORE THE SERVICE: O Jesus, You alone have shown the power of God to bring peace through suffering and life out of death. Let me embrace sorrow in my own life as a sign of Your presence and an invitation to turn all things over to Your Lordship. Show me opportunities to spend my life in service to Your kingdom and to others. Amen.

STEWARDSHIP THOUGHT: Material things become instruments of sorrow when they begin to control us or when we expect them to deliver us from the difficulties of life. We are blessed through them when we use them to bring benefits to others, physically and spiritually.

OFFERING PRAYER: We bend our knee and with our tongue confess that Christ is Lord!
And through these gifts that now we place into Your care,
We willingly proclaim His name; and when our days are hard,
Take comfort in our griefs and suff’rings Jesus shares. Amen.

CONVICTION AND COMFORT: We want to select our own gods and lords, but when the chips are down, they cannot help us. Idols at our command are no stronger than we are in times of trouble. The only one who can judge, put to death, and bring to life, eternally, serves at His own behest. He stood before the courts of this world and literally gave Himself in our place. He accepted death in order to bring us to life; He has selected us! Our knees now bow and tongues confess that Jesus Christ is Lord of all!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Surpassing Worth of Knowing Jesus

The text for our meditation on God’s Holy Word is epistle lesson appointed for the day. I bring you grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

By the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the apostle Paul wrote these words because the congregation at Philippi and other Christian congregations in the area were being misled by false teachers. These false teachers were saying that faith in Jesus Christ was not enough for salvation—that besides faith, it was necessary to keep all of the rituals and rules of the Old Testament.

This context may seem to be far removed from this time and place-- but the same spirit of wanting to add to Christ’s finished work of salvation lives on to afflict the Christian church today.

In many places, Christians are still told that faith in Christ is not enough—that they themselves must do something to make their salvation complete and effective: good works—a decision—some outpouring of overwhelming emotion attributed to the Holy Spirit. All of this added to the simple faith and trust that-- what Christ did on the cross for the world—was done for me—and he is my salvation.

There are some groups where this false teaching of earning our salvation is enshrined as the official teaching—and we must avoid these places-- but even where it is not—the spirit of this idea clings to each of us because it is the natural religion of mankind—that our salvation depends upon us: on our obedience—on our lesser guilt than others—on our piety.

But what God would have us do today is turn our eyes away from ourselves and focus them upon Jesus Christ and know that everything else that we are tempted to base our salvation on apart Christ-- is less than nothing-- and cannot even be compared to the surpassing worth of knowing that Jesus is our Lord and Savior. Paul writes:

If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

There was nothing wrong with being circumcised on the eighth day—in fact, it was what the law demanded. There was nothing wrong with being born a Jew—in fact, there were great advantages and it was the way that God had providentially ordered Paul’s life. There was certainly nothing wrong with being scrupulous in the way he kept the law of God—truth be told, most of us would be well served to devote a bit more energy to that very thing.

None of this was wrong in and of itself—in fact, all of it added up to Paul’s being singularly blessed by God. But when these things became the foundation and source of Paul’s life with God—when they became his confidence before God-- they ceased being a blessing and became a curse-- because it put him in direct opposition to God himself who desires that we have a life with him solely through faith in his Son.

And besides that, for all of those ancient and modern people who want to have a life with God on the basis of what they do—who are they compared to Paul in piety and zeal and righteousness? And if they can’t match up to Paul, how can they expect to be acceptable to God?

There can be no accommodation and no compromise between the religion of works and Christianity, for those who trust in anything within themselves for their salvation-- become persecutors of the church-- and enemies of the cross-- and deniers of Jesus—just like a young Pharisee named Saul.

The same is true for us today. We should be: 1. regular in our church attendance- and 2. generous in our giving- and 3. careful to walk in God’s commands -and 4. insistent that our congregation faithfully teach God’s Word- and 5. different than the world around us in how we live our lives.

All of these are great blessings—but when they become our confidence before God—when they become what we are counting on for our salvation—we become persecutors of the church of Jesus Christ which rests upon the rock-solid foundation of salvation through faith in him alone. Paul writes that:

Whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish…

As Paul traveled forth on the Road to Damascus to persecute the church, the risen Christ appeared before him and Paul was struck blind by his glory—the glory of God himself. But at the same time his spiritual eyes were opened and he saw- for the first time- just exactly how he looked spiritually: not in comparison those around him—but in comparison to God.

He saw the truth about his own righteousness and obedience and zeal in the light of Christ’s holiness and he knew that everything that he had hoped in—everything that had counted on—everything that he was so proud of in his life—was rubbish. All of his righteous deeds—compared to the righteousness of Jesus Christ—were as filthy rags.

You see, it is only in knowing Jesus Christ that we can know the truth about God’s real expectations of us—it is only in knowing Jesus Christ that we can know the truth about ourselves and how far we stand apart from God on the basis of what we can do.

Just like Paul, all of us, by nature want to measure ourselves against our fellow man—and let there be no doubt—we look pretty good in comparison. But other folks are not the measure of God’s expectations of us—God himself is the measure-- and there is only One Person who has ever measured up to that standard-- and that is Jesus: the holiness of God and the righteousness of God and the love of God in human flesh who gave his life into death upon the cross in exchange for those of us who are none of those things.

