Wednesday, April 13, 2016

“The Perfect Gift”

S-1529 CD/3C 12/25/15; Hymns: (O) #387; #370; #361; #374 vv. 1-2; (S) #383 vv1-3; L.S. #619; #623; (C) #383 vv4-5

Texts: Psalm 2; Isaiah 62:10-12; Hebrews 10:11-14; Luke 2:8-20

Theme: “The Perfect Gift” (Hebrews 10:12-14; Luke 2:10-11)

Question: “Did you get the gift you wanted?” (18th Sermon at Trinity).

Faithful followers of the Savior, Merry Christmas to one and all, the text for this blessed celebration of the birth of our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ is from the Epistle and Gospel readings. “And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, He sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until His enemies should be made a footstool for His feet. For by a single offering He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified…And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger” (Hebrews 10:11-14; Luke 2:11-13).

Most precious children of the heavenly Father, may I be bold to ask you a couple of questions: “Well, how did you do? Did you get the gifts that you wanted? Were you surprised at all by a gift that you received? Are you quietly looking for a gift receipt so that you can return that one certain gift that, well shall we say, “Missed the mark?”

No matter how you did in the gift getting department, there are some stark realities about the gifts you just opened. Think about the best gift you received this Christmas season. The truth is they will not be as pristine as they were the very moment they came out of the box. Those gift cards will be spent and be nothing but a cheap piece of plastic that might do in a pinch if your ice scraper goes missing this winter. That super toy that you feverishly unwrapped will, in time, be off in the corner of the room gathering dust like last year’s toys. The game system you want to spend every waking hour playing will become old hat and will spend untold hours of disuse near the television. That wonderful sweater that you may even be wearing this morning will fade with wear. What’s worse, there is the very real possibility that you may find that it even shrinks between now and next Christmas. The rest of the clothes may well go out of style before they are worn out. I don’t mean to rain on your Christmas gifts. I am just trying to be realistic. We need to be realistic, especially since we finally are through the UN-realistic pre-Christmas season.

In my 60 short years of life I can’t say that I actually remember a gift from the past that really stand out today and that I can’t live without. Certainly, I am thankful for the gift of my wife, children, daughter’s-in-law, grandchildren, family, friends; and of course the saints of Trinity. But none of these gifts are eternal this side of heaven.

Spouses pass away, family and friends move away, relationships breakup and even church members decline and some even leave the faith. Though they are special gifts from God they are not lasting ones. PAUSE.

A story is told of a young lady by the name of Jennie. Jennie’s death was a sad event in her family’s life. Yet, Jennie before she died, marked that her body would be used as a donor. After her tragic death, her body made a difference in the life of at least sixty (60) people. That is certainly good. However, think of the impact of the Son of God, the Ultimate and Perfect GIFT He makes a difference not only in the lives of 60 people, but for all the people of the world.

Here is how the Author to the Hebrews put it: “But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, He sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until His enemies should be made a footstool for His feet. For by a single offering He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (Hebrews 10:12-14). Through the GIFT of heaven, God has done what we couldn’t do—earn our salvation; remove our sins from us, live a righteous life before God and have eternal life

But through the Babe of Bethlehem we receive the Perfect GIFT by the Perfect Savior, who makes us perfect forever. Through His life, death, resurrection and ascension He makes us perfect.

Today, the Holy Spirit reminds you once more, that God is in the business of giving. He gave life to Adam and Eve. He gave deliverance to Noah and His family. He gave freedom to the Israelites. He gave Joshua victories over his enemies. He gave David a kingdom, land and property and He still offers gifts today.

Indeed, our loving Father is in the business of giving, and we are the recipients of His gifts—God’s great and perfect gift is found in the manger. The greatest and most perfect GIFT ever received is a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes. This is the PERFECT gift. It never runs out, it never rusts, goes out of style, or be out of use. You don’t have to exchange it or take it back. Its benefits are complete and useful. It always fits, always gives blessings, always comforts, always brings joy and lasting peace. PAUSE.

Beautiful people of God, few days back, I got a Christmas card from an elderly lady. What she wrote was so blessed and beautiful—I was moved by what she wrote, and wanted to share it with you. Here is a snippet from her letter: “…Well I don’t get excited about the run around and the shopping and all that goes with it. What I get excited about is Church and the True meaning of the Holiday. Services, Christmas Eve program, Christmas Day Services that is what it means the most. I don’t care if I get gifts. There is only one gift I need and that is the GIFT of our Dear Lord and Savior.” Isn’t that wonderful? She knows what she needs—Her Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ—the Babe of Bethlehem.

During Christmas we prepare different gifts, for the little ones one kind, for the older children another, and yet other kinds for parents and older folks. But it is not so with this highest—the Perfect GIFT, of which the angel here speaks! “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. (Luke2:10-11). It is one and the same great gift for all, for young and old, for rich and poor, for the shepherds at Bethlehem, for you and for me.

Children of God, today, hear the truth and keep it in your hearts. The Perfect GIFT is so unlike the others we get or give. Most of the gifts we get eventually wear out, become weary in our use and eventually either ends up on a rummage sale or in the garbage. It was God who first gave us His Ultimate and Perfect GIFT. Read the Christmas Tag from God, “Whoever believes ...” (Mark 16:16; John 3:16). That is a GIFT that you don’t put away after Christmas is over. Never wears out, never becomes weary, it will never be sold at a rummage sale. But always useful!

Most precious Bride of Christ, always remember the GREATEST GIFT you will ever receive is not found in stores, or under your Christmas tree. It is found in the Babe of Bethlehem Jesus Christ who offers forgiveness, life and salvation. Because of this PERFECT, glorious and blessed GIFT, you will cherish and appreciate the gift of your family and friends. Amen and Merry Christmas!

