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Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Coming March 25

We're almost a third of the way through Lent.  We're looking forward to Easter.  But don't miss Annunciation, coming March 25.  Faith Lutheran will celebrate it this Sunday, the day before.

March 25 should be considered a great holy and happy day!  Called "Annunciation" for the angel Gabriel's announcement to Mary, it comes nine months to the day before Christmas.  If on Christmas we celebrate the birth of our Savior, on Annunciation we celebrate His conception.  "Conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary" (Apostles' Creed).

Let's go for a moment to Nazareth as it stands today.  We enter the Basilica of the Annunciation, built over the Grotto of the Annunciation, held by tradition to be the place where the angel came to Mary.  Inside the grotto, or cave, is an altar bearing five Latin words: "Verbum caro hic factum est."  They belong to John 1:14.  One word, however, is added: hic (in English, "here").  And so it reads: "Here the Word became flesh."

While there is no way to confirm that this was the exact location, the words should be understood more deeply as pointing to the Virgin's womb.  Of that location we can be certain!

Sadly, many Christians miss the significance of March 25 as an opportunity to remember, ponder, and celebrate the Incarnation: God's Son putting on our flesh.  But you needn't miss it at all!

Take time to read Luke 1:26-38, say the Creed, and sing perhaps this ancient hymn:

Not by human flesh and blood,
By the Spirit of our God,
Was the Word of God made flesh -
Woman's offspring, pure and fresh.

Here a maid was found with child,
Yet remained a virgin mild.
In her womb this truth was shown:
God was there upon His throne.

And celebrate the day with your family and Christian friends!  Forget your Lenten fasting for a day and prepare a feast instead!  Give thanks with greatest joy for the love of God shown to us in the incarnation of His dear Son!

Pray the Holy Spirit to come upon you.  See your faith as the womb in which Christ is conceived and grows.  Then give birth to Him through words and works of love so that He may touch the lives of others.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Hymn Notes

A few notes now on the two-stanza hymn for the Fourteen Words (see last week's devotion).  To the members of Faith: We will sing it the next five Wednesdays at Divine Service.

Stanza 1 is based on the first seven words, "God, be merciful to me, a sinner" (Luke 18:13), and stanza 2 on the second seven, "Take heart, child, your sins are forgiven" (Matt. 9:2).

In stanza 1 "O God, be merciful to me" is prayed three times.  I had multiple things in mind.  The Greek of Luke 18 would indicate that the tax collector prayed his prayer several times.  Then, there is something earnest about praying three times (see Matt. 26:44 and 2 Cor. 12:8).  I also had the Trinity in mind.  But above all, I wanted to do what the second line says.  There is for the sinner nothing else to pray.

Stanza 1 ends with the word "me."  Unlike the Pharisee, the tax collector never uses the word "I."  "I" and "me" are very different.  "I" is the subject, the doer.  "Me" is the object, the one "done to."  The difference is grammatical, but also theological.  That is why stanza 2 begins with "I" - "I am your God."  God is the "I."  I am the "me," the object of His mercy.

God hears the sinner's prayer and reveals that He is Our Father.  This revelation and His word to us all takes place through His own dear Son, the crucified-risen Jesus Christ.  The Father's voice is heard through the Son: "Dear child...."  And the Breath with which the word is spoken is the Holy Spirit.

The forgiveness is personal: "I say to you...your sins."

And whatever He calls a thing, that it must be!  He calls death "sleep" (Matt. 9:24).  He calls the bread "My body" (Matt. 26:26).  He calls my sins "forgiven."  No matter appearances, I am only to believe.

"Take heart" is from Matthew 9 and is full of faith and courage.  "Look up" remembers that the tax collector in Luke 18 "would not even lift up his eyes to heaven."  But now he should and is ordered to!  For you will see a heaven and life with God that is opened wide by Christ (Matt. 3:16).  Things are "looking up"!

"Heaven" rhymes with "forgiven" in more than one way.  They rhyme spiritually!