All of us must come to that same place as did Paul—in learning the truth about ourselves and our own righteousness—in seeing it for what it is—and that in stripping it away we still have not lost anything of value—but only rubbish that is keeping us away from Christ—and that coming to a place of spiritual emptiness—we can be filled with Christ himself. Paul says that he was glad to lose all those things he had trusted in so that he might…

gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—

When Paul came to faith in Christ, he lost everything he was before. He lost his place in his culture—he lost the admiration of his colleagues—he lost his very identity as someone who had made a place for himself with God based upon his own righteousness. But what he gained was Christ-- and he was glad to count all of his own righteousness as a loss compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus as his Lord and Savior.

Paul’s faith and trust was shifted away from himself and was placed upon Christ and Christ’s righteousness—and in doing so--a perfect righteousness that truly avails in God’s sight for salvation became his own through faith in Jesus. So it is for us.
There is only one way to be saved—there is only one way to stand before God unashamed—there is only one way to be absolutely confident that we will go to heaven when we die --and that is through faith in Jesus so that what he has done for the world—becomes your own.

Through faith in Jesus, his death on the cross is counted as your punishment for sins. Through faith in Jesus, his holiness is credited to you as your righteousness. Through faith in Jesus, his status before God becomes your own and you are counted as God’s child—and share in his life. Paul writes:

For Jesus’ sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish in order that that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

The person who has been saved through faith in Jesus is forever changed. We are simply not the people we were before. Paul went from being a persecutor of Jesus Christ, to wanting to know him more and more—from wanting nothing to do with him, to gladly enduring whatever came his way as a follower of Jesus---from putting his people to death, to desiring to spend eternity with them in heaven.

His whole perspective about himself and about God was changed through faith in Jesus Christ.

That same pattern is seen in the life of all of Christ’s people. We want to know more and more about this One who given his own life for us and so we are glad to attend worship and bible study. We joyfully share whatever hardship comes our way as his disciples because we know what he suffered for us and the sacrifices we make for him are nothing compared to what he did for us. And our vision is no longer only on the “here and now” but extends into eternity in heaven because he has gone there to prepare a place for us where we will live with him forever.

This is the power of Christ’s resurrection in our own lives right now. We serve a living Savior—one who is not distant from us but by Holy Baptism, lives in us—one who sustains his own life in his through his body and blood in Holy Communion.
From the moment we were baptized, the shape of Jesus’ life has become our own just as it did for Paul—and we strive to live it out more and more until we go to heaven. Paul says:

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Paul knew that all of those false teachers who wanted people to trust in their own good works could not even match up to him in holiness and righteousness and piety and yet he knew about himself that he did not match up to Christ in how he lived.
But he also knew that his past mistakes were forgiven and heaven awaited him and so day by day in his earthly life he pushed ahead to live for Christ like an athlete reaching for the finish line.

So it is for us in our Christian life. Because of the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ, our Savior, we know that our sins are forgiven and we know that we have a place in heaven. And because Christ has made us his own, our calling is to make that identity more and more an active, vigorous reality in how we live our lives. Amen.

And now may the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.

Friday, March 19, 2010

St. Joseph, Guardian of Jesus—March 19

Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit…When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus. Matthew 1:18-25

Over the last several weeks I’ve read a number of articles in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal that talked about the current economic downturn and what this means especially for men.

One article, “For Women, Redefining Marriage Material” talked about the impact that an income differential tilted toward women had on the selection of a husband.
Another article, “The New Math on Campus” talked about the cultural and societal consequences when 57% of enrollment on college campuses is women.

And in another article, “The Lean Years”, David Brooks brought all this data together and wondered aloud what the future of marriage and family and the culture at large would be like when at age 22 there were 185 college graduates among women compared to only 100 for men.

Each of these articles recognized that there is a profound shift coming for the most basic unit of human society: the family. And at the center of that change is the status and role of men. But each of these articles only addressed this shift from an economic perspective.

Economic uncertainty is particularly frightening to men because it cuts to the very heart of how we define ourselves: by what we do and what we earn. But for the man of God this changing economic and cultural landscape should be an opportunity to rediscover what is truly valuable and worthwhile in our lives as men—to re-commit to first things.

Joseph shows us the way. He was a just man. This means that he was right in God’s sight through faith in the Messiah and that this faith was evident in his life. He was known for being a godly man. He was obedient to God. He listened to the voice of God and followed his leading. Joseph was not a wealthy man or a powerful man but God entrusted his own Son into his fatherly care.

May God grant that we would always follow his example and be the kind of men who are faithful and righteous and obedient and worthy of God’s trust!

Let us pray:
Almighty God, from the house of Your servant David You raised up Joseph to be the guardian of Your incarnate Son and the husband of His mother, Mary. Grant us grace to follow the example of this faithful workman in heeding Your counsel and obeying Your commands; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

St. Patrick, Missionary to Ireland

Patrick is one of the best-known of the missionary saints. Born into a Christian family in Britain around the year AD 389 he was captured as a teenager by raiders and taken to Ireland as a slave. After six years he escaped and made his way to France and joined a monastic community. Ordained as a bishop, he made his way back to Ireland in 433 where he spent the rest of his life preaching and organizing Christian communities. He strongly defended the doctrine of the Holy Trinity when it was unpopular to do so. He died in Ireland on March 17, AD 466. Treasury of Daily prayer, p. 1284

I bind unto myself today
The strong name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same
The Three in One and One in Three.