Now the peace of God…


Thursday, December 31, 2015

“Looking Ahead, by Looking Back”

S-1531 NY/3C 12/31/15; Hymns: (O) #897 (S) #733; L.S. 739; 740; (C) #917

Texts: Psalm 111; Ecclesiastes 3:1-8; Romans 8:31-39; Matthew 6:25-34

Theme: “Looking Ahead, by Looking Back” (Luke 9:62)

Question: “What are you hoping for in the New Year?” (20th Sermon at Trinity).

Faithful followers of the Savior, Happy New Year to all of God’s beautiful children. The text for our meditation is from the book of Luke: “Jesus said to him, No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God’” ( Luke 9:62).

In Nomine Iesu

Saints in Christ, we find ourselves one more time standing on the threshold of another year. The year past is over. All its mistakes, all its success, all of its failure and all of its heartaches are behind us. Before us lies another year with all of its promises and hopes and dreams. We stand on the door of closing one year and opening another. Always hoping, always dreaming that the New Year would be better than the last.

This evening we call on the Holy Spirit to awaken us to the truth that time keeps marching on. We know we are getting older and the time is going a lot faster; and it is hard to believe 2015 is almost over and 2016 will start soon.

So it’s another new year. If you’re like me, you look back into the old year and scratch your head and think, “What did I accomplish last year? I know I was busy, but what did I do with my time, how was it used? Did anything of importance happened?” For me, I need to pull out my red calendar and flip through it, and then I remember. “Oh yeah, that’s what that was like…thus and such happened in this month…” What’s written down jogs my memory, and then I know what happened in the old year.

But you don’t see what’s not there. If you flipped through your own calendar or thought back over your year, what do you notice that is missing? The kind words you never spoke to someone else? The time when you unleashed your tongue when your spouse or a family member provoked you; instead of being calm and forgiving. The hug, the smile, the loving gesture you gave to someone that you knew was having a hard time – that’s missing because you were too busy with your own things to notice when someone else was struggling. The patience, the joy, the kindness you never showed to those around you who deserved it the most. The act of love that you just never did, even though you knew it’s what the other person wanted more than anything from you. The sin you should have struggled against, but didn’t. The times you chose to put others first – they’re all not there. You can’t remember them because you never did them.

But there is more to life than looking back in regret. This evening we call on the Holy Spirit to help us look ahead by looking back. As you hear me say that you say to yourself. “Pastor what you say, doesn’t really make sense! How can we look ahead by looking back?” PAUSE.

The answer to the question is this; you must know what happened in the past so that you may know to look ahead. Our Synod’s President the Rev. Matt Harrison stated: “When a Church body forgets its past, it loses its compass and doesn’t have a future!” Dr. Luke in chapter 9 speaks of the discourse of Jesus with some people who wanted to follows Him. This is how this encounter is recorded for us in Holy Scripture. “To another He said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Jesus gives a most perfect advice, when we are about the Lord’s business. We should be looking back, in order to look ahead to find the means and methods of proclaiming the Gospel. And I don’t want you to think that I am going contrary to My Lord’s advice and command.

I am simply stating for us Christians in order to look ahead to the promised future we must look back. But not just back to 2015 or 2014, but back all the way to the Garden of Eden and His promise to give us a Savior. And back all the way to Good Friday the day Pilate and the Jewish leaders determined that the innocent Lamb of God must die. Go all the way back to the dark and dismal day when the Savior was hanging on the cross and learn what that means to you and me.

The instrument of shame and cruelty became a badge of honor and glory. That day—a day of infamy for Jesus when He died, became a day of triumph. That day Satan was silenced, Sin conquered and death destroyed. That day of darkness became a day of light and life. A day of hope and promise of life with Him forever. That day is day of victory and confidence.

When you look ahead through the prism of looking back, you see much more than dollar sings, and bright tomorrows. You see so much more. You see God coming to you in Word and Sacrament to bless you and enrich your life. You see the God who became Incarnate serving you in all of your presents and tomorrows. You see a future that is secured. You see eternity guaranteed, you see sins forgiven and heaven’s door opened wide for all who put their trust in the ONLY Lord and Savior. PAUSE.

Beloved and purchased saints, my father-in-law Ed Miedema plowed SD farmland with a John Deer tractor. There is one thing that he taught me and it is a no-no. You never try to plow while looking over your shoulder. If you do, your rows are crooked and your field is difficult to work. Just ask me about it. The day was so nice and dad said, Go ahead and plant some wheat.” Which I was eager to do! But remember, I am a city boy. So I drove the tractor proudly to the North and that had many points of reference of keeping straight rows. But the problem started when I turned around to head south, and there was nothing in front of me except open spaces. At first it wasn’t noticeable, but when the wheat began to grow some of the neighbors began to whisper, I wonder how many beers did Ed have that day?

To “put your hand to the plow” means to begin the task of plowing. The Greek verb tenses underline the point. Literally, “No one who puts (Aorist tense, past complete action) his hand to the plow and looks back (Present tense, continuous action), is fit for the kingdom of God.” Jesus isn’t saying you can’t look back. But He is saying you can’t continue to look back once you’ve begun to plow. If you do, you’re not “fit,” Greek euthetos, “fit, suitable, usable, convenient for something.”

But I do want you to look back at the cross and pay close attention what Christ has accomplished for you. Look back not only on the cross but more importantly on the empty tomb and mighty deeds the Savior accomplished. The Psalmist often tells us of the mighty deeds of God for which we praise His name.

So go on and look ahead, but don’t forget where you have come from. Look back and thank God for what you see ahead of you—a bright and blessed future. One that is guaranteed that there is nothing in this world or the next that can separate you from His loving hands and that there is nothing to worry about for tomorrow, because we know who holds tomorrow that is our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ.

