Sermons, Uncategorized

When Will the New Moon Be Over?

Click this link to listen to this sermon: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1xgQJYvUtHCUcxg8RbVJhgJiqLuotCWMz/view?usp=sharing

“Hear this, you who trample on the needy and bring the poor of the land to an end, saying, ‘When will the new moon be over, that we may sell grain? And the Sabbath, that we may offer wheat for sale, that we may make the ephah small and the shekel great and deal deceitfully with false balances, that we may buy the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals and sell the chaff of the wheat?’ The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob: ‘Surely I will never forget any of their deeds’” (Amos 8:4-7).

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

It is a time of prosperity in Israel, but God’s people completely misunderstand His blessings. The people are greedy, and rather than seeing this prosperity as an opportunity to serve the neighbor, the people see their wealth as proof of God’s approval. Like today’s “prosperity Gospel” preachers, they reckon that riches are a mark of God’s favor, and poverty is proof of God’s rejection. Therefore, they feel no guilt in abusing the poor and taking advantage of the needy.

Nevertheless, they still observe the forms of worship if not the true spirit. They join the religious assemblies when the new moon announces the beginning of another month. They close their shops to rest on the Sabbath, according to the law. Yet all the time their hearts are not in their worship. Rather, they are itching for the days of rest and worship to pass so they can get back to business.

Amos sarcastically voices their concern with words they’d not be so crass as to speak aloud, but which they had most certainly thought: “When will the new moon be over, that we may sell grain? And the Sabbath, that we may offer wheat for sale, that we may make the ephah small and the shekel great and deal deceitfully with false balances, that we may buy the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals and sell the chaff of the wheat?”

Does any of this sound familiar? Do we occupy our minds with thoughts of profit and loss even while our mouths pray and sing hymns? Do we ever go to church reluctantly or participate in public worship halfheartedly because “time is money,” and we prefer to spend it on other things rather than feeding our souls on the Word of God? Do we ever couple such disrespect for the Lord and His Word, with a lack of concern for our needy neighbor? Then we have become like these Israelite merchants, who are caught up in rampant materialism and consumerism.

While this is nothing new, the ones who suffer because of this focus are the poor, the needy, and the outcasts. Those wishing to make a quick buck have oppressed the less fortunate. They’ve cheated with their scales, weights, and measures and they have even gone so far as to enslave their own countrymen… for as little as a pair of sandals. The Lord God is obviously not pleased with them.

Honesty and integrity will be the marks of those who follow the Lord. A Christian merchant will want to give good measure and a quality product for a fair price. He will not package or advertise deceptively and excuse himself by saying, “Let the buyer beware.” God’s Word admonishes us: “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4).

In Deuteronomy, the Lord declares to His people: “You shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be… You shall give to him freely, and your heart shall not be grudging when you give to him, because for this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land’” (15:7–11).

Throughout Scripture, the Lord puts Himself at the side of and in the place of the poor. In Proverbs we read: “Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and He will repay him for his deed” (19:17). In Matthew, Jesus tells us that on the Last Day He will say to His believers who fed the hungry, gave hospitality to the needy, clothed the naked, comforted the sick, and visited the prisoners in jail, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these My brothers, you did it to Me” (25:40). Do our lives show such evidence of faith in Him?

From Israel’s inception, God shows His concern for the less fortunate. The Lord gives everyone in Israel an allotment of land, which is to stay in their family in perpetuity. Israel is to remember that they are an exodus people who must never return to a system of slavery. The purpose of the Jubilee is to dismantle social and economic inequality by releasing each member from debt, returning forfeited land to its original owners, and regularly freeing slaves.

Unfortunately, the influence of Canaanite religion brings with it Canaanite business practices. Corrupt businessmen support economic activity that created upper and lower classes. Israel’s elite confiscate more and more land through dishonest methods. They conveniently forget the mandate in Leviticus 25:17: “Do not oppress each other, but fear your God, for I am the Lord your God.”

The Lord hears the cry of His oppressed people and He feels their pain. Everyone who has been restored to a right relationship with God through His forgiveness is granted the same ears and heart to be merciful to others. But at the same time, deep down, within every son and daughter of Adam and Eve, there also exists an insatiable desire to look at their neighbor’s spouse, manservant, maidservant, ox, donkey, indeed, anything that belongs to their neighbor and long for them all to be “mine!” No, the Israelite merchants are not alone in their greed and covetousness. There is a sickness and madness in Western society called consumerism—the notion that life consists in having and getting and spending and controlling and using. This system stresses consumption and accumulation and believes that meaning and security come by getting and having “more.”