The hymn is first a confession of sin, and then a confession of faith.  This is the core of the true spiritual life!

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Hymn for the Fourteen Words

O God, be merciful to me;
The sinner knows no other plea.
O God, be merciful to me.
O God, be merciful to me.

I am your God, your Father too,
And through My Son I say to you,
Dear child, your sins, they are forgiv'n;
Take heart, look up: an open heav'n!

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Tied for 1st

Quick, what's the shortest verse in the Bible?

If you answered, "Jesus wept" (John 11:35), you got one of them.  The question needs to be changed to: What are the shortest verses in the Bible?  That's because 1 Thessalonians 5:16 reads, "Rejoice always."  Also two words.  So there is a two-way tie for the Bible's shortest verse!

Now isn't it something that the two shortest verses deal with the perfectly opposite things: weeping and rejoicing?  And the lesson could be that as Christians we are called to do both, often at the same time.

Let us weep with Jesus and yet rejoice in Him always!

Understand that weeping is not a sign of a weak faith or hope.  It is the sign of a strong love.  Jesus wept because He loved Lazarus who had died (see John 11:36).  One pastoral concern I have is that sometimes we are trying to turn off the tears God meant for us to shed.  Weeping is a part of love, and a blessed, holy thing in Jesus.  Tears then wash our eyes and help us to see more clearly.

And yet we rejoice even while we weep.  "Rejoice always."  That includes times of sorrow.  The sorrow is real but so is the joy right there next to it.  At the death of a loved one there is, and often remains, a sorrow beyond words.  Somehow at the same time, there is a rejoicing, sometimes quietly, in the victory of Christ over death and His promise to be with us.

Or look out at the world.  It won't take long to find a reason to weep.  And we should.  But all the while, we rejoice in a faith, hope, and love that cannot be taken away, in a death and resurrection that cannot be undone, and in the Lord who has done it!

To others, it must be one or the other (or more often, neither).  But to us it is both: weeping and rejoicing on the way to Heaven.

Remember the two shortest verses in the Bible!

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Easter in February

"But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep" (1 Cor. 15:20).

Easter will be April 21 this year, or was it February 17?  The earliest Easter can possibly be is March 22.  It last happened in 1818, and won't happen again until 2285.  But I still think Easter came this year on Sunday, February 17.

That's because Sunday's Epistle, read in thousands of churches, was from 1 Corinthians 15, including verse 20.  On Sunday it felt like Easter!  And I say it was.

The sermon presented three fundamental truths: Christ is risen, we too shall be raised, and therefore we don't need to be afraid.

And about that last one.  What are the first words of the Easter angel in Matthew 28?  "Do not be afraid."  And what is the opposite of fear?  Peace.  And what are the first words of the risen Jesus to His disciples?  "Peace be with you."  And what are the last words of the pastor at Holy Communion?  "Depart in peace."  And what does that mean?  That it's safe now to die.  It's safe now to get older.  It's safe now to get sick.  And it's safe now to live.  Because He lives!

Two months from today is Good Friday, followed by Easter.  But you don't have to wait that long.  The bright hope of the resurrection came in February this year, to encourage us through these last days of winter.  To encourage us through all the days of this life!

Monday, February 11, 2019

The One Prayer God Always Answers No

To the members of Faith: With no service yesterday morning, let's really look forward to Wednesday's Divine Service (6:30 p.m.).  In addition to the Word and Sacrament, we'll receive two new members.  A little reception will follow the service.  And a reminder that the New Member Class starts tomorrow (Tuesday, 6:30 p.m.) and is open to members as well.  God bless you and this week's small devotion!

There is a prayer found in the Bible, and you can pray it, but the answer will always be No.  The Lord's Prayer ends with "Amen," meaning, "Yes, it shall be so."  But for this prayer you'll need to find a different word, because, "No, it shan't be so."  Jesus says about the Father, "Whatever you ask in My name, He will give it to you" (John 16:23) - with one major exception: the one prayer God always answers No, as in, No way, absolutely not, not in a million years!

