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Love One Another

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Love One Another

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Sermons, Uncategorized

Cast Your Net Again!

The Second Miraculous Draught of Fish
“The Second Miraculous Draught of Fish” by James Tissot

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As day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered Him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish (John 21:4-6).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

This last week, both of our LC-MS seminaries held their call services for new candidates in the ministry. I’m pleased to announce that Jesse Baker received a call to Zion Lutheran Church in Hardwick, MN. We thank God for providing a pastor for Zion and we look forward to working with him in our Pipestone Circuit and Minnesota South District.

Call days tend to get pastors reminiscing and/or commiserating about their own call night. An almost universal disappointment seems to be the sermon for the placement service. I suspect that this might be in part because pastors—especially those just coming out of the seminary—tend to be the sharpest critics. It may also be that the preacher realizes this may be his only chance to straighten out these novices before they get in the congregation, and so the sermons tend to be long and heavy on the Law. It might also have something to do with fact that the intended audience of these sermons is more interested in finding out where they will be going to spend their next few years of life and ministry than anything else at this point. Candidates for the ministry probably don’t listen to the sermon on call night much better than the couple listens to the sermon in their wedding service.

This prompted one pastor, Rev. William Cwirla, to offer his own advice for the sermon on call night.

Simple. 10 minutes max. Basic outline:

  1. You’re incompetent.
  2. Christ is your competence.
  3. Go where you’re sent; Christ will bless you.

It’s a good suggestion. A fitting outline for candidate placement services and for impromptu breakfasts at the beach and for Divine Service in little congregations in small towns in southwest Minnesota.

In last week’s text, John wrote what seemed to be the perfect ending for his Gospel: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you might have life in His name” (John 20:30-31). Perfect conclusion, end of story.

But then, curiously enough, there’s one more chapter in John’s Gospel, our text for today. The seven disciples seem to be asking themselves, “What are we going to do now?” Peter says, “I’m going fishing.” It doesn’t take much coaxing to get the others to join him. After all, they are in Galilee, waiting for the Lord to come as He had said He would. They’re right next to big lake on which most of them had made a living before being called by Jesus. So, they set out by boat for a customary night of fishing. But they don’t catch anything. As my Uncle Warren would say, “They got skunked!”

Just as the day was breaking, Jesus comes and stands on the shore. He calls out to them much like one fisherman might call out to other fishermen. “Hey guys, you haven’t caught anything to eat, have you?” “No,” they answer, but they haven’t caught on yet that it is Jesus. When Jesus tells them to cast their net out again, this time on the right side of the boat, they do so without much thought of how silly this advice is to experienced fishermen who have worked these waters all their life, the whole last night without any success, or about whom it is who is telling them to do so.

But when the catch is so big they can’t haul the net into the boat, their attention turns back to the man on the shore. John, perhaps remembering that earlier catch of fish when they began to follow Jesus, says to Peter, “It’s the Lord!”

Peter wastes no time. He puts on His outer garment and throws himself into the sea so he can swim to the beach ahead of the rest. This is a big change! Do you remember what Peter did the last time Jesus enabled the disciples to make a great catch? Peter said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” That was the natural reaction of a man who had not yet seen the cross, one who had not experienced Jesus’ forgiveness in the shadow of that cross.

How different it is this time! Peter jumps into the water. He can’t wait to be near Jesus. This is the natural reaction of those who have believed in the cross and resurrection. See, by this time, Easter has happened. Believing in the crucified and risen Christ creates a completely new nature. Now inside is a person who knows he’s forgiven, loved by God. The new person inside knows he’s going to be with God forever in heaven—and he can’t wait to be with Him. And because he believes that, there’s this whole new nature that’s eager to do something for Christ.

So what’s he going to do? We’ll get to that, but first, let’s finish this story.

The others follow Peter in the boat, dragging the net full of fish with them about a hundred yards to shore. When the disciples reach the shore, they see breakfast is already cooking, fish on a bed of coals and bread to go with it. It appears they are surprised to see the fish cooking, although no one asks Jesus where He got it. Instead, Jesus tells them take care of the catch, sort out the “keepers” from the small ones, and He’ll get breakfast ready.

Peter, ever quick to oblige the Lord, climbs into the boat. Although the net is too heavy to lift into the boat, he manages with the help of the others to drag it onto the beach. It is loaded with 153 large fish but doesn’t tear, unlike the net from the miraculous catch early in Jesus’ ministry.

Imagine how the disciples must have felt as Jesus invites them to have breakfast with Him. They know it is Jesus, but this is only His third appearance to them as a group since He died. The resurrected Lord, who brings forgiveness and life by giving Himself up to death on the cross, certainly deserves our service. But Jesus is the Host. He serves them bread and fish for breakfast.

But Jesus still isn’t finished with His disciples. Although our Gospel stops at verse 14, Jesus does not. He takes Peter aside and restores him as an apostle. Peter denied Jesus three times; so three times, Jesus tells him to feed His sheep. Jesus doesn’t just appear to give fish and daily bread. He appears to give forgiveness, again and again. After all, that is why He died. And that is why He is risen. And before He ascends into heaven, Jesus gives His disciples this same ministry of forgiveness and life and promises to send His Holy Spirit to help them.

It’s possible to recognize a number of similarities between the disciples in the text and the Church today. For example: It was after the resurrection and the disciples were together. To follow Jesus after His resurrection is to be together with other believers.

Not only were they together, but they did what they knew how to do. That is, they returned to their vocation as fishermen. Easter doesn’t mean the end of life or work, but rather faithful living and working in a new light.