I bind this today to me forever
By power of faith, Christ’s incarnation;
His baptism in the Jordan River,
His death on the cross for my salvation;
His bursting from the spiced tomb,
His riding up the heavenly way,
His coming at the day of doom
I bind myself today…

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

I bind unto myself the name,
The strong name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three.
By whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
Salvation is of Christ the Lord.
St Patrick’s Breastplate

Let us pray:
Almighty God, who in your providence chose your servant Patrick to be the apostle of the Irish people, to bring those who were wandering in darkness and error to the true light and knowledge of you: Grant us so to walk in that light, that we may come at last to the light of everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and ever. Amen.

Rev. Franke's Theme Thoughts

Fifth Sunday in Lent, Series C March 21, 2010

Lessons for Fifth Sunday in Lent (Lutheran Service Book)

Isaiah 43:16-21~ God’s people settled for exile as the best they could do, but God had better plans for them!
Psalm 126 (antiphon: v. 3)
Philippians 3:(4b-7)8-14 ~ Although he was good, St. Paul knew he was not good enough to do without Christ.
Luke 20:9-20 ~ Jesus’ parable became self-fulfilling when the chief priests rejected His message and Him.

GATHERING THE TEXTS: Self-Satisfied or Still Striving?
Sometimes, like the people of Judea, we become satisfied with ourselves and our achievement. Isaiah’s words would help push them off the dead center of exile in Babylon to move them toward God's restoration of Jerusalem. St. Paul wrote to people who expected him to claim his own laurels rather than renounce his accomplishments and strive toward the goal of new life in Christ. Jesus' parable of the wicked tenants confronted the teachers of the law and chief priests because in their self-righteousness they were opposing God's plan of salvation.

PRAYER BEFORE THE SERVICE: Lord God, I am often uncomfortable with the newness of your re-creating love through Jesus Christ, your Son, who died and rose again that I may live a new life for you. By the power of your Spirit, help me embrace your call to repentance. Help me set aside any righteousness of my own and cling only to the merits of my Savior. Amen.

STEWARDSHIP THOUGHT: The vineyard of life is not ours for the taking; we cannot claim it to do with as we wish. It is, however, given to us with all its blessings, like springs of water in the desert, to be used responsibly as our Lord wishes. We depend on the goodness of our God and proclaim it freely for others.

OFFERING PRAYER: Gracious Lord of the Vineyard, when You come looking for the produce of our lives, give us humility to depend on the goodness of Christ and the wisdom to share that goodness with others. Amen.

CONVICTION AND COMFORT: It’s hard to ask for help when we have all the answers. Our biggest problem is that we think having all the answers covers all the bases; it doesn’t! If we are counting on a righteousness of our own, there are questions we haven’t even begun to ask. We will have to answer those questions when the Owner of the vineyard comes. It is better to recognize now that we don’t have the answers to life’s moral questions so that we learn to depend on Jesus, who answered for us on the cross.

Monday, March 15, 2010

This Week at Mt. Olive

Good morning, fellow redeemed!

I love Adult Bible Class. About a month ago, we watched a video about knowing what we believe and why we believe it. Right now, we are working through a study of what it is we do believe. After that, it will be a witness workshop to put that to work.

But, Sunday was a delightful class about the issue of Free Will. If I had a topic that is pervasive in much of American Christianity, it would be this one. As champions of freedom, it's our natural inclination to believe that free will in our relationship with God is a reality. In fact, it isn't. It's not me who says so; God says so in His Word.

How are we brought to faith, then? Paul gives us two barrels worth of answers in Romans. In Romans 1:16, we're told that the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe. Additionally, in Romans 10:17, Paul tell us that faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ. God the Holy Spirit, working through the means of the Word, brings people to faith. No decisions (that would mean we could earn our way into heaven), no special programs (that would mean we're in control), it's the Word.

That has a huge bearing on evangelism - those programs for getting people to come to church. Many of them ask "diagnostic" questions, while others elicit a decision. But, Paul says it is the Gospel that is God's power unto salvation.

I gave the Bible class today an assignment, to ponder a statement and react to it next week. I challenge you to do the same - ponder the statement:
Evangelism is one beggar telling another beggar where there is some bread.

The campus at Mt. Olive is noticeably more quiet this week. It's Spring Break! School classes are not in session, though extended care continues to operate.

As Lent is now bearing down on Holy Week, it's time to turn our attention to the Resurrection Egg Hunt. Each year, the Resurrection Egg Hunt hosts many children from our community. The story of the Easter triumph is told to these children in dramatic fashion. How might you help? The Resurrection Egg Hunt is in need of: plastic eggs, individually wrapped non-chocolate candies, Christian stickers. There is one other major need for the Resurrection Egg Hunt: Volunteers like you!

Also each year, the LWML assembles Easter Baskets for needy children in San Patricio County. Regular needs can be seen in the bulletin and include: plastic eggs, stuffed toys, etc.

I will be out of town this week, but will be at Mt. Olive for Bible Study and both Lenten services on Wednesday. If, in my absence, you experience an emergency, please call either your elder or the Church Office.