On this final day of 2015, I exhort you in the name of the Living Christ to look ahead by looking back. Amen.

Now the peace…


Monday, December 28, 2015

“First-fruit Giving”

S-1530 1SAC/3C 12/27/15 Hymns: (O) #357 vv1-4 (S) #783; L.S. 364; 368; 375; (C) #357 vv5-6

Texts: Psalm 111; Exodus 13:1-3, 11-15; Colossians 3:12-17; Luke 2:22-40

Theme: “First-fruit Giving” (Hebrews 10:12-14; Luke 2:8-20)

Question: “Are you giving your first-fruit to the Lord?” (19th Sermon at Trinity).

Faithful followers of the Savior, Merry Christmas once more to you precious and beautiful people of God. The text for our meditation is from the O.T. Reading: When the Lord brings you into the land of the Canaanites, as He swore to you and your fathers, and shall give it to you, you shall set apart to the Lord all that first opens the womb. All the firstborn of your animals that are males shall be the Lord’s. Every firstborn of a donkey you shall redeem with a lamb, or if you will not redeem it you shall break its neck. Every firstborn of man among your sons you shall redeem. And when in time to come your son asks you, ‘What does this mean?’ you shall say to him, ‘By a strong hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, from the house of slavery’”(Ex. 13:11-14).

In Nomine Iesu

Saints in Christ, as the Holy Spirit has brought us once again to kneel at the Manger since CHRISTmas is not a one day event, but rather, seeing God drenching His world in grace by giving them the long-expected Messiah—the Savior; today, we call once more upon the Holy Spirit to help us as we take time to reflect on the Words of Moses from his second book—Exodus. In these few words the Lord tells Moses to say to the Israelites to remember and celebrate the day the Lord God REDEEMED them from the bondage of slavery from the cruel master’s Pharaoh and his henchmen.

God tells them “…when in time to come your son asks you, ‘What does this mean?’ You shall say to him, ‘By a strong hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, from the house of slavery’” (Moses was the first Lutheran, for he asked “What does this mean?”). By the gracious and strong hand of God the Israelites were freed and so have we. We too, like Israel were in bondage. But on account of Christ the Babe of Bethlehem, we have been freed from a crueler task masters, more powerful and evil than Pharaoh; more cunning, more wicked and deadly than any Isis or terrorist group we will ever meet—Satan Himself.

On account of the mighty act of deliverance by the ONLY true God the Israelites were commanded to give the first born of the womb to the Lord both of animals and humans they are to be dedicated to the Lord. This is a constant reminder to the people of Israel and us that deliverance from the enemy comes by the outstretched hand of God. Don’t overlook that statement. See the cross already in the O.T.

You and I as the redeemed of God and made part of the family in Baptism, have been privileged to travel in Spirit to Bethlehem to see this thing that has been told us by the angels; we saw the tiny hands of the Baby Jesus. Throughout His earthly travel He used His hands to do many kind deeds and freed people from many diseases and even death. But ultimately those strong, caring and loving hands were stretched on the cruel cross of Cavalry to redeem the world from its bondage and slavery under the tyrant Satan.

Those outstretched hands were the gift that God gave you and me to be redeemed and freed from every burden that drags us down and keeps us in the dark—destined to hell. On account of those hands our sins are forgiven and we are granted eternal life because those hands didn’t remain on the cross. They were placed in a tomb ultimately to rise again. PAUSE.

For this reason, I titled the sermon “First Fruit Giving.” But what does that really mean and how does that affect us? In order for us to know what does that mean we need the Word of the Lord to teach us!

Firstfruits, was a Jewish feast held in the early spring at the beginning of the grain harvest. It was observed on Nissan 16, which was the third day after Passover and the second day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Firstfruits was a time of thanksgiving for God’s provision.

Leviticus 23:9-14 institutes the firstfruits offering. The people were to bring a sheaf of grain to the priest, who would wave it before the Lord. A burnt offering, a meal offering, and a drink offering were also required at that time. Deuteronomy 26:1-10 gives even more detail on the procedure of firstfruits.

No grain was to be harvested at all until the firstfruits offering was brought to the Lord (Leviticus 23:14). The offering was made in remembrance of Israel’s sojourn in Egypt, the Lord’s deliverance from slavery, and their possession of “a land that flows with milk and honey.” The day of the firstfruits offering was also used to calculate the proper time of the Feast of Weeks (Leviticus 23:15-16).

In the New Testament, the firstfruits offering is mentioned seven times. Paul’s meaning is that, just as the firstfruits offering was the first portion of a larger harvest, these individuals were the first of many converts in that region. James calls believers “a kind of firstfruits of His creatures” (James 1:18). Just like the sheaf of grain was set apart for the Lord, so are believers set apart for God’s glory. PAUSE.

Where do we find these firstfruits offering fulfilled? In Jesus the gift of heaven who was born to die for you and me. Paul writes: But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep (1 Corinthians 15:20). Jesus’ resurrection has paved the way for our resurrection. Significantly, if Jesus was killed at Passover, then His resurrection on the third day would have fallen on Nissan 16—the Feast of Firstfruits. When there is firstfruit that means there is more to come. So we too, shall rise from the grave.

Therefore, we are encouraged, not mandated to give our firstfruits to the Lord. Paul even taught us in 1 Corinthians 16:2 saying: On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come.” We are to set aside these gifts to the Lord’s work as our occasion of thanksgiving and gladness of what the Lord has done for us and continue to do for us.

Yet, how often do we give our firstfruit offering to the Lord? Be honest now. Is the first check you write and set aside to the Lord, or after you had paid your bills, you check what you have left over? When you do something at church, is that your first thought, priority, or is it because someone begged you to do it? If you want to know if you are giving your firstruit to the Lord, check two things: Your check book and your calendar. This will give you an indication what is important in your life.