Before Jesus entered the story, the disciples had caught nothing despite working all night. The Church’s work is only productive insofar as Jesus directs and effects it.

Jesus provided for the disciples. He provided direction for their fishing. He provided the large catch of fish into their nets. He provided food for them back on land. Jesus takes the initiative with us, too. He comes to us in our everyday vocations and graciously provides for all our needs—bodily and spiritually. In fact, Jesus does everything. Jesus feeds and equips us for the work He has for us to do.

Jesus is the one who plans and makes it all happen. The best-laid plans of men are meaningless. Peter says, “I’m going fishing,” but all night they catch nothing. That’s the way it goes sometimes. Without Jesus, all our fishing for men is just as fruitless. But then Jesus says, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat,” and things go very well. Jesus is the one who catches fish. We just go where He tells us, casting our nets again and again.

Many people might say that Trosky or Jasper or even Pipestone, Minnesota is not the best spot to go fishing for men. Church growth experts are going to say, if you want to grow the Church you have to plant churches in growing suburbs and vibrant communities. But our job isn’t to grow the Church, but rather to be faithful where God has placed us. To cast our nets again and again at our Saviour’s call. He will provide the growth to His Church, when and where He wills.

Any good fisherman knows sometimes when you go fishing, you’re going to get skunked. Not many days in the mission field are 153-large-fish-days! But you won’t catch any fish if you don’t cast out the nets. And the more often you go out on the lake and cast the nets, the more often you’re probably going to catch something. Feel like it’s hopeless? Feel like you’ve been skunked? Take the Lord at His Word. Cast your nets again!

As fishers of men, we don’t plan how many “fish” we’re going to catch. We just go about our business—fishing because we’re fishers of men, sharing Christ just because we’re Christians, people who ourselves are loved, forgiven, going to heaven—doing what come naturally. We leave the results in the hands of the Lord.

Every Christian does this naturally. New Christians aren’t made by how well the pastor entertains us or how much the songs stir our emotions. No, new Christians just naturally happen as we seize the opportunities that God presents to us to share the story of Jesus and His love.

As a pastor, I get lots of chances to tell people about Jesus. But the four cases where I actually know God let me have a hand in making new Christians were the easiest, most natural: when Aimee and I brought Jessi and Katie and Logan and Marissa to be baptized. We did essentially nothing. I wasn’t even a pastor yet, so I didn’t even do the baptizing; but through the water and His Word, Jesus made four new believers. And as they continued in that Word, they’ve grown in their faith and have shared it with their friends and acquaintances as well. And now they have their own children to be baptized and to tell the story of Jesus and His love. See, for all of us who’ve experienced and believed in Easter, making new Christians comes quite naturally. Jesus does all the work, even as you go about your daily vocations.

In the meanwhile, Jesus sustains you with His means of grace. He feeds you, not a miraculous catch of fish and bread, but with His Holy Supper, His very body and blood, given and shed for the forgiveness of your sins.

So, by God’s grace, may you use the opportunities God places in your path to share the wonderful story of Jesus and His love and forgiveness. May you all be fishers of men, willing to cast out Christ’s Gospel net into the mission field here and abroad, with your personal confession of faith, with your prayers, and financial support. May you all be doing what comes naturally—living in the grace of God.

Though you may feel incompetent, Christ is your competence. Go where you’re planted; Christ will bless you. He will provide for you. He will feed you. He will sustain you. He will give you strength and life. For His sake, you are forgiven for all of your sins.

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

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

 

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Sent to Preserve a Remnant for Life

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“Having become the favorite the Pharaoh, Joseph’s brothers come to Egypt to request food supplies for their country suffering from famine. He makes himself known to them and pardons them (Genesis XLV, 1-8)” by Marc Chagall

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So Joseph said to his brothers, “Come near to me, please.” And they came near. And he said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. (Genesis 45:4-8).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

A band of brothers have been keeping a shameful secret. Now, as the saying goes, “the chickens are coming home to roost.”

These brothers, the sons of Jacob, haven’t seen their younger brother, Joseph, in over twenty years. He was barely old enough to shave when they, fueled by jealousy and hatred, had sold him to slave-traders, then covered up their crime by faking his death. For all they know, Joseph is nothing but dust in the Egyptian wind by now, driven to an early death by the rigors of servitude.

But dead or alive, Joseph is a daily living reality in the consciences of his brothers. More than two decades after they’d tossed him into a pit, his cries for mercy are still echoing in the depths of their souls. More than two decades after they’d sat around that pit and ate a meal together, they can still taste the bitter memory of their heartless deed. More than two decades after their despicable deed, they still remember handing their father Joseph’s bloody robe and letting the old man think his favorite son had met his demise at the hand of some feral beast. Now, their shared secret stalks them night and day.

So pervasive is its influence upon them that when they experience trouble, they trace its ultimate source to the betrayal of their brother. When they kneel before the second-in-command of all Egypt and he accuses them of being spies and demands they bring their youngest brother down to Egypt as proof of their honesty, they lament to one another, “In truth we are guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the distress of his soul, when he begged us and we did not listen. That is why this distress has come upon us” (Genesis 42:21). In their minds, that dirty little secret from over two decades earlier is coming back to haunt them.

Once again, out of necessity because of the continuing famine, the ten plus their baby brother Benjamin find themselves kneeling in the presence of this powerful man, and he is making life difficult for them. Judah, evidently learning something from his past sins, refuses to leave Benjamin behind, because he knows that returning without him would likely be the last nail in his old father’s coffin. Instead, he begs to take Benjamin’s place himself.