Prayer Concerns:
Those who serve in our armed forces: Rob Vadney (awaiting deployment), John Miller's niece (Afghanistan), Richard Rhode (North Carolina), Dru Blanc, John Sorensen, Ryan Radtke (NAS Corpus Christi), Michael Baker (Corpus Christi), William Worley (NAS Kingsville)
In addition to these, please remember their families
Burt Nelson, Ruth Prytz, and all the sick
Those who travel over this Spring Break week

This Week at Mt. Olive:
Monday, March 15
Girl Scouts, 6:30 p.m.
Zumba Aerobics, 6:30 p.m.

Wednesday, March 17
Bible Study (Philippians) 9:30 a.m.
Lenten Prayer at Midday, 12:15 p.m.
Lenten meal, 5:30 p.m.
Choir Rehearsal, 6 p.m.
Lenten Evening Prayer, 7:15 p.m.

God bless!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Behold, The Father's Love! Luke 15:1-3,11-32

The text for our meditation on God’s Holy Word is the Gospel lesson appointed for the day. I bring you grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

The parable that we have before us today in Luke’s Gospel is one of the most familiar stories in the Bible. I’m certain that most of you could tell this story almost exactly as it is written out in the Bible. But what we might not be able to do is to put it in context-- or explain to someone who didn’t know the parable- why Jesus spoke it and to who and when. And so that is where we will begin this morning. Luke writes that:

The tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear Jesus. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”
This little introduction is critical to understanding this parable. Jesus’ ministry was bearing fruit. People were taking to heart the words he spoke, repenting of their sins, and beginning to follow him as his disciples. All kinds of people. People who were known in their communities as notorious sinners. Tax collectors. Women caught in the very act of adultery. Roman soldiers. And the hated Samaritans.

And rather than keeping them at arm’s length, Jesus welcomed them and fellowshipped with them. And the Pharisees didn’t like it one little bit. Time and time again they said that if this Jesus were any kind of rabbi, any kind of prophet—if he were a man of God he would know what kind of people he was associating with. But of course, he did.

The charge the religious leaders of the Jews made against him: that Jesus received sinners and ate with them—they meant as a harsh rebuke—but they are some of the sweetest words in all of the Bible and are absolutely true. Thank God!—Jesus does receive sinners and fellowships with them.

Jesus wanted the Pharisees and scribes to understand why this was such good news—not only for the notorious sinners—but also for those whose self-righteousness blinded them to their own need to be received and welcomed by Jesus. And so he told them this parable:

“There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them.

Can you imagine going to your parents and saying, “Just curious, how much am I going to get from you when you’re dead—and, by the way, can I have my cut now”—caring more for what we can get out of our parents-- than our relationship with our parents. It’s pretty shocking—but it’s just exactly how we often treat God.

We want a financially successful life but we don’t want God’s counsel on how to spend our money and certainly don’t want to return just a small tithe to him as a thank-offering. We want a happy marriage but we don’t want to order our lives as men and women by his Word. We want good health—but not so that we can serve him—but so that we can pursue our own agenda. We want all of the good things that our heavenly Father provides, but we don’t want him overly involved in our lives.

But the Bible teaches just the opposite: that the kindness and goodness of God is meant to lead us to repentance. In other words, the material blessings we receive from God are given so that we are drawn to God himself. That relationship is what really matters. But because of our selfish human hearts, often times material blessings push us away from God. They certainly did for the younger Son. Jesus said that:

Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.

Everything that the younger son desired and sought apart from life with his Father—he lost. Everything! He went from plenty to poverty—he went from freedom to servitude—he went from a son to a servant. This is what happens when we pursue a life away from God. Another time Jesus asked, “What does it profit a man to gain the world and lose his soul?” And another time he warned us that if our desire is to hold on to this life—in other words, if our hands are full of the things of this world, we will lose our life for eternity.

If you had told this young man that this was the direction that his life would take, he would have never believed you because he thought he had it all. But this is always the course that sin takes in human lives. The Bible says that desire gives birth to sin and sin brings forth death. That is what we see in this young man’s life—he could not have sunk any lower.

Decent Jews would have been horrified to be close to pigs. To be reduced to caring for them would have been unimaginable. But to desire to eat from the same trough—this was degradation beyond belief. And yet, as low as he had sunk—he was not beyond hope-- because he had a father who loved him.

So long as you have breath in your body—so long as your heart is beating—no matter what you have done—no matter how you have squandered the treasures of life God has given you—you are still objects of the Father’s love and he will graciously and providentially work in your lives to bring you to himself.

That work begins with seeing the truth about ourselves-- just like it did for the young man. Jesus says that when he came to himself, he said:

‘How many of my father's hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’

He came to himself. This is the heart of repentance—that we finally come to a place where we see the truth about ourselves: that our lives lived apart from God are sins against heaven and sins against those around us—and that we are not worthy to be called God’s sons and daughters.

The young man had to have his head in a trough with pigs for companions to see that truth. Hopefully we can come to the same place of repentance without having to fall so far. But no matter how far we have or have not fallen—the young man’s confession must become our own: we have sinned against God and against those around us (whatever form that takes in our individual lives) and that life with the Father is infinitely greater than anything that we could make for ourselves apart from him.

You see, it was not just the truth about himself he saw—it was also the truth about his father. Given everything that he had done: the words that he had spoken to his father—the attitude he had towards his father—the way that he had wasted all that the father had given him—how far into disgrace he had fallen—he still knew that his father loved him and would welcome him home.

And this is really the key to his journey home—what he knew about his father-- rather than his own repentance.

