Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Dress Rehearsal

To the members of Faith: The church has been decorated for Advent and Christmas.  Looks beautiful!  This Sunday will mark the start of a new church year.  ABC will be extra important the next two Sundays, as I share something called an "overture" that I have written.  And the Sunday School children begin practice this Sunday for their Christmas program.

"...for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation; He has covered me with the robe of righteousness" (Isa. 61:10).

According to the Church Calendar, this past Sunday was the last one of the year.  This week is the last one of the year.  And this Saturday will be the last day of the year.  Most people are unaware of these things.

Jesus says, "And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory" (Mark 13:26).  And so we say in the Creed, "He will come to judge the living and the dead."

The last Sunday, the last week, and the last day of the Church Year are in two words a dress rehearsal for the Last Day.  The end of the world.  The second coming of Christ.  Judgment Day.

And if a dress rehearsal, what then shall we wear?

The blood and righteousness of Jesus.

In the words of the perfect hymn:

"Jesus, Thy blood and righteousness
My beauty are, my glorious dress;
Midst flaming worlds, in these arrayed,
With joy shall I lift up my head.

Bold shall I stand in that great day,
Cleansed and redeemed, no debt to pay;
Fully absolved through these I am
From sin and fear, from guilt and shame."

In other words, by virtue of your Baptism into Christ, by virtue of His Word of forgiveness, by virtue of His blood, and body, received in the Sacrament, and the faith given to you, the Last Day goes from being one to be feared, to being one to be longed for.

Amen.  Come, Lord Jesus.

Let's live each day of this week in that blessed hope.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

The Third Commandment

To the members of Faith: On Sunday I gave my sermon, "The 15 Things I'm Thankful for This Thanksgiving."  Tomorrow (Wednesday) it's your turn.  Come to church (6:30) with the 1, 2, or 3 things you're thankful for, and we'll share them with each other.  This Sunday will be the Last Sunday of the Church Year.  (A brand new Church Year will begin the following Sunday!)  In ABC, we'll cover the Third Commandment, so read the following devotion carefully.

"Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy."

The First Commandment is about God Himself, and the Second is about His name.  The Third Commandment, then, is about His Word and how we should gladly hear and learn it.

In the Old Testament, that is, before the birth of Christ, the Sabbath day referred to the seventh and last day of the week, Saturday.  Now in the New Testament, we learn and believe that Christ Jesus is the true Sabbath day, the one who gives us rest for our souls (Matt. 11:28-30).

As for what the Third Commandment means according to the Small Catechism, it means: We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.

A word worth thinking about here is "gladly" (in German, gerne).  It means "with pleasure, willingly, and readily."  With joy!  What comes to my mind right away is the first line of Psalm 122, which I learned to sing as a child: "I was glad when they said to me, 'Let us go to the house of the Lord!'"  Which means, "Let us go to church with joy in our hearts, smiles on our faces, and ears ready to hear God's Holy Word!"

Yes, what does "gladly" look like?  Answers: Looking forward to Sunday morning like no other time of the week.  If possible, attending church and Sunday School faithfully each week.  Preparing for Sunday on Saturday.  Arriving a little bit early to pray before service.  Taking the message home with you and into the week.  Enjoying other opportunities to hear and learn God's Word.

And, what is that Word?  In summary: "Take heart, child, your sins are forgiven."

And note that the word "gladly" is used also in the Close of the Commandments: "Therefore, we should also love and trust in Him and gladly do what He commands."

May the Holy Spirit fill our hearts with true gladness!

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

The Bigger Yes

To the members of Faith: As some of you know, I traveled to Texas for my niece's wedding last Friday.  It was such a happy time, and I'm including a picture below.  Coming up this Sunday, we'll install our Sunday School teachers, and I'll have a special Thanksgiving-themed sermon for you (complete with a little "homework" assignment).  In ABC we'll review the First Commandment and move on to the Second and Third.  Have you memorized the first three commandments?

The Ten Commandments use the word "no" or "not" a total of eight times.  As a result, people hear the Commandments as a bunch of "no's."  And as a result of this, they hear only part of them, and the smaller part at that.  But for every one of the no's, there is a Yes standing behind, bigger and taller than the no in front of it.

This is something Martin Luther saw and communicated in the Small Catechism.  Let's take one example - the Second Commandment: "You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God."  According to the Catechism, this means the following:

"We should fear and love God so that we do not curse, swear, use satanic arts, lie, or deceive by His name, but call upon it in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks."

I have put the no in bold and the Yes in italic.

See how the commandment opens up into a Yes.  The Second Commandment becomes an invitation to worship God and receive His help.

The no is still there but now is dwarfed by the Yes.

To say a little more, the old man (the sinful flesh) hears only the no.  This is the language he understands.  While the new man (born in Baptism) hears the bigger, louder Yes behind it.  And so to him the Ten Commandments are a choir of Yes's.  And that is the purpose of the Commandments: to check the old man, but to direct the new in the way of love.

Ask the Holy Spirit to perform both these tasks in your heart.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

The Good No

To the members of Faith: What a Sunday coming up!  Two special things.  The 9:30 service will be something called "Making the Church Year Live," a walk through the entire Church Year to see how the different seasons work together.  I think you'll love it!  Then at 11 we'll have "Honoring Our Veterans," a 45-minute program featuring a guest speaker, "America the Beautiful," refreshments, and more.  This event is open to the community.  Consider inviting someone to come.  God bless this coming Sunday!

"...but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die" (Gen. 2:17).

These words were spoken by God before the fall into sin.  They contain the word "not" and prove that the concept of no is a good, blessed, and perfect one.  Perhaps we have forgotten that.

A pastor instructed his congregation not to spend time gambling.  He wished to keep them from vanity and the love of money.  But a woman said to him, "I don't like to be told no," and left the church.

Why does a parent tell the child not to go into the street or touch the stove?  To keep the child from something good?  Rather, to keep something bad from happening to the child.

God's no works the same way.  He tells us no in the Ten Commandments in order to protect us from harm to body and soul.  Stop buying the lie that He's just trying to keep you from something good (Gen. 3:5).  Look what happened when Adam and Eve bought it!

God loves you, and "no" is one of His loving words.

"You shall have no other gods" is an invitation to experience life as it was meant to be: a real relationship with God and people, based on real love.