The tender scene that is about to unfold in that room is much too private to be shared with outsiders. The man therefore dismisses everybody but the brothers. Then he breaks down and weeps aloud. The strangeness, sternness, and sharpness are gone from his voice now, as he speaks to the brothers in Hebrew, no longer through an interpreter. “I am Joseph!” he says. “Is my father alive?”

Imagine the shock and terror, when they hear him say, “I am Joseph!” Sin is the great destroyer, the great tension maker. Until the brothers have been assured that the barrier between them and him is gone, they will have no peace of mind.

“Come near to me, please,” Joseph urges. We can easily imagine how the brothers have kept their distance. Joseph now shows them not only with words but with actions that he feels no bitterness toward them, that he has only feelings of love toward them. There is no sadness, no anger in his heart; there should be none in theirs, now that God has given them back to one another.

Through the eyes of faith, Joseph has been able to recognize what God has been working to achieve. Using such unlikely building materials as the hateful and misguided actions of the brothers two decades earlier, God has constructed a plan to save many lives, including the lives of the important family still living in famine-plagued Canaan. “God sent me to preserve life,” Joseph tells them. “God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth.” Here is the key to the entire narrative. The brothers had sold Joseph to Egypt out of hatred and spite. God overruled their evil intent, using their action to preserve a remnant, a precious handful of His people, through a crisis that now threatened them with annihilation.

There is no time to waste. For five more years, the famine in Canaan is only going to grow more severe. Joseph’s main concern is for his aged father, who has already mourned the loss of his son for twenty years, and who, no doubt, is waiting anxiously for the brothers’ return. “Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; do not tarry. You shall live in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children’s children.’”

The words keep pouring from Joseph’s lips, because he can see his brothers are having difficulty believing their long-lost brother is not only still alive but is their friend. He is not a powerful man who will take revenge long overdue, but a loving brother who wants only to reconcile. Joseph speaks directly to them in their own language, they hear him with their own ears and see him with their own eyes.

Then Joseph lets his arms do the talking. He embraces each of his brothers warmly, until finally the brothers find their voices and speak to him. Tears flow freely, and built-up tensions flow out of them. Up until this time, the brothers have remained silent. Most likely fear and shock have taken their tongue. Or perhaps, they were wondering who is going to tell Dad, and how they might spin it so it did not lay blame at their feet. Finally, the brothers begin to speak to him.

Perhaps you know how those brothers felt. Tucked away in the deep recesses of your being is that dirty little secret that you’ve been carrying around for years. At times you forget it’s there. Then a certain person’s name will come up, or you’ll see something that triggers the memory. Then you’ll feel your secret reach out with two long-nailed fingers and pinch your soul, just to remind you it’s still there.

On other days, your secret seems to have bonded with the beat of your heart, so that like Poe’s villain in the Tell-Tale Heart, the raging pulse of your secret seems obvious to everyone around you. Moreover, it can form a film around your eyes, so that everything is filtered and interpreted through it. When something bad happens, you assume it’s due to your secret. You tell others it’s bad karma or bad luck, but you suspect it’s not. It’s the ghost of your secret, coming back to haunt you, to demand resolution and restitution.

Here’s something for you to ponder. In fact, I suspect you already know this, but let me say it out loud to confirm it: the secret about secrets is that they don’t exist. There is no such thing in all the world as a secret. You see, a secret is no longer a secret when two people know it. And even if you have been so careful as to hide it from the public, from your closest friends, even from your spouse, there is One who knows. He searches the hearts and minds of humanity. He brings out of the darkness what we have hidden: He places our secret sins in the light of His presence (Psalm 90:8). God knows your secret, and because you know that He knows, you ought to just go ahead and admit the fact that you have no secrets.

What you do have is something that humanity has always struggled with ever since the fall: a guilty conscience.

Maybe you can relate more readily with Joseph. You’ve felt firsthand the betrayal of someone close to you. Maybe you’ve even asked the question, “Why did this terrible thing happen to me?” Theologians calls this the problem of evil. How can a good, loving, all-powerful God let horrible things happen?

I’m going to be honest and say right now that there is no truly satisfactory answer to that question this side of heaven. We go on as Christians, not because we fully understand God and His ways, but because we see His true heart in Jesus our Savior. In spite of evil, we know God is good—because we see Jesus. We know He loves us—because Jesus died and rose for us. We continue to walk, even through darkness, because of Jesus. There is no other answer.

But there is another question, a perhaps more pertinent question, and that question might be phrased this way: “What can God do with this evil? What new, good thing can God create using this terrible thing?”

By faith, Joseph came to the conclusion God is able to bring good out of evil. Yes, he had suffered. He’d been falsely accused and thrown into prison. Because long ago, Joseph’s brothers had sold him as a slave into Egypt, he was now in a position to offer help others in a big way. That doesn’t make what Joseph’s brothers did to him any less evil. Kidnapping is kidnapping; selling your brother as a slave will never be on the list of good, moral examples to imitate. But God used that great evil to bring about salvation for many people.

A guilty conscience, the brokenness of abuse and the bitterness of betrayal. Both can lead to fractured relationships and trust issues. Both can lead you away from God. Fortunately, the remedy for both maladies is found in the same place—the cross and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Gospel is for those plagued with guilty consciences and those who have suffered abuse at the hands of others.