How shall those baptized into Christ live in a world with its titanic desire to acquire? How are the words of Paul in Philippians 4:11 able to make sense: “I have learned in whatever circumstances I am to be content”? And just how do the free people of God live in a society that screams at them daily to buy things they don’t need with money they don’t have to impress people they may not even like?

We live in our Baptism. By the washing of water with the Word, the Lord places His mark of ownership upon you. In giving you His triune name, He makes this promise: “I have redeemed you; I have called you by name. You are mine” (Isaiah 43:1). In Baptism, we daily put to death that old greedy selfish nature through contrition and repentance, that the new man may arise to live in righteousness, innocence, and blessedness forever. In those belonging to God the Father through the redeeming work of Jesus, the Holy Spirit empowers a life that combats greed, covetousness, dishonesty, and vice. A life that loves the neighbor and looks out for the weakest and most vulnerable, the poor and lonely.

But as seriously as the Lord takes the oppression of His people, so is He offended by those who observe the Sabbath in name only. Such hypocrisy is a serious violation of the covenant God had made with His people. It endangers the Israelite community as the people of God and therefore carries the threat of grave consequences. Later prophets cite the violation of the Sabbath as the reason for Judah’s destruction and 70-year Babylonian captivity (2 Chronicles 36:20-21).

The Sabbath is as old as creation. Genesis 2:3 states: “God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all His work that He had done in creation.” Notice how the focus in the first six days of creation is on the human world. But on the seventh day no act of creation takes place. The focus is instead on the Lord alone, who is described as resting. This prompts the sacred activity of worship in the human world. The holiness of the seventh day is a sign of the Lord’s own holiness, which distinguishes Him from His entire creation.

Genesis 1 illustrates this distinction. The first two humans are good and blessed, and they even bear the image of God, but they are not called holy. The same is true for the rest of creation. It is good, even “very good,” but it is not described as holy. Holiness is only introduced on the seventh day, as a moment in time, not as an object within creation, a time when God sets it apart as a day of rest, a day for the holy things of God.

The fall into sin produced an enormous gulf between the holy God and His now-dying creation. Yet holiness broke back into creation when the Lord appeared to Moses and called him to deliver His people; God’s appearance created “holy ground.” The Passover and the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread were to be the occasion of a “holy assembly.” Moreover, at Sinai the Lord declared His intention that all Israel be “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6).

All members of God’s people, regardless of their social status, were to receive the benefits of the Lord’s holy Sabbath. The day was a celebration of both the original creation and the new creation through salvation. It served as a sign of the divine covenant, a marker for holy days, and a reminder of the Lord’s powerful deliverance from servitude in Egypt. Israel was free from slavery to oppressors and false gods and liberated to serve the living God. The benefit of Sabbath rest extended to aliens and sojourners in Israel and even to domesticated animals.

The Sabbath was kept by Old Testament believers as they followed the Lord’s ordinances and offered prescribed sacrifices and as the priests and Levites performed the duties of their offices. Undergirding this was the cessation of all economic activity because the Lord “rested on the seventh day.” The work stoppage emphasized that Israel was not the owner but the beneficiary and manager of the Lord’s gracious resources. The Sabbath was a constant reminder of the answer to Jesus’ question, “Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” (Matthew 6:25).

Work was to cease so that God’s redeemed could remember that the reason for living is not merely to desire and then acquire. The pattern for those created in the image of God is work/rest, not just rest. And in Amos’ day, he had to preach that it was rest/work, not just work. The Sabbath, therefore, says yes to the value of people while at the same time it says no to the insidious desire for more and the frantic frenzy for upward mobility. But the businessman of Amos’ day would have nothing of this. They were begrudging the holy days. “When will the new moon and the Sabbath be over?” they asked impatiently.

Turning to Colossians 2:14-17, we find a surprising answer. Speaking of Christ’s resurrection, Paul writes, “By canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This He set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in Him. Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.”

The ceremonial laws of the Old Testament, such as those associated with the new moon and Sabbath, are gone!—not so that we may now pursue the almighty dollar with abandon but so that we might worship and serve the Lord our God with freedom and with all our heart and soul and mind every day. Those ceremonial laws served a purpose. They foreshadowed Christ. But the Substance, Christ, has come. The shadows are no longer needed. The Substance is here.

Jesus is the fulfillment of the law. Jesus, fully human, like us in every way except without sin, lives a perfect holy and righteous life in our place. He loves the Lord with all His heart and all His strength and all His soul and all His mind. He loves His neighbor as Himself, reaching out and healing the sick, cleansing the lepers, freeing the prisoners, and preaching Good News to the poor. Jesus gives His life on the cross as the fully sufficient sacrifice for the sins of the world.