Here is the prayer: "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord" (Luke 5:8).

The dear Lord Jesus Christ says No to this prayer.  A gentle, but firm, loving No.

Peter was one part right and one part wrong.  He was right to confess himself a sinful man.  That was true.  No argument there.  But how was he wrong?  Very!  He was wrong about Jesus who came for the very purpose of getting close to sinful people.

How does this apply?  You're a Christian, baptized, righteous in the eyes of God because of Christ.  But what about in your eyes?  You remember sins, you still see sins in your life, you still sin.  And you will think like Peter and try to send God away.  This often shows up in thinking, "I can't go to church.  I shouldn't go to Communion!"

But do you know what that's like?  It's like saying to the doctor, "I shouldn't come see you right now, because I'm sick.  And that medicine you want to give me, let's wait on that till I'm better."

Listen.  You go to God in the very moment you think you should go away.  Go to His Word, Sacraments, Church, and Cross.  Because the very reason you think God should go away from you is the very reason He doesn't and won't.  "I made you, I redeemed you, I make you holy.  I love you.  And so the answer is No, I will not depart."

No has never sounded so good, so completely the Gospel!

And it may be that this one No is like all the other Yeses put together.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

The Author of Our Faith

"...Jesus, the Author and Completer of our faith" (Heb. 12:2).

The Letter to the Hebrews is the only New Testament book to assign no author.  We don't know who wrote it.  Guesses include Barnabas, Luke, Clement of Rome, and Aquila and Priscilla.  Luther suggested Apollos, mentioned for the first time in Acts 18:24.  "But who wrote the epistle," said Origen of Alexandria, "God only knows certainly."  But from this, two things may be said.

One is, isn't it something that the only book not to say who its author is, is the one book to say who the Author of our faith is?  That's the authorship that matters.  "Let us, through endurance, go on running the race set before us, looking to Jesus, the Author and Completer of our faith."  And for the perfect commentary on "Author and Completer," use Philippians 1:6: "He who began (authored) a good work in you will bring it to completion."

Two is, humility.  Whoever wrote Hebrews had a lot to be proud of: understanding, eloquence, heart.  It is said that the letter displays the finest Greek in the New Testament.  And yet they wanted to remain anonymous.  T.S. Eliot wrote: "Many are engaged in writing books and printing them.  Many desire to see their names in print."  When was the last time you saw the most beautiful book but without the author's name?  Answer: The Letter to the Hebrews.

Seek to do beautiful and blessed things, but to receive no earthly credit.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

When Man and Wife in Love Conceive

I wrote this hymn eight years ago now.  Hard to believe it's been that long!  It could be called a pro-life hymn, or better yet: pro-marriage, life, and family.

When man and wife in love conceive,
They have, O Lord, from You received
A holy gift beyond compare:
A child placed within their care.

The mother's womb is safe and warm,
The father's love will shield from harm,
And You, O Lord, together knit
The human body intricate.

"In pain," You said, "you will give birth;"
The woman feels the sin-brought curse.
By labor's end, the lesson learned:
"Your sorrow into joy will turn."

Your infant son or daughter bring
To be reborn through baptizing.
There I, the Lord, will take and bless
And robe each one in righteousness.

Dear Christians, never cease to pray
For faith and love these latter days,
For marriage, life, and family,
That all be held in sanctity.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

150 Gallons of Gladness

"...six stone water jars...each holding twenty or thirty gallons" (John 2:6).

At the wedding in Cana our Lord turned water into wine.  It was His first miracle.  But what I never really realized is just how much wine He made.

The Gospel is inviting us to do the math:

6 x 20 or 30 = 120 or 180

Call it 150 gallons.  That's a lot of wine.

What we don't know is how many people there were.  We don't know at what point exactly they ran out of wine.  What we know is: They didn't run out again.  And therein lies a lesson.