The Gospel in this story is the clear example it provides of the providence of God. Our God oversees all things—even evil things contrary to His will—to ensure that they serve His will and saving purposes. Three times in this text Joseph makes this point: “God sent me before you to preserve life” (v 5); “God sent me before you to preserve a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors” (v 7); and “So it was not you who sent me here, but God” (v 8).

The theology is obvious: God is in control—so much so, that He can even use evil to accomplish His purposes. And what is God’s purpose in this case? “To preserve a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors.” In using terms like remnant and survivors, Joseph is employing words that elsewhere in the Old Testament are freighted with theological significance. It may well be that in the deliverance of his brothers and his father, Joseph perceives that far more is at stake than the physical survival of twelve human beings and their children. What survives is God’s plan of redemption through a remnant of His chosen people.

The remnant motif begins early in Genesis with Noah and his family and carries through all of Scripture. Despite the threats of their enemies, the failings of their own sinful flesh, Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob preserves a remnant of His people to complete His promise of the Messiah. Joseph is called upon to play an integral role in the preservation of this remnant, which includes his brothers and their children. From these few people eventually comes the whole nation of Israel—and from Israel, our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Joseph is a type of Christ, one who foreshadows the person and work of our Savior in his own person and work. There are a number of parallels between the two. Both are sent to Egypt against their will: Joseph’s brothers being responsible for his exile there, Herod being responsible for Jesus’ flight there. Joseph is sold into slavery and Christ is delivered to the executioners, Joseph for twenty pieces of silver (Genesis 37:28) and Jesus for thirty pieces of silver (Matthew 26:15), yet in both cases good comes out of evil: the deliverance of Joseph’s family in the first instance, the salvation of the world in the second.

As Joseph forgives his brothers, so Christ cries out from the cross, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” And both Joseph and Christ, though rejected by their brothers, become the head of the corner of their respective spheres, but still are not ashamed to call their brothers brethren (Hebrews 2:11).

Joseph’s brothers deserved death, but what they received was forgiveness and life—and the life of others. Though their motives and actions were indeed evil, God used it for good. For the saving of the lives of many people, but even more important, the salvation of the world unto eternal life.

God can bring good out of our own evils as well. We may not see how He can do this right now; we may never see it in this world. And that’s hard. But in the end, it’s okay—because we know God’s true heart toward us as we see it in the life, death, and resurrection of our dear Lord Jesus. There on the cross, we see the greatest injustice, the greatest evil done toward the only one whom is truly good, and God turns it into the greatest good ever—the salvation of the world.

Your inheritance as a child of Adam is sin and death, but in Christ you are made alive through His resurrection from the dead (1 Cor. 15:21–22). As you have died with Him in Holy Baptism, so are you raised with Him to newness of life. Instead of serving your desires and harming your neighbors, you live as “sons of the Most High.” You are “merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:35–36). You deal with others as you would have them deal with you (Luke 6:37–38).

As Christ loved you when you were at enmity with Him, as He blessed and prayed for those who abused Him, and as He did good to those who hated Him and hurt Him, so also you “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you” (Luke 6:27–29, 35). For God sent His Son to bear the cross and suffer death, not to condemn the guilty, but “to preserve life.” So does He provide a place for you within His Church, where He is near and deals kindly with “you and your children and your children’s children” (Gen. 45:5–10), giving you forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. Indeed, for Jesus’ sake, you are forgiven for all of your sins.

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

 

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Bringing Out the Best

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“A Seraph Purifies the Lips of Isaiah with a Hot Coal” by Marc Chagall

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And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here am I! Send me” (Isaiah 6:8).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

“Bringing Out the Best.” What comes to your mind when you hear this phrase? Some of you might be reminded of times when your family was planning for company and your mother had you bring out the best china and silverware. Or maybe you remember when your grandma honored your visit by “bringing out the best,” preparing your favorite meal and fixing a special dessert.

Others, hearing the phrase “Bringing Out the Best” might think of rising to a challenge, like being an underdog who works hard to upset the higher ranked team, and who’s able to achieve a level of success no one else thought possible. Though the struggle is difficult, it has the benefit of “bringing out the best” of valuable qualities that had been hidden within you.

“Bringing out the best” in Christian stewardship entails all these things. As the Small Catechism reminds us, God first brings out the best by providing to everyone—Christians and non-Christians—every good thing we have out of His fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in us. And, for all this it is our duty to thank, praise, serve, and obey Him.

As Christians, we especially rejoice that our heavenly Father brings out the best by giving His Son, Jesus Christ, as our Savior. We rejoice that Jesus brought the very best when He gave His perfect life on the cross for our sins that we may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness. We rejoice that after bringing us to faith, the Holy Spirit continues to sanctify us, ridding our life of sin and bringing out the best of the Christ-like nature given to us in Baptism.

And, in turn, we strive to “bring out the best” in ourselves by the way we faithfully manage the time, talents, and treasures God entrusts to our care. As followers of Christ and stewards of God’s riches, we are especially to be “bringing out the best” by sharing the Good News of Jesus’ work of salvation.

But what happens when you realize that the best that’s required of you is more than you can bring? What happens when your best is not good enough and you find yourself trailing by fifty points at halftime? What happens when the guest deserves a banquet served on the finest china, crystal, and silver and all you have is a few slices of dry bread, paper plates, Styrofoam cups, and “sporks”?

In a way, each of those scenarios describes our situation before God. You and I know our failures. We know our past, a history stained by disobedience, guilt, and shame. By nature, we’re alienated from God, separated from His holiness and opposed to His will. Not exactly prime candidates to be used for God’s call to mission and outreach.