You see my beloved; our minds are not like the Lord’s. We focus on what is good for me and not the Kingdom. The 2nd Petition of the Lord’s Prayer—Thy Kindgom come is not always on our mind. But it should be. Nor do we even consider that we can make a difference in what we say, do and give. Often time the devil deceives us in thinking no one will notice and there is no benefit to what we say, do, and give. But what we offer to the Lord is important! When our firstfruits are offered to the Lord in humility and love, He takes what we give Him and blesses others. PAUSE.

Children of the Heavenly Father, every year around Christmas a classic movie is played on our TV screens, titled “What a wonderful life” Starring Jimmy Stewart. The movie focuses on a young man by the name of George Bailey living in a small town, but with big dreams. From an early age, he wanted to get away from Bedford Falls, travel the world, and accomplish big things. But he didn’t. He started a bank business whereby he helped people in need. He gets married and has a family. But tragedy hits the bank when his uncle looses the money.

George is mad at his uncle, the world and everyone else and decides to kill himself. But God sent an angel to show what a difference he made in the lives of many in the community. Ultimately he is thankful for what he has and what a blessing his family means to him.

You too, my beloved have a family. Bound by love and filled with blessings by the Babe of Bethlehem who offers Himself as the firstfruit from the dead, so that you, me and many others will be welcomed in the family of God.

In Jesus and His relentless love; we have a wonderful life. On account of Jesus we receive blessings galore. We get to hear the Word preached, forgiveness offered and the Sacrament dished out. Here in this place we see the harvest of the firstfruits of God—given you and me and the world because of the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus. For that we say amen and amen.

Now the peace…


Friday, December 25, 2015

“A Visitor from Bethlehem” (Luke 2:15-17)

S1528 12/24/15 CE/3C Hymns: (O) 379; 364; 380; 387; 361; (S) 358; (C) 363

Texts: Isaiah 9:2-7; Luke 2:8-20

Theme: “A Visitor from Bethlehem” (Luke 2:15-17)

Question: “Who is coming to visit you tonight?” (17th Sermon at Trinity).

This sermon will be preached in a first person dramatic narrative. The visitor from Bethlehem is an older Shepherd who was a young man at the time of the angels visit on the first Christmas Eve. He is dressed with Shepherd’s clothing has a white beard and holding a shepherd’s staff. Luke 2:15-17).

Introduction: In Nomine IESU

I have to apologize for my appearance and the smell of my clothing. I don’t mean to be barging in on you like this on this festive night. However, ever since that night (so long ago), I can’t help myself but tell of what I had seen and heard in the shepherd’s field near Bethlehem.

I beg your pardon for my rudeness. In my excitement to tell you of that great night of so long ago, I failed to tell you that I am Shlomo Ben Yehuda (Soloman son of Judah) I remember the night as if it was yesterday. I was only a young man of 14. It was my first year to be away from home and spend it out in the Judean hills along with the other shepherds in my family—my father, uncles and grandfather.

The day had been as usual. We had grazed the sheep near the village of Bethlehem. As the evening was approaching, we all gathered the sheep close to us. We were sitting near the fire listening to my grandfather telling us about the king of Israel David; who, too, was a shepherd and how he killed a lion and bear (with his bare hands) after they took a lamb from the herd. Scarcely had grandpa finished telling the story and all of a sudden there was this heavenly being right above us. I, along with the rest of the shepherds were frightened. We had never seen anything like this. I got so scared when the angel began to speak. The hair on my neck stood up, (rub neck and show fear), my legs shook from fear, I felt my heart beating so fast and I didn’t know what to do. I tried to hide for fear of what might happen to us.

Then, the angel spoke softly, yet with angelic heavenly voice saying, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Lk. 2:10-11). I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Could it be? That the long expected Messiah, the TRUE Son of David promised to my ancestors has come? Is it possible that I, a shepherd boy might get to see the true King of Israel, the Savior of the world? Surely, it can’t be. Why, we are nothing but shepherds—insignificant people, yet the angel spoke that night.

My mind was racing wildly thinking of the angel’s words and all of a sudden the sky was lit up above as if it was noon day over Bethlehem. There were so many angels singing above, it was terrifying and yet exhilarating. My neck (look up) hurt as I kept looking up and listening to what they were saying. Oh, if you could have heard the angels’ choir that night, it was the most beautiful sound I had ever heard in my 14 years of life. They sang a song that I don’t believe I will ever forget. They said, “Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased!”
(Lk. 2:14).

Shortly after the singing the angels left us to our sheep and the hills. I looked at my father wondering what does this mean. He looked at his father and wondered what does this mean. And I heard my grandfather say, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us” (Lk. 15b).

Excitement ran through our camp. The news had made us jump for joy. Without a thought about our sheep, I grabbed the torch, lit it up from the fire and ran as fast as possible trying to keep up with the adults as we headed towards Bethlehem. When we arrived, we found Joseph and Mary two proud parents looking at their infant child. There before my very own eyes, was the long expected Messiah. The King of kings is born in the most humble places among animals. And I, Shlomo Ben Yehuda got to kneel by His side, and…. touch Him with my own hands (look at hands). His parents were so happy. I was so happy I got to see the Savior. All of us were happy.

When we left the little manger, we couldn’t stop telling the people what we had seen. I told Moshe the Butcher; Ephraim the Carpenter; and Yosef the Potter. Everywhere we went, my father, uncles, grandfather and me would tell the people of the angel’s visit, our running to Bethlehem and seeing the New Born Savior of the world. PAUSE.