Jesus is the fulfillment of the Sabbath. After suffering for the sins of the world on Good Friday, He observes the Sabbath by His rest in the tomb on Holy Saturday before rising on the first day of the new week. He offers the free gift of salvation so that all human work that seeks justification before God may be placed aside. Jesus transforms the Sabbath rest in something greater than one day a week or the first of the month. The author of Hebrews explains: “So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from His” (Hebrews 4:9–10).

At the time of death, Jesus gives rest to all believers as we await our bodily resurrection into the everlasting new creation with its eternal Sabbath rest. John puts it this way: “And I heard a voice from heaven saying, ‘Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’ ‘Blessed indeed,’ says the Spirit, ‘that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!’” (Revelation 14:13).

Go in the grace of the Lord. Serve His people with joy. Rest in the Lord Jesus Christ each and every day. 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.

Sermons, Uncategorized

Who Was the Neighbor?

“The Good Samaritan” by Eugene Burnand

Click here to listen to this sermon.

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

Jesus told this story: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’

Jesus asked the young man who wanted to define “neighbor”: “Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise” (Luke 10:30-37).

A remarkable act of kindness!—especially from such an unexpected source!  

Who was the neighbor? The one who showed mercy.

A young couple was at the hospital for the birth of their first baby when tragedy struck. The doctor had terrible news. The baby’s umbilical cord had twisted around her neck, depriving her of oxygen, and leaving her alive but with severe brain damage. “What can we do?” the parents pleaded. “I hate to even suggest this,” the doctor began, “but you could choose to do nothing.” “What do you mean?” they asked. “The damage is irreversible,” he went on. “Your daughter will be profoundly handicapped as long as she lives. If we do nothing now, she’ll die. You have to decide, of course, but that might be better for everyone.”

Not sure what to do, but wisely realizing it was a decision they did not want to make on their own, the young couple called their pastor and asked him to offer them some scriptural guidance in seeking God’s will.

Several hours later, a social worker stopped in. After gently expressing her sympathies, she came to the point. “I admire your decision to save your daughter’s life. Let’s talk now about what comes next. You realize, I’m sure, that she’ll have to be institutionalized. There’s nothing you’ll be able to do with her at home. It will just be too overwhelming.”

The little girl’s parents knew that it might become necessary to find help. But first, they thought, they would try to care for her themselves. “Dear Lord,” they prayed, “be with our Angela. Give her a life that glorifies you and give us the patience and strength to love her and give her whatever she needs.” They knew Angela already belonged to Jesus, for she had been baptized in the hospital the moment the crisis had been discovered. God had adopted Angela as one of His own dear children. Now, her mother and father counted on our Savior to continue to provide for His tiny sister.

It was more difficult than they could’ve imagined. More than once they wished they had taken the social worker’s advice. Special equipment, training, and countless trips to therapists were expensive and exhausting. And Angela was always different from other children. But they got help—their family was behind them, their pastor and congregation supplied spiritual support, and an endless stream of volunteers and fund-raisers.

In answer to their prayers, Angela did live to glorify God. Each day of her life was a precious witness to God’s grace. Oh, she would never be on her own, get a job, or raise a family. But she exuded joy and zest for life. She smiled, sang, chatted endlessly about Jesus… and those close to her knew that someday she’d also enjoy endless health and wholeness in heaven.

Who was the neighbor? The one who showed mercy.

A young boy was going to school in the United States for the first time. He had been a good student in Mexico, but now his father had come to work in the States, and the boy knew almost no English, leaving him anxious and feeling very much alone. Ruben wondered how he’d know where to go, what to do. Even more, he wondered if anyone would talk to him or invite him to play with them.

The morning was all right. He sat in his desk with all sorts of things happening in front of him. He didn’t really understand most of what was going on, but then no one actually expected him to. Not yet. He’d catch on eventually, his father said before he left the house that morning.

Then came recess. Now everyone was running, playing, laughing, having fun—with their friends. Not Ruben. He wished someone would be playing soccer. He could do that without talking, probably better than most of these kids. These boys played American football, and they didn’t invite him to join them. He realized he didn’t know how to play, but it still would have been nice to be asked.

Lunch was worse. Ruben’s class went through the line together, but as soon as they got to their assigned table, Ruben felt alone again. Nobody seemed to notice as he looked for an empty seat. Someone must have said something funny, because everybody laughed, and one boy’s milk came out his nose—but Ruben couldn’t get the joke. So he sat at the very end of the table and just ate his lunch, wishing he could have had one of his mother’s home-cooked meals instead.