But through our text, we discover that’s exactly what God does. He calls sinful humans to be His children. Then He equips us to bring out the best news ever, to share His message of love and forgiveness with all nations.

That’s what happened to Peter in our Gospel reading for today. And it happened to Isaiah in our text as well. Both found themselves in way over their heads. They realized their best wasn’t close to being enough. In the light of God’s perfect holiness and righteousness, their own hearts seemed so dirty; their own efforts to serve seemed so impotent. Yet despite their many failings, God was able to renew them and equip them to proclaim His Good News. Let’s see how.

In the year that King Uzziah died, the prophet Isaiah saw a vision. What a vision it was! Angels, an earthquake, the Lord Himself. Smoke, fire, and a voice that could bring down the house. By the time Isaiah had seen, heard, felt, smelled, and tasted all that the Lord had for him to experience that day, he was ready to do whatever God wanted him to do. And what God wanted him to do was to go and tell the people the Good News of the coming Messiah.

Short of such a vision—or maybe not short of such a vision—what would move us to tell the Good News about Jesus?

Perhaps realizing that our plight in sin is as desperate as Isaiah’s would move us to tell the Good News about Jesus. Isaiah found himself in the Presence of the Lamb who was slain from the foundation of the world, who died on Calvary’s cross for the sins of the whole world. That was enough for him to realize his sinful plight. Maybe if we saw the Lord Himself on His throne, exalted above us, we’d be moved to share our testimony, too.

Oh, but when Christ returns, we will see Him. Not in His humiliation as we are accustomed to think, but in His exaltation. Not hanging shamefully on a cross, with nails through His hands and feet, but dressed in a royal robe, seated on His throne as judge, His eyes like blazing fire. But by then, it would be too late for us to realize our sinful plight and be moved to witness, wouldn’t it?

Maybe we’d realize our sinful plight and be moved to share the Gospel if we, too, saw how even the seraphim look upon the Almighty. Those special angels used two of their wings to veil their eyes from a direct view of God’s glory.

How would we fall down before Him? Would it be as an unbeliever, begrudgingly forced to pay homage to the King of kings and Lord of Lords? Or would it be done in adoration and joy as the song, “I Can Only Imagine” tries to picture. Would we dance in joy, stand in awe, or fall to our knees? Would we sing His praises, or find ourselves speechless? Would that help us realize our plight?

Yes, I imagine it certainly would! But again, it would be too late to make a difference. It would be too late to share the Gospel with others.

Maybe, we’d realize our sinful plight and be moved to share the Gospel if we, too, witnessed the full holiness of the Lord. “Holy, holy, holy,” the seraphim cried. Holy is the triune God! Holy is His name. But it seems today, we rarely talk about God’s holiness, rather we focus almost exclusively on His love. Yes, God is love. God is the source of love. And without God’s love we’d be lost. But we must never forget His holiness, either. God is sinless. God hates sin. Sin cannot exist in God’s presence. And because of that, we could never stand on our own merits in His holy presence, let alone be moved to share His holy Gospel.

Maybe we’d realize our sinful plight and be moved to share the Gospel if God shook our sanctuary, and filled it with smoke. Imagine the thunderous cry of the voices of a host of angels! The shock as the doorposts sway and the threshold shakes! The smell of smoke filling the sanctuary!

I don’t know about you, but that would certainly get my attention! But I’m afraid my fear would keep me from witnessing. Anyway, must things really have to get so bad for us to realize our sinful plight and be moved to share the Gospel?

One thing’s for certain. All this drove Isaiah to realize his desperate sinfulness. “Woe to me!” he cried. “For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

Time and again throughout Scripture, the sinful man who suddenly becomes aware of being in the Presence of the holy God makes a confession of his sinful nature and his sin. And it’s not a comfortable feeling. St. John described his experience of being in the Presence of the ascended Christ this way in Revelation: “When I saw Him, I fell at His feet as though dead” (1:17).

Even in His state of humiliation, when Jesus veiled His glory and revealed it only in glimpses, the sinner understood what it meant to be in the Presence of God. Following the miracle catch of fish, Peter fell down at Jesus’ knees, and said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5:8).

You’ve come here today to this house of God to be in the very Presence of the Lord, too. But you are no less sinful than Peter. No less unclean than Isaiah. Do you realize what you’ve done by appearing here and seeking to be in God’s holy Presence? Do you understand what you’ve said when you added your “amen” to the Invocation? You’ve presented yourself here on the basis of God’s holy Name—the Name given to you on the day of your Baptism in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Isaiah was one of God’s chosen people when the Lord brought him into the heavenly temple. Still, he remained a sinner and he knew it. “Woe to me!” Isaiah cried. “For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:5).

You are also one of God’s chosen people when you entered this house of God today. Still, though the Lord has brought you into His Kingdom by water and the Word, you’ve remained a sinner and you know it. That’s why a few minutes ago, you confessed: “O Almighty God, merciful Father, I, a poor, miserable sinner confess unto You all my sins and iniquities with which I have ever offended You and justly deserved Your temporal and eternal punishment.”

You realize you have nothing to offer God to avert His condemnation and wrath—no good work, no sacrifice, nothing. Your continued existence here in His holy Presence is due solely to the mercy and grace of God in Christ.

“Woe is me!” Isaiah declared. “I am lost! I am unclean, and live among unclean people.” This was the first step in moving Isaiah to tell the news of the Messiah. It’s our first step too. We must confess our sins and our unworthiness.