After that night things went back to normal. I kept my duties as a shepherd boy watching the flock by night with my father, uncles and grandfather. Making sure they had enough to eat and kept safe from the wild beasts. But I still remembered the night and wondered about the Savior and how He would save us from the Romans; what kind of Savior He would be and what His Kingdom would look like. PAUSE.

33 years later another event happened that is etched in my memory as that first night the angel’s told us about the Messiah. But this one was not a joyous night. I was still living in Bethlehem at this time. Both my grandfather and father had long gone to sleep in the earth and now I had my own children who helped me with the family business-taking care of the sheep. And yet that Friday afternoon is as alive in my heart as the night of the announcement of the angelic hosts in the sky above Bethlehem. Word had gone out from other shepherds from Jerusalem that Jesus the Savior of the world and the King of Israel was hanging on a Roman cross outside the city walls of Jerusalem. I couldn’t believe my ears. It can’t be!!! The long expected Messiah was not meant to die. He came to deliver. He came to save. There must be some mistake. Those shepherds must have heard wrong.

Well, I determined to travel to Jerusalem and see the thing I heard about. And sure enough as I was getting closer to Jerusalem I knew something was wrong. The sky got darker and darker and there just outside the city walls, there were three crosses. Right in the middle between two thieves was Jesus—the One who laid in the manger, the One whom I knelt before and the One whom I touched with my own hands. I knew because Pilate had written in my language a sign and put it above His head saying, יֵשׁוּעַ הַנָּצְרִי מֶלֶךְ הַיְּהוּדִים “Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews.”

I stood there looking at this figure and wondered why. Why would they crucify Him like a murderer and a robber? Why would they want Him dead? What did He do? Why such hatred for the Savior of the world. Then I remembered the statement “And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid Him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn” (Lk. 2:7). It dawned on me then, then that those words already an indication of what would become of Him—He was born to die. The swaddling cloths were garments we Jewish people wore around our body in case someone died away from home and they would wrap the body carefully and lay it in the dirt. So Joseph must have taken the swaddling cloths and wrapped His foster child.

As I was reflecting on this thought, deep and alone in my mind, I was awakened by words I heard from His parched lips. I drew closer to the cross and the others. And what I heard I didn’t understand. Do you know what He said, Father, FORGIVE THEM, for they don’t know what they do!” How could He do that? How could He speak such forgiving words to those who persecuted Him and nailed Him to the cross? I didn’t know. But figured it must be love.

Many of the people began to leave as the darkness descended. And just as I was about to leave I heard one of the soldiers say, “He is dead! The King is dead! The Savior is dead!” Those words pierced my heart. But not as much as the laughter in the soldiers voice.

I left to go back to Bethlehem, broken hearted and teary eye about what had taken place. I told my family about what I had seen that afternoon in Jerusalem and we all wept together over the fate of the Savior of the world.

Few days later I heard word that this Savior had been raised from the grave; that He is alive. Again, I couldn’t believe my ears. Again I traveled the miles road to Jerusalem. I saw many people in the street speaking about the empty tomb. And that the Savior really had been raised from the grave. And that He died to earn forgiveness for us sinners. That was the promise the angels sang about that night: “Glory to God in the Highest and peace on earth…”

Right then and there, I fell to the ground (fall down) and wept realizing that the Savior had come for me. He was born in the manger as the angel told us for me; that the Savior suffered for me; that the Savior died for me; that the Savior rose for me. Me, Shlomo Ben Yehuda, a shepherd man came to understand the meaning and blessings of that night of so long ago.

Many years have come and gone since that first night when I was 14 years with my father, grandfather and uncles watching over our sheep as the angels announced to us the “Good News” that is born to us. I am now an old man, but no matter how old I get I never get tired of telling the story to anyone who listens.

I hope you, too, in your visit to the manger tonight, can hear the angel’s voice, see with your eyes the Savior of the world and tell all you meet what you have seen and heard.

(The visitor leaves the stage.)


Tuesday, December 22, 2015

“Secure in His Hands”