If we are truly reflective about our lives of faith, we know how often our most sincere-sounding words of repentance are really self-serving. We’re sorry that we got caught. We’re sorry about the consequences of our actions. And we want to make some deal with God. That’s what the young man did. Even in that moment of repentance he still wanted to dictate to his father the terms of his return.

Fortunately for him—and fortunately for us when it comes to our heavenly Father—the welcome we receive when we come to ourselves is much more about who God is-- rather than the purity of our repentance. Jesus says that the young man:

Arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.

While he was still a long way off! Those are some of the sweetest words in all of Holy Scripture! The son’s trust in the father’s love and compassion was not misplaced. The father had been longing for the son’s return all along—never once had he said “good riddance to bad rubbish” –his eyes were always looking to the horizon in hope—and while his son was still a long way off, his father saw him and had compassion on him and ran to him and embraced him and kissed him.

In that day, grown men did not run anywhere—it was undignified. And they certainly didn’t run out to meet disobedient, disrespectful children. And they most certainly didn’t engage in this embarrassing, undignified spectacle of hugging and kissing a wayward child. But this father did—such was his love for the son.

Bible scholars have read this story and wondered where the atonement is that reconciles the father and son. After all, isn’t that the central teaching of the Bible and why does Jesus leave it out. But it’s there—it’s in the scandal and shame of the father’s love that casts aside his dignity to embrace the sinner.

This is the love and compassion that the God-enfleshed Savior of the world showed upon the cross. The Bible says of Jesus that:

He did not count equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.

These are the lengths to which God will go to welcome sinners and make them his children—finding us when we were lost and calling us from death to life.

The younger son had his speech all ready: Father I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. But before he could say another word—the father restored him to his rightful place as his son. That is what the robe and the ring and the sandals all meant: that this sinner was now a son-- by virtue of the father’s love. And that called for a celebration. Jesus says that:

“Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’

About 1,000 years before this parable, the prophet Nathan went to King David and told him a parable about a rich man who had vast flocks of sheep and yet he stole a poor man’s little pet lamb, killing it, and eating it. David was outraged at the injustice of it, and ordered that the man be killed. Nathan pointed to David and said: You’re the man. David had stolen another man’s wife and had her husband put to death and refused to repent of what he had done and would have gone on living alienated from God if Nathan had not retold his story with a parable so that David’s defenses were down.

That’s exactly what Jesus is doing in this story. The Pharisees and religious leaders of the Jews are the older brother in the parable--scrupulous in how they lived-- and merciless with those who didn’t measure up-- and they resented the compassion that Jesus showed to sinners. But what is so very important to remember is that Jesus loved the Pharisees too—in fact, it was for the Jews—first of all—that he had come.

And so Jesus told this parable to get them to see the truth about themselves: that they ought to be rejoicing to see sinners welcomed back into the family of God—that all men, whether Jew or Gentile, were ultimately God’s children whom he loved. Their lack of joy to see a sinner saved was a real problem because Jesus had told them that heaven itself rejoiced in a sinner being saved even more than for those who didn’t need saving.

But what they also failed to see about themselves is how their own lives with God were not what they were supposed to be-- and so Jesus held up the mirror of the older son so that they could see how far they had fallen from what God wants from his children.

The older son saw his life as that of a slave rather than a son-- and his father as a master whose commands must be obeyed rather than a father whose words are received with thanksgiving—he didn’t count his life with his father as a blessing to be enjoyed but a duty to be endured--and he was just as much concerned with getting his share as was the younger son-- and embittered when he thought he was shortchanged by the father.

It is so easy for us who have been life-long Christians to fall into the same trap. Isn’t there an earthly bonus for years of faithful service in the Lord’s house? Shouldn’t there be some kind of extra blessing for those of us who do what they are supposed to do? Isn’t it a little bit unjust for the gift of salvation to be given equally to those who have led a dissolute life as to those who have served God faithfully?

Jesus told the story of the older son because he wants people to know that this kind of attitude alienates us from God just as much as those who lead scandalous lives are alienated from God.

But he also wants us to know that he loves the Pharisee too and wants them to have a place in the family. And that is why the father in the parable did another unbelievable thing: he went out to the older son and begged him to be reconciled to his brother and take his place in the family. The father said to the older son:

‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’”

From lost to found—from death to life. This is what our heavenly Father wants for all of his children—whether we identify with the younger son who did everything wrong and had to be reduced to nothing—or whether we identify with the older son who thought he did everything right and yet regarded his life with his father as an unpleasant burden to be borne—God wants us to know that there is a place in his family through faith in another Son.

By virtue of the true Son who got it right in every place—Jesus Christ—God calls us his sons and daughters and promises us today: All that I have is yours: forgiveness—a brand new life here on earth—and eternity in heaven—all that I have is yours. And as we receive that promise in faith—we can be certain that heaven itself rejoices. Amen.

And now may the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Fourth Word John 19:26,27

I've been using the CPH Lenten series and have really enjoyed it. But I thought this week's sermon was a bit "thin" and so I decided to do my own.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The fourth Word from the cross that our Lord speaks is a word of compassion and when it comes to Jesus, compassion is not only a sympathetic feeling for the pain of others, but a concrete action to do something about it.

That’s exactly what we see and hear in this moment on the cross when Jesus speaks to his mother and his best friend: “Woman, behold, your son!”—“[John] Behold, your mother!”—making sure that both would be cared for in the future—his care and concern not for himself—but for others—even as he suffered and died.