And then, we need to realize that our forgiveness is as cleansing as Isaiah’s. After he confessed his sins, Isaiah was assured—visibly, tangibly—that he was cleansed of his sins. The hot coal touching his lips, the declaration of forgiveness spoken of by God’s own messenger, a heavenly seraph! “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” What an absolution!

But have you not heard, seen, felt, tasted, and smelled your cleansing from sin just as certainly? What about when God’s messenger, taking water, pouring it over your head, once said, “I baptize you in name of the Holy, Holy, Holy?”

Or when the same messenger of God, standing before the altar, announces: “In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you all your sins in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit?”

Haven’t you, too, been cleansed from sin by God’s absolution?

Or if that’s not enough, how about when God’s messenger takes something from the altar, touches your lips with it, and says, “Take, eat; take, drink; this is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, given and shed for the forgiveness of your sins.” As the bread and wine touch your lips, your guilt is taken away and your sin is atoned for.

Having been cleansed of his sins, Isaiah heard the voice of the Lord saying: “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” In these words, the Lord extended His call to Isaiah to be His prophet. He whose guilt had been taken away was now ready to serve when and where and how the Lord wills.

Isaiah’s vision moved him to say, “Here I am. Send me!”

What about you?  Are you as aware of your sinful plight as Isaiah was? Do you realize that you have been cleansed of those sins as tangibly, as certainly, as Isaiah was? Does your “vision” move you to tell the good news about Jesus?

If you are, if you do, then when God asks, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” you’ll have an answer, too. “Here I am. Send me!”

So, go in the peace and joy of the Lord, serving Him and your neighbor as He gives you opportunity, knowing that for Jesus’ sake, you are cleansed and righteous. You are forgiven for all your sins.

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

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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You Shall Be Called by a New Name

Click here to listen to this sermon.

04.28.2018-625“For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet, until her righteousness goes forth as brightness, and her salvation as a burning torch. The nations shall see your righteousness, and all the kings your glory, and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will give. You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God. You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate, but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the Lord delights in you, and your land shall be married. For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your sons marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you” (Isaiah 62:1–5).

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Out of the Depths: Sermon for the Funeral of Dorothy Brockberg

Out of the DepthsClick here to listen to this sermon.“Out of the depths I cry to You, O Lord! O Lord, hear my voice! Let Your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy! If You, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with You there is forgiveness, that You may be feared. I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in His word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning. O Israel, hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with Him is plentiful redemption. And He will redeem Israel from all his iniquities” (Psalm 130).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

Our text begins at the place where a man’s life is being overwhelmed, inundated, and flooded. We might imagine being in a small boat on a lake when high winds strike and the waves consume the craft in an instant. One minute you’re safe inside the boat, and the next moment you’re swept away.

While drowning is not a particularly pleasant death, it is generally quick. You don’t have a lot of time to ponder death. But imagine an overwhelming death that takes a long time, as your stranded boat floats nearly submerged over a period of years. The water up to your nose. There you are, right at death’s door, but never quite going through it. And while you wait, what do you say to God?

That’s what it must have been like for Dorothy in the last few years of her life. Only instead of it being water that rose to overwhelm her, it was Alzheimer’s. That dreadful disease took away her ability to do the things she enjoyed—serving people and volunteering. Eventually it took away even those basic things most of us take for granted—eating, drinking, walking, and even the ability to engage in conversation.  That was frustrating for everyone involved, I know, but it had to be especially frustrating for Dorothy because she lived with it all the time.

About two months ago when I visited Dorothy, she surprised me. I asked her if she would like me to read some Scripture. “Yes, I would,” she said. Somewhat shocked to find myself in a two-way conversation, I could only say, “Okay.” I would have to say that that’s the only time in the last few years that Dorothy ever had more words to say to me than I had to say to her.

Sometimes, Dorothy would join me in the Apostles’ Creed and the Lord’s Prayer—voicing some of the words and mouthing the rest. It still amazes me how often God can use His Word to give voice to a confession of faith in one who is usually silent. But even when she could not speak, Dorothy would blink her eyes and indicate she understood and believed. She would firmly hold my hand as we prayed, giving it an occasionally squeeze as if to say, “Thank you for saying the words to God I can’t say aloud myself.”

During my visits, I reminded Dorothy that, no matter what, she could always talk to God with the thoughts and prayers in her mind. I told her even when we didn’t know what was on her mind and heart, that the Lord heard her silent prayers and her cries for help. I reminded her how the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness and intercedes for us with groanings too deep for word. And I reminded her that the Lord loves her. He would never leave her nor forsake her. He had promised to be with her always, and the Lord always keeps His promises!

Trapped inside a failing body and mind, Dorothy Brockberg knew well what the psalmist meant: “Out of the depths I cry to You, O Lord! O Lord, hear my voice! Let Your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy!”

But this psalm is not primarily about slowly drowning in the depths of a lake or even being overcome by the awful effects of a debilitating disease. The condition this psalm addresses is a spiritual one. It deals with a soul being overwhelmed with sin and the effects of sin. “If You, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?”

Or in other words, “If You, O God, should keep a list of all the sins that are charged to me, how could I remain standing? If You marked off not only the sins I do, but also the things I don’t do that I should do… If You kept track, not only of the things I said that were sins, but also those times when You required me to speak and I kept quiet… If You marked the sins of my heart… O dear God, if You kept track of all these things, could I still stand?”

The answer is a firm, “No!” No one could stand. I couldn’t. You couldn’t. Dorothy couldn’t. Not one of us could stand in the Judgment by ourselves. We’re all sinners and deserve to be consumed, overwhelmed, and drowned in the depths of the eternal Lake of Fire. And that’s a whole lot worse than any physical affliction any of us will ever experience.