The afternoon dragged on. He spent most of the time daydreaming he was back with his friends in Mexico. Finally, it was three o’clock. A teacher led all the children to the front curb. Students piled into waiting buses and cars. What? There was no bus diez, the one Ruben had ridden to school in the morning! “Diez! Diez!” he shouted. The teacher didn’t understand. In a panic, Ruben wondered how he would ever get home.

“Ruben,” came a voice behind him. “I know where you want to go. You were on my bus this morning.” Ruben didn’t understand, but he went along as Joshua took him by the hand. “Bus 10 doesn’t go in the afternoon for some reason,” he tried to explain. “We take bus 32.” Ruben shrugged, but grinned, and took the seat by Joshua.

They went a few blocks and the bus pulled over to the side of the road. “That’s my stop,” Joshua said as the bus pulled out again. “I’ll stay on with you this time and get off on the way back. He makes a loop.” The bus ride went fast, even though neither one of the boys could catch much the other said. Then Ruben recognized his street. “Gracias!” he said as he got off. “See you tomorrow!” said Joshua. Ruben didn’t understand those words, either, but he understood the smile. Perhaps tomorrow would be a better day.

Who was the neighbor? The one who showed mercy.

Trudy planned to celebrate her 83rd birthday on Tuesday, but she had nowhere to go. Age had robbed her of her strength and was slowly stripping away her mental capacity too, leaving her helpless in a nursing home. As she sat in her wheelchair, an attendant read a card aloud: “To my Mother: A son can never choose his Mom and perhaps that’s just as well. ‘Cause if each son could choose, I know you’d be one busy gal! Have a great day, Mom! You’re the best! Love, Dean.” “That’s so sweet,” the attendant said as she put down the card. “Be nice if he stopped by once in a while,” she thought to herself. “My Dean travels,” Trudy said. “Travels all around.”

The telephone rang. The attendant picked it up. A voice on the other end said: “Hi, this is Dian Wilson, Trudy’s daughter. Could you wish my Mom a happy birthday for me? We told her we were going to come by tomorrow, but it turns out we can’t. She probably won’t remember anyway, but if you could tell her. Thanks. We’ll send flowers or something. Thanks so much. Bye.”

“Diane just called to wish you a happy birthday, Trudy,” the attendant said. “Diane’s coming over tomorrow. Tomorrow’s my birthday, you know. I’m going to be 83,” Trudy said. Perhaps by the next day Trudy didn’t remember. Maybe she wasn’t disappointed that no one came. But when the noon meal was over and the other residents had all been wheeled back down the hall, she asked to stay in the dining room. The room was empty, quiet. For a long time Trudy sat alone.

Then, bouncing into the room came a pretty girl, about 13 years old, with enough energy for both of them. “Hi!” she said. “I’m Tara. I just started today as a volunteer. Are you Trudy?” Trudy nodded. “I hear it’s your birthday!” Trudy brightened up. “I’m 83.” But suddenly Trudy was 13 again, telling stories about that birthday. And as she spoke, you could almost see candles glowing in her eyes.

“Heh, just a second!” Tara said as she jumped up from the table. In a minute she was back, carrying a little dish of banana pudding topped with one flickering candle. “I think we need to have a party! Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday, dear Trudy, happy birthday to you…” Tara didn’t ask what Trudy had wished for when she blew out the candle.

Who was the neighbor? The one who showed mercy.

I was going downhill fast and didn’t even know it. Even before I was born, I’d fallen into the clutches of sin. My enemies—the devil, the world, and my own sinful flesh—beat me down mercilessly, leaving me spiritually dead. I was just lying there, helpless. Nothing I could do could save me. Neither could anybody else, because everyone who passed by me had been beaten by the same enemies. Each one was wrapped in the same selfishness, the same sin, as I was. Unless someone had done something fast, I’d have perished forever in hell. But then along came my Good Samaritan, who took pity on me, picked me up in His arms, and delivered me to safety. He even paid for my care Himself and promised to come back for me. Now, I’m bandaged, healed, and loving life.

Who was the neighbor? The One who showed mercy. Jesus!

The story of the Good Samaritan is actually every person’s story. But the story is not, first of all, about anything we are to do. That’s secondary. It’s really about what Jesus has done to save us in our need.