Thirty-three years before Simeon had predicted this very thing. When Mary and Joseph brought baby Jesus into the temple, Simeon took him into his arms and proclaimed him to be God’s salvation—but he had also promised Mary that a sword would pierce her soul. God’s promise to save the world would not come without a cost.

That’s the way it had been from the moment of Jesus’ conception. An angel had promised Mary that though she was a virgin she would conceive and give birth to God’s Son. The heavens were opened and angels sang at his birth.

But in between these events-- and for the years that followed-- their lives were pretty much like everyone else—there were meals to be prepared and eaten—housework to be done—lessons to be learned.

We know from Scripture that Mary was told that her Son would be the Savior of the world—we know that she pondered all of it in her heart—but perhaps, she hid it away as well.

When Jesus was twelve years old and he and his family had traveled to Jerusalem for the Passover, he stayed behind-- and when Mary found him in the temple three days later she chastised him for worrying his parents—but he quickly reminded her that he had come to do his heavenly Father’s work.

When Jesus was thirty, his mother wanted a special favor from friends who had run out of wine at their wedding-- and he had to remind her that the time for his real work had not yet come.

But there at Calvary on that dark Friday afternoon that real work was at hand—and there Mary was—along with her sister who was the wife of Clopas and Mary Magdalene and John. All of them faithfully gathered around the cross as Mary’s Son died for the sins of the world.

The little hands that she had held and the little feet that she had kissed were pierced with nails. The head that she had caressed was crowned with thorns. The face that she had gazed upon in love was beaten beyond recognition.

And the words of Simeon were fulfilled: a sword will pierce your soul. This is what it all meant—this is what it was for—this is why she had been chosen: to bear the Savior of the world whose suffering and death would reconcile God to sinners—whose holiness and faithfulness would stand in place of our sins and failures to be who we ought to be—especially in our families.

All of us can look back at our lives and see places where we have failed to be the children we ought to be. Times when were disobedient to our parents—times when we were a hardship rather than a blessing—times when we were inattentive to our parent’s needs.

But Jesus was the perfect Son: kind, loving, obedient, concerned for his mother’s welfare—even in this late moment of his life.

When we look back at our lives I am sure that there are few failures that burden us and weigh as heavy upon our hearts as our failures to be the kind of family members towards one another as we ought to be.

But the Good News for us tonight is that in every place where we have failed to be the kind of children that we should be, Jesus’ life counts as our own. That perfect life continued even to his last, dying moments when his concern was not for himself—but for his mother. “Woman, behold, your Son.”…”[John] Behold, your mother.” And with those words he entrusted her earthly care into the hands of his best friend John.

By this time in our Lord’s life it seems that Joseph has passed away. We know that Jesus’ brothers and sisters are estranged from him. And so Jesus joins Mary and John together in a new family that is formed out his love for both of them at the cross.

Earlier in his ministry he had alluded to this very thing. When his family was concerned for him, they came to his disciples with the plan to take him out of public view and when told that they were waiting for him, Jesus said it was those who did his Father’s will who were really the members of his family.

What Jesus did at the cross for Mary and John is what he still does today in the church. He takes individuals with no natural connection to one another and by his shed blood—in the unity of the cross—he makes them brothers and sisters in him.

Baptized into Jesus’ death and raised in his resurrection, fed with his body and blood, God becomes our Father and Jesus our elder brother and each of us are joined together in the church as brothers and sisters in the bonds of Christ’s holy love.

This is exactly what he had come to do—restore us to fellowship with one another and with God-- and we see a picture of it in these words: “Woman, behold, your son…[John], behold, your mother.”

There are all kinds of explanations given as to why Jesus refers to his mother as “woman.” Some say that this is his way of saying that no earthly person has any special claim on him—not even his mother.

I’ve never really believed this explanation because it seems to be fueled by an anti-catholic sentiment that wants to minimize Mary in the face of Roman excesses.

Instead, I believe that Jesus refers to his mother this way as a gentle reminder to her as to who she really is—and also as a testimony to his own identity.

Thousands and thousands of years before the events of this dark afternoon at Calvary—there was another terrible day in human history—the worst day of all. Adam and Eve disobeyed God and brought sin into the world and with it death. From that moment on, every one of Eve’s children would die-- and she knew that she had caused it.

As terrible as it was for Mary to see her Son die on the cross, how unbearable it must have been for Eve to know that she had brought this on every one of her children!

But God called Adam and Eve to himself and restored them with a promise. He said that there would be a woman whose child would destroy Satan and his works. THE WOMAN AND HER SEED. God renewed that promise again and again in salvation history. He raised up a nation in the Israelites who would carry this Good News into the world. He revealed more and more details about this woman and her child through the words of the prophets.

And finally, in the fullness of time, he fulfilled his promise in a young woman named Mary and her Son named Jesus—not just a mother and son—but THE WOMAN and HER SEED who would crush Satan and break his deadly hold on our lives.

During her life, Mary needed to be reminded of her part in that promise. She loved her Son as any mother would. She didn’t want to see him suffer and die. But God had graciously called her to be the mother of the Savior of the world-- and that journey would go to the cross—suffering and death for her Son and a sword for her soul.