The psalmist points us to the only solution to our problem of sin, “But with You there is forgiveness.” Dear friends, Jesus, the Son of God, brings us that forgiveness. In love, He takes the guilt, the shame, and the punishment of all our sins to the cross. Jesus endures all the shame, pain, and grief that others have laid on us. There, on the cross, Jesus pays the eternal price for all our sin as the wrath of God is released upon Him instead of on you and me.

The shed blood of God’s Son cries out for our pardon, and we hear His Word from the cross, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” The broken body of Christ hangs on the cross, and out of the depths of hell He says, “I thirst.” Denied and crucified by man, assaulted and tortured by the forces of evil, and abandoned by the Father, Jesus cries out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”  Out of the depths, Jesus cried, and His question was answered with only silence from God. That, dear friends, is what our sins cost Him. That is what our salvation is worth to Him. This is Jesus, “who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame” (Hebrews 12:2). What a blessed privilege for us to confess with the psalmist, “But with You there is forgiveness.”

To those like Dorothy, and you, and I, who know the Savior, and who trust in Him, the message of forgiveness becomes ours through Baptism and the Word. Baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection, we live in daily contrition and repentance. Invited to the Lord’s Table, we receive His body and blood, in, with, and under the bread and wine, to strengthen and preserve us in body and soul unto life everlasting. Having been forgiven our many sins, we forgive those who have sinned against us. Having been adopted as God’s dear children, heirs of His kingdom, we gratefully look for ways to serve our heavenly Father and His kingdom now. Trusting Jesus’ promise that He has gone to prepare a place for us, we patiently wait for our Lord to bring us home one future day.

For what seems to us to be a long time, with her body continuing to deteriorate, but with her soul healed and cleansed through Word and Sacrament, Dorothy waited for the Lord to bring her home. No doubt, it was not an easy wait. She waited like the psalmist “more than watchmen wait for the morning.”

Yes indeed, “more than watchmen wait for the morning,” Dorothy waited for the Lord to bring her home. And her loving Savior was by her side all the time. And then when it was just the right time, on Friday morning, Dorothy became the beneficiary of the same promise the repentant thief heard, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with Me in paradise.”

The psalmist urges, “O Israel, put your hope in the Lord.” At all times, but especially at times such as this, the Christian’s hope is in God and in His Word. The Word of God’s promises in Christ are what will sustain us with the hope that does not disappoint. Though we mourn Dorothy’s passing from this earth and will miss her dearly in the days and years ahead, “we do not grieve as those who have no hope.” We believe that Jesus died and rose again, and that for His sake, we will also have eternal life.

On the Last Day, the Lord Himself will come down from heaven, and Dorothy and all the dead in Christ, will rise, and we will be caught up together to be with the Lord forever. Then Dorothy will be able to say all those words she’s wanted to say to you during the past few years of silence. You’ll have eternity to catch up. And together Dorothy, you, I, and all believers in Christ will be able to give praise and glory to God forever. Amen.

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

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

 

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His Steadfast Love Endures Forever

WordItOut-word-cloud-3214761Click here to listen to this sermon.

“Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, for His steadfast love endures forever” (Psalm 136:1).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

We use the English Standard Version for our weekly readings. One of the things that struck me when I first started using the ESV is how many times the phrase “steadfast love” is used to describe God and His actions. I had never noticed that phrase before. And there is a good reason. While the ESV uses the phrase “steadfast love” 208 times, it’s never used in the New International Version that I used for over 20 years. The NIV has the words kindness, love, or mercy instead.

But steadfast love is a better translation. For the Hebrew word here is not the general word for “love.” It is a word that has the connotation of undeserved love and mercy, and it often refers to deeds of love and mercy that are a fulfillment of a covenant, a promise of God to His people, generally sealed with a sign.

Psalm 136 is a litany psalm designed to be sung responsively. The verses tell who God is and how He has graciously acted in history on behalf of His people, particularly in creation, the Exodus, and the conquest of Canaan. And these verses call upon us to praise the Lord for His loving deeds—past, current, and future—with the refrain, “for His steadfast love endures forever.”

We see this steadfast love in action in our Old Testament lesson from Genesis 9 and the aftermath of the Flood. The Flood was the greatest catastrophe that human history has known. All the awesome, destructive power of nature was displayed as the waters rose and the high mountains were covered to a depth of more than 20 feet. Every living thing on the face of the earth was wiped out; men and animals and the creatures that move along the ground and the birds of the air were wiped from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those with him in the ark.

What could cause God to do such a thing? Believe it or not, it was God’s continuing concern for His creation that led Him to send the Flood. A concern expressing itself in judgment of a society that had become desperately wicked. A judgment upon a world that had become so godless that even after 100 years of Noah’s preaching only 8 people remained who trusted in the one true God. A judgment on humanity whose wickedness on the earth had become so great that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil all the time.

Oh, it must have been bad back then we think. It’s good that things got much better after the Flood. God culled out the riff-raff, so He could start all over with righteous Noah and his family. Certainly humanity is much better today, isn’t it?

Popular opinion would hold that most people are basically good; they just need a little boost to get over the hump. They just need God to come with His Word and show them what to do and they’ll be just fine.

But then we read in Psalm 14: “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’  They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds, there is none who does good. The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one” (vv.1-3).