S-1527 3SIA/3C 12/13/15; Hymns: (O) #338; (S) #347; (C) #335,
Texts: Psalm 80:1-7; Micah 5:2-5; Hebrews 10; 5-10; Luke 1:39-56
Theme: “Secure in His Hands” (Micah 5:4-5a)
Question: “How good is Your Insurance?” (16th Sermon at Trinity).
Faithful followers of the Savior, Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed! Alleluia! The text is the O.T. reading: And He shall stand and shepherd His flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord His God. And they shall dwell secure, for now He shall be great to the ends of the earth. And He shall be their peace” (Micah 5:4-5a).
Precious children of the heavenly Father, every one of us in this room from the youngest to the oldest want to know that we are safe and secure. In this broken and messed up world we long to be secure. With the rise of terrorism, thefts, robberies and murders, we know we are not as secure as we would like to be.
To be sure, security is a big thing and a big business. Our government spends billions of dollars to secure the boarders and keep us safe. We buy virus protection for our PC so they are secure against hackers. We purchase alarm systems for our houses. We, as parents do everything in our power to help our children feel and know they are safe and secure. As adults we spend a great sum of money buying insurance to protect our property, possessions, health and life. We seek the best insurance for the money. There is one Insurance company that wants your business and has this great slogan, “You are in good hands with All State!”
Even though we desire to be safe and secure, we know we can’t be completely safe proof. In spite of the fact, we pay our insurance premiums…and on time, when something goes wrong, we realize we are not as protected as we should have been. You know when you have water in your basement and speak with your agent, he will say, “Sorry this is not covered!” We fail to read the “small print.” PAUSE.
Yet on this 4th Sunday in Advent, the voice of the prophet Micah vibrates through the centuries to tell the people of Israel and us that we are safe and secure in the hands of God. Listen to the voice of the prophet once more: And He shall stand and shepherd His flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord His God. And they shall dwell secure, for now He shall be great to the ends of the earth. And He shall be their peace.”
Indeed, in the pierced and outstretched hands of Christ we are secure from all our enemies. And this is more than a slogan; it is true, tried and tested! Throughout all of Scripture we see God’s mighty and powerful hands protecting His people.
As the Israelites left Egypt, God kept them safe from their enemies—the Egyptians by a Pillar of Fire by night and Cloud by Day. Satan was given freedom to assail Job, but God chained him like a dog and said, “You can go this far and no further.” Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego’s lives were spared when thrown into the burning furnace. God shut the mouth of the lions when Daniel was lowered to their pit.
David the shepherd boy knew first hand this security provided by His God, and didn’t fear the bear or the lion when they attacked his flock; or even a giant that mocked his king, nation, and God! He experienced this security when he was being chased by Saul and his army. He even wrote these words to help us know that we too, can be secure in the hands of our God and Savior. Listen to David’s description of His Awesome God: “I love you, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies” (Ps. 18:1-2). PAUSE.
Beloved in Christ, you, who are precious in His sight! I want you to know this truth and hold it dear like many other believers who have trusted God in life and in death. In my office I have many pictures that have been given me. I enjoy looking at them. But there is one that stands out above the rest. (Show picture).
As you look at this picture notice please that there are 3 characters in it. Shepherd [Jesus] a little lamb and two wolves. Study the picture well. You will notice the hungry wolves eyeing the lamb. The lamb is near the feet of Jesus unafraid, and Jesus’ eyes are on the wolves. I can almost hear Him say, “I dare you come closer! If you attack my lamb I will shred you to pieces.” The lamb is unconcerned and unafraid because it is secure under the watchful eye of the Shepherd.
This is our security today and always. This morning we are reminded of this through the word of the prophet. And if that is not enough let me share with you few other verses to comfort you with. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are One” (John 10:27-30). Did you hear that, NO ONE IS ABLE TO SNATCH US FROM HIS HANDS? In His hands we are safe and secure. And if this is not enough for you then, hear another prophet speak of this security. Listen to the voice of Isaiah: “But Zion said, ‘The Lord has forsaken me; my Lord has forgotten me.’  ‘Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of My hands; your walls are continually before Me’” (Isaiah 49:14-16).
This is a beautiful reminder for us, the 21st century followers of Jesus. Yet, sadly we don’t take it to heart. So often we act like a 2 year old wanting to do it ourselves; grasping to something temporal for security, whatever that thing may be. We get ourselves into messes because we don’t trust God. We think we know better. We try to do what we can’t do to save and secure ourselves. But it doesn’t work that way beloved.
That is why Advent is such a blessed season. It reminds us why the Babe of Bethlehem came to earth. Remember He came to be the Savior of the world—but more importantly YOUR Savior. He came to live the perfect life, and fulfill the demands of the Law perfectly in your place. He came to suffer, die and rise again for you. He came to give you salvation, safety and security and He has and continues even today doing so through His Word and Sacrament. The birth of Jesus allows us to simply drop the false security we have been grasping so tightly, and learn to trust and cling to Him instead. PAUSE.
Oh, how we need this reminder again and again. We are God’s blood-bought people. We are secure in His hands today and always. The opening hymn we sang has these words: “Come, Thou long-expected Jesus, Born to set Thy people free; From our fears and sins release us; let us find our rest in Thee” (LSB338). And from our sermon hymn: “Comfort, comfort ye My people, Speak ye peace, thus saith our God; Comfort those who sit in darkness, Mourning ’neath their sorrow’s load; Speak ye to Jerusalem Of the peace that waits for them; Tell her that her sins I cover, And her warfare now is over” (LSB347).
Beloved bride of Christ, certainly, we are secure in the hands of God. As we listen to the voice of the prophet again, we realize there is only one Insurance company that will give us the true and lasting security. It is the greatest company in the whole wide world. This insurance, unlike All State gives us the benefits without pay. And it covers everything that we need not only our bodies, but more importantly our souls. It is run by three loving people—God the Father who is the Author of our Salvation. God the Son the Agent of our Salvation. And God the Holy Spirit who is the Administrator of our salvation.
This is the Good News for you today and every day. There is no monthly fee to be paid by us. There is no small print which we don’t understand. There is nothing that is not covered. Instead, you will see the contract sealed by the blood of the Lamb. And the payment paid in full through His death and through His resurrection. Therefore we can say, “We are in good hands—NOT of All State Agent, but the pierced hands of Christ who conquered death for you. Amen. And Amen.
Now the peace of God…

Monday, December 14, 2015

“A Busy God” (Zephaniah 3:16-20)

S-1525 3SIA/3C 12/13/15; Hymns: (O)#355; (S)#819; L.S. #818; #353; #813; (C) #349,
Texts: Zephaniah 3:14-20; Philippians 4:4-7; Luke 7:18-28
Theme: “A Busy God” (Zephaniah 3:16-20)
Question: “How Busy are you during this Season?” (14th Sermon at Trinity).  

Faithful followers of the Savior, Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed! Alleluia! The text is the O.T. reading: On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: ‘Fear not, O Zion; let not your hands grow weak.  The Lord Your God is in your midst, a mighty One who will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness; He will quiet you by His love; He will exult over you with loud singing. I will gather those of you who mourn for the festival, so that you will no longer suffer reproach. Behold, at that time I will deal with all your oppressors. And I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth. At that time I will bring you in, at the time when I gather you together; for I will make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes,’ says the Lord  (Zephaniah 3:16-20)

Oh most beautiful Bride of Christ the facts are true and real. During this time of year many people feel gloomy and glum, depressed and disheartened, sad and scared.  We are so busy and don’t know which way to turn   Too many invitations to attend, backing, cleaning, decorating, buying gifts and wrapping them too, and sending out cards. Loss of loved ones doesn’t help. Medical concerns add to the burdens of life. Too many activities, too little time. Overextended and under-befriended.  Put in layman’s term, we are busy, busy and getting busier by the second and our world is spinning out of control.