No earthly connection—not even that which existed between a mother and her Son could come before that mission and so Jesus spoke those words: “Woman, behold, your Son…[John] behold, your mother”—making sure that his earthly mother was cared for so that he could complete his heavenly Father’s business—so that what Eve had brought upon her children-- and what her daughter Mary was suffering-- would not be the last word about those we love.

Mary was there at our Lord’s birth—she heard the heavenly testimony regarding his mission to save the world—she saw Jesus grow up is wisdom and holiness—she was present for his first miracle—and she saw him die for the sins of the world. But she also saw him raised from the dead—God’s own promise to us that the painful separation we endure when our loved ones die-- is only for a brief moment. Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Rev. Franke's Theme Thoughts

Fourth Sunday in Lent, Series C March 14, 2010

Lessons for Fourth Sunday in Lent (Lutheran Service Book)

Isaiah 12:1-6 – God’s glorious rescue for His people is the source of great joy!
Psalm 32 (antiphon v. 11)
2 Corinthians 5:16-21 – Through sinners reconciled in Christ, God appeals to those still estranged.
Luke 15:1-3, 11-32 – Jesus told why we must join the Father’s celebration when wayward sinners come home.

GATHERING THE TEXTS: Celebrate the Father's Love
The Psalm for today ends with the verse, "Rejoice in the Lord and be glad, you righteous; sing, all you who are upright in heart!" Today, in the middle of Lent, we look ahead to the completion of God's redemptive act in the "foolishness of the cross". Our boast is in the graciousness of God our Father who welcomes us home with a celebration of great joy. We pick up the song of Miriam at the Exodus, which is repeated in today's lesson from Isaiah, "The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation!"

PRAYER BEFORE THE SERVICE: Thank you, Lord, for Your loving kindness! By the cross of Jesus You have made me Your child and called me home from my wandering. Help me share the joy of Your salvation with my neighbors and with strangers, as together we rejoice in the redemption You have won through Christ our Lord. Amen.

STEWARDSHIP THOUGHT: We are ambassadors of God’s reconciling love in Christ. God has placed great resources at our disposal, all for the task of bringing more wayward children of God back into the family, and once they have returned, celebrating their homecoming!

SUGGESTED OFFERING PRAYER: As brothers told to celebrate and join the Father’s joy,
You charge us, Lord, to live in peace and call Your children in.
Receive these gifts and bless their use that others may enjoy
The Father’s love and warm embrace and freedom from their sin.

CONVICTION AND COMFORT: Although we have been rescued from the power of spiritual death, we are slow to share the knowledge of Christ’s victory with those who are estranged from God, and slower still to welcome them into our fellowship with joy. Yet God has made us new creatures through Christ’s sacrificial death, no longer counting our sins against us. What joy it is to know God’s reconciling love!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Heed Christ's Call To Repentance! Luke 13:1-9

The text for our meditation on God’s Holy Word is the Gospel lesson appointed for the day. I bring you grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

On Tuesday, January 12 of this year a major earthquake struck Haiti—destroying large portions of the capital city and killing almost 100,000 people. Pat Robertson, televangelist, founder of the 700 Club, and former presidential candidate had a ready explanation for why this tragedy happened. He said that over 200 years ago Haitian slaves had made a pact with the devil to throw off French rule and that is why God was punishing Haiti now with an earthquake.

Now, besides the fact that Pat has an embarrassingly poor grasp of the historical record-- and besides the fact that it is an odd kind of God he believes in who punishes people hundreds of years after the actual perpetrators have perished—what he is doing with his explanation is the very thing that Jesus says in the Gospel lesson today we are not to do—trying to delve into the hidden counsels of God about why tragedy befalls some folks and not others.

This we are forbidden to do. Rather than trying to figure out what others have done that deserve God’s direct punishment in time, Jesus says that we are to view each tragedy that occurs in the world as an opportunity for us to repent of our own sins so that we do not perish under God’s wrath. Luke writes:

There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

This last Christmas in Nag Hamadi, Egypt Muslim extremists gunned down seven Christians who had come to midnight mass. On August 1, 2007 the I-35 bridge over the Mississippi River in Minnesota collapsed during rush hour killing 13 people. From major catastrophes to one car rollover accidents—these kinds of tragedies happen all over the world every day and always have.

The news headlines of Jesus’ day that Luke mentions in our text were likewise the result of a madman on one hand-- and a construction accident on the other. On one occasion Herod’s soldiers came directly into the temple and murdered people as they worshiped so that their blood mixed with the blood of the sacrifices they were offering. On another occasion, a building project in Siloam collapsed killing eighteen workers. In both cases there were victims and there were survivors.

What the people wanted to know was what was the difference between those who died and those who lived? Was God reaching out and directly punishing those who died? Did they have some secret sin that made them worse than others and so earned God’s wrath? And conversely, were those who were spared, the good folk with whom God was pleased?

These are exactly the kind of questions that the Pat Robertson’s of that day were asking and answering and Jesus simply says: no! Then and now Jesus does not permit us to delve into the providential mysteries of how God runs the universe—he does not invite our speculation about the sins of others. Instead, he wants us to understand that we are not magically immune from tragedy and so we are to be spiritually prepared through repentance and faith—at any moment to stand before God.

We live in a broken world. There is moral evil in the form of madmen who kill innocent people-- and there is physical evil in the form of hurricanes and earthquakes that destroy cities and nations-- and there is personal evil in the form of the devil and his angels that try to destroy our spiritual lives. And all people on earth are affected to one degree or the other—all people in the end, unless the Lord comes first, will finally succumb to death.