All of us by nature were dead in our sin and thus helpless to save ourselves. Seeing our great need, Jesus had mercy on us, and came down to us to bind our wounds and touch us with His healing power. Throughout His life, Jesus carried our burden of sin. In His passion, He was spit upon, mocked, stripped, whipped, and beaten mercilessly. Half dead, He was forced to carry His own cross to Calvary. On the cross, He paid the penalty for all of the sin of all the people of the world. Jesus purchased us and redeemed us, not with silver or gold, but with His own holy and precious blood.

In Baptism, Jesus picked us up in His arms and delivered us from death and the devil into eternal life. Then Jesus left us in the care of His Church, promising that one day He would return for all of His own. Until that day, Jesus left us to care for one another, to comfort one another with the oil of joy and wine of gladness. To show mercy to those in need. To love our neighbor as ourselves.

As members of His body, the Church, we look after one another in love. We continue to pick up fellow travelers who have robbed and beaten by sin. And Jesus continues to “come back” in His Word and Sacraments. Through His means of grace, our Good Samaritan lavishes us with forgiveness and daily care until, finally, He will return to take us to heaven.

Who is the Neighbor? Jesus. The One who showed mercy. In Him you have forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. Indeed, for His sake, you are forgiven for all your sins. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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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Sermons, Uncategorized

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.

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“Paul, Apostle of Christ” – A non-review and hearty endorsement

Pastor’s Ponderings

Dear Christian friends,

Easter Monday, Aimee and I went to see Paul, Apostle of Christ. The setting is Mamertine Prison in Rome, where Paul has been held because he is deemed a threat to the Roman Empire. Emperor Nero has sentenced Paul, along with a number of other Christians to death. Luke has come to visit Paul to minister to him and to record the last of Paul’s story, so that the Church might be encouraged in their persecution. While it is a fictional account, the storyline and characters stay close to the biblical and historical accounts.

Paul & LukeWhile I’m not going to give a full-blown move review, I will say that it is one of the most powerful movies I’ve seen. I don’t say this lightly. I’ve generally been disappointed with the quality of most Christian films.” I find many of them—even some of the more popular ones—to be weak in their plot and dialogue and acting. But I do give them credit that at least they are trying to offer something reflects the Christian worldview.

I have often lamented that I wished more talented Christians would take up the vocation of writers, director, actors, and producers of our various entertainment media. These arts have such an influence on our culture that we should not shy away from them, but pursue them with excellence. I think that goal has been achieved in this film, and I look forward to seeing more. I would highly encourage people to see this film while it is still available in the theaters. Motion picture studios will produce the kind of movies people come to see. The best way to ensure more of this kind of movie is to support it with our entertainment dollars.

Some have talked about using this movie as an evangelism tool, but it seems to me to be better suited to encouraging those of us who are already Christians. God’s grace is so amazing; His ways are so much higher than our ways; I can understand why some jaded reviewers or those unfamiliar with Christianity might find parts of the plot implausible. How can a man’s life be so changed that he goes from being one of the Church’s fiercest persecutors to being its foremost missionary and leading apostle? Only those who have already felt the grace and forgiveness of God in Jesus Christ, will be able to relate to it, especially its concluding scenes.

I left the theater that afternoon feeling I had experienced the joy of grace and forgiveness in Christ through Paul’s eyes. I was left in awe of the depiction of the faith of Paul and other Christians who faced impending torture and death with courage and boldness. I think I now have a much better understanding of this man, who called himself “the chief of sinners,” “the least of the apostles,” who found strength in his own weakness, joy in his trials, and God’s grace to be sufficient in his suffering.

It also challenged me to consider how we Christians can be light and love in a world that is filled with much darkness and hate. How can we witness to world who does not understand us, who rejects what we believe, and scoff at whom we believe? The same way the early Christians did. They loved. They loved their Lord. They loved their brothers and sisters in Christ. They loved their neighbors. They loved even their enemies. And the people were drawn to Christ and His Church because of their love, saying, “See how they love one another!”

I would like you to consider how we might reflect the light and love of Christ in our own community. How can we grow in our understanding and application of God’s Word so that we might develop and maintain healthy relationship within and between our congregations? What can we do to intentionally reach out to our neighbors with the Gospel? How can we show mercy and love to those in need? What needs might we be equipped to address? How can we open the doors of our congregations to the community?

In the next few month, I hope we will begin to discuss such questions and begin to develop a strategy for addressing them. My prayer is that the day will come when people in the Pipestone, Jasper, and Trosky areas speak of us, they might say, “See how they love one another,” and they will be drawn to the love of God in Christ Jesus.

God’s richest blessings in Christ!

Pastor Moeller

P.S. If you’re interest in checking out a trailer of Paul, Apostle to Christ, here is a link to one of its trailers: https://youtu.be/7DFGmw5oe0E.