But take heart today as you listen to God’s Word through the prophet Zephaniah whose name means: “God is Hidden! But He is not hidden. Instead, through the O.T. reading we learn that our God is busy. Busy making sure we don’t become overextended and overexerted, fatigued and frazzled; instead He wants us to know of His gracious will for our lives.

However, we don’t know any better. Instead of enjoying this season of Advent and prepare for the Joy that the Savior came into the world to offer sinners like us, we become busy and anxious about all of the things we need to do. In the process, the devil gets hold of us, distracts us, and takes away from us the celebration of the Babe of Bethlehem and turns our focus inward, on what we have to do instead of what the heaven-sent Child has done.

Our busyness drives us away from our loving God. Our busyness adds pressure to our lives that need not be there. Our busyness tires us out. Our busyness makes us sick because we don’t know what to do with ourselves. We are torn between wanting to slow down and do what everyone else is doing and we don’t want to be left out. PAUSE.

In our busy life, the prophet of God extends to us on this third Sunday of Advent, the joy that the God of all grace and compassion offers to burdened people. He draws our attention to the living and powerful Word. Please follow along and mark how busy this gracious God is in our lives.On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: ‘Fear not, O Zion; let not your hands grow weak.  The Lord Your God is in your midst, a mighty One who will save1; He will rejoice2 over you with gladness; He will quiet3 you by His love; He will exult4 over you with loud singing. I will gather5 those of you who mourn for the festival, so that you will no longer suffer reproach. Behold, at that time I will deal6 with all your oppressors. And I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change7 their shame into praise and renown in all the earth. At that time I will bring8 you in, at the time when I gather you together; for I will make9 you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore10 your fortunes before your eyes,’ says the Lord

These words of the Prophet bring joy to the heart, first to the people of Judah and then to you and me. This is what the pink candle is all about! The God who promises judgment also brings joy! In these great promises we hear of 10 different ways our Lord is busy blessing us with reasons for joy.

Notice these 10 reasons and write them on the tablets of your hearts so that when you are so busy, you don’t have time, or when you are overworked and overextended with the busyness of day today things; remember also, that Your God is busy working things for your good and for His glory.

1.      He will save you through the King of kings and Lord of lords—the Babe of Bethlehem. 
2.      He will rejoice over you. This is a fabulous language of the Holy Spirit at work over you and filling your heart through the precious gifts of His Word and Sacrament.
3.      He will quiet you with His love. There is nothing in the world that can calm your heart, head and mind like Jesus’ love.
4.      He will exult over you with loud joyful singing. Hallelujah is our chorus; Joy to the world is our good news. This is the most majestic music in history, for our ears, hearts and heads.
5.      He will bring back His people from exile. That is to say, He will bring relief from oppression.
6.      He will in the fullness of time take out all the bullies of this world. Just think of it beloved; there will be NO bullies in heaven.
7.      He will “change” the lame, heal the sick perfectly and raise the dead. All because of the Perfect Savior, who does everything perfectly for us who are imperfect but become Perfect through His grace.
8.      He will take away all shame. In heaven there will be no shame and no blame. But bliss and joy and peace.
9.      He will reunite the outcast, the forsaken and abandoned because of the Son back again to Himself. This is our Awesome, Amazing and Almighty God.
10.  He will galore...raise the rafters, celebrate, rejoice, think pink, joy.

These are 10 beautiful and blessed reasons to help us be joyful. You should know children of the heavenly Father that the number 10 stands for the perfect work, of the perfect Savior for the imperfect people like you and me.

We see in our Awesome, Amazing and Almighty God that He really is busy. Busy removing the judgments, punishments, and the power of the devil, busy forgiving us our many sins, busy clearing away our enemies and driving fear away, busy destroying the power of the grave, busy rejoicing over us, busy saving us, busy blessing us, and busy renewing us. All of this He does on account of His Son, the Babe of Bethlehem. Because of the Perfect life of Jesus-the heaven-sent Savior we become perfect in His sight and receive the great blessings that fill our hearts, heads and homes with the true and lasting joy.  PAUSE.

Sadly in our human nature we are always busy in the wrong way. This busyness distracts us and destroys the joy that should be ours. Our minds are busy even when we are not physically busy. In the darkness of the night we begin to question if God cares, or if He is near us.  Satan comes among us and distracts us; just as it was with John the Baptizer who was distracted. Though he was in jail and wasn’t busy physically, yet his mind was very busy. In the Gospel reading we are told: “The disciples of John reported all these things to him. And John, calling two of his disciples to him, sent them to the Lord, saying, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?’ And when the men had come to him [Jesus], they said, ‘John the Baptist has sent us to you, saying, ‘Are you the One who is to come, or shall we look for another?’” (Lk. 7:18-20)

Of course He is the One. He is the One who does everything right for our benefits. He is the One who is busy in our lives taking away our busyness that makes us anxious and nervous and replace it with His love and peace. He does ALL of this because He IS the Perfect God and Perfect Man who does everything perfect for us who are imperfect so that we might become Perfect in the sight of God.