Christ offers a joy and gladness that will never run out.  When your happiness is based on things, circumstance, situation in life, other people, day of the week, or time of the year, it's going to run out.  But when based on Christ (His incarnation, death, resurrection, forgiveness, and promise of eternal life), it's going to last forever.

Understand that God gives us many good things to enjoy for a time.  But we must always see beyond them to God Himself.  Beyond the wine to Christ.  "And His disciples believed in Him" (John 2:11).

The secret to a happy life?  Knowing the one Joy that will never run out: the Love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  All 150 gallons of it!

Thursday, January 17, 2019

The Holy in Holy Baptism

"...and when Jesus also had been baptized" (Luke 3:21).

The first question tends to be, Why?  Why would Jesus, holy and without sin, undergo baptism?  Good question.

A good answer: "Through the Baptism in the Jordan of Your beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, You sanctified and instituted all waters to be a blessed flood and a lavish washing away of sin."  These words are part of a baptismal prayer found in Lutheran Service Book, page 269.

In other words, the baptism of Jesus put the Holy in Holy Baptism.  And so it wasn't that He needed baptism.  Baptism needed Him.

In the Old Testament, Moses threw a log into the water of Marah, "and the water became sweet" (Exod. 15).  Jesus is the true log by which the water of baptism becomes holy and sweet to the soul.

"Certainly not just water, but the word of God in and with the water does these things,* along with the faith which trusts this word of God in the water" (Small Catechism).  And that word of God is both Mark 16:16 and Jesus Himself.

He is the Word (John 1).  His baptism is the Word of God in and with the water.  Trust this Word of God in the water of your baptism.

*"It works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation."

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Two Epiphany Notes

"When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy" (Matt. 2:10).

Once again we have heard the story of the wise men and their gifts.  I see a couple of new things this year.

One is, the verse quoted above is, to my knowledge, the single strongest statement of joy in the New Testament.  That's saying something.  Richard Lenski explains the cause of this joy: "Not only was God directing them miraculously, they also knew they would soon be in the presence of the King."

And will not that same joy be ours on the way to church, knowing we will soon be in the presence of the risen King of love?

The other is, I have a clearer understanding of this part of the hymn "What Child Is This": "So bring Him incense, gold, and myrrh; Come, peasant, king, to own Him.  The King of kings salvation brings; Let loving hearts enthrone Him."

I never saw the two "brings" before.  To the one true King who has brought us the Gift of salvation, let us, rich or poor, bring the gift of a throne - our hearts.

Blessed Epiphany!

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Anything But Silent

To the members of Faith: Merry Christmas, Day 9!  Below is a recap of my Christmas Eve sermon.  This Sunday we'll celebrate Epiphany and the visit of the wise men.  In ABC we'll dig a little into the liturgy.  And Sunday School for the children!

"...a multitude of the heavenly host [army] praising God" (Luke 2:13).

I'm with you.  I love to sing "Silent Night."  Not Christmas without it.  I'm just not sure where we got the idea.

The first Christmas was anything but silent.

For starters, the angel delivers a very powerful sermon: "Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy..." (Luke 2:10).  Said Luther, "These are angelic words shouted down from heaven into this world; it is a message which, praise be to God forever, has also been made known to us."

Then the choir sings - the largest, loudest choir ever assembled.  The Greek word is "army."  Fitting, as God had declared war on sin, death, and devil.

Still want to go with "silent"?

Then the shepherds do nothing but talk, spread the good news, wake people up (who in turn begin to talk), and glorify and praise God.

And if we think about it, Christmas was the night God broke His silence.  The birth of His eternal Son was a deafening cry of the Divine Love.  And don't be deceived.  The Baby's breath was in reality the mighty roar of the Lion of Judah.

Still looking for silence and calm?  There is one place you will find it: the consciences of the repentant who because of Christ no longer must endure the accusation and condemnation of the Law and Satan.

There is in the Christian conscience now only peace and quiet.  And in the Christian heart only faith and joy.  A joy - a great joy - that sings with the angels and makes Christmas, again, anything but silent!