St. Paul echoes this thought in Romans 3, with a litany of Old Testament quotes: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” “Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.” “There is no fear of God before their eyes” (vv. 10-18). The Apostle sums up the human condition this way, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

But we don’t have to go that late in history to see the depth of human depravity. Just after Noah, his family, and the animals stepped off the ark, and Noah sacrificed burnt offerings on Mount Ararat, The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma and said in His heart: “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done” (Genesis 8:21).

Did you catch that? Yes, God had resolved never again to curse the earth because of man. But His decision was not prompted by a change in human nature. Tucked into the middle of His promise is God’s assessment of the human condition even after the Flood: “The intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth.”

The depravity of man is still a fact of life in this fallen world. By nature, we’re no better than the sinful humanity that led God to destroy His creation, to start again. You and I are—as we just confessed—poor, miserable sinners who have offended God with all our sins and iniquities, and justly deserve God’s temporal and eternal punishment.

But God is gracious and merciful. God’s steadfast love goes so far that He does not leave Noah and his family on their own after the Flood. He gives them a blessing, very similar to that expressed to Adam and Eve at creation. And then God gives them one more word of assurance as they are about to set out on their new lives. God does so in the most solemn and binding form of divine promise—by means of a covenant. Think of it! God actually obligated Himself to observe the terms of a solemn contract: Never again a flood!

In addition to assuring them with words that He would never send another Flood, God gave them a visible sign as a seal of His promise: “I have set My bow in the cloud.” Whenever the rainbow appears, God remembers His covenant. And whenever the rainbow appears, all of Noah’s descendants are reminded that God is faithful to His promise, His steadfast love endures forever.

Fast forward to another mountain, many centuries later. Once again God has rescued His people, bringing the people of Israel out of their bondage in Egypt with the Passover and a miraculous Red Sea crossing. There in the Sinai wilderness, Israel encamped before the mountain, while Moses went up to God. The Lord reminded Moses of His steadfast love: “You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, you shall be My treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:3-6).

The Lord confirmed this covenant by inviting Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel to join Him on the mountain. Moses built an altar at the foot of the mountain, and appointed young men to offer burnt offerings and sacrifice young bulls as fellowship offerings to the Lord.

“And Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and half of the blood he threw against the altar. Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it in the hearing of the people. And they said, ‘All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.’ And Moses took the blood and threw it on the people and said, ‘Behold the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words’” (Exodus 24:6-8).

Each year, Israel was to commemorate the night in which the angel of the Lord struck down the first born of the Egyptians and “passed over” the homes of the Israelites, whose doorposts had been painted with the blood of the lamb. God instructed Israel to never forget that it was not their own sacrifices or holy living, but His power and grace that brought them deliverance. Consequently, each yearly Passover celebration was more than a mere historical remembrance. All participants were united again to the gracious God who had come down to rescue their ancestors, and they were able to give thanks to the Lord for His steadfast love.

But God, in His steadfast love, was not through making covenants. Move forward in history almost fifteen centuries. The eleven disciples gathered in Galilee, at the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. “And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’”

God does not change. The Lord is steadfast. He deals with His people in the same manner He always has—by the mercy and grace of His covenant love. And once again He uses ordinary water connected to His living Word. God continues to use water both as a means of judgment and as a means of salvation.

As in Noah’s day, God continues to provide a special ark large enough for all repentant sinners that will carry them safely through all His judgments upon an evil world. In the waters of Baptism, God again delivers man from the sin-dominated world into the new creation that Christ brings. “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, for His steadfast love endures forever.”

God understands our needs as sinful people. Our greatest need is to know we are personally forgiven and loved in spite of our sin. Our gracious Lord also realizes our need to be in fellowship both with Him and others around us. God miraculously fulfills this special need through His gifts to us in the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. They are His Word accompanied by actions that involve our senses—sight, hearing, taste, and touch.

Thus, when God connects His Holy Word to ordinary water, it becomes life-giving, saving water in Holy Baptism. When God connect His Holy Word to the earthly bread and wine in Holy Communion, these become special and assuring “signs” that not only point us to His incarnate love, mercy, and forgiveness, but actually deliver these blessings in His very own body and blood.

Christ’s blood shed on Mount Calvary replaced the old covenant God made with Israel at Mount Sinai. Jesus is the sinners’ true Passover Lamb. His blood takes away the sin of the world. In the new covenant, our once crucified but now living Lord personally embraces you with the very body and blood that He poured out on the cross to deliver you from sin, death, and the devil. No wonder after receiving communion we sing a variation of our text: “O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good; and His mercy endureth forever.”

Yes, the Lord’s steadfast love certainly does endure forever! Through all ages the Lord continues to reach out to man with His grace and mercy. The Lord continues to make and keep His promises. The Lord continues to give us signs to reassure us of His undeserved forgiveness and favor.

The Lord God brought Noah and his family safely to a new creation through the waters of the Flood. With the sign of the rainbow, He promised never again to destroy the earth because of man’s sin. The Lord God has brought you rebirth and regeneration through the waters of Baptism. Through the water and the Word, He makes you His child and promises never to leave you nor forsake you.

The Lord God brought Israel from the bondage of Egypt to the Promised Land. The blood of the covenant sprinkled upon the people was the sign that sealed His promise to Israel. Today, the Lord God gives you the new covenant in His blood—His very body and blood given to you for the forgiveness of your sins and the strengthening of your faith unto life everlasting in His eternal Promised Land. Where you have failed to keep your Word and promises, the Lord God’s promises endure forever. Where your love fails and falters, the Lord God’s steadfast love endures forever. Where you have sinned and abounded in wickedness, the Lord God brings you this Good News: You are forgiven of all your sins.

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

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.