This is the Savior of Mankind—yours and mine. He is the Babe of Bethlehem. He is the One who rally us in faith and instill confidence, not to bring dismay.  For this is Jesus speaking – Jesus!  The coming Judge and King is also our Savior…and He knows better than anyone that our sins have been paid for, because He paid for them on the cross.  He comes again therefore, not with judgment for you, but for your “redemption” – the fulfillment of God’s salvation plan, which includes destroying all evil and the Evil One, and making all things new.  Including you, with that new and glorious resurrection body that never gets sick, dies, or sins again.  He promises to be this busy GOD FOR YOU!

On account of this promise, we take to heart the words of Paul in the Epistle lesson who exhorts us to, Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.  Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Phil. 4:4-6).

Oh, precious people of God, you His Bride, as the Lord has been this busy for us in salvation and deliverance, you and I in this Advent season can be busy in joy and praise! AMEN

Now the peace of God…


“Jesus Came For Me” Matthew 1:18-25

S-1524 2MWIA/3C 12/09/15Hymns: #338; #357; #348
Texts: Psalm 67; Exodus 3:7-12; Acts 1:6-11; Matthew 1:18-25
Theme: Jesus Came For Me Matthew 1:18-25
Question: “Has anyone done something special for you?” (13th sermon at Trinity).  

Fellow travelers on our journey to eternity, in the name of the Babe of Bethlehem, Jesus Christ, a blessed Advent to you; The text is a portion of the Gospel lesson. Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.  But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins,” (Matthew 1:18-21).

In Nomine Iesu 
God’s beautiful and Advent people, the movie “The Day after Tomorrow” is a touching story, of a drama, emotions and destruction all due to a “superstorm” that is setting off catastrophic natural disasters throughout the world. A world-renowned paleoclimatologist Prof. Jack Hall, played by Dennis Quaid, warns of the impending disaster that is about to take place. Many people around the world ignore the warnings. His teenage son goes to New York City from Washington D.C. for an academic competition. While his son is in New York, the natural disasters on a global scale strike the Earth, the planet plummets into an ice age virtually in one day and many people are caught unaware and die by freezing to death. While the son is trapped in New York, Jack and his crew must travel by foot from Philadelphia, braving the elements, risking his own life to get to Sam before it is too late.  Out of his great love for his son, the father doesn’t stop until he reaches his son and rescues him from the impending disaster.

The Advent message for all of us this evening is to know that God’s gracious love moved Him to come to rescue me—the sinner. We see this soon after the Fall of man in the Garden. God came to them while hiding to deliver them from the impending death. We see His hand’s of mercy extended to rescue the Israelites from the bondage of slavery by sending Moses to be His mouthpiece. Walk through the corridors of Holy Scripture and you will see God’s blue print in sending one prophet after another to care and deliver His people from the spiritual enemies—the devil, the world and our sinful flesh.

The Gospel chosen for this evening is a reminder that God sent His Son, Jesus Christ to be born   in the flesh for me. He didn’t send Him only for the world (2 Corinthians 5:19), but for me. God cared enough to send His Holy, innocent and ONLY Son to earth to take upon Him flesh and blood to be like us. He loved me enough to spare nothing to deliver and save me from death, hell     the eternal punishment. Yes, and so also for you too who thinks of yourself so highly.

 The message of the Angel to Mary is God intervening in the lives of those who are broken and bleeding because of sin and doing EVERYTHING to rescue, restore and redeem mankind from the curse of sin and the power of the grave and the bite of Satan. PAUSE.

Beautiful and precious God’s Advent people, this evening we reflect on the coming of the Babe of Bethlehem, His perfect life, His unimaginable suffering at the hands of His enemies who nailed Him to the cross and put Him to death; and was raised to life again on the third day states clearly that you and I needed saving. And we are so thankful for what Dr. Luther once said: “Is it NOT wonderful news to believe that salvation lies outside of ourselves.” And indeed it is! Salvation is NOT found in the glittery gifts under the Christmas tree, or still to be purchased from a store. NO! It is God’s gift to humanity—me—the sinner; of His only Son.

The coming of the Babe of Bethlehem in the flesh is the story of our redemption. As we have been brought to this house of prayer called Trinity, this evening, we are reminded again and again of God’s enormous love for us sinners in sending His Son for me.

Jesus came for me. If I was the only person in the world, Jesus would have come to rescue, restore and redeem me. Thanks be to God for Advent that shows me what real love looks like—a great and glorious sacrifice that cost this Child of Mary to die for me. In the manger, outside of us we see love par excellence. God’s love is manifested in a gift that is freely given. This is the love of God that comes into our hearts and we cherish. On His shoulders we see the price paid. In His blood we see the cleansing agent of our sins, and by His resurrection on the third day, we know God the Father accepted the price paid by His Only Son for me—the sinner so that I might become His Son forever and ever. NEVER to be separated from His gracious and pierced hands. PAUSE
Beautiful and precious God’s Advent people, the movie “The Day after Tomorrow” is a Hollywood fiction story. It is the story of a father who does everything humanely possible to save his son.

As we reflect and meditate on the Gospel of St. Matthew we see not a made up story, but true and living pageant.  In this story we see our loving Father, God, who sent His Son Jesus to Earth to save us from the coldness of sin and apathy and unbelief. God would stop at no lengths for us. He traveled much further than from Washington D.C partly by SUV and the rest of the way on foot. God traveled from Heaven to Earth for us! He would travel that lonely road up to Golgotha, all for you, beloved! So complete is His love for us. His love is so powerful it breaks the bad climate of sin in our lives and it melts icy hearts with the warmth of the Gospel. Great is God’s love for us.

This is the great and glorious “love that the Father has lavished upon us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are” (1 John 3:1).  By the grace of God you and I are the recipients of this undeserved love and through this love we know that Jesus came for me.

Tonight, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we say thank you Jesus for coming for me, blessing me and giving me heaven. Amen and Amen.

Now the peace…