It is an exercise in futility-- and sinful speculation—and God forbids us to assign moral guilt to people because they get cancer or die in car wrecks or suffer through natural disasters and others don’t. Instead, Jesus says that as we look around us at the world today, as we see the effects of evil in the world—we are to use every one of those scenes as an opportunity for personal repentance.

Each time we read some headline in the paper about some terrible tragedy—each time we hear of someone struck down by cancer—each time we hear on the evening news about some terrible car wreck—right then and there we need to repent of our sins and turn to Jesus in faith.

Rather than sinful speculation we can repent over our thanklessness for God’s mighty provision that preserves and protects our lives. Rather than sinful speculation we can repent over our lack of compassion for those who are undergoing the hardships of living in a broken world. Rather than sinful speculation we can repent of our judgmental attitude that wants to find secret sins in the lives of others that has caused them to be struck down.

Each time the brokenness of this world strikes down a fellow human being, we have an opportunity to turn from our sins and turn to Jesus for forgiveness—the One who has truly suffered the fullness of God’s wrath over our sins upon the cross—offering us in their place the assurance that in all things God is working for our good and that no evil thing can separate us from his love.

We need to heed the opportunities for personal repentance that tragedy provides because there is coming a day for each of us when those opportunities will come to an end. Luke writes that Jesus told them this parable that powerfully brought that message home:

“A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’ And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”

Noah preached for 120 years, calling the people of the world to repentance before the flood came. Jeremiah preached for 40 years, calling Judah to turn form her evil ways before her destruction by the Babylonians. And Jesus preached constantly for 3 years, calling upon the people of Israel to forsake their sins and believe in him, entreating them: O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how I have longed to gather you to myself as a hen gathers her chicks—but you were not willing. And so they were destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D.

An ancient church father, St. Basil, once said that God’s patience and longsuffering with sinners is “peculiar to the clemency of God towards men that he does not bring in punishment silently and secretly but by his threatenings first proclaims them to be at hand, thus inviting sinners to repentance.” We see that very thing in the Bible when St. John the Baptist was preaching and calling sinners to repentance and he said that the axe is already at the root of the tree to cut down those who are unfruitful—already at the root—but not yet cut down.

The point is that God is patient with us—waiting for us to repent and believe in Jesus and bear fruits in keeping with that repentance and faith. That is why he has redeemed us and that is what he desires from us—a life of genuine, heartfelt Christianity that shows itself in how we live our lives.

Throughout South Texas, now that we have a bit of dry weather, farmers are busy in their fields planting their crops: they are doing this for a purpose: to gather the harvest in the fall. They are not doing because of the aesthetic appeal of straight rows of green plants—they are doing it for what the plant produces. Home gardeners do not plant roses or blackberries for the foliage or thorns—they do it for the fruit. Two thousand years later we have no trouble understanding Jesus’ illustration about the fig tree.

Throughout the Bible, the believer is portrayed as tree or plant—either fruitful in good works or barren-and that is the image that Jesus is using here in this parable. The question for us to ask ourselves in all seriousness this: when God examines my life of faith---does he find the fruits of that faith? Am I diligent in doing good works? Am I bearing fruits of the Spirit such joy, peace, and patience? Am I walking by the Spirit, guided by God’s Word?

We certainly should be for God has created us and redeemed us and sanctified us for that very purpose! Most of us were born to Christian families and grew up in Christian homes. We were baptized and heard about Christ at a young age. We have been in worship throughout our lives, hearing the Good News of the Gospel and being fed with Christ’s true body and blood. What more could God have done for us than he has already done?

And yet when we look at our lives (and more importantly when God looks at our lives!) does he find a fruitful faith consistent with the care and concern that he has lavished upon us? Too often the answer is “no” and we need to hear that warning-- “cut it down”-- that God speaks to us in all seriousness.

But the Good News for us today is that Christ intercedes for us. Jesus is that vinedresser who sees more in us than we could have ever imagined or hoped for from our Christians life because he sees his own work on our behalf.

He is the Mediator who stands between us and judgment with his own holy life and bloody death as that which takes away God’s wrath. He is the One at work in our life, shaping us into a fruitful Christian filled with good works. He is the One who provides the spiritual sustenance to us in Word and Sacrament just like a gardener fertilizes his plants so that we can be the faithful, fruitful Christians God wants us to be.

We have a tendency to look at our lives and see only what we lack (and it is important to know the truth of where we stand) but we also need to be assured that we can be better Christians in the future than we have in the past through Christ’s ongoing work in our lives.

In the parable, the vinedresser goes to work in his garden with purpose and hope—not in futility and despair. He knows better than the plants what they can become when they receive his care. And so the Lord is at work in our lives—speaking his words of law that rebuke and correct and his words of Gospel that comfort and encourage and build up. He is the One who is graciously and providentially ordering our lives so that all things work for our eternal good.

The Good News of us today is that Jesus has given us “this year”—this day of salvation—this period of time in our life-- to hear and heed his call to repentance and faith-- and fruitfulness in that faith. But we also need to know that this opportunity of grace is not unlimited so that it is not squandered or the necessary repentance postponed.

There is a real end to it either at our death or when the Lord comes again. We do not know either of those times and so we accept this opportunity for what it is—a day to heed Christ’s call for repentance. Amen.

And